New technologies expand the horizons of education, offering opportunities to explore practices based on collaboration and community rather than the individual teacher or learner. A social networking site was implemented in a university unit with the aim of progressing online participatory culture and increasing student engagement both online and in face-to-face classes. The challenge of engaging students and converting lurkers and stalkers into talkers is discussed. Analysis of linguistic features of blog and forum posts was undertaken and the findings were used to modify online instructor behaviour and presence, and to encourage student participation. The research found that posts with high response rates had short topic titles, used directives and lexical items suggesting immediacy: "Newest hottest topic", while modalization and requests for help produced low or zero responses. Controversial topics received most responses. Gender was found to be a relevant factor, with blogs posted by males gaining higher response rates than those posted by females. The online site produced discursive shifts in "real life" interactions, and provided a speaking-space for quiet students. Students' initial cynicism towards the site changed, and online social networking cultivated affinity groups and increased student participation in both online and face-to-face contexts.
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- Blogging skills
- Collaborative learning
- Gender and language
- Increasing participation online
- Instructor presence online