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A Description of Asynchronous Online Discussions in Higher Education

9 pagesPublished: February 23, 2017


This study provides a preliminary characterisation of asynchronous online discussions as a learning tool in higher education (Garrison 2003; Ho & Swan 2007). Our materials consist of the written record of 16 online discussions, totalling circa 165,000 words, from a one-semester course on general English-Spanish-English translation. The participants are second-year students from different nationalities, mostly Spanish, using Spanish and less frequently Galician as lingua francas. We start by describing the various situational factors surrounding the events (including the role of the discussions in the course, the variety of participants and the nature of their relationship), which may explain some highly recurrent language and organisational features encountered in the resulting texts. Secondly, using Antconc, we carry out an exploratory analysis of the lexical and collocational patterns of the exchanges. The findings reveal a very strong interactive component (Herring 1999, Condon & Čech 2010), with two dominant functions, the creation of affiliation and the prevention of conflict. The analysis shows a widespread use of praise, hedging and other forms of politeness in the posts, and, more generally, a clear concern for the interests of other participants in the discussion and an effort to acknowledge their voices. In the paper, we also look into the evolution of the exchanges over the time-span of the course by focusing on one case study. The analysis reveals the progressive crystallisation of the genre in the student’s interventions, a process which involves a clear evolution from a rather tentative kind of post, mostly monologic, informational and author-centred, to a progressively longer post with a more complex structure, and especially a heightened awareness of the dialogic and multi-party nature of the exchanges (Herring 1996). The results of the study may have considerable pedagogical interest. We believe that computer-mediated communication (CMC), including asynchronous online discussion forums, is bound to play an increasingly significant role in the future of higher education.

Keyphrases: asynchronous online discussion forum, commputer-mediated communication, higher education

In: Chelo Vargas-Sierra (editor). Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective, vol 2, pages 256--264

BibTeX entry
  author    = {Francisco Javier Fern\textbackslash{}'andez-Polo and Mario Cal-Varela},
  title     = {A Description of Asynchronous Online Discussions in Higher Education},
  booktitle = {Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective},
  editor    = {Chelo Vargas-Sierra},
  series    = {EPiC Series in Language and Linguistics},
  volume    = {2},
  pages     = {256--264},
  year      = {2017},
  publisher = {EasyChair},
  bibsource = {EasyChair,},
  issn      = {2398-5283},
  url       = {},
  doi       = {10.29007/bh4n}}
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