Technology, Mediation, and Second Language Acquisition:
Research and Praxis


Steve Thorne ( , Office: 304A Sparks Bldg, University Park, PA

Linguistics and Applied Language Studies; The Pennsylvania State University

Spring Term, 2007, Mondays, 6-9pm; Class meetings: 11 Sparks

CMLIT/FR/GER/SPAN 589: This graduate level survey course explores the theoretical and pedagogical implications of Internet-based communication and multimedia in a wide array of language education contexts. Course activities include experimentation with established and emerging Internet communication and composition tools (e.g., wikis, weblogs (blogs), forums, chat, podcasting, the virtual environment Second Life) and readings of relevant research drawing from second language acquisition, communication theory, descriptive linguistics, cultural studies, poststructuralism, and educational theories of development (the latter primarily in the form of sociocultural and activity theoretical research). Participants will be expected to exit this course with a broad knowledge of educational uses of technology and will have the opportunity, through a variety of course activities, to focus on specific empirical, theoretical, and/or pedagogical contexts that relate to their academic and professional specializations. Students are encouraged to carry out research relevant to their interests and professional goals.

Purpose: To competently and with insight enter the discourse community concerned with technology use in language education. To this end, we will address related research and pedagogical issues from a variety of perspectives, including, but not limited to, second language acquisition, communication theory, linguistics, cultural studies, poststructuralism, and educational theories of development (the latter primarily in the form of sociocultural and activity theoretical research).

Course Objectives:

Class meetings will include:

Your obligations and responsibilities:

  1. To participate in on-line and class discussions (invaluable, but marked at 10%): These will include whole-class interaction (email and web-based threaded discussion) and periodic uses of synchronous CMC and other new/emerging technologies.
  2. To produce a reaction journal to the readings (10%): Write a short summary or outline of 12 articles over the length of the course (roughly one per week) and include 3 (or more) critical questions or issues that you could raise in class discussion. You will develop and keep these reactions on a BLOG (web-log).
  3. To act as a discussion catalyst (10%): In teams of 2-3, groups will take responsibility for initiating in-class discussion by presenting a brief overview of the day's readings and critical questions.
  4. Consider the following:
  5. Technology-integrated Curricular Unit Development Project (30%): In this project, you will work in small groups to design a technology-integrating unit of instruction for a second/foreign language course of your choice. The unit should be at least 3 hours of instruction, and should be comprised of at least 3 related technology-based activities, e.g. web, chat, blogs, wikis, podcasts, MMO(RP)G (e.g., Second Life) or other technologies. The purpose of this project is for you to become familiar with the processes involved in developing a technology-integrated second/foreign language instructional unit. The final product (credited to you, of course), with possible adaptations and edits, will become a publicly available resource hosted on the CALPER Computer-mediated Activity Library < >, either as separate activities or as an integrated project. There are 3 parts to the project: a project description, activity descriptions, and a case study.

    1. Project description: The project description should include a section describing the course for which the unit would be a part, including discussion of the institutional context, students, course goals, and course content. A larger section should then describe the unit, in terms of:
    •    unit content
    •    rationale for choice of unit theme
    •    means used to conceptualize the content, including any heuristic
    •    unit goals & objectives—these should parallel TESOL or ACTFL standards
    •    organization of content, including overview grid or other representation
    •    student assessment measures
    •    evaluation of unit

    2. Activity descriptions: Your unit should include at least 3 technology-based activities (or be a single project using 3 different technologies). Each activity description should be of an identical format, with information on the activity type, language, topic, tool, group size, description, objectives (again using TESOL or ACTFL standards), teacher instructions, student objectives, variations, and resources.

    3. Case study: For the case study, you should implement one of the activities (or the entire unit, if you can) in a class you or colleagues are currently teaching. You should videotape the implementation and record a separate instructor evaluation and student impressions if possible. You should then use iMovie or similar software to develop a 5-minute video describing the implementation.

