Virtual Co-presence in an Intergenerational Language-Learning Videoconferencing Project: an exploratory pilot study
The possibility of using senior citizens as native speaker partners for language learners represents an interesting modification to the more traditional telecollaboration models. One type of telecollaboration, videoconferencing, allows participants to hear and see each other in real time. This paper aims to explore virtual co-presence (de Fornel, 1994; Galimberti & Riva, 2001; Steuer, 1992) in one-to-one intergenerational videoconferencing exchanges. For this exploratory pilot study, two non-specialist learners of English at a French university and two American senior citizens were paired. Each learner-senior pair Skyped twice, and the learners recorded video of their complete interactions with their senior citizen partner. Learners and seniors were asked to answer pre-project and post-project questionnaires about their experience, and post-project interviews were conducted with all participants. Analysis of the data showed that being able to see one’s partner was integral to establishing virtual co-presence. Moreover, the seniors in the study, despite having limited experience with videoconferencing, used the visual affordances of the webcam to share their physical surroundings with their language learner whereas the learners did not. The results of this exploratory study suggest that intergenerational videoconferencing has potential as a new telecollaboration model and therefore merits further examination.