Ke(yakin)an itu Realitas

Posted: December 17, 2011 in article

Jika kita percaya kepada fitrah suci individu lain, dengan pikiran tenang dan tanpa keraguan, keengganan dan keberatan, kita percaya kepada hidupnya, maka itu berarti kita mempunyai “keyakinan” terhadap orang itu. Jika suatu hal telah dianggap terbukti secara pasti, ini berarti kita “yakin” terhadap hal itu.

Jika secara tegas percaya kepada suatu sistem mental – dalam istilah bahasa Eropa disebut “ideologis”, lebih kita kenal dengan “doktrin dan prinsip” dan kita merasakan suatu dorongan secara tenang hingga kita tertarik untuk menjadikannya sebagai infrastruktur hidup, itu berarti kita “yakin” akan suatu doktrin. Melihat beberapa contoh di atas, arti “keyakinan” adalah “kepercayaan sepenuh hati kepada seorang individu atau suatu prinsip”.

Mengambil contoh ketika laki-laki memberikan Mawar Merah kepada sang pacar, lalu ia menerima Mawar tersebut. Perempuan itu, terbukti secara pasti menerima cintanya. Dan laki-laki itu pun meyakini Mawar itu sebagai sebuah ungkapan rasa cintanya kepada sang dambaan hati. Namun, keyakinan ini belum mampu menjadi doktrin atau prinsip hidup bagi kedua insan yang sedang memuja cinta. Hal ini disebabkan proses realitas yang sedang dijalani timbul dari sebuah perasaan dalam jangka waktu yang pendek, bukan atas hasil dari proses analisis dan hasil pemikiran jangka panjang.
Lain halnya bagi seorang anak, pertambahan usia membawa keyakinan masa kanak-kanaknya ke ambang keraguan. Hal ini disebabkan tindakan-tindakan yang dilakukannya atas dasar meniru atau karena ajakan orang lain yang dipercayainya seperti orang tua, saudara, guru, dan lain-lain. Andaikata, seorang anak dipisahkan dari keluarganya. Ia hanya tinggal sendiri di tengah kemajuan industri dan teknologi, maka keyakinannya akan tergantikan oleh keraguan.

Keyakinan seorang anak masih berasal dari dorongan lingkungan sepenuhnya, belum berorientasi pada ilmu pengetahuan – keyakinan yang tumbuh melalui proses pemikiran dan analisis. Pada orang dewasa, orientasi keyakinan berlanjut dari tahap masa kanak-kanak hingga ke tahun berikutnya. Orientasi keyakinan itu berasal dari ilmu pengetahuan. Derajat kemungkinan bisa atau tidaknya seseorang mencapai keyakinan sadar, keyakinan yang tumbuh melalui proses pemikiran dan analisis tergantung pada masing-masing individu.

Banyak orang pada masa dewasa mempunyai keraguan yang sangat sederhana, tetapi hal ini tidak berpengaruh pada hal-hal yang sudah mereka yakini sejak masa kanak-kanak. Keyakinan pada orang dewasa mestinya berorientasi pada proses pemikiran dari setiap kejadian yang terjadi. Namun, bagi sebagian orang keyakinannya masih tumbuh dari dorongan orang-orang yang ada di sekitarnya, sebuah proses keyakinan yang terjadi pada masa kanak-kanak.

Itulah keyakinan yang kian berkembang dewasa ini, tak terkecuali di kalangan kaum terpelajar (baca:mahasiswa). Ketika mereka dihadapkan pada sebuah pertanyaan: “Apa yang akan Anda lakukan setelah kuliah?” Tak ada orientasi dari sebuah keyakinan yang melandasi tujuan yang diharapkan. Begitu juga halnya banyak orang terpelajar yang telah dipandang sebagai tokoh yang jika dihadapkan pada sikap memilih ideologi atau doktrin, atau strategi politik, mereka tidak mampu. Hal ini disebabkan mereka tidak memiliki pengetahuan politik dan tidak mampu menganalisis sesuai dengan status mereka. Hanya mengikuti ke mana saja arah perjalanan lingkungan. Alhasil, orang-orang cerdas menjadi perangkap ‘tikus’ yang tidak memiliki keyakinan sadar akan tujuan hidup hakiki.

Maka, dari zaman dahulu hingga sekarang tidak berlaku sikap yang mengatakan: “Saya terlahir dari seorang keluarga petani.” Seolah-olah ia berserah diri akan keyakinan yang telah ia dapatkan sejak kecil. Begitu juga halnya ketika seseorang mengatakan: “Saya terlahir karena orang tua saya Islam. Maka agama saya Islam.” Pernyataan ini pun tak berlaku. Itu sama halnya ia hanya menerima keadaan tanpa berusaha untuk mencari tahu apa yang akan ia jalani. Setiap individu dituntut untuk berpikir, mempelajari dan merenungkan serta mengamati secara objektif disertai penelitian dan analisis yang logis dari setiap keadaan yang terjadi pada dirinya.

Keyakinan itu realitas yang harus didasarkan atas pengetahuan dan peninjauan terus-menerus. Selain menganggap bahwa penelitian ilmiah dan cara berpikir yang bebas dalam memandang alam tidaklah bertentangan dengan keyakinan. Bagi seorang ‘pemuja cinta’ dan ‘manusia cerdas’, apa pun pikiran yang disodorkan nenek moyang dan lingkungannya, dan tanpa memandang paham apa yang diperolehnya semasa kecil, diharuskan menggunakan kemampuan pengertiannya yang lengkap untuk mempelajari dirinya sendiri dan dunia di sekelilingnya, dan merenung hingga mencapai suatu kesimpulan.

Seorang pemimpin tak terlahir begitu saja. Untuk melahirkan calon-calon pemimpin masa depan yang lebih baik, dibutuhkan pelatihan. Inilah yang menjadi landasan bagi sebuah yayasan swasta Van Deventer-Maas Stichting mengadakan 9th Leadership Conference di Sumatera utara. Namun, masih terasa sedikit pelatihan kepemimpinan yang diadakan guna melahirkan calon pemimpin Indonesia masa depan.

Untuk menjadi seorang pemimpin bukanlah hal yang mudah. Namun, itu bukan berarti tidak ada peluang seseorang untuk menjadi seorang pemimpin. Berbicara tentang kepemimpinan, bukan berarti bicara tentang kekuasaan. Setiap individu memiliki potensi untuk menjadi seorang pemimpin. Potensi ini yang mesti digali dan difasilitasi untuk dapat tumbuh dan berkembang secara optimal sehingga kelak dewasa mereka akan menjadi sumber daya manusia yang unggul dan tangguh. Maka dibutuhkan pelatihan, konferensi dan kegiatan sejenisnya yang berhubungan dengan tema kepemimpinan. Di negara kita ini, masih agak jarang terdengar kegiatan atau pelatihan kepemimpinan diperuntukkan bagi kawula muda.
Pemuda mestinya mendapatkan banyak kesempatan untuk mengikuti pelatihan kepemimpinan. Jiwa kepemimpinan mesti dicari, dilatih dan dididik. Adanya sebuah gerakan dalam melahirkan calon pemimpin-pemimpin muda menjadi sebuah solusi guna menjawab: “Siapa pemimpin Indonesia lima atau delapan tahun ke depan?.” Calon-calon pemimpin muda masa depan harus memiliki kesempatan yang tidak hanya membangun kemampuan pribadi, tetapi juga dilatih kemampuan dalam memimpin, bersikap, memiliki integritas dan rendah hati.

Atas dasar inilah salah satu yayasan swasta yang berasal dari negara Kincir Angin, Van Deventer Maas Stichting (VDMS) mengadakan acara ”9th Leadership Conference” di Sibolangit Kabupaten Deli Serdang, Sumatera Utara (10-16/7). Pada konferensi ini, VDMS yang juga sebagai yayasan swasta yang mempunyai misi untuk mendukung pendidikan bangsa Indonesia, memberikan pelatihan kepada mahasiswa sebagai calon pemimpin masa depan untuk mengetahui makna dan sikap yang mesti dipunyai oleh seorang pemimpin.

Konferensi Kepemimpinan ke-9 tahun 2011 yang diadakan di Kabupaten Deli Serdang, Sumatera Utara melatih mahasiswa sebagai kader pemimpin masa depan untuk mencari solusi terhadap permasalahan yang terjadi di tengah-tengah masyarakat. Adapun 13 perwakilan universitas yang mengikuti konferensi kepemimpinan adalah Universitas Bung Hatta, Universitas Andalas, Universitas Negeri Padang, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Universitas Padjajaran, Institut Pertanian Bogor, Akademi Kebidanan Al Fathonah, Universitas Negeri Semarang, Univesitas Kristen Satya Wacana, Universitas Lambung Mangkurat, Universitas Gajah Mada, Universitas Wijaya Kusuma Surabaya.

Kegiatan yang berlangsung selama tujuh hari ini membentuk mahasiswa sebagai anggota konferensi untuk mampu bekerja sama dalam kelompok. Setiap kelompok ditugaskan untuk terjun langsung ke beberapa kecamatan di Deli Serdang untuk melihat aktivitas komunitas berbasis masyarakat yang berkelanjutan. Setiap anggota kelompok harus melakukan wawancara dengan anggota komunitas berbasis masyarakat dan mencari tahu permasalahan yang sedang dihadapi. Adanya wawancara dalam aktivitas ini mengajarkan kepada mahasiswa sebagai calon pemimpin untuk lebih jeli dalam melihat permasalahan yang terjadi di masyarakat dan mencari solusi terhadap permasalahan itu.
Aktivitas di atas menjadi sebuah gambaran sosok kepemimpinan yang diharapkan oleh bangsa Indonesia. Ketika seorang pemimpin meluangkan waktunya untuk terjun langsung ke tengah-tengah masyarakat, maka ia akan tahu permasalahan yang tengah dihadapi oleh masyarakat. Akankah kita yakin kalau masalah korupsi akan terentaskan sementara pemimpin sendiri tidak melihat bagaimana masalah ini mengakar mulai dari tingkat yang paling rendah. Belumlah dirasakan cukup ketika seorang pemimpin berteriak dengan lantangnya, tanpa ada turun tangan secara langsung untuk bergerak.

Di samping itu, konferensi kepemimpinan VDMS yang diikuti oleh perwakilan dari 13 perguruan tinggi se-Indonesia ini juga mengajarkan kepada 17 peserta sebagai calon pemimpin masa depan untuk berpikir secara kreatif dan inovatif. Hal ini ditunjukkan dengan beberapa aktivitas yang dilakukan dalam kelompok untuk melakukan penggalangan dana. Setiap kelompok tak dibekali dengan modal apapun. Bagi kelompok yang kreatif, maka mereka akan menggunakan ilmu pengetahuan yang dimiliki. Tak hanya itu, pemanfaatan akan lingkungan sekitar juga menjadi modal yang bisa dimanfaatkan untuk pencarian dana yang kemudian akan disumbangkan kepada Yayasan Yatim Piatu.
Ilustrasi di atas begitu menggambarkan potensi SDA yang dimiliki Indonesia saat ini. Tak ayal, Indonesia adalah salah satu negara penghasil minyak dunia yang tergabung dalam organisasi negara pengekspor minyak (OPEC). Indonesia juga menempati peringkat pertama dunia dalam produk pertanian yaitu cengkeh dan pala serta peringkat kedua dalam memproduksi karet alam dan minyak sawit mentah. Lantas, apakah ketersediaan SDA sudah menjadikan Indonesia sebagai negara dengan tingkat kemiskinan terendah di dunia? Angka kemiskinan di Indonesia saat ini mencapai 17% dari total penduduk di Indonesia. Kemiskinan itu disebabkan oleh lemahnya akses masyarakat, terhadap sumber daya alam dan sumber ekonomi. Mestinya pemanfaatan SDA-lah yang menjadi landasan pemikiran pemimpin untuk menjadikan Indonesia sebagai negara yang tak dipandang sebelah mata.

Adanya kegiatan yang mengarah kepada pelatihan kepemimpinan kian dirindukan oleh bangsa kita. Bagaimana tidak, tingkat pengangguran di kalangan pemuda Indonesia sangat memprihatinkan. Menurut Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS) tahun 2011, angka pengangguran kelompok usia produktif mencapai 60,5 persen dari jumlah pemuda yang ada. Ada beberapa persoalan yang dihadapi terhadap naiknya angka penggangguran, salah satunya keterbatasan sumber daya pembiayaan bagi kegiatan pemuda.

