Thursday, June 19, 2014

Community Analysis

What is Community?

Community is having a sense of belonging to a group. Several key concepts are embedded in this simplified definition, the first being the idea that community is sensed or felt on an emotional level. This intangible quality is also suggested in definitions that position community as “a phenomenon” that “does not appear to have a concrete existence” (Brent 214). Phenomena by their nature are not wholly quantifiable, but scholars can work descriptively to identify reoccurring aspects of community.

A second key concept is that of group, which are based on common bonds; the commonality may be being part of the same course, program of study, or organization. Common bonds lead to having shared experiences. Communal experiences strengthen the group dynamic, creating shared history and increasing understanding; students feel closer when they have gone through the same challenges and successes. This also leads to a mutually constructed culture; the community establishes norms and expected/acceptable behaviors.

Another key concept from that initial definition is belonging. Members of community feel that their some aspect of their identity is reflected by a specific group. However, self-identification alone does not lead to community inclusiveness. The individual must also be accepted by the existing group members. Therefore, a community both reflects and reinforces individual characteristics.

This belonging is also reinforced by an egalitarian power structure with foundations in “co-presence and interaction” (Pratt qtd. in Amy 114). This is valuation placed on each member, so that his or her contributions are respected and integrated. Even in communities where power may not be completely equitably distributed among members—a president or team captain for example—power variations are not abused. A community needs a balance between the freedom of speech and behavior and restriction of any violence, verbal or otherwise, that could be directed toward any member (Amy 120). Without co-presence and power balance, individuals are not likely to feel a sense of belonging and community become unsustainable

Meaningful communities must emerge organically. For example, in any of the groups listed above, there will be certain interactions that are established: class meetings, discussion board assignments, or an organization’s event. These interactions may dictate participation in a group, but without that phenomenological feeling, this is not a community. Communities do not “exist in every place, and the differences between places are not necessarily based on the differences between them as communities” (Brent 217). In other words, a community may develop in one class and not in another, even if the conditions set by the instructor—the place— are identical. Camaraderie can be invited by the group interactions, but whether a sense of community emerges seems to rely on the unique chemistry and psychology of the group’s individuals.

Interactivity versus Community:

Public blogs are often assigned in online writing courses, with students interacting in posts and responses, but whether this interaction is a community or simply the surface appearance of one is debatable. On the one hand, “even if an illusion,” community “has very real effects” (Brent 216). Junco et al’s study suggests that requiring students to interact using Twitter did lead to greater student engagement and academic achievement by clarifying content and providing emotional support. Even if the students did not feel they belonged to a community, the participation had real effects as Brent suggests. Therefore, even if assigning blog writing and responding does not establish a meaningful community, it will encourage interaction that in and of itself has benefits.
The assignment to write blogs in this course supports this argument because peer comments leads to affective relationships between classmates. I know that for me, when I saw that Carol, Laurie, Margie, and Daniel had left comments on my posts, I felt a greater sense of belonging and respect as a community member because I knew they took the time to read and respond. These relationships are then strengthened as I appreciated their efforts and reciprocated my feelings of respect.

However, there is also the argument that embedded within all communities is “conflict and division” (Brent 214). Cliques will be present in an online setting because virtual “communities mirror inequity” in society (Amy 117). Students are bound to be offended, remain silent, and not participate at all (Amy 117). As a result, the interactive blog assignment could potentially result in the kind of power inequities and rhetorical violence that devastate community-building efforts.

While violence did not occur in our class assignment, I can see how there was division. With the exception of Laurie, I have had previous classes with each of the aforementioned commentators. This suggests that within a community, previous experiences will impact how we interact. Others may feel excluded or not as well respected by some peers if they are not receiving the same level of interaction. Even if the selective interactions were a product of comfort rather than intentional exclusion, as Brent argues, effects can be very real.

Another issue is that blogs are not “informal rap sessions with close friends,” they are performances in a class for grades (Amy 122). For example, in the responses I had to my first blog post, I responded to Laurie’s post directly, but when she responded it was to the thread of discussion started by Carol’s response. Then Margie started yet a new direction for the conversations. This shows that although students may be reading and commenting, this work is not necessarily integrated in a way that develops deep communication and community. Responses may only be “performing” interaction for the instructor audience where the performance is satisfied by the existence of a post without sustained involvement.

