Exploring EFL student use of digital backchannels during collaborative learning activities
This presentation highlights several findings related to the learners’ use of digital communication channels during online collaborative activities. The term “digital backchannel” is used to imply that there are two channels of communication operating simultaneously during the collaborative activities. The predominant digital channel is that of the online content management system controlled by the instructor and accessed in the target language, English. The secondary channel of digital communication (or digital backchannel) is that of the outside personal social network systems (SNS) that students employed to interact in their first language, Japanese. The researcher collected qualitative and quantitative data on learner interactions within a yearlong series of collaborative language learning activities through internet logs and interviews. The activities were online discussions and accessible through a range of mobile and non-mobile devices to allow the method the participants found most agreeable. The participants were studying English at a four-year private university in Tokyo, Japan. Students’ language use changed when moving between these primary and secondary communication channels. Commonly used SNS, such as Twitter and Line, were drawn into the collaboration acting as an independent channel to communicate in their private language of Japanese. This appears to have reduced their motivational barriers to the homework by providing support for their public use of English by reducing the potential for embarrassing mistakes. The presentation includes a summary of the findings, quantitative and qualitative supporting data, limitations, and possibilities for furthering the study topic.