Here I look at one last study I’ve found that focuses on the nature of student peer feedback discussions when they take place in a synchronous, online environment (a text-based chat). Part 1 corresponding to this post can be found here.
Jones, R.H., Garralda, A., Li, D.C.S. & Lock, G. (2006) Interactional dynamics in on-line and face-to-face peer-tutoring sessions for second language writers, Journal of Second Language Writing 15, 1–23. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2005.12.001
This study is rather different than the ones I looked at in Part 1 of face to face vs. online, synchronous peer assessment, because here the subjects of the study are students and peer tutors in a writing centre rather than peers in the same course. Still, at least some of their results regarding the nature of peer talk in the tutor situation may still be relevant for peer assessment in courses.
Participants and data
The participants in this study were five peer tutors in a writing centre in Hong Kong, dedicated to helping non-native English speakers write in English. For both tutors and clients, English was an additional language, but the tutors were further along in their English studies and had more proficiency in writing in English than the clients. Data was collected from transcripts of face to face consultations of the tutors with clients, as well as transcripts of online, text-based chat sessions of the same tutors, with many of the same clients.
Face to face tutoring was only available in the daytime on weekdays, so if students wanted help after hours, they could turn to the online chat. Face to face sessions lasted between 15 and 30 minutes, and students “usually” emailed a draft of their work to the tutor before the session. Chat sessions could be anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, and though tutors and clients could send files to each other through a file exchange system, this was only done “sometimes” (6). These details will become important later.
Model for analyzing speech
To analyze the interactions between tutors and clients, the authors used a model based on “Halliday’s functional-semantic view of dialogue (Eggins & Slade, 1997; Halliday, 1994)” (4). In this model, one analyzes conversational “moves,” which are different than “turns”–a “turn” can have more than one “move.” The authors explain a move as “a discourse unit that represents the realization of a speech function” (4).
In their model, the authors use a fundamental distinction given by Halliday into “initiating moves” and “responding moves”:
Initiating moves (statements, offers, questions, and commands) are those taken independently of an initiating move by the other party; responding moves (such as acts of acknowledgement, agreement, compliance, acceptance, and answering) are those taken in response to an initiating move by the other party. (4-5)
They then subdivide these two categories further, some of which is discussed briefly below.
In the face to face meetings, the tutors exerted the most control over the discussions. Tutors had many more initiating moves (around 40% of their total moves, vs. around 10% of those for clients), whereas clients had more responding moves (around 33% of clients’ total moves, vs. about 14% for tutors). In the chat conversations, on the other hand, initiating and responding moves were about equal for both tutors and clients (7).
Looking more closely at the initiating moves made by both tutors and clients, the authors report:
In face-to-face meetings, tutors controlled conversations primarily by asking questions, making statements, and issuing directives. In this mode tutors asked four times more questions than clients. In the on-line mode, clients asked more questions than tutors, made significantly more statements than in the face-to-face mode, and issued just as many directives as tutors. (10)
Types of questions
However, the authors also point out that even though the clients asserted more conversational control in the online chats, it was “typical” of the chats to consist of questions by students asking whether phrases, words, or sentences were “correct” (11). They did not often ask for explanations, just a kind of check of their work from an expert and a quick answer as to whether something was right or wrong. On the other hand, when tutors controlled the conversations with their questions, it was often the case that they were using strategies to try to get clients to understand something themselves, to understand why something is right or wrong and to be able to apply that later. So “control” over the conversation, and who asks the most questions or issues the most directives, are not the only important considerations here.
The authors also divided the questions into three different types. Closed questions: “those eliciting yes/no responses or giving the answerer a finite number of choices; open questions: “those eliciting more extended replies”; rhetorical questions: “those which are not meant to elicit a response at all” (12)
In the face to face sessions, tutors used more closed questions (about 50% of their initiating questions) than open questions (about 33%); the opposite was true in the online chats: tutors used more open questions (about 50% of their initiating questions) than closed (about 41%).