CAWD/Introduction

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Introduction[edit]

Writing is a sociocultural phenomenon that reflects a community's values. According to Murray (2000), writing is “not a set of skills, whose absence or presence in individuals or communities automatically leads to particular outcomes” (p. 44). In other words, writing is not a context-free, value-neutral set of skills but a set of social or cultural practices and its participants as a community of practice” (Reder, 1994, p. 33).

Vygotsky (1978) argues that all learning is inherently social in nature. In fact, Vygotsky's theory implies that writing arises out of and retains the functions of social uses of language. A particular discourse community is characterized by the particular conventions of creating and interacting with texts. Therefore, in order to acquire writing, one needs socialization or acculturation into the distinctive conventions of the particular discourse community.

Obviously writing practices are not only social but also mental and individual: writing involves a lot more than inscribing words. It is a linguistic process that relies not only on knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, but also on knowledge of textual organization beyond the sentence level, knowledge of genres, and knowledge of conventions of spoken and written language. It is a cognitive process that involves creating links between our knowledge and textual forms and ongoing critical assessment of the quality of those links. It is a social practice, interwoven into larger social practices, that is developed through apprenticeship and shaped by its users to conform with social needs. In sum, writing is seen as a dynamic set of linguistic, social and cognitive processes that are culturally motivated (Kern, 2000).

Furthermore, writing is now situated within computer networks, and the most profound effects of computer technology on writing arise from social interaction made possible by computer networks. Social use of computer technology, especially virtual environments such as MOO and WOO, present a new opportunity to enable EFL learners to interact with native speakers in a social community for developing EFL learners' writing ability.

Seen in this context, virtual environments on computer networks and writing are closely related. Therefore, the basic premise underlying this study is that EFL writing education can be empowered by the potential of virtual environments on computer networks. I examine in more detail the question of how activities in virtual environments enhance EFL learners' writing acquisition.