Review of Literature
Historical Overview of the Theory and Research Literature
MOO (Multi-user domain object oriented) is a textual, Internet-based, virtual world in which participants from all over the real world can meet and communicate. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate the claim that MOO can be used successfully as an instructional tool in high school foreign language classes. In preparing such a dissertation, the following related fields will be explored: second language acquisition (SLA) theory, second/foreign language learning motivation and theories, educational simulations/role plays/fantasy/games theories as used in second/foreign language instruction, schema theory in second/foreign language reading, computer mediated communications (CMC) theory in second/foreign language instruction, and the incipient field of MOO-specific research relating to second/foreign language instruction.
Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Theory.
Krashen (1976, 1977, 1985, 1997) posited that the two prerequisites for facilitating second language acquisition are students' encountering comprehensible input and a lowered affective filter. Although accepting some modifications to his work over the last 20 years, Krashen has defended the validity of his main hypotheses. According to Krashen, students learn a language in a controlled academic setting by focusing on forms and rules, and then by reproducing these forms and rules during exams and exercises. Language acquisition occurs subconsciously in naturalistic settings, while using meaningful language in an environment of low stress (i.e., a weak affective filter). Krashen's input hypothesis defined students' current level of comprehension as i and the input that would increase linguistic competency as i+1, a bit beyond the students' current level, but within the students' developmental capabilities. Students internalize the i+1 by subconsciously comparing it with their previous mental model of the language. If there is a discrepancy between the input and the model, the model is modified, thus moving the students along what Selinker (1972) termed the interlanguage continuum toward the target language. According to Virgil and Oller (as cited in Brown, 1993), fossilization occurs when students stop moving toward the target language, reflecting a feeling that the current mental model is functionally acceptable, and no longer challenged by input from the students' interlocutors.
Krashen defined the affective filter as a screening device in the internal processing system, governed by the acquirers' "motives, needs, attitudes, and emotional states" (Dulay, Burt, & Krashen, 1982, p. 46), that allows or prohibits the acceptance of new input. In other words, a lowered affective filter is "an open attitude" as Krashen called it in 1997 (p.17). A strong affective filter would lead to rapid fossilization.
Krashen's monitor hypothesis is closely related to the construct of the affective filter. According to Krashen, students develop a cognitive self-checking device, a monitor, to help them create correct output. A strong monitor is extremely useful in controlled situations of language learning, such as examinations and essays, but hinders the students' acquiring a language by working against the needed low-stress linguistic environment. Students with strong monitors tend to be too fearful to freely interact in the new language, thus avoiding the input necessary to modify their mental models of the language (Gregg, 1984; Krashen, 1977).
Krashen's concepts were very similar to the works of Chomsky (1965), Piaget (1967, 1973, 1976), and Vygostsky (1978). The input hypothesis was parallel to Chomsky's theory that the brain has a language acquisition device (LAD) whose language specific switches are set when input from a particular language is presented. Krashen's explanation of the movement along the interlanguage continuum resembled Piaget's concepts of equilibration, including assimilation of information into existing schemas and accommodation of mental models to accept information that does not fit previous schemas. Finally, the i+1 was the linguistic parallel to Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, the context in which new language knowledge could be acquired with the aid of a caregiver.
Krashen's concepts have been modified and adapted by Long (1983), Pica (1994), Pica and Doughty (1987), Pica, Lincoln-Porter, Paninos, and Linnell (1996), and others to define comprehensible input as a process of negotiated interaction. As a result, comprehensible output has been upgraded from Krashen's vehicle for merely requesting additional comprehensible input to an integral part of negotiated interaction. In opposition to Krashen, Swain (1985) saw comprehensible output as independent from input, allowing the students to actively test linguistic hypotheses within meaningful contexts. In addition, Swain maintained that through comprehensible output, the students move from a passive semantic analysis of a language to an active syntactic analysis of that language. Swain's theories agreed with Virgil and Oller's theories of fossilization (as cited in Brown, 1993), according to which, interlocutors can signal acceptance, or the need for more negotiation of meaning, in the face of students' output. When the interlocutors signal acceptance on both an affective and a cognitive level, many students tend to feel that their mental model of the language and its output are good enough to be functional. At this point their model fossilizes in the interlanguage continuum, before reaching the target language.
The modification of Krashen's input hypothesis by Long, Pica, Swain, and others reflected Vygotsky's (1978) dictum that learning is done in a social setting and that a caregiver is needed to help the learner into the zone of proximal development. Linguistically, it is native speakers, or more fluent non-native speakers of a language, who negotiate meaning through interaction with the students, helping them form and test hypotheses, causing them to construct mental models of the target language, and ultimately helping the students move along the interlanguage continuum towards the target language (Pica, Holliday, Lewis & Morgenthaler, 1989; Pica, Lincoln-Porter, Paninos & Linnel, 1996). The converse should be noted here: interlocutors who are neither native speakers, nor more fluent non-native speakers, can do relatively little to move the students towards the target language. Without the intervention of more competent speakers of the target language, the interlanguage of students will soon fossilize. This is particularly true when students in a class speak the same native language, reinforcing first language interference with no awareness of alternative structures (Brown, 1993; Conrad, 1996; Meunier, 1997). For example, students whose native language does not include the relative pronoun whose or the perfect aspect will probably not discover these structures by themselves.
