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Community building and translingual practice in an international eGroups telecollaboration

Construction d'une communauté et pratiques translangagières au sein d'une télécollaboration internationale sur eGroups
Ute Walker

Résumés

Cet article s'intéresse à une télécollaboration internationale sur eGroups impliquant deux groupes d'étudiants de niveau universitaire, l'un en Allemagne et l'autre en Nouvelle-Zélande. Tout au long de ce travail télécollaboratif, autour de questions d'actualité mondiale, les langues cibles, l'anglais et l'allemand, se sont inscrites dans une démarche curriculaire conjointe ("joint curricular role" – García, 2009). Cette étude vise à explorer la manière selon laquelle les étudiants mobilisent des répertoires bilingues partagés pour soutenir l'interaction et construire un sentiment d'appartenance communautaire. Ainsi, nous nous sommes appuyée sur les données de trois interactions synchrones dont l'étude nous a permis de saisir les moyens par lesquels les étudiants ont développé et soutenu la cohésion de groupe par l'intermédiaire des pratiques translangagières.

Dans des situations de communication bi/multilingues, les apprenants peuvent développer des pratiques translinguistiques ou translangagières (García & Wei, 2014) leur permettant d'accéder à de multiples répertoires sémiotiques afin de construire le sens (Blackledge & Creese, 2009) et de construire discursivement une communauté d'apprenants. Les données que nous examinons dans cet article sont issues de trois interactions synchrones (focal meetings) que nous avons étudiées en nous appuyant sur l'analyse du discours médiatisé par ordinateur préconisée par S. Herring (2004) et sur une version revisitée du Community Indicator Framework (CIF) de Galley, Conole et Alevizou (2014). Les échanges retranscrits ont été analysés du seul point de vue de la cohésion – l'une des quatre dimensions de l'expérience communautaire suivant le CIF – dans le but d'identifier les moyens discursifs par lesquels se créent les liens sociaux. Pour cela, les marques translangagières ont été réparties en cinq catégories suivant les indicateurs retenus pour percevoir la cohésion : des éléments phatiques/vocatifs (phatics/vocatives), des traces discursives de collaboration (collaborative floor), des marques d'émotions (emotion), d'humour et de créativité ludique (humour and playfulness), d'entraide mutuelle (mutual support).

L'étude a révélé l'utilisation de diverss mécanismes translangagiers, tels que les alternances codiques, les calques sémantiques ou syntaxiques, etc., dans des segments d'échange initialement dédiés à l'une ou l'autre langue, indépendamment du mode adopté (écrit ou oral), de la thématique abordée, du/des interlocuteurs directs. D'une manière générale, on observe une tendance à alterner les langues lors de la prise de parole. Quant à l'utilisation de l'anglais et de l'allemand en tant que codes distincts, l'anglais l'a généralement emporté sur l'allemand. Cependant, les étudiants ont démontré leur capacité à "passer d'une langue à l'autre [et] à traiter les diverses langues qui forment leur répertoire comme un système intégré." ("to shuttle between languages, treating the diverse languages that form their repertoire as an integrated system." – Canagarajah, 2011 : 401). Les pratiques translangagières les ont munis de moyens discursifs élargis, ce qui leur a permis de communiquer de manière plus flexible, de mieux se connaître et se faire confiance, de négocier et mener à terme leur(s) tâche(s), de gérer les éventuels conflits ou problèmes de communication. Les éléments phatiques/vocatifs (phatics/vocatives) et les traces discursives de collaboration (collaborative floor) y ont joué un rôle primordial en démontrant l'émergence d'une confiance mutuelle et d'une co-construction discursive par et grâce à une situation d'échange bilingue.

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Texte intégral

The eGroups collaboration would not have been possible without the collaboration of teachers and students. I am grateful to Dr Christina vom Brocke and the students for their participation. I wish to thank Ulrike Rehm for coding assistance as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions.

1. Introduction

1Telecollaboration projects have been an important configuration of technology-facilitated language learning across many settings and in a range of formats (Guth, Helm & O'Dowd, 2012). Their aim is to foster foreign language learning and intercultural competence (Belz, 2003) through real-life communication and access to target language speakers, for example in email-based language tandems (Schwienhorst, 2003). As telecollaborations have morphed into internet-based multimodal exchanges they have offered greater affordances to learners and foster "social co-creativity" in the web 2.0 space (Lamy & Goodfellow, 2010: 109). With advancing voice and video-enabled technologies, digitally-facilitated interaction plays an increasingly powerful role in "engaging learners in intercultural contact and for raising awareness of the role of culture in interaction and relationship building" (Dooly & O'Dowd, 2012: 14).

2However, technology-facilitated contact situations do not automatically translate into learner interactions (Beißwenger, 2007), let alone collaborative partnerships, as these depend on learners' recognition of others as trustworthy communication partners and their willingness to engage with them. This has been captured in the notion of social presence which is gradually gaining attention in language education research (Ko, 2012; Lomicka & Lord, 2007; Satar, 2015; Walker, 2010, 2015) as an important driver of interactivity embedded in social processes which underpin learning. Successful online learning partnerships thus crucially rely on the ability to co-construct collaborative dialogue and negotiate meaning through languaging (Swain, 2000: 96).

3Telecollaboration research has been informed by multiple perspectives. This includes studies framed by sociocultural theory (Belz, 2002; Belz & Kinginger, 2002; Meskill, 2013), or ecological affordances (Darhower, 2009), with a focus on intercultural competence (Ware & Kramsch, 2005), sociopragmatic competence (Abrams, 2008), or community construction and participation (Kramsch & Thorne, 2002; Walker, 2015). Other studies have focused on language choice and use (Kötter, 2003; Ware & O'Dowd, 2008), interactional structure (Oskoz, 2009), or aspects of pedagogy (Dooly, 2011; vom Brocke, 2011; Walker & vom Brocke, 2009; Ware & Kessler, 2014). These studies have not only shown the rewards of telecollaborative projects, but also identified challenges such as the risk of failed or miscommunication (Ware, 2005), organisational or practical limitations due to differences in time zones, level of preparation or assessment structures (Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2003; Ware, 2005) or incompatible world views (Ware & Kramsch, 2005).

