Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Friday, August 26, 2011

Community and Social Capital

Spinuzzi (2003) argues that “community implies more than simply information swapping” but notes that some communities “lack the sort of infrastructure necessary to do more” (p. 217). He contends that successful communities require a wide range of civic mechanisms not just communication mechanisms and notes that these civic mechanisms share information but also investigate and evaluate past efforts and current actions as well as deliberate on future developments.

This means that successful communities do more than share information – they are learning organisms. Information sharing is an important function of a community, and often a primary reason for its formation, but in order to be successful the community must also exert social control so the community’s resources (information) are utilized in the best way possible for the community as a whole. Even more important, the future success and health of the community requires that new resources must be cultivated and developed. That is why it is important to understand social capital as this theory offers important insights to further understanding of how a community functions.

Portes (2000) calls social capital one of the most successful “exports” from sociology in recent decades. Social capital is comprised of the collective features of a social organization that enables mutual cooperation for mutual benefit (Gargiulo & Benassi, 2000; Burt, 2001; Portes, 1998; Onyx & Bullen, 2000; Kawachi, Kennedy, & Glass, 1999; Hofman & Dijkstra, 2010; Fukuyama, 2001). Hofman & Dijkstra (2010) say social capital gives us access to different resources through our social connections. An individual’s willingness to act on behalf of the common good depends greatly on their sense of community (Lochner, Kawachi, & Kennedy, 1999) and the mutual advantage of belonging to that community (Onyx & Bullen, 2000). Lochner, Kawachi, & Kennedy (1999) argue that social cohesion plays an important role in individuals’ willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good. They suggest social capital is an ecological characteristic of the social structure.

Not every community, group, or organization develops social capital. Portes (1998) argues that social networks are not “a natural given” but instead “must be constructed through investment strategies.” The community must have a number of features in order to develop social capital. First, membership must be voluntary and offer equal opportunity. This is essential to fostering the trust that is necessary for social capital. Onyx & Bullen (2000) also stress the notion of reciprocity or the combination of short-term altruism and long-term self-interest. Community members must also trust in the community and that the social norms embraced by the community will provide sufficient social control. Onyx & Bullen (2000) stress it is the combined effect of trust, networks, norms, and reciprocity which creates a strong community that is mutually advantageous.

So why do community members engage in the difficult and challenging work necessary to build a community and establish social capital? As Spinuzzi notes, many communities form out of an initial need to share information but Portes (2000) argues they persist for the benefits that they will bring later. Burt (2001) points out that building social capital is a form of investment and those with higher social capital experience higher returns. Portes (1998) makes the case that social capital offers three basic benefits: social control, support, and connections. Hofman & Dijkstra (2010) says organizations use social capital to coordinate actions without relying on formal authority or traditional influences. Garguilo & Benassi (2000) argue that social networks facilitate access to information, resources, and opportunities. Portes (1998) also points out that social capital also comes with disadvantages such as exclusion of outsiders, excessive claims on members, restriction of individual freedom, and downward leveling norms.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2012 CCCC Acceptance

Very excited to receive the news that I was accepted to present at the 63rd Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, which will be held in St. Louis, MO, March 21-24, 2012.

I am presenting as part of a panel "Tranfer: The Gateway to Writing in Multiple Contexts" which includes Heather Hill and Misty Winzenried of the University of Washington and Elizabeth Fogle of Penn State Erie. Our panel will present research results on the transferability of writing in several disciplinary and workplace contexts. It will discuss pedagogies that may possibly aid students in transferring what they know and suggest possible solutions to the problem of transfer.

My specific presentation will share the results of research exploring the impact of recent pedagogical theories focused on helping writers understand how writing works and the implications of these theories for assessment and transfer. The speaker will use results from three mixed-methods studies to address the impact of the pedagogy on writing self-efficacy, or the belief that the individual possesses the skill and knowledge to successfully perform a specific task. Research data will be shared concerning the short- and long-term effects of this pedagogy utilizing case studies generated from three mixed-methods studies including students in first- and second-semester undergraduate writing as well as graduate writing classes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Creating a Classroom Community

Lately I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the idea of community. In part because my current research focuses on that topic and I’m fortunate enough to have a great group of likeminded friends and colleagues with which to collaborate (my own little research community about community) but also because this is the time of year when I am building my fall courses. I have always included ice breakers and various “get to know your classmates” activities. I am not alone in this effort. Just last night I helped my 10-year-old son fill a paper bag with items to share with his fifth-grade class for precisely that purpose. I imagine all across my county (and beyond) there were school children engaged in similar activities.

Of course, simply placing people in the same room and sharing a few facts about each other does not a community make. It certainly relaxes the classroom atmosphere and helps the teacher learn names, which are of course worthwhile results, but what does make a classroom community and why should we care?

