Dissertation Defense of Alexandra Martin

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The Department of Spanish and Portuguese cordially invites you to the dissertation defense of Alexandra Martin, M.S. titled How to Synchronize: A Study of Video-based, Voice-based, and Text-based Synchronous Computer-mediated Communication, Working Memory, and Second Language Learning.

Thesis Advisor: Ronald P. Leow, Ph.D.

Abstract: The growing presence of Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication (SCMC), defined as ‘real-time, synchronous conversation that takes place online’ (Baralt & Leow, 2016, p. 200), via video-chat programs such as Skype in online language courses has been documented in the literature (Ziegler, 2016c). While research up to now has shown that text-based SCMC impacts positively on second language (L2) learning, the effects of video- and voice-based SCMC still need to undergo a formal investigation as a means for effective L2 instruction. On the other hand, the role of working memory capacity (WMC) in the SCMC mode has begun to be explored in previous research but only for text-based SCMC, whereas oral SCMC has yet to be addressed.

Using a controlled experimental design, the current dissertation helps fill these gaps in the literature by investigating the potential of these three SCMC modes (text-based, voice-based, and video-based) to promote L2 Spanish grammatical learning. Additionally, it addresses whether WMC mediates the effects of mode for L2 learning. Sixty-five intermediate L2 Spanish learners completed an interactive task in one of these three environments that targeted the learning of Spanish past subjunctive, a complex structure thought to be difficult to learn for L2 learners of Spanish (e.g., Collentine, 2010). Grammatical learning was assessed via pre-, post-, and delayed posttest of written and oral production.

Results from a series of several repeated-measures ANOVAS, ANCOVAS, and correlational analyses indicate that participants in the three SCMC modes learned the past subjunctive and many retained that learning one week after the treatment, and that this learning was not significantly different across groups. No effects were observed for WMC, indicating that participants across the WMC spectrum successfully achieved grammatical learning under the given explicit experimental conditions. Finally, participants in the text-based group took a significantly longer time to complete the task than the other two groups, although they needed significantly fewer feedback episodes than participants in the voice-based group to achieve similar rates of learning. These findings point to the importance of designing theoretically motivated learning tasks that can promote meaningful interaction in written and oral SCMC environments for L2 grammatical learning.