22 SES 09 A, Advanced Approaches in Learning
The main aim of this study was to inquire into how a group of learners, who were new to a university campus in Northern Cyprus, interacted in their new environment. We explored how these students perceived the relationship between these interactions and their English learning process. By exploring both the thoughts and social interactions of these learners, who had recently started learning English, our goal was to provide insight on their in-class and extracurricular learning experiences with a special focus on their new setting. We considered this group of students a community of practice as they interacted regularly to reach a common goal and had certain roles and routines they took on inside their community (Wenger, 1998; Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002).
The focus was more on the outside study sessions the students regularly participated in rather than our weekly in-class observations as there was a need for more out-of-class studies which explore student interactions and their relation to learning as such studies suggested that students had more autonomy outside the classroom setting (Gao, 2009; Kobayashi, 2003).
In this study, we investigated the following research questions:
1a. How do a group of learners of English, who are new to a university campus, interact within their community of practice?
b. How do these learners view the relation between their collaboration with peers and their English language learning processes?
We aimed to explore learner interactions through a social view of learning, by specifically borrowing from Vygotsky’s (1978) ideas on education of children and Wenger’s (1998) community of practice concept. Regarding learning, Vygotsky (1978) suggested that learning takes place during social interactions and referred to the role of Zone of Proximal Development which is activated by social interactions between an expert and a novice, who have different levels of knowledge. Lave and Wenger (1991) interpreted Vygotskian pedagogy with more emphasis on society and extended “the study of learning beyond the context of pedagogical structuring, including the structure of the social world in the analysis and taking into account in a central way the conflictual nature of social practice” (p.49). Therefore, in opposition to what Vygotsky (1978) suggested, Lave and Wenger (1991) noted that learning involves more than ‘a teacher/learner dyad’ and has a rich variety of different actors as well as different forms of participation (p. 56).
Learning is our common pursuit, a social phenomenon which takes place in the world we live and experience, through our participations in social communities (p. 64). Lave and Wenger (1991) coined the term community of practice (henceforth CoP) which can be defined as “an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavor” (Eckert & McConnell-Gillet, 1992, p. 464). As Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) explain, such groups of people have common concerns, problems, interests or passions. These people come together and engage in ongoing interactions in order to have more profound knowledge and expertise in a common topic. One of the key elements of a CoP is accumulating knowledge through interaction. People share their knowledge with others who have common pursuits and/or ask them for knowledge, which creates a collective learning space. Their interactions bring them closer and they experience learning together. The concept of CoP considers experience and learning complementary. In fact, knowledge is regarded as an accumulation of experience (Wenger et. al, 2002).
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