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Talking Teams: Increased Equity in Participation in Online Compared to Face-to-Face Team Discussions

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Applications of Online Computing

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1154.1 - 24.1154.12



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Paper Authors


Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Ms. Fowler is a lecturer in the Program in Technical Communication at the University of Michigan. She is also working on a PhD in Educational Psychology / Educational Technology, studying the teaching, learning, and assessing of the ABET "professional skills."

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Differences in Participation in Team Discussions among Engineering Students in Face-to-Face versus Synchronous Online Chats:Students Participate More Equally in Online Compared to Face-to-Face Team DiscussionsThis is a study of student participation in team design discussions in an introductory engineeringcourse comparing interactions face-to-face versus in a synchronous online chat. The participantswere 232 students who were divided into 54 teams of 4 to 5 members. The teams were engagedin problem-based learning in which they worked on one of two problems, design of anunderwater vehicle or creation of a wind turbine. Transcripts were prepared using audiorecordings of students' interactions in the face-to-face condition, and transcripts of chatroominteractions were saved when the online conversations concluded. Transcripts were divided intomessage units for each student, yielding 7,930 message units. Student participation in the teamswas analyzed in terms of the number of message units per student and as a percentage of all unitswithin a team.While overall total participation in terms of number of message units was similar in the twoconditions, team participation in online chat spaces was more balanced, with fewer studentsrefraining from participation and fewer students taking over the discussion. Synchronous e-chatappears to foster more diverse participation as well, with non-native English speakersparticipating at particularly low rates in face-to-face conversations but increasing theirparticipation in synchronous chat team conversations.This study has several implications for teaching. The finding that student participation in onlinechat is more equal among students suggests that the online environment may allow studentswhose voices are not heard in face-to-face discussions to more fully participate. Thatparticipation of women and non-native English speakers was found to be greater in onlinediscussions suggests the value of using such environments to promote equity. Finally, from theinstructor's point of view, having a written record of student discussions from the online chat isuseful, in that it allows the instructor to review the record of interaction and give feedback to theteams and individual members in ways that are not possible when the discussions take place inface-to-face settings.

Fowler, R. (2014, June), Talking Teams: Increased Equity in Participation in Online Compared to Face-to-Face Team Discussions Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23087

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