Salah satu program yang mesti direalisasikan untuk mengurangi penggangguran adalah program kepemimpinan. Melalui program kepemimpinanan, setidaknya pemuda tahu apa keputusan yang mesti diambilnya menyangkut masa depan. Di samping itu, pemimpin berkualitas tidak lahir dengan sendirinya, tetapi melalui suatu proses persiapan, pelatihan, bimbingan dan pemberian kesempatan serta pengkaderan yang dilaksanakan sejak dini secara terencana dan berkelanjutan. Atas dasar inilah, setiap lembaga atau yayasan yang ada di Indonesia mestinya melakukan proses pelatihan kepemimpinan serta penanaman nilai-nilai kepempimpinan, internalisasi nilai-nilai luhur, disiplin, sikap bertanggung jawab, jiwa kesatria, rasa nasionalisme, melatih kejujuran, berperilaku sopan dan santun akan lebih efektif bila dimulai pada pemuda. Atau haruskah kita masih berharap uluran lembaga asing yang siap siaga membantu bangsa kita?

Menuai Hikmah Puasa di Kosan

Posted: August 22, 2011 in feature

Bagi mahasiswa yang ngekos, banyak hikmah yang bisa diambil ketika melaksanakan ibadah puasa. Kebersamaan, saling menghargai dan berbagi

Bulan Ramadan sudah tiba. Puasa sudah memasuki hari kedua. Sebagian besar sekolah, kantor, instansi masih libur dalam menyambut datangnya bulan yang penuh rahmat ini. Biasanya dalam menyambut datangnya bulan Ramadan, seluruh instansi dan sekolah hanya diliburkan selama tiga hari pada awal puasa. Tak terkecuali mahasiswa, sebagai salah satu dari bagian civitas akademika kampus.

Bagi mahasiswa yang ngekos, tentunya sudah dirasakan cukup hanya dalam tiga hari berada di kampung, puasa dan berbuka bersama orang tua dan keluarga serta kesempatan untuk minta maaf kepada orang tua. Proses perkuliahan pun akan dihadapi seperti mana biasanya. Bagi sebagian mahasiswa baru, hal ini tentunya menjadi pengalaman yang berbeda dalam menjalankan puasa dibandingkan dengan tahun-tahun sebelumnya. Inilah yang dirasakan oleh Andes, mahasiswa Fakultas Teknik Universitas Negeri Padang (UNP). Dengan baru berstatus mahasiswa, ia harus siap-siap untuk menghabiskan hari-hari dalam bulan puasa dengan proses perkuliahan. Ia pun kian membayangkan bagaimana rasanya nanti menjalani bulan yang penuh rahmat hanya dengan teman-teman satu kos. “Puasa bulan ini menjadi pertama kalinya berpuasa bersama teman satu kos,” ungkap Andes. Ia menambahkan, “Demi masa depan, saya harus menjalankannya.”

Lain halnya dengan apa yang dirasakan Amanda, mahasiswa tahun ketiga jurusan Bahasa Indonesia Fakultas Bahasa dan Seni UNP. Menurutnya berpuasa bersama dengan teman-teman satu kos menjadi momen yang menarik dan ditunggu-tunggu. Menurutnya, berpuasa bersama dengan teman-teman satu kos sebagai momentum untuk saling menghargai dan berbagi. Ia mengatakan dalam bulan puasa semua orang berada dalam kondisi yang sama, yaitu menahan diri dari makan dan minum, hawa nafsu dan menjaga emosi. Dengan adanya kondisi ini sikap saling menghargai antar sesama tertanam dengan sendirinya. “Apapun yang terjadi, kita tetap saling menghargai.”

Ia menambahkan adanya sikap tidak saling menghargai muncul karena keadaan atau kondisi yang berbeda-beda yang dialami oleh seseorang. Contohnya ketika orang kaya tidak menghargai fakir miskin, orang-orang yang membutuhkan, hal ini di karenakan mereka (orang kaya) tidak merasakan bagaimana penderitaan dan kelaparan yang dialami oleh orang-orang miskin tersebut.

Begitu juga halnya dalam keinginan untuk saling berbagi. Pada bulan puasa tahun lalu, Amanda bersama dengan teman satu kos sering membeli pabukoan (makanan untuk berbuka puasa) bersama. Ketika waktu berbuka telah masuk, Amanda bersama dengan teman-temannya berbuka bersama dan saling berbagi makanan. Sehingga selama bulan puasa, ia merasa lebih dekat dan saling mengerti dengan teman-teman satu kos.

Namun, ia menyayangkan sikap saling mengerti dan berbagi hanya bisa ia temukan selama bulan Ramadan. karena setelah Ramadan, setiap teman-teman fokus dengan kesibukan masing-masing. “Sulit untuk menemukan waktu untuk makan dan berbagi bersama,” kenangnya melihat apa yang terjadi pada tahun lalu. Meski demikian, ia bertekad akan membangun kembali sikap saling menghargai dan berbagi tidak hanya dengan teman-teman satu kos tetapi juga orang yang dikenalnya pada bulan puasa ini.

Awal dulunya menjadi mahasiswa, Amanda juga merasakan sedikit sedih dan teringat akan kedua orang tua ketika masuk waktu berbuka dan sahur. Namun, seiring waktu ia mampu menghilangkan kesedihan itu dan melaksanakan bulan puasa dengan sebaik-baiknya bersama teman satu kos.

Bagi sebagian besar mahasiswa cowok, pabukoan biasanya dibeli sendiri-sendiri dan seringkali berbuka dan sahur hanya dengan teman satu kamar di dalam kamar masing-masing. Namun hal ini tidak berlaku bagi Ano, mahasiswa Jurusan Manajemen Fakultas Ekonomi UNP. Ia bersama dengan tujuh orang teman-teman satu kos membeli makanan untuk berbuka secara bersama-sama. Begitu juga ketika waktu berbuka puasa. Ia bersama dengan teman satu kos berbuka di tempat yang sama. “Tak ada yang boleh berbuka sendiri-sendiri,” kata Ano. Hingga pembacaan doa untuk berbuka puasa pun juga mereka lakukan secara bersama-sama.

Tak hanya berbuka puasa secara bersama, sahur pun juga mereka lakukan secara bersama-sama. Ketika ada salah seorang teman yang masih tidur, maka teman yang lain harus membangunkan untuk sahur. Menariknya, bagi siapa yang bangun lebih awal maka ia akan mendapatkan sejenis ‘reward’. Hadiah itu bisa berupa makanan gratis untuk berbuka puasa esok harinya. “Ini kita lakukan untuk belajar lebih menghargai,” ungkap Ano.

Ano mengaku dengan adanya penghargaan terhadap apa yang telah dilakukan oleh seseorang sekecil apapun itu, itu akan menjadi motivasi bagi yang lain untuk berbuat lebih baik. Sikap saling mengingatkan dan menghargai seperti itu dilaksanakan Ano bersama dengan teman-temannya pada bulan puasa tahun lalu. Dan hal seperti itu pun akan Ano bersama dengan teman-temannya lakukan untuk puasa kali ini.

Menurut Ano, adanya kebersamaan dan sikap saling mengingatkan itu menjadikannya lebih akrab dan telah menganggap teman-temannya adalah keluarga dalam menjalankan ibadah puasa. Hal yang sama juga dirasakan Ilham, teman satu kos Ano. Dengan adanya kebersamaan seperti itu, meski ia kuliah baru tahun kedua, ia tidak merasa sedih ketika harus kuliah di bulan puasa. “Teman-teman di sini saling pengertian dan sudah seperti keluarga saya sendiri,” ungkapnya Sabtu (29/7).

Apa yang dilakukan Ano bersama dengan tujuh temannya tidak jauh berbeda dengan yang dilakukan Angga, seorang mahasiswa Fakultas Ilmu Sosial UNP. Di samping berbuka dan sahur bersama dengan teman satu kontrakan, terkadang untuk pabukoan dan makanan sahur mereka masak bersama. Memang, masak memasak sudah menjadi salah satu aktivitas yang harus dijalankan di samping piket pada hari-hari biasa. Inipun berlaku di bulan yang penuh rahmat dan karunia. Hanya saja di bulan Ramadan mereka tidak membuat jadwal siapa yang akan memasak, tetapi kegiatan memasak dilakukan secara bersama-sama.
Awalnya setiap dari mereka harus iuran sesuai dengan jumlah yang ditetapkan. Setelah itu, secara bersama-sama pergi ke warung untuk membeli bahan-bahan yang akan dimasak. Mereka tak pernah malu, meski harus menjinjing beberapa asoi dari warung yang berisi cabe giling, bawang, kentang, dan bahan-bahan lain yang akan dimasak. “Kita kan bareng, kalau sendirian mungkin akan malu,” ujar Angga. Kegiatan memasak biasanya mereka mulai sekitar pukul lima sore. Ketika waktu berbuka masuk, hasil masakan mereka pun siap-siap untuk disantap menjelang berbuka. “Tradisi seperti ini sudah menjadi tradisi bagi mahasiswa yang ngontrak di sini,” kata Ano.
Kebersamaan di kontrakan daerah Tabing ini tak hanya berjalan sebatas itu. Hingga kebersamaan untuk melaksanakan salat tarawih pun dilaksanakan. Ano bersama dengan lima orang temannya berangkat secara bersama ke masjid untuk mengikuti salat tarawih. Demokrasi pun berlangsung untuk memilih masjid mana yang akan dijadikan tempat untuk salat. Bisa dikatakan di samping kuliah, hampir semua kegiatan selama bulan puasa dilakukan secara bersama-sama. “Datangnya bulan Ramadan menjadi kebahagiaan bagi saya dan juga teman-teman satu kos untuk siap bersama-sama dalam mencari rahmat dan karunia-Nya,” tutup Ano.

Bubar menjalin silaturahmi dan kepedulian
Kebersamaan dan kepedulian memang menjadi nilai plus seiring datangnya bulan Ramadan. Seringkali kita mendengar remaja-remaja dengan istilah ‘bubar’ atau ‘buka bareng’. Tak hanya di kalangan remaja, dewas pun juga seringkali menggunakan istilah ‘bubar’ ketika ingin mengajak rekan-rekan yang lain untuk melakukan buka bersama dalam bulan puasa. Bubar seringkali diadakan di café, restoran, rumah makan, dan tempat-tempat yang menyajikan makanan lainnya.
Begitu juga halnya dengan yang dilakukan oleh beberapa pejabat civitas akademika kampus. Seringkali pada bulan puasa diadakan buka bersama antara jajaran rektorat dengan dosen, pihak rektorat dengan mahasiswa dan juga pihak rektorat dengan masyarakat sekitar kampus. Adanya acara bubar dalam bulan puasa juga sebagai salah satu wujud silaturahmi dalam rangka untuk saling memaafkan dan berbagi.

Beberapa organisasi kemahasiswaan pun, baik itu organisasi tingkat fakultas ataupun universitas tak ketinggalan dalam menjadikan bubar sebagai wujud untuk bersilaturahmi, menjalin kebersamaan dan berbagi.. Hal ini disampaikan oleh M. Zornobi, mantan ketua BEM FBS UNP. Ia memaknai adanya acara bubar yang dilakukan oleh beberapa organisasi kemahasiswaan pada bulan puasa adalah bentuk untuk menjalin sikap silaturahmi dan kepedulian. Seperti halnya beberapa organisasi kemahasiswaan yang mengundang anak yatim atau anak jalanan untuk bubar. “Sikap itu akan muncul dengan mudahnya pada bulan puasa,” jelas Zornobi, Jumat (28/7).

Lantas, apakah sikap untuk menjalin silaturahmi dan kepedulian hanya terjadi ketika pada bulan Ramadan? Menurut hemat penulis, banyak fitrah dari bulan Ramadan. Salah satunya bubar, yang dapat meningkatkan silaturahmi dan kepedulian. Hanya saja, sebagian orang masih menerapkan sikap positif tersebut ketika di bulan Ramadan. Lepas dari bulan Ramadan, orang-orang telah disibukkan dengan aktivitas masing-masing. Seakan menjadi sebuah doktrin bahwa silaturahmi dan sedekah sebuah bagian yang hanya bisa ditemukan pada bulan Ramadan.

Mestinya Ramadan adalah awal untuk membangkitkan sikap individu yang sadar akan makna dari pentingya kebersamaan, kepedulian, dan sikap menghargai. Bangsa Indonesia saat ini membutuhkan tiga poin itu kalau sekiranya ingin menjadi negara yang ilmunya sampai kepada kearifan, hukumnya akan sampai kepada keadilan, ekonominya akan sampai kepada pemerataan, persatuannya akan sampai kepada kekokohan, keimanannya akan sampai kepada kenyamanan, kepimpinannya sampai kepada keteladanan, kekuasaannya sampai kepada pengayoman.