Krashen's claim that acquisition is a totally subconscious process has been challenged by theorists who stressed the importance of conscious awareness of linguistic forms (Warschauer, 1998). Schmidt (1990), for example, claimed that students' awareness of new linguistic forms transforms new input into intake, incorporating it into the students' mental model of the language. In his review of the literature, Warschauer (1998) noted that the input-interaction-output models make a number of claims. First, comprehensible input is necessary (but not sufficient) for second language acquisition, Second, meaning-oriented negotiation between non-native speakers and native speakers leads to modifications of the non-native speakers' mental model of the language because it clarifies the input, focuses on new linguistic forms, and flags incorrect attempts to use the second or foreign language. Third, some awareness of new forms is important, and perhaps crucial, for modifying mental models of the target language. Fourth, comprehensible output is an important element in second/foreign language acquisition because it enhances fluency, creates an awareness on the part of the students about the weaknesses in their current mental model of the language, allows the students to test hypotheses about the target language, and allows metalinguistic evaluation of the target language when the students ask native speakers or more fluent non-native speakers about the target language.
Second/Foreign Language Learning Motivation and Anxiety Theories.
Although Krashen has generated much focused debate with his concept of comprehensible input, it would appear that his umbrella construct of an affective filter has not created as much interest. Crookes and Schmidt (1991) wrote that "the concept of the affective filter has been considered by many to be the weakest part of Krashen's theory of second language acquisition" (p. 478) and went on to review the literature that rejected Krashen's construct. Nevertheless, many researchers have continued to base their work, in part, on Krashen's concepts of the affective filter (Young, 1991). Whether using Krashen's terminology or not, recent literature about the affective domain has been fragmented among many overlapping areas of interest, often suffering from the lack of standard definitions of terms (Brown, 1993; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Gardner & Tremblay, 1994; Kelm, 1996; Oxford & Shearin, 1994). For example, Brown's (1993) review of the literature distinguished the affective domain from the cognitive aspects of learning and included elements such as self-esteem, inhibition, risk taking, anxiety, empathy, extroversion, motivation, cultural stereotypes, attitudes, acculturation, social distance, and cultural differences. Kelm (1996), on the other hand, defined the elements of the affective domain as: "personality, attitude, motivation, peer identification, anxiety, monitoring, inductive abilities, etc." (p. 26). Disregarding Kelm's open-ended etc., only two of his listed components matched Brown's: motivation and anxiety. Yet the exact definition of these two terms have been heatedly debated in recent years (Oxford & Shearin, 1994). For decades there had been a general acceptance of the second language motivation theories of Gardner and his associates (Gardner, 1988; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1991; Gardner & Lambert, 1959; Gardner & Tremblay, 1994; Gilksman, Gardner, & Smythe, 1982; Lalonde & Gardner, 1985; Lambert, Gardner, Barik, & Tunstall, 1963), dividing language learning motivation into two types. Integrative motivation involved associating with, and becoming like, the target language group. Instrumental motivation involved profiting from the ability to use the target language for particular purposes, such as job-related tasks, but not necessarily becoming like native speakers. Recently, this dichotomy has been criticized as insufficient. Au (1988) attacked Gardner et al.'s theories head on, questioning aspects of generality, lack of empirical evidence, poor definition of terms, and faulty experimental design. Other authors (Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Dornyei, 1990, 1994; Ely, 1986; Oxford, 1994; Oxford & Shearin, 1994) also found the theories of Gardner and his associates insufficient, but professed to build upon these theories rather than discard them.
Oxford and Shearin (1994) noted the confusion in Gardner et al.'s theory about the difference between motivation in second language and foreign language environments. They agreed with Dornyei (1990) that integrative motivation may be much less important for foreign language students who do not come into contact with the target language, or people speaking it, outside of the language classroom. In fact, according to Dornyei, quite often the foreign language students know so little about the realities of the target language cultures that the students are neutral and uncommitted about associating with the native speakers. Thus, instrumental motivation is relatively more important for foreign language students than second language students. Along with this instrumental motivation, Dornyei saw the psychological need for achievement as a sufficient motivating factor at the beginning and intermediate levels of language proficiency. Fulfilling foreign language requirements in school has little in common with integrative or instrumental motivation, but is sufficient for motivating ambitious students. At the advanced level of proficiency, Dornyei suggested that the lack of integrative motivation grows more important as a factor in foreign language students' difficulties in acquiring the language. Oxford and Shearin agreed that the continued lack of integrative motivation for foreign language students often prevents them from achieving advanced levels of proficiency. In attempting to analyze a separate foreign language motivation construct, Dornyei (1994) offered three levels: the language level, the learner level, and the learning situation level. Within the learning situation level, there were three groups of components: course-specific motivational components, teacher-specific motivational components, and group-specific motivational components. Basing his definition of course-specific motivation on the work of Crookes and Schmidt (1991), Dornyei offered four course-specific motivational components: interest, relevance (to the students' lives), expectancy (expectations of success and feelings of being in control), and satisfaction (Dornyei, 1994). These, and the other definitions in Dornyei's taxonomy, were strongly supported by Oxford (1994). Here, Dornyei, based on Crookes and Schmidt, and supported by Oxford, offered a tool for analyzing the motivation of foreign language students using specific methodological procedures (including MOO) in terms of course-specific motivation.
