A Bakhtinian analysis of computer-mediated communication: how L1 and L2 students co-construct CMC texts in a graduate course
This study reports the findings of a semester-long investigation into the discursive practices of advanced L1 and L2 students involved in the construction of CMC texts in a particular graduate course. A Bakhtinian framework of an utterance as dialogic, heteroglossic, and carnivalesque was used to explore the nature of CMC discourse in context. Data were collected in a graduate course on psycholinguistics in which students (11 international students and 12 American students) were expected to come to class prepared to discuss assigned readings. As part of the regular course activities, students participated in two asynchronous discussions held outside the class, and it is these two discussions that became the focal point of my investigation. Data were collected from multiple sources including classroom observations, printouts of CMC texts, students’ self-reflective essays, and discourse-based interviews. Data were analyzed using a critical discourse analysis strategy (Fairclough, 1992) as well as more general qualitative, interpretive methods. Results indicated that a variety of factors related to the sociocultural context played a significant role in shaping online discourse. Among many, four factors emerged from the data as especially important: 1) the unique heteroglossic histories the students brought to the class; 2) the nature of the course; 3) the ways in which CMC was managed by the teacher; and 4) the students’ perceptions of CMC as a communication medium. With these contextual factors contributing to the participants’ experience in CMC, much of what the discourse revealed was a complex process of appropriation and reaccentuation of others’ words in the chain of communication. Each individual utterance within this intertextual chain of communication was in turn created at the crossroads of speaker, topic as hero, addressivity, and speech genres. In the process of dialogic struggle in interpreting and producing utterances, students’ ideological becoming did occur in the CMC context. Results also indicated that many L2 students added their multiple voices to the academic conversation in CMC not only as novices in the discourse community but also as experienced professionals, or cultural agents, or as participants with unique perspectives and specializations.