October 8th, 2009

Overparticipators and Peers


I am discovering that overparticipators have been studied quite extensively in the speech communication field. Researchers there refer to these students who contribute more often than they should as “compulsive communicators” and those researchers have developed a “talkaholic” (now there’s some fanciful jargon) scale to determine if a student is. The scale relies on self reports, and, depending on the study, between 4.7 percent and 7.3 percent of students are considered compulsive communicators.

In the study referenced below, the researchers were interested in how the presence of compulsive communicators in a class affected other students. Of the 530 students involved in the study, 191 were enrolled in sections of a basic communication course with no compulsive communicators. For those enrolled in sections with compulsive communicators, 181 were in sections with one overparticipator, 118 were in classes with two and 40 were in sections where they were three.

To assess how these overparticipators affected their peers, researchers had students complete a Self-Perceived Communication Competence Scale (SPCC), which measures how competent students feel in small group, interpersonal, interviewing, and public speaking settings. It’s an instrument that has been used extensively in communication research. In this study students completed the survey at the beginning and the end of the course.

“Results of the analysis of covariance show that students in sections without compulsively communicative peers reported great increases in self-perceived communication competence at the end of the course than students in sections with compulsively communicative peers.” (p. 361)

So the problems caused by students who overparticipate go beyond the dampening affect they have on the willingness of other students to participate. In this study their presence compromised the perceived development of those communication skills associated with communication competence. That makes the problem something more than teachers and students getting tired of always hearing from the same people. Overparticipators somehow make other students think they are developing less competence as communicators. Research like this provides even more reason for teachers to deal with those students who volunteer whenever the invitation to participate is extended.

Reference: Fortney, S. D., Johnson, D. I., and Long, K. M. (2001). The impact of compulsive communicators on the self-perceived competence of classroom peers: An investigation and test of instructional strategies. Communication Education, 50 (4), 357-373.