Facilitating Community with Assignment Design:

Interaction has benefits even if that it does not result in a sense of community, so requiring commenting on blogs is worth noting as a design element. However, it is possible use assignment design to also encourage community in an online course if the right intangible mix of students exists—primarily with synchronous activities that can serve “the needs of writers in terms of forming community” (Breuch 151). Breuch notes that “speech patterns and behaviors become lost because of the disruptions of time and space that occur in virtual environments” (144). For example, when Margie left her comment on the first blog entry, I had already posted the last review and I did not respond to her directly. Online students can read and respond to one another at any time, but this can result in responses being posted after the writer has moved on to other assignments and concepts. If we responded to one another in real time, like we did with the tool review, it could overcome any time-related irrelevancy. Maybe adding break out groups, as afforded by Adobe Connect, would help students to engage with the reviews and build conversation that eliminates the effects of time separation. These groups could also help “students have the opportunity to get to know one another,” fostering new relationships and mediating the potentially divisive pre-existing relationships (Breuch 148).

Community Outside the Blog:

As many of my peers will probably discuss, our community lives vivaciously outside of the blogs in our Facebook class group. I started this closed group before our first class meeting, and was inspired to do so after having the experience of being invited to a group for previous classes. I wanted to repeat the positive experiences of support, humor, and clarification of content, which seems to align with Brent’s argument that “the concept of community always seems to contain nostalgia, the idea of an imagined past” (220). We also use this space to build community because it mimics the informal conversation and interaction that occurs in informal physical spaces like student lounges. Through sharing emotional experiences and challenges, we engage in the history-making, culture construction, and norm setting that builds community. Carol has even noted that she was not much of a Facebook user before the class, but engages there more and more. This is because even though a “community may lack tangible substance…it possesses a gravitational pull, a magnetic existence that creates real effects - at its best, social relationships of mutual care and responsibility” (Brent 221). We create these outside communities because we “desire to overcome the adversity of social life” (Brent 221). The adversity of graduate school is very real, and we all express feeling insecure about our abilities and our right to belong to the larger PhD program. We create community to feel accepted as we are, to find “connectedness in all [our] imperfections” (Brent 222). While the instructor may not be able to do more than set conditions for community to grow, not standing in the way of these informal connections is an important step in facilitating community. Past experiences and indirect instructor support are two powerful reasons why interaction outside the course assignments will occur and foster community.

Educational communities have enormous benefits to students. They often provide support and assistance both for personal and academic challenges. For groups facing especially difficult academic expectations, this support system function of community can help people enter “the maelstrom rather than succumb to it” (Brent 216). This support system can often be the difference between discontinued or sustained academic participation, and should therefore be encouraged at every level of the institution.

Works Cited:

Amy, Lori E.. “Rhetorical Violence and the Problematics of Power: A Notion for the Digital Age Classroom.” Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Jonathan Alexander and Marcia Dickson. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2006. 111-132. Print.

Brent, Jeremy. “The Desire for Community: Illusion, Confusion, and Paradox.” Community Development
39.3 (2004). 213-223. Web. 17 Jun. 2014.

Breuch, Lee-Ann Kastman. “Enhancing Online Collaboration: Virtual Peer Review in the Writing Classroom.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelly Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood, 2005. 141-156. Print.

Junco, Reynal, C. Michael Elavsky, and Greg Heiberger. “Putting Twitter to the Test: Assessing Outcomes for Student Collaboration, Engagement and Success.” British Journal of Educational Technology 44.2 (2013): 273-287. EBSCO. Web. 26 May 2014.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Penzu Video Review

Watch the video below for a tour of Penzu and discussion of how it could facilitate the use of journals in an online writing course (complete with audio appearances by John and Francesca...).

This is the YouTube published version - just as fuzzy as the one above in full-screen mode, but I think that has to do with the resolution I used to record it in the first place. I don't think there is a way to get better quality in full-screen mode unfortunately unless I re-record it with higher resolution...


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pedagogical Tool Review

For online writing instructors looking to incorporate an interactive journal component into their courses, Penzu is web-based diary that could easily facilitate such an educational purpose. Basic journal accounts on Penzu are free with a valid email address. Penzu emphasizes personal privacy and boasts of military-grade encryption, which together with the distinguishes this service from public blogs or websites. The interface has the appearance of a paper notebook with the current date and the option to title the entry. Text is entered in the body of the page. A tool bar at the top of the pad allows for numerous format and font changes, insertion of images, and sharing a link to the individual entry via email. One fun feature is the inspiration light bulb that will display a quote or question at the top of the entry that writers can respond to if searching for a topic.

Easy to use, intuitive interface that mimics a notebook page.
Automatic prompts can help the reluctant writer find a topic.