4Telecollaborative learning aims at mutual benefit for all partners. This logic of reciprocity (Brammerts, 1996) has, by extension, shaped a practice whereby "each partner is prepared to act as an expert for the linguistic and cultural community of his or her native language" (Kötter, 2003: 147). Bi/multilingual encounters such as those afforded by telecollaboration provide opportunities for dynamic ways of engaging and building learner communities in digitally-mediated environments. This article examines an eGroups telecollaboration project in terms of community building through discursive means including fluid linguistic practices such as translanguaging (García & Wei, 2014).

2. The project and participants

  • 1 The institutions are not named to ensure privacy and confidentiality of the participants and teache (...)
  • 2 With reference to the New Zealand context.

5The eGroups project refers to an online collaboration between learners of German at a university in New Zealand and academic English students at a German university.1 It was initiated with the intention to offer distance learners of German an intercultural experience and opportunities for meaningful interaction in German and socio-cognitive engagement with real world issues. There were altogether three rounds with separate cohorts, starting with a pilot in semester 1 2007,2 followed by a second collaboration in semester 2 and a third round in semester 1 2008. Based on student feedback from the second round, the third collaboration was extended to a 6-week contact period to enable the participants to build their online relationships, develop their thinking and complete joint tasks without too much workload pressure. Selected interactions from the third eGroups round are the basis of the research presented in this article.

2.1. Design

6The eGroups project design was underpinned by the principles of collaborative autonomy (Schwienhorst, 2003, 2007; Ushioda, 2000) and reciprocity, extended to small collaborative groups (hence eGroups). It aimed to create an environment for students "to develop their language use, to form and maintain online relationships and to carry out collaborative tasks online" (Hughes, 2010: 269), while at the same time recognizing them as emergent bilinguals (Liebscher & Dailey-O'Cain, 2004). Both English and German where assigned equal importance so that students would support each other in their language learning goals. There were no hard and fast rules apart from a general expectation to use both languages for equal benefit, while leaving ways to manage their linguistic repertoires to the students. Both teachers modelled different practices such as code switching or mixing woven through their contributions.

7Managing the 12-hour time difference between the northern and southern hemispheres meant that synchronous meetings needed to be held in the morning and in the evening respectively. An initial introductory meeting for all students was held in the evening in New Zealand; thereafter most of the students opted to alternate mornings and evenings for their self-scheduled synchronous meetings.

8The two teachers were jointly responsible for the project and participated at both sites. Acting primarily as facilitators, they also injected their own cultural and linguistic expertise and guidance where appropriate. Their presence during the early stages meant they could answer questions or provide feedback, especially in relation to unfamiliar pragmatics or culture-specific discourse (Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2003). For example, the New Zealand teacher explained the Maori word pākeha, used by one of her students, which was unlikely to be understood by the German partners. A forum follow-up by the student prompted a mini-exchange on the use and meaning of the term, which is contested in the New Zealand context.

2.1.1. Materials and task design

  • 3 "Chinese nurses could help shortage", New Zealand Herald, April 9, 2008. Available online: http://w (...)

9An important goal in designing the collaboration was to integrate tasks into the groups' respective course structures to provide coherence and relevance for all students. The choice of an overarching theme entitled "Globalisation and localisation: opportunities and challenges" ensured a curricular link to the New Zealand students' study of contemporary issues in the German-speaking world and broadly connected to the social sciences disciplines of the German students. Students were instructed to identify and explore an issue of interest relating to this broader theme from environmental (eg green politics), cultural (eg ethnic diversity, migration, language), or economic (eg tourism) perspectives, with reference to New Zealand and German-speaking societies. Initial discussion was prompted through taster readings which were uploaded to the shared learning platforms and featured contemporary news items about global issues with a link to Germany or New Zealand. Their role was to stimulate curiosity and provide "rich points" (Agar, 1980) of inquiry. For example, New Zealand's "Pure" campaign during the 2008 America's Cup triggered questions about environmental practices. Other stories featured the appropriation of Maori cultural artefacts in fashion and design, or addressed a labour shortage through mass migration of a professional group3 (see Figure 1). Students posted their initial responses or questions in the general asynchronous forum as a first step towards exchanging ideas, information or perspectives and identify possible areas of interest to explore in small groups.

Figure 1–Taster readings as inquiry prompts.

Figure 1–Taster readings as inquiry prompts.

10The learners were encouraged to adopt a comparative approach initially in order to generate questions and develop awareness of how their respective issues played out in Germany or New Zealand. In doing so, it was hoped that they would become attuned to different perspectives, articulate their own, and critically reflect on both. Students with a shared interest then formed small groups who were tasked to choose and examine a particular angle together. Examples of students' choices included: the sale of culture to global interests, education of migrant children, migrant integration, attitudes towards tattooing, energy consumption and green technologies. This, in turn, provided a basis for creating distinct artefacts which aligned with their respective assessment structures (Table 1). For example, the German students were to collect some empirical data with the help of their New Zealand partners and write a report on this, whereas the New Zealand students wrote a reflective report about their eGroups experience. This additional complexity added a problem-solving dimension requiring the students to self-regulate as a group by negotiating a specific topic angle and deciding how they would go about the joint task.

Table 1–eGroups project (round 3).

Duration

Thematic focus

Total Participants

Artefacts to be completed

6 weeks:

April/May 2008

Globalisation and localisation: Opportunities and challenges

NZ

6

Written reflection on collaboration experience (in German)

Gmy

17

Report based on empirical data collection; oral presentation (in English)

 

2.1.2. Technology and tools

11Both learner groups were able to access the two universities' institutional learning platforms and utilise a complementary tool set (Figure 2) for different aspects of the collaboration:

    • 4 The learning platform used at the time.

    New Zealand university (WebCT):4 Wimba synchronous and asynchronous audiographic communication tools for meeting online, negotiating and planning tasks;

  • German university (Garnet Virtual Net–VN): Asynchronous forum for initial contact and ongoing follow-up between synchronous meetings; wiki for joint writing (eg drafting ideas for German students' report, providing language feedback).