Another relevant construct of the affective domain is language learning anxiety. MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) noted that despite numerous studies since the 1970's, this construct suffers from the lack of a standard definition and, until recently, a number of conflicting conclusions arising from the research. However, with refinements in theory and measurement, most recent research has overwhelmingly supported the view that anxiety plays a major role in directly and indirectly influencing language learning and acquisition. (Ely, 1986; MacIntyre, 1995: MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991; Young, 1991). The major dissenting voice about the importance of anxiety in language learning comes from Sparks and Granschow (as cited in MacIntyre, 1995), who posited that language aptitude is the dominant factor in language learning success and regard language anxiety as a side effect.
Some of the early contradictory research findings could be explained with the adoption of the Yerkes-Dodson Law which stated that low levels of anxiety actually aid the students to focus on the task at hand, thus causing superior performance compared to students who are indifferent to the task (MacIntyre, 1995). Nevertheless, as the anxiety of dealing with a particular task increases, a point is reached where the affective demands on cognitive processing become so great that each increment of anxiety impedes the students' successful completion of the task. These two types of anxieties were termed facilitating anxiety and debilitating anxiety (MacIntyre, 1995). Most of the literature dealt with debilitating anxiety , and suggested a bidirectional negative correlation between anxiety and linguistic performance. Many students enter a downward spiral in which the awareness of their cognitive problems (apparent with slower and less successful performance) leads to greater anxiety which further impedes cognition (Ely, 1986; MacIntyre, 1995: MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991; Young, 1991). Based on a review of several studies of young children, adolescents, and adults, MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) suggested a developmental process in which initial experience with language anxiety increases with time. The knowledge of past difficulties and failures leads to greater anxiety, which leads to further interference with cognitive processing. This developmental process often coincides, and interacts, with the appearance of students' strong self-consciousness during their adolescent years. As the research indicated, language learning anxiety is weakest for children and strongest for adolescents and adults (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991).
People are often anxious about their ability to function in a second or foreign language, particularly in oral/aural situations, a type of anxiety termed communication apprehension (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). Unlike reading and writing, which allow for contemplation and correction, listening and speaking demand high levels of concentration in a time frame not controlled by the students. When there is only one chance to successfully process the input or output, the pressure on students increases. Even in a conversational situation, people will feel ill at ease repeatedly requesting the same information (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991; Young, 1991).
While communication apprehension may exist in natural environments outside of the classroom, inside the classroom there are additional types of anxiety: the worries about being formally evaluated (test anxiety) and the worries of looking foolish in front of peers (social anxiety) (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991; Young, 1991). Examining grade 7 and grade 9 Canadian Francophone students, Clement, Gardner, and Smythe (as cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991) found that self-confidence in English performance was the lowest among students who were exposed to English only in the classroom as opposed to being exposed to English at home, with friends, or both. (In this study, and others like it, self-confidence was defined as the lack of anxiety and was positively correlated with language learning motivation.) Young (1991) suggested six sources of classroom language anxiety: "1) personal and interpersonal anxieties; 2) learner beliefs about language learning; 3) instructor beliefs about language learning; 4) instructor-learner interactions; 5) classroom procedures; and 6) language testing" (p. 427). MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) would call the anxiety prevalent in the language classroom situation-specific anxiety stemming from the social context in which the anxious students find themselves (as opposed to trait anxiety which is a permanent characteristic of individuals and to state anxiety which is a problematic mixture of trait and situation-specific anxieties). The reviews of literature have consistently pointed to significantly higher levels of anxiety in language classes as compared to other academic subjects, supporting the hypothesis of a separate language learning anxiety construct. In fact, several of the empirical studies reviewed by MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) indicated that "anxiety provides some of the highest correlations of attitudes with achievement" (p. 103).
Extending the analysis, Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (as cited in Young, 1991) were the first to posit the difference between second language anxiety and foreign language anxiety. Referring to the findings of Horwitz et al. and others, MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) discussed the sociolinguistic aspects of second language and foreign language anxiety. Members of certain language groups tend to fear cultural assimilation more than members of other language groups. For example, Clement et al. (as cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991) found that Canadian Francophone students saw speaking English as a threat to their cultural identity while Canadian Anglophone students did not have similar fears about speaking French. Radin (as cited in Young, 1991) used the term existential anxiety to describe the Francophones' fears of cultural assimilation. By changing their cultural patterns, the Francophones would lose their current identity. This is closely related to Guiora's (as cited in Brown, 1993; Young, 1991) concept of language ego, according to which students go through an identity conflict during the inevitable process of taking on new identities when using the target language. Lambert (as cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991) called the Francophones' language-based loss of identity subtractive bilingualism while others have termed the Anglophones' experience as additive bilingualism (Brown, 1993).
The research of Pak, Dion, and Dion (as cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991) suggested that Chinese speaking students in Canada experience additive bilingualism while studying English rather than subtractive bilingualism. Pak et al. stated that the Chinese speaking students demonstrate linguistic rather than cultural assimilation. Their visible difference from stereotypical Anglophones cause the Chinese speakers less anxiety about identity and allow them to concentrate more easily on their English studies.
