Do You See What I Mean? Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis

Do You See What I Mean? Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis

Noel Fitzpatrick (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland) and Roisin Donnelly (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-879-1.ch004


This chapter explores a sociolinguistic approach to computer-mediated communication (CMC), by examining how higher education teachers use digital media to manage interpersonal interaction in their online courses, form impressions, shape and maintain relationships with their students. Previous studies have often focused on the differences between online and offline interactions, though contemporary research is moving towards the view that CMC should be studied as an embedded linguistic form in everyday life.The study of language in these contexts is typically based on text-based forms of CMC, (often referred to as computer-mediated discourse analysis). Within this, focus in the chapter is on the devising and implementation of pragmatic linguistics of online interactions; at a high level this refers to meaning-making, shared belief systems and intercultural differences; at a specific level this includes issues such as turn-taking and the sequential analysis and organisation of virtual ‘interlocution’.
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This chapter provides a critical view of the present state of play in different strands in computer-mediated communication (CMC) research. By focusing on the literatures of social interaction, constructivism and linguistics, a critical discussion of key theories and resulting emergent arguments in the use of CMC in higher education (HE) is provided. Given the rapid development of technologies and their resulting literatures of usage in higher education today, it is argued that this chapter is very relevant to all whose practice is influenced by learning technologies – such as educational technologists, education policy makers and administrators, higher education teaching and research staff, advanced education students, designers of virtual education environments and similar teaching tools, psychologists of third-level education.

Throughout the chapter we reflect openly on current difficulties in several areas. The chapter begins with consideration of the selective and nearly exclusive reliance on social constructivism as the ‘philosophy’ underpinning computer-mediated learning, while its legitimacy has not been validated by formal research with adequate control groups. A subsequent section explores the validity of assessing knowledge construction through merely quantitative, or even exclusively automatic, analysis of interactions, implying that there is nothing else to knowledge that is different from quantitative factors. Thereafter, a section looks at the attribution of the benefits of asynchronous CMC to the technology rather than to tutor intervention and the underplaying of the value of memorisation as opposed to ‘real understanding’.

Specific problematics in the field are then highlighted including the excessive claims of the benefits of online collaboration as a method of creating learning, which is based in no more than anecdotal evidence and an inherent confusion between theory and practice with regard to the nature of knowledge. Alongside this, there is contemplation on the emphasis of constructing afresh online communities of practice which are essentially organic structures that should be encouraged to grow, live and die naturally.

Finally, the chapter explores the severe difficulties of automatic content analysis, which remains at an unsatisfactory impasse to this day. Impediments here centre on the observation that meaning-making has taken place or can take place outside the formal learning space provided and the continuing need for frequent, personal, direct, real-time interaction between tutor and student, to supply direct encouragement and feedback. Of utmost importance is the need to take into account physical and cultural context, which is currently unrealised in computer communication.

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