Valentina Vinokurova's Dissertation Defense

Service-Provider Virtual Exchange: Practices, Literacies, and Identities

1 to 2 p.m., April 5, 2024

Dissertation Title: Service-Provider Virtual Exchange: Practices, Literacies, and Identities

Dissertation Committee: Dr. Beatrice Dupuy (Chair), Dr. Shelley Staples, Dr. Chantelle Warner

Abstract: The benefits of connecting language learners with speakers of their target language have been extensively researched. One of the ways to foster such connection is virtual exchange (VE), a practice of bringing together geographically distant groups of students for collaborative language and content learning. Despite its benefits, VE presents many challenges to educators, such as finding a partner in a different country, aligning curricula, scheduling across different time zones, and ensuring participation on both sides of the exchange. However, Service-Provider Virtual Exchange (SPVE), a relatively recent development in the area of VE, allows educators to take advantage of the benefits of VE without investing time into the logistics of organizing an exchange.

Tecedor and Vasseur (2020) report several benefits of SPVE from the perspective of teachers: they lift the burden of organizing the exchange from the instructor’s shoulders, eliminate the curricular imbalances that are common in traditional virtual exchange, remove the need to spend time conversing in the first language (L1) allowing learners to focus solely on their second language (L2), and do not require training students to provide linguistic feedback to their peers. In addition to taking care of logistical and technological challenges, SPVE companies train their native-speaking coaches and provide instructional and supporting materials for students and teachers. For these reasons, SPVE is an attractive alternative to traditional virtual exchange, especially for teachers interested in increasing the number of contact hours with the L2 outside of the classroom.

While SPVE has been included in overviews of telecollaborative or VE practices (e.g., O’Dowd, 2023), it is quite different from traditional forms of virtual exchange. First, SPVE is a paid service, which connects learners with coaches rather than fellow learners. It is thus inherently less collaborative than VE because (1) only one side of the exchange participates with the purpose of learning and (2) SPVE coaches are not fellow learners, they cannot be assigned homework such as preparatory reading tasks or asked to participate in collaborative product creation, as is common in VE. Therefore, pedagogical approaches to designing tasks for SPVE as well as the dynamics of interaction will necessarily be different from VE. Second, it is possible that the benefits to students may not be as substantial in the potentially “un-mentored and often decontextualized virtual conversations with native speakers” in SPVE (O’Dowd, 2021, p. 2). Because SPVE affords a more hands-off approach to the organization of virtual exchange, educators may implement it as additional out-of-class language practice, separate from the rest of the curriculum. Such separation is likely to yield limited and potentially unsatisfactory learning outcomes. For these reasons, SPVE deserves further investigation to understand how it can be successfully used and the challenges it presents.

This three-article dissertation aims to fill the gap in SPVE research and thereby help language instructors understand how and why they should use SPVE, how they can implement SPVE to foster sustainability literacy, and how learners and coaches engage in identity work during SPVE sessions.

picture of Valentina Vinokurova