12Compared to more contemporary technologies at the time of writing, the audiographic tool used for the live meetings was somewhat limited due to its "one-speaker-at-a-time" setup. Nevertheless, the students expressed excitement about hearing each others' voices in real time and became adept at using the tool for both spoken and written chat modes.

Figure 2–Interfaces of complementary tools via WebCT and Garnet Virtual Net (VN).

Figure 2–Interfaces of complementary tools via WebCT and Garnet Virtual Net (VN).

 

3. Conceptual frame

3.1. Languaging, translanguaging and community building

13This study is underpinned by a model of constructivist learning and takes two conceptual perspectives as its point of departure:

  1. human learning is socially constructed, mediated through the process of languaging (Swain, 2006), and enacted discursively in collaborative dialogue (Swain & Watanabe, 2012);

  2. in bi/multilingual settings individuals may utilise their entire semiotic repertoires to make meaning via translingual practices or translanguaging (García & Wei, 2014).

14As languaging (and thus translanguaging) is a relational concept (Phipps & Gonzalez, 2004) it is inextricably linked to social interaction. Hence, (trans)languaging is deemed to have explanatory value in this study as an affordance or constraint for the discursive construction of learner community.

15As global processes and the growth of digital communication have made hybridity more commonplace, distinctions of languages as separate entities are increasingly at odds with a superdiverse world, where highly mobile and dynamic communication practices are evident in complex patterns of translingual practices (Canagarajah, 2013). Building on Cook's (1991) notion of multicompetence, scholars have extended the idea of languaging to translanguaging (García, 2009; Wei, 2011) to accentuate the ways in which speakers draw on their entire linguistic repertoires during the communication process. From this perspective the idea of double or parallel monolinguals who code-switch between systems is extended to a notion of speakers whose dynamic discursive practices "cannot be easily assigned to one or another traditional definition of language, but that make up the speakers' complete language repertoire" (García & Wei, 2014: 22). Their translanguagings may include code switching, mixing and translation, but extend beyond these to access multiple semiotic repertoires for the purpose of meaning-making (Blackledge & Creese, 2009). In interactive digital environments, simultaneous use of learners' languages while engaged in joint activity has been found to enhance their learning (Martin-Beltrán, 2010, 2014). In contrast, the exclusive use of monolingual/national points of reference deprives the learners of the transnational, translingual and transcultural competencies they will need to use the language in today's multilingual environments (Kramsch & Huffmaster, 2015: 114).

16In this research, translanguaging provides a lens through which to investigate the discursive practices of three selected eGroups participants to understand how this phenomenon comes into play as part of the semiotic resources the students utilise in creating meaningful communication and community cohesion.

3.2. Indicators of emerging online communities

17Participatory processes arise out of the development of productive and creative learner communities and are thus fundamental to the co-construction of knowledge. In ever more mediated environments, underpinned by constructivist approaches to learning, communities tend to be emergent and come into existence through joint discursive construction, rather than enculturation into an existing "community of practice" (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Galley, Conole and Alevizou (2014) developed a Community Indicator Framework (CIF) to account for the complex and dynamic processes of developing and sustaining communities online. Designed for the specific Cloudworks social networking environment, it integrates four interrelated community experience dimensions: participation–the ways in which individuals engage in activity; cohesion–the ties between individuals and the community as a whole; identity–how individuals perceive the community and their place within it; and creative capability–the ability of the community to create shared artefacts, and shared knowledge and understanding (Galley et al., 2014: 7).

  • 5 The "Shared resources/experiences" indicator was re-designated under "Participation/Interaction" as (...)

18For reasons of space and scope the emphasis in this article is on one of these dimensions, cohesion. Developing reciprocal and cohesive ties is essential for sociality and mutuality to emerge and underpin social processes in important ways. Investigating cohesive ties in telecollaborations seems particularly pertinent as a means to understand social processes through which learners interact and collaborate at a distance. The interactive potential of telecollaborations is of particular importance in distance language learning as a source of meaningful target language use and a catalyst for building learner community when distributed learners can often lack a sense of belonging (McInnerney & Roberts, 2004) and isolation may become a key barrier to achieving communicative competence in their target language (Walker & Haddon, 2011). In adapting Galley, Conole and Alevizou's (2014) CIF for this research, two additional indicators were included in the cohesion dimension:5

  • Phatic/vocative communication: phatic communication serves social bonding through utterances aimed to establish a friendly atmosphere and harmonious interpersonal relations, rather than convey meaning (Senft, 2009). Phatic and vocative aspects combined are particularly important at the initial stages of an emerging collaboration as a building block for social presence.

  • Collaborative floor (Cherny, 1999): along with existing CIF indicators such as turn-taking and response, the notion of collaborative floor aims to capture how learners create shared collaborative spaces, particularly when first embarking on a journey with unknown partners and unpredictable outcomes.

19Embedded in these indicators are affective (humour, emotion, self-disclosure), cohesive (phatics, vocatives) and interactive aspects (integrated with collaborative floor) of social presence based on Rourke, Anderson, Garrison and Archer (2001) to help capture how students engage online and develop social ties through interaction. Table 2 presents the adapted set of cohesion indicator dimensions and how these were operationalised through their respective descriptors (see Appendix 1 for the original CIF dimensions and descriptors).

Table 2–Cohesion dimensions adapted from Community Indicator Framework (CIF).

Cohesion: Ways in which participants recognise and reinforce mutual ties, respond to each other via demonstration of support, show interest in others; evidence of encouragement, tolerance and reciprocity.

DIMENSIONS

DESCRIPTORS

Phatics/vocatives

Addressing, greeting and other expressions of sociality.

Collaborative floor

Joint construction of dialogue; start/continue topic or thread, signal attention is being paid; cues to show comprehension (including non-verbal); refer to others' ideas, (dis)agree, give feedback (eg interjections, questions, backchannelling).

Emotion

Self-disclosure, emotive language, gratitude, compliment; use of emoticons.

Humour and playfulness

Joking, social banter, sarcasm, ritualised talk.

Mutual support

Positive responses to others, willingness to listen/learn, encouraging less confident participants.

20This study thus seeks to contribute to the understanding of community building in the telecollaborative space, with particular reference to cohesion and ways to construct it discursively.

