Wider Audiences and New Practices in Academic Communication in the 21st Century

This month we published Digital Genres in Academic Knowledge Production and Communication by María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada. In this post the authors explain what digital genres are and why their research is important.

The technological advances of the internet influence the ways in which academic knowledge is being produced and disseminated, offering new opportunities and facilitating new practices for scholars. Scholars are increasingly posting their research updates on their group websites, blogging about their research, launching crowdfunding proposals, promoting their research through videos, or interacting with others on Twitter or other social networking sites. These digital genres (i.e. genres which make use of the affordances of the internet to varying degrees) enable scholars to respond to new demands, such as increasing their visibility or engaging the interested public. In the 21st century scholars are expected to maximize the impact of their research both within and beyond academia and reach wider and diverse audiences, which include not only other researchers but also practitioners, policymakers and the general public.

As genres are tools for accomplishing actions or goals, the book Digital Genres for Academic Knowledge and Communication explores the diversity of digital genres (e.g. blogs, open lab notebooks, crowdfunding proposals, Twitter, academic videos) that scholars have incorporated into their genre repertoire to perform different actions. Digital genres help scholars to:

  • promote their research output, achieve local, national and international visibility and build their scholarly reputation
  • share research in progress and practices with peers and collaborate with all relevant actors
  • engage in interdisciplinary and intercultural interaction with scholars across the world, and ask for and provide feedback, help, support and advice
  • disseminate research and information that can contribute to increasing the scientific literacy of diverse audiences
  • engage the interested public in the production of academic knowledge
  • adopt more participatory and transparent practices of research evaluation

Since we ourselves are multilingual scholars, one aspect of particular interest for us is the relation between multilingualism and digital genres and the possibilities that these genres offer for multilingual scholars. The digital medium enables these scholars to draw upon two or more languages that are part of their linguistic repertoire (e.g. English and/or the languages spoken in their local communities) in order to reach and connect with international and local audiences.

The use of English as a shared language in informal digital genres (e.g. blogs, tweets, discussions in ResearchGate) can help scholars to disseminate, promote and make their research more visible internationally, and interact and collaborate with other researchers at the international level. When English is used as the shared language, scholars’ online communication has apparently become more tolerant of non-standard linguistic forms than formal academic communication. Therefore, for many multilingual scholars, using English in online exchanges probably entails less pressure than writing in English for research publication purposes.

In addition to communicating in English to reach a global audience, multilingual scholars also use their local or national languages when communicating online. The local language makes it easier for scholars to disseminate their work locally, provide access to research results to the local audiences who can apply them (e.g. practitioners in the field, policymakers), promote scientific literacy and engage the public in research. When composing some digital genres (e.g. research blogs, Twitter, crowdfunding projects) multilingual scholars may decide to use only English or only their local language, depending on their imagined audiences. However, they often draw on their multilingual repertoires to communicate simultaneously locally and internationally, adjusting their languages(s) to heterogeneous audience(s), which enables them to participate in different communities and to perform multiple identities.

In short, online multilingualism widens the possibilities for sharing knowledge with diverse audiences. However, further research is necessary on the multilingual practices of scholars when communicating online, in order to determine the extent to which multilingual scholars are participating in global academia and are connecting with various local audiences by composing digital genres.

María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Global Academic Publishing edited by Mary Jane Curry and Theresa Lillis.

The Importance of Online Communication in Language Learning

Following the recent publication of Online Communication in a Second Language we asked the book’s author, Sarah E. Pasfield-Neofitou, to explain the importance of online communication in language learning.

Online Communication in a Second Language
“Online Communication in a Second Language”

The inspiration to research learners’ uses of online communication in a second language outside of the classroom came from my own experiences of using email, chat, forums, and other online tools as a language learner, over a decade prior. In the years since my own initial forays into the online world in a second language in the late 1990s, the internet has exploded with online videos, mobile content, massively open online games, blogs, and social networking, and in undertaking the research for Online Communication in a Second Language, I had the opportunity to analyse over 2,000 such instances of interaction in Japanese, English, and other languages from 12 language learners.

Although many studies have shown the benefits and drawbacks of using ICT in classroom or laboratory settings for language learning purposes, I was interested in finding out how other language learners were actually using their second language online – how they developed networks, managed their communication and identities, how they maintained interest – and what happens when they lose interest? I was also very interested in the organisation of online communication at both the micro and macro level, particularly when two or more languages are involved, and the opportunities for language learning that online communication might facilitate. While there is an extensive and growing body of research on young people’s use of CMC, much of it tends to focus on monolingual contexts, particularly English.

Launch Display of "Online Communication in a Second Language"
Launch display of “Online Communication in a Second Language”

One of the most often cited advantages of online communication for second language learners is that it provides access to native speaker peers, can help develop literacy, and enhance formal learning. And indeed, I found that computer mediated communication provided exciting and important opportunities for language acquisition through the availability of contextual resources, authentic communication, repair, and peer feedback. However, as my study tracing learners’ online engagement for up to four years shows, access is not always easy or automatic. Students reported that they perceived language-specific ‘domains’ in the online environment – a sense that certain online ‘spaces’ were ‘owned’ or primarily designed ‘for’ particular groups. Thus, I became interested in what factors promote the establishment and maintenance of relationships online and participation in online communities, and what factors might conversely encourage ‘lurking’ behaviours, where negative experiences (or a fear of them) left learners too shy to contribute.

Although it is often assumed that only intermediate to advanced language students will have the capacity to engage in online communication, in my interviews with language learners who ranged in proficiency level from beginner to upper advanced levels, I found that often, online communication held an even more important place in the language use of beginner students. Those who had not yet had the opportunity to travel to Japan, host an exchange student, or share classes with native speakers of Japanese, often reported that the online environment was actually their primary or only use of Japanese outside of the classroom. Those students who had undertaken such activities reported that online communication was a way of maintaining those relationships they formed in face-to-face settings, and very advanced learners reported use of online communication in their occupational uses of Japanese as they transitioned to the workforce.

A small sample of kaomoji
A small sample of kaomoji

Despite their active engagement in online communication across the different levels of proficiency, and the central role that this communication played in terms of students’ overall use of their second language, I found that learners encountered a number of challenges in their online interaction. Some encountered differences in genre in terms of the kinds of messages they sent, and what they received, and expressed dissatisfaction, or felt excluded from certain online spaces, or were overwhelmed by the dazzling array of intricate and nuanced Japanese emoticons (emoji/kaomoji). A factor as seemingly basic as typing proficiency was found to greatly affect student’s language choice and participation in online communication in their second language.

Developing typing literacy is important
Developing typing literacy is important

I argue that the central role that online communication plays in language learners’ day-to-day lives and their holistic use of their second language, coupled with the challenges that exist, demonstrates the importance not only online of communication, but of learning how to communicate effectively online. This means fostering technical literacy, typing proficiency (which, especially in the case of a non-alphabetic language like Japanese, is not reducible to typing speed alone), and the ability to use tools like online dictionaries, glossaries and translators effectively, among other skills.

Keyboard and MouseNow, I am interested in concepts of ‘ownership’ of online domains, identity tourism (where playing online games, for example, can allow students to ‘try on’ different identities), and notions of what counts as a ‘conversation’ online, as well as how we can support and scaffold students’ use of online communication in out-of-class contexts.

For further information, please see Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahpasfieldneofitou.com