Speech Codes Theory as a Framework for Analyzing Communication in Online Educational Settings

Speech Codes Theory as a Framework for Analyzing Communication in Online Educational Settings

Tabitha Hart (University of Washington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-077-4.ch012
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Knowing how best to assess and evaluate the communication that takes place in online educational settings can be a challenge, especially when the features of educational platforms continue to develop in their complexity. This chapter will discuss Speech Codes Theory, which is grounded in the Ethnography of Communication, as a theoretical and methodological framework for conducting qualitative, interpretive research. It will show how Speech Codes Theory can potentially be used to analyze and understand communication in a range of online educational settings.
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Ethnography And The Ethnography Of Communication

It is useful to precede a description of Speech Codes Theory with a brief introduction to the Ethnography of Communication, in which it is grounded. The Ethnography of Communication is distinct from, but closely related to traditional ethnography. While ethnography is commonly equated with ethnographic methods, it is best understood as its own branch of anthropological research, traditionally associated with the following features. It is geared towards the study of human behavior and culture, and seeks to “[reveal that culture] through discerning patterns of socially shared behavior” (Wolcott, 1999, p. 67). Ethnographies are naturally driven by research questions that are fitting to an ethnographic approach, such as “descriptive questions as to how, and underlying questions… as to meanings imputed to action” (Wolcott, 1999, p. 69). Since ethnographies are intended to produce highly contextualized accounts of human behavior and culture, they necessarily involve immersion in a setting, i.e. the continuous and attentive presence of a researcher in a place of study (Gordon, Holland, & Lahelma, 2001; Smith, 2001; Wellin & Fine, 2001; Wolcott, 1999). While in that place, the researcher may use a variety of ethnographic methods to collect data, such as observation, participant observation, and interviews. The data collected are primarily qualitative, but may be quantitative as well (Gordon, et al., 2001). In either case, “the researcher [is] a major instrument of research” (Gordon, et al., 2001, p. 188; see also Wolcott, 1999) in the sense that a researcher’s analysis is based on experiences, observations, and interactions in the field. An ethnographic analysis produces an ethnographic account, which is not only a highly detailed description but also an interpretation of cultural processes, “out of which cultural patterning can be discerned” (Wolcott, 1999, p. 68). Many successful ethnographies of educational settings have been produced, a partial account of which may be found in Gorden et al. (2001).

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