Discourse and participation in ESL face-to-face and written electronic conferences by Fitze Michael

Posted: July 24, 2012 by sakayoglu in 2006, CALL, CMC, Computer Mediated Communication, technology
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In the field of computer assisted language learning, the advantages of online platforms have always been listed; and in most of the studies, the superiority of online environments over face-to-face platforms was mentioned. As one of the main advantages of online platforms, it has been claimed that computer mediated environments provide opportunities for students to participate equally (Chun, 1994, Kern, 1995, Warshauer, 1996). Even shy students are willing to participate in online discussions more. However, the equality of the turn distribution has been measured in few studies.

In this article by Fitze, as in previous research studies, it was mentioned that:

“[researchers]have also reported more balanced participation in written electronic as opposed to face-to-face conferences. The term more balanced means that in written electronic conferences, rather than the discussion being dominated by a few members, participation tends to be more equally distributed among participants (69).

In this study, Fitze (2006) compared face-to-face environments with electronic conferences. The participants of the study were all advanced learners of English as a second language. He summarized the benefits of written electronic conferences as the data collected in these environments displayed a greater lexical range, the students participating into the study produced discourse demonstrating interactive competence, the students were better able to use and practice a wider range of vocabulary and there was a balance of participation. When these features were taken into account, he claimed that written electronic conferences were more beneficial for the students when compared to the face-to-face settings. However, he stated that the equality of the participation should be investigated in more detail in order to find out what kind of variables were effective in maintaining the equality of the participation.

Fitze used Gini Coefficient in order to measure the equality of participation and found that:

In partial confirmation of these research findings, my analysis revealed that participation was significantly more balanced among students in written electronic conferences. However, when the classes were considered separately, analysis revealed that while for class B, participation in the written electronic conferences was considerably more balanced, for class A, conference setting had almost no impact on the degree to which participation was balanced among students (79).

I believe that the balanced participation should be considered among the most important features of online environments; because it is mostly very difficult to control the turn distribution in classroom settings. Some students attempt to dominate the discussions and shy students prefer not to talk in front of the other students. However, in online discussions, you might be surprised to see how some students express themselves.

In the final part of this blog post, I would like to present how to calculate and interpret Gini Coefficient.

First of all, the words written by the students are counted and ordered from smallest to the largest. Then, as it can be seen in the following formula, a set of operations are conducted.

E.g.: There are 6 students and they participated in the study. The number of words they uttered are 88, 98, 76, 120, 102 and 68. These numbers are ordered from smallest to the largest as







After that, the cumulative column is computed summing down the column.

Thus, the second value is 68 + 76 = 144; and the third value is 68 + 76 + 88 = 232.

68 68

76 144

88 232

98 330

102 432

120 552

The last value in the cumulative column, 552, is T, the total of the column; and all but the last value of the cumulative column are summed to give Sigma,

68 + 144 + 232 + 330 + 432 = 1206.

The formula for calculating Gini Coefficient is 1 – (2 / T * Sigma + 1)/n, which means, the Gini is 1 – (2/552*1206+1)/6 = 0.105172, which means equal.

The Gini Coefficient which is lower than 0.5 degree is considered as equal. This coefficient is mostly used to compare two or more settings in terms of equality and the one with lower score is considered as more equal.


Chun, D. M. (1994). Using computer networking to facilitate the acquisition of interactive competence. System, 22 (1), 17-31.

Fitze, M. (2006). Discourse and participation in ESL face-to-face and written electronic conferences. Language Learning & Technology, 10(1), 67-86.

Kern, R. G. (1995). Restructuring classroom interaction with networked computers: Effects on quantity and characteristics of language production. The Modern Language Journal, 79 (4), 457-475.

Warschauer, M. (1996). Comparing face-to-face and electronic communication in the second language classroom. CALICO Journal, 13 (2), 7-26.


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