3.3. Research questions

211. How do students mobilise their linguistic resources for communication and community building?
2. What role does translanguaging play in the construction of cohesive ties? How does it manifest itself in learner discourse?

4. Methodology

22This exploratory study examined three synchronous interactions of one group of students who came together in what they called the globalisation group. For the purposes of this article, the selected interactions were chosen for the rich and sustained engagement between three of the students and to represent the early, middle and late stage of their engagement. HEA, the sole New Zealand member, and two German students, JUL and STR, engaged in altogether seven live online meetings. Another German member, SIB, rarely participated in the meetings and made only few contributions.

23Transcription of the system-recorded audio-chats was based on the HIAT convention (Halbinterpretative Arbeitstranskriptionen/semi-interpretative working transcriptions) (Ehlich, 1993). For ease of reading the student discourse presented here does not show all of the notational details such as overlaps or pauses (a sample of an original transcript is shown in Appendix 2). The transcripts were entered into NVivo software and coded by two people for improved consistency and reliability. Data were analyzed drawing on Herring's (2004) Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis and underpinned by Mercer's (2004) notion of sociocultural discourse analysis with its primary focus on talk as collective or social mode of thinking. Galley, Conole and Alevizou's (2014) CIF (see above) was adapted as a coding frame and analytical lens. Translanguaging was coded using García and Wei's (2014 definition as "act(s) of languaging between and beyond systems whereby individuals draw on their entire linguistic repertoire for the purposes of meaning making." These discourses were then mapped against cohesion as the key CIF dimension under investigation, using its respective indicator dimensions as shown in Table 2.

5. Findings

24A crucial part of the group's collaborative effort was coming to grips with the concept of globalisation and what it meant to them. HEA initiated reflection on this with a forum posting in which she asked her partners "what do you think it means?", signaling her willingness to engage and recognition of others' views or ideas. Her partner JUL's response elaborates with a link to theory (cultural homogenisation), thereby flagging her disciplinary interest in cultural studies and sociology. This brief thread is an early instance of a reciprocal act in which the students use both German and English as a discursive strategy. It illustrates how cohesive and interactive activity might be established through: a) a rudimentary collaborative floor, b) tentative exploratory dialogue and c) exploring meaning in bilingual mode. For example, HEA drew on (a) English for expressing aspects of globalisation such as the mix of cultures or role of global companies like McDonalds and (b) German for a tentative reflection on positive/negative globalisation impacts, with reference to her own experience and a course reading (see Appendix 3). From this tentative asynchronous engagement the students' discussions transitioned to synchronous meetings, three examples of which are analysed below.

25When looking across the three focal meetings, the students' broad language choices varied by mode, with an overall preference for German in spoken mode in the first two meetings. This reversed to English only in spoken mode in the third meeting.

Table 3–Language choices within spoken and written modes.

Episode

Mode

Language Choice

1

spoken

predominantly in German

written chat

predominantly in English

2

spoken

predominantly in German

written chat

German and English

3

spoken

English only

written chat

German and English

26A more detailed analysis of how the students utilised their semiotic resources in developing cohesive ties revealed patterns presented in Figures 3 to 5 which show the distribution of English and German across the five cohesion indicators. How interactions developed in the selected voice-chat meetings and what discursive strategies the students used for building cohesion will be shown in extracts from the three selected synchronous interactions. The original German text is rendered in italics, along with English glosses provided in square brackets. Written chat is marked as [w] and spoken language as [v].

5.1. Meeting 1

Figure 3–Meeting 1: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

Figure 3–Meeting 1: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

27The use of English is preeminent in the construction of collaborative floor in this meeting, followed by the use of phatics/vocatives, but much less so for the other indicators where there is a more equalised, albeit low use of English and German. The graph is based on the number of codings for each language and does not reveal any patterns such as code switching or mixing which are more apparent in the extracts examined below.

Extract 1: Getting organised

28The following extract shows the beginning of the students' second meeting, a few days into the project. Sorting out their topic is a priority at this point as JUL missed the previous meeting. The opening sequence is entirely in German and in spoken mode and is characterised by the use of cohesive means such as phatic/vocative communication (1, 2), emotion and self-disclosure (7) and emerging collaborative floor (1-7):

(1) JUL [v] Good morning Hea! How are you?

(2) HEA [v] Hello Julia! Mir geht's gut, danke! heu/ehm es ist tut mir Leid es ist gerade abend hier aber ich habe abend gegessen also das ist gut. [I am fine, thanks! Tody/ehm it's I am sorry it's evening here right now but I've had dinner so that's good.]

(3) JUL [v] Habt ihr gestern a/morgen noch etw/also gestern noch etwas erreicht? Seid ihr zu Zielen gekommen? [Did you accomplish anything yesterday morning/well yesterday? Did you achieve any goals?]

(4) HEA [v] (laughing) Neeiin ehm ich habe mit eh (( )) Hobby gesprochen. ((laughs)) [Nooo ehm I spoke with eh… Hobby]

(5) JUL [v] Aber die anderen kommen jetzt auch in den Chatroom? Heute? [But the others are coming into the chatroom? Today?]

(6) HEA [v] Ehm ich glaube, eine kann und eine kann nicht ((1s)) ich kann nicht sehr gut reden tut mir Leid. Also ich habe ehm eigentlich gar nichts zu (unserem) Thema gemacht ich hatte ehm eine volle Tag an der Üni heute. [Ehm I believe one can and the other one can't I can't talk very well sorry. Well, actually I haven't done anything around our topic I had a full day at uni today]

(7) JUL [v] Ich muss auch zugeben, dass ich nichts gemacht habe. Ich war gestern unterwegs und dann abends Polterabend, das hatte ich ja erzählt, und jetzt ehm überleg ich, ob ich ein bisschen versuche einen Fragebogen oder mm ob/machen wir noch einen Fragebogen und wenn ja, wie soll der aussehen? Habt ihr dazu gestern nochmal was eh besprochen? [I have to admit too that I haven't done anything. I was out yesterday and then at a Polterabend (German pre-wedding custom), I told you about that, and now I'm considering whether I should have a go at a questionnaire or ehm if we're still doing a questionnaire and if so, what should it look like? Did you talk about that yesterday?]

