Features of CMC technologies and their impact on language learners' online interaction

Bryan Smith, María José Alvarez-Torres, Yong Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


This article presents a theoretical analysis of a commonly used and frequently studied technology - computer mediated communication (CMC) - to illustrate how a technology that is often undistinguished in research and practice and often considered passive and neutral in nature is indeed active and biased. We then report an exploratory study of a networked ESL classroom that attempts to test a proposed framework for distinguishing and evaluating CMC technologies with empirical evidence. The findings suggest that differences in the features of the two CMC sub-technologies considered result in different effects on student-student interactions and learner perceptions. We demonstrate both theoretically and empirically that synchronous CMC technology can be realized in multiple forms and shapes, and, therefore, must be considered not as a uniform entity but viewed rather in terms of its own individual characteristics. These different characteristics are delineated across four dimensions: temporality, anonymity, modality, and spatiality. Combinations of these characteristics are shown to have a significant impact on student online behaviors in terms of social, linguistic, and psychological expressions. Although the present study is only preliminary due to its sample size, it confirms the view that individual technologies employed in a computer-assisted language learning (CALL) context must be considered independently in terms of their unique features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-729
Number of pages27
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • CALL
  • ChatNet
  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Interface features
  • Learner interaction
  • Synchronous CMC
  • The Palace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)


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