Documentation:Cultural Issues in Teaching Online/Observation Three: Patterns of Online Participation Differ Amongst Groups

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Observation Three: Patterns of Online Participation Differ Amongst Groups

Reeder and colleagues observed differences amongst communication patterns of participants from the different groups described in this study: evidence, they believe, of the different patterns of communicative exchanges which cultural groups may employ. These differences coalesced around two general questions: 1. Who posts contributions to the bulletin board? 2. Who responds to whom?

The evidence for variation in contribution as a function of cultural group is summarized in Figure 1 of the full paper. Most apparent is the finding that the average number of postings made by aboriginal Canadians in this group was disproportionately lower than that of either the Canadian-born Canadian group, or the adult immigrants to Canada. On average, individuals received about the same number of responses from about the same number of people, when comparing these sub-groupings. What this does tell us is that in spite of receiving the same number of postings from a similar array of people, certain subgroups of participants were more likely to interact (or re-post beyond the required minimum) than others. Put another way, we could argue that certain groups were more likely to continue an online conversation. Another contrast of interest is between the proportion of responses in relation to the aboriginal Canadians’ postings compared to proportions of responses to postings of all other groups in the sample. Only the aboriginal Canadian group gets more responses on average than they produced postings. This difference should be interpreted with caution given the smaller number of postings (averages per participant as well as in absolute numbers) this group contributed to the course compared to those of the other two cultural groups. Moreover, the authors observed that aboriginal learners never directly addressed facilitators (the ‘teachers’), while members of other groups did. They also noticed an apparent “drop-off” in participation by aboriginal learners over time, and aboriginal Canadians posted fewer long messages than members of other groups.

Male participants posted significantly fewer messages than female participants, consistent with findings of a larger study of gender-related patterns of online communication by Sussman & Tyson (2000) , and contrary to their earlier prediction that as in spoken communications, male communicators would display ‘power behaviours’ by posting more frequently. Further analysis will be necessary to determine whether or not, as in that study, our male participants offset this low frequency of posting by contributing longer or perhaps more opinionated messages than female participants.

The discovery of differential participation rates across cultural groups in this case study can be interpreted against the background of work in the ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1972) . One dimension of the ethnography of speaking is quantity: how much talking is expected of members of a given cultural group? Such a predisposition could begin to explain why some groups, i.e. aboriginal Canadian and male groups in our study were not as inclined to participate in extended and frequent postings to the same degree as the other groups (Tannen, 1984) .

Circle question.png Reflection

  • Do these observations surprise you? Why, or why not?
  • It is common in online courses for students to receive part of their grade based on ‘discussion participation’. Is this a fair approach to assessment? As a facilitator, what kinds of criteria can you use to assess ‘participation’ that might mitigate such a difficulty?
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