Free Sex dan Generasi Muda

Posted: July 27, 2011 in article

Generasi muda selalu digadang-gadangkan sebagai harapan bangsa. Refleksi atas kekuatan pemuda tersirat dalam pidato presiden pertama RI, Soekarno: 100 orang hanya bermimpi, tetapi berikanlah aku 10 pemuda maka akan ku guncang dunia. Itupun dengan jelas tergambar seperti apa kekuatan dan partisipasi pemuda yang terukir dalam sejarah perjuangan bangsa.
Peran pemuda dalam sejarah perjuangan bangsa Indonesia dapat dilihat ketika berdirinya Boedi Oetomo tanggal 20 Mei 1908. Kemudian pada tahun 1928 lahirlah Sumpah Pemuda, sebagai sebuah peran generasi muda dalam pembentukan negara kesatuan Republik Indonesia. Gagasan generasi muda mengenai satu nusa, satu bangsa, dan satu bahasa yang tertuang dalam teks proklamasi kemerdekaan Indonesia pun muncul. Sehingga kedaulatan yang tercerai berai menyatu menjadi satu yaitu bangsa Indonesia.
Hingga saat ini, semangat perjuangan pemuda masih harus tetap di pertahankan sebagai sebuah jawaban atas pengorbanan para pendiri bangsa. Ketika perbedaan atas nama suku, agama dan ras ditonjolkan, komoditas politik kekuasaaan dibanggakan, maka dibutuhkan peran kekuatan bangsa dalam menindas ketidakbenaran. Kian diperhitungkan peran dan kekuatan pemuda sebagai tunas-tunas bangsa yang yang mangakui satu tanah air, bangsa dan bahasa.
Namun tak bisa dielakkan. Arus globalisasi kian memunculkan peran generasi muda dalam perilaku-perilaku negatif. Seks bebas sebagai salah satu contoh. Tercatat sekitar 30% dari penduduk Indonesia adalah pemuda. Sangat disayangkan dari 270.000 pekerja seksual di Indonesia, 90% nya adalah pemuda. Ironis memang.
Melihat peran pemuda sebagai aset penting masa depan bangsa, maka dibutuhkan kesadaran dalam mengingatkan kembali peran pemuda. Seiring perkembangan pergaulan bebas yang membawa generasi muda pada seks bebas kian mempertanyakan tanggung jawab bangsa. Dalam hal ini peran orang tua, sekolah (perguruan tinggi) dan masyarakat pun kian dituntut.
Peran orang tua dalam memberikan kebebasan dan pengawasan menjadi poin yang kian harus diperhatikan. Pemberian teladan dalam menekankan bimbingan serta pelaksanaan latihan kemoralan yang kuat. Hingga pada akhirnya tidak ada rasa penyesalan atas apa yang telah diperbuat. Mestinya tak ada lagi alasan kesibukan yang mengesampingkan pengawasan.
Begitu juga halnya lingkungan pendidikan. Realitas akan kehidupan mesti ditanamakan pada generasi muda. Tak sedikit free sex yang dilakukan dengan alasan suka sama suka. Namun, suka sama suka bukanlah menjamin realitas masa depan yang lebih baik. Bebas bergaul sesama lawan jenis harus dipertahankan menjadi hal yang tabu. Penekanan akan pencapaian masa depan harus menjadi sebuah motivasi yang konstruktif. Begitu juga halnya dengan pendidikan seks yang mestinya kian lumrah untuk diberikan.
Bukan berarti masyarakat lepas tangan ketika kewajiban orang tua dan sekolah sudah dijalankan. Peran reaktif masyarakat dibutuhkan dalam mencermati setiap kegiatan yang melibatkan generasi muda. Ketika masyarakat hanya mampu ‘memanfaatkan’ kesempatan. Tak menutup kemungkinan Indonesia akan kehilangan generasi muda yang mampu mengguncang dunia.
Titik balik untuk mencegah free sex tentunya setiap individu. Lagi-lagi nilai kemoralan menjadi poin penting sebagai benteng pertahanan. Tak ketinggalan motivasi yang berasal dari individu itu sendiri yang juga menjadi tameng dalam mencapai realitas kehidupan yang lebih baik. Tentunya akan menjadi sebuah kebanggan untuk menjadi generasi yang kian diperhitungkan.

Oleh Afdal Ade Hendrayana
“Lihat Bu, pak presiden sedang berpidato,” kata Samin ketika melihat pidato presiden di salah satu acara televisi. Dengan sigapnya, Samin berdiri dan meniru gaya pak presiden yang sedang berpidato. Tangannya persis mengikuti gerakan yang dilakukan presiden, ketika presiden mengepalkan tangannya, tangan Samin pun seperti itu.Begitu juga dengan gerak-gerik matanya. Samin terlihat bersemangat. Ibu Samin hanya tersenyum melihat tingkah laku Samin.
Keinginan untuk menjadi presiden sudah terlihat sejak Samin berumur delapan tahun. Sampai sekarang kalau ditanya, “Apa cita-cita Samin?” Samin akan selalu menjawab, “Samin ingin menjadi pak presiden.” Kalau Samin sedang makan, kemudian dia melihat presiden atau gambar presiden, baik itu di berita, maka dia akan berhenti makan. Dan dengan serius memperhatikan pak presiden yang sedang berpidato.
Begitu juga di sekolah, suatu hari, Samin sedang belajar mata pelajaran Bahasa Indonesia. Tepatnya belajar mengarang. Sebelum pelajarana dimulai, ibu guru bertanya, “Siapa yang ingin bercerita tentang cita-citanya?,” dengan sigapnya Samin tunjuk tangan. “Saya Bu.” Lalu Samin bercerita, kalau dia ingin menjadi presiden.
“Saya ingin bertemu dengan banyak orang, saya ingin Indonesia menjadi negara yang lebih maju,” ujar samin di hadapan puluhan teman-temannya. Lagi-lagi Samin meniru gaya pak presiden yang dilihatnya di televisi. Tepuk tangan teman-teman Samin terdengar, setelah lima menit Samin menceritakan cita-citanya di depan kelas.
Ibu guru Samin, Ibu Ida, juga mengakui kalau Samin adalah salah seorang siswa yang berani dan memiliki keinginan yang tinggi. “Ketika saya memberikan pertanyaan, Samin selalu tunjuk tangan dan menjawab pertanyaan yang saya berikan,” kata Ibu Ida. “Samin tidak takut salah. Yang penting dia menjawab pertanyaan,” tambah Ibu Ida.
Sekarang Samin telah berusia dua belas tahun. Samin sekolah di SMP1 Sungai Penuh, Kerinci. Keinginan Samin untuk menjadi presiden semakin terlihat. Meskipun masih kelas VII, Samin telah menjadi anggota Organisasi Siswa Intra Sekolah (Osis) di sekolahnya. Samin termasuk anak yang mudah bergaul. Tidak hanya dengan teman-teman sekelas, tetapi juga dengan siswa kelas IX.
***
Siang itu Samin terlihat sedih. Biasanya Samin pulang dari sekolah bersama temannya. Tetapi saat itu Samin hanya pulang sendiri.
“Mengapa ibu guru tidak memilih saya untuk ikut pidato?,” Samin hanya berbicara sendiri. Wajahnya terlihat semakin kesal. Seakan-akan Samin tidak bisa menerima keputusan yang telah diberikan oleh gurunya. Sesekali Samin terlihat menendang batu-batu kerikil yang berserakan di jalanan.
Setibanya di rumah, Samin menceritakan kepada Ibunya. “Bu, Samin gagal untuk menjadi perwakilan sekolah dalam lomba pidato,” adu Samin kepada ibunya. “Tidak apa-apa, mungkin belum kesempatan Samin untuk ikut,” jawab ibunya. “Tahun depan kan masih ada lombanya,” jawab ibunya. “Tapi Samin kan ingin bertemu dan salam dengan pak presiden,” balasnya lagi. “Sabar, suatu saat kamu pasti akan bertemu dengan pak presiden,” hibur ibunya.
Meski ibunya telah berusaha untuk menghiburnya. Samin masih terlihat sedih. Kesedihan Samin hilang ketika dia melihat pidato presiden tentang Hari Lingkungan Hidup Sedunia, 5 Juni, di televisi. Seakan-akan semangatnya kembali bangkit.
“Min, sambal sudah masak, makanlah,” panggil ibunya dari dapur. Saking asyiknya menonton, Samin tidak menghiraukan panggilan ibunya. Seakan-akan ada rasa senang dan bahagia yang dirasakan oleh Samin ketika melihat sosok sang presiden. Setelah pidato presiden selesai, Samin baru makan siang.
Keinginan untuk bertemu sang presiden juga terlihat dengan suasana di dalam kamarnya. Hampir tiga belas poster sang presiden dengan ukuran jumbo menghiasi setiap sisi kamar Samin. Terlihat foto presiden yang sedang berpidato, presiden yang sedang melambaikan tangan, presiden yang tersenyum, hingga tulisan yang bertuliskan “Calon Presiden Masa Depan”.
***
Hari Minggu dimanfaatkan Samin untuk beristirahat. Biasanya Samin mendengar radio, dan menonton televisi. Pagi itu, sambil berbaring, Samin mendengar radio. Lalu, Samin mendengar ada sebuah iklan tentang peringatan hari anak nasional. “Sehubungan dengan peringatan hari anak nasional, tanggal 23 Juli, maka akan diadakan perlombaan pidato dengan tema “Aku adalah Pemimpin Dunia Masa Depan”. Pesertanya adalah anak-anak dengan rentang usia mulai dari 10-15 tahun. Bagi yang menjadi juara akan diberikan hadiah secara langsung oleh pak presiden”. Mendengar iklan tersebut, Samin sangat senang. “Yeah, ini kesempatan Samin untuk bertemu dengan sang presiden,” ujarnya gembira. Samin langsung melompat dari tempat tidurnya.
“Bu, ada lomba pidato. Bagi yang juara akan bertemu dengan presiden. Samin mau ikut Bu.” Melihat kegembiraan Samin, ibunya pun turut gembira. “Samin harus latihan ya. Biar jadi juara,” balas ibunya.
Setelah pulang sekolah, Samin selalu latihan pidato. Samin meminta kepada salah seorang gurunya, Bu Leni, guru mata pelajaran Bahasa Indonesia untuk membuat konsep pidatonya. Melihat semangat Samin, ibu Leni pun ikut bahagia. “Samin harus rajin-rajin latihan ya,” ujar Bu Leni memberikan semangat kepada Samin.
Setiap pulang sekolah, Samin selalu latihan pidato. Semangatnya terlihat jelas. Awalnya Samin masih terbata-bata dalam berpidato. Lama-kelamaan Samin tidak lagi melihat teks. Hanya dalam tiga hari, Samin telah lancar dalam berpidato. Juga tidak ketinggalan gerak-gerik tangannya dan ekspresinya pun turut dalam penyampaian pidato. Tidak hanya ibunya, guru-guru Samin pun sangat senang melihat semangat Samin untuk ikut lomba pidato.
Waktu kian berjalan, hanya tinggal tiga hari lagi bagi Samin untuk mempersiapkan penampilannya dalam lomba pidato. Kian hari semangat Samin kian meningkat. Kemampuannya berpidato pun kian membaik.
“Ini adalah kesempatan Samin untuk menunjukkan bahwa Samin bisa menjadi juara,” ungkap Samin dalam hati.
Hari yang ditunggu-tunggu Samin akhirnya tiba. Dengan kostum putih-hitam, Samin berpidato di hadapan ribuan penonton yang menyaksikan lomba tersebut. Ketika Samin mengepalkan tangannya dan berkata, “dengan tekad dan semangat yang tinggi, aku yakin aku bisa menjadi pemimpin masa depan,” terlihat Ibunya meneteska air mata. Terharu akan semangat dan tekad yang dimiliki anaknya.
Tepuk tangan terdengar membahana dari penonton ketika Samin turun dari podium. “Samin, kamu hebat,” puji guru-gurunya. Samin hanya tersenyum indah.
Akhirnya, tekad dan keinginan Samin untuk bertemu dengan sang presiden pun tercapai. Dengan bangga, Samin mengangkat piala dengan kedua tangannya. Dan berkata “akulah pemimpin masa depan……..”
Afdal Ade Hendrayana
Penulis Lepas,
Tinggal di Padang
Profil Singkat

Nama : Afdal Ade Hendrayana
Pekerjaan : Mahasiswa Uiversitas Negeri Padang
Alamat : Jln. Gelatik IV No. 57 Air Tawar Barat, Padang
Kode Pos : 25131
Alamat email : Afdal.warrior07@gmail.com
Nomor Hp : 0852 66 195811

YONG ZHAO
Michigan State University

Abstract:
The purpose of this study is to assess the potential of technology for improving language education. A review of the effectiveness of past and current practices in the application of information and communication technology(ICT) in language education and the availability as well as capacities of current ICTs was conducted. The review found that existing literature on the effectiveness of technology uses in language education is very limited in four aspects: a) The number of systematic, well-designed empirical evaluative studies of the effects of technology uses in language learning is very small, b) the settings of instruction where the studies were conducted were limited to higher education and adult learners, c) the languages studied were limited to common foreign languages and English as a foreign or second language, and d) the experiments were often short-term and about one or two aspects of language learning (e.g., vocabulary or grammar). However the limited number of available studies shows a pattern of positive effects. They found technology-supported language learning is at least as effective as human teachers, if not more so.

