Community Blog Analysis: ENG 824

What is a community? Is it people coming together “to escape uncertainty” or is it a confusing and potentially conflicted place (Brent 215)?  I live in a community with a homeowner’s association and all the signs, marketing and newsletters stress the community that we live in.  But it is a forced community, a mere by-product of buying a house on a certain street.  With very little in common with our neighbors, we rarely participate in any structured community events.

Brent points to Bell and Newby, who see community as a paradox, in which “as soon as one tries to define it, it ceases to have a verifiable existence” and questions if, as some posit, that community is just an illusion (219). While Brent is not responding to community in an online classroom environment, there are parallels, as community is discussed in teaching pedagogy time and again (Warnock, Neff, Cook, Garrison and Vaughan). Is it an illusion in an online classroom? Can it be developed and replicated from one class to another, much like course content? I would argue that the answer is no, that community is not a product that an instructor can create within an online or face-to-face class, but rather it is a mix of time, space and participants–coaxed and encouraged–but with an existence uniquely its own depending on the motivation and engagement of the class.

In our blogs, as individual articles were shared and analyzed, we had the opportunity to read exponentially more material and be exposed to many more authors than we would have been if we would not have posted our information communally. I analyzed the topics and sources used [Appendix], identifying 44 unique sources.  Of these, only four sources were used more than once, with only one source used more than twice (nine times).  Of 55 total references, there was only one duplicate reference posted [figure 1].

Source Title
# articles
Computers and Composition
British Journal of Educational Technology
Computers & Education
Journal of Library Administration
Adult Learning
College Composition and Communication
College English
Educational Technology Research and Development
English Education
IALLT Journal
Innovative Higher Education
Instructional Science: an International Journal of the Learning Sciences
International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning
International Journal or E-Learning & Distance Education
Journal of Agricultural Education
Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks
Journal of Basic Writing
Journal of Educational Technology
Journal of Educational Technology & Society
Journal of Global Intelligence & Policy
Journal of Information Technology Education
Journal of Interactive Online Learning
Journal of Public Affairs Education
Journal of Technical Writing & Communication
Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning
Journal of Writing Research
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education
Nurse Educator
Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences
Research and Teaching in Developmental Education
Rocky Mountain Review
Teaching English in the Two-Year College
TESL Canada Journal
The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
The Internet and Higher Education
The Journal of Higher Education
The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association
The Journal of Nursing Education
Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology
  Figure 1: Journal Usage. Student Blogs, ENG 824 (Summer 2014)
Individual students’ research interests were pursued, with very little overlap on the surface, but when keyword tags were applied to the articles, there were similarities in the overall themes.
The purposes for our blogs were outlined in the syllabus: 1) Supplement the assigned readings and have the opportunity to research on the topic(s) that we will focus on for course projects. 2) Writing experience and practicing the production of scholarship within the discourse community of writing studies and distance education. 3) Writing to learn exercisein which the process of writing up the blog entry helps you understand the content and how to articulate this understanding to the discourse community. These all encourage research and individual exploration as part of the “discourse community of writing studies and distance education.” An academic community, focusing on scholars interested in a specific area of scholarship, further establishes my claim that communities may be self-selected or offered, but that participation best comes from internal motivation.

How do communities develop within a class? Community building techniques need to be “explicitly explained” in a distance class as to their purpose (Neff 85). While explanations of purpose at an undergraduate level may be needed for “modeling an intellectual community,” this should not have to be explained at the graduate level, as I posit that the purpose of blogging or other asynchronous discussion forums are more than a tool to create class community [1], as students may use these spaces for different purposes and community-building may only be a peripheral benefit. Garrison and Vaughan point constructivist learning theory, in which individuals are “making sense of their experiences” with “inquiry at its core” (13-14). We each had autonomy in our blog subject matter, with broad latitude applied to the interest areas we chose to explore. Pointing to the necessity of students being “actively engaged in the process of inquiry,” with a community of inquiry (CoI) as a method to achieve this, our class blogs could be viewed as both CoI and applied constructivism.

Neff looks to asynchronous communication as created spaces “where students can control the direction of the conversation in ways that they cannot in traditional educational classrooms” (93). She stresses that “learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race.  Good learning like good work is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others increases involvement in learning.  Sharing one’s ideas and responding to others improves thinking and deepens understanding” (Gamson as cited in Neff 100). Encouragement can also be given for students to use online posting avenues outside single assignments by drawing the content in to other discussions, encouraging students to continue participation, noting that instructors should not be “the bottleneck” and that low-stakes writing often encourages better participation if students aren’t always just writing with assessment in mind or for a particular assignment (Warnock 83).