I care for two reasons. In the short term, I believe that creating a learning community supports writers and writing and fosters learning. Rovai (2002) reports that studies have shown that strong feelings of community increase persistence in courses, flow of information among learners, availability of support, and satisfaction. In addition, according to Rovai, students who are part of a classroom community are less likely to cut class or come to class unprepared. Finally, Rovai says community decreases student burn out and increases overall retention. Obviously, classroom community can’t replace teaching and learning but my own experience (as well as the research) tells me that it makes teaching and learning more fun and everyone benefits.

In the long term, I am also interested in helping my writing students understand how communities shape the communication that takes place within them. I am not interested in teaching my students context-less forms and rules. As NCTE’s position statement about the teaching of writing notes: “Literate practices are embedded in complicated social relationships.” I want to help my students learn about the ways that different communities use communication (written communication in particular) and how writers can learn the rules and expectations of those communities. This is our class project. I hope that by making the goals of my classroom activities and assignments explicit and discussing the formation of our own classroom community as well as their developing knowledge will help them negotiate future community memberships and communications.

However, before we begin with that challenging work we will need to work to become a community. This, of course, does begin with those ice breakers and introductory activities. As my class is online and asynchronous I have chosen to use Twitter and the six-word memoir as our initial activity. Then, during the first weeks of the semester, we will Tweet about our lives and activities and thoughts. In the past when I have used Twitter this has been one of the ways that I have developed a sense of my students as people. I hope encouraging (requiring) this activity will help us get to know each other and lay the foundation for our classroom community.

Of course, to truly become a community we need more than “mutual engagement” (which I suppose is pretty expected of any class), according to Zucchermaglio & Talamo (2003). We also need joint enterprise. I hope that my planned ongoing discussions of our class project and the continued sharing of the individual projects that contribute to our larger work will help us create and sustain a classroom community.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Analyzing my lesson of the day

I learned something today and that always makes for a good day. Unfortunately (or typically might be more accurate) what I learned is that there are gaps in my knowledge. Today I didn’t really begin to fill in those gaps but I am locating their boundaries so I suppose that makes today productive. Even better it gives me a plan for future work.

I have learned that I don’t know a whole lot about rhetorical analysis and that I will need to do quite a bit of study before I’m ready to embark on my next research project. This shouldn’t be shocking. While I have a number of research methods courses under my belt (thank you TTU TCR program), my dissertation project didn’t employ the type (or depth) of rhetorical analysis that I expect my current project will require. In fact another thing I’ve learned is that there is a whole lot more I can do with my existing data but that will be another project and another day.

For today, I think it is enough that I have expanded my understanding of what I know (and don’t know) about content analysis, discourse analysis, and rhetorical analysis. According to Huckin, content analysis is analyzing semantic data in text(s) to uncover underlying rhetorical themes/patterns. Barton describes discourse analysis as the study of the ways in which language in different communicative events function to create and reflect aspects of culture. Selzer defines rhetorical analysis as the study of how people in specific social situations influence others through language. Understanding what separates these different types of analyses is helpful to me as I knew I wanted to analyze a specific set of texts but was unsure which method to employ. I now understand that while I used content analysis (in a most basic form) as part of my mixed methods dissertation research I will more likely utilize discourse analysis for my next project.

My next project will focus on four documents, a type of annual report, that provide yearly snapshots for a group’s transformation from organization in crisis to thriving community. I am interested in what these communicative events can teach us about the evolution of the culture and community of this organization. I’m pretty excited about this project and can’t wait to dive in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Research Agenda

One of the most exciting things about life post-dissertation is the freedom to embark on new and interesting research. Of course this is also a little frightening (if I’m honest more than a little…). After all, so many things excite interest and I also need to think about what type of rhetorician I wish to be so that I can attract the interest of the types of institutions and academic programs I want to join. However, sifting and sorting the scraps of paper and digital notations that reflect my interests, questions, and random thoughts I do find that there is some method to my madness and definite trends and links. I am relieved to note that I do actually have a research agenda even if at this point in my career it is more agenda than action. I am interested in agency and efficacy, communities of practice and learning, and digital digital rhetoric.

While my dissertation research focused on agency and efficacy, I still have many research avenues and questions to pursue in that area. However, even as I continue to collect data related to this project, my immediate research focus is going to focus on other areas. I have always been fascinated by the ideas of collaboration and negotiation in communities of practice and learning communities. I want to study these issues in terms of technical communication and pedagogy. I think this is my number one priority right now and I’m pretty excited about it.

My interest in digital digital rhetoric continues. This interests me as a technical communicator as well as a teacher. The TC-geek part of me is always enamored by new tools and tricks. Also, as an administrator I am always seeking new ways to facilitate communication with my various constituencies. Of course, as an online teacher I also want to facilitate communication with my students as well as prepare them to negotiate those channels and prepare them to face the ever-changing digital communication frontier. Currently, my interest in this area overlaps with my interest in community. How does digital communication help and hinder the development and work of communities?

There. I feel so much better to have a research agenda and plan. Now I better go do something about it...