M. Xenos

University of Patras (GREECE)
High quality writing skills are essential for university students, since writing is not only the principal way to prove their knowledge and skills, but also an important skill for a successful professional carrier. In particular, for Computer Science (CS) graduates, the ability to communicate their ideas using high quality writing skills and the ability to plan, organize, and write technical manuals, documentation, and reports is an important factor for their professional development.

In a rapidly changing university culture the traditional face-to-face meetings between in-campus students and professors are becoming less frequent and more task specific, while these students communicate frequently in writing with their professors and peers. During such communication, issues such as e-politeness and, in general, the use of proper ways for students to communicate with their professors and peers are into academic culture spotlight and lead to numerous miss-communication anecdotes.

It is a fact that CS students sometimes have poor communications skills and it is challenging to develop such skills, while this is not part of a typical CS curriculum. Following the widespread usage of computer mediated communication (CMC) many CS students communicate with their professors in a very casual manner and tend to adopt this behaviour in various CMCs after graduation (i.e. applications for job seeking or for further studies).

In this paper, we examine the change of students’ writing culture using CMC in two CS courses and how they shift from using casual language, towards a higher quality and more formal communication with their professors and peers. For this purpose, we classified students’ messages into two categories “casual” and “proper” using a set of criteria that the fulfilment of all was required for a message to be classified as “proper”. Messages from 75 students were collected from threads in online discussion fora (two forums, one for each course with various threads in each) and from individual student to professor messages in the same environment. Such data were classified into two time periods (7 weeks each) to monitor the improvements in the quality of writing.

For this study, we have collected and analyzed a total of 315 messages from these two courses. For the first course, the messages for the first period is (sum of all messages, min messages per student, max messages per student, average, median, standard deviation): 87, 1, 7, 2.02, 2, 1.32 and for the second period accordingly: 90, 1, 8, 2.09, 2, 1.60. For the second course, first period: 51, 1, 8, 1.78, 1, 1.39 and for the second period: 81, 1, 12, 2.53, 1, 2.54. Combining all messages for each period the messages are: 144, 1, 8, 1.92, 1, 1.35 and 171, 1, 12, 2.28, 2, 2.06, while the total data are: 315, 2, 13, 4.20, 3, 2.69.

The results proved that, using only the professor’s formal responses as example, students did change their writing style. We have analyzed the results using as parameters the number of messages and the individual students. Regarding messages, the analysis of the results revealed a shift from “casual” language to “proper” language from the first period, where “proper” messages were only the 26% to 60% at the second period. For individual students, we have used the restriction, that even one “casual” message in the same period is define them as “casual”, and still the shift was obvious from the first period (15%) to the second period (49%).