This chapter reports on a comparative study of face-to-face (FTF) and written electronic (WE) conferences as pre-writing activities in the English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. Twenty-seven intermediate to advanced students participated in the study over a 4 week period. Latent semantic analysis and corpus linguistics measures were used to compare the extent to which the first drafts incorporated the terms and ideas introduced during the 2 types of conferences. Although no difference was found in the length, or semantic or lexical complexity of first drafts, the results indicated greater lexical and semantic similarity between FTF pre-writing conferences and subsequent drafts. In other words, students made better use of the terms and ideas introduced during the FTF conferences when individually writing first drafts. Reasons why this may have been the case are suggested, and directions for further research are offered.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Face-to-Face (FTF) Conferences: Class discussions that take place in the oral/aural mode, in which participants engage in a whole-class discussion while being present together in the same room.
Semantic Space: Refers, in LSA, to a multidimensional space in which the semantic content of documents can be plotted and compared.
Draft Quality: The textual features of drafts. In this study, draft quality does not refer to the content quality, organization, or other holistic assessment of the quality of drafts.
Draft Content Quality: An assessment of the content of a piece of writing. For example, an argumentative essay has good content quality if it addresses the key points at issue and ends up presenting a cogent and convincing argument.
Draft Textual Features: In this study, refers to 1) the overall length of a draft in number of words; 2) the average length of a draft’s t-units in number of words (i.e. as a measure of the semantic complexity); and 3) the standardized type-token ratio of a draft (i.e. as a measure of the lexical complexity).
Cosine: Refers to a way of measuring the semantic similarity between two documents as part of LSA. If the cosine between the vector representations of two documents is close to 1, the documents are semantically similar. If the cosine between the vector representations of two documents is close to 0, the documents are semantically dissimilar.
Document Vector: Refers, in LSA, to a mathematical representation of the semantic content of a document.
Average Maximum Cosine: The sum of the maximum cosines that the draft t-units contributed by a student reached with the conference t-units that preceded it, divided by the total number of draft t-units contributed by that student.
Corpus Linguistics: Refers to the application of computer technology to linguistic analysis. For instance, the computer application Wordsmith Tools allows users to list the words in a document, and find the key words in a document.
Written Electronic (WE) Conferences: Pre-writing conferences in which participants discuss a writing topic by typing messages that can be viewed by all other participants while each participant is seated at his or her own computer in a computer laboratory. A WE conference is a type of computer-mediated communication (CMC).