Testing Claims for On-Line Conferences

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On-line computer conferences have been of increasing interest to teachers of composition who hope to provide alternative forums for student-centered, collaborative writing that involve all members of their classes in active learning. Some expect them to provide sites for discourse that are more egalitarian and less constrained by power differentials based on gender and status than are face-to-face discussions. These expectations, however, are largely unsupported by systematic research. The article describes an exploratory study of gender and power relationships on Megabyte University, one particular on-line conference. While the results of the study are not definitive, they do suggest that gender and power are present to some extent even in on-line conferences. During the two 20-day periods studied, men and high-profile members of the community dominated conference communication. Neither this conference domination nor the communication styles of participants were affected by giving participants the option of using pseudonyms. © 1991, SAGE PUBLICATIONS. All rights reserved.

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Written Communication