Collaborative Learning and New Media

New Insights into an Evolving Field

by Christian Ludwig (Author) Kris Van de Poel (Author)
©2017 Conference proceedings 382 Pages
Open Access


This book is an essential resource for researchers in the field of applied linguistics as well as practising teachers and teacher trainees in secondary and higher education. It explores collaboration in the foreign language classroom through the use of new media. Combining theoretical, empirical and practical insights into this intricate area of research, the contributions take different approaches across a wide range of international contexts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Christian Ludwig / Kris Van de Poel)
  • Collaborative Learning and the New Media (Christian Ludwig / Kris Van de Poel)
  • Ontological Specification of Telecollaborative Tasks in Language Teaching (Jozef Colpaert / Linda Gijsen)
  • Authentic Interactions and Language Learning – The Interaction Hypothesis Revisited (Lienhard Legenhausen)
  • Students’ Perceptions of Telecollaborative Communication Tools (Theresa Schenker / Fiona Heather Poorman)
  • Differentiation and Individualisation through Digital Media (Maria Eisenmann)
  • Email Communication in the EFL classroom (Saskia Kersten)
  • Tools and Collaborative Tasks for Enabling Language Learning in a Blended Learning Environment (Veronica dal Bianco / Lawrie Moore-Walter)
  • Voices from the University Classroom: Using Social Media for Collaborative Learning in Language Teacher Education (Thorsten Merse / Fiona Heather Poorman)
  • Facing (and Facebooking) Authentic Tasks in a Blended Learning Environment: Metacognitive Awareness Demonstrated by Medical Students (Christine Fourie)
  • Collaborative Academic Acculturation Processes in a Blended-Learning Approach (Kris Van de Poel / Jessica Gasiorek)
  • Collaborative Writing with Writing Pads in the Foreign Language Classroom – Chances and Limitations (Stephan Gabel / Jochen Schmidt)
  • Writing for a ‘Real Audience’? The Role of Audience in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (Judith Buendgens-Kosten)
  • “Let’s Work Together” – How Mobile-Assisted Language Learning Can Contribute to More Collaboration and Interaction among Students (Simon Falk)
  • Critical Perspectives on the Collaborative Learning Potential of Digital Game-Based Learning in the Foreign Language Classroom (Bert Van Poeck)
  • The Rich Environment of CLIL Classes as an Ideal Setting for Collaborative Learning (Dominik Rumlich / Sabine Ahlers)
  • Investigating Social Presence in a Social Networking Environment (Jo Mynard)
  • A Preliminary Needs Analysis for Online Collaborative Language Learning (Elke Ruelens / Nick Van deneynde / Dieter Vermandere)
  • Postscript (Christian Ludwig / Kris Van de Poel)
  • Further reading (Christian Ludwig / Kris Van de Poel)
  • References
  • Editors/Contributors
  • Series index

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“In this new wave of technology, you can’t do it all yourself, you have to form alliances.”

(Carlos Slim Helú)

All quiet on the media front? Certainly not! New media, as Socha and Eber-Schmid (20141) legitimately point out, evolve and morph continuously with the effect that “[w]hat it will be tomorrow is virtually unpredictable for most of us […]”. In addition to this, the cornucopia of catchall terms such as new media, digital media, social media, social networking, and media tools, to mention but a few, causes lively discussions among researchers, practitioners, and students alike about their content, form, application and usability. Despite the fact that the field of “computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is changing so quickly and significantly that the only constant is change itself” (Egbert/Hanson-Smith 1999: ix), digital technologies show enormous potential to effect change in foreign language learning and prepare learners for the demands of an increasingly mobile and yet highly connected modern knowledge society. Yet, in order to take optimal advantage of this social potential –and help learners see the light in that they do not have to go the path alone– we need also to reflect on the traditional teaching methods and embed all in a sound and balanced approach of combined face-to-face and online learning to enable students to learn in a flexible and tailored way. Probably one of the greatest potentials of the ‘new’ technologies is the opportunity to facilitate and enhance the learning process by providing learners with the possibility to interact and collaborate with basically anyone, anywhere and anytime, and in doing so lowering the threshold for learning, making the learning content more relevant and motivational. The duality and need for dovetailing these demands have been aptly summarised by Thomas, Reinders, and Warschauer (2014: 6):

extending the research on the collaborative potential of digital media will be a concern of CALL researchers over the next decade. While the various attempts to describe a generation of new learners, from digital natives to Generation X, remain flawed, digital media are more widely used than ever before.

