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The spontaneous adoption of responder roles

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 175-178)

5.2 Case Study One Findings

5.2.2 Making Sense of the Learning Object

5.2.3.2 The spontaneous adoption of responder roles

Significantly, during the second half of the course, as time limitations affected her participation, the teacher ceased to post a message to the forum except to assign individual marks for the students. It appears that the text-based nature of the communication combined with the expectation of formal writing was time consuming and demanding for both the students and the teacher. When asked why she was not posting a message, the teacher responded:

… because I‟m just trying to get the marks to them at this stage and it does take a few minutes to write up a reply so that‟s at the bottom of my priorities, but that‟s what I intend to do. (Teacher 1/Account 4)

The use of the phrase ―bottom of my priorities‖ is significant, suggesting that acting as a contributing participant who engages with the students was optional. It indicates that ultimately the teacher perceived her role as assessing student work and assigning a grade. In addition, even if the teacher wanted to actively contribute to the discussion on an ongoing basis, this would have been difficult. Dialogues inherently demand time to read others‘ work, negotiate meaning, and formulate responses, and this has to be factored into workloads.

The asynchronous nature of the online discussion afforded the ability to delay postings until others had submitted their texts. Generally speaking, the EAL students perceived this situation as advantageous as the nature of participation was modelled for them by others (for example, the form and/or content of the posting) and their thought was stimulated by the engaging nature of earlier postings. This is noted by Student Four who states:

I can read other students‟ post so I can see that, wow, [inaudible] that student got more interesting points that I want to discuss … you can read other people, other students‟ work that gives you more ideas and you can choose to write.

(Student 4/Account 2)

In addition, the slowed communication gave the EAL students more control over who they wanted to respond to. They were able to bypass those postings they did not understand and wait for other postings. To a degree, this served to lessen the effects of comprehension issues they encountered as non-native speakers of English.

Due to the asynchronous mode of communication, interaction was delayed between the students. This delayed engagement appeared to give the EAL students a degree of comfort and security, and during interviews they expressed contentment with their role as followers in a type of self-imposed marginalisation. By avoiding the role of initiator, they forced other students to exemplify the posting and determine which topics were significant. This behaviour was consistent with their views about being safe during the task – they did not want to risk going first and posting information that could be considered irrelevant, inappropriate, or (the worst case scenario) unsafe.

The students explained their behaviour by drawing on the belief that their peers were credible and valuable knowledge resources. Several of the group members were older women, and the EAL students (who were aged in their twenties) viewed these peers as bringing valuable life experiences to the forum, providing linguistic models

of the desired text, identifying key ideas to stimulate thought, and generating new perspectives on the topic. Student 4 describes how she felt towards her classmates:

I think they‟re [other group members] so great and that‟s another reason why I need to see their posting, I think they‟ve got more idea, they‟ve got more very good, great idea than me, so I want to see their ideas…they‟ve got more life experience than me, so lots of things I can study, learn from. (Student 4/Interview 2)

However, while the responder role was perceived to offer many affordances, the data analysis suggests it also constrained participation by reinforcing feelings of inadequacy. Student Three exhibited a lack of confidence stating that her clinical experiences were not ―a big thing‖ and that she lacked ―clear opinions to support … my ideas‖ (Student 3/Account 4). Student Five expressed feelings of dependency as she waited on her peers to submit work so that her thought could be stimulated (Account 3). Also, she believed she could never post first as she could not clearly convey her ideas in English. Students Two, Three, and Four expressed feelings of inadequacy about their work, and the practice of relying on other students for guidance seemed to intensify these feelings. Explaining her behaviour, Student Four said:

That‟s my habit and I‟m not sure whether I wrote is correct or wrong so, well I can say I was not confident enough, so I want to see what did other people say about this topic and want to improve me. (Student 4/Interview 2)

Another issue with the responder role was that, as later posters, the EAL students were rarely responded to themselves and their contributions remained unacknowledged. Students articulated mixed reactions to this situation. Student Two downplayed the value of peer responses by saying that they could lack depth and

―just say some sentence polite‖ (Student 2/Account 4). Moreover, receiving a response could be seen as a liability by revealing one‘s imperfections. Student Four observed that ―if I got response maybe my article will be critiqued by someone … maybe will remind the tutor, oh she got the wrong point‖ (Student 4/Account 4). At other times, however, the students expressed a desire to receive a response from their peers to reveal which points in their posting were interesting (Student 4/Interview 1)

or simply to be noticed by others (Student 2/Etivity 2). Student Five expressed embarrassment over failing to receive a response and expresses an affective need to receive one below:

Researcher: … it does bother you [not receiving a response]?

Student Five: Yeah it does sometimes, if I really, I think I really um contribute my thinking, my ideas, but no one agree with me or if I really, try really hard to brainstorming, to bring my ideas to the posting, but no one responds to me.

(Student 5/Group Interview)

Thus, while adopting responder roles did afford a sense of control and security for the EAL students, it came at a price. This form of self marginalisation reinforced a sense of inadequacy and dependence on others, limited the possibility of receiving a response from others, and diminished the EAL students‘ voices within the online classroom. There is a clear tension here. On the one hand, the unstructured nature of the task design and lack of teacher engagement allowed the EAL students the freedom to define participation on their own terms and this situation afforded a welcoming and non-threatening space for them to express their understandings. On the other hand, by adopting responder roles, the students chose the safest route, remaining firmly rooted within their comfort zone. One can speculate that a more structured design with enforced roles, altered forms of assessment, and/or greater teacher engagement may have encouraged the EAL students into new modes of participation which, while uncomfortable and threatening, may have enhanced their learning experience.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 175-178)