While graduate students may use blogging for their own research purposes without external motivation, I have used both ungraded and graded blog posts/comments in numerous undergraduate online classes, without clear guidelines as to when, what and how much to post and undergraduate students, in my experience, will usually only post to the requirements. Warnock points to the benefit of assigning primary and secondary posts, with a discussion around the necessity of outlining the expectations and timing for when students should post to encourage active participation, but recognizing that a reward/punishment system will change how posts are perceived within a class.  In our class, by having blog posts due at certain times, but with no expectation of what follow-up comments or conversations might ensue from the posts, it was left open to interpretation and posts only appeared sporadically, but never became a major place of conversation within the class.

Requiring comments on a blog will elicit increased response, as students are often grade motivated, but is commenting on a blog building community or just increasing forced participation – a form of the medicine that is good for you? Warnock focuses on conversation and asynchronous message boards as being a “cornerstone” of his own online pedagogy with a goal of wanting students to “talk with one another” (68). Focusing conversations on students and their responses, Bakhtin points to the response as being the foundation of understanding, rather than teachers talking “to” students (as cited in Warnock 68) it pushed us to think in new ways about active learning and student agency in their own learning.

By having students create their own space and not using a centralized or CMS space to post, students are offered more personal agency in their work.  I spent time deciding how I wanted my blog to appear, knowing it would reflect on me, as it was not the result of content created by a course designer or instructor.  Was this an articulated purpose of our blog?  No, but as Garrison and Vaughan point out, it may be the “unintended learning outcomes [that] can be most educational” (21). Most of the members of our class use their blogs for other classes and see them as continuing spaces, part of their doctoral studies and a repository of their work.  Both as archival information and a channel to share readings and responses with classmates, this is a different type of community than what undergraduates would experience with a one class requirement, unless there were collaborative efforts to use blogs as a cross-curricular portfolio to document writing development.
On our blogs, only one student received a public comment, but in other classes I have taught, I have had students surprised when their blog receives comments from the blogosphere.  Using a blog as a rhetorical space helps to teach how a digital environment has an audience that must be considered and acknowledged in a public writing forum. Depew et al. express that “communities are not an outcome that instructors simply can create by using a specific digital technology” as “creating community is a rhetorical act deliberately attempted.” In questioning the efficacy of a blog to create community within an online class, I would posit that while the instructor can offer ways for interactions to occur within as classroom and encourage participation, short of requiring postings, it is also the students’ responsibility and/or motivation to want the community of their peers.
As in a face-to-face classroom, some students may just want to attend class and complete the assignments.  In a 1997-2002 review of the Temple University Online Learning Program, findings showed that professor interaction was significantly more important to students than was classmates’ interaction (Schifter 174). One student noted that while acknowledging a “high level of interactivity among the student and other classmates” that it was “difficult for me, however, to get any kind of personal feeling for any of the students” (Schifter 177).  Is this by choice or a construct of the online environment, as those survey questions were not part of the Temple review?
In the case of our class blog, my motivation for reading and posting to others’ blogs was intellectually, rather than grade motivated. I wanted to learn more about the subjects studied in the class and my classmates’ research interests.  As a new doctoral student, inquiry and research are stressed within our curriculum and expected. That is not the same level of expectation placed on undergraduates who may not have this internal motivation.  Warnock’s Guidelines 21-25 for Teaching Writing Online focus on conversations and use of asynchronous message boards, pointing out how they provide “powerful and effective writing and learning environments” noting that the instructors have a chance to not be the focus of the conversation or be directly involved, letting students direct what happens (75).
Figure 3: Total Comments to Student Blogs

Participation, conversation or interaction do not necessarily equate to community. On our blogs, there were a total of 49 comments averaging 4.5 posts per blog, but only 6 out of 11 students participated by providing comments. 5 students did not participate beyond their own blog posts (Figures 3-5).

Figure 4: Response Comments to Student Blogs

Did the lack of participation on our class blogs diminish the establishment of community within the class?  Not at all, because beyond the instructor-required blogs, the class had a private Facebook page in which all of the students were enrolled, but not the instructor. On that page, there were posts almost daily, ranging from shared resources, to assignment questions, to support and encouragement.  Social community was established outside the confines of the classroom, but with greater and fuller interactions in the Facebook group, than on any individual blog.  As a private, closed space, students may feel freer to express their thoughts, opinions and share on their own terms than on a public blog space, or one required as part of a class.

While echoing the concerns of CCCC OWI Position Statement’s second principle, “an online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies,” the benefit of a blog and having students actively participate in their own learning is valuable. I have had students express the benefits of posting in my classes, but also wish they had their own space to post to where they could create their own online presence. Recognizing that a blog has rhetorical elements and using that discussion as part of a class is also beneficial, as DePew notes, it isn’t about “using” a technology, but recognizing “what does this technology want me to do?” and how can its affordance be of benefit to student learning within an online classroom? Each technology “demands” something from a user, and it is important that this is recognized as part of assigning a technology, such as a blog.