29When STR enters the room the dialogue changes to a pattern of interwoven German and English in both spoken and written modes, with each student taking turns in either language. JUL's suggestion of a "protocol" (12), a surface cognate with German Protokoll meaning "minutes of a meeting", prompts a number of responses: JUL's self-correction and appeal to HEA's expert knowledge (15); HEA's clarification about meaning (18) and JUL's confirmation (19).

(8) JUL [w] Vielleicht können wir zusammenfassen, was gestern noch geschah? Ich wäre gerne auf dem neuesten Stand. Wie geht es weiter mit dem Projekt, was machen wir heute [Perhaps we can summarise what happended yesterday? I'd like to be up-to-date. How does the project progress, what do we do today].

(9) STR [v] where is SYB?

(10) JUL [v] Ich weiß nicht wo SYB ist. Hat sie gestern nichts gesagt oder geschrieben? [I don't know where Sybille is. Didn't she say or write anything yesterday?]

(11) STR [w] did she mention that she won't be there today?

(12) JUL [w] we need the protocol

(13) STR [w] ich habe schon eine kurze zusammenfassung für dich ins forum gestellt, JUL! [i've already uploaded a brief summary for you it the forum, JUL!]

(14) HEA [w] I'm not sure whether it was for today or not, but she did mention something.

(15) JUL [w] super str, it's not protocol - i guess it's "log" or "minutes". what would be appropriate, Hea?

(16) STR [w] mmmhh

(17) JUL [v] wo isn das Forum? Ich kanns nicht finden. [Where is the forum? I can't find it]

(18) HEA [w] Minutes? You are talking about the notes of what happened last meeting? It was for Tuesday

(19) JUL [w] ah, notes. Ja genau, das was gestern noch so passierte im Chat [ah, notes. Yes exactly, what happened in the chat yesterday]

30STR's concern about having minutes for every meeting, emphasised by three questions marks (20) is minimized by JUL's repair (22) and HEA's reminder that meetings are archived anyway (21). This episode demonstrates not only co-constructed meaning of a cognate word that gave rise to confusion, but also willingness to address a peer's concern in the form of mutual support. This is also evident when STR's apparent unease about the perceived need for minutes (20) is attended to by JUL with an explicit clarification and added self-disclosure (22).

(20) STR [w] I didn't kow we have to do that every time we meet…???

(21) HEA [w] If you go to the archives you can see what we said You'll have to enter from Room 1 though; that's where we were.

(22) JUL [v] Wir müssen keine Protokolle machen. Ich war nur neugierig. Ich wollte dich nicht unter Stress setzen Str. [We don't have to take notes. I was just curious. I didn't want to put you under pressure STR]

(23) JUL [w] so today…? We could mindmap what questions might be good for the future opinionaire/questionnaire

31The students then continue in written chat mode which is predominantly in English, except for the occasional use of German for clarifying meaning or providing language feedback. At this stage of the interchange, the use of phatic/vocative communication stands out, especially at the beginning and end of the exchange, which also involves emotion and self-disclosure (1; 2; 4; 7) and, importantly, establishing collaborative floor throughout the exchange via questions, reference to each other's ideas and mutual support. The latter helped the students manage and resolve potential conflict and reflects their concern for each other, a key element in building reciprocity and trust. All of these contribute to cohesion as a key factor in an emerging collaborative community.

5.2. Meeting 2

Figure 4–Meeting 2: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

Figure 4–Meeting 2: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

32The language choice patterns shown in Figure 4 are almost identical to those in the first meeting which is also borne out in the students' dialogue, as shown in the extract below. The lesser occurrence of phatic/vocative communication, regardless of language choice, could be indicative of the students feeling confident about harmonious relationships developing between them and, hence, not attending as much to this dimension.

Extract 2: Negotiating the task

33The episode below shows the students' conversation 15 minutes into their next meeting. While waiting for STR to arrive HEA and JUL converse in German in spoken mode only. JUL uses this time to learn more about HEA, for instance her degree course and personal interests. Following a couple of turns about sound quality JUL shifts to English when she switches the topic to their task in order to move the meeting along, due to her need to attend to a banking matter (1). As if to minimise a perception of selfishness, she hedges her comment with a French and German version of "I don't care/mind" and ends with an open-ended question to HEA as a prompt to agree or disagree (2). This micro-moment of translanguaging between German, English and French adds an element of linguistic play and humour, reinforced by HEA's mock horror about using French reinforced by the use of capital letters (6) and STR's tongue-in-cheek suggestion to use Hindi (7).

(1) JUL [w] At 9 I have a date with my bank, so we might collect our items to talk about now?

(2) JUL [w] Je m'en fiche ; ) ist mir egal HEA? [I don't mind, HEA?]

(3) HEA [w] Macht mir nichts aus [It's all the same to me]

(4) STR [w]:-((( ;-) Deutsch oder englisch heute? [German or English today?]

(5) JUL [w] ; )

(6) HEA [w] - kein Fransoesisch, BITTE! NEIN, STR. [no French, PLEASE NO]

(7) STR [w] Hindi?!

34Although STR raises a language choice question (4), there is no explicit response from the others and the conversation just proceeds with all three students making their choices as they go by alternating between English and German or mixing elements such as "by the way" added to the end of a sentence in German (12). Within the translanguaged segment that follows they attend to multiple cohesion-building matters, including self-disclosure by admitting to work not done (9; 10), maintaining collaborative floor around locating information sources (11; 15; 16) and negotiating division of labour (12-14), and expressions of emotion through emoticons (9; 10):

(8) JUL [v] Habt ihr/eh did you read the text about globalization theory, this world culture theory which was here on the Ve En? I'm not sure if it is very useful ehm for us, because it's very ehm very broad and very systematic. Systemic is what I wanted to say, not systematic

(9) STR [w] :-) Ok... Ich habe es leider nicht geschafft zu lesen Habe gestern ziemlich lange noch an der Zusammenfassung geschrieben....[I haven't managed to read it unfortunately I worked on the summary for quite a long time last night]

(10) HEA [w] :-))) Ich auch nicht - wo ist es? [Neither have I – where is it?]