KEYWORDS

Effectiveness of Technology in Language Education, Limitations of Research Studies, Literature Review, Meta-analysis

INTRODUCTION

This review study is intended to address three related issues in technology and language education. First, policy makers and the general public are interested in learning about the effectiveness of using technology in language education because they need that information to help decide future investment decisions regarding technology (President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (Panel on Educational Technology), 1997). Second, researchers and

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developers are interested in knowing what has been done and what we already know about using technology to enhance language learning. Such knowledge will hopefully guide their further explorations and development. Third, language educators want to know what works and what does not so that they can make informed decisions in selecting the appropriate technology to use in their teaching.

Answering these questions is not easy for a number of reasons. First, technology is an ill-defined concept that encompasses a wide range of tools, artifacts, and practices, from multimedia computers to the Internet, from videotapes to online chatrooms, from web pages to interactive audio conferencing. These technologies vary a great deal in their capacity, interface, and accessibility. It is thus misleading to think the effects of videotapes are the same as those of the online chatrooms just because they are all called “technology.” Second, the effects of any technology on learning outcomes lie in its uses. A specific technology may hold great educational potential, but, until it is used properly, it may not have any positive impact at all on learning. Thus, assessing the effectiveness of a technology is in reality assessing the effectiveness of its uses rather than the technology itself. Since most information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in a variety of ways, some more effective than others, it is inappropriate to overgeneralize the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of one way of using the technology to the technology itself. Third, to further complicate things, the effectiveness of an educational approach is highly mediated by many other variables—the learner, the task, the instructional setting, and of course the assessment tool. Thus, even the same use of a particular technology in different instructional settings may result in different learning outcomes.

Clearly it is unreasonable to expect any single study to tell us to what degree technology is effective in improving language learning. However, a comprehensive review of many studies can get us closer to an answer (e.g., Cavanaugh, 2001; Chapelle, 1997; Lou, Abrami, & d’Apollonia, 2001; Salaberry, 2001). With the help of a research method called meta-analysis (Glass, 1977; Hedges & Olkin, 1985; Lyons, 1995a), we can assess the effectiveness of technology uses in language education by analyzing findings of numerous empirical studies. A carefully conducted review can also help us develop a map of past and current work in the field of technology and language education. The map should reveal what we know, what we have done, what works, and what does not. The study in this paper offers such a review.

Focusing on the issues of effectiveness, this review attempts to achieve three goals: (a) assessing the overall effectiveness of uses of technology in language education through meta-analysis, (b) exploring patterns of recent efforts in using technology to improve language learning, and (c) identifying effective ways to use technology in language education.

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METHOD

Selection of Studies

There is a long history of using technology to improve language learning (Salaberry, 2001). The review in this paper is limited to research published in referred journals during the last five years, from 1997 to 2001. The decision to limit the review to this period of time was motivated by the concern for relevance. The primary purpose of the review is to seek evidence and ideas that will guide our future work, rather than paint a comprehensive historical picture of research in computer-assisted language learning, which can be found in many existing publications (e.g., Chapelle, 2001; Levy, 1997; Salaberry, 2001). Thus, it is reasonable to focus on studies of technological applications that have the most relevance. Relevance is considered in two areas: technology and pedagogy. As we know, technology changes constantly and rapidly. The technological innovations that we are most interested in and that will most likely have an impact on language education in the future are: (a) multimedia computing; (b) the Internet, especially the web; and (c) speech synthesis and recognition. These innovations were a fairly recent development, and efforts to apply them in language education occurred even later. Focusing on the research publications over the past five years in this way should give us sufficient insight into the applications of these relatively new technologies.

There was also a major paradigm shift in the pedagogical and research focus of technology applications in language education recently (Chapelle, 1997, 2001; Pennington, 1996; Salaberry, 2001)—a shift away from traditional drill-and-skill computer-aided instruction (CAI) models toward multimedia, intelligent CAI, and integration models. Studies about applications of these newer models appeared more recently as well.

Works included in this review were identified from five representative journals devoted to research on second/foreign language education and technology and language learning.

Selecting Representative Journals

A four-step process was followed to identify the representative journals. First, a key word search using “computer assisted language learning” was performed on ERIC through FirstSearch. The search was limited by year, document type, and language. Only journal articles published from 1997 through 2001 in English were included. The search resulted in a total of 389 articles. Second, all articles that did not have the key word “second language” were excluded, which resulted in a total of 355 articles. Third, all articles that appeared in nonpeer-reviewed, irregularly published, or practice-oriented journals or magazines were excluded, resulting in a total of 156 articles. The fourth step was to calculate the distribution of the articles and their sources. These articles were published in 22 different journals. The journals fell into three categories: (a) technology and language learning journals that specifically address issues in applications of

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technology in language learning and education; (b) language learning and education journals that address issues in language learning and education in general, of which technology application is a subissue; and (c) educational technology journals that address issues in the application of technology in education in general, of which language learning and education is considered a subarea of study. Figure 1 shows the distribution of articles by journal categories.

Figure 1

Distribution of Articles by Journal Category

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However, in many cases, a journal may have had only one or two articles. Nine journals had more than three articles. (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Distribution of Articles by Journals

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As Figure 2 shows, most articles appeared in journals devoted to educational technology, especially language educational technology. The three journals devoted to language learning and technology (System, CALICO Journal, and Language Learning & Technology) published nearly 70% of all the articles.

Further, the articles appeared mostly in two journals: CALICO Journal and Language Learning & Technology (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

Distribution of Articles in Technology Journals

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Based on this analysis, the CALICO Journal and Language Learning & Technology were first selected to represent studies published in journals devoted to technology and language learning. The Journal of Educational Computing Research was selected to represent journals devoted to educational technology. The Modern Language Journal and TESOL Quarterly were selected to represent journals in language learning and education. These two journals were selected over Foreign Language Annals (FLA) because they are generally considered more research oriented than FLA. This selection represents 72% of all articles found to be related to computer-assisted language instruction from the ERIC database during the period of 1997 through 2001. Considering that 13% of the articles are scattered in 12 other journals, the selection should be considered as a reasonable representative sample of journals that may publish studies in technology and second language learning and education.

Selection of Studies

Having selected these five journals, the researcher read the abstracts of all articles published in the journals since 1997 to identify possible studies to include in this review. After identifying the possible articles, the researcher read all identified articles to select the ones suitable for a meta-analysis. The following criteria were used for the selection:

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1. The article had to report results of an empirical study or multiple studies on the effectiveness or effects of a technological application aimed at improving language learning. Informational articles describing the process of technological applications or products and opinion articles presenting theories or review the literature were included as part of the review but not for the meta-analysis of effects.

2. Technology was more broadly conceived than just computers because the convergence of media is an emerging trend in language education technology. Thus, studies about the application of video, audio, computer-assisted instruction programs, the web, computer-mediated communication, simulation, speech technologies, word processing, e-books, and grammar checkers were all included.

3. The studies included for the final meta-analysis had to have measures of improvement of language proficiency. Self-assessment of improvement or attitudinal surveys were not acceptable.

A total of 9 articles were found to meet the above criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis although many more articles published in these journals dealt with technological applications in language learning. While the meta-analysis was conducted on only the 9 studies, the review here draws upon discussions and findings from the other articles as well as a number of books published around the same period of time.

RESULTS

This section is organized into three parts. Part one presents an overview of the literature on technology applications in language education. Part two summarizes how technology has been used to support language learning and the effectiveness of these uses. Part three reports the results from the meta-analysis study intended to assess the overall effectiveness of technology-supported language learning.

Overview of the Literature

The review of recent research on technology-supported language learning reveals a number of interesting points regarding existing research in this area. First, the total number of well designed experimental studies on the effectiveness of technological applications in language learning is very limited. For instance, the four issues in Volume 16 of the CALICO Journal, which were published in 1998 and 1999, contain 10 feature articles. Only two of the 10 met the selection criteria to be included in the meta-analysis. Of all the 51 feature articles published in Language Learning & Technology, one met the criteria. The majority of the articles are either description of cases—uses of technology in language education and processes of software development—or theoretical discussions of principles of technological applications. Some of the limited

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empirical studies did not measure learning gains, relied solely on learner self-reports as measures of effectiveness, or were not well designed.

Second, the studies were limited to college level language learners. None of the nine studies was conducted in K-12 settings. Only two of the nine studies were not about college students—their participants were military linguists, also adults.

Third, the target languages under consideration in the studies were also limited. French and Spanish were the most studied (10 out 16 or 63%). Other more commonly studied languages were English as a second language (ESL), German, and Arabic.

Fourth, most of the studies were about the application of a single application instead of systemic large-scale integration of technology. Only two of the 16 studies were about long-term technology integration in the language learning environment. Thus the treatment reported was also short term, lasting from a few hours to a few weeks.

Lastly, the applications of technology to enhance language learning have been wide ranging, both in terms of the types of technology used and the issues language education needs to address. The studies investigated the uses of most available technologies including video, audio, multimedia, communication, network, and speech technologies. These technologies have been applied to support the teaching of various aspects of language learning including vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, speaking, listening, and culture.

Uses and Effectiveness of Technologies in Language Education

The following paragraphs present detailed discussions of the specific applications that have been studied over the past few years. The discussion is categorized into four groups: access to materials, communication opportunities, feedback, and learner motivation.

Providing Access to Linguistic and Cultural Materials

Access and exposure to engaging, authentic, and comprehensible yet demanding materials in the target language is essential for successful language learning. However for many language learners, whether in classes or self-study settings, such access is often limited. Thus language educators have long looked at information and communication technologies (ICT) as possible solutions to this problem (Egbert, Chao, & Hanson-Smith, 1999; Hanson-Smith, 1999; Salaberry, 2001). The uses of ICT to provide better access and exposure to linguistic and cultural materials fall into the following three areas.

Enhancing access efficiency through digital multimedia technologies

Digital multimedia technologies were used to make access to learning materials more efficient than print media or audio recorders because multimedia (visual, audio, and text) presentations can create stronger memory links than a single

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medium alone and digital technology allows instant and accurate playbacks, which helps the learner to access specific segments much more easily without spending time to locate them—a tedious and time consuming process (Hanson-Smith, 1999; Thorton & Dudley, 1996). Shea (2000) compared the time students needed to complete their language learning tasks using captioned video versus interactive videodisc (IVD) and found that the students using IVD completed the tasks significantly faster (p <. 05). Labrie (2000) found that although students spent more time learning a set of French words on paper than those who studied on computer (where they could hear a word pronounced and see a picture about the word), they did not learn more words. In another study, Nutta (1998) examined the learning of students who spent the same amount of time (one hour per day for seven days) learning verb tenses in English in two conditions: attending a regular class and receiving instruction from the teacher versus using a multimedia computer program (audio, video, recording capabilities etc.). Nutta found that the ESL students using the computer program performed as well or significantly better (on three out of six measures, p < .10) than their counterparts attending the class.

Enhancing authenticity using video and the Internet

Video materials can bring natural and context-rich linguistic and cultural materials to the learner, while the Internet enables the learner to access authentic news and literature in the target language, which can reflect current cultural changes more effectively than printed sources (Bacon & Finnemann, 1990; Hanson-Smith, 1999; Herron, Cole, Corrie, & Dubreil, 1999; Herron, Dubreil, Cole, & Corrie, 2000; Kitajima & Lyman-Hager, 1998; Lafford & Lafford, 1997; Lee, 1998; Weyers, 1999). Weyers (1999) studied the effectiveness of authentic video on college Spanish students. He had one class of students watch a Mexican television show as part of a second semester Spanish class that met 60 minutes daily for a total of 8 weeks, while the other class followed the regular curriculum without the video. He found that the video group's performance on both listening comprehension and oral production to be significantly better than the regular group (p < .01). The video group also outperformed their counterparts on other measures of communicative competence. Herron (2000) found that video also helped their first-year college French learners develop significantly better understanding of the target culture. In another study, Green and Youngs (2000) substituted regular classroom instruction with web activities one class period per week for beginning college French and German students. After a semester, they found that

the substitution of one class day for directed, pedagogically sound Web activities seems to have allowed the treatment groups to continue to progress toward their personal and professional goals and allowed them to learn language at a rate similar to that of their peers in the control groups. It also appears, in general, that the students had a positive experience using the web … (p. 108).