  6. Final project and presentation (40%): Examples are term paper, original research paper, review of the literature paper, formal report on activity 5 (above), other written genres (proposal for research, MA thesis, PhD proposal or chapter, etc). The goal of the Final Project should be relevant to your interest and academic/professional development. For all large projects, an outline, key questions, and literature review/bibliography will be due in late March (2004). Oral presentations of Final Projects will occur during the mini-conference we will convene over the 2 class sessions. Final paper due on the last class day in April, 2005.

Evaluation and Grading: You will be responsible for putting together the assignments that include the above items. At the end of the term, please provide a cover letter that explains where your work is (e.g., on a blog, wiki, website, attached document).

Ethical Code: The internet (and world, for that matter) is full of information that you will want to utilize in your written work. Please do so as freely as you like, but do use proper citation protocols (otherwise, one falls into plagiarism, which will result in a failing grade). Collaborative work in encouraged -- If you would like to co-develop a project with a classmate, please do so. 

Texts and Study Materials: We will utilize both a traditional reading packet (to be available at the UPS Store., 208 W. Hamilton Shopping Center off South Atherton, Phone: 237-2552), and readings that are available on the web (linked directly off the 589 on-line syllabus).

Technology resources you will need: The ability to access readings via the Internet (web), and potentially somewhere to print them out.

LINKS to course technology resources and environments


, 1/22: General discussion and orientation to the course

WEEK 2, 1/29: Overview articles of CALL; History of the Internet; Intro to Blogs

WEEK 3, 2/5: Computer-mediated Communciation; Pedagogical innovation; Perspectives; Intro to Wikis
Suggested -- read if interested:

WEEK 4, 2/12: Computer-mediated Communication; Intro to podcasting
Optional Readings (oldies and pretty goodies):
  1. Bernhardt, E., Kamil, M. (1998). Enhancing foreign culture learning through electronic discussion. In Judith A. Muyskens (ed.), New ways of learning and teaching: Focus on technology and foreign language education. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
  2. Sullivan, N., & Pratt, E. (1996). A comparative study of two ESL writing environments: A computer-assisted classroom and a traditional oral classroom. System 29: 491-501.
  3. Thorne, S. (1999).Chapter 3: Educational and foreign/second language uses of computer-mediation: A review of research. In: An activity theoretical analysis of foreign language electronic discourse. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
  4. Warschauer, M., & Healey, D. (1998). Computers and language learning: An overview. Language Teaching, 31, 57-71.

WEEK 5: 2/19: Computer-mediated Communication; More podcasting

Optional Readings

WEEK 6, 2/26: Computer-mediated communication; Intro to Second Life

Examples of gaming, virtual environments, & innovative CMC tools

WEEK 7, 3/5: More Second Life; iMovie tutorial; Interpenetrations between VE and IRL

Spring Break

WEEK 8, 3/19: Introduction to Internet-mediated intercultural communication and L2 learning
WEEK 9, 3/26: More Internet-mediated intercultural communication and L2 learning

WEEK 10, 4/2: Heritage language issues; Teacher training and technology

WEEK 11, 4/9: IMovie tutorial with JR; Project work in groups

*Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium on April 14, 2007.  See

Talks of Interest:
•    Lee Rainie – project director for the Pew Internet and American Life project -- technology and life, work, play, learning
•    Bryan Alexander – National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education and EDUCAUSE Initiative participant (Horizon Report) -- social computing and mobile learning
•    Second Life Panel: Steve Thorne, Gerry Santoro, Brett Bixler: 3:20 - 4:05 in Room 108 Penn Stater

WEEK 12, 4/16: Critical perspectives on technology, culture, & education

Recent critical scholarship on technology, language, & literacy

WEEK 13, 4/23: Class cancelled due to AAAL conference -- make up date 5/7 @ the usual time and location

WEEK 14, 4/30: Student project presentations

WEEK 15, 5/7: Wrap-up and presentations