The Eco-dialogical Model. From Zheng, D. (2012). Caring in the dynamics of design and languaging: Exploring second language learning in Virtual Spaces. Language Sciences, 34, 543-558.

My research is inspired by children who grew up in both individualistic and collective societies who strive to succeed in their family and societal expectations, yet seek their own creativity and agency to achieve harmony. What I care for is how to help language learners engage in a more meaningful learning experience that can transcend them trough different situations where they can realize values co-developed between oneself and sociocultural environment. I am interested in how language learners of Chinese and English achieve fulfilled experiences with skilled linguistic expertise and care.

As a member of Distributed Language Group, my previous research from the ecological psychological perspective is extended to dialogical and distributed perspectives and is recursively being shaped and nurtured from this caring community. This extended ecology of theoretical grounding allows me to deeply look at areas that language learners do well and times they don’t do well, so that I can help learners develop from both their strengths and weakness. Thus their being and becoming are ever dynamic and changing. In the 21st century, learners live in a flat and open world, to understand learner’s ecosystem, we can not isolate them to be in classroom or natural environments, online or off-line states. In the same vein, we cannot isolate second language acquisition from language use. Our understanding of learning has to go beyond data collection, discipline or cultural boundaries. We have to seek a common ground, rather than universals.  From this end, I look at the following constructs coupled in both natural and computer-supported built environments.

  • Language as coordination between space/time, self/other and ebbs/flows of movements with the environment
  • Second language acquisition as skilled linguistic action
  • Learning as a non-linear dynamic flow experience
  • Second language learning as values-realizing in languaging co-actions
  • Identity as distributed co-agency

I use video transcription and analysis software, such as Transana, ELAN, Discursis to conduct multimodal analysis, which allows me to study interactivity in terms of affordances, coordination, mobility, materiality and multimodality  in classroom and computer supported ecosystems. Recently, with my colleagues, we are conducting hypothesis testings on how the eco-dialogical model helps us understand the processes and results of values-realizing and skilled linguistics action. These following 3 abstracts summaries my current research agenda developed from previous descriptive studies:

An Eco-dialogical study of second language learners’ World of Warcraft (WoW) gameplay (with Kristi Newgarden and Min Liu)

This exploratory research proceeds from the perspective that language is ecological and dialogical. According to the Eco-dialogical model (Author 2, 2012), second language (L2) learners need to learn to take skilled linguistic action (Cowley, 2013), a process of realizing the values of physical, sociocultural and dialogical affordances in the environment. Applying this framework and drawing from distributed language theories, we examined English learners’ languaging (Maturana, 1988), both their verbalizations and avatar-embodied actions, during gameplay of World of Warcraft (WoW). Our unit of analysis was players’ jointly accomplished communicative projects (Linell 2009), each defined by a particular conversational focus (N=133). In a previous study (Author 2, Author 1 and Young, 2012) applied to the same data, we found that WoW’s affordances for coaction, languaging, and diverse values realizing in a variety of communicative activities make it a fertile environment for taking skilled linguistic actions in the L2. To further explore the relationship between key Eco-dialogical constructs from our first study, we employed Multinomial Logistic Regression, a method used to predict an outcome for a criterion variable (values realizing) with multiple categories. Our model suggested that a) verbalizing with synchronized avatar action, b) attending to game rules and c) coordinating toward promising prospects together increased the likelihood of players finding their way and synergistically orienting to sociocultural norms while languaging. In this episode of gameplay, L2 learners picked up affordances for engaging in inter- and intra- personally rewarding conversations as they coordinated with avatars and language to learn and follow rules while having fun together in a virtual land. Our findings evoke Hodges’s (2007b) insight that critical functions of language are the values-realizing activities of wayfinding, seeking good prospects and caring. We suggest that the relationships we have found between game features, skilled linguistic action and values realizing be tested in future studies that seek to illuminate the contribution of a new Eco-dialogical understanding of L2 learning and the quality of L2 learners’ languaging in virtual game worlds.

Learning from abduction: The power of open-ended learning environments (with Stephen Cowley and Ying Hu)

This research addresses the confluence of interactivity and learning in a virtual world. Learners of English from China and learners of Chinese from the USA were engaging in exolingual interaction while decorating a virtual living room in China World within Atlantis Remixed multi-user virtual environments.  Grounded in ecological psychology and distributed view of language where language learning is traced to dynamic flow between first-order languaging and second-order language, human feeling and acting is not reduced to drawing on individual function. Using cognitive event analysis that traces pivotal moments and actions within a broader holistic context and flow of activity, we investigated, in a single episode, the rise-and-use of opportunities for learning, as players coordinated to construe situations, identify problems and probe for solutions, attributed to the action potential of the open-ended virtual environment. We found learners act as caretakers who draw on manipulative abduction and are “forced” to make sense of events by way of translanguaging. Learning occurs as players create affordances, coact and think creatively. We suggest the education of language learning focus on dynamics of open-ended environments, rather than individual-based dichotomies.

Translanguaging in Virtual Worlds from an Eco-dialogical Perspective (with Ying Hu and Min Liu)

This study provides both quantitative result and qualitative evidence concerning how affordances, manifested in physical material artifacts and semiotic resources, play a role in bilinguals’ translanguaging interactivity in manipulating virtual objects. From an ecological and dialogical perspective, translanguaging takes place when bilinguals coordinate their selection and use of linguistic resources with materialized affordances, which are functionalized as perception and action cycles of common ground alignment, prospective coordination, way-finding, and joint action. Translanguaging is operationalized in terms of switching linguistic actions from L1 to L2 and L2 to L1. The Chi-square test results revealed that the association between the number of objects, the perception-action variables (common ground alignment, prospective coordination, and joint action), and L1 to L2 translanguaging, is statistically significant. Inspecting contingency tables 1-4, the more objects presented in the translanguaging event, the more often learners are engaged in these perception-action cycles (see Figure 1). However, L2 to L1 translanguaging reveals a different pattern, in that such occurrence has significant negative association with the number of objects manipulated. Inspecting Table 5, bilinguals tend to translanguage more from L2 to L1 when there were fewer objects manipulated, especially when there was one object present. With multimodal analysis on these contingencies, we conclude manipulation of multiple objects provided more opportunities for bilinguals to align common ground to achieve mutual understanding, coordinate for future actions and support joint action. The findings have implications for designing game-based learning environments where ecological affordances and dialogical resources can play a significant role for L2 development.


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