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Enhancing comprehensibility through learner control and multimedia annotations

Comprehensible input is necessary for language learning, but useful learning materials must also contain enough unfamiliar materials (Krashen, 1985). For language learners, especially beginning and intermediate ones, authentic materials are often beyond their language proficiency and may become incomprehensible without help. To enhance comprehensibility of spoken materials, full caption, keyword caption, or slowing down the speech rate have been found to be effective (Shea, 2000; Zhao, 1997). Zhao (1997) found that the ESL students who were able to flexibly slow down or speed up the rate of speech had significantly better listening comprehension than those who did not (p < .05). For reading materials, glossing or multimedia annotations have been effective means to enhance comprehension (Al-Seghayer, 2001; Chun & Plass, 1997; Johnson, 1999; Lyman-Hager, 2000). Al-Seghayer (2001) compared ESL students' vocabulary learning in different annotation conditions and found that

a video clip in combination with a text definition is more effective in teaching unknown vocabulary than a picture in combination with a text definition … . The variety of modality cues can reinforce each other and are linked together in meaningful ways to provide an in-depth experience (p < .001 ) (p. 225).

Providing Opportunities for Communication

Engaging in authentic communication in the target language is another essential condition for successful language learning yet such opportunities do not exist for most learners. ICT has again been used in many different ways to create opportunities for language learners to communicate in the target language (Hanson-Smith, 1999; Kelm, 1998; Muyskens, 1998; Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Efforts in this area can be summarized into two groups: interaction with the computer and interaction through the computer with remote audiences.

Interactions with the computer

Communicative interactions can occur in either written or spoken language or a combination of both. At the simplest level, a computer program can generate utterances either orally or in writing that require the learner to respond by selecting an answer with a mouse click or providing simple writing responses (Hanson-Smith, 1999). With the advancement of speech synthesis and recognition technologies (Ehsani & Knodt, 1998), the learner can also carry on near natural conversations with a computer program around preselected and programmed topics (Bernstein, Najmi, & Ehsani, 1999; Egan, 1999; Harless, Zier, & Duncan, 1999; LaRocca, Morgan, & Bellinger, 1999; Wachowicz & Scott, 1999). The learner can also give either written or spoken commands to a computer program in a simulation and game environment. The computer program would then perform the command (Holland, Kaplan, & Sabol, 1999; LaRocca

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et al., 1999). Harless et al. (1999), for example, tested the effectiveness of a virtual conversation program in Arabic at the Defense Language Institute. The program enabled the students to interview virtual native-speaking characters orally with speech recognition technology. After interacting with these virtual characters for at least 8 hours per day for 4 days, the participants' reading and speaking skills increased significantly (p < .05) while their listening skill increased "convincingly." In another study, Holland (1999) and her colleagues found that a speech-enabled interactive microworld program which allowed the learners of Arabic to construct objects by speaking to the computer improved student motivation and oral output.

Interactions with remote audiences through the computer

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) and teleconferencing technologies have been used to create authentic communication opportunities for language learners since the 1980s (Beauvois, 1997; Pennington, 1996). The uses of CMC technologies, such as electronic mail, bulletin boards, and chatrooms have been found to have many benefits for language learners (Beauvois, 1997; Cahill & Catanzaro, 1997; Kelm, 1998; Salaberry, 2001; Warschauer, 1998). CMC brings the much needed audience to the language learner (Johnson, 1999). It also promotes more equal and better participation, leading to more output in the target language (Beauvois, 1997; Gonzalez-Bueno, 1998). It fosters negotiation and form-focused learning (Pellettieri, 2000). CMC was also found to enhance the writing process and improve student writing (Schultz, 2000). Although CMC communication is, in most cases, conducted in writing, it has been found to improve oral proficiency as well. For instance, Beauvois (1997) found that second-year French learners who held their discussions online achieved better oral proficiency than those who discussed the texts orally in the traditional classroom setting (p < .05).

Providing Feedback

The capacity for computers to provide instant and individualized feedback has long been recognized by educators, including foreign language educators (Chao, 1999; Salaberry, 2001). While early applications tended to follow the behaviorist tradition by simply assessing the learner's performance and providing simplistic feedback in a correct-or-incorrect fashion, more recent applications are much more contextualized and pedagogically sound (Salaberry, 2001).

Computer-based grammar checkers and spell checkers

Computer-based grammar checkers and spell checkers represent potentially powerful ways to provide feedback to students' written output (Jacobs & Rodgers, 1999). Although the feedback provided by current grammar checkers is not always accurate—albeit immediate—due to its inability to perform semantic analysis and process deep level structures, Burston (2001) found that advanced

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students of French benefited tremendously from a French grammar checker. In this study, the students in the treatment group used a French grammar checker while writing their essays, whereas the control group did not. The results suggest that "the effectiveness of the use of Antidote in improving morphosyntatic accuracy in assigned compositions were overwhelmingly positive." (p. 507). The treatment group's first essay scored on average 70%, compared to 20% of the control group. The second essay showed similar results: 85% for the treatment group and 54% for the control.

Automatic speech recognition technology

Automatic speech recognition technology holds the potential to provide feedback that would otherwise be impossible. Pronunciation is a fundamental element of language learning, but providing feedback that can be easily accessible and useful is difficult. In traditional instructional settings, feedback and modeling are often provided by an instructor, who may or may not be good at judging the student pronunciation in the first place. Typical ways to provide feedback often include having students repeat the pronunciation or explaining how the sound should be produced in a very abstract fashion. With the advancement of speech recognition technology, the student can receive feedback in more effective ways (Dalby & Kewley-Port, 1999; Ehsani & Knodt, 1998; Eskenazi, 1999; Mostow & Aist, 1999). Mostow and Aist (1999) have suggested visual, template-based, and model-based feedback. First, a computer program can analyze a student utterance and display the features visually, perhaps with a comparison to that of a native speaker. The program can also display the position and movements of the tongue when a student produces an utterance, which can also be displayed in comparison to that of native speakers. Second, computer programs can compare student pronunciation of individual words or sentences to prerecorded templates. For example, good agreement (r =.81 for high quality speech and r = .76 for telephone-quality speech) was found between automatic and human grading of the pronunciation of English sentences produced by Japanese English learners (Bernstein, Cohen, Murveit, Rtischev, & Weintraub, 1990). More recent studies have found different levels of correlation between machine and human graders: from 0.44 to 0.85 (Bernstein, 1997; Ehsani & Knodt, 1998). Coniam (1998) also found that such high correlation can be achieved at the discourse level. Third, pronunciation can be evaluated against pronunciation models. In this approach, student pronunciation is not limited to preselected words because the model is a generalization of a template.

Tracking and analyzing student errors and behaviors

Tracking and analyzing student errors and behaviors is another approach language educators have experimented with to provide more helpful feedback. Computer programs can store student responses, which can then be analyzed either by a human instructor (Sinyor, 1997) or the computer (Nagata, 1993).

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The effectiveness of this approach remains to be determined although Nagata, summarizing her research findings, suggests "traditional feedback may be as good as the intelligent feedback for helping learners to correct word-level errors (e.g., vocabulary and conjugation errors), while the intelligent feedback may be more helpful for understanding and correcting sentence level errors (e.g., particle errors)" (p. 337).

Integrating Technology in the Language Classroom

As mentioned before most of the empirical studies were about a single application used in a few days. We were fortunate to have found two articles that evaluated the effectiveness of more comprehensive uses of technology over a longer period of time (Adair-Hauk, Willingham-McLain, & Youngs, 2000; Green & Youngs, 2001). These efforts were all carried out at Carnegie Mellon University. The first study (Adair-Hauk et al., 2000) was conducted in 1996, and the second study took place in Fall 1998 and Spring 1999 (Green & Youngs, 2001). Participants of the first study were second-semester French students and those of the second study were first-semester French students and first- and second-semester German students. Both studies followed the same format: the treatment group participated in technology-enhanced language learning activities, while the control group attended a regular class for one of the class periods each week. The technological applications included computerized multimedia grammar and vocabulary exercises, instructional video, online spell checker, French-English glossary, and the web. Measures of listening, reading, writing, cultural knowledge, and student attitudes were taken during the course of both studies. Speaking was assessed in the first study. The findings are summarized below.

1. For study 1, when change over time was considered, there was no significant difference between the treatment group and the control group in cultural knowledge, speaking or listening. For study 2, there was no significant difference in any of the skills measured (cultural knowledge, listening, reading, and writing) (p < .05).

2. However, the difference in writing was significant in study 1. The control group's homework writing scores decreased, while the treatment group's increased. Writing test scores also indicate a significant difference between the two groups favoring the treatment group (p < .001). The treatment group also scored significantly better than the control group in reading (p < .001).

3. Both studies found that students in the treatment group spent about the same amount time completing the tasks as their peers in the control group.

Both studies concluded that technology-supported independent language learning is as effective as classroom instruction, if not more.

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Assessing the Overall Effectiveness: A Preliminary Meta-analysis

In order to gain a better sense of the overall effectiveness of technology applications in language learning, a meta-analysis was conducted of the studies that included enough data for such an analysis. Meta-analysis is the analysis of analyses—a statistical technique for aggregating the results of multiple experimental studies (Glass, 1976, 1977; Hedges & Olkin, 1985; Lyons, 1995a). The result of each identified study is converted into a measure called effect size. An effect size is obtained by transforming the findings from each study into a standard deviation unit. The effect size indicates the extent to which experimental and control groups differ in the means of a dependent variable at the end of a treatment phase. An effect size (d) is calculated as the difference between the means of the treatment group and the control group divided by the pooled standard deviation.

For the meta-analysis presented here, more than one effect sizes was calculated for several studies because they had more than one measure (e.g., listening, reading, and writing). But in order to satisfy the independence assumption of meta-analysis (Hedges & Olkin, 1985), only one effect size per study was entered into the study. When two or more effect sizes were calculated, they were averaged. The effect sizes used in this analysis are weighted ds, which corrected sample size biases (Hedges & Olkin, 1985). The calculation was performed using Meta-analysis Calculator (Lyons, 1995b), a computer program designed for meta-analyses. Table 1 summarizes the results of the meta-analysis study.

Table 1

Overall Effect of Technology Applications in Language Learning

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Notes: Averaged shows the result when only one averaged effect size was included per study, while All shows the result when all effect sizes are included. K = number of effect sizes. N = number of subjects. The number of subjects was repeatedly counted for each effect size for studies that used multiple measures.

As Table 1 shows, the mean effect size of the 9 studies is quite large, indicating an overwhelmingly positive effect of technology applications on language learning. The confidence interval at the .05 level further confirms this finding. Thus judging from this analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that technology has been shown by the published empirical studies to be very effective in improving student language learning. What is worth mentioning is that this analysis put all technologies and their various applications in language learning

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together. It did not differentiate among the areas of improvement in the target language either. In other words, this is a summary of the empirical findings of the effects of a variety of technological applications on virtually all aspects of language learning (e.g., vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening, writing, speaking, and cultural understanding.). Table 2 summarizes the technological applications and measures under investigation in the 9 studies comprising the meta-analysis sample.

Table 2

Summary of Technology and Content of Studies

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DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

This review study was conducted to achieve three goals: (a) to assess the overall effectiveness of uses of technology in language education through meta-analysis, (b) to explore patterns of recent efforts in using technology to improve language learning, and (c) to identify effective ways to use technology in language education. In this final section, the findings of the study are summarized and their implications are discussed for future research and development efforts in technology supported language education.

In terms of overall effectiveness of technology on language learning, there is evidence suggesting that technology-based language instruction can be as effective as teacher-delivered instruction. Although the number of available experimental studies is limited, a consistent pattern of positive effects is found across the studies. However, this finding should be interpreted with extreme caution for a number of reasons, in addition to the limited number of studies. First, there may be a tendency for journals to publish studies that report significant positive gains. In other words, studies that found less significant or even

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negative effect of technology may not have been published. While there is no simple way to verify this assumption, it is to some extent supported by a recent meta-analysis study about the effects of social contexts on computer uses in learning, which found that published studies have a bigger effect size than unpublished studies (Lou et al., 2001). Second, most of the studies had fairly small sample sizes and rarely employed random sampling. Third, the fact that all studies were conducted on college students and adult learners raises questions about the generalizability of the finding to other language learners who may differ in motivation, language background, learning style and ability, and instructional context. For instance, it is very likely that college students are generally more motivated and better learners than K-12 students as a whole. Lastly, in most cases, the researchers of these studies were also the instructors who designed, implemented, and evaluated the technology uses. It is conceivable that the classical "Pygmalion effect" (Rosenthal, 1973) could affect the results. It is also the case that most of the instruments were designed by the researchers, who were also the instructors, instead of independent standardized instruments. It is possible that these measures might have a bias in favor of conditions where technology was applied.

