Melissa Baralt Lecture
Task Complexity, the Cognition Hypothesis, and Interaction in CMC and FTF Environments
The construct of cognitive complexity has played an increasingly important role in studies on task design, which aim to explore how task features differentially mediate interaction and learning outcomes. Some researchers have also posited that modality may play an important and differential role for SLA; however, studies on computer-based interaction have thus far been tangential to task-based research. The present study operationalized the Cognition Hypothesis (Robinson, 2010), which predicts that more cognitively complex tasks will result in greater incorporation of forms made salient during conversational interaction. 70 intermediate-level learners of Spanish carried out interaction tasks with the researcher that varied according to (1) level of cognitive complexity and (2) interaction environment: the face-to-face (FTF) or the computer-mediated communication (CMC) mode. The targeted linguistic item was the Spanish past subjunctive, and uptake of this form during interaction was explored as a mediating variable for learning. Results showed that, as the Cognition Hypothesis predicts, engaging in more cognitively complex tasks yielded higher development, however, this was differentially so according to mode. In addition, uptake was not found to predict learning; rather, production of the form during the treatment was. The study concludes by showing that learning in CMC can be extended to the FTF mode, but also shows that modality and task complexity interact in unique ways for SLA. It is proposed that a more fine-grained operationalization of what constitutes uptake after feedback may be needed in future research employing this concept.
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