Since online learning has become more prevalent in the past few years, scholars have recently examined the effects that informal computer-mediated communication (CMC) have on students.  Intriguingly, CMC exemplifies how technology is changing education. However, the efforts of scholars who continue to study the effectiveness of CMC show that informal CMC is not as effective as a formal online classroom environment.

Summary of article:

In an article entitled The Effects of informal Use of Computer-Mediated Communication on EFL Learner Interaction, Hassan Saleh Mahdi and Muhi Eddin Mohammed El-Naim (2012) conducted a study which examined the effectiveness of informal CMC on students who were learning English as a second language (p. 75).  Although CMC can be used in a formal setting much like a traditional classroom Canvas, or Web CT, Hassan and Mohammed El-Naim chose to utilize CMC in an informal setting because they wanted to see how many students would utilize the technology without feeling obligated to participate.  Ultimately, Hassan Saleh Mahdi and Muhi Eddin Mohammed El-Naim hoped that by using quantitative and qualitative analysis from the fifty EFL students, they could explore the effects and the benefits of informal CMC in fostering EFL learners (p. 77).

Methodology:

To conduct this study successfully, Hassan and Muhi Eddin Mohammed El-Naim asked fifty adult male EFL Saudi learners, ranging ages of 19 to 23, from Najran University, Saudi Arabia, to participate in a five-point questionnaire survey and a post study interview. (p. 77).  The purpose behind the questionnaire and the post study interview was to gather unbiased data through quantitative and qualitative means to provide answers to their research questions, which were “Do the learners participate actively in the target language [which is English] in CMC where it is used informally?” (p. 77). Secondly, “What are the factors that make informal CMC successful? (p. 77).  Additionally, the authors hope to find whether or not informal CMC “[Fosters] comprehensive written output” (p. 77).  Ultimately, Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim hope the questionnaire and the post study interview will give a better understanding of the students’ perceptions of informal CMC (p. 77).  Subsequently, Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim noted that the participants in this study were allowed to discuss any topic they chose as long as they made a conscious effort to participate.

The aspect of allowing the EFL participants to discuss any topic that comes to mind is the most adventitious aspect to achieving the desired result.  Having the ability to speak freely amongst fellow EFL learners without having to be conscious of proper use of spelling and grammar, is a motivational tool in itself.  It is clear that Hassan and Muhi Eddin Mohammed El-Naim considered this element when conducting their study.  Furthermore, the open and inviting atmosphere the homepage allowed the authors to collect unbiased data, because the topic discussion relied on what the participants were willing to discuss.  However, could be argued that this freedom of discussion and informal interactive setting has negative effects as well.  For example, if the participant is aware that they did not have to participate in the informal setting of the Facebook homepage allows it itself to become a nuisance to the study by promoting a lack of transportation among the participants.

Unfortunately, the informal setting of the Facebook homepage shows that informal CMC is ineffective. Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim were able to find a connection between informal CMC and a lack of participation by examining the quantitative and qualitative data after the study had concluded.  First, the data reveals that only 17 of the 50 participants participated actively in the study (p. 78).   Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim expected this dilemma because the participants had to balance their studies with the informal CMC research tool.  Additionally, the data concludes that through a six-month period of the study, 129 postings were posted which translates to an average of 7.5 for each participant (p.78). Additionally, the data reflects that 310 comments were written in response to those postings (p. 78).  Due to the lack of participation, Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim admit that this study might reflect better results if it had been conducted during summertime where the participants could participate without having to balance their studies (p. 78).

Strengths of the study:

Although the study’s informal setting opens itself up to having a lack of participation, it also serves to be one of the study’s strengths.  Even though informal CMC proved to be ineffective in the study, it shows that even in an informal setting people can still collaborate with one another in an educational environment.  Moreover, this study shows that even though the participants’ studies were the primary reason for their lack of participation, a small portion of the participants were willing to participate by speaking English instead of their native language.  Finally, the Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim deserve credit for designing such a study.  They creatively used quantitative and qualitative data to give them unbiased results in regards to the informal CMC’s effectiveness.  Ultimately, the results of this examination could be further developed in future studies regarding the effectiveness of informal CMC.

Limitations of the study:

Admittedly, even though this study has its strengths, it also has many weaknesses.  One of which is a lack of female students.  Even though Muhi Eddin and Mohammed El-Naim themselves admit that the lack of female students was due to the disallowance of coeducation (p. 77), this study fails to examine how female participants perceive informal CMC.  Additionally, the number of participants was very limited because the authors wanted participants who were familiar with using Facebook.  Furthermore, these participants were all of the same nationality and attended the same the University (p 78).  Undoubtedly, having students from different nationalities could have impacted the result of the authors’ examination.

Conclusion:

In closing, as technology continues to advance we should indeed continue studying its impact on education.  However, even though the technology is a wonderful tool that can be utilized by all, it still has its faults.  The study conducted on the effectiveness of informal CMC is an example of how technology does not always deliver the desired results.  Finally, studies like this prove that there is still some use, whether we like to admit it or not, for the formal online classroom as well as the traditional classroom.

References

Saleh Mahdi, H. & Mohammed El- Naim, M. E. (2012). The effects of informal use of computer-mediated communication on EFL learner interaction. Studies in Literature and      Language. 5(3). 75-81. Retrieved form Gale Cengage Learning Expanded Academic          ASAP Infotrac  DOI: 10.3968/j.sll.1923156320120503.801

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