Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Assignment 1.3: "An Investigation of Communicative Competence of ESL Students Using Electronic Discussion Boards"

Authors/Date: Shenghua Zha, Paul Kelly, MeeAeng Ko Park, and Gail Fitzgerald (2006)

Descriptors: ESL learning, electronic discussion boards, communicative competence, peer interaction

Research Design: This is an expanded case study (qualitative), with experimental research design (quantitative). The intervention included a one-week training period, followed by three communication and writing activities in an electronic discussion board. Each activity lasted two weeks consecutively. The three activities, whose guideline for design is: 1) language learning occurs through meaningful social and cultural interactions; and 2) ESL instruction should provide students with authentic tasks and audience to interact socially and negotiate meanings, are listed as follows:

1. Activity 1— Creating Clubs

2. Activity 2— Recommending a Holiday Menu

3. Activity 3— Planning a Party

Type of Research:
Qualitative and Quantitative

According the authors, abundant studies have been conducted to investigate advantages of language learning using peer social interactions in CMC. Students in those studies are involved in either collaborative learning tasks (Belz & Kinginger, 2002; Chun, 1994; Lam, 2000; Singhal, 1998; Warschauer, 1996) or class/group discussions with individual assignments (Beauvois, 1992; Beauvois, 1994; Kern, 1995). However, none of these findings compared the effect of collaborative versus individual CMC learning tasks on students’ communicative competence. Thus, the problem of the research is that what the effect of collaborative versus individual CMC learning tasks on ESL students’ communicative competence is.


1. To examine the patterns of K–12 ESL students’ communicative competence through peer interaction in collaborative versus individual learning tasks in CMC, with particular attention to appropriate use of language for social purposes.

2. To investigate improvements in communicative competence within CMC environments.


1. What is these ESL students’ qualitative improvement in their use of English through the three consecutive activities?

2. What are the changes of children’s communicative competence measured by the ESL Standards in the three CMC activities?

Participants: 28 elementary-aged (grade 2-5) ESL students (956 messages)

Research Site: In seven ESL classrooms in six primary schools in a suburban area in a mid-western metropolitan U.S. city

No obvious hypotheses due to the fact that it is a case study. However, with reading through this research, I kind of perceive that the author implicitly had the hypothesis that “meaning was more important than the structure of language and that the primary goal of language learning should be the development of communicative skills (Krashen & Terrell, 1983)” (P.1)

Coding nodes (in qualitative analysis): With the national ESL standards for PreK-12 students, nineteen competence indicators from four areas were used. The four areas are: (P.5-7)

1. use of English to participate in social interaction

2. use of written English for personal expression and enjoyment

3. use of learning strategies to extend communicative competence

4. use of appropriate English variety, register, and genre according to audience, purpose, and settings

Variables (in quantitative analysis): frequencies of children’s use of language coded under specific indicators in the ESL Standards

Result: Changes were found in children’s use of language for social purposes and appropriate use of language in different social and cultural settings


1. design of online discussion activities

2. peer assistance in language learning

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