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The present study was conducted to compare the effect of synchronous and asynchronous Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) on EFL learners’ Speaking and Autonomy. For fulfilling the aim of this study, 60 students whose score fell within the range of one standard deviation above and below the mean of a PET test were selected out of 100. The participants were randomly assigned to two experimental groups and sat a speaking pretest and an autonomy test to ensure their homogeneity. The participants all had a basic knowledge of using computers’ software required for this study. One experimental group consisted of 30 students who underwent synchronous CMC (chat rooms, video Conferences and…) and the other group underwent asynchronous CMC (emails, forum and…). The experimental groups were post tested thorough an interview to yield their level of speaking ability and an autonomy questionnaire to evaluate their autonomy after the treatment. The scores were compared through a MANOVA in order to investigate the null hypotheses of the study. The results indicated that synchronous CMC significantly influenced the speaking ability of the participants while autonomy did not significantly changed in the two experimental groups. The study has implications for learners, teachers, and material developers.
Background and Purpose
The emergence of internet offers an effective means of opening new horizons for Foreign Language (FL) learning and teaching. Two different dimensions of computer-mediated communication (CMC) which has an important role in educational settings are asynchronous exchange (e.g., emails and discussion boards) and synchronous interaction in real time (e.g., chat rooms and video conferences) give unique learning conditions for FL learners to expand the use of the target language and thus develop their communicative language skills (Abrams, 2003; Blake, 2000). A number of studies have documented the advantages of online technologies (Smith, 2003; Warschauer, 2000), online learning creates a friendly and low-anxiety learning environment that allows “all” rather than “some” students to participate (Kern, 1995; Lee, 2002, Magnan, Farrell, Jan, Lee, Tsai, & Worth, 2003) and make students improve their communicative skills faster than ever before.
Although web-based language learners might choose to limit their online connection times, or they may not have access at all due to the connection problems, computers have a variety of offline software such as e-books and audio books which mostly lack the interactional factors but conquer this problem. They can be used by learners on their computers without any necessity for connection to the internet. In so many developing countries where the internet connections have a very low speed, these offline materials look so invaluable since they can prevent students from wasting their time.
The impact of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) on FL learning has been approved by so many researches (Kelm, 1992; Ker1995; Ortega, 1997).
Given the characteristics of computer assisted language learning (CALL) as a medium of education, there seems to be a need to consider learners’ characteristics as an indivisible part of learning. In Ozlem Bayat (2011, p.107) words “EFL learners are responsible for finding settings outside school where the target language is used, for example: the internet, participation in certain activities and using self-access canters”.
Autonomous learners are those who seek the opportunities to learn outside classroom setting and create their own instructional settings freed from the teacher (Breen & Mann, 1997). It is critical for learners to take advantage of as many opportunities as they can to learn and use the target language. Computers as a prominent part of these opportunities can help learners to foster their autonomy but the way in which they can be used is controvertible.
In area of language learning, speaking skills have a privileged status in the language-learning world (Egan, 1999). Both educators and language learners consider speaking a fundamental communicative skill in which development is often expected. However, evidence reveals that foreign language educators regularly experience difficulties in fostering speaking activities due to multiple reasons – some of which are beyond their control. Understanding these difficulties and finding solution for improving students’ speaking thorough using different type of CMC is one of the aims of this study.
Another influential factor in language learning situation is learner autonomy. Autonomy is generally defined as the capacity to take charge of, or responsibility for one’s own learning (Holec, 1981, p. 3). It is both a social and an individual construct, which involves the personal development of each student and, at the same time, interaction with others (La Ganza, 2001). Research findings have provided evidence that autonomy is of general concern in second or foreign language learning (Dafei, 2007; Wenden, 1998; Zhang & Li, 2004). As a result, the trends in language teaching has recently moved toward making learners more autonomous and shifting the responsibility toward the learner (Wenden, 1998).
Considering the above facts, it seems that in spite of the numerous studies which have tried to understand different aspects of CALL, still there are so many aspects which are intact. It seems it is becoming crystal clear for learners and teachers that using computer in educational settings is so advantageous but the novelty of this phenomenon and its complexity has a huge potential for further studies.
1.2 Statement of the Problem and Purpose of the Study
Previous studies have documented a number of benefits that learners have gained by using online technologies (e.g., Chun & Wade, 2003; Darhower, 2002; Lee, 2002, 2004; Sengupta, 2001; Smith, 2003; Warschauer, 2000). Online leaning creates a friendly and low-anxiety learning environment that allows “all” rather than “some” students to participate (e.g., Kern, 1995; Lee, 2002; Magnan, Farrell, Jan, Lee, Tsai, & Worth, 2003) and encourages affective support among peers to increase students’ motivation toward L2 leanrning (Lee, 2003; Weasenforth, Biesenbach-Lucas& Meloni, 2002).
Given the above mentioned factors it should be considered that most studies compared the advantageous or disadvantageous of using or not using CALL. Few studies, if not any, compared different aspects of CALL. As the technology advanced, people began to see more interactive uses of CALL as well as an increase in the integration of various media into the computer system (Otto, 1990) but Synchronous Computer Mediated Communication (SCMC) and Asynchronous Computer Mediated Communication (ACMC) which are two types of CALL can be studied for enriching the nature of this phenomena and deciding which of them should be chosen in different educational settings.
The aim of this study, therefore, was to investigate the comparative view of the effect of asynchronous and synchronous CMC on the development of speaking skill and on learners’ autonomy. Currently, there is a wide range of services and tools that can accommodate CMC speaking practices which have the potential to significantly contribute to learners’ levels of oral sophistication. It seems reasonable to suggest that whereas previous studies mostly considered language learning with the presence of a CALL medium with a situation in which the traditional language learning happens, it seems so important to scrutinize learning situations which contextualize different aspects of CALL with each other to find out functionality of these aspects. As Schütte (2000) emphasizes, within CMC communicative norms have not yet been established and are still in the process of being negotiated, more studies are trying to find the capacity of two types of CMC.
In view of the preceding, use of CMC in classrooms as other studies mentioned can be so effective (James 2013). Technological advances in recent years demonstrate that the digital medium has become more and more popular in developing oral skills (e.g., Abuseileek, 2007; Vinther, 2011; Jauregi et al., 2012). Many of these studies show that CMC in its synchronous manifestation facilitates the acquisition of oral competence (James, 2013). The most important factor that these studies emphasize on is the interaction which exists in Synchronous CMC. On the other hand some recent studies show that the practicality of synchronous CMC does not exceed those of asynchronous CMC. Actually, emergent research in the field of CMC shows that a significant number of technology-based speaking activities take place asynchronically (e.g., Huang & Hung, 2009; Sun, 2009;Hung, 2011).
In view of what was mentioned, the present study seeks to shed light on, firstly, the type of CMC which is more suitable for improving learners speaking skill and secondly the type of CMC better affecting learners’ autonomy.
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