Dialogues on the Net - Power structures in asynchronous discussions in the context of a web based teacher training course

University dissertation from Holmbergs AB

Abstract: The general aim of this thesis is to investigate the interaction processes that occur in group dialogues when teacher students work in small groups, using net based asynchronous dialogues to solve a problem in the area of environmental sustainability. More specifically, the interest is to determine whether students’ net based dialogues give rise to patterns of dominance/subordination similar to those observed in face-to-face situations. Research focus included an interest in the significance of group composition. The questions posed were whether interaction processes depend on a) certain background characteristics of the students and/or b) are affected by group composition: whether the majority/minority of the group members are male/female; have parents with high or low parental educational attainments; speak Swedish or another language at home; and if they are born in our outside of Sweden. From the investigation, involving 147 students in 29 groups, it appears that not only do the individual student's background characteristics play an important part with respect to communication patterns; the composition of the group with respect to these background characteristics was also found to influence the communication patterns. When the study group was analysed as a whole, older students were found to be more active in the discussion than younger. Students born outside Sweden and students speaking another language than Swedish at home played a more secluded part in the discussion than students with a Swedish background. When group composition was included in the analysis, it was found that the presence of more males in a group seemed to influence women’s contributions negatively. Female students sent fewer postings and fewer words in total the higher the share of males in the group. The discussion style was also affected; more agreements and supportive remarks were made in groups that had a higher the share of males. In groups with a larger proportion of students who were born in Sweden and in groups with a high share of students speaking Swedish at home, more but shorter contributions were posted. The group composition with respect to students with a Swedish background was also found to affect the use of disagreements; in groups with a high share of students born in Sweden or speaking Swedish at home, fewer disagreement remarks were sent than in groups with a lower share of this category of students.

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