This is exactly the anchor point where this book comes into play: at the nexus between research and teaching in a digital age. And as such it is a truly applied linguistic endeavour where the demands from the field critically inform the underlying methods and approaches; in short, they instigate theoretical reflections ← 7 | 8 → and theory formation where terms have to be defined in this emergent research area taking into account the speed of change both of the stakeholders and the environment as well as the demands of society. And in good applied linguistic fashion the outcomes also have to be critically evaluated by the field at large in order to feed the theory underlying them.

To this end the present volume comprises 17 papers in which (action) researchers and practitioners share their experiences, case studies, empirical data and thoughts on different forms of interactive media and innovative strategies for using digital media tools and explore how these affect or can be effectively used to support collaborative learning in foreign language education.

The book will commence with a first part containing a detailed discussion underlying the theoretical framework of digital media and collaborative foreign language learning. In the introductory article, Collaborative Learning and the New Media, Christian Ludwig and Kris Van de Poel shed light on the jungle of scary-sounding jargon surrounding collaborative learning and digital media, advocating numerous potential benefits for foreign language learning. In the course of their argument, the authors particularly emphasise the fact that creating an interactive and collaborative learning environment takes more than ‘just’ technology, but has to be supported by careful curricular reflections. Their article is complemented by a theoretical essay on the Ontological Specification of Telecollaborative Tasks in Language Teaching by Jozef Colpaert and Linda Gijsen. They propose an educational engineering approach which defines task design as a process which is related to concepts such as meaningfulness and usefulness. In addition to this, the final theoretical review chapter by Lienhard Legenhausen, Authentic Interactions and Language Learning – The Interaction Hypothesis Revisited, based on Long’s interaction hypothesis (1980), discusses various types of interaction and how they are influenced by classroom activities, but also have an effect on language learning processes.

The second and major part of the volume is of a truly applied nature –often resulting from action-research or critically presenting case-studies– and commences with an article by Fiona Heather Poorman and Theresa Schenker on Students’ Perceptions of Telecollaborative Communication Tools which reports on a cross-cultural telecollaborative project between German and American university students. Following a nine-week virtual exchange via different communication tools, the authors investigated which tools students prefer for communication in telecollaborative exchanges providing implications for educators conducting telecollaborative projects.

The idea of differentiating between students through the use of digital media has gained centre stage in current discussions in the field of foreign language learning. This is exactly the focus of the contribution by Maria Eisenmann ← 8 | 9 → entitled Differentiation and Individualisation through Digital Media. Drawing on a number of examples such as Webquests, e-mail projects and Pod- as well as Vodcasts, the author shows how digital media support collaboration among students in a differentiated and individualised way.

Despite their image of being unfashionable within the Generation Y, emails are still among the most routinely used means of communication in people’s lives. Saskia Kersten’s article Email Communication in the EFL Classroom looks at the role email exchanges can play in foreign language learning, discussing the main features of email communication and suggesting ways of making use of email communication in the classroom with special respect to its pragmatic dimension.

Adding to the plethora of tools available, Veronica Dal-Bianco and Lawrie Moore-Walter discuss in Tools and Collaborative Tasks for Enabling Language Learning in a Blended Learning Environment, how new media can effectively be employed to facilitate collaboration among students in a blended-learning context. By presenting a wide variety of tasks and corresponding tools, such as Skype, Vocaroo, wikis, and Padlet, to mention but a few, they show how students are encouraged to jointly construct meaning and take responsibility for their learning.

The ensuing chapter by Thorsten Merse and Fiona Heather Poorman, Voices from the University Classroom: Using Social Media for Collaborative Learning in Language Teacher Education, stresses that prospective teachers already use social media in their private lives. Proceeding from this assumption their article reports on a project in which two language teacher education courses from the University of Münster and Karlsruhe merged in a collaborative e-learning environment using social media applications such as a classroom wiki and blogs. The project’s results form the basis for discussing the potential of social media for collaborative learning scenarios in higher education.

