“When students want to stand out: Discourse moves in online classroom discussion that reflects students’ needs for distinctiveness.”

This study is an extension of previous research on uniqueness-seeking theory by Snyder & Fromkin, 1980. Li Tang Yu and other researchers wanted to explore how students with different needs for obtaining uniqueness engaged in online classroom discussions and how students would approach, create, handle, and add to the discourse when interacting in these online discussions.

The below explanation helped me understand what “uniqueness seeking needs” meant:

“Because individuals are said to fluctuate between wanting to belong and wanting to stand out and be recognized for their unique contribution to a group, Kreiner, Hollensbe, and Sheep (2006) suggested that one’s need to be unique is likely to affect identity work, which in turn seems essential to the internalization of academic discourse (Duff, 2010)”

This article sheds light on today’s world, especially now during the pandemic, when we are increasingly adopting online contexts for teaching. Computer-mediated discussion (CMD) is a classroom practice many researchers are exploring; here are three unique features of CMD:

(1) the language of CMD is less formal in written language
(2) interactions reflect the fact that they happens “without the benefit of extra-linguistic cues” (p. 4) such as gender and identity
(3) a sense of community is varying in degree in such contexts

Not everyone agrees; Zhang finds that some students can dominate an online forum based on the disadvantages of a particular class, gender, race/ ethnicity. I focalized on this point because this is very true for in-class and online forums. Students who are well-spoken, outgoing, and of a certain race and gender always outshine shy children coming from more reserved families. I remember this year, when we were in school, we were told to select students to take part in a social-emotional seminar. I choose students who weren’t very expressive, over the students who still would benefit from the workshop but were very outspoken. I didn’t want the vocal children to outshine the timid students.

In online classrooms, students project their identities and feel the presence of others, “thus creating communities with norms and conventions, with social presence originating from learners’ interactions” (Gunawardena, 1995). Which is very real, on my google classroom forum, students have become comfortable with communicating with each other. Pointing out my earlier point, even the most modest kids are more comfortable expressing their thoughts online, through jokes and emoticons.

The literature review section is phenomenal. Yu cites about twenty or more researchers but also ties it together beautifully. It is easy to understand and also gives a lot of background information that is vital in understanding her research. I liked her literature review far better than how it was written in Ferenz’s piece. I do think her downfall was not providing many definitions for specific areas of her research.

The research conducted on 13 graduate students (11 women and 2 men). Why is it that every research we read, most participants are always women? Maybe there should be a research study on that. The students were divided into two groups, where they participated in online discussions for two weeks. Yu used a case study approach to collect data. She paired individuals based on how much they contributed to discussions and on their uniqueness seeking needs. The data focused on eight of the 13 participants. Scales and charts were used to collect data.
The data was clear as day, I always assumed doing a case study has to be difficult, combining both quantitative and qualitative data, but Yu presented it well.

This research made me think about my students while they are participating in online classes due to the pandemic. It’s an unusual shift; the students who are usually outgoing and talkative have just been submitting work without any communication. On the other hand, the students who would never converse in class are participating more in the online discussion forums. Most of my non-vocal kids are also non-native speakers, so it’s interesting to see their levels of uniqueness- seeking needs. But what causes such a shift? It also makes me wonder if you, Dr. Nelson, have seen a change through our online classes?

Besides discourse, this topic made me think about social media. We all present ourselves on social media according to how we want people to view us. In a sense, we want to be different, and we want to use that difference to get fame, free things, money. It’s the people who have a higher level of uniqueness seeking who are really excelling on social media platforms.

The best part of reading many research topics is learning existing theories and applying them to my own experiences.

Works Cited

Yu, et als. “When Students Want to Stand Out: Discourse Moves in Online Classroom Discussion that Reflect Students’ Needs for Distinctiveness.” Computers in Human Behavior 58 (2016): 1-11.

Aiming to comprehend “When Students Want to Stand Out: Discourse moves in online classroom discussion that reflect students’ needs for distinctiveness”

This article is about a study done on 13 students and understanding their levels of uniqueness- seeking needs. Per Google, Need for uniqueness (a) is a psychological state in which individuals feel indistinguishable from others and (b) motivates compensatory acts to reestablish a sense of uniqueness. Three studies demonstrate that a strive for uniqueness motivates individuals to resist majority influence. These researchers from the University of Texas, wanted to understand the discourse (communication) in online discussions, whether the students will vacillate (waver between opinions;indecisiveness). Some people naturally stand out, blend in or become neutral in classroom discussions. The purpose of the study is to question your levels of uniqueness and what the student thinks about themselves. Due to being online, your physical appearance isn’t seem to make a first impression therefore personalities are  tested. These 13 students are of the graduate level, from 4 different countries, and are a mixed group meeting 3 hrs a week. The results helped the researchers to recognize and categorize the students who were qualified as having a more moderate (MM), moderate (M) and low (L) outcomes.