I return to Brent’s original questions asking what is community and if it is an illusion?  In an online classroom, instructors can optimize learning opportunities and establish a framework by which students may elect to or not to participate, but those attempts do not necessarily translate to community building.  That is up to individuals in a class and each student’s motivation, as “participants must have the discipline to engage in critical reflection and discourse” (Garrison and Vaughan 17).  Ultimately community is possible, it is not an illusion, but neither is it a contrived space or place. Rather, it is one that develops organically as students strive to make connections and  desire to move beyond just participation for a grade.
Figure 5: Comments to Own Blog



[1] I refer to blogs, discussion posts, and bulletin boards as all asynchronous methods of communication within an online classroom and associate them as a single construct for building community or fostering class interaction for the purpose of my analysis, while recognizing that each is its own individual technology, having its own affordances and limitations.

Works Cited
Brent, Jeremy. “The Desire for Community: Illusion, Confusion and Paradox.” Community Development Journal 39.3 (2004): 213-23.
Cook, Kelli Cargile. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Online Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Co., Inc. 2005. 49-66.
DePew, Kevin Eric. “Preparing Instructors and Students for The Rhetoricity of OWI Technologies.” Foundational Practices of Onine Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew. Publication Forthcoming 2014.
Garrison, D. Randy and Norman D. Vaughan. “Introduction.” Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007. 3-11.
Neff, Joyce Magnotto and Carln Whithaus. Writing across Distances & Disciplines: Research and Pedagogy in Distributed Learning. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2007.
Schifter, Catherine. “Evaluating a Distance Education Program.” [Ch. VII]. The Distance Education Evolution: Issues and Case Studies. Eds. Dominique Monolescu, Catherine Schifter, and Linda Greenwood. Hershey, PA: Science Publishing, 2004. 163-184.
Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How & Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2009.
& & &

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Digital Imperative
Student Learning
Online Discussions
Academic Performance
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First Year Writing
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Mobile Learning
Word Processing
Writing Classroom
Higher Education
Mobile Tablets
Google Drive
Blended Learning
Authentic Learning
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Library Resources
Library Services
Personal Touch
Library Faculty
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Peer Review
College Writing
Online Writing Classroom
Revision Process
Collaborative Writing
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Technical Writing
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Service Learning
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VoiceThread: Instructional Tool (ENG 824, Written Review)

[pdf] Overview of Tool
VoiceThread is a cloud-based, asynchronous discussion/commenting tool that provides opportunities for video, audio, and annotative feedback on a media file by creating a Flash-based video for sharing or embedding on a website or within a CMS.  Developed at the University of North Carolina, it is available online at, it also has numerous tutorials, libraries of examples and help guides. There is also a mobile app available for users as Flash is not accessible on ios devices.  Individual photos or avatars can be uploaded and associated with posted comments While there is a free version, it has limited sharing options and number of threads (their name for video files) available. For a yearly licensing fee, tiered for number of thread and users, it offers a robust set of features and sharing options. The sharing and commenting capabilities enable students to provide feedback on each other’s work, instructors to offer group feedback or peer-review opportunities, or create shared discussions on text or media.
The market audience for VoiceThread is broad–from K-12, to higher education, to business. While not focused specifically on a distance learning environment, the company recognizes that this is one of its most likely audiences and offers teachers a wide variety of training materials and online classroom examples. It does stress the collaborative feedback and writing options, as the library of samples demonstrates, and this is one of its most beneficial features for online writing classes. From online users, there is a large variety of available class examples to view and in a search of writing or composition, over 100 threads are available, with titles ranging from Teaching Writing as a Process, to Writing across the Curriculum, as well as online writing center guides and library research resources.
Similar Products
Because of VoiceThread’s unique commenting feature, while there are tools that offer video, commenting and sharing, none that I found to compare it to provide the combination of commenting features on both media and text, the ability to limit access to individuals or classes and options for public posting and comments.  Products offering some of the features include Mediasite, Panopto, Slideshare, Cooliris, Camtasia, or Adobe Connect.  
Files can be uploaded from text or media (Figure 1) and once a new thread is created, there are commenting and annotating options via microphone, webcam, keyboard or audio file upload. It is also possible to draw directly on the discussion item with circles, lines, or other doodling options.
Once an instructor creates individual accounts for a class, the users can be put into groups (Figure 2), based on what thread you want the group to access.  Threads (links to the Flash file) can be emailed, embedded on a CMS or made accessible through invitation with the url.
Figure 3: VoiceThread Activity Menu
For the instructor, all new comments are visible on the VoiceThread dashboard with a balloon (Figure 1) or from the Activity page (Figure 3).  An email is also sent out to the instructor whenever a new comment is made (Figure 4). 