Schumann (as cited in Brown, 1993) dealt with the construct of social distance between language groups that come in contact with each other, a construct closely connected to subtractive and additive bilingualism. Briefly, the greater the perceived social distance between two language groups, the less chance of successful second language acquisition by the members of those groups. Of course, social distance is not the only, nor necessarily the most dominant, factor predicting success in the language classroom, as seen in studies like the one done by Pak et al. The positive, instrumental motivation of sociopolitically and economically subordinate groups may well be stronger than the negative aspects of social distance. For example, conquered and enslaved populations have understood the brutally practical necessity (i.e, instrumental motivation) of learning the language of their conquerors and masters. Thus, social distance is only one element within the larger construct of anxiety, a construct which strongly predicts success in second/foreign language classrooms. (Brown, 1993; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991).
As mentioned above, Dornyei (1990), like Horwitz et al. (as cited in Young, 1991), made the distinction between second language and foreign language environments. Foreign language students usually have not had enough contact with the target language group to develop positive or negative feelings about that group, its culture, and its language. Thus, the anxieties of subtractive bilingualism and similar factors impeding integrative motivation, are missing in most foreign language classrooms. As a result, whatever motivation exists in foreign language classrooms tends to be instrumental motivation (Brown, 1993; Dornyei, 1994).
Young (1991) presented an extensive review of the literature relating to language anxiety in the classroom, in which she wrote:
MacIntyre and Gardner contend that learners do not begin the language learning experience with language anxiety. If they experience anxiety, it is most likely state anxiety. According to them, language anxiety occurs only after attitudes and emotions regarding the language learning experience have been formed. If MacIntyre and Gardner's theory is correct, this suggests that the problem is not so much in the student but in the language learning experience, i.e., the methodology. Student language anxiety might be an indication that we are doing something fundamentally unnatural in our methodology. (p. 429)
Among her various suggestions for more natural methodological procedures to decrease anxiety in the second/foreign language classroom, Young suggested the use of games: collaborative problem-solving games as well as traditional competitive ones. Citing Krashen, she noted that the best way to reduce anxiety is to make the content of the lesson so interesting that the students forget they are in language class. This is the power of a good game. Saunders and Crookall (as cited in Young, 1991) also posited that games can lower language anxiety by overcoming the inhibition and caution that adults feel in formal learning environments.
Simulations/Role Plays/Fantasy/Games Theories as Used in Second/Foreign Language Instruction.
Rieber (1996) reviewed the meager research on using forms of play in general adult education. He posited that the concept of play is not easily accepted as serious pedagogy by adult learners and teachers. Thus, only recently has the potential of play in adult education been recognized by researchers. It would appear, though, that second/foreign language instruction has somewhat escaped this psychological impediment in the past. Simulations, role play, drama, fantasy, and games have a long, although marginal, tradition in second/foreign language methodology. While two goals of such procedures are to lower anxiety and raise motivation levels in the classroom, a third goal is the creation of meaningful situations in which to develop communicative competence and practice lexis, grammar, style, and other linguistic elements (Harmer, 1983; Omaggio, 1978; Saunders & Crookall, 1985; Ur, 1988).
Scarcella (1978) reviewed the use of sociodrama in second language acquisition. Stern (1980) analyzed the psycholinguistic basis for using drama as a second language acquisition tool. Di Petro (1981, 1982) and Rodriquez and White (1983) dealt with the long tradition of role plays in language teaching. Categorizing games and simulations according to Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives, Omaggio (1978, 1982) made a case for using these procedures in second language instruction. The most advanced category is that of social interaction games, creating the most intense emotional involvement and a need to communicate. Writing specifically about simulations, Wright (1998) reviewed theoretical and empirical material supporting claims of greater student motivation and activation during simulations. Nevertheless, Crookall (as cited in Wright, 1998) found that students believe that they learn less grammar via simulation. Wright's (1998) empirical research called this belief into question, by finding no significant difference in learning grammar between students using simulation and those using more traditional procedures. While Wright's experiment dealt with computerized simulations with static graphics, Meunier (1994) noted the ability of contemporary computer technology to provide a multimedia immersion for linguistic experience within the framework of live-action simulations. These simulations give the students a greater sense of authenticity and cultural reality.
Many of the methodological procedures, mentioned above, converge in "Suggestopedia". Bancroft (1995), identified seven types of right brain learning strategies in Suggestopedia: visual thinking, fantasy, evocative language, metaphor, multisensory learning, music, and direct experience. With the aim of lowering anxiety levels, students enrolled in Suggestopedia classes take on new persona, with new names and new personal histories. Lying on reclining chairs and breathing according to yoga methods, they allow their imaginations to experience aural texts while carefully chosen background music accompanies the lesson. Follow-up role plays and other linguistic games, based on the texts, aid the students to understand the passages when they finally read them.
Schema Theory in Second/Foreign Language Reading.
