Being polite in your second life : a discourse analysis of students’ interchanges in an online collaborative learning environment

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Chiang, Yueh-Hui

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With the improvement of computer technology and the prevalence of the Internet, learning activities taking place in cyberspace by means of computer-mediated communication have become more common and accessible than even a decade ago. Being interested in how politeness phenomena as universal principles in human interaction played a role in the process of online collaborative learning in a graduate-level course, I conducted a naturalistic inquiry to explore students’ interaction through the lens of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987). I analyzed the exchanges of 18 students divided into four teams with a consideration for such contextual factors as concerns about netiquette, time, modes of online communication, discourse functions, and sense of community.

Influenced by the tradition of interpretivist/constructivist research paradigm, I adopted diverse data collection methods and discourse analytical techniques. Data are reported as a case study of a purposefully selected focal team of five students with supporting evidence interweaving multiple data sources (online discussion, self-reflective blog entries, self-report portfolios, peer/self assessments, field notes, videotapes of voice chat sessions, audiotapes of interviews, and online survey responses).

Given the context of students being required to work collaboratively as a team throughout the semester, the findings of this study suggested that the focal team used a variety of politeness strategies to establish cohesion among members and to moderate the force imposed by presupposing too much underlying solidarity. Five contextual factors also emerged as influencing the focal team’s use of politeness strategies: norms/convention, online communication medium, topics and content of discussion, social distance, and personal differences.

Instructional technology is subject to innovation and is meant to facilitate learning. Incorporating new technology (e.g., Second Life) into instructional settings can create new opportunities for learning on which learners’ use of politeness strategies depends. Thus, this study about politeness in an online collaborative learning context not only contributes to enriching views of politeness theory, but also in being able to help prepare learners to collaborate effectively in new immersive learning environments with comfort in the ways of fostering awareness of face-saving concerns to avoid or redress face threat situations that may damage team collaboration and lead to a negative learning experience.



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