Figure 4: Email Notifications for New Comments

Noted for encouraging richer interactions within a class, VoiceThread provides individualized ways to comment or provide feedback to media and discussion within a classroom. It is not gadget heavy, so it could be used across age groups. Menus provide ease of sharing, embedding and commenting. There is also a mobile app on which you can view threads. 
Challenges pointed out are that it does cause a rethinking of how to create assignments that encourage individual feedback and comments can end up being longer and thus affect time and more involved assessment. A graduate student post related a different experience and review, expressing how confusing and frustrating it was as she reviewed the product, but hers was one of the only negative reviews I read (ED655 Online Pedagogy). Educause in its “7 Things to Know” series pointed out that it can be browser “quirky” and have some functionality issues as a result, but they were reviewing the product five years ago and those concerns were not mentioned in later reviews. It does produce Flash movies as its output format, so that limits viewing on mobile devices unless you download the app.  With the app, viewing and commenting on threads is very easy and viewable within a mobile device, but it is more difficult to view multiple comments on a smaller screen.
ADA accessibility has been one of the concerns with VoiceThread, but they have added closed-captioning and have recently released a version compatible with screen readers and assistive technologies. Awareness of features, upgrades and user feedback has increased as a result of both wiki and educational websites dedicated to VoiceThread users and use. Different student populations can also benefit from opportunities that VoiceThread affords as it can enable more introverted students, English Language Learners (ELL) or other students participation options with alternate methods of communication beyond just text in an online environment (Borup, West and Graham, Koricich)
Pedagogy & Applications
As a pedagogical tool, VoiceThread supports active collaboration and student-centered discussions, both emphasized in the literature as ways to provide more “information-rich environments” for online students (Mehlenbacher, Warnock, Cooper and Selfe as cited in Neff 92). Focused on interactivity and learner-centered classrooms, Gamson sees collaborative environments as spaces where “sharing one’s ideas and responding to others improves thinking and deepens understanding” (as cited in Neff 100). VoiceThread provides ways to address a range of these concerns in an online environment. Improved audience and voice possibilities afford students the ability to interact with each other and help alleviate the tendency for isolation to occur from just a text-based classroom.  Students are able to connect with each other in potentially more effective ways (Warnock, Cook). This is one of the areas that VoiceThread can offer the most possibilities within the classroom.
Exposing students to multi-modal classroom experiences, beyond just text, lectures and discussion boards provides a way for students to better visualize assignments (Warnock) and helps students who may benefit from varied learning methods, thus also aiding in students’ participation in their own knowledge creation by having more focus on the “teaching activity” over the teacher (DePew 177).  Stedman would also support these ideas as he stresses that “ideas on a screen may relieve some of [students’] anxiety and tension” related to writing or online coursework (as quoted in Neff 119). In “7 Things to Know,” implications for teaching and learning are emphasized as the review stresses that VoiceThread is set apart from other similar tools because of its “easy integration of voice and other types of media for commenting on an original artifact” and the “opportunity it provides for students to tell their own stories and to contribute to or directly critique the narratives of their peers” (Educause). As additional support, Brabazon posits that education “requires the application of a wide range of communicative technologies: not only threaded discussion groups or email, but aural, oral, verbal and bodily literacies” (25). While it is important not to use technology in a classroom without having a pedagogical purpose (Warnock, Cook), VoiceThread has the potential to impact student learning though improved engagement and class interactions.
Figure 5: VoiceThread Example – Library Instruction
For librarians, VoiceThread could be used to create tutorials or class presentations that would provide students with feedback options, visuals and the ability to comment directly on a specific point or place within a website or resource, as learning how to navigate within a resource or evaluate sources are often challenges not easily resolved in a distance environment (Figure 5).
 In a writing classroom, audio discussions on media or text can easily be created and provide students with varied ways to communicate in the classroom environment. I provide three examples in my presentation for peer-review, essay workshops or even usability testing as ways that VoiceThread could provide improved student interaction, writing support and CMS design feedback in an online environment (Figure 6). 
Figure 6: VoiceThread Example – Writing Classroom
 One review notes that the ability to add video and audio sets it apart from other products, as “more  lengthy and detailed explanations are feasible than would be suitable for text alone, while intonation and voice patterns convey information that can be missed or misconstrued in a text-based markup” (Educause). In evaluations from Sienna College, students said “the tool helped establish a sense of community and reinforced the impression that the instructor was involved in their learning process” (Educause).
In a study of an online graduate class using VoiceThread, students responded positively, most frequently mentioning that “collaboration exemplifies its multi-modal affordance that enables learners to communicate emotion, personality, and other non-verbal cues conducive to better
understanding and interpretation of meanings” (Ching 298). He further stresses that “VoiceThread has great potential for motivating and engaging learners in higher education, fostering higher-order thinking, and supporting collaboration processes” (300). Reviews were generally positive and reflected comments similar to Koricich, “VoiceThread has been particularly useful in promoting community and student interaction in online courses” (77).
Overall, I found VoiceThread to be user-friendly, a very different experience from a review provided by a graduate student who noted, “I wouldn’t wish the struggles I had with VoiceThread on anyone!”  (ED655 Online Pedagogy). I set-up two classes, shared the link with my “students” (librarian colleagues) and with little effort, they were able to provide both text and audio comments on the sample presentations. The opportunities for improved student interaction, ability to link voice and/or video with comments, while also being able to write directly on slides are all positive benefits to improve students’ sense of community, lessen isolation and increase interaction in an online classroom. While no tool or piece of technology can provide a one-step solution, or offer the “perfect” online experience, VoiceThread can provide students with better ways to connect, relate to each other’s writing and provide feedback for each other, all methods to potentially improve students’ agency and ability to learn within an online classroom. 
Works Cited
Ching, Yu-Hui, and Yu-Chang Hsu. “Collaborative Learning using VoiceThread in an Online Graduate Course.” Knowledge Management & E-Learning: an International Journal 5.3 (2013): 298-314.
Cook, Kelli Cargile. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Online Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Co., Inc. 2005. 49-66.
DePew, Kevin Eric, and Heather Lettner-Rust. “Mediating Power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze.” Computers and Composition 26.3 (2009): 174-89.
Koricich, Andrew. “Technology Review: Multimedia Discussions through VoiceThread.” Community College Enterprise 19.1 (2013): 76.
Neff, Joyce Magnotto and Carln Whithaus. Writing across Distances & Disciplines: Research and Pedagogy in Distributed Learning. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2007.
7 Things You Should Know About VoiceThread.” EDUCAUSE: Learning Initiative, 9 June 2009. Web. 11 June 2014. <>.
VoiceThread. Digital Libraries. Web 11 June 2014. <>
VoiceThread. Help. Web. 11 June 2014. <>
Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How & Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2009.