Individuals with whom the entry link has been shared will receive email notification, and can easily add comments by simply responding to the email. Users will receive an email notification that a comment has been left and will see an alert upon logging in. Comments can be viewed at the top of the entry, but do not interact with the entry itself. At anytime, the user can choose to “unshare” an entry and link becomes invalid. 

Users can share single entries, but not the entire journal, selectively by email. They can choose to have the entry appear in the email, or just provide a link. The latter affords greater student control as the instructor will not have an archive of the text.

Instructor comments appear at the top of the entry, but do not interact with the entry itself, keeping the integrity of the student work in tact as opposed to inline commenting that can make students feel self-conscious.

Work is automatically saved to the cloud as typing occurs, to more closely mimic the experience of writing on paper and more readily preserve the entry. From a table of contents list, there is a search function that allows users to enter keywords to find related entries. Users can also request to be sent reminders to create entries at regular intervals. The content is completely controlled by the user and can be deleted entirely at any time. 

Table of contents and search feature allow for retrieval of entries for potential use in formal writing.

Students can set reminders in accordance with assignment requirements.

Penzu also has free mobile apps for iPhone and Android, so users can add entries on these devices as well. Accounts can be started on the website, or the apps can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play as well as from the website. Although the audience for the free accounts is primarily the general public, but they do offer a classroom version with greater functionality for a $49.00 annual fee. Some of the educationally-aimed features of that service are the option to provide inline comments, a grade book, assignment creation, and centralized management of all student work. 

A list of the added functionality of the classroom version, notably centralized management of student submissions and  letting students create entries by email for easier access.

Overall, Penzu is a quick and easy close-approximation of the paper journal, with additional affordances and enhanced privacy. This tool would best be adopted in composition courses by instructors wanting to add a dialogue journal component to their courses. Dialogue journals are an ongoing conversation between the instructor and individual students that foster positive rapport, engagement, and academic achievement (Holmberg qtd. in Danowski 100). Students can be given writing prompts that may or may not be related to course content, but both types help students improve writing skills and develop stronger relationships with the instructor, an important determinant of student success and satisfaction. This type of written exchange is highly interactive, which is “vital is successful pedagogy” (Danowski 99). It is important to consider how to develop interaction like this so as to mediate students’ feelings of social isolation as noted by Mann, Varey, and Button and Huws (qtd. in Hantula and Pawlowicz 150). 

This kind of low-stakes writing also reduces student anxiety and provides a comfortable space for exploration outside of the public sphere. Although discussion boards can promote a sense of community through student-to-student interaction, students can sometimes be reluctant to expose their ideas and display their skills in such a setting. However, online composition instructors should strongly consider incorporating journals since learners in communities of inquiry must have the “freedom to explore ideas, question, and construct meaning,” which journals can provide (Brabazon 15).

Private journals can offer the benefits of low-stakes writing without the pressure of the larger peer audience and have been a staple of FYW programs, but have been difficult to simulate in an online setting. Yet we should strive to find ways to incorporate time-tested pedagogical practices into online courses rather than abandon them in favor of activities using new technologies, remembering that successful online education “e-learning ‘is marked by a juxtaposition of new technology and old pedagogy’” merging “the best of traditional and Web-based learning experiences” (Brabazon 7-8). And journals are certainly one such traditional pedagogy, credited with aiding prewriting, generating and organizing ideas, promoting creativity, providing a pleasurable experience with writing, and encouraging critical thinking (Danowski 103). It is also encouraged that instructors begin with “pedagogical assumptions” that de-emphasize “the search for technological solutions,” to start designing online courses around pedagogy and not around the affordances of a particular technology (Cook 59). The free, basic version of Penzu provides instructors this kind of blended approach honoring the tradition of journal benefits with the needs of teaching and learning online. It is an easy to use system for encouraging private student writing that can be selectively shared and features a comment function to facilitate dialogue.

In addition to the relational and educational benefits of dialogue journals, they also afford greater student agency over their own writing, a significant difference from similar types of writing assignments facilitated by traditional course managements systems like Blackboard. Penzu shifts the ownership of the work from the course to the student. With this program, students have their own space to write outside of the course, and they choose which entries they share with the instructor. They can also use the “unshare” feature to revert an entry to private, and they can choose to deactivate the account entirely upon the completion of the course. While it is unclear what entities might have access to entries at Penzu, the student is at least not conceding ownership to the school. Nevertheless, this ownership is something “administrators and instructor[s] need to understand the implications of” when “selecting OWI technologies” (DePew). Students control their own archives, which is an ethical position in the conversation of technology-mediated composition. This autonomy mirrors the shift toward independence in technologically mediated learning and future working environments (Hantula and Pawlowicz 153).

