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Computer-mediated communication (CMC) and English for specific purposes (ESP): an investigation of the use of synchronous CMC to meet the needs of computer science students

By Sarimah Shamsudin


The purpose of this research was to investigate whether synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) would be an effective tool to meet the English for specific purposes (ESP) needs of language learners. A single tertiary education institution in Malaysia was used as the context of the study. A preliminary investigation was conducted to analyze present and target situation needs and lacks of Computer Science students at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).\ud \ud Results revealed Computer Science students at UTM need training and practice in the specific communication skills of interviewing and group discussion for systems analysis and design for their current academic needs and future career as CSPs. In order to be successful CSPs the students need to be competent in both face-to-face and electronic forms of communication which include synchronous CMC to elicit information or conduct group discussions such as joint application design (JAD) with their clients. Findings also indicated that Computer Science students and CSPs who graduated from local universities experienced problems articulating orally in English due to speech anxiety, lack of confidence and lack of practice. A set of tasks called CMC ESP tasks were designed and conducted via a synchronous CMC environment to address these needs and lacks.\ud \ud Prior to the Main Study, I conducted two feasibility studies to find out the practicality and suitability of using CMC tools and CMC task types with Computer Science students at UTM. Seventy-two second year Computer Science students participated in the first feasibility study and tested the practicality of using two synchronous CMC tools: 1) NetMeeting for computer-mediated written interaction and 2) Device Duo for computer-mediated oral interaction. Results suggested it was logistically possible to use both synchronous CMC tools but it was more feasible to use Net Meeting because it can simulate real-time text-based discussions and meetings which are common among CSPs.\ud \ud Twenty-seven first year Computer Science students participated in the second feasibility study which confirmed the usability of several CMC ESP task types for investigating the effects of the CMC ESP method on Computer Science students at UTM.\ud \ud I then conducted a longitudinal study. During the main study, an intact group of 32 first year Computer Science undergraduates were subjected to the CMC ESP method (treatment) as part of the activities in their English for Academic Communication (EAC) module. Students were given pre- and post-treatment oral assessment to find out the short term effect of the CMC ESP method on the development of their interviewing and group discussion skills for systems analysis and design. Findings from these assessments were triangulated with the results of pre- and post-treatment self-assessment attitude questionnaires and the analysis of the chat transcripts from the tasks. Results were encouraging. Participants achieved a significant gain in their overall oral performance and in terms of task fulfilment, language and communication ability in the oral assessment

Topics: TK, PE
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