Blog Post #5: Embedded Librarians – Best Practices in the Online Classroom

York, Amy C., and Jason M. Vance. “Taking Library Instruction into the Online Classroom: Best Practices for Embedded Librarians.” Journal of Library Administration 49.1/2 (2009): 197-209.
Online class numbers continue to proliferate within higher education, with reports pointing to the need for libraries to take note as it translates to fewer students on campuses and in physical libraries.  Already, we see students turn to the web or their friends before they turn to the library website or a librarian for help. The authors use the phrase embedded librarianship to describe “any librarian who takes an active role inside the online CMS classroom” (199), as they outline best practices for librarians to follow to expand services within a CMS using a review of the literature and an online survey.
As classes are developed within a CMS, York and Vance expect that fewer students will explore library websites and instead continue to access web search tools. From hybrid courses to all online classrooms, the authors point to new avenues of instruction for librarians, especially on campuses where online enrollment is expanding and a library’s staff remains the same. Writing that in 2000 the professional literature had little mention of library involvement in online learning environments and none in reviews for individual systems, they point to a number of more recent articles often “bemoaning” the lack of librarian integration or involvement in CMS development.  Those that do are from individual sites, describing the successes, challenges and “dreams” of librarians as they move face-to-face services to the web.
The consistent theme from the literature is the ongoing mantra for librarians — collaboration with faculty and administrators is essential.  Finally, results from York and Vance’s online study provide the following best practices for librarians working to embed in a CMS (202-207):
  1. Know your campus CMS and administrators
  2. Include a library link in the CMS
  3. Go beyond just a link to the library – embed in individual courses.
  4. Don’t overextend – learn about the CMS and provide online learning modules.
  5. Think strategically about courses to focus on, selecting courses that have research assignments.
  6. Actively participate in the class.
  7. Market library services and embedded librarian offerings.
There are many articles offering best practices, with “imperatives for librarians to get on board” (207), yet in perusing the research, I am once again struck by disconnects between the literature in composition/rhetoric and librarianship.  For example, to further explore the topic of “embedded librarianship” in the literature for composition and rhetoric, searching MLA International instead of databases focusing on library literature, with the following search 150+ results are returned – a good base set to review.

((Distance OR online) AND learning) AND (“rhetoric and composition” OR “first year”) 

When AND library*is added, there is 1 result, the PhD dissertation of the Dean of Library Services at Southeastern University, Grace Veach, whose research I have used in previous papers.  

Search for “embedded librarian” in any context in MLAand no results are returned. 

All of these searches return results in library literature. As I noted in other blog posts, I have discovered plenty of room for research exploration and collaborative opportunities!