(11) JUL [v] New Zealand theories. Und dann bei [And then with] theories and globalization theory.

  • 6 An endearing name for New Zealanders.

(12) STR [w] JUI, könntest du den englischen Fragebogen noch an die Kiwis schicken, by the way? [could you send the English questionnaires to the Kiwis?6]

(13) JUL [v] So I summarize the text for you in a few words maybe.

(14) JUL [w] Hab grad deine Mail gelesen, mache ich! [I just read your mail, will do]

(15) HEA [w] Found it.

(16) JUL [v] Ehm it's about world culture theory. Eh the main proponents are

35Emoticons as a non-verbal means to express emotions had to be typed by students as these were not available through the tool. HEA and STR employ smilies to mitigate their admission that they have not read the text JUL asked them about (9; 10). Along with the written discourse these markers acted as a cohesive device to reflect emotion and add interpersonal meaning. For the remainder of this 1.5-hour long meeting the students use the chat almost exclusively, for example for backchannelling questions and comments about the location of a source, the use of readings, or finalising/sending questionnaires. Their bilingual discourse resembles the pattern of the previous meeting in that all three participants weave English and/or German through their turns with no particular link to either the topic, function or addressee but with a tendency to alternate between languages when taking turns. A brief example is the following segment:

(17) STR [w] Ok, du würdest also sagen, dass wir den Text einfach nicht verwerten [Ok, so you would say that we just don't use the text]

(18) JUL [w] We should mention it but then come to our concrete own work somehow die Mail mit der Bitte um Beantwortung des Fragebogens [with the request for completing the questionnaire]. So I'm a little slow in answering.

(19) JUL [w] Ich schreibe gerade parallel an die Kiwis [I am writing to the Kiwis in parallel]

(20) HEA [w] Through analysing the questionnaires?

(21) JUL [w] The quest. are our material, yes.

(22) HEA [w] Kein Problem. [No problem]

(23) STR [w] Yes, but we still need something like an introduction where we could mention the characteristics of globalization, don´t we?

(24) HEA [w] That's a good idea.

36The extracts from this meeting illustrate ways in which student further establish and reinforce their mutual ties through building collaborative floor and enhancing their interactions through occasional humour, mutual support and emotion.

5.3. Meeting 3

Figure 5–Meeting 3: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

Figure 5–Meeting 3: Cohesion building through bilingual means.

37Figure 5 indicates an increase in the use of phatics/vocatives and mutual support. In contrast to the previous meetings, the students make more use of German in the construction of collaborative floor.

Extract 3: Progressing the task

38The students' translanguagings follow a different pattern in this meeting, whereby they dedicate either language to a whole interactive segment. After the first 25 minutes were conducted almost entirely in English there is a conscious switch to German initiated by JUL (1). HEA agrees and the thread continues in German (3).

(1) JUL [w] Sollen wir eigentlich Deutsch sprechen, HEA? [Actually, shall we speak German, HEA?]

(2) STR [w] I'm sorry But I think I didn't get what you are talking about…

(3) HEA [w] Ja, koennen wir Deutsch sprechen.[Yes, we can speak German]

(4) STR [w] Ok, so um was für eine Aufgabe geht es da, HEA? [Ok, so what kind of task are we talking about HEA?]

39After another 10 minutes of negotiating the task, discussing respective expectations, clarifying differences in task outcomes and progressing the questionnaire, JUL apologises for possibly moving too fast for HEA (5). Their brief exchange about a word which HEA is unfamiliar with (6-11) helps negotiate meaning. JUL repairs what she perceives as pre-empting the joint task and thus possibly imposing it on HEA (5-14). However doing so is also a demonstration of support for the German peer and concern about maintaining a positive relationship with her, even though HEA herself seems unconcerned and reciprocates with mutual support herself (12). Her use of "we" seems to reinforce a sense of collectivity and solidarity:

(5) JUL [w] Es tut mir leid, dass wir da so vorgegriffen haben mit den Aufgaben to do [I am sorry that we have acted prematurely there with the tasks]

(6) HEA [w] "vorgegriffen"?

(7) JUL [w] we were to fast?

(8) STR [w] vorweggenommen....[pre-empt]

(9) JUL [w] too fast

(10) HEA [w] Thanks So we began too soon without planning it properly?

(11) JUL [w] without knowing what tasks you have to do

(12) HEA [w] We'll sort it out.

(13) JUL [w] I think that's no problem

(14) STR [w] ich dachte auch immer, dass ihr das Gleiche zu tun bekommt wie wir… [I always thought too that you had to do the same as we do…]

40What stands out in this extract is the construction of collaborative floor as a crucial cohesion dimension, facilitated through the students' mutual responses made across both languages throughout the exchange. This becomes even more evident as the thread progresses. STR is at the point of interviewing a German-based company specialising in New Zealand products (Neuseelandhaus) and invites suggestions, in German, from the others about what to ask (15). JUL resists STR's request in English (16) and HEA articulates a neutral attitude in German (17). When STR appeals to the common group cause (18), thus justifying her invitation for input into the interview she is planning, JUL manages her responses to both HEA and STR in the same turn: in German to HEA and in German and in English to STR (20). The students can thus be seen to co-construct dialogue through what could be described as a dynamic flow of translingual reciprocity.

(15) STR [w] Es hat also niemand noch Anregungen für mein Interview? [So no-one has any suggestions for my interview?]

(16) JUL [w] you are the expert for your partners, I guess STR

(17) HEA [w] Von mir aus ist je mehr Information wir haben, desto besser. [As far as I'm concerned, the more information we have the better]

(18) STR [w] ja, aber wir sind eine Gruppe, die ein gemeinsames Thema bearbeitet, oder nicht jul [yes, but we are a group working on a joint topic, are we not jul?]

(19) HEA [w] Sprichst du mit mir oder JUL [Are you talking to me or JUL]

(20) JUL [w] Aber hinterher müssen wir es strukturiert bekommen, HEA. [But we have be able to structure it (the information) later.] Of course we are a group, but I don't know the Neuseelandhaus

(21) HEA [w] grrr... :-)

(22) JUL [w] english phrase was for STR, German for H.

