Gendered interactions in computer mediated conferencing: participation, purposive differences, and "list effects".
Computer mediated conferencing (CMC) has been widely viewed as a valuable forum for providing opportunities for interaction amongst learners in a distance education setting. This interaction has been identified as a critical element in achieving learning objectives; however, interaction in distance contexts is not well understood. It has been argued that social markers are cued in online communications and that gender influences interaction processes and participation. Previous research has identified two discourse types, epistolary and expository, that have been associated with gender. This study examined 64 students (37 females, 27males) involved in a graduate course that utilized computer conferencing. These students were divided into three groups, the composition of each meeting one of the following conditions, predominantly male, predominantly female, and a relatively balanced population of males and females. The Transcript Analysis Tool (TAT) was used to examine the discourse patterns and styles of men and women. Predicted patterns of discourse were found where women tended to use more epistolary or aligned type statements, and men tended to use more expository type statements. An unexpected finding occurred, however, with a greater participation rate found for males than for females. The patterns of discourse use were also utilized to determine whether evidence of a “list effect” would be found, where the discourse patterns of the majority tend to become characteristic of the group as a whole. No evidence of these effects was found in the study of interactions. At the end of this course, students were given a survey to complete that explored issues surrounding their experience with the computer conferencing. An investigation of satisfaction, commitment, and purpose for interaction was conducted, comparing these with results from the transcript analysis and survey items. Results indicated that there was evidence of gender-related purposive differences. Satisfaction with interactions was similar, although the higher participation rates of men showed evidence of higher commitment. Questions raised by this study included issues surrounding the influence and role of moderators in conferencing activity, and the need for further research into the influence of gender and gender compositions in online interactions and experiences in CMC.