This review found that recent efforts in applying technology in language education share three interesting characteristics. First, many of these efforts were carried out by individual instructors or small groups of individual instructors with limited resources. Consequently, efforts were of smaller scale. Very often only individual technology was used to affect a very specific part of language education. The review found a very limited number of efforts that attempted comprehensive applications of multiple technologies to the whole process of language education. Second, most efforts involved the development of products which then were used in language teaching. Commercially available language software or tools were rarely used in these studies. As a result, the review found many publications describing the development process, while only few articles reported the effectiveness of these products. In the meantime, the numerous commercial products readily available and widely used in classrooms were not studied. Third, the review found that in general current attempts to use technology in language education were not connected and ignored the language learning at the precollege level. This finding is very surprising, especially viewed in the context of technology applications on other content areas, such as mathematics and science, where a large number of studies of technology applications were conducted at the K-12 level.

What are effective uses of technology in language education? This review shows that the application of technologies can be effective in almost all areas of language education. Modern technology can help enhance the quality of input, authenticity of communication, and provide more relevant and useful feedback. In particular, communication technologies such as the Internet and satellite television have been found to be widely used as a way to bring authentic materials into the classroom, involve learners in more authentic communications with

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distant audiences, and provide researchers the opportunity to better examine the language learning process. Additionally speech technology, while still not quite ready for full implementation for language education, has already been shown its potential for supporting language learning.

Findings from this review study have significant implications for future work. It is apparent from the literature review that technology, when used properly, can have a positive effect on language learning. It is also apparent that the availability and capacities of information technologies have not been fully taken advantage of by language students or educators. To truly capitalize on modern information and communication technologies to significantly improve language learning, a number of issues must be addressed.

Issue 1: Comprehensive and systematic development of curriculum and content

Technology capacities need to be translated into pedagogical solutions and realized in the forms of curriculum and content for language learners. Current uses of technology, as revealed by the literature review, are fragmented and isolated. There are very few comprehensive technology-based curricula that fully take advantage of the power of available technologies. Thus, in the future, what is needed is the development of full curricula that are supported by available technologies instead of individual tools that are only used infrequently or as a supplement to a primarily print-material-based curriculum.

Issue 2: Basic research to explore effective ways of using technology

The effectiveness of technology on language learning is dependent on how it is used. Certain technologies are more suitable than others for certain learning tasks for certain learners. Therefore research about appropriate ways and contexts of technology use is much needed (Salaberry, 2001).

Issue 3: Technology uses in the classroom

Technology is underutilized in classrooms (Cuban, 2001). The finding that none of the studies found in the major language education and technology journals is about technology use in K-12 classrooms is shocking because studies of technology applications in other subject areas (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts) have taken place in mainly K-12 classrooms. The fact that almost all the authors of the reported studies were also the instructors in the experiments suggests a possible explanation: K-12 teachers are not using technology in their teaching and there is a lack of interest among university researchers in studying technology applications in K-12 language classrooms. This finding raises two issues: how to promote technology use in K-12 classrooms and how to encourage more research about technology use in K-12 language classes.

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Issue 4: Large scale systematic empirical evaluation of technology uses in schools

There is a clear lack of systematic empirical evaluation efforts to assess the effectiveness of large scale comprehensive uses of technology to support language learning. This, of course, may be accounted for by the lack of large-scale implementation efforts. However, it may also be the result of an overall emphasis on the process rather than result of using technology in language learning. As mentioned earlier in this paper, there was a shift among researchers of language education in the mid 1980s from product-oriented research to more process-oriented research which focuses on understanding how students learn instead of what and how much they learn. For example, many studies on CMC have been about the nature and patterns of student participation in online interactions rather than how much their language skills have improved. While such research is necessary and important, we cannot ignore the practical question of how and in what ways technology uses are effective in improving language learning.

NOTE

This study was supported by a contract from the United States Department of Education as part of its E-language initiative. An earlier version of this paper was submitted to the US Department of Education as a concept paper. The author wishes to thank Dr. Alan Ginsburg, Dr. Susan Sclafani, and Adrianna de Kanter for their support and insights. Views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of Education.

REFERENCES

Adair-Hauk, B., Willingham-McLain, L., & Youngs, B. E. (2000). Evaluating the integration of technology and second language learning. CALICO Journal, 17 (2), 269-305.

Al-Seghayer, K. (2001). The effect of multimedia annotation modes on L2 vocabulary acquisition: A comparative study. Language Learning & Technology, 5 (1), 202-232. Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol5num1/alseghayer/default.html

Bacon, S., & Finnemann, M. (1990). A study of the attitudes, motives, and strategies of university foreign language students and their disposition to authentic oral and written input. The Modern Language Journal, 74, 459-473.

Beauvois, M. H. (1997). Computer-mediated communication(CMC): Technology for improving speaking and writing. In R. M. Terry (Ed.), Technology enhanced language learning (pp. 165-184). Lincolnwood, IL: The National Textbook Company.

Bernstein, J. (1997). Automatic spoken language assessment by telephone (Tech. Rep. No. 5-97). Menlo Park, CA: Entropic, Inc.

Bernstein, J., Cohen, M., Murveit, H., Rtischev, D., & Weintraub, M. (1990). Automatic evaluation and training in English pronunciation. Paper presented at the International Conference on Spoken Language Processing (ICSLP), Kobe, Japan.

Bernstein, J., Najmi, A., & Ehsani, F. (1999). Subarashii: Encounters in Japanese spoken language education. CALICO Journal, 16 (3), 361-384.

Burston, J. (2001). Exploiting the potential of a computer-based grammar checker in conjunction with self-monitoring strategies with advanced level students of French. CALICO Journal, 18 (3), 499-515.

Cahill, D., & Catanzaro, D. (1997). Teaching first-year Spanish online. CALICO Journal, 14 (2-4), 97-114.

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Cavanaugh, C. S. (2001). The effectiveness of interactive distance education technologies in K-12 learning: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 7 (1), 73-88.

Chao, C.-C. (1999). Theory and research: New emphases of assessment in the language learning classroom. In E. Hanson-Smith (Ed.), CALL Environments: Research, practice, and critical issues (pp. 243-256). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Chapelle, C. A. (1997). CALL in the year 2000: Still in search of research paradigms. Language Learning & Technology, 1 (1), 19-43. Retrieved from http://llt.msu. edu/vol1num1/chapelle/default.html

Chapelle, C. A. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: Foundations for teaching, testing, and research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chun, D. M., & Plass, J. L. (1997). Research on text comprehension in multimedia environments. Language Learning & Technology, 1 (1), 60-81. Retrieved from http://llt.msu. edu/vol1num1/chun_plass/default.html

Coniam, D. (1998). The use of speech recognition software as an English language oral assessment instrument: An exploratory study. CALICO Journal, 15 (4), 7-24.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in schools 1980-2000. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Li Jin and Tony Erben
University of South Florida

Abstract:
This paper reports on a qualitative study investigating the viability of instant messenger (IM) interaction to facilitate intercultural learning in a foreign language class. Eight students in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) class participated in the study. Each student was paired with a native speaker (NS) of Chinese, and each pair collaborated on eight intercultural-learning tasks over a 2-month period through IM. Data were collected through an ethnographic survey, intercultural sensitivity scale, follow-up interviews, the researcher’s reflective journal, and participants’ IM conversation transcripts. The results showed that student participants’ intercultural interaction engagement and attentiveness steadily increased, they developed self-reflection capacities, critical thinking skills, and greater sensitivity and respect for intercultural differences during their IM-based intercultural learning. Participants also had predominantly positive attitudes toward IM use in intercultural learning.

KEYWORDS

Intercultural Learning, Instant Messenger, Telecollaboration

INTRODUCTION

Expansive globalization and cross-cultural communication have recently raised awareness among researchers regarding “intercultural communication competence” (Belz, 2002; Byram, 1997; Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Since the early 1990s, foreign language educators in the US have realized that the influence of students’ attitudes toward and knowledge about the target culture may be instrumental to the development of the target language. It is widely acknowledged that culture and language are inseparable. Culture is even emphasized as the core of foreign language curriculum, as evidenced by the publication of the Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1999). However, Byram and Morgan (1994) observe that although applied linguists and practitioners recognize that the integration of culture and language is critical, foreign language pedagogy still fails to address the influence of culture upon language teaching and learning. There is still a lack of sound and well articulated pedagogical plans for integrating intercultural learning into standard foreign language classes at all levels of instruction.

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Since its inception in the early 1990s, the advancement of technology has impressed language researchers and practitioners with the wide variety of potential uses it presents in foreign language teaching and learning. Among the myriad of technologies, networked technologies such as email, discussion boards, and chat rooms are the most pervasive in current foreign language curricula (Lafford & Lafford, 2005; Thorne & Payne, 2005). In recent years, many research projects have been launched to investigate the application of networking technologies to language acquisition and intercultural learning through building telecollaboration between foreign language learners and native speakers (NSs) of the target culture (e.g., Belz, 2002; Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2002; Belz & Thorne, 2006; O’Dowd, 2003; Thorne, 2003). Thorne (2006) states that four principal models are extant which use Internet-based technologies in foreign language education: institutional class-to-class telecollaboration, tandem learning, partnership between foreign language students and local expert speakers, and Internet communities. Regardless of which model is adopted, the findings obtained through this large body of research are still controversial and inconclusive. First and foremost, it is still unknown whether and to what extent networked intercultural learning is able to improve students’ intercultural competence. Some studies (e.g., Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002) affirm the positive results such as the friendship and pragmatics developed at the end of networked intercultural learning, while other studies (e.g., Belz, 2002; Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2002) caution that there are also some pitfalls such as intercultural communication tension and confusion inherent in the networking technologies used in intercultural learning. O’Dowd (2003) obtained both successful and unsuccessful results in email-based intercultural learning.

The majority of recent language-learning telecollaboration projects focused on the communication between American students and NSs of French and German (e.g., Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2002; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002). Very few studies have been conducted to explore students’ intercultural learning in less commonly taught languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian (Belz, 2003; Belz & Thorne, 2006). Due to greater differences between students’ native cultures and the target culture (e.g., Chinese or Russian), it would be interesting to investigate how networking technologies influence students’ learning of a more distant culture. This paper reports on data that are part of a larger exploratory study investigating how a synchronous communication tool—instant messenger (IM)—impacts university-level Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) students’ intercultural learning. The data analysis reported here seeks to uncover how Instance Messenger Interaction (IMI) influences foreign language students’ development of intercultural sensitivity throughout the process of intercultural learning.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS

Culture and Intercultural Communication Competence

There is a plethora of literature on culture and intercultural

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communication competence. The current study adopted Byram’s (1997) model of intercultural communication competence, which is one of the most widely used models in foreign language classrooms. It explicates the attributes of intercultural communication competence as well as defines the objectives of intercultural learning in foreign language education settings, including the knowledge, skills, and perspectives foreign language learners should develop. The competencies identified in Byram’s model are

1. attitudes of curiosity and openness, readiness to suspend disbelief about other cultures and belief about one’s own (p.58);

2. knowledge of social groups and their products and practices in one’s own and in one’s interlocutor’s country, and of the general processes of societal and individual interaction (p.58);

3. skills of interpreting and relating: ability to interpret a document or event from another culture, to explain it and relate it to documents or events from one’s own (p.61);

4. skills of discovery and interaction: ability to acquire new knowledge of a culture and cultural practices and the ability to operate knowledge, attitudes and skills under constraints of real-time communication and interaction (p.61); and

5. critical cultural awareness/political education: an ability to evaluate, critically and on the basis of explicit criteria, perspectives, practices and products in one’s own culture and other cultures and countries (p.63).

Different understandings of intercultural communication competence have developed due to the various definitions of culture in each discipline. To define culture is an intriguing issue; many definitions identify culture as being pertinent to the recurring behaviors of a group of people (Brislin, 1990) or to the meaning systems used by a group of people (Minoura, 1992). The two best known models of culture are the “iceberg” and the “onion” models (Hofstede, 1994), and both models agree that culture contains both superficial and hidden parts. The superficial or visible parts are the laws, rules, customs, and traditions; whereas the hidden or invisible parts are routine behaviors and habits that are often unconscious at the individual level. The line between visible or conscious and invisible or unconscious varies in each culture. Other researchers (e.g., Auernheimer, 1990 as cited in Allan, 2003) also recognize that culture is dynamic and evolving because it is the “means of communication and representation repertoire” (Allan, 2003, p. 92). Seelye (1984), one of the best known culture educators, divides culture into two categories: “big C” and “little c.” “Big C” refers to the products of a culture such as literature, ballet, and the fine arts which result from interpersonal interaction within a given culture. “Little c” refers to an individual’s daily cultural behaviors and beliefs which include typical food and clothing preferences, manners, and values. Seeyle’s understanding of culture presents a fuller picture of the culture of a community because it views culture as a means as well as a result of societal interactions. It is also resonant of Kaikkonen’s (1997) definition,

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Culture is a common agreement between members of a community on the values, rules, norms, role expectations and meanings which guide the behavior and communication of the members. Furthermore, it includes the deeds and products which result from the interaction among the members. (p. 49)

Kaikkonen’s definition is adopted as a working definition of culture in this study. This definition also sheds light on the components of intercultural communication competence, for example, how people should behave and what knowledge they should have to carry out successful intercultural communication. Early models of intercultural communication competence expected foreign language learners to develop target-like communication skills, that is, develop positive attitudes toward the target culture, gain awareness of target culture knowledge, imitate its behaviors, as well as accommodate some of the beliefs of NSs. In so doing, it was expected that learners would avoid having communication breakdown with their interlocutors due to a lack of intercultural communication skills.

