Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Studying how writers become writers

My research studied how one group of Appalachian women became writers. I followed this group during their year-long experience with a National Writing Project Summer Institute in order to better understand this process of becoming a writer and the role of writing self-efficacy and writing apprehension in this development.

I pursued this project because I think we can do a better job of fostering writing development. I define myself as a rhetorician and like Wayne Booth, in The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, I consider myself a student of rhetoric. My favorite definition of rhetoric is borrowed from Andrea Lunsford who defines rhetoric as "the art, practice, and study of [all] human communication." I agree with Booth that the quality of our lives – indeed our survival – depends on the quality of our rhetoric. Rhetoric can, and does, change the world. However, decades of working with writers, both as a professional writer and as a teacher of writers, has taught me that many lack confidence in their ability to communicate effectively. This is what drives me to study the process of becoming a writer and the role that writing self-efficacy and writing apprehension play in this process. Cheryl Geisler defines rhetoric as a productive art and says that rhetorical inquiry should "make a difference in the world". She asks how we can create a better society through the pursuit of rhetoric.

An important step toward this goal of a better society is fostering the growth and development of future rhetoricians. Many people do not consider themselves writers and do not believe they can become writers. Often writing instruction does little or nothing to change these beliefs as it focuses on the development of specific skills and writing in specific contexts – rather than attending to the growth and development of the writer.

We can, and should, do both. The process of learning and developing new skills can actually support the growth and development of a writer if we are mindful. My dissertation study is a good example. A National Writing Project Summer Institute is primarily a learning community. While participants are heavily engaged in the practice of writing they are also demonstrating and researching professional practices. While writing activities take place every day of the Summer Institute, they do not play a dominant role every day. Some days are focused on practical demonstrations and discussions while other days are focused on research and study of professional issues. However, at the end of three weeks of this activity, most of the 17 women involved in my study experienced a decrease in writing apprehension while underdoing the transformation to writer. Even more important was that they maintained that confidence level during the following year. This matters to me, and I hope to others as well, because my study confirms the research of others that as apprehension decreases evidence of self-regulating activity, such as goal setting and metawriting, increases as does agency and self-efficacy. Writing self-efficacy not only plays an important role in the development of a writer but self-efficacious writers continue to grow and develop because they are self-regulating.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Researching Community

The focus of my current work is community. In particular, I am interested in the role that technology and social media play in our understanding of and participation in communities. It is important that we increase our understanding of the concept of community and how people live, work, and communicate within and among today’s networked and global communities.

Technology and social media have had a tremendous impact on the shape and definition of community. Social networks have made the boundaries separating communities porous and easily crossed as well as made it easier to create our own communities. It is crucial to my roles as a technical communicator, teacher, and researcher that I understand how to work in these spaces. I believe that further study of the “social literacy skills” that Cargile Cook advocates for technical communicators as well as the “civic mechanisms” promoted by Spinuzzi can increase our understanding of working, teaching, and researching in networked environments.

Digital Community and Social Media

Toward this end I am currently engaged in a study of my writing students’ dual struggle with digital community and social media. As a teacher, I believe it is important to develop a strong classroom community although doing so in an online class can be challenge. Therefore, I am studying the pedagogical implications of this work and our use of both social media and course management software to create a learning community. I also seek to help my students develop an understanding of the discourse communities they will join. However, as a researcher I am also interested in their struggle to identify and join professional communities using digital and social media tools as I believe their experience can expand our understanding of this issue. This work has led to conference proposals for Computers and Writing, Computer Connection (part of the Conference on College Composition and Communication), and the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing as well as a proposal for the special issue on social media for Technical Communication Quarterly.

I see technical communication as a natural bridge between rhetorical tradition and cutting-edge technology. As a result, I am working as a technical communicator to create a digital network to support the work of my National Writing Project site. This work will also inform the article proposed for TCQ. This includes a study of the community and the ways that social media has helped and hindered communication and social capital as well as a self-study of my own growth and development as a technical communicator.

Agency and Writing Self-Efficacy

While I am still interested in agency and writing self-efficacy, the topic of my dissertation, this focus on community is what excites me the most at this time.  I have continued to collect data from each group of writers that I teach with the intent of conducting a longitudinal study. This work is the foundation for an upcoming presentation the Conference on College Composition and Communication as well as the research project I am directing for my undergraduate research assistant. We are currently considering publication venues for her work. In addition, I recently responded to a call from Business Communication Quarterly for strategies to teaching writing and used this work to support my recommendations. Finally, I am interested in exploring the intersections and connections among community, social capital, agency, and efficacy and suspect that I may find I have not moved as far from my original research as it appears at this time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do I really want a Tablet for Christmas?

Just for the record. I’m not a bling kind of girl. I am a technogeek. However, I am also of Dutch-descent which means I don’t spend money lightly. Unfortunately, this does diminish my technogeek chops to some extent.

I admit that I was plagued much of this Fall semester by iPad envy. Even as friends and colleagues demonstrated the many wonderous apps featured by the device I contemplated my chances of getting away clean if I knocked them over the head with my knapsack and snatched their iPad away from them. I dreamed and discarded any number of dastardly plans to acquire one for myself as the weeks passed. I informed my husband that all I wanted for Christmas was an iPad and then, even as the words fell from my lips, I really considered whether I wanted an iPad enough to justify that blow to our family budget. Hmmm.