Reading in the target language, according to schema theorists, is an interactive process in which the reader brings to the text a previous knowledge of the world, including knowledge of texts, that facilitates the understanding of that text (Anderson & Pearson, 1988, Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983; Grabe, 1988). All students have a large number of schemas that organize their world view. If new information fits into a slot within an existing schema, then the text is easily understood. Here, the readers use top-down strategies of predicting meaning as well as bottom-up strategies of word and grammatical recognition. If, on the other hand, the new information does not belong to any existing schema, then the readers cannot benefit from the top-down strategies and are limited to bottom-up strategies. For example, a text about a family will be more comprehensible to most students than a text about quantum theory physics, even if the lexis and grammar are equivalent in both texts.
Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) Theory in Second/Foreign Language Instruction.
Computer mediated communications (CMC) research in the field of second language acquisition appeared in the mid 1980's. This new field of research has grown as second/foreign language teachers have gained access to networked classrooms, the Internet, or both (Warschauer, 1996a). Many teachers saw the potential for using computer mediated communications: to create natural situations of negotiated interaction for their students, to lower the anxiety levels in the classroom, and to increase student motivation (Freiermuth, 1998; Frizler, 1995; Meunier; 1994; Warschauer, 1996a, 1996b). These teachers first used asynchronous e-mail, and many continue to do so, to promote collaborative work and other forms of linguistic interaction in the target language. (Barson, Frommer & Schwartz, 1993; Goodwin, Hamrick & Stewart, 1993; Lunde, 1990; Kroonenberg, 1994/1995; Soh & Soon, 1991) In fact, Warschauer (1996b) suggested that e-mail is more popular with language teachers than synchronous procedures (to be discussed below) used in a single class. E-mail is an asynchronous procedure that is much easier to organize than synchronous procedures. E-mail potentially can put language students in contact with native speakers of the target languages all over the world (Barson, Frommer, & Schwartz, 1993; Paramskas, 1993; Sayers, 1993; Soh & Soon, 1991), thus accessing native speaker input in the form of negotiated interaction, facilitating movement along the interlanguage continuum, and discouraging fossilization (Long, 1983).
The use of synchronous tools on local area networks (LANs) quickly followed the development of e-mail procedures, allowing students to participate in written conversations within a single second/foreign language classroom (Beauvois, 1992, 1994/1995; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995, Warschauer, 1996a, 1996b; Warschauer, Turbee, & Roberts, 1996). Research done by Beauvois (1992, 1994/5), Kelm (1992), and Kern (1995) indicated greater student motivation, greater participation by most of the students, and less anxiety while using synchronous computer mediated communications. Sullivan's (1993) anecdotal observations repeated the themes of less anxiety and greater student participation. Kern (1995) suggested that the use of pseudonyms decreases anxiety among many of the students. Using the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, Beauvois and Eledge (1996) found that synchronous computer mediated communications aided both introvert and extrovert students. Warschauer, Turbee, and Roberts (1996) reviewed recent qualitative and quantitative computer mediated communications research and reported findings of greater student autonomy, greater equality in the classroom, a movement from teacher-centered to student-centered learning activities, and improved learning skills (assuming a properly organized computer mediated communications environment). Kern (1995) and Warschauer (1996a) found that students produce more target language output in computer mediated communications environments as opposed to oral discussions in regular classes. Warschauer (1996b) noted the favorable attitudes (i.e., less anxiety and more motivation) of both ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students towards using computer mediated communications as a instructional procedure, regardless of gender and keyboard skills. He also suggested that when computer mediated communications procedures are integrated into the curriculum (as opposed to being supplementary material) they are more successful in motivating the students.
A major procedural change occurred when synchronous procedures left the confines of a LAN in a single classroom and turned to the Internet. Foregoing easier control and planning using the LAN, teachers brought the students in real-time contact with native speakers from other parts of the world. This alleviated the problem of fossilization of interlanguage caused by continued interaction between non-native speakers at the same level and with the same mother language (Conrad, 1996; Meunier, 1997). It also offers truly interesting topics for discussion (Meunier, 1997) such as differences in life styles and world views.
Computer mediated communications, whether on a LAN or on the Internet, does not afford the students unlimited time to contemplate input and output (as in e-mail); nevertheless, the immediate pressures of face-to-face conversations are alleviated. (Warschauer, 1998). The process of negotiated interaction proceeds at a rate that Beauvois (1992) called conversation in slow motion which allows the students to study the input and monitor their output (Warschauer, 1998). While examining students using mIRC (an Internet multi-user chat program), Freiermuth (1998) found many of the same advantages for students using Internet-based programs as those reported for LAN-based programs: greater participation by most students, less anxiety, and greater motivation.