Blog Post #4: ESL Students in the Hybrid Classroom

Harrington, Anna M. “Problematizing the Hybrid Classroom for ESL/EFL Students.” TESL-EJ 14.3 (December 2010): 1-13.
Growing populations of ESL/EFL students, along with increased hybrid class offerings are pointing to a need within the TESOL community to explore how hybrid classes affect ESL/EFL students. Research focusing on ESL/EFL students within the online environment is lacking according to Harrington, with the research that has been done drawing from computer-assisted learning and problems that all students might face, instead of any concerns specific to ESL/EFL learners. She notes a number of authors who are writing in the field, voicing successes with technology and language learning for ESL/EFL students, but stressing that “the effect of dual instruction delivery has been ignored” (3).
Harrington explores the challenges of identity, individualization and muting within the hybrid classroom for ESL/EFL students, first looking at online instruction, student community, and identity. While some studies point out the benefits of an online environment, as one where shy students can have a voice and “marginalized students” can flourish (3); other studies argue that online classes emphasize students’ deficiencies in writing, creating spaces where students may not fully participate because of the writing challenges. Within the debate for face-to-face and online classes, Harrington sees hybrid spaces as an additional challenge, where students must constantly switch environments, not fully participating in either community.
ESL/EFL students become literate not only in the language, but also from “the norms and values of U.S. culture and in U.S. academic discourse” (Bao as cited in Harrington, 4). Switching in a hybrid environment, Harrington argues, doesn’t enable students to sufficiently create an identity in either, creating students who aren’t able to “function fully in either community” (4). Discourse switching for ESL/EFL students could put them behind in their ability to adequately learn to write in the necessary academic discourse, resulting in the “muting” of a student, or the lack of a student’s authorial self being successfully developed.
Stressed individualism in U.S. writing courses, Harrington posits is already of concern for ESL/EFL students who often come from cultures that stress group activities while U.S. writing courses favor “voice, peer review, critical thinking and textual ownership” (6).  In online courses that can already seem isolating for any students, an ESL/EFL student’s isolation within a classroom community could lead to muting. This could take two forms according to the author: self or imposed.
The topics of identity, individualization and muting within a classroom for ESL/EFL students are new points of consideration for me.  I have had ESL/EFL students in online classes, and can easily see how language limitations in discussions have the potential for imposed or self-muting of students. I am encouraged that there are untapped research areas to explore in the field and am seeing a lot of potential areas of research exploration within the ESL/EFL population, related both to library services and first-year writing classes.  I would recommend Harrington’s article for those interested in tempering other views that fully support a hybrid classroom.

Blog Post #3 – Library Resources and Global Access

Wang, Zhonghong and Paul Tremblay. “Going Global: Providing Library Resources and Services to International Sites.” Journal of Library Administration 49 (2009): 171-185.
Providing access to resources for students and faculty via distance or off-campus is part of a library’s basic service mission.  Libraries are being challenged to rethink how to promote and implement resources, instruction and access to meet the needs of a global audience. Wang and Tremblay outline how library services are provided after a Global College is relocated to their campus. A growing international population on campuses offers opportunities and challenges for libraries to serve a more diverse student body.
Library services are provided 24/7 in most academic libraries through proxy servers on campus networks. However, providing library instruction off-campus is one area that can be challenging.  Software solutions exist, such as videoconferencing, chat and email that make connectivity functionally easier, but libraries are also exploring how to customize options to better meet the different cultural and diverse needs of international populations. Wang and Tremblay provide a literature review that draws from research written about how international populations are served on U.S. campuses, but note that there is little research exploring how U.S. campuses in other countries impact an academic library’s services and mission. Australia, recognized as a leader in providing education to a global audience has moved librarians from thinking “in the parochial to the global” (175).
Supporting online library offerings via the Global College is a priority with the Dean, which makes it easier to engage faculty and librarians. While each Global College site has local offerings for library services and campuses, there is a need for centralized resources available through the Brooklyn campus, insuring that all students had access to databases, inter-library loan, library instruction, and research assistance. A group of librarians at the central campus are dedicated providers of services to the Global Campus and the authors list their best practices for providing services to a global audience. They stress the need to be proactive and work with faculty involved in distance learning, noting that collaboration and “working toward a common goal” are essential for success.
While little in the article comes as new information in terms of library services and off-campus offerings to an academic librarian, it does provide an overview of the benefits and challenges a campus faces when having a large global presence change how they can meet the needs of their new audience.  Scalability of offerings is one point that is good for all librarians to remember, as it is tempting to want to individualize offerings, both in-person and online, but meeting the overall needs of a campus is most important. The offering of online modules for individual classes that are more customized for research topics than individual students is one way to meet this need and yet put a face and presence on the library’s resources and available help for the students in any location.  There is growing research exploring online library services, but little focused on international students, or unique needs of student populations, so I am interested in continuing this avenue of research beyond this term.

Blog Post #2 – Student Motivation in an Online ESL Writing Classroom

Zhang, Jie. “Learner Agency, Motive, and Self-Regulated Learning in an Online ESL Writing
          Class.” IALLT Journal 43.2 (2013): 57-81.