It was only a few years ago that I suffered from iPhone envy. As the owner of a $25 Go phone not only the device but the plan necessary to support it was a daunting expense. I was able to defeat that green-eyed monster with the purchase of an iPod Touch and never really looked back. Last Christmas I did upgrade to a $50 Go phone to make it easier to text but there are only a few occasions when I wish for an iPhone. Clearly I dodged a bullet there. Remembering the iPhone virus was enough to send me out to do my homework and to really ponder why I want a tablet and what I hope to do with it.

While I admit there are many nifty educational and teaching apps, the simple truth is that I teach predominantly online and so I won’t be toting my Tablet into class. I also agree that Tablets are much handier than many other forms of technology for meetings. While I do go to a number of meetings I tend to tote a little notebook that fits handily into my coat pocket rather than any form of technology. If I feel the urge for technology my iPod Touch nestles quite nicely beside the notebook with no extra bags necessary.

So if I’m not going to use it extensively for my on-campus work then what do I plan to use it for? I do plan to use it for an e-reader. I have resisted earlier e-readers because I just couldn’t see laying down that amount of money for a device that has only one function – and a function that other devices I already own can serve. However, as a mother I am frequently in a car or on a bench (if I’m lucky) or on the floor somewhere waiting for some practice or event to conclude. It would be handy to have an easy way to carry my reading with me for those regular occasions as well as more infrequent travel for professional and personal reasons.

I would also like to use a Tablet for casual web browsing and email checking. I can do this from my iPod Touch but there are some things it would just be easier to do with a larger screen. And, quite honestly, despite the fact that we have three computers in our home I am still sometimes left without a device. How this is possible I’m not sure (there are only 3 people living in our home) but there you go. I hope adding another device will break that deadlock.

I do expect that I will use the Tablet for entertainment purposes as well. I love my Touch for music and also frequently use Netflix to download movies and shows. I would expect a larger screen would enhance that experience.

So, if I largely will use my tablet as an e-reader, web browser, and video player, then is it really worth $500 to me? I decided not. But I knew that I wanted something and so began my search for a viable alternative. In the end I was left with two much less expensive options – costing only about as much as my Touch – the Amazon Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook. However, this meant another difficult decision. Both devices are so new that I don’t have any friends who possess either. So how do I choose?

The Nook has a lot more storage with capacity to expand but the Fire has a USB port and the Cloud so not sure how much of that is a real issue. It is unlikely I will want to tote my whole library to a location without Wifi after all. Gizmodo reports that when they compared the two devices that Fire ran faster and smoother but Nook has a better battery life. But as I don’t imagine marathon reading or viewing sessions so that will likely not be an issue.

The entertainment options of the two devices are different. Not sure how to even compare. Yes, we are currently Netflix subscribers which would suggest we go with a Nook but I’m not sure if we will maintain that relationship – or that Netflix will survive its recent poor service decisions. We’ve already cut back and are contemplating another.

The only other big difference is that Barnes and Noble will offer in-store support for their Nook while Amazon support will need to be done at a distance. How much of this is a factor for me? I think it is a bigger issue for my parents (who are also in the market for a Tablet this holiday season). My friends with Kindles haven’t reported problems so I’m not sure it is an issue.

What do you think? Have I adequately considered all my options? Tell me what I should ask for this Christmas!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Releasing students into the wild with digital presentations

I just posted the final assignment for my online writing class and I deliberately left things a bit loose and vague because I want my students to explore and experiment. I’m already anticipating this will freak out some of my students, but I hope that most will enjoy the challenge. Right now, as I contemplate my newborn assignment and dream about what the future could bring I am excited about the possibilities. Of course, the challenge will be working through that post-partum period after my students deliver their projects.

I have always had some sort of culminating project and/or presentation for my writing classes. In my early years as a teacher that was a portfolio but for the past few years that has meant a project, such as a blog. However, I wanted to allow more room for creativity and individuality, so while blogs are still on the table I’m hoping to get a wide variety of projects. I suggested they consider genres such as cartoons and brickfilms as well as more traditional types of presentations.

I have only two requirements for their projects. First, as they have been researching and writing about the communication requirements of their profession they must stay with that topic, and second, their presentation must be publicly available on the web and include interactive elements.

Some suggestions I have made to create and/or share their projects include:
·         Squidoo
·         Popplet
·         Pearltrees
·         Omeka
·         Storify
·         Posterous
·         Prezi
·         YouTube
·         Flipsnack
·         Slideshare
·         280slides
·         Google docs Presentations
·         Sliderocket

They have already done extensive research and writing about their topic over the course of the semester, so while they certainly can bring in additional information that is not necessary. I am also jumpstarting the project through some journal prompts. Am I wrong or right to let my students go wild with digital presentations? Should I give more structure and guidance? Have I overlooked or included tools I shouldn’t? What do you think? Share your thoughts about your own digital project assignments.