Nevertheless, the comments about synchronous computer mediated communications were not all positive. Meunier (1997) and Sabbatelli (1997) suggested that some students would suffer anxiety about using computers while Pinto (1996) offered empirical evidence of this problem. Meunier recorded various problems stemming from simultaneous use of a program, filling the screen with so many messages that students could not keep up with the content. Kelm (1992), Meunier (1997), and others noted the problem of flaming (unnecessarily harsh criticism) that probably would not have occurred in a face-to-face discussion. Furthermore, both Kelm (1992) and Freiermuth (1998) mentioned the considerable amount of time that synchronous computer mediated communications demand. Lundstrom's (1995) research with talkers (a type of synchronous communications program found on the Internet) dealt with the problems of Cyber English, the emerging register of the Internet (Ferrara, Brunner, & Whittemore, 1991; Hawisher & Moran, 1993; Murray, 1988), questioning the instructional price paid by allowing students to use non-Standard English. (Frizler, 1995, on the other hand, considered the use of Cyber English a valuable skill and suggested teaching it in the classroom.) A further problem was raised by Meunier (1997), who examined the potential of using computer mediated communications with students showing different learning styles (as categorized by the Briggs-Meyers Types Indicator). Basing her analysis on personal classroom experience and supporting research literature, Meunier cautioned that computer mediated communications procedures receive a mixed reaction from some types of personalities in the classroom. In addition, Meunier posited that gender is a significant variable in the success of computer mediated communications in the language classroom, a position that contradicted Warschauer's (1996b) empirical findings. In general, Meunier (1997) warned ESL/EFL teachers that:
Students are likely to consider CMC a waste of class time if they experience: 1) unclear directions for computer functions, 2) off-track discussions, 3) technical manipulations of VCR and TV monitors in addition to controlling computer functions, 4) inability to see the advantage of causal conversations on the computer, 5) lack of interesting topics, 6) not enough flexibility in discussions, 7) limitation of participation by the instructor to one sentence at a time, and 8) too much concern for language accuracy. (p. 128)
While Meunier's caveats could be raised about any classroom procedure, it should be noted that many technophiles tend to treat computer-aid procedures, particularly using the Internet, as a universal educational solution (Kearsley, 1998). Thus, Meunier's stating the obvious is relevant in this context.
It should be noted that most of the findings, both positive and negative, came from research done with college students. Of the research papers reviewed, only Beauvois's (1992) and Sanchez's (1996a) papers dealt with high school students using a synchronous computer mediated communications tools: Beauvois's on a LAN and Sanchez's on the Internet.
The Theory and Research Literature Specific to the Topic
Definition and Description of MOO.
Multi-user domain Object Oriented (MOO) is one particular type of computer mediated communications program that has received enthusiastic reviews in printed and web-based position papers expounding the potentials of using MOO in ESL/EFL instruction. (Bruckman, 1997; Davies, Shield, & Weininger, 1998; Falsetti, 1995; Frizler, 1995; Golz, 1995; Hall, 1998; Langham, 1994; Sanchez, 1995, 1996b; Turbee, 1995a, 1995b, 1966, 1997). Each MOO site is a virtual world, found on the Internet, in which participants from all over the real world can communicate with each other by typing messages. Beyond this synchronous chat function, the virtual world is comprised of a series of locations, each with a potentially rich textual description. Often there are virtual objects in these locations that can be manipulated. Thus, the virtual world presents a contextualized schema (such as a college cafeteria, a stockbroker's office, a disco, etc.) in which participants can discuss real world matters or collaboratively participate in the MOO simulation. For example, students entering a virtual cafeteria could take trays, read the menu, order food from the virtual waiter, sit at a table, and eat the food. This could occur while the participants were discussing the cultural differences of their real world societies.
The overriding metaphor of a MOO site is that of a community, with a core of permanent members who feel at home and interact with each other frequently (Haynes & Holmevik, 1998). This sense of community is reinforced by the participants' ability to extend the MOO site by building (and owning) new locations and objects. Proof of ownership can be found with close examination of the locations and objects (Hall, 1998). Also strengthening the metaphor of community is the existence of a MOOmail service (like e-mail, but existing only in the MOO site), discussion lists within the MOO site, and a MOO newspaper (Reid, 1994; Turkle, 1995). Building and owning objects in a virtual educational community has been attractive for a number of contemporary constructivists (Doherty, 1994; Hall, 1998; Langham, 1994; Rieber, 1991; Turkle, 1995). According to the constructivist theories of Vygotsky (1978), Freire (1970), Freire and Faundez (1989), and others, students actively construct their own knowledge rather that receive some objective knowledge from teachers and written material. Hall (1998) posited that the proper use of MOO can facilitate a constructivist learning experience, especially for foreign language students.
MOO in the Framework of Second/Foreign Language Learning Theories.
The enthusiasm about MOO (and related programs such as MUDs - Multi User Domains, MUSHes - Multi User Shared Hallucinations, MUVEs - Multi User Virtual Environments, and CVEs - Collaborative Virtual Environments) has stemmed from the extension of the general theories and research findings of the areas reviewed above. Sanchez (1996b) explained how using MOO is compatible with a number of contemporary second/foreign language methodologies: the Natural Approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983), the Silent Way (Gattegno, 1972), Galyean's (1982) Confluent Design, Harvey's (1982) Communicative Games, and Suggestopedia (Bancroft, 1983). Indeed, there is a substantial theoretical basis for using MOO environments for improving second/foreign language reading and writing within a wide range of methodologies.
In the cognitive domain, MOO facilitates language acquisition (as opposed to learning) through slow-motion negotiated interaction (Beauvois, 1992) between students and native speakers and more fluent non-native speakers (Long, 1983; Pica, 1994; Pica & Doughty, 1987; Pica, Lincoln-Porter, Paninos, & Linnell, 1996). Students receive large amounts of input but only focus on the i+1, the additional input that can actually be processed (Krashen, 1976, 1977, 1985, 1997). In other words, the students enter the zone of proximal development with other interlocutors acting as caregivers (Vygotsky, 1978). The input is compared to the student's mental model of the language and the processes of assimilation and accommodation (Piaget, 1967, 1973, 1976) allow the student to move along the interlanguage continuum. This constant interaction with native speakers and more fluent non-native speakers inhibits fossilization of interlanguage forms.