Having read this article twice and analyzing the table, I was still confused based on the readings lack of clarity. There are a few things that bother me with this article. I understand the purpose of uniqueness-seeking but what about clearly defining the keywords: uniqueness-seeking, optimal distinctiveness, computer-mediated discussion, case comparison and social and cognitive presence. It’s possible the researchers define these words but not for those unfamiliar with the terminology. Optimal distinctiveness is a social psychological theory seeking to understand in-group,out-group differences. It asserts that individuals desire to attain an optimal balance of inclusion and distinctiveness within and between social groups and situations. Computer-mediated discussion groups can help establish a community of learners in large lecture classes. The case comparison is one of the most useful, if technical, tools in a legal writer’s toolbox. … A legal writer using a case comparison demonstrates that the facts and reasoning of a precedential case should (or should not) produce a specific outcome in the present case. Cognitive presence is the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. Social presence is defined as the ability of learners to project themselves socially and effectively into a community of inquiry.  If these keywords were defined then I wouldn’t spend some time researching them and placing my new understandings throughout this study.

My next concern is about the culture. The study was done with 4 different countries. The U.S is known for being somewhat pushy in our mannerisms, views, roles and a number of things compared to other countries. Germany, not that I have much knowledge of it but I will assume that they’re second to the U.S. behavior. The Asian culture is known for having a level of respect and maintaining a voice but in a different culture manner. Have the researchers taken that into consideration, especially since one of the researchers is of Asian decent. If so, then how come that wasn’t clear? Sometimes these simple things makes a difference, especially about (self) uniqueness.

Once we mention culture then we must consider gender roles. I’m not aiming to sound sexist but that can effect this study. Gender play a significant role in other countries. In the U.S. we rally for gender equality but that may not be the case in Germany, South Korea or Taiwan. Some women are second to men. If the study involves men, particularly during the face to face sessions, couldn’t that be a problem? Even if the students attend school in the U.S., we mentioned the countries they represent for a reason, right?

My last concern with this article is psychological issues. What if someone has an inferior complex or esteem and etc. Having anxiety, OCD, or anything else can make a person react or test differently.

I don’t think this is a bad article, I just wasn’t a fan of the set up. I think knowing there are more things to consider, my perception of this is fuzzy. The mini test in the Appendix A. made more sense. I felt more at ease reading that and knowing how I would answer but more importantly that was what the students’ responded to.

Discourse Moves In Online Classroom Discussion that Reflect Students’ Needs for Distinctiveness.

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I thought it was fitting that the topic of research is about discourse in an online learning environment. Due to the pandemic all of us are being forced to participate in online classes each week until the semester ends and maybe even longer into September. I actually found myself feeling uneasy and ambivalent about the idea of conducting our classes online. But I most definitely understand the need for it in these uncertain times. I just feel like the online learning experience is nothing like IRL (in real life). There is no comparison in my opinion. I want to hear, feel, touch and absorb everything I’m learning in person. I also want to hear, feel, and touch my classmates, well not literally touch them but you know what I mean. I need the in vivo, in person connection that I feel is so valuable in our academic learning experiences. Engaging in discourse through a computer screen takes away the realness, the closeness and the connection for me. When I reflect on this article and it’s findings I wonder how my own identity and personality changes, conforms or adapts to my discourse in the online classroom environment. Honestly I found myself feeling shy and more reserved during my first few online classes. I felt unsure and not confident enough to speak up like I normally do in person while in the classroom. Strangely my insecurity was at a all time high with the prospect of having to engage in online learning and classroom chats. I thought reading this article at this particular moment in time was really useful for me in relating my own experiences with its findings and seeing what the results have to say about other students experiences in their discourse within online learning. In this study, the researchers use both quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluating uniqueness-seeking and its relation to posts made in an online academic environment. A modified case methodology was used. Eight students were selected from 13 graduate students enrolled in a course entitled “Discourse Practices.” A modified case methodology was utilized. The students’ responses were coded for cognitive and social cues. Qualitative analysis was based on the researchers’ analyses of coded data. Quantitative analyses came into play when researchers utilized numerical systems such as scales and charts to collect and present results. The study measured graduate students’ levels of uniqueness seeking and explored whether and how students with various needs for uniqueness performed in online classroom discussions for a meaningful exchange. The researchers state: “A unique feature of our methodology was to use “cross-case studies” by grouping participants within the same level of amount of contribution to the CMC discussion but who represented different levels of uniqueness-seeking needs.” So this allowed them to compare and contrast both within and across different groups. The coding system they used was strong in my opinion and proved to give salient and valid results. I also liked the use of the graphs and tables. As you know I cringe at the sight of charts and such but in this article I found them to be clear and concise. It added to my overall understanding of the findings. I liked in particular Appendix A and Appendix B. I also thought Table 2 and Table 3 were both very useful in helping me to breakdown the uniqueness seeking groupings, ratings and data.