(23) HEA [w] OK

(24) JUL [w] Interessant finde ich wenn sie ganz kleinschrittig erzählen wie die Beziehungen mit NZ sind [I'd find it interesting if they talk in detail about relationship with New Zealand]

(25) STR [w] naja, ich denke ich habe schon klar gemacht, dass es ein Onlineshop für neuseeländische Produkte ist....naja ist ja auch egal...ich schau dann mal, was rauskommt [well ok, I think I did make it clear that it's an online shop for New Zealand products … ah well, it doesn't matter anyway … I'll wait and see what comes out of it]

41The sense of resistance coming from JUL in response to STR's push for help with her interview questions has the potential for disagreement but is resolved through HEA, whose tongue in cheek expression of exasperation, ("grrrr… :-)") prompts JUL to acknowledge the potential learnings from STR's respondents (24) and a concession from STR, albeit a little grudgingly with the double use of "na ja" [ah well] and a wait and see attitude (25). The group's ability to handle potential conflict is evident a little later when JUL and STR negotiate the meaning of the German word Konzept, offered by JUL (26) as an alternative to an idea STR had mentioned. Both participants seem to sense the risk of ongoing disagreement and attempt a repair strategy; STR acknowledges her "misunderstanding" (28) and JUL changes the topic altogether by offering to summarise a text and asking JUL's agreement (29). HEA helps to defuse the situation further by her humorous creation of a non-word (30), making light of the misunderstanding that has occurred between STR and JUL. STR agrees emphatically to the idea of a joke (36) and JUL builds on this with a question about usage (37), thereby being responsive and reinforcing a joint problem-solving strategy. HEA's expressive statement regarding the next meeting (47) seems to allude to the group's ability to weather minor disagreements and is a creative way to articulate a common sense of purpose.

(26) JUL [w] Konzept ist auch immer gut ; ) [Concept is also good]

(27) JUL [w] "Konzept" als Frage für die Leute, STR, so meinte ich das ["Konzept" as in a question for the interviewess STR, that's what I meant]

(28) STR [w] oohh....missverständnis....[oh, misunderstanding]

(29) JUL [w] Shall I summarize the Spradley – Text about Ethnographic interviews, or do you think's it's unnecessary?

(30) HEA [w] …nichtsverstaendnis… [noneunderstanding (nonsense word)]

(31) JUL [w] ;)

(32) STR [w] nichtsverständnis?

(33) HEA [w] Versteht nichts.[Understands nothing]

(34) STR [w] ohh…

(35) HEA [w] Es war ein Witz! [It was a joke!]

(36) STR [w] ja! [yes!]

(37) JUL [w] What's the expression, if you try to crack a joke and it fails?

(38) HEA [w] It flopped.

(39) JUL [w] 'verreißen' you could say in German. To flop a joke is the expression?

(40) HEA [w] You can say "the joke flopped" but no, you can't "flop a joke" as such. It might be an idiom.

(41) JUL [w] thanks

(42) HEA [w] No problem.

(43) JUL [w] so we go on collecting material

(44) STR [w] ok, so I have a presentation tomorrow....

(45) HEA [w] Good luck.

(46) JUL [w] when shall we 4 meet again?

(47) HEA [w] ...by thunder, lightening or by rain...

42As the discussion draws to a close the students continue to interact in primarily monolingual English mode, which becomes a talking point when HEA points this out to STR (48):

(48) HEA [w] So, today ended up being in English! The chat. was?

(49) STR [w] ? what does ended up mean?

(50) HEA [w] Sorry - I think it's more colloquial language.

(51) STR [w] ended up: Abschluss? yeah but it´s ok....you can explain it to me

(52) HEA [w] Okay. "Today we talked in English" is maybe a little less emphatic than "Today ended up being in English"... sorry, I don't really think it's explainable!

(53) STR [w] mmhh ok, I will think about it and perhaps understand it sometime... ;-)

(54) HEA [w] I think I need to contain myself within proper English. It just leads to confusion if I don't. Sorry STR. o, we'll I'll post something in that thread on VN (?) over the weekend and see what we end up with, okay?

(55) STR [w] no, that´s no problem, I'm also interested in the "every day" speech I don't understand immediately... ok....just write everything down what comes in our minds

(56) HEA [w] Okay STR. But I make absolutely no promises that I will be able to explain! (grin) Genau. [exactly]

43STR engages with this on a purely linguistic level by seeking clarification on the meaning of "ended up" (49). HEA explains and even takes responsibility for using "colloquial" language that might be beyond STR. Ironically, she uses the same phrase again, without however being able to get her original point through. While STR appreciates the language advice she does not take HEA's original hint.

44In summary, the students' interactions show a collaborative effort in negotiating meaning and co-constructing dialogue with a clear focus on gaining a shared understanding of the task under the rather broad theme of globalisation. Embedded in this process is the construction of a cohesive community of learners through discursive means. Developing collaborative floor appears to play a crucial role in sustaining interactivity and demonstrates how students manage their turn-taking, build shared conversational space and develop cohesive ties. The students' use of humour, willingness to disclose emotions and ensure mutual support suggests growing mutual trust which is particularly borne out in situations that require them to handle potential difficulties or conflict.

45The students draw on their entire linguistic repertoires for communication, meaning making and community building. Although there is an unequal distribution of English and German overall, the students' micro interactions involved occasional switching or mixing, whole segments dedicated to either language or alternating German and English across spoken and/or written modes and turns. The apparent ease with which the students engage translingually could be seen as a reflection of trust and reciprocity which is critical to cohesive relationships. It seems that they are comfortable to use unconventional linguistic means with each other as this also serves the communication flow. It is only on the one occasion when HEA raises the dominant use of English as an issue that miscommunication occurs, but most likely for reasons of language rather than interpersonal relationships and pushing her point might have put the latter at risk.