Framing a case study through Vygotsky and Leont-ev’s activity theory, Zhang examines computer-mediated communication (CMC) in ESL online writing classrooms.  He provides a literature review comparing face-to-face and CMC, ESL classrooms, determining that student-focused responses to online classes are lacking.  He interviews two students from his online ESL writing class, asking how much of a student’s experience in an online class is dependent on individual behavior as viewed through activity theory. Using activity, action and operation as ways to examine students’ class performance, he defines these by looking at activity as the motive, action as the process, and operation as the “doing” or moving toward the goal (63). He sees a student’s motivation as being connected to how he/she makes decisions as to investment in a class – in this case, the online environment.

In Zhang’s approach, by using self-regulated learning (SRL), students make decisions in a learning environment based on choices and/or goals they set during the class term. This is a “dialectical relationship” as learning contexts change, students lack full control, and thus outcomes are not stable.  In classrooms using CMC, “online learning requires more learner control and self-discipline than traditional classroom-based instruction” and while more opportunities are available online, these may also result in students who are less disciplined, lose interest, or do not participate as they might in a face-to-face classroom (63).

From Zhang’s results looking at learner agency, motivation affecting performance and achievement, he finds that these factors are very different for the two students and impact their success in the class. Zheng concludes that “computer technology contextualize[s] learning for different people in different ways by empowering some and handicapping others” (73). He stresses that not all students are ready for the “autonomy and flexibility of computer-mediated learning,” especially ESL and first-year students who benefit from increased support and closer direction from classmates and faculty during their initial enrollment term. The article concludes with a list of suggestions to minimize student anxiety in an online course.

This article was useful in introducing activity theory to me; however I did expect it to be more focused on the specific writing challenges of ESL students in an online classroom. It was not evident from Zhang’s argument how ESL students were differentiated by activity theory from any other students. However, gaining insight into the different and sometimes unfathomable reasons why students sign up for classes and how motivation and learner agency can affect student performance in a class was worthwhile.  Remembering that student success or failure in a class may have nothing to do with the class itself, online or face-to-face is somewhat comforting to keep in mind for future classes, rather than internalizing the reasons why some students disappear from a class, or choose not to succeed.

Blog Post #1: ENG 824. Embedded Librarians in Online Classrooms

Kadavy, Casey, and Kim Chuppa-Cornell. “A Personal Touch: Embedding Library Faculty  
        into Online English 102.” TETYC  39.1 (2011): 63-77. 
In an online English 102 classroom, Kadavy and Chuppa-Cornell point to the benefits of teaching online, but also view the challenges and increased feelings of isolation, both for students and faculty. Pointing specifically to the teaching of research, while also acclimating students to an online classroom, The authors note that students often resort to open web sources, unaware that library resources are readily available, as students are distanced from both physical and personal library presence.  To remedy this, they collaborated on embedding a librarian in their course through a “Personal Librarian” model. Studies examining students’ online search behavior explain that there is a “need for greater, not less, library instruction in the online environment” (64). Beginning researchers are “easily overwhelmed and confused” by the amount of information available to them as Alison Head, Director of Project Literacy stresses that while students may use and be familiar with the online environment, this “does not mean college-aged students are natural-born researchers” (quoted in Kadavy, 64).
An embedded librarian can provide research support to students, while offering point of need instruction through tutorials, discussion forums, and assignment feedback.  Kadavy and Chuppa-Cornell posit that students’ research needs are best served through personal contact within an online course.  By stressing that the Personal Librarian was “an ally in the researching process,” they were able to build personal librarian attention and library support into the online class that they felt was lacking from what students experienced in face-to-face classes (65). Modules of information literacy directly tied to the class content and assignments were created, while a Personal Librarian provided a consistent presence, offering feedback and support to the students. Short videos provided navigation and research help, depending on class needs. Student feedback was positive for this model as students learned about resources and gained skills that would help them in other classes. The students also showed a dramatic rise in their research abilities after implementing the Personal Embedded Librarian model, with a 24% increase in their knowledge of source quality and use of resources in their writing.
A personal or embedded librarian within a class is a familiar, but underutilized model. As the authors note, it relies on cooperation and collaboration between teaching faculty and librarians. This model can benefit students and faculty, as beginning courses often require research, but students do not always have these skills in their first year of college. My concern is that only brief mention is given in the article to the difficulty in making these connections with faculty and convincing them that embedding a librarian in a classroom is of direct benefit to the students. Problems in planning time, concerns about loss of authority, content coverage or even library staff available can be possible concerns.  However, none of these outweigh the potential benefits for students. Personal approaches using embedded librarians, with tiered information literacy skill-building and direct ties to the curriculum offer students the most opportunities for success, especially important in an online classroom where distance can often be isolating.

Blog Post #5 – ENG 721/821 : Wardle & Downs – Looking Back

Wardle, Elizabeth, and Doug Downs. “Reflecting Back and Looking Forward: Revisiting Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions Five Years On.” Composition Forum 27 (Spring 2013).