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I had never heard of the term uniqueness-seeking until I read this article so I wanted to dig deeper so I put my researcher goggles on and got to work! See I’m really trying my best to embrace research and its various methodologies. I’m slowly learning more as I go along on this journey. I wanted to learn more about what uniqueness- seeking means because it is a central theme in this research study and I was intrigued. This is some of what I found. Uniqueness theory explains that extremely high perceived similarity between self and others evokes negative emotional reactions and causes uniqueness seeking behavior. Uniqueness involves a person’s distinctiveness in relation to other people. Such uniqueness can reflect actual behaviors or a person’s perceptions regarding his or her differences. People can vary in the degree to which they want such distinctiveness, with some being highly desirous of specialness (high need for uniqueness) and others who do not want to stand out from other people (low need for uniqueness). Brewer, M. B. (1991) This helped me gain a better understanding of the term and how it relates to the students and their identities. Brewer was also a key figure who was mentioned in this study. When I apply this to myself, I think about the statements I made in my introduction about my hesitation to participate in our online classes. I would consider myself a low need for uniqueness type of person. I believe that has to do with my older age and not really caring what people think about me these days. Another important factor that puts me in the low need for uniqueness category is my graduate school status and experience level. At this stage in the game for me personally I don’t feel the need to have to prove myself or the need to be seen. Through my better understanding of uniqueness seeking theory I can now see how it applies to me personally. in an online environment. I also see how it applies to the students who were researched in terms of their discourse practices and online interactions with each other.

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The results showed that students had differing levels and needs for being unique. Most students’ uniqueness-seeking needs fell between low and slightly above moderate, and generally remained stable or decreased across the semester. The only exception was the student Dee, who, by the end of semester, had increased her need for uniqueness seeking. Important was the findings that the different codes used in 16, 17 and 18 all which were cognitive moves. These were among the most common moves regardless of the participants uniqueness-seeking levels or number of discussion comments. There was also a trend found between uniqueness-seeking levels and the proportion of cognitive to social moves. Students with higher uniqueness needs made more cognitive than social moves. That finding was made through the survey results. In contrast the gap between cognitive and social moves was very small for the students with low need for uniqueness. What was interesting to me was that no relationship between need for uniqueness and amount of contribution to the class discussion was found. A high or low need for uniqueness did not ensure higher engagement or more enjoyment. The researchers in this study were very open and honest with their limitations. They agree that further research should be done and other possibilities should be considered that may affect students’ learning and perceptions of online discussions. The weekly surveys administered were said to reveal other additional factors, such as student’s comprehension of the readings, their interests in the discussion topics, technical difficulties, the dynamics of the group and their own personal health status. Admittedly these factors may have had a impact on student’s enjoyment and participation with the online discussions rather then just their need for uniqueness. So what we learn is that the need for uniqueness seems to only represent one of several factors relevant to explaining students’ online work. I read Medea’s blog earlier. I know she is the presenter for this article and I must say I agree with a lot of what she calls the limitations of the study. Why not a larger pool of participants only 8? What about their cultural and diverse ethnic identities? Also most importantly what Medea highlights in her blog and I agree with is that these were graduate school students taking a class called “Discourse Analysis.” So wouldn’t this make them a step ahead of the others? Would it make them more confident in making discourse moves from the other graduate students? Like I mentioned above the research team acknowledges that more research needs to be done. So why not do it? I found all of this to be problematic but overall it has been interesting to be able to connect this article with some of the more recent articles that delve deeper into this idea of how important our identities are in shaping us as students and as human beings. I found this Ted Talk which I really enjoyed and thought could add to the conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Also a quote that I always loved and found fitting for this topic of conversation! See you in class! I think I’m ready to make some discourse moves of my own now! Take care guys. Xo

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