Gesa Linnemann, Benjamin Brummernhenrich, Regina Jucks

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Gesa Linnemann, Benjamin Brummernhenrich, Regina Jucks (Universität Münster)

On the role of politeness in online tutoring. Utterance and perception of face threats in learning contexts

The internet is offering increasing instructional opportunities: Internet users post in web forums or chat online with an expert in order to solve specific problems, e.g. to determine which therapy is the best for their specific health problem. Research on one-on-one tutoring shows that instructors often hesitate to use certain instructional behaviors, e.g. negative feedback following a learner's mistake. These communication acts potentially threaten the learner's face, inducing instructors to either avoid or redress them. As addressing misconceptions is a key component to successful instruction, avoiding instructional FTAs could lead to less efficient instruction. On the other hand, polite instruction could be beneficial for learners' motivation and willingness to change their current understanding of a subject.

We conducted a series of experimental and field studies analyzing several aspects of face threats and politeness in computer-mediated instruction using forums and chats: How do instructors utter face threats? How does instructional communication change when tutors are instructed to disregard politeness? How do learners perceive instructors that are polite to different extents? The studies yielded instructive results but also posed more questions: Tutors indeed employ tutorial patterns that constitute face threatening acts in many situations. “Switching off” tutors' face considerations by instructing them to disregard politeness seems not to be very effective. However, these instructions do influence the prevalence of certain tutorial behaviors and tutors' reactions to different tutee behaviors like errors. Differing levels of politeness are clearly perceived by learners, instructors that use more politeness strategies generally receive higher scores on perspective taking and social variables. The style of instruction and the manner in which face threats are uttered depend on the medium as well as the learners' problem and goals. The impact of disregarding politeness on instructional outcomes is still unclear but the studies revealed promising avenues for further research.

In summary, the studies showed that face threats are an important aspect of computer-mediated instructional communication. More research on how they work and how instructors can be supported in communicating efficiently and appropriately will be worthwhile.