The student-centered focus continues with the features of mobility and accessibility that favor their lifestyles. Blackboard can be cumbersome to navigate on phones and tablets, with numerous log-in screens and multiple pages to click through before accessing the discussion board. Often these devices are not fully supported by the system and do not display full functionality. However, these are the preferred devices for students, and Penzu’s simple interface, cloud storage, and mobile apps afford additional, direct access to the journal without the obstacles of Blackboard. They can also write an entry wherever and whenever they have time with their phones, which accommodates their often busy lifestyles - a student could write an entry as quickly as a text message when on a work break or riding a bus.

One of the other benefits is that Penzu is free, which is important to both students and budget-conscious departments when considering new services. It is also much simpler technology to learn because it approximates the familiar notebook, which is an advantage—especially for non-traditional students who are often enrolled in online courses for lifestyle reasons— over other blogs that have far more functions that can distract from the kind of freewriting that make journals successful and have more complex interfaces that may even require basic html knowledge. Unlike simply assigning and responding to freewrites though, Penzu keeps student writing collected and the search function allows for the retrieval of what often amounts to prewriting for formal assignments. These benefits in particular fulfill the CCCC OWI Principle 1, which emphasizes financial accessibility, flexible access, and simple, intuitive use for all users regardless of technological proficiency (Hewett 6).

Responding to dialogue journals is time-consuming, which can be a challenge for online writing instructors who are already investing more time than for face-to-face classes. However, the investment builds strong rapport, which facilitates motivation, effort, achievement, satisfaction, and retention. The benefit of dialogue journals is what often encourages instructors to use them despite the increased workload, but Penzu may help make the work faster. When the student shares the entry, the instructor can both read it and respond to it in their email. The instructor is then also freed of the cumbersome interface and navigation of the course management system and can respond to students as easily as they can create entries, anywhere and on anything that allows email access. While this may potentially clog already overburdened email accounts, the instructor could create a dedicated email address for journaling or consider upgrading to the classroom version. Warnock suggests several methods for journaling online, but none (blogs, emails, Word documents, or message board threads) offer the agency, privacy, or accessibility of Penzu (103). Overall, this program should be tested in a classroom setting for broader use in dialogue journals in an OWI course.

Works Cited:

Brabazon, Tara. Digital Hemlock: Internet Education and the Poisoning of Teaching. Kennington, NSW: University of New South Wales Press, 2002. Print.

Cook, Kelli Cargile. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood, 2005. 49-66. Print.

Danowski, Debbie. “Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Leading Discussions in Cyberspace.” Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Jonathan Alexander and Marcia Dickson. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2006. 97-108. Print.

DePew, Kevin. “Chapter 14: Preparing Instructors and Students for the Rhetoricity of OWI Technologies.” unpublished manuscript from Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew.

Hantula, Donald A. and Darleen M. Pawlowicz. “Chapter Six: Education Mirrors Industry: On the Not-So Surprising Rise of Internet Distance Education.” The Distance Education Evolution: Issues and Case Studies. Eds. Dominique Monolescu, Catherine Schifter, Linda Greenwood. Hershey, PA: Science Publishing, 2004. 142-162. Print.

Hewett, Beth. “Chapter 1: Foundational Principles that Ground OWI.” unpublished manuscript from Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew. 1-48.

Warnock, Scott. Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2009. Print.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blog Assignment #5: Article Review

Mandernach, Jean B., Amber Dailey-Herbert, and Emily Donnelli-Sallee. “Frequency and Time Investment of Instructors’ Participation in Threaded Discussions in the Online Classroom.” Journal of Interactive Online Learning 6.1 (2007). 1-9. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Jun. 2014.

