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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An activity system analysis of international telecollaboration : contexts, contradictions and learning Basharina, Olga


The purpose of this study was to provide a thick and rich description of interpretations and understanding of the complex nature of international telecollaboration, including 1) the relationship between participants, computer technologies, and context; 2) cross-cultural contradictions and 3) learning. To meet this purpose this study examined the long distance computer mediated communication in 4 WebCT forums which joined 52 Japanese, 37 Mexican, and 46 Russian English learners. Sources of data consisted of the written transcripts of the online exchanges, interviews, pre- and post- project surveys, journals, and participant observations. The analysis of data was framed within my model of Intercultural Context-Embedded Telecollaborative Activity (ICETA, an expanded version of the Activity System model by Engestrom, 1987) and structured within three broad dimensions: Contexts, Contradictions, and Learning. The "Contexts" dimension included characteristics of geopolitical structures, institutional contexts, context of interaction, and students' agency. The emphasis was on defining to what extent students shaped the environments and the environments shaped students' participation. "Contradictions" captured the how, and "Learning" the what aspects of interaction. The study illustrates how affordances of multiple contextual layers defined students' participation trajectories, their objectives, motivation or unwillingness to interact, and attitudes toward each other. The Japanese and Mexican students' participation represented an interactive learning paradigm whereas the participation of the Russian students represented a curriculum teacher-centred paradigm. Depending on their identity of deep, strategic or surface communicators students demonstrated differences in quality of their participation. The study identified eight major contradictions attributed to students' different cultures-of- use of the computer technologies (Thorne, 2003) and different frames of reference with regards to their norms of language use and beliefs about learning online. The study found evidence of both learning and not learning through content and discourse analysis of interaction protocols and students' interview and survey reports. Extending the ongoing discussion, the study emphasizes the importance of 1) students' cultures-of-use of computer technologies, mediated by instructors and by broader socio-cultural contexts, 2) students' frames of reference with regards to interaction and learning, and 3) students' agency in defining the meaning of being communicatively competent in international/intercultural online environments.

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