Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing Self-Efficacy is not the same thing as confidence

Self-efficacy is not the same thing as confidence. Confidence is often equated with arrogance or hubris and may have little relation to actual ability. Self-efficacy on the other hand is based on real factors. The primary sources of self-efficacy are actual performance experience, comparisons with and observations of the performances of others, what others say about your performance, and your general physical well-being at the moment. So, for example, say that you are a runner. Your running self-efficacy will be determined by how well you have run in similar situations in the past, how your running compares with other runners, the feedback you have received about your running, and your general sense of well-being and preparedness for the challenge at the time. Self-efficacy is a much more informed self-evaluation than confidence and that is why self-efficacy is important to performance.

This sense of informed self-evaluation is also why I believe writing self-efficacy plays an important role in transfer. It is a key part of self-knowledge that will help continue growth and development long after students have left the classroom. Writing self-efficacy is not the same thing as the first-semester student who tells me she got all A's in high school English or that his mom thinks he is a good writer. I can't tell my students they are great and see their writing self-efficacy increase. In order for my students to gain writing self-efficacy they need the opportunity to perform -- they need to write -- hopefully giving both deep and broad experiences, but they also need the opportunity to compare their performance, their writing, to that of others which then helps them judge the quality of the feedback they receive from others about their writing.

I don't want to simply go through the motion of preparing my students for their future writing challenges -- I want to increase their own sense of preparedness and their sense of writing self-efficacy.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why am I studying writing self-efficacy?

I don't believe the ability to write is a gift from the Muse. I believe becoming a competent writer can be learned, but I do not believe it can be taught. This is especially true of the way that we so often teach writing -- with a sort of inoculation instruction focused on "mutt genres" intended to prevent future bad writing that may help student writers in the short term, but not in the long term. I am not all that confident of the "may help" either, because all too often, I believe it does more harm than good by reinforcing students' belief that they will never, can never, be writers. This is very harmful indeed because writing is such an essential part of communicating today. I think we can better serve our students by shifting our focus away from teaching context-less writing lessons and focus more on helping them become writers.

Writing is a complex skill that requires that the writer be able to evaluate the context, understand the needs of the discourse community, and work within the appropriate genre as defined by that community to appropriately meet the requirements of the situation. Preparing students to handle the infinite variety of situations such complexity creates seems a hopeless task to me. Worse, teaching students that writing is simpler and easier to master than it actually is undermines their confidence and competence. So how do we prepare them? How do we help them become writers?

My goal is for my students to become self-directed and self-regulated writers. I use a two-pronged approach to achieve this goal. First, my writing classes are focused on "writing about writing" to help my students understand how to study a context and discourse community so they can choose the appropriate genre and work with it as determined by that context. I tailor this approach to the level of students and expectations for the class so it is different for my first-year students than it is for my graduate students and so on. Equally important to this effort is my focus on agency and self-efficacy. In order for my students to be ready, willing, and able to take this much control upon themselves they need to have confidence in their ability to address the task at hand and belief in their ability to to control their own destiny. In order to become writers, they need both self-efficacy and agency.

Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy beliefs as a person’s belief in their capability to produce the desired effect through deliberate action. This is similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy in that positive self-efficacy beliefs lead to positive outcomes and negative self-efficacy beliefs lead to negative outcomes. Decades of research in diverse fields has shown that self-efficacy is a more consistent predictor of behavioral outcomes than other self beliefs. In particular, research suggests that beliefs about writing processes and competence are instrumental to the writer’s ultimate success as a writer. This is because self-efficacy beliefs influence an individual’s chosen course of action, perseverance, resiliency, sense of optimism or pessimism, and reaction to stress and depression. Sources of self-efficacy are performance or mastery experience; vicarious experience, such as observations and social comparisons; social persuasions; and physiological state. However, Bandura emphasizes the fact that agency and self-efficacy are interdependent. In order to make the decision to act, people must believe they have the power as well as the capability to act.