The authors of this study acknowledge the significant investment of time initially required to prepare a course for online delivery; however, they are interested in the time demands on faculty in facilitating an established online course. This study aims to establish some “empirical information to guide the frequency and nature” of faculty involvement in asynchronous discussions; evidence-supported information the authors note as underrepresented in the literature (2). They argue that with students’ increased expectations for instructor availability, greater quantitative data about the investment of time is needed. This quantitative study evaluated a random sample of ten undergraduate courses that students rated as highly effective in promoting understanding of course material. The authors analyzed the course management archives for each course. The results indicate that faculty time spent facilitating discussions is highly variable: each week faculty responses ranged from 0-22 posts, their time logged in ranged from 22-450 minutes, and they logged in on 4-6.8 days. The authors conclude that facilitating discussions in “online courses may not take any more time than facilitating discussion in face-to-face courses, but that “the time investment is distributed differently throughout the week” with greater time spent working on the weekends being “one of the biggest shifts in online faculty workloads” (6). The authors caution that the study is limited in that it does not measure other means of facilitation that cumulatively require greater time demands. I find this study helpful in that it begins to measure the amount of time needed to complete the various functions of the online instructor. Anecdotally, teachers in online courses report that they are making a significant investment of time, but studies like this can provide the kind of administratively valued quantitative data needed when arguing for limiting online class size or reduction of teaching loads. As courses are encouraged to be moved online, considerations must be made for the workload inequity between online and face-to-face courses. The collation of previous studies of the increased demands on time and the value of discussion threads in the literature review are especially useful for building an evidence-based case for reasonable online faculty course loads and class sizes and for the pedagogical value of incorporating discussion when designing courses. I think that although the authors are not willing to suggest guidelines based on this study, it is useful as a starting point for new instructors wondering how much time to spend responding to students. The mean time spent in discussion boards was 187 minutes per week over a mean of five days each week. I think this is valuable because the students reported that these courses were highly effective, and with this in mind, instructors can remind themselves that daily, extensive involvement in discussion boards is not necessary: a little more than three hours over five days can be enough. This is obviously not the only responsibility of the online instructor, and more time will be spent in other ways, but it can help to find at least one boundary.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blog Assignment #4: Article Review

Murphy, Elizabeth and Maria A. Rodriquez-Manzanares. “Rapport in Distance Education.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 13.1 (Jan 2012). 167-190. ERIC. Web. 4 Jun. 2014.

Murphy and Rodriquez-Manzanares’s study examines distance education teacher-student rapport. They focus on the indicators of rapport, the challenges to the distance educator in building rapport, and the reasons why rapport is important. For the purposes of this study, rapport is defined as “harmonious interactions between teachers and students,” and relationships with “mutual understanding and satisfactory communication” (168). This qualitative study included 42 distance education teachers, with data collected in individual interviews with participants, the transcripts of which were coded and unitized according to thematic similarities. To establish the importance of rapport as a classroom variable, the authors first provide an extensive literature review of texts arguing that rapport is linked to “enhanced learning, attention, motivation, attendance, and involvement for students” (168). They also provide a synthesis and classification of rapport manifestations from the literature into the following categories: honesty/respect, support/monitoring, individual recognition, sharing/mirroring, social interaction, accessibility, caring, and effective communication. One study result is that distance education lacks the benefit of face-to-face communication and thus has a heightened need for rapport’s effects on student learning and motivation. In addition, there exist specific challenges to building rapport at a distance, specifically geographic dispersion, asynchronicity, heavy teacher workloads restricting time to invest in rapport-building activities, software limitations, and teachers not recognizing positive rapport as a significant aspect of learning. Murphy and Rodriquez-Manzanares argue the most significant of the rapport categories apparent in the literature are individual recognition, accessibility, and social interaction; however, due to the nature of distance education, there are two additional necessary manifestations of rapport: having non-text-based interactions (such as video conferencing) and paying attention to the tone of interactions (generally positive and jovial). Following the findings, the authors provide charts of behaviors, specific to distance education, that can build rapport in each of the identified categories. The authors suggest these charts can be used prescriptively by distance education teachers interested in building rapport. Finally, they conclude that unlike the spontaneous rapport-building in the face-to-face classroom, rapport in the distance classroom must be premeditated, consciously promoted, and is only achieved with a significant investment of time and more work. I strongly recommend this article to both researchers in the field of distance education and those looking to enhance their online pedagogical practices. The authors’ work in classifying rapport are both theoretically and practically significant. Rapport tends to be a variable that borders of the mystical, as an intangible outcome of the classroom chemistry and thus irreproducible or transferrable. However, this work provides specific rapport categories and how to achieve each one. The authors note as well, that this provides a starting point for future research in developing and refining rapport categories while giving teachers applications to use at the same time. If rapport is as significant to student success as the literature suggests, then this article is an important initial steps in moving the variable toward the quantifiable, measureable, and implementable.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blog Assignment #3: Article Review

Conner, Tonya. “Relationships First.” Journal of Global Intelligence & Policy 6.11 (2013). 37-41. EBSCO. Web. 2 Jun. 2014.