46Cohesion is only one dimension of a community experience which is believed to be in a dynamic interrelationship with the other CIF community indicators whereby the "absence of one is likely to significantly impact on the presence of the others" (Galley et al., 2014: 7). While not the main focus of this investigation, figure 6 visualises the rich layering of several CIF dimensions at the start of Meeting 1, represented by NVivo coding stripes. Cohesion in the form of phatic/vocative communication (lilac), emotion (blue), collaborative floor (pink) and mutual support (green) are seen to knit together with task negotiation (amber) and collaborative agency (yellow), indicating the emergence of participation/interaction and creative capability, discursively constructed through the alternating use of German and English. In this way, the development of cohesive ties has a fundamental role to play in that it "contributes to overlapping social processes, including knowledge construction" (Moore, 2013: 592).

Figure 6–Cohesion and participation/interaction dimensions.

Figure 6–Cohesion and participation/interaction dimensions.

 

6. Discussion and conclusion

47The eGroups project brought together two distinct groups of learners who collaborated on a learner-driven topic. The selected synchronous voice-chat interactions under study showed the emergence of a cohesive and trusting learner community supported by the development of cohesive ties. Social processes underlying learning and construction of knowledge are critically dependent on a cohesive community of learners who are "motivated and able to engage in collaborative and productive activity" (Galley et al., 2014: 15); they are "unlikely to embark on it unless they feel relatively at ease, free from the danger of being aggressively contradicted or made fun of" (Barnes, 2008: 5). The students drew on their ability "to shuttle between languages, treating the diverse languages that form their repertoire as an integrated system" (Canagarajah, 2011: 401) and showed a remarkable level of interactional agility and creativity. This finding aligns with Martin-Beltrán (2014: 215) whose participants were "responding to each other between and across languages over several turns of speech, or when students co-constructed utterances." The use of each other's target language in telecollaborative encounters may be a source of potential unease or even anxiety, especially in synchronous encounters and for students at lower levels of proficiency. For the students in this study, translanguaging might have helped avoid such feelings as it provided them with expanded discursive means to communicate. Even so, the lesser use of German in the focal group's meetings may be seen as inconsistent with the principle of reciprocity, if interpreted to mean equal use of each target language, and could thus affect the participants' perceptions of benefit from the project.

48While only small-scale and exploratory, findings from this study support the fundamental role of community cohesion in fostering community experience in online/distance language learning. Telecollaboration contexts are potential sites of sociality which can empower distributed learners to become social agents who co-construct meaning with each other through "discursively mediated interpersonal relationships" (Darhower, 2009: 63), and supported through rich cohesive ties. As educational contexts become more mediated and globalised, the imperative for human connectedness across space and time stands to grow and increase the demand for opportunities to transform learning through social processes and "sharing lived experiences" (Barrett, 2015: 142). And if multiple and flexible discursive practices are of increasing importance for learners in the 21st century, it is important to gain a better understanding of how telecollaborative approaches can facilitate learning within productive communities of distributed learners and how they might develop translingual agilities as a resource (Palmer et al., 2014) in a multilingual global world. Given the relational quality of languaging and by extension translanguaging, further research is warranted to investigate its affordances for social interaction. This study has provided some evidence, albeit limited, of the facilitating force of translingual practice for communication and community building.

49This exploratory study investigated only one group of participants in a purposefully selected set of interactions and without recourse to their interactions across the whole set of communication tools available to them, which impacts on its significance and the ability to draw more general conclusions. However, using both qualitative and quantitative means and examining the data from two theoretical perspectives may help corroborate the findings presented in this article. Since the project ran in 2008, affordances, practices and expectations have changed with advancing technologies, although the principles and processes underlying the construction of community may be more enduring.

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Annexe

Appendix 1-Community Indicator Framework (Galley et al., 2014).

Appendix 2-Transcription, notations and transcript sample.

Spoken dialogue from the audio-graphic chat recordings were originally transcribed using the following conventions:

/ = Repair

… = breakdown

• = short pause, slight hesitations

• • = medium pause

• • • = longer pause (up to 1 sec)

((5s)) = pause with indicated seconds duration

( ) = passage difficult to understand

(( )) = unintelligible passage

So = emphatic

A sample transcript extract (meeting episode 1):

Appendix 3-Garnet Virtual Net (VN) forum example.

Initial steps to develop their topic ideas were made in the Garnet Virtual Net forum where students' bilingual languaging started out with translating "in equal parts".

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Notes

1 The institutions are not named to ensure privacy and confidentiality of the participants and teachers, in line with the code of ethical conduct for one of the universities.

2 With reference to the New Zealand context.

3 "Chinese nurses could help shortage", New Zealand Herald, April 9, 2008. Available online: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10502883; "Pure New Zealand America's Cup, Valencia", Tourism NZ, April 13, 2007; "Maori Russian dolls made in China, sold in NZ", The Dominion Post, April 12, 2008. Available online: https://www.stuff.co.nz/361270/Maori-Russian-dolls-made-in-China-sold-in-NZ

4 The learning platform used at the time.

5 The "Shared resources/experiences" indicator was re-designated under "Participation/Interaction" as a manifestation of group activity.

6 An endearing name for New Zealanders.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1–Taster readings as inquiry prompts.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-1.jpg
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Titre Figure 2–Interfaces of complementary tools via WebCT and Garnet Virtual Net (VN).
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-2.jpg
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Titre Figure 3–Meeting 1: Cohesion building through bilingual means.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-3.jpg
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Titre Figure 4–Meeting 2: Cohesion building through bilingual means.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-4.jpg
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Titre Figure 5–Meeting 3: Cohesion building through bilingual means.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-5.jpg
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Titre Figure 6–Cohesion and participation/interaction dimensions.
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-6.jpg
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-7.jpg
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-8.jpg
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/docannexe/image/3161/img-9.jpg
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Pour citer cet article

Référence

Ute Walker, « Community building and translingual practice in an international eGroups telecollaboration », Alsic [En ligne], Vol. 20, n° 2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 18 novembre 2017, Consulté le 18 février 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/alsic/3161 ; DOI : 10.4000/alsic.3161

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Auteur

Ute Walker

Dr Ute Walker is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities at Massey University. Her research interest combines applied linguistics, in particular bilingual approaches to language teaching and learning in virtual and intercultural settings, with sociolinguistic inquiry into language, identity and community in heritage language contexts.
Affiliation: Massey University, Manawatu Campus, New Zealand.
Email: u.walker@massey.ac.nz
Address: School of Humanities, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.

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