CMC, Computer mediated communication, is widely used in language teaching today. According to Abrams (2012), the way students communicate when using CMC differs from their face-to-face interactions. L2 learners become more independent and rely less on instructors. In addition, students who practice oral and written chat through computer perform better than other peers.
In this post, we will take Skype as an example to explore how CMC can be used in language teaching.
Skype is a synchronous CMC software that provides video chat and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices to other devices. It also allows instant messaging, exchange of files as well as conference calls. (For more information please click here.)
In recent years, Skype is widely used in language teaching due to its low cost, conferencing capacities, recording options and capacity to connect free real-time conversation (Godwin-Jones, 2005; Foote, 2008). Generally speaking, Skype has three affordances:
1) Synchronous—it provides an opportunity to speak in real-time with people around the world. Teachers and learners can have lessons online without geographic restrictions. In addition, it serves as a platform allowing synchronous conferencing calls, so that learners can have small discussion forums via Skype.
2) Multifunctional—it allows text, voice and video messaging and also affords file sharing functions, which provides teachers and learners with alternative ways to communicate. Moreover, its recording option is very useful for language learners. Learners can record conversations with teachers or peers, and also set up their own recording portfolios tracking their learning process. With the recordings, learners are able to review conversations any time they like and discover their errors and shortcomings while reviewing.
3) User-friendly—the use of Skype is free and, as a result, Skype facilitates the spread of online courses. Besides, the interface is simple and easy to understand, so that learners at different ages can master quickly.
Unavoidably, Skype also has some constraints.
Using Skype in teaching requires learners to have a good sense of self-control. The real studying environment of learners is hard to observe. Learners may conduct multitasking when they have Skype lessons. The screen also blocks people’s natural way of communication. It is easy for learners to feel restrained in front of computer because body movements are limited. In addition, when the teacher wants to share documents with students, the interactivity cannot be as smooth as face-to-face communication.
The implementation of Skype in language learning is becoming common nowadays.
“I took an online IELTS speaking course before. At that time, I was living in Guangzhou while the teacher was in Malaysia. Skype became the only tool we used to communicate. We usually shared files and practiced speaking via Skype. I think Skype is convenient because I can have real-time conversation with the teacher and receive feedback immediately. However, the biggest constraint is that it has high requirement for internet speed. Our conversations sometimes broke off because of the slow internet connection. But generally speaking, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. It is still a very useful tool to learn a language. ” —Huaming
“I used to have group discussions via Skype in the university. But I just couldn’t react as casually as in face-to-face communication because it’s very hard to observe other’s reactions through the screen. And you need to reply immediately because if you pause, it seems weird. I also once took oral tests through Skype. I was more nervous because every move I made would be recorded. Moreover, some of my classmates prepared the answers in advance and when the oral test began, they just read the notes from the screen, but Skype won’t tell the secret.” —Lily
There is no denying that Skype, as a synchronous and multifunctional communication software, creates lots of possibilities to language teaching. Have you ever had the experience of using CMC tools in education settings? How could such tools be used by language teachers and learners? What are the potential benefits and pitfalls? Please share with us your ideas and experiences.
If you are interested, you can see a video of How to use Skype for online classes.