Language Learning & Technology
Vol. 7, No. 2, May 2003, pp. 2-5

Paginated PDF version

It is a genuine pleasure to introduce this special issue of Language Learning & Technology on telecollaborative foreign language study. Telecollaboration involves the application of global computer networks to foreign (and second) language learning and teaching in institutionalized settings. In telecollaborative partnerships, internationally-dispersed learners in parallel language classes use Internet communication tools such as e-mail, synchronous chat, threaded discussion, and MOOs (as well as other forms of electronically mediated communication), in order to support social interaction, dialogue, debate, and intercultural exchange. The underlying rationale for this learning configuration is to provide the participants with cost-effective access to and engagement with representatives of the respective "languaculture" (Agar, 1994) under study. Telecollaboration might be of particular value for those students who may otherwise not have the opportunity for meaningful (teacher-guided) interaction with persons from other cultures. In sum, telecollaboration is characterized by institutionalized, electronically mediated intercultural communication under the guidance of a languacultural expert (i.e., teacher) for the purposes of foreign language learning and the development of intercultural competence.

In this issue, we bring you four articles which report telecollaborative exchanges between groups of students at institutions located in England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States. While the reported partnerships span the globe in terms of the geographical locations of the participating students, the scholarly interpretations of their outcomes similarly run the gamut in terms of theoretical approaches to foreign language learning and teaching.

In the first contribution, "Artifacts and Cultures-of-Use in Intercultural Communication," Steven L. Thorne examines the impact of culturally embedded uses of particular Internet communication tools on the outcome of telecollaboration from a cultural-historical perspective (e.g., Bruner, 1995; Rommetveit, 1974). Thorne argues that Internet communication tools are not mere conduits for the facilitation of telecollaborative exchanges; instead, they and their corresponding cultures-of-use co-evolve over time in response to cultural, individual, and collective historical factors. By examining three French-American partnerships over a period of 5 years, Thorne demonstrates how e-mail and Instant Messenger co-evolve with respect to their users and, most importantly, how these developments influence intercultural communication and personal relationship building in the exchanges under study.

In the next article, "Linguistic Perspectives on the Development of Intercultural Competence in Telecollaboration," Julie A. Belz presents one of the first linguistically grounded interpretations of the development of intercultural competence in telecollaboration. Drawing on the relatively unsuccessful experiences of two Germans and one American in a Penn State-Gießen exchange, Belz examines the "attitudes" component of Byram's (1997) model of intercultural competence from the theoretical perspective of systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1994; Martin, 2000; White, 1998). In such an investigation, the analytical emphasis shifts from what learners say in telecollaboration to how they say it, since linguistic form is thought to be semiotic of attitudinal positioning. Belz concludes her study by suggesting that the importance of the teacher increases rather than diminishes in telecollaborative language learning because, in the text-only media of email and chat, he or she must be educated to discern, identify, explain, and model culturally-contingent patterns of interaction in the absence of paralinguistic meaning signals.

Robert O'Dowd also examines the development of intercultural competence (Byram, 1997) in his contribution to the special issue, "Understanding the Other Side: Intercultural Learning in a Spanish-English E-Mail Exchange"; however, he explores the degree of intercultural learning in a range of intercultural dyads, rather than focusing on one relatively unsuccessful set of keypals. Based on his experiences as a telecollaborative teacher in an exchange between King's College in London and León University in Spain, O'Dowd engages in ethnographic action research (Wallace, 1998) in order to characterize qualitatively those electronic dyads in which intercultural learning appears to have occurred.

In the final contribution to this special issue, "Negotiation of Meaning and Code-Switching in Online Tandems," Markus Kötter examines a telecollaborative exchange between Vassar College in the United States and Münster University in Germany from the perspective of interactionist second language acquisition. Kötter posits that the MOO, an under-explored synchronous form of electronic communication, "works" as a facilitator of second language acquisition in telecollaboration despite the fact that learners in his study engaged in conversational repairs that were markedly different from those seen in research on face-to-face exchanges. In addition, Kötter notes that the bilingual format of the electronic interactions in his study served to scaffold the participating students in the completion of required tasks.

In addition to these four feature articles, we present two regular columns and three reviews. In On the Net, Jean W. LeLoup and Robert Ponterio report on several telecollaborative projects at the elementary and secondary levels. The first is Dessinez-moi un Monstre! (Draw me a Monster!), an Internet-mediated collaborative project in which pupils merge competencies in language, art, and technology for the purposes of social interaction and linguistic development. The 2002-2003 cycle of Proyectos educativos of the RedEscolar of ILCE (Instituto Latinoamericano de la Comunicación Educativa) in Mexico offers opportunities for telecollaborative projects in a variety of content areas, while KidLink maintains an extensive archive of projects in 18 different languages. Teachers who would like to participate in a telecollaborative project can register at FLTEACH in order to locate a foreign-based partner with similar interests.