Conner’s article is essentially a literature review of works supporting her assertion that the relationships between students and teachers are the keys to student engagement and success. She attempts to provide evidence for this conclusion by presenting a discursive context of several other studies as well as theoretical arguments. Conner begins with related theory; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that posits connections with people is an individual’s first requirement after physiological necessities are met. Maslow’s assertion of the importance of relationships is ultimately an emotional need, which Conner connects to education through Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris’s argument that student engagement is behavioral, cognitive, and emotional. From this position, Conner is able to collect theories claiming that teachers—more than any other factor—are responsible for students’ emotional engagement. This claim essentially rests on Skinner and Belmont’s declaration that “when children experience teachers as warm and affectionate… [they] are more enthusiastic in class” (qtd. in Conner). Additional support for this comes from Uline and Tschannen-Moran’s suggestion that teachers’ dispositions are linked to students’ academic achievement. These and other theoretical conclusions are followed by Conner’s summary of various related qualitative and quantitative studies. She begins with a review of her own 2011 mixed methods study that found after analysis of student surveys that “building rapport between teachers and students is a priority among respondents.” A 2004 study by Crosnoe et al concluded that positive affective ties with a teacher resulted in better grades. Mikami et al studied the effects of an educator-training program, My Teaching Partner-Secondary (MTP-S), which targets building positive relationships with students. This study found that students if the teachers trained in the program not only improved academics, but also decreased behavioral problems and improved peer-to-peer relationships. Conner includes qualitative published works based on anecdotal evidence that emphasize the positive effects of strong, caring, invested student-teacher relationships. This article also reviews the literature on the effects of positive collegial relationships between teachers. What I find to be most helpful about this article is the work it has done to gather significant works in the field of student-teacher relationships. The inclusion of both theoretical and study-based texts is especially useful for researchers looking to defend pedagogical practices that enhance relationships between the teacher and the student. This is important because these practices may not be in and of themselves immediately recognizable as academically relevant, such as taking time out of instruction to talk about hobbies, but these authors convincingly argue that there is a highly positive cumulative effect on achievement, motivation, and engagement. It is also useful as an introduction to the topic with a bibliography that supports further study. Although many of the included texts focus on secondary education, the theoretical arguments apply to post-secondary students as well. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blog Assignment #2: Article Review

Andrusyszyn , Mary-Anne and Lynn Davie. “Facilitating Reflection through Interactive Journal Writing in an Online Graduate Course: A Qualitative Study.” International Journal or E-Learning & Distance Education 12.1 (1997). 103-126. Web. 28 May 2014.

Andrusyszyn and Davie’s article relates the methods, data, and results of a qualitative study in which students in a computer-mediated course engaged in journal writing with instructor feedback. They use a qualitative method by an analysis of journal transcripts and interviews of five students and one instructor. This study of journal use is part of a larger project examining the facilitation of reflection in an online course. Reflection in this study is defined as “intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciations.” The authors conclude that interactive journal writing leads to greater student reflection, and she argues that journals should be “carefully considered” as productive tools in an online course as they have been in traditional learning environments. I would argue that this study has compelling ramifications for several areas of research. First, the definition of reflection in this study indicates that it occurs when “individuals engage,” so research on increasing student engagement in online courses would benefit from considering the role of journals as suggested by the authors. It would also be helpful for research into pedagogical tools that aid critical thinking in an asynchronous course where class discussion and collaborative learning can be problematic. The study notes that “the volume of dialogue generated and the asynchronous medium can make it difficult to link disconnected threads of a discussion conceptually,” but journaling “promotes the synthesis of ideas.” Lastly, and most interesting to my own research, is the potential for this study to support the use of dialogue (interactive) journals as a means to build rapport in an online course. The authors find that “journal writing encouraged the use of personal voice and increased the warmth of an academic environment,” and that “there seemed to be a partnership, a mutual respect, a balanced, reciprocal, collegial relationship evident in the interactions between the instructor and students.” While this suggests that journals have a powerful and positive effect on relationships, there is no quantitative evidence to suggest that these relationships improved student performance. The students perceived the activity as meaningful and helpful in deepening their reflections, but the question remains unanswered here as to whether this has academic transference. It should also be noted that the study is limited by its small sample. The process of responding to student writing is time consuming. The instructor in the study only needed to write back and guide five students. It is not reasonable to think that for an average class size the quality and length of responses would be equal to what was produced in the study. This could diminish the positive effect of reflection and rapport if put into practice. Overall, the study is useful as evidence for a larger, more comprehensive study of dialogue journals in the classroom.