Redrawing the proximal landscape: A theoretical study on the impact of virtual community on foreign language learner motivation

Date of Completion

January 2007


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Language, Modern|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Technology of




The study presented in this dissertation is a critical survey, of a multidisciplinary nature, on the role computer-mediated communication (CMC) can play in constructing a virtual L2 community for foreign language learners to affect change in learner motivation. Drawing from theories of second language acquisition (SLA), social psychology, and community psychology, the dissertation follows a model of research best reflected in the recent innovation of Design-Based Research (DBR).1 In accordance with this approach to learning environment research, the dissertation puts forth a theory of SLA and foreign language learning (FLL), which holds that FLL is the learning outcome of engaging a language learner, for whom the target culture is a component of foreign otherness or "foreignness." SLA, on the other hand, is the outcome of a learner who is integratively oriented, actively engaged in community construction and/or maintenance, and developing a personal Psychological Sense of Community (PSOC) as first proposed by MacMillian and Chavis (1985). Through the process of virtual L2 community construction, the FL learner supplements the social support network that helps to promote SLA and contribute to the construction of the learner's L2 identity, as proposed in Vygotsky's theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In redrawing the landscape to include a shared virtual space, such as on the Internet, the learner begins to align the subjective self with a salient L2 community dialogically, compensating for the lack of a locational L2 community. As partial fulfillment of the practical side of DBR, the study concludes with an example of CMC use in a diverse, albeit small, population of learners to expand the zone of contact between the FL learners in support of a collaborative learning community. In turn, a proposed model is presented to demonstrate how one could adapt the culture of practice of this one group to form a circumscribing virtual L2 community toward which many classroom-based learning communities could orient their activities, including distance-learning communities for whom there is no locational basis at all. Recommendations are made for empirical research into language learner motivation, PSOC, and SLA. ^ ¹See Sudsuang Yutdhana, "Design-Based Research in Call," Call Research Perspectives, eds. Joy L. Egbert and Gina Mikel Petrie, Esl & Applied Linguistics Professional Series (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005).^