In Emerging Technologies, Bob Godwin-Jones introduces us to blogs, RSS feeds, and wikis, a sampling of second-generation Internet communication tools that have far-reaching implications for Web-based educational practices. Wikis, in particular, appear to hold great potential for telecollaborative projects. Using a simple set of formatting commands, users can post a set of loosely structured Web pages (without knowledge of html) that can be multiply linked to each other as well as to other Internet resources. Any user can edit any page by simply clicking a button, provided that he or she follows group-established conventions for participation and editing. Such norms, in addition to technological features of the program, can increase the collaborative nature of the wiki community. For example, page changes can be logged with author identification or it may be required that any suggested page change be seconded by another wiki participant.

In our first review, Steven L. Thorne evaluates Language and the Internet, David Crystal's (2001) book-length exploration of the effect of the Internet on language. Next, Marisol Fernández-García reviews Network-based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice (2000), a co-edited volume in which Mark Warschauer and Richard Kern present a collection of timely studies on the networked use of computers in foreign language teaching. Finally, Phillip Elliott reviews Patricia V. Lunn's Pronunciación y Fonética (version 2.1), a software package that contains a series of 10 Spanish-language lessons on Spanish pronunciation and phonetics.

Despite the recent flurry of telecollaborative teaching and research on telecollaborative language study, many aspects of this learning configuration remain under-explored.  For example, there is little research on telecollaborative partnerships involving one of the so-called less commonly taught languages such as Chinese, Russian, or Yoruba, and even fewer reports on telecollaborative partnerships in which English is not one of the targeted languages (e.g. an Arabic-Hebrew exchange). Similarly, fine-grained, microgenetic analyses of the use of specific components of the foreign language grammar in telecollaboration are sorely lacking. Such analyses could provide insight into the ways in which telecollaborative interaction may impact linguistic development (e.g., Belz & Kinginger, in press; Kinginger, 2000).

While a fair amount of research has been published on the use of telecollaboration in general intermediate foreign language classes, little has been published on telecollaborative partnerships that focus on specific content areas such as business German or Spanish for medical purposes. If telecollaborative partnerships become standard components of foreign language programs in institutional settings, as some have conjectured, then the gap in research on the multi-section management and articulation of telecollaborative courses will need to be filled. Furthermore, there is a growing array of Internet communication tools that is not well researched both in general terms and with respect to their usefulness in telecollaboration. These include blogs, Internet telephony, instant messaging, video chat, and wikis. It may be the case that some of these technologies will ease the communicative burden placed on text-only intercultural telecollaboration (e.g., e-mail and text-based chat) through the display of additional paralinguistic meaning carriers.

Finally, little emphasis has been placed on the role of telecollaboration in Peace Education. In the most recent telecollaborative course that I have taught in the Fall of 2002, 10 of my 11 American undergraduate students related in post-semester focus group interviews that the telecollaborative course in question represented either the first or the most prolonged interaction that they have ever had with a person from another culture. It is vital to our growth as citizens of a peaceful world that we engage with individuals from other cultures at early junctures in our primary socialization. Telecollaboration may facilitate this process, with beneficial outcomes, particularly for those students located in culturally and ethnically homogenous as well as economically disadvantaged regions. Language Learning & Technology welcomes your comments on the research presented in this issue and looks forward to your contributions to these under-explored areas of telecollaborative languacultural study.

On a final note, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Associate Editor Rick Kern and Managing Editor Pam DaGrossa who provided invaluable assistance in the production of this special issue.

Julie A. Belz
Penn State University


Agar, M. (1994). Language shock: Understanding the culture of conversation. New York: William Morrow.

Belz, J. A., & Kinginger, C. (in press). Discourse options and the development of pragmatic competence by classroom learners of German: The case of address forms. Language Learning, 53(2).

Bruner, J. (1995). Meaning and self in a cultural perspective. In D. Bakhurst & C. Sypnowich (Eds.), The social self (pp. 18-29). London: Sage Publications.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994). An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold.

Kinginger, C. (2000). Learning the pragmatics of solidarity in the networked foreign language classroom. In J. K. Hall & L. S. Verplaetse (Eds.), Second and foreign language learning through classroom interaction (pp. 23-46). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Martin, J. (2000). Beyond exchange: Appraisal systems in English. In S. Hunston & G. Thompson (Eds.), Evaluation in text (pp. 142-175), Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Rommetveit, R. (1974). On message structure: A framework for the study of language and communication. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Wallace, M. J. (1998). Action research for language teachers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

White, P. (1998). Telling media tales: The news story as rhetoric. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Sydney. Available at

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