Other intercultural learning researchers (e.g., Risager, 1998; Bennett, 1993) warn that blindly absorbing the target culture while rejecting the native culture diminishes the development of appropriate mutual understanding. Instead, learners should develop understanding that each behavior should be understood in a particular cultural context and that it is neither necessary nor possible to withdraw from one’s native culture during intercultural communication. In other words, developing intercultural sensitivity and critical views of intercultural differences should be the goal for foreign language/culture learners. As mentioned earlier, O’Dowd (2003) suggests that Byram’s (1997) model of intercultural communication competence is a representative model of the above mentioned goals.

In Byram’s (1997) model, learners are neither expected to develop appropriate attitudes toward the target culture nor to become native-like in the target culture, thus the learners’ native culture is not replaced by the target culture. Instead, foreign language learners are expected to find a “third place” (Kramsch, 1993) where they can critically view and analyze various social phenomena with a certain distance from both their native culture and the target culture. This view of intercultural learning resonates with the arguments of other foreign language researchers who posit that foreign language learning is a process of developing multiple cultural identities (Kramsch, 1993). Akin to Byram’s view, Thorne (2006) further argues that the goals of foreign language education should shift from communicative competence to intercultural competence. Among various intercultural communication competences students need to develop, O’Dowd (2003) finds that it is not feasible to assess learners’ development of knowledge and skills with regard to intercultural communication in a short period of time. Rather, what can be observed in a short period of time is the change in learners’ sensitivity toward intercultural differences. Since the current study lasted only 8 weeks, the focus of this project was placed on the development of learners’ sensitivity toward intercultural differences as well as their ability to interpret and relate phenomena in other cultures.

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Intercultural Learning and Networked Technologies

Culture educators (e.g., Allan, 2003; Kaikkonen, 1997) agree that culture is learned in and through communication with people, with each individual learning his or her own culture as a member of a community. Thus, intercultural learning can occur through intercultural communication, a process which varies depending upon the intercultural communication setting. Allan (2003) proposes that intercultural learning is a dynamic process with a continuum expanding from learners’ awareness and understanding of other cultures to acceptance and respect for cultural differences and ultimately extending to learners’ appreciation and valuing other cultures. He emphasizes that this learning process is not linear, but rather spiral throughout which learners use a variety of learning styles such as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation to confront cultural dissonance caused by cultural differences, misunderstanding, and misplacement.

By contrast, Kaikkonen (1997) argues that intercultural learning is a process of widening a learner’s cultural scope. In his model, intercultural learning is comprised of two intertwined subprocesses: the consciousness raising of one’s own cultural identity, and the growth of knowledge of foreign behavior and culture as demonstrated in Figure 1. During intercultural learning, learners gain awareness of the foreign cultural environment, learn the foreign language, and acquire knowledge of foreign cultural standards. At the same time, learners introspect and reflect on their own cultural identity by constantly comparing and contrasting their native cultural environment, language, and cultural standards with those of the foreign culture. Considering the goal of intercultural learning delineated earlier, Kaikkonen’s model was adopted to guide the intercultural learning process for this project.

Figure 1

Kaikkonen’s Intercultural-learning-process Model

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The ideal intercultural learning environment as identified in various models, i.e. total immersion in a foreign cultural environment, is not accessible for all foreign language learners due to geographical constraints. However, Internet technologies make it possible for people to communicate with each other, even at previously unreachable geographical distances.

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The use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in education, particularly foreign language education, has thrived with the maturity of networked technologies (Lafford & Lafford, 2005; Thorne & Payne, 2005; Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Recent years have witnessed the launching of an increasing number of intercultural-learning projects in which learners are connected with NSs of the target culture through telecollaboration (e.g., Belz, 2002; Belz & Müller-Hartmann, 2002; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002). Through telecollaboration with NSs of the target culture, it is expected that language learners will have authentic intercultural interaction experiences, which will hopefully yield successful intercultural learning and second language acquisition (Belz & Thorne, 2006). Thorne (2006) calls for special attention to the central role of Internet-based intercultural learning in the process of developing intercultural competence for foreign language learners. Many researchers have investigated students’ linguistic and pragmatic development (e.g., Belz, 2003; Kinginger & Belz, 2005; Sykes, 2005) and the development of intercultural communication competence (e.g., O’Dowd, 2003) during Internet-based intercultural learning. One important research focus in these studies is the characteristics of students’ successful telecollaboration with NSs of the target culture. O’Dowd (2003) found that learners who had “a receptive audience for the expressions of their own cultural identity” (p. 138), who were sensitive to their partners’ needs, and who were able to produce “engaging, in-depth correspondence” could build up successful intercultural partnerships through email exchange. Müller-Hartmann (2000), reviewing three case studies on email exchange, suggested that an effective task-based structure could promote intercultural learning in learning networks and provide an opportunity for students to analyze and reflect on their computer-based investigation with the help and guidance of their teachers.

The technologies used in recent telecollaboration projects were mainly asynchronous tools such as email (Belz, 2002, 2003; O’Dowd, 2003) and discussion forums (Hanna & Nooy, 2003). Although increasing attention has been paid to synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) (Blake, 2005; Sotillo, 2005; Sykes, 2005; Thorne & Payne, 2005), a one-to-one synchronous communication tool, that is, IM, has not been widely acknowledged and employed in educational settings, particularly in intercultural learning. IM is a real-time communication technology that has been embraced by the younger generation of the information age (Lafford & Lafford, 2005). Software such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! messenger, or MSN messenger allow for the creation of “buddy lists,” the ability to search for message partners through interest groups or by home country, and they provide on-line/off-line status alerts. According to the unofficial information provided in Wikipedia.com, the estimated number of IM users excluding those of various mobile IM devices around the world exceeded 760 million by October 2006. With such an astonishing number of users, this type of technology is not ignorable. Although whether or not IM should be used in education remains the subject of debate, the real-time interaction enabled in various IM software has attracted many educators and researchers. Students in some countries make frequent use of IM, but probably more commonly for social rather

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than educational purposes. Quick and informal discussions with NSs, however, prove to be useful for developing foreign language communication skills whether they take place inside or outside the traditional classroom setting. In the telecollaboration between American and French students, Kramsch and Thorne (2002) found that, compared to email interaction, IM could provide an authentic conversational environment which helps move learners’ relationship to a more intimate level.

Despite the strong interest of researchers in the advantages of IM technology in terms of students’ development of intercultural communication competence, very few studies have been conducted to investigate in what way the use of IM affects intercultural learning; in other words, the process of IM-based intercultural learning in foreign language education. This article was intended to explore the influence of IM use in a foreign language setting with the goal of developing students’ sensitivity and openness to intercultural differences. This study addressed two research questions: (a) how instant messenger interaction (IMI) impacts CFL students’ intercultural learning and (b) what CFL students’ perceptions of IMI are when connected with NSs of Chinese and engaged in intercultural learning.

THE STUDY

This study was conducted in an entry level CFL class in a metropolitan state university in the southeastern US. The class goal was to enable students to acquire basic Chinese communication skills while enhancing their knowledge of the Chinese culture. The instructor of the class was a NS of Chinese who had over 10 years of CFL teaching experience. The researcher was a facilitator of the class whose duties included collecting and developing class materials, answering students’ questions, and serving as a substitute teacher when the instructor was unable to conduct class. Students volunteered to participate in the study. The project lasted 8 weeks, from the first week of October to the last week of November. With Byram’s model of intercultural competence serving as a framework, a series of tasks were adapted from the Cultura Project (Furstenberg et al., 2001), the Tandem Network, and the Spanish-English-Email-Exchange project (O’Dowd, 2003). The tasks were designed to serve as a spring board for learners’ interactions. The detailed task types and schedule are displayed in the table in Appendix A. Facilitative information and worksheets in each task were distributed via email to each participant and their partner at the beginning of each week.

The CFL learners were not mandated to use Chinese as their chat language due to their limited proficiency. Students who were willing and able to chat in Chinese were encouraged to use Chinese as the medium of chat communication. They were trained by the facilitator to use a Chinese phonetic spelling system that automatically converts the phonetic spelling to Chinese characters, which is a built-in feature of IM chat.

PARTICIPANTS

Participants comprised two groups: seven American university level students who

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were enrolled in the entry level CFL class (NNSs) and seven NSs of Chinese, six of whom had been residents in the US for less than 5 years, and one of whom was a doctoral student in a metropolitan city in China. Prior to the study, each CFL learner, except Cathy, was randomly paired with one Chinese NS. Cathy volunteered to pair with Shan who was in China. The background information for each participant is displayed in the following table. Note that all of the names in the table are pseudonyms.

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All data were collected from the American CFL students. Chinese participants were not required to complete the tasks unless they wanted to know more about the chatting topics because their primary role was to serve as Chinese cultural informants.

DATA COLLECTION

Several ethnographic techniques (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) were employed to collect the information that was needed to answer the research questions. The research techniques included a presurvey, scripts of each dyad’s chat, a questionnaire (see Appendix B) adapted from the Intercultural Sensitivity Scale developed by Chen and Starosta (2000), two rounds of interviews, and the researcher’s reflective journals. The presurvey and interview questions were developed by the researcher and reviewed by the research advisor. The number and the type of questions in each interview varied slightly, based on the information obtained from each participant’s IM chat recordings and the results of the questionnaire. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed by both the researcher and a NS of English. Students were required to save all chat messages at the end of each chat session that they then sent via email to the researcher. The constant comparison method (Glasser & Strauss, 1967) was used to categorize emergent themes from the interview transcripts.

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The adapted Intercultural Sensitivity Scale contained 21 Likert-scale items, each of which was an attitudinal statement about intercultural differences and intercultural communication. The students reacted to each statement by choosing from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The statements were divided into three categories: intercultural interaction engagement and attentiveness (questions 1-10), intercultural interaction confidence (questions 11-15), and respect for intercultural differences (questions 16-21). A descriptive statistical analysis was used to analyze participants’ responses to the questionnaire items.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

To evaluate the impact of IM on foreign language learners’ development of intercultural sensitivity through intercultural learning, the affective changes that occurred within the learners and their perceptions on the use of IM technology were taken into account. Participants’ scores on the intercultural sensitivity scale and their perceptions about the use of IM in intercultural learning were analyzed. The following section contains two parts, the first one reports on the findings from the questionnaire which demonstrate each participant’s affective changes that took place throughout the intercultural learning process, and the second presents the findings of the learners’ individual perceptions about using IM technology in a CFL class.

Intercultural Sensitivity Scale Results

The participants were scored in three areas of intercultural interaction based on their answers to the items in the questionnaire, which was administered at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. To calculate the participants’ scores in the three areas, their responses to the items in each category were summed and divided by the number of questions in that category. Each participant’s averaged scores in the three areas are presented in the Table 2. Dyads Bill and Zhao as well as Cathy and Shan dropped out in the middle of the study, and their scores are not included in the table.

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Note: In the second header row of the table, 1 = at the beginning of the study, 2 = in the middle, and 3 = at the end of the study.

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The participants’ reflections and explanations of their affective changes in the follow-up interviews after the second and third administration of the questionnaire were used along with the scores to illustrate their development of intercultural sensitivity over the course of the study.

Intercultural interaction engagement and attentiveness: steadily increasing

Regarding students’ interaction engagement and attentiveness, the results show that all participants became increasingly engaged with intercultural interaction during the 2-month IM chat interaction process. The majority of the participants (Mark, Sandy, Mike, and Jason) felt they were more attentive to their intercultural interaction compared to the time before they were involved in intercultural learning. One participant’s scores (Nancy) showed some fluctuation during the learning period. She felt that she was less sensitive to her partner’s subtle meanings during intercultural interactions. In the follow-up interview after the third questionnaire, she explained that during the intercultural interaction, she found that her Chinese partner was very acquainted with American culture, which caused her to pay less attention to any culturally subtle meanings her partner’s messages might have conveyed.

