Navigating Turn-Taking and Conversational Repair in an Online Synchronous Course

Yvonne Earnshaw


In face-to-face conversations, speaker transitions (or hand-offs) are typically seamless. In computer mediated communication settings, speaker hand-offs can be a bit more challenging. This paper presents the results of a study of audio communication problems that occur in an online synchronous course, and how, and by whom, those problems are resolved. Data were collected from chat transcripts and audio transcripts from a graduate level discourse and conversation analysis course that used WebEx, an audioconferencing software application that also has a chat channel. Using a conversational analysis approach, data were analyzed to identify when speaker hand-offs occurred to determine related patterns of confirmation strategies and repair sequences. Findings showed several different approaches to smooth speaker hand-offs. In cases where hand-offs were not smooth, corrections were attempted by either fixing the problem or moving on. There were also instances in which parties encountered technical difficulties with the audio or Internet connectivity. Parties used the chat channel to indicate they were having trouble. The instructor’s role was to troubleshoot, call upon students, and move the discussion along. This study provides some insight on how chat can be used in a discussion-based, online synchronous course to identify technical difficulties with a called-upon speaker and how the correction is made.


Synchronous, Audioconference, Repair, Conversation Analysis, Turntaking, CMC

Full Text:



Berge, Z. (1995). Facilitating computer conferencing: Recommendations from the field. Educational Technology, 35(1), 22-30.

Bonk, C. J., Kirkley, J. R., Hara, N., & Dennen, V. (2001). Finding the instructor in post-secondary online learning: Pedagogical, social, managerial, and technological locations. In J. Stephenson (Ed.), Teaching and learning online: Pedagogies for new technologies (pp. 76-97). London: Kogan Page.

Bonk, C. J., Wisher, R. A., & Lee, J-Y. (2003). Moderating learning-centered e-learning: Problems and solutions, benefits and implications. In T. S. Roberts (Ed.), Online collaborative learning: Theory and practice (pp. 54-85). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing. doi:10.4018/978-1-59140-174-2.ch003

Branon, R. F., & Essex, C. (2001). Synchronous and asynchronous communication tools in distance education. Tech Trends, 45(1), 36-42.

Cazden, C. B. (2001). Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Egbert, M. (1997). Some interactional achievements of other-initiated repair in multiperson conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 27, 611-634.

Egbert, M. (2004). Other-initiated repair and membership categorization: Some conversational events that trigger linguistic and regional membership categorization. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(8), 1467-1498.

Falloon, G (2011). Exploring the virtual classroom: What students need to know (and teachers should consider). Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(4), 439-451.

Garcia, A. C., & Jacobs, J. B. (1999). The eyes of the beholder: Understanding the turn-taking system in quasi-synchronous computer-mediated communication. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 32(4), 337-367. doi:10.1207/S15327973rls3204_2

González-Lloret, M. (2011). Conversation analysis of computer-mediated communication. CALICO Journal, 28(2), 308-325.

Goodwin, C. (1981). Conversational organization: Interaction between speakers and hearers. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Have, P. ten (1999). Doing conversation analysis: A practical guide. London, England: Sage.

Herring, S. C. (1999). Interactional coherence in CMC. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 4. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.1999.tb00106.x

Hutchby, I. (2001). Conversation and technology: From the phone to the Internet. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Lee, S.-H., Lee, J., Liu, X., Bonk, C. J., & Magjuka, R. J. (2009). A review of case-based learning practices in an online MBA program: A program-level case study. Educational Technology & Society, 12(3), 178-190.

Lerner, G. H. (1996). Finding “face” in the preference structures of talk-interaction. Social Psychology Quarterly, 59(4), 303-321.

Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Liu, X., Bonk, C. J., Magjuka, R. J., Lee, S-h., & Su, B. (2005). Exploring four dimensions of online instructor roles: A program level case study. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(4), 29-48.

Locatis, C., Fontelo, P., Sneiderman, C., Ackerman, M., Uijtdehaage, S., Candler, C., . . . Dennis, S. (2003). Webcasting videoconferences over IP: A synchronous communication experiment. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 10, 150-153. doi:10.1197/jamia.M1170

Markman, K. M. (2005). To send or not to send: Turn construction in computer-mediated chat. In C. Sunakawa, T. Ikeda, S. Finch & M. Shetty (Eds.), Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Symposium About Language and Society-Austin, 48 (pp. 115-124). Austin, TX: Texas Linguistic Forum.

Markman, K. M. (2006). Computer-mediated conversation: The organization of talk in chat-based virtual team meetings (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3244348)

Markman, K. M. (2010). Learning to work virtually: Conversational repair as a resource for norm development in computer-mediated team meetings. In J. Park and E. Abels (Eds.), Interpersonal Relations and Social Patterns in Communication Technologies: Discourse Norms, Language Structures and Cultural Variables (pp. 220-236). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-61520-827-2.ch012

Martin, F., & Parker, M. A. (2014). Use of synchronous virtual classrooms: Why, who, and how? Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(2), 192-210.

Martin, F., Parker, M. A., & Deale, D. F. (2012). Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(3), 228-261.

Obeng, S. G. (1992). A phonetic description of some repair sequences in Akan conversation. Text, 12(1). 59-80.

Paulus, T., Warren, A., & Lester, J. N. (2016). Applying conversation analysis methods to online talk: A literature review. Discourse, Context & Media, 12, 1-10. doi:10.1016/j.dcm.2016.04.001

Pullen, J. M. (2004). Synchronous internet distance education: Wave of the future or wishful thinking? Proceedings from the E-technologies in Engineering Education Conference 2002. Davos, Switzerland.

Rintel, E. S., Pittam, J., & Mulholland, J. (2003). Time will tell: Ambiguous non-responses on Internet Relay Chat. Electronic Journal of Communication, 13(1). Retrieved from

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50(4), 696-735. doi:10.2307/412243

Schegloff, E. A. (2007). Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A., Jefferson, G., & Sacks, H. (1977). The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Language, 53(2), 361-382. doi:10.2307/413107

Schönfeldt, J., & Golato, A. (2003). Repair in chats: A conversation analysis approach. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 36(3), 241-284.

Shah-Nelson, C. (2013). Synchronous tools in support of teaching and learning. In Y. Kats (Ed.), Learning management systems and instructional design: Best practices in online education (pp. 172-191). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Suggs, C. L., Dennen, V. P., & Myers, J. B. (2013). Juggling channels and turn-taking in a dual channel synchronous course: A conversation analysis approach. In S. Wang & H. Yang (Eds.), Cases on Formal, Non-Formal, and Informal Online Learning: Opportunities and Practices (pp. 305-322). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-1936-4.ch016

Thorne, S. (2000). Beyond bounded activity systems: Heterogeneous cultures in instructional uses of persistent conversation. In S. Herring & T. Erickson (Eds.), Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos: IEEE Computer Society.

Vu, P., & Fadde, P. J. (2013). When to talk, when to chat: Student interactions in live virtual classrooms. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 12(2), 41-52.

Wooffitt, R. (2005). Conversation analysis and discourse analysis: A comparative and critical introduction. London, England: Sage.