Wardle & Downs revisit their 2007 article to “clarify,” reply to comments and critiques, and reconsider their original argument.  In 2007, they recognize they were inexperienced and didn’t have the same language frames as they do today. They wrote how just a few composition courses could not “teach students to write” and that focus should be on teaching “about” writing and learning how discovery could be adapted (transferred) to new writing situations. They revise this in 2013 to use Jan Meyer and Ray Lands’ “threshold concepts” to “better name” learning transfer knowledge and conceptions. Threshold concepts “can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” (3). They see “situatedness” as a threshold concept and explain there is “no universal rule for how to write” and ask the questions “what are our field’s threshold concepts, and where and when (and how) should they be taught?”

They received criticism after their 2007 article and note in their current article that they had “great certainty” in writing “this pedagogy ‘cannot be taught by someone not trained in writing studies’” (574). Six years difference has brought new awareness and less “tone” in that they found their “ensuing experience to disprove our own claim” and discovered that it isn’t necessary to have graduate work in rhetoric and composition to successfully teach writing, but recognize that familiarity with genres and conventions in other disciplines can “bring an abundance of expertise to the table.” Those unfamiliar with writing theory need to be interested and willing to read and learn, but that “varied background” can add “depth and richness” to a writing program.

Finally, they provide examples of ways “writing about writing” have been adopted and stress that “once of the direst predictions of critics” did not manifest itself to be true – students are not bored with the content. On the contrary, “courses about writing seem better able to create genuine rhetorical situations.” Finally, they call on continued research and improved writing programs, utilizing the rich content from the writing studies field.
I was surprised to see an updated article just published by Wardle & Downs, as I was using their original article in my research. In six years, it is evident that “real life” tempered their “absoluteness,” but did not diminish their convictions.  It was beneficial to see them draw in new language to help clarify their earlier statement. What I found most interesting in this article was their emphasis on Meyer and Land’s disciplinary threshold concepts.  ACRL references “threshold concepts” in their new plans for updating Information Literacy Standards. My concern is that while Wardle & Downs base their inclusion of the concept clearly within the literature of the discipline and point to Meyer and Land for additional reference, that ACRL will miss yet another opportunity to draw from theory to inform information literacy study and instead just adopt “terms” without fully aligning them with the rhetorical theory from which they derive.

Referenced article:

Downs, Douglas, and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’” CCC 58.4 (2007): 552-584.

Roundtable Presentation: Reviving the Research Paper

ENG 721/821

 [e-handout] [conference paper]


Research papers have been used in first-year composition classes for many years as a process-exercise for teaching students about academic research and writing.  Many faculty in the disciplines hold the belief that a “research paper” and its accompanying “steps” can provide students with the knowledge and ability to then research and write in the disciplines with practiced ability. Without connections to disciplines or specific discourse communities, a generic research paper format cannot be a beneficial learning experience for students. The research paper is still too often approached via a legacy assignment from a not quite forgotten current-traditional classroom.

Surrounded by concerns with the rules of grammar, organization, citing sources and plagiarism, the possibilities and benefits of researched writing are often overlooked. Alternatives are needed that encourage critical thinking beyond compiling a required number of sources and reporting back what students believe faculty “want” them to write. Connections are made and concerns are raised between the concepts of information literacy, taught as part of library instruction and expectations in a composition or first-year writing classrooms.

Looking at methods for furthering invention, options are presented for how students can approach research and enter a discourse community through “new” doors. Liminal spaces, threshold concepts and “project” based writing are all described as innovative approaches by which students can move from research writing as “rhetoric of the finished word” to a “rhetoric of doing,” stressing inquiry-based and disciplinary thinking.

This presentation and accompanying conference paper review the research paper’s troubled past, as well as provide options for how this assignment can be improved.

 Further Reading:

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2011.

Brent, Doug. “The Research Paper: What is it and Why We Should Still Care.” Presented to the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing (draft under review), 2012.

Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2006.

Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” 2000. Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). Accessed: October 9, 2013.

Jacobs, Heidi. “Information Literacy and Reflective Pedagogical Praxis.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.3 (2008), 256-262.

Nelson, Jennie. “The Research Paper: A ‘Rhetoric of Doing’ or a ‘Rhetoric of the Finished Word?’” Composition Studies/Freshman English News 22.2 (1994): 65–75.

Norgaard, Rolf. “Writing Information Literacy: Contributions to a Concept.” Reference Services Review 43.2 (2003): 124–130.

—. “Writing Information Literacy in the Classroom: Pedagogical Enactments and Implications.” Reference Services Review43.3 (2004): 220–226.

Nutefall, Jennifer E, and Phyllis Mentzell Ryder. “The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 10.4 (2010): 437–449.

Purdy, James P., and Joyce R. Walker. “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity: The Construction of Introductory Composition Students as Researchers.” Pedagogy 13.1 (2013): 9–41.

Veach, Grace L. “At the Intersection: Librarianship, Writing Studies, and Sources as Topoi.” Journal of Literacy and Technology 13.1 (2012): 102-129.