The role of online conversation in facilitating peer relationships: A study of middle year's students

Year: 2012

Author: Toe, Dianne, Paatsch, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Real time text based online conversations (applications such as Facebook Chat or Instant Messenger) have become a popular method of one-to-one communication among young people. Significant media attention has focused on cyber bullying in this domain but other research suggests that this form of conversation is positive, even liberating, and both promotes friendship and builds self-esteem (Barak & Sadovsky, 2008; Hu, Fowler-Wood, Smith & Westbrook, 2004). Online conversations may play an important role in facilitating peer relationships for many students. In addition, there are several groups of students who can find face-to-face conversation with peers challenging. One group, students who are deaf or hard of hearing may find online communication particularly liberating, providing they have the literacy and pragmatic skills to use it effectively. This study explored how text based online conversation was perceived to facilitate the formation of peer relationships in school aged students. It explored how pragmatic skills and literacy skills impacted on the way these conversations facilitate friendship. The findings from this research will help teachers to capitalise on the use of this medium for promoting social skills and strengthening friendships. Teachers may wish to incorporate the use of online conversation into teaching and learning activities, thus supporting the development of pragmatic skills, literacy skills, and social cohesion in the middle years of schooling. Educational social networking programs offer many possibilities for supporting the development of these kinds of interactions. In this study, students, aged 11-15 in Years 5-9, who attended 12 regular State schools, primary and secondary, in Victoria (metropolitan Melbourne and Geelong) were surveyed. The schools selected all had a facility for deaf students. Both hearing and deaf students were surveyed in each school. The survey focussed on the online communication habits of these students, exploring its perceived benefits for building and maintaining friendships. Interesting patterns were identified in terms of usage and attitude for both hearing and deaf students. Findings are discussed in terms of how teachers can support all students to build online communication skills that support social and emotional development.