Language and interaction in online asynchronous communication in university level English courses

Abstract: Interaction involves people communicating and reacting to each other. This process is key to the study of discourse, but it is not easy to study systematically how interaction takes place in a specific communicative event, or how it is typically performed over a series of repeated communicative events. However, with a written record of the interaction, it becomes possible to study the process in some detail. This thesis investigates interaction through asynchronous written discussion forums in a computer-mediated learning environment.In particular, this study investigates pragmatic aspects of the communicative event which the asynchronous online discussions comprise. The first case study examines response patterns to messages by looking at the content of initial messages and responses, in order to determine the extent to which characteristics of the messages themselves or other situational factors affect the interaction. The second study examines in what ways participants use a range of discourse devices, including formulaic politeness, humour and supportive feedback as community building strategies in the interaction. The third study investigates the role of the subject line of messages in the interaction, for example by examining how participants choose different types of subject lines for different types of messages. The fourth study examines to what extent features serving a deictic function are drawn on in the interaction and then compares the findings to both oral conversation and formal academic discourse.The overall findings show a complex communicative situation shaped by the medium itself, type of activity, the academic discipline and topic of discussion and by the social and cultural aspects of tertiary education in an online learning environment. In addition, the findings may also provide evidence of learning.