Exploring the relationship between EFL college students' multimodal literacy practices and identity on academic language use




Wu, Hsiao-Ping

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The study investigates whether the informal interactive written discourse in instant messaging (IM) is permeating the more formal writing of English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) college students, and how students' identities are constructed in terms of English multiliteracies in Taiwan. The study is designed as a qualitative case study. The research contexts are two English composition classes and an IM online chatting space. Participants are intermediate-level EFL learners in an English-related major and are users of IM. Participants' school essays and IM chat transcripts are compared. The primary sources of data are school essays, IM chat transcripts, graders' evaluations, self-reported open-ended questions, and online interviews. Two methods of data analysis were employed: computer-mediated discourse analysis and Gee's discourse analysis. Computer-mediated discourse analysis was used to determine the positive and negative relationships between IM features in academic writing, while Gee's discourse was employed to examine identity construction. Saved IM naturalistic chat transcripts and interview transcripts and writing samples of students provided data for analysis. The findings confirm that literacy is contextual and students are capable of distinguishing the difference in language use. A positive impact is that students can develop multiliteracies in a variety of contexts while developing fluency in English language use, while a negative finding is that frequent use of IM is consistently associated with the use of particularly informal written communication techniques. Specifically, problems with syntactic complexity as well as the inclusion of a nonstandard orthography are related to frequent use of socially interactive technologies among the students in the current sample. Although IM serves as a context in which to practice English, the IM genre does not support the development of all as such of the academic genre expected in classes that form the context for the case study in different contexts. The findings also show that participants present different identities in terms of English language use. Therefore, students should be provided with opportunities to use the language varieties they know and should be understood and encouraged by using the social context in which they engage frequently. The study suggests that further attention from linguistics and communication researchers regarding possible relationships between IM use and formal written discourse is warranted. The study points to a number of possibilities for future research examining school and the IM context, to provide teachers with information on IM use and explore the potential for embedding incorporating its use into a required college-level curriculum.


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identity, instant messaging, lexical density, lexical richness, new literacy studies, syntactic complexity



Bicultural-Bilingual Studies