The following two contributions grapple with one of the currently most popular social networking tools but in very different environments: Facebook. More specifically, Facing (and Facebooking) Authentic Tasks in a Blended Learning Environment: Metacognitive Awareness Demonstrated by Medical Students by Christine Fourie reports on a study conducted within two consecutive years of a blended-learning intensive second language medical communication course which required students to collaboratively solve authentic tasks in a social media environment. The data offer intriguing insights into how to raise students’ metacognitive awareness in the context of collaboration among students themselves and between students and the teacher.

Academic acculturation has become one of the catch phrases especially in higher education programmes. In Collaborative Academic Acculturation Processes ← 9 | 10 → in a Blended-Learning Approach Kris Van de Poel and Jessica Gasiorek report on a study investigating the role of Facebook as a space for collaboration in an academic writing course for first- and second-year English majors. Students were required to complete online tasks which encouraged them to actively engage with the specific discourse of their discipline and thus academically acculturate.

The next three articles continue on the topic of writing first with Collaborative Writing with Writing Pads in the Foreign Language Classroom – Chances and Limitations by Stephan Gabel and Jochen Schmidt, reverting to writing pads such as Titanpad. By turning text production into a collaborative endeavour, students are likely to experience a reduction of the complexity of the writing process. Analysing the asynchronous writing processes of EFL students by using Titanpad, the authors investigate whether the asynchronous production of texts yields similar results as synchronous writing. One of the alleged advantages of using new media in the context of foreign language learning is that students assume that they will have an audience other than just their teacher or peers.

Taking a critical stance, in Writing for a ‘real audience’? The role of audience in computer-assisted language learning, Judith Buendgens-Kosten takes collaborative writing to a different level. By looking at how comments and corrections from blog readers in a language learning blogging community are taken up by blogpost authors in shaping the final form of blogposts, the author discusses what happens if feedback is used for revisions and what effect audience conceptualisations have on blog writers.

Apart from new ways of knowledge acquisition, mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets also offer additional opportunities of connecting with other people. In his essay, Let’s Work Together – How Mobile Assisted Language Learning Can Contribute to More Collaboration and Interaction Among Students, Simon Falk takes readers literally beyond the four walls of the classroom. Following a brief introduction to the growing field of mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and its potential for collaborative learning, the author concentrates on the results of an empirical study investigating impact of collaborative activities on mobile devices on students’ language proficiency.

At first glance, it seems almost obvious that Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) are collaborative in nature and thus it should be possible to exploit their potential for foreign language learning. The article by Bert Van Poeck Critical Perspectives on the Collaborative Learning Potential of Digital Game-Based Learning in the Foreign Language Classroom questions this apparent reality by reviewing three exemplifying studies on the collaborative foreign language learning potential of ← 10 | 11 → MMOs. Based on this, the author makes suggestions for an informed implementation of video games in the foreign language learning classroom.

The subsequent contribution by Dominik Rumlich and Sabine Ahlers, The Rich Environment of CLIL Classes as an Ideal Setting for Collaborative Learning, discusses the role of new media collaboration in a CLIL-environment. Arguing that CLIL and collaborative learning are strictly speaking two sides of the same coin, the article provides practical examples of collaborative methods in the context of CLIL geography classes; namely detective stories, mini books, and experiments.

The contributions to this volume argue that digital media tools can encourage students to collaborate and thus have a positive impact on students’ performances. Convinced by the benefits of digital media and the ideal image of students as digital natives (Prensky 2001), digital residents (White, & Le Cornu, 2010) or the Generation Y, who make natural use of digital technology, we often seem to take for granted that our students not only have an encompassing positive attitude towards technological tools, but also possess the necessary skills for an informed use of digital media tools for foreign language learning purposes. Even though these issues have resounded in many of the previous articles, the following two articles pursue exactly this issue in more detail. Investigating Social Presence in a Social Networking Environment by Jo Mynard explores the nature of social presence in an online social networking environment. Students completed a range of online tasks on the social networking site Ning as part of a blended-learning course at a Japanese university. The results indicate that students are unaware of the conventions of social networking sites and needed greater preparation for beneficially participating in online discussions.

