Conversation Analysis as a Tool to Understand Online Social Encounters

Conversation Analysis as a Tool to Understand Online Social Encounters

Aik-Ling Tan (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) and Seng-Chee Tan (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-040-2.ch014
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This chapter focuses on the application of Conversation Analysis (CA) as a tool to understand online social encounters. Complementing current analytic methods like content analysis and social network analysis, analytic tools like Discussion Analysis Tool (DAT) (Jeong, 2003) and Transcript Analysis Tool (TAT) (Fahy, Crawford, & Ally, 2001) have been developed to study both the content of online discussions as well as the interactions that take place among the participants. While these new tools have devoted certain attention to the development of social interactions, insights into how online participants form alliances among themselves and mechanisms for repairing a conversation when it breaks down remains lacking. Knowledge of online social order (or the lack of), both its genesis as well as maintenance, is essential as it affects the processes and intended learning outcomes in an online community. We argue that using CA, while not popularly applied for the analysis of online discussions, gives the much needed focus on the minute details of online interactions that are important to understanding social orderliness of conversations in a virtual community. In this chapter, we illustrate how CA can be applied in analysis of online discussion by applying Freebody’s (2003) six analytic passes and suggest that CA may be used as an alternative analytic tool in a virtual environment where conversations are generally asynchronous. These six analytic passes are: (1) turn taking, (2) building exchanges, (3) parties, alliances and talk, (4) trouble and repair, (5) preferences and accountability, and (6) institutional categories and the question of identity.
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With the proliferation of educational technology and its penetration into classrooms, educational technologists begin to realize the urgency of scrutinizing people’s on-line conversations as evidence of educational processes and outcomes (Mazur, 2004). Analytical methods like content analysis and social network analysis have been used by researchers to make sense of online interaction. Heckman and Annabi (2005) used content analysis methodology to compare between face-to-face interaction and online learning processes and found that students assume more instructional role and are engaged in higher order thinking processes in asynchronous online environment. Similarly, Hara, Bonk, and Angeli (2000) used transcript content analysis on students in a psychology course and found that the course participants engaged in lengthy and cognitively more complex discussions. The methodological concerns of applying content analysis have been thoroughly addressed by Rourke, Anderson, Garrison and Archer (2000) as early as the start of the new century. In their paper, they highlighted the need to examine objectivity, reliability, replicability and systematic coherence when using quantitative content analysis. To complement the quantitative information that is revealed by content analysis, CA and other qualitative methodologies can be used. While discussions on the potentials of CA techniques for analyzing face-to-face discussions are not new, we are suffering from a dearth of studies that apply CA on empirical data corpus in online conversations. This chapter attempts to mitigate the gulf between theoretical notions of CA and its application in analysis of empirical online data.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Turn Taking Structure: Analysis of the fundamental organization of a conversation by which the conversation is achieved through turns.

Institutional Category and Identity: Analysis of how participants orient their responsibilities to provide preferred second-pair parts to exchanges.

Parties, Alliances and Talk: Analysis of how different parties organize themselves through interactions into groups or meaningful categories.

Accountability and Preferences: Analysis of how participants supply the second part in sequence of pairs.

Building Exchanges: Analysis of ways in which turns at talk are co-ordinated into larger collections, directed at particular topics or tasks within an interaction.

Conversation Analysis: The study of talk-in-interactions that show the social orders, structure, patterns and influence of powers.

Trouble and Repair: Analysis of how a conversation breaks down and the ensuing corrective mechanisms to repair and restore social order.

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