Juggling Channels and Turn-Taking in a Dual Channel Synchronous Class: A Conversation Analysis Approach

Juggling Channels and Turn-Taking in a Dual Channel Synchronous Class: A Conversation Analysis Approach

Christie L. Suggs (Florida State University, USA), Vanessa Paz Dennen (Florida State University, USA) and Jennifer B. Myers (Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, USA & Florida State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1936-4.ch016


As synchronous distance education classes increase in number, the need for understanding how turn-taking occurs in this environment can help professors learn how to set up communication interaction rules to improve the class facilitation and reduce extraneous cognitive load. This chapter examines how turn-taking occurs in the online synchronous course and ways that professors may create proficient turn-taking procedures. The traditional turn-taking rules identified by Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974) were still applicable to the audio portion of the class. However, these rules did not apply to the text-based chat portion of the class. An examination of the use of conversation analysis when applied to the multi-modal online environment found that conversational analysis techniques were applicable only when both the text-based chat and the audio portion were examined together; when the two modes of discourse were decoupled, conversation analysis was ineffective.
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Setting The Stage

The graduate program from which this case study was obtained offers fully online, face-to-face and blended classes. Class size in this program typically ranges from 15 to 22 students per class; the class in which this case is based had 16 graduate students. There were thirteen female students and three male students and the instructor was female.

The course was a blended course in which some of the class sessions were face-to-face and some were online, taught through WebEx videoconferencing software. WebEx allows for multiple speakers via video or audio; file, program and screen sharing; and synchronous text chat. It also has polling and whiteboard features.

The use of a blended course format was new to both the instructor and students. The instructor was experienced with teaching both campus-based and online courses, but had not previously met with campus-based students in an online format. Additionally, she had minimal experience facilitating synchronous online sessions other than the occasional guest speaker or online office hours. About one-half of the students had prior experience with online courses, either as students or teaching assistants. The bulk of their experience also was with asynchronous online communication.

A variety of scheduling and geographic/travel issues for both the instructor and some of the students had led to the decision to use a blended format. She had already planned to hold at least one class session online for pedagogical reasons; many of the students conducted research in online settings and thus it seemed appropriate to be online when discussing the course topic at some point in the semester. The instructor decided to use synchronous rather than asynchronous course meetings during the online weeks to maintain the weekly rhythm of a face-to-face course. Her concerns at the onset were that the online sessions might suffer from pacing issues (too slow/too long) and low participation from students. She worried also worried that the online sessions might not be as robust as the face-to-face ones and that conversational turn taking might be awkward.

The instructor’s concerns were not unwarranted. The introduction of computer technology into communication changes the way interaction progresses (Garton & Wellman, 1995). The absence of audio and visual cues found in purely text-based chat changes the normal turn-taking found in conversation, and social interaction analysis based on both audio and text input is considered quasi-synchronous because the posting of the messages is not entirely dependent since more than one participant can participate at a single point in time (Garcia & Jacobs, 1999). This quasi-synchronous virtual course environment differs from both asynchronous and face-to-face courses in interaction.

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