Computer-mediated conversation: the organization of talk in chat-based virtual team meetings
This dissertation is a qualitative, microanalytic case study of conversation in computer chat-based virtual team meetings. Five undergraduate students enrolled in a summer term (5.5 weeks) independent study course worked together as a virtual (i.e. non-collocated) team to research and create a multimedia presentation. I employed a Conversation Analytic approach to analyze the chat transcripts and video recordings made from each team member's computer screen to explain how conversation is organized in small group quasi-synchronous computer chat. I show how the disjointed temporality of chat conversations gives rise to a system of turn organization (threading) that is topical, rather than strictly sequential, in nature. I describe the system of turn allocation used by team members, and how allocation techniques in small group chat differ from those commonly found in large chat rooms. In addition, I discuss how participants achieve intersubjective understanding in chat through an examination of repair phenomena. I found that, as with spoken conversation, self-repair is the dominant type of repair found in chat. However, I also found that repair in chat could serve social functions for the group, by serving as a resource for participants to determine norms for spelling and other typing conventions in their chat meetings. I also examine the chat transcripts as examples of meeting talk, with a particular focus on how conversational practices such as openings and closings work to structure meetings in chat. I found that the structural characteristics of chat made opening and closing meetings a complicated process subject to frequent interruptions, and that a two-stage process was adapted by the team for opening and closing their meetings. This project advances our understanding of how quasi-synchronous computer-mediated communication is structured, and how the use of this medium by a virtual team can affect collaboration. I show how an analysis of the structure of chat conversations offers an explanation for why computer chat is not widely used in organizational settings, why people sometimes describe feeling uncomfortable with these types of meetings. Based on my findings, I also offer a set of recommendations for practitioners for making virtual meetings more successful.