In the affective domain, the simulation/role play/fantasy/game nature of MOO alleviates much of the anxiety in the classroom and increases motivation to use the language, thereby acquiring it. The theme of a properly chosen MOO site accesses well-known schemas, which aid the students' predictive reading strategies (Anderson & Pearson, 1988, Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983; Grabe, 1988). In addition, the potential of meeting peers from all over the world and comparing life styles will motivate many students to use language for their own purposes. Anonymity and other characteristics of computer mediated communications will lower anxiety levels in a class that becomes more student-centered and egalitarian (Beauvois, 1992, 1994/1995; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995, Warschauer, 1996a, 1996b; Warschauer, Turbee, & Roberts, 1996).
Although Warschauer (1996b) indicated that second language students would also be motivated to use MOOs, it would appear that foreign language students would receive greater benefit: the contact with native speakers despite the isolation of their foreign language classrooms. The particular motivation for foreign language students could be measured using Dornyei's (1994) four subcategories of foreign language motivation components: interest, relevance, expectancy, and satisfaction. As mentioned above, the interest would come from the game-like nature of MOO (Rieber, 1996) and the attraction of meeting peers from all over the world. The relevance would stem from the freedom to converse with peers about student-chosen topics, gravitating to relevant aspects of the students' lives (Hall, 1998). The students' attitude toward the target language might also serve as a source of relevance. In the case of English, many ESL/EFL students will be motivated to practice English in a MOO for both instrumental and integrative reasons. The expectancy of the students' being in control of the learning process is highly probable in a MOO environment. The satisfaction involved in using MOO has a number of aspects: the satisfaction of successfully communicating with peers about relevant topics, a growing sense of ownership of the MOO site through building objects and describing one's self and one's environment, and the satisfaction stemming from the increasing feeling of membership in a virtual community (Turkle, 1995, 1998).
In addition, the work of MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) indicated that anxiety while using the MOO as a foreign language procedure could also be used as analytic measurement. In particular, student anonymity (Bancroft, 1995; Kern, 1995) and the game-like nature of MOO should decrease anxiety and encourage increased participation in a student-centered learning environment (Rieber, 1996). Another factor that should lower students' anxiety about using language is the feeling of being part of a supportive community.
Continued visits to a MOO site increase the potential of making real friendships and advancing upward in the social/functional hierarchy of the virtual community. Both phenomena reinforce the sense of membership in that virtual community (Turkle, 1995, 1998). The feelings of ownership of personally structured environments and objects in those environments will tend to increase the feelings of membership in the virtual community. With strong feelings of belonging and ownership, students will be motivated to return to the MOO site (Turkle, 1995), each time encountering additional potential for negotiated interaction, with both comprehensible input and output. In many ways, this self-reinforcing process is similar to integrative motivation, a crucially important prerequisite for success at advanced levels of language acquisition, but which is notably missing in traditional foreign language classrooms. Because traditional foreign language students are isolated from the target language groups, they feel uncommitted about integrating with those groups (Dornyei, 1994). In contrast to this physical isolation, students will feel a desire to integrate with the native speakers and the more fluent non-native speakers that inhabit a supportive and attractive MOO community.
Existing MOO-specific Research.
There is a small, but growing, number of authors who have explored MOO (and related MUDs - multi-user domains, MUSHes - multi-user shared hallucinations, MUVEs - multi-user virtual environments, and CVEs - collaborative virtual environments) specifically as a second/foreign language instructional procedure. While most of the literature consists of position papers (Davies, Shield, & Weininger, 1998; Falsetti, 1995; Frizler, 1995; Golz, 1995; Hall, 1998; Sanchez, 1995, 1996b; Turbee, 1995a, 1995b, 1996, 1997), a few research projects have been done in this field.
Pinto (1996) worked with 15 college ESL students during ninety minute periods, once a week for four weeks. He examined the technical impediments to interaction and the students' choice of communication moves during their interaction while in the schMOOze University MOO site. After showing initial restraint during the first session, with 29 average moves (both MOO commands and utterances to other people), the figure rose to 46 average moves in the second session, 60 average moves in the third, and 57 average moves in the fourth. The average percentages of these moves that were successful (according to the technical demands of the MOO program) were both high and fairly constant: 80%, 80%, 84%, and 83%. Despite the indication of growing self confidence, with a high level of success for most of the 15 students, two students frequently suffered technical problems and appeared disoriented in the MOO environment throughout the experiment. These two students had no, or minimal, previous computer experience. Thus, it is impossible to say if their problem was a developmental one, that would be remedied with more exposure to MOO, or a permanent one. Nevertheless, it is clear that some students have initial, and possibly constant, problems with the technical aspects of functioning in the MOO environment. Finally, Pinto's analysis of the students' conversational moves suggested an interview style consisting of short interactions with little development of themes and a low level of cohesion in the over-all conversations.
