Cynthia Kilpatrick

Faces or Fingers: Building Communities in Online TESOL Classes


Cynthia Kilpatrick, PhD
Assistant Professor in Practice Graduate Advisor for TESOL Dept of Linguistics and TESOL, UT Arlington

Cynthia Kilpatrick is an Assistant Professor in Practice in the Department of Linguistics and TESOL at The University of Texas at Arlington. In addition to teaching theoretical courses in Linguistics, she also takes an active role in the TESOL program. She teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in TESOL, as well as serving as the graduate TESOL advisor.  Her PLC project this year focused on comparing different formats for synchronous sessions in an online undergraduate TESOL course.

This project examined the effectiveness of different synchronous formats in an online TESOL course. Specifically, we examined student response, attendance, and participation in 3 different synchronous formats:

  • Face (= video) chat using BB Collaborate or Google Hangouts
  • Finger (= typing only) chat using Facebook groups
  • Finger (= typing only) chat using personal messaging function

Overall, while students were somewhat resistant at first, most declared a preference for synchronous finger chats after just a few sessions. Attendance and participation were higher than in synchronous Face chats in current and previous versions of TESOL courses, and students were more involved in the discussion during finger chat sessions.


  • Peggy Semingson


    Great job! I learned a lot about what you teach and how the course went from f2f to online. I like your goal of building a professional learning community in your course so that it can be a habit for their current/future profession. You did a great job making options for students. The finger format likely was a more familiar format? What do you think made them prefer the fingers format? Did you find out if they joined by mobile device? I wonder if that was a factor. (I like learning via my own mobile device).

    Was the weekly format “too much” or did students feel like that was manageable? I have usually done 3-5 videoconference sessions, but I may increase that some. What was the length for the webinar?

    I agree on making an effort to avoid “lecture” format in the live sessions. The tutorial idea is a good one!

    Additional ways to build community: I got a lot of positive feedback about doing online icebreakers!

    Keep up the good work!


    • Cindy

      oh, i will check out the online icebreakers! I think a lot of the preference came from having a little more freedom in how carefully and consistently they were on task. One student specifically mentioned that the finger chats allowed her to multitask more. And there were technical issues in every webinar where at least one student was not able to fully participate. But there WERE students (well, at least one) who preferred the webinars, they were just not the majority.

      I know some students accessed the finger chats on mobile devices, but I should have probed this further. One student was on her phone, and she mentioned that she preferred the messenger function over the group function – the messages showed up immediately and she could respond, but Facebook notifications don’t always show up immediately, so it was harder to follow the group format on a phone.

      • Peggy Semingson

        The online icebreakers are always a big hit! (The whole two semesters i have been doing them!)

        • Jiyoon Yoon

          Thank you peggy for sharing the icebreaker~

  • Karabi

    Cindy – what an interesting project. Your findings resonate with the observations I made during my synchronous sessions. I have done about 16 synchronous sessions this semester via BB Collaborate, and with the exception of a couple of students who turned on their videos, all others (about 40 or so) would prefer finger chat for asking questions, commenting, making jokes, etc. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep track of the number of messages that fill up the chat box, while I am trying to answer them sequentially. I wonder if this is because they are more used to texting, so more comfortable using that feature? Also, I am not very inclined to have lectures in a live sessions, as I feel discussions and conversations work better to engage online students. However, a very interactive lecture could be a possibility. Thank you!!

    • Peggy Semingson

      Yes, I also do think it is because students are used to texting and doing IM and chat type of stuff…webinar is less familiar. I still always feel a bit stiff and awkward doing videoconferencing!

  • Kiva Harper

    I loved the finger format. It caters to the texters. 🙂

  • Denise Cauble

    Enjoyed this very much! I plan to use finger CHAT in my synchronous assignment and am reassured that this is a valid method of student interaction in the activity!

  • Jenny Roye

    Cindy, I so would love to be in one of your classes. You are a fabulous and engaging presenter. I like the catchy title.

  • Jiyoon Yoon

    I love the title too~ And thank you for your study~ I knew that I better used the finger chat for my study with my students~