That is why I am studying writing self-efficacy. I want to better understand how people become writers so I can help my students become the self-directed and self-regulated confident writers they need to become to succeed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tweet, Tweet: This is My Class on Twitter

I admit it. I'm an avid reader of ProfHacker and often find myself inspired by ideas I find there -- ideas such as teaching with Twitter (Framework and Practical Advice). I also have several colleagues who tried Tweeting with their students and so it has been something I've thought about for a while. This semester I was inspired to use Twitter with my students for these reasons as well as the fact that my basic focus for the class was to explore the idea of writing for different audiences and for different purposes. Also, as I frequently teach online (as I am this semester) I was looking for a way to improve communication and increase the connections we make in class.

In the past I have worked to channel class communication to take place within BlackBoard and restrict the use of other channels of communication, such as email, to specific discussion of private issues, such as grades. I did use online chat programs, such as Instant Messenger, to confer with students about papers but this was hardly a daily occurrence. While the restriction of class interaction to BlackBoard did make teaching dozens of students more manageable and make all information available to everyone -- and not just the student who asked the right question -- it doesn't really promote a lot of give-and-take (in general). I have had (and am participating in some right now) great discussions in BlackBoard but there is also a lot of one-way communication rather than an actual conversation. Plus, the simple truth is that you have to log into BlackBoard to join the conversation. For busy students (and teachers) this doesn't happen as frequently as is possible using a communication channel such as Twitter. I have Twitter on the home page of my computer and mobile devices. I never just glance at BlackBoard like I do Twitter.

One of the reasons that I like Twitter for myself (the person, not the teacher) is that it allows me to communicate with friends and colleagues immediately. I can glance at my Twitter feed (as I do several times a day) to see what they are doing and/or thinking. Sometimes it is something interesting to me professionally and sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is poignant. I love these glimpses into the lives of my friends but I also love the ability to stay in touch with what is going on in the world as well as my profession.

I have found that pushing my students on to Twitter offers me similar glimpses into their lives. Whenever I check my class Twitter feed I gain new insight into who my students are and what interests them. Granted sometimes there is Too-Much-Information because some students don't filter but in general I know when someone is feeling under the weather or overwhelmed by life. I would not have known either of those things in a traditional online class although probably would have in a face-to-face one. While I might not really care what my students ate for dinner last night, I do like knowing more about their lives outside of class as it makes them more real and more accessible. I think for that reason Twitter has made me a better teacher.

However, more than simple personal benefits, Twitter has had a direct impact on my teaching and the class in other ways that are beneficial. I can push out messages via Twitter that I would have previously had to send via announcements or email. Those methods work but also require more effort on the part of the students to access (they have to log into BlackBoard or their email server to see if there is anything new). They also seem so formal and heavy handed that I try to use them sparingly. I do post a new "Announcement" in BlackBoard every week (more if something comes up) but hate to overuse it. I can Tweet once or twice a day and it feels much more informal and more accessible. Of course that is my perception. We'll see how the students feel about it.

I have not required a certain number of Tweets from my students but instead required that they Tweet about certain things at certain times -- for example, Tweet about the reading selection you just posted to the class annotated bibliography on the class blog. This seems to have worked fairly well. Students are posting regularly about class business as well as personal lives. What I have found is that these posts help me keep track of the various subjects that students are working on (they were tasked to choose a theme for the class that included their intended profession) because I am getting regular reminders of these subjects. I hope the students are also seeing these trends and intersections among their work.

A month into the semester and I feel that Twitter has helped me get to know my online students better and to stay connected with them, so I feel my experiment has been worthwhile. In the end, the proof will be in the pudding -- did it improve my students' experience in the class? Some students have already commented that they feel more connected and like knowing there are real people "out there" reading their messages and classwork, but other students have complained that there are too many places where information must be posted and tracked. This is a valid complaint as I am using a class blog in addition to BlackBoard and Twitter. I wanted to open multiple channels of communication this semester and we'll just have to wait until the end of the semester to determine if that was a good choice, but, right now, from where I'm sitting, I'm pretty happy with my choice.