Before lunch, I attended a parallel session where Kristi Jauregi reported on the NIFLAR project: http://cms.hum.uu.nl/niflar/, exploring the development of communicative competence in different contexts. Students were involved in discussions in Second Life, Adobe Connect and face-to-face in a regular classroom. In the online conditions, the students interacted in pairs with native speakers, and in the classroom, students worked in groups of four (all non-native speakers).
Through oral pre and post tests, it was shown that members in the online groups improved their communicative competence more than the those interacting face-to-face, and that they were involved in much more negotiation. The best results were achieved in the desktop video conferencing environment, where students often also relied upon non-verbal interaction. Furthermore, in Second Life, the environment gave rise to unexpected instances of negotiation.
One point of discussion after the presentation concerned the different potential causes of the patterns found, including whether or not there were native speakers involved, whether students interacted in pairs or in groups, as well as the affordances of the tools employed.