Despite the occasional technical problems and the lack of conversational consistency, most of the students expressed positive attitudes towards using MOO in class. Nevertheless, Pinto suggested that taking large groups of students to a MOO site may not be the most effective way to use the medium. His students tended to stay in the same location talking to each other, resulting in two problems. First, the students did not take advantage of potential negotiated interaction with native speakers and more fluent non-native speakers in other locations in the MOO site. Second, when many people are in the same location the utterances and commands fill the screen very quickly, creating problems for slow readers and slow typists. (Had the students moved to different locations, these problems would have been alleviated.) Instead, Pinto suggested that using MOO as an individual activity would be a more effective instructional procedure. He also conjectured that MOO would be more advantageous for EFL students than ESL students who can easily access native speaker input via face to face conversations. Supporting this foreign language vs. second language distinction is the fact that, despite their self-reported positive attitudes, none of the ESL students voluntarily used schMOOze outside of class. In most foreign language situations, a computer mediated communications environment like schMOOze might be the only opportunity to have conversations with native speakers, and thus may be an attractive out-of-class option.
In the framework of a qualitative study, Sanchez (1996a) took eleven high school students of intermediate French as a Foreign Language to Le MOO Francais. Besides meeting people from other real world locations and exploring the preexisting virtual locations of Le MOO Francais, Sanchez's students constructed a Virtual Versailles based on their in-class studies. The students felt that they spent more time on task when online than in the classroom because of the individual, interactive, low anxiety, creative and enjoyable nature of MOO. On her part, Sanchez stressed the importance of the students' ability in the MOO environment to reflect on their utterances before sending them, leading to lower anxiety, improved comprehension of output, as well as higher grammatical accuracy during output production. In short, the students and the researcher believed that the students had improved their language skills during the time they used the French MOO site.
Nevertheless, Sanchez noted definite problems while using MOO for language instruction: occasional technical difficulties with the local network and the internet connection, the existence of faulty French found in the MOO site, the difficulty of some students to hold conversations with complete strangers and to build up relationships in cyberspace, and occasional reported boredom by weaker students. Despite these reported complaints by some students, the majority enjoyed and appreciated MOO as a foreign language procedure. They felt more secure typing French to native speakers via computer mediated communications than speaking it face to face. They also enjoyed the ability to create new locations and objects in the MOO site.
While Sanchez observed that her findings support the use of MOO in language instruction, she recognized the methodological limitations of her study. Eleven students, not randomly chosen, do not offer a statistically significant basis for generalizations to other settings. Within the qualitative framework of her study, Sanchez stated that her findings were descriptive and warned her readers of making generalizations.
To date, these are the only MOO-specific pieces of empirical research found in the field of second/foreign language instruction. This is not surprising since MOO is a new educational tool, waiting for research to define its best use. Up until now, most high school second/foreign language classes, both in the United States and abroad, have not reached the technical possibilities of using the MOO environment. Now, as increasing numbers of high school second/foreign language classes gain access to the Internet, it seems obvious that MOO, as well as other Internet tools, should be evaluated in terms of facilitating second language and foreign language acquisition. No doubt, these research projects will analyze the interaction that occurs between interlocutors and issues of motivation and anxiety. Other issues will be the effect of gender, time on task, keyboard skills, prior knowledge of computers, and personality types on the effectiveness of MOO as a second/foreign language instructional procedure both at the college and high school level.
Summary of What is Known and Unknown about the Topic
On an empirical level, little is known about MOO as a second/foreign language instructional procedure at the college and high school level. In the cognitive domain, no thorough study has been done analyzing the interaction that occurs between interlocutors in the MOO environment, although there is evidence that students are capable of producing successful and meaningful output (Pinto, 1996; Sanchez, 1996a). In the affective domain, there is some empirical evidence that MOO motivates second language and foreign language students, but may cause anxiety stemming from technical problems for students who don't have experience with computers (Pinto, 1996; Sanchez, 1996a). Still lacking are empirical studies performed with statistically large samples. These studies must address students' abilities to interact successfully in the target language while in the MOO environment on one hand, and examine the anxiety and motivation levels of these students, on the other hand.
The Contribution this Study Will Make to the Field
The MOO-specific literature seems to be based on theories of Chomsky (1986), Vygotsky (1978), Krashen (1976 & 1985), Long (1983) and others, particularly constructivist writers. At times these theories are cited, but frequently the authors of the position papers use an informal style which does not require formal citations. A doctoral dissertation, explicitly synthesizing these theoretical works, position papers, and the scant MOO-specific empirical research on the one hand, and carrying out quantitative research in using MOO in foreign language instruction on the high school level on the other hand, would both advance knowledge and call for pedagogical action. Since the MOO environment is basically free once a school has Internet connectivity, the evaluation of this instructional tool would be particularly important for high school foreign language classes suffering from limited budgets and technological inferiority vis-a-vis second language classes. Informing the teachers and administrators of the efficacy of the MOO environment (or lack of efficacy) would be a significant contribution to the profession. The findings of such a doctoral dissertation would quickly find their way to the EFL community in Israel, via the publications of the Ministry of Education. Because Israel is a leader in EFL teacher training, the information may well spread in a ripple effect to other foreign language settings. In addition, it would be reasonable to see the findings in some professional journal, directly reaching second/foreign language teachers outside of Israel.