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Language Learning in Virtual Worlds: Designing for Languaging. The role of affordances.

The presentation will utilise the data collected during an Italian language course run in the Virtual World (VW) of Second Life® (SL) in 2012. The course consisted of nine 90’/120’sessions and was offered to third level students of Italian as a Foreign Language (FL) enrolled in an Irish college, the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT); it was designed and co-ordinated by the researcher and is at the core of a research on FL teaching in VWs.
The presentation will focus on the role of affordances for designing tasks for language learning in VWs (Blin et al, 2013), particularly on languaging as a communicative practice (Swain & Lapkin, 2012).
The concept of affordance is approached from an activity theory standpoint, more precisely from a mediated action perspective (Kaptelinin & Nardi, 2006), and defined as an “action possibility” that is present in the environment and which may or may not emerge. In the case of VWs as learning environments, such possibilities are provided by the properties of the hardware (computer, headsets etc.) and those of the software, they however are also shaped by the users’ history and the context they find themselves in and they are “often sequential and nested in time” (Hammond, 2010, p. 216).
The researcher will show how, after a literature review on educational affordances in virtual environments, a list of affordances for language learning in SL® was compiled. Also, a list of actions caused by these affordances was the result of an activity theoretical analysis of the collected data.
The possibility to engage in languaging was as one of the most useful affordances for that particular language course and group and it showed a high level of occurrence during the sessions. Languaging is defined as that practice when language is used in order to work at solving a problem or clarifying an issue (Swain & Lapkin, 2011). During the data analysis languaging was identified as an action resulting as a consequence of the educational affordances of VWs and the data showed how certain tasks had a higher occurrence of “languaging episodes” and how particular situations prompted the recourse to languaging.
The data presented will show that ‘affordance aware task design’ affected the emergence of a possibility for languaging and also that, when affordances which were expected to emerge, failed to be noticed and/or to be used by the participants, the results were sometimes surprising and provided further insight into the potential of VWs for FL teaching.

Blin, F., Fowley, C., Nocchi, S., "Mondes virtuels et apprentissage des langues: vers un cadre théorique émergent", Recherches et applications, N°54. 2013

Hammond, M., 2010. What is an affordance and can it help us understand the use of ICT in education? Education and Information Technologies, 15, 205-217.

Kaptelinin, V. & Nardi, B., 2006. Acting with Technology. Activity Theory and Interaction Design. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Swain, M., Lapkin, S., 2011. Languaging as Agent and Constituent of Cognitive Change in an Older Adult: An Example. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14, 1, 104-117


Susanna Nocchi    
School of Languages, Law and Society
Dublin Institute of Technology

Susanna Nocchi is a Lecturer of Italian at the School of Languages, Law and Society, in the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland. She has been teaching Italian as a Foreign and Second Language in different countries (Italy, Mauritius, Iceland, India, Finland and Ireland) since 1989 and she has been working as a Lecturer in Irish third-level Institutes since 1994.
Susanna Nocchi has a Master degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, an MPhil in Applied Linguistics and she is completing a PhD in teaching and learning foreign languages in virtual worlds.
She is the current co-chair of the SIG in Virtual Worlds at EuroCALL.
Her research interests are: Computer Assisted Language Learning, Virtual Worlds and Virtuality, Game Based Learning, Teacher Training.
Susanna Nocchi has published various books for teachers and students of Italian as a Foreign Language, both in Italy and in Ireland and has held teacher training workshops and courses in different countries.


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