My research focuses on the role of technology and language learning, with a range from Virtual Worlds and language learning, to telecollaboration, to high immersion Virtual Reality in that process. As one might imagine, the status of what might be the ‘cutting edge’ of research in this field has advanced considerably since that time as has my own focus with that area (my early exploration in this area used MOOs and then Yahoo text-based Messenger). My research since 2004 has evolved across the four following areas and my current research focus is ‘at the edge’ of the field:
My research in these areas has led to well over fifty invited presentations at various conferences and in locations around the world, and my work has also appeared in the top-ranked journal in my fields, including Computers & Education, CALICO Journal, ReCALL, Language Learning & Technology, ELT Journal, the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, and others. In addition, my visibility in this arena has led to sixteen invited book chapters. Finally, in addition to my single-authored book discussed below, I also have two recent edited volumes, one from TESOL Press and the other with Wiley Blackwell, and have co-edited two special issues in top journals.
ESL Writing/Writing and Technology
One portion of my research has focused on the experiences of ESL writers in U.S. university environments. This began with my Dissertation, A case study examination of international and resident non-native speakers of English in freshman English composition, which provided the first truly comprehensive survey of writing courses offered by a university in the U.S. and the ESL student experience in those courses. It also provided a unique perspective on the experiences of Spanish speakers at that university, finding that they were divided into three orientations: those U.S.-focused, those Mexico-focused, and those with a cross-border orientation. While the attention of this research was not on how technology was being used in the classroom, it became apparent to me that the teachers involved were making use of technology in many different ways, ranging from not at all, to including it as an integral part of their course. This observation inspired me to the new areas of research that have been my focus here at Illinois.
In parallel with this research, I conducted a study which examined the role of peer review in electronic versus traditional modes on the revisions made by ESL students. This research, co-authored with Dr. Jun Liu at the University of Arizona, was published in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes. This was one of the first studies that examined the influence of technology on peer review that included both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.
Virtual Worlds and Language Learning
My research concentration on Virtual Worlds began shortly after I became an Assistant Professor at Illinois. I was asked to create a new course with a focus on technology and language learning (EIL 587) and while putting together the materials for that class I stumbled onto a program called Second Life and the active community there focused both on education in general and specifically on language teaching. This community led me to making long-lasting connections to colleagues from the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO), the European Association of Computer Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL), and others across the globe.
My book on this topic, Virtual Worlds and Language Learning: From Theory to Practice, was published by Peter Lang in 2012 and was very well received in the VW research community. In addition, I have published in this area in Bellaterra Journal of Teaching & Learning, Language & Literature; ReCALL; Language Learning & Technology; and the ELT Journal. I have also published on this topic in a number of edited volumes with publishers including IALLT, Continuum, Routledge, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Peter Lang. Finally, my work in this area led to an invitation to co-edit a special issue of ReCALL Journal titled Interactions for language learning in and around virtual worlds. I have been invited to speak on this topic at conventions and workshops around the world and also been asked to join Dissertation committees for this expertise at a number of universities in the U.S. and abroad.
My work in this area led to the creation of Virtual Worlds SIGs for both CALICO and EUROCALL and (as noted in section IIG above), my design and implementation of a number of ‘creative works’ connected to this field. These include the development of The EduNation Islands in Second Life, which are focused on language teaching in VWs, in addition to a number of custom-created support elements that I designed for those islands. These include a holodeck with more than one hundred different immersive 3D scenes for education (e.g., classrooms, shops, restaurants, starships); a communication HUD that provides users with a virtual world heads-up display interface designed to ease non-verbal communication for avatars via integrated emojis, expressions, and movements; over ten unique conference venues (with seating for up to 100 avatars); and (most recently) The Renoir Sky Gallery (a 3D virtual art gallery housing rotating art exhibits for educational use).
Telecollaboration and Teacher Education
In addition to my work in Virtual Worlds, I also have performed research into the wider area of Computer-Mediated Communication as it relates to Telecollaboration. This work began in my first semester as an Assistant Professor at Illinois when, in the EIL 587 course described above, I first invited Dr. Melinda Dooly from the Autonomous University Barcelona to work on a course together. Beginning that year, and continuing on until today, we combine our courses each fall and have our students (all current or future language teachers) telecollaborate to both explore technologies for language teaching and also to work together to create technology-infused teaching units. Our work in this area was first published in the paper Computer-mediated communication and a cautionary tale of two cities, published in CALICO Journal. In addition to many invited and refereed presentations in the U.S. and abroad, my work in this area has lead to publications in journals including ReCALL, Language Learning & Technology, ELT Journal, and IALLT. It has also resulted in chapters in edited volumes from publishers including Routledge, Wiley-Blackwell, Paragon, and Springer. This very productive collaboration has resulted in a number of our students going on to teach language courses where they have integrated such technologies and telecollaboration into their own classes. In fact, the research currently underway (described just below) takes place in the classroom of a current sixth grade teacher located in a suburb of Barcelona, Spain who took our course several years ago.
Virtual Reality and Language Learning
My newest area of research, and the one that I plan to continue exploring going forward, focuses on the effect of high immersion virtual reality (in this case via the use of Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets) on language learning. I am currently writing up the results of co-research performed with a PhD student from the Department of French in our School, Tricia Thrasher, which asked our participants (all current or future language teachers) to examine seven current VR environments and judge their potential for language teaching across a number of factors. The participants evaluated each environment across thirty-six different factors ranging from ease of use, the ability to interact in the setting, problems with motion sickness, etc. This manuscript will be submitted within one month for consideration for publication.
We are also just finishing up with data collection on a second project in this area using an existing VR platform called Immerse. This VR environment is the first that has been specifically designed for the teaching of English to speakers of other languages where the students are acting with their teacher in a range of environments (e.g., airport security, a café, a classroom, etc.) rather than having the students interact with a computer via VR. For this project, we recruited a class of very active 6th grade learners of English located in a suburb of Barcelona, Spain to be our students for seven weeks. In addition to pre, mid, and posttests, we have recorded our interactions with the students from the perspectives of the teacher interface (via a PC), the VR headset (via an integrated recording tool), and the classroom in Spain. As one might imagine, this study is giving us a great deal of data and we believe that this will result in multiple publications in top ranked journals. Moving beyond this study, we plan to do a follow-up in the next academic year to work with students at this grade level once again over the entirety of the semester or, depending on the generosity of the participating teacher, the full year.
My work in this area has also led to my co-researcher (Tricia Thrasher) and I being asked to work on a special issue of CALICO Journal that will be published in February, 2023, titled XR: Crossing Reality to Enhance Language Learning. The XR (Extended Reality) focus, includes papers on low and high immersion VR and also research examining the roles of augmented (AR) and mixed reality (MR) on language learning. We have already collected the papers for this special issue and they are currently undergoing double-blind peer review. This will be the first issue of this nature to appear in the CALL field, so we expect to have a strong impact going forward.