Understanding and Working with 'Failed Communication' in Telecollaborative Exchanges


  • Robert O'Dowd Universidad de León
  • Markus Ritter University of Duisburg-Essen




Intercultural Learning, Online Pedagogy, Telecollaboration, Failed Communication, Computer-mediated Communication


It is by now well established that telecollaborative exchanges frequently end in "failed communication" and do not automatically bring about successful negotiation of meaning between the learners. Instead, the intended pedagogic and linguistic aims of online interaction are repeatedly missed, and projects may end in low levels of participation, indifference, tension between participants, or a negative evaluation of the partner group or their culture. The reasons offered in the literature are rather diverse in nature, and there has so far been no attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of such areas of dysfunction. Starting from a review of the existing body of research, this paper develops a structured inventory of factors which may lead to cases of failed communication in online exchanges. In sum, 10 different factors are suggested at four different levels: individual, classroom, socioinstitutional, and interaction. Examples of communication failure taken from two exchanges will be used to illustrate how these factors are interconnected and influence each other. It is concluded that a more discriminating perspective of such problem areas, both among the tutors and the students, can help to further increase intercultural awareness and lead to a better understanding of the dynamic nature of online communication.

Author Biographies

  • Robert O'Dowd, Universidad de León

    Robert O’Dowd is a teacher of English and EFL Methodology at the University of León in Spain. He recently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany on the development of intercultural communicative competence through telecollaborative exchange. He is also a coauthor of the Log into English software for Cornelsen Software in Germany. His current research interests include studying the role of virtual learning environments in foreign language education, telecollaboration, and task-based language learning.

  • Markus Ritter, University of Duisburg-Essen

    Markus Ritter is a teacher of EFL Methodology and Applied Linguistics at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He completed his Ph.D. in 1994 at the University of Münster in Germany on the integration of computers in a project-based language classroom. Apart from his current position, he has lectured in linguistics and EFL methodology at universities in Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Siegen and has also taught German as a foreign language in Britain. He is a coauthor of various educational multimedia programs, most notably the English Coach software series for the secondary sector in Germany. His special interests lie in future perspectives of electronic media in language learning and new approaches to teacher training.


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How to Cite

O'Dowd, R., & Ritter, M. (2013). Understanding and Working with ’Failed Communication’ in Telecollaborative Exchanges. CALICO Journal, 23(3), 623-642. https://doi.org/10.1558/cj.v23i3.623-642