The ensuing contribution by Elke Ruelens, Nick Van deneynde and Dieter Vermandere, entitled A Preliminary Needs Analysis for Online Collaborative Language Learning, is similarly concerned with the effect of students’ pre-knowledge on the success of online activities in blended-learning environments. The results of a needs analysis among Belgian university students indicate that they need to be prepared for the demands of online collaboration in blended-learning contexts.

This volume rounds off with a further reading section and a brief conclusion by the editors summarising the most cogent points made in the individual chapters and providing a glimpse into a possible future of collaborative learning and technology.

Of course, we are well aware of the fact that the articles in this volume only cover a limited section of the intersection between digital media and collaborative foreign language learning and that there is much more that one might want to ← 11 | 12 → explore. However, this volume tried to touch on some central points and issues in an exemplary fashion, at the same time keeping an open mind about other areas and potential applications. In all cases have we tried to make a strong plea for further investigating the nexus teaching/learning and research and we sincerely hope that you as a reader and thus a collaborator of this book will take it from here and dive into the range of fields that collaborative foreign language learning in the digital media age embraces.

Christian Ludwig & Kris Van de Poel

Karlsruhe & Antwerp (2017)


This book could not have been conceived without the help of many minds and hands. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all contributors for helping to bring this edited volume to life and for being patient enough to engage in discussions with us. Without the support of the GAL, you would not be holding this book now. Sincere thanks are also due to the anonymous reviewers who have enhanced the quality of the argument. Last but not least, we would also like to thank Lars Salles and Raphael Röder for thoroughly proofreading and meticulously following up on the different versions of the manuscript and Kenneth McGillivray for bringing the references into shape.

1 http://www.newmedia.org/what-is-new-media.html.

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Christian Ludwig & Kris Van de Poel
University of Education Karlsruhe, Germany
University of Antwerp, Belgium

Collaborative Learning and the New Media

“We do live in this age of new media.”


This chapter addresses the ways in which new media can stimulate and shape collaborative learning in the foreign language classroom. New media have drastically changed the ways we interact and communicate in daily life and are gradually finding their way into foreign language classrooms. At the same time, in foreign language learning, the educational approach has shifted from learning by individual ‘lone fighters’ to collaborative learning involving groups of learners working towards a common goal. In the first part of this chapter the rationale and benefits of the collaborative approach will be scrutinised. This chapter further seeks to propose a definition for the term new media which appears to have remained elusive since its very conception. Finally, we will investigate the potential of new media to facilitate collaboration in the foreign language classroom.

Being able to collaborate with people in different spaces, contexts, and in multiple constellations is a substantial skill in our increasingly globalised world, especially with the changes and possibilities brought on by today’s technologies. Ín the context of foreign language learning and teaching, collaborative learning has gained accelerating attention in recent years (cf. Smith/MacGregor 1992; Macaro 1997; Bruffee 1999; Barkley/Major 2014). It is not only seen as an important aim in itself, but also believed to increase communication skills in the target language, to build confidence, to lead to deeper learning and understanding as well as to stimulate students to be more actively involved in their own learning. Collaborative learning, however, is not clearly defined and often used as an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches (Smith/MacGregor 1992) involving different kinds of organisation and tasks. The lowest common denominator of those frameworks is that in collaborative learning scenarios, learners work together to accomplish a common learning goal. Findley (1987), in his seminal and often quoted definition, states rather broadly that collaborative learning can be defined as “a situation in which a group of two or more learners learn or attempt to learn something together”. This is a definition which can be interpreted in different ways (for a criticism of this definition see Dillenbourg 1999: 1). According to Gerlach (1994), collaborative learning “is ← 13 | 14 → based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves”. Smith and McGregor (1992: n.p.) take the social aspect slightly further and put most of the activity with the learners when defining collaborative learning as a joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually students work in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions or meanings, or creating a product. Collaborative learning activities vary widely, but most centre on students’ exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it. A more recent definition by Dooly (2008: 21) focuses on the learners’ responsibility and personal growth and stresses that collaborative learning


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (September)
Social Media CALL Technology in Language Learning
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017., 382 pp., 14 fig. col., 2 fig. b/w, 54 tables

Biographical notes

Christian Ludwig (Author) Kris Van de Poel (Author)


Title: Collaborative Learning and New Media