Byram (1997) argues that students need to develop curiosity and openness to other cultures before they can achieve profound knowledge of the target culture and competence in intercultural communication skills. In this case, the reason Nancy became less sensitive is that she assumed her partner would not express different opinions than her own since he had been thoroughly acculturated, or “Americanized,” in Nancy’s view. However, even though she did not perceive many cultural differences between herself and her partner, the fact that she was aware that they were supposed to exist demonstrates a growth of her awareness and sensitivity to intercultural differences.

Intercultural interaction confidence: wavering

As for participants’ level of intercultural interaction confidence, the data show that three of the five NNS participants (Mark, Sandy, and Nancy) experienced a decrease in intercultural interaction confidence when comparing their levels of confidence at the beginning and at the end of the project. They were less sure of what to say when interacting with people from other cultures. Two participants (Mike and Jason) felt more sure of themselves at the end of the project than at the beginning. When the data obtained in the middle of the project were taken into account, they revealed an interesting phenomenon. Among the three participants who felt less confident about intercultural interaction, one male participant (Mark) felt uncertain in the middle of the project, whereas he felt strongly confident about himself at the beginning, and moderately confident at the end of his intercultural learning. Both of the participants (Mike and Jason) who felt more confident at the end compared to at the beginning experienced uncertainty about intercultural interaction at the beginning and became more confident throughout the intercultural learning process. However, at the end Jason felt strongly confident, while Mike

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leveled off in confidence in the middle of the study. In other words, Jason steadily increased in confidence during the project while Mike gained some confidence initially—during the first half of the intercultural interaction process—but then remained at that level until the end.

Although three out of five participants did not develop more confidence over the course of the intercultural-learning process, the follow-up interviews showed that these participants still developed some degree of intercultural communication confidence during the project. Mark, Sandy, and Nancy revealed that they had obtained more awareness about intercultural communication and more critical self-reflection during their intercultural interaction experience. Nancy said, “cause I felt intercultural communication was not so easy as I thought before. I never talked to a person from other cultures before … . But I am now more aware of the cultural differences.” Mark explained, “My wife is an American and I am a Trinida. I thought I already understood intercultural communication. But when I chatted with my Chinese partner, I felt I was still not sure how to communicate … .” The ethnographic information shows that none of the participants had exposure to the Chinese culture prior to this study. However, since most of them grew up in the “multicultural environment” of the US, they felt quite confident in their behaviors in intercultural interaction at the beginning of the project. In other words, students easily overestimated their intercultural interaction ability. During the real-time encounter with their Chinese partners, the participants realized that intercultural communication was not what they had imagined. Feeling out of control, Sandy and Nancy experienced uncertainty about their role and their reactions in intercultural interactions.

In addition, whereas Sandy and Nancy’s confidence levels remained unchanged, Mark gained some confidence at the end compared to in the middle of the project. These changes further illustrate that learners went through different developmental paths during intercultural learning. There were mainly two types of learners; the first type overestimated their intercultural communication competence (e.g., Mark, Sandy, and Nancy), while the second type overestimated the complexity of intercultural communication (e.g., Mike and Jason). The former did not understand the complexity of intercultural communication until they interacted with people from other cultures, which caused uncertainty about how to cope with culturally diverse situations. With accumulated experience, these learners developed competence and felt more certain of appropriate responses during intercultural interactions. The latter tended to assume that intercultural communication would be too complicated to handle prior to their involvement. However, once they participated in direct interaction with people from other cultures, they discovered that people from different cultures shared similar feelings, which increased their confidence in intercultural interaction. For example, in the second interview with Mike, he revealed that “I didn’t know Chinese culture and Chinese people very well before we chatted. I thought they would be quite different. When I got to know Yang, I found he also loved basketball and swimming and had some girls issues … (laughing). Then I realize we do share something although we are from different cultures.”

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Respect for intercultural differences: moderately increasing

Regarding learners’ respect for intercultural differences, the results show that all five participants had a moderate increase (usually changing from level 4 at the beginning to level 5 at the end) in respect for cultural differences. One participant, Mark, experienced some uncertainty in the middle but remained at level 5 at both the beginning and the end of the project. In the follow-up interview, Mark explained that “in the middle, I felt that I didn’t know so much about Chinese culture. I felt I might not have enough respect for cultural differences. But the more I talked to my partner, the more I felt I had respect for the differences between Chinese culture and my own culture.” According to Kaikkonen’s (1997) intercultural-learning-process model, Mark’s statements clearly indicate that he was experiencing a period of widening his view of culture. He began to gain conscious knowledge about the target culture, which is demonstrated by his belief that respect for cultural differences is connected with knowledge about the differences between two cultures. Although this is not necessarily true, it illustrates that Mark became more open and curious about the target culture.

Overall, despite some seemingly negative data, the questionnaire responses and the follow-up interviews indicate NNSs developed intercultural sensitivity throughout their IMIs with their Chinese partners. Student participants became more certain about their roles and appropriate responses during intercultural interactions. They developed more awareness of the differences between the target culture and their native culture, and they undertook more critical reflection of their native culture. Further, student participants became more self-reflective, developed more positive attitudes toward intercultural differences, and demonstrated critical thinking about intercultural interactions.

Learners’ Perceptions of IM use in Intercultural Learning

The participants’ perceptions of IM were also taken into account to examine its viability as an intercultural learning tool from students’ perspectives. The interview data with all 7 participants throughout the study were included in this analysis. By using the constant comparison method (Glasser & Strauss, 1967), the researcher first conducted an overall review of all interview transcripts. Emergent themes about participants’ perceptions regarding IM in intercultural learning were categorized. Themes in and across each category were constantly compared and contrasted to eliminate redundancy. The final categories are listed in Table 3.

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All 7 participants revealed that IM was a very convenient communication tool for them, for example, Mike said, “I am online 24/7. Messenger is the most convenient tool for me to keep in touch with my friends.” The participants used it to

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communicate with their friends, family, and even strangers they met online. All expressed that the use of IM did not cause an extra burden to their regular language learning. As Jason said, “I am online anyway. I leave my messenger on even when I am not using my computer.” Three out of seven participants mentioned the relaxing atmosphere inherent in IM chat, even during the first IM chat session with their Chinese partner. In IM chat, the students were not as concerned with the completeness and accuracy of their sentences as they were with the information conveyed through the language. For example, Nancy said, “I don’t have to type the complete sentences. My partner understood me anyway. I even misspelled a lot. He didn’t mind (laughing).” One participant, Sandy, compared the IM chat with public chat rooms. She said, “I got lost easily when chatting with people in a public chat room. But in IM chat, I have a more private space to share with my partner. This helped me follow through and concentrate on what my partner said.” All participants agreed that the instant responses from their partner enabled in IM chat made their conversations more enjoyable and evoked more and further interaction. Three out of seven participants expressed their excitement about the quickly established friendship with their Chinese partner, although they had never met face to face. Despite her ultimate failure in connecting with her Chinese partner, Cathy praised her first intercultural chat, “We became instant friends. He said he would help me with everything.” This finding is consistent with the IM interaction feature Kramsch and Thorne (2002) discovered in their intercultural telecollaboration project. They defined the intimate relationship quickly established in IM as a “hyper-interpersonal relationship,” a term which is borrowed in this study.

The participants also encountered inconveniences inherent in IM chat. Bill complained it was very difficult for him to chat with his Chinese partner because she was hardly ever online. In addition, Sandy explained her use of email instead of IM to contact her partner by saying that “I had to work the first two weeks of the semester. I really didn’t have time to use IM. Email made things easier.” However, most student participants very well accepted the fact that they needed to and were able to overcome these inconveniences to enjoy the advantages brought about by IM chat.

CONCLUSION

Although there are a plethora of studies on identifying advantages and disadvantages of IM use in workplaces and general education settings (e.g., Farmer, 2003), empirical studies (e.g., Lafford & Lafford, 2005; Sotillo, 2005) with a focus on the benefits and drawbacks inherent in IM for second language acquisition and intercultural learning are far from exhaustive. The findings of the current research regarding the instructional and institutional standards for technology integration in various foreign language education settings that promote intercultural learning are not conclusive (Belz & Thorne, 2006). In addition, among the myriad issues involved in Internet-based intercultural learning, students’ attitudes toward the use of a certain type of technology in their learning, which may interfere with

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the establishment of relationships during Internet-mediated intercultural communication, has not received the attention it deserves.

This study investigated the way in which IM-mediated intercultural communication affected CFL learners’ development of intercultural sensitivity and contributes to the research on the process rather than the products of Internet-mediated intercultural foreign language education (Belz & Thorne, 2006). The analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data solicited from the intercultural sensitivity scale administered throughout the project showed that CFL learners went through a variable process of intercultural competence development but that they eventually improved their intercultural communication sensitivity. The data from the interviews revealed that learners held dominantly positive attitudes toward the use of IM in their intercultural learning despite their recognition of some of the inconvenience inherent in IM. In other words, the pleasure and convenience students felt while using this technology in learning seemed to override its inconvenience. In addition, learners’ motivation may have bolstered their consequent cognitive development of linguistic and pragmatic knowledge. Hence, at the level of affective acceptance, it can be proposed that IM is a promising tool in intercultural learning, which concurs with Belz and Thorne’s (2006) claim of the effect of technology use in intercultural learning.

O’Dowd (2003) argues that simply throwing students into networked intercultural interaction does not necessarily lead to intercultural learning. Many computer-assisted language learning (CALL) researchers (e.g., Belz & Thorne, 2006; Salaberry, 2001) warn that a sound pedagogical plan should be integrated with technology use. To evaluate whether foreign language learners benefit from the use of IM in intercultural learning, it is necessary to take into account the goal of the class and students’ affective attitudes toward the use of technology. Since this project focused on an entry level CFL class and students’ proficiency in the Chinese language and culture was very limited, the goal of the intercultural learning was to provide alternative opportunities for students to have authentic encounters with individuals in the target culture as well as to enhance their sensitivity toward intercultural differences. Chapelle (2001), one of the pioneers in setting evaluation standards for CALL tasks, proposes that technologies used in a CALL task should be practical in order to facilitate its success. The study illustrated that learners involved in IM-mediated intercultural learning became more sensitive to intercultural differences and undertook more critical thinking and self-reflection over the course of the project. Learners also expressed positive commentary about the use of IM in intercultural learning. Therefore, IM can be employed as a viable tool if the goals of the language class are to increase students’ intercultural sensitivity toward intercultural differences and to increase awareness of students’ own cultural identity.

Despite the surging interest in using synchronous CMC technologies including written and oral chat (e.g., Sykes, 2005; Thorne & Payne, 2005), research on IM use in foreign language practices is still in its infancy. Scholars and researchers (e.g., Belz & Thorne, 2006; Thorne, 2006; Thorne & Payne, 2005) caution that technology is not neutral and that the discourse created in Internet-mediated

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intercultural communication may diverge from both the target culture and students’ native culture. The application of IM to intercultural learning in a foreign language setting, even to a broader second language learning context, merits closer investigation. More longitudinal studies, both quantitative and qualitative, are needed to further explore whether the use of IM is viable and effective in foreign language classes with students learning different languages at various proficiency levels. More attention needs to be focused on the process of IM-mediated intercultural learning as to what factors influence students’ learning in this environment. Given the striking increase in the number of users, IM applications in education, particularly in foreign language education, are theoretically and pedagogically very promising.

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Appendix A

Overview of Tasks and Schedule

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Appendix B

Intercultural Sensitivity Scale

(Adapted from the Intercultural Sensitivity Scale developed by Chen and Starosta, 2000)

Below is a series of statements concerning intercultural communication. There is no right or wrong answer. Please work quickly and record your first impression by indicating the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement. Thank you for your cooperation.

5 = strongly agree, 4 = agree, 3 = uncertain, 2= disagree, 1= strongly disagree (Please put the number corresponding to your answer in the blank before the statement)

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AUTHORS’ BIODATA

Li Jin is a doctoral candidate in the Second Language Acquisition/Instructional Technology program, College of Arts and Sciences & College of Education, University of South Florida. Her interests include CMC, Chinese as a foreign language, second language acquisition, and sociocultural theory.

Tony Erben is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary Education in the College of Education at the University of South Florida. His interests include bilingual, immersion, and foreign language education as well as applied linguistics. He has published in the area of immersion education and is heavily involved in foreign language teacher training in Florida.

AUTHORS’ ADDRESS

Li Jin

Tony Erben

Department of Secondary Education, EDU 162

College of Education

University of South Florida

4202 E. Fowler Ave.

Tampa, FL 33620

Phone: Li Jin, 813 974 1203; Tony Erben, 813 974 1652

Fax: Li Jin, 813 974 5132; Tony Erben, 813 974 3837

Email: Li Jin, lijin@mail.usf.edu; Tony Erben, Terben@tempest.coedu.usf.edu

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