Reciprocity in Online Social Interactions: Three Longitudinal Case Studies of a Video-mediated Japanese-English ETandem Exchange
Reciprocity is a key principle of eTandem, a telecollaborative arrangement where learners of different native languages meet online and use one language during half of the session and then do the same for the other language. While it has been argued that successful implementation of eTandem relies on this principle, the construct of reciprocity has not been operationalized beyond the traditional sense of “equal time, effort, and interest” (Brammerts, 1996). Thus, this study attempts to fill this gap by uncovering (1) what is reciprocity, and how it is enacted and accomplished, (2) what factors may mediate the enactment of reciprocity, and (3) what aspects of reciprocity seem more amenable to change than others.The context of this study was a semester-long, video-mediated eTandem project between U.S. learners of Japanese and Japanese learners of English who engaged in weekly interactions via Google Hangouts. After operationalizing reciprocity from second language acquisition (SLA), interactional sociolinguistics, and multimodal discourse analysis perspectives, I took a case study approach to examining the social interaction of three focal dyads who exhibited contrasting behaviors and perceptions about the project.The analysis showed that the participants enacted reciprocity beyond its traditional sense using both linguistic and non-linguistic resources. Specifically, the most successful dyad’s interaction was characterized by a collaborative interactional pattern, maximization of technological affordances, and various forms of situated reciprocity. Meanwhile, the least successful dyad’s interaction was characterized by a disproportionate conversational contribution by the U.S. participant and silences by the Japanese participant, mainly due to incompatible conversational styles (Tannen, 2005). Finally, the third dyad, who initially overemphasized the language-learning aspect of eTandem and struggled to establish comity (Aston, 1993), became one of the most successful and invested (Norton Peirce, 1995) dyads after resolving a “critical incident” that occurred when the U.S. participant came out as lesbian and both participants realized the importance of achieving intercultural understanding and fully exploiting each other’s bilingual resources. Based on these findings, I discuss what each form of reciprocity can reveal about participants’ social interaction and propose a new model for analyzing social interactions that take place in eTandem.
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