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Community Analysis

Defining Community

As resident advisor (1992-1993), head resident (1994-1997) and director (1998-2000) of the Virginia Summer Residential Governor’s Schools for Humanities and Visual & Performing Arts, I worked with a team of student life staff to develop the community of learners among our faculty, staff, and 400 high school students. We did this in a number of successful ways, including icebreakers, name tags, hall meetings, living arrangements, and the like. We called ourselves a community of learners, and all of us — faculty, staff, and students alike — lived in dorms on campus and called each other by first name. This experience informs my idea of “community” in several different ways.

Second Life screen shot

Online community in Second Life. Academia Electronica-Instytut Filozofii UJ (2013). CC BY-SA 3.0

Community is never entirely “built,” despite the use of the term “community building.” In an educational setting, community must continually be “being built”; intentional activities, communications, and rhetorical choices (like the use of first names or the common language of living in the same dorm) must be made throughout the entire experience to ensure that a sense of community remains. Brent (2004) affirms this concept of community as continually built: “Here incompletion is a dynamic concept – the dynamism which community has which no definable entity could possibly possess” (p. 219).

Community focuses members and potential/incoming members in a common goal. In Governor’s School, our community of learners sought to expand knowledge and understanding of the interrelationships among disciplines through guided inquiry. Teachers facilitated inquiry and participated with students in growing their understandings of concepts like body image, politics, economics, social structures, and more. All aspects of the experience — intellectual, interdisciplinary, and social-emotional; curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular — focused on growing knowledge and identity. Common, structured, facilitated inquiry shaped our community and represented Harrison & Vaughan’s (2007) interpretation of a community of inquiry consisting of cognitive, social, and teaching presence.

Community is ideally an egalitarian function of participants working toward a common purpose. I include the modifier “ideally” because Amy (2006) recognizes the reality of power politics within rhetorical communities, and because the teaching presence in a community of inquiry necessarily invokes a hierarchical power structure between student and teacher. However, to the extent possible, community is a function of equals working together. In the classroom, a focus on students working toward a common purpose is an important aspect of community building.

Blogs and Community

Given this concept of community, blogs can be useful tools for community development, especially when implemented in combination with other distance learning tools to continually maintain the sense of community. I would hesitate to privilege blogs over other writing spaces and online interactive tools, despite their potential interactivity, because other tools may help foster a sense of community more directly.

As our own class use of the interactivity of the blogs reflects, blogs don’t necessarily encourage ongoing conversation. Few writers responded, either directly or indirectly, to comments on their blogs. We tried to post comments to several classmates’ blogs, but few posts or comments generated any kind of give-and-take among writers and/or respondents. Since Blogger does not afford any sense of threaded conversation using visual design or verbal cues, respondents had to include explicit textual clues (e.g. “In response to your idea…”) in order to “respond” to one another. A comment can’t be addressed specifically to another comment, only generally attributed to the blog. The result is a flat list of comments that offers no hierarchy, more like a chat transcript than a threaded discussion forum. In terms of community building, blogs do little to help writers and commenters work together in a community of inquiry, and this is especially true of Blogger. Blog posts “talk” at other bloggers, but offer little to afford conversation, dialogue, or rhetorical listening among participants. For this reason I consider WordPress, which provides clues that afford limited threading in comments, a more successful blogging tool for enabling conversations.

Building a Better Blogging Community?

For blogs to be successful at encouraging conversation among writers and respondents, instructors need to provide clear guidelines and structure for posts and responses. Carefully constructed, scaffolded assignments accompanied by clear expectations for interaction enable students to respond with agency within the limits of those guidelines. While instructor-provided frameworks may be seen as opposing social constructivist learning and pedagogy, OWI requires a level of structured interactivity that f2f classes can allow to occur more organically. DePew & Lettner-Rust (2009), DePew (forthcoming), Danowski (2006), and Breuch (2005), to greater or lesser extents, all encourage OWI teachers to recognize this power structure while developing scaffolded, structured activities that encourage agency and ongoing conversations. These conversations engage students in communities of inquiry, and these communities of inquiry, as conversations engaging students and teachers, help maintain ongoing community building.

As a result, this assignment might have more successfully built a sense of community as a specific framework of scaffolded assignments. While a series of initial posts could remain focused on instructional tool reviews, each student could be required to comment on a number of reviews (perhaps 2 or 3), then write a full-length post that summarizes those three reviews, links to the initial posts, and reflects on one or more aspects of the initial review. Ping backs from those links could function to notify students that others have linked to their posts; the guidelines for responding could require the writer of the original review to respond to the summary post. Guidelines and requirements would have to be carefully detailed and written, but the result would be ongoing conversations about the effectiveness of instructional tools. As Breuch (2005) notes in relation to virtual peer review, assignments should “encourage students to think of virtual peer review in terms of concrete goals” (p. 149). In this case, the concrete goal might be to draft a final blog post that requires students to select three favorite instructional tools from among those reviewed, reflect on the conversations that surrounded that tool among all the commentators, and make a recommendation, with rationale, for one tool the student might recommend to other instructors in an OWI setting.

Where Community Really Happened

My experience of this class, and the other two classes I’ve taken so far in the PhD program, is that community really forms in various informal channels of communication. While scaffolded blog postings and responses and discussion forum posts and responses contribute toward a community of inquiry, stronger bonds form around informal channels like the ODU PhD and individual course Facebook groups, email and Facebook communications outside of class with classmates, and through the Webex chat (which I’ll refer to as a “front channel” to differentiate it from a Facebook group “back channel”).

As equals (students) working toward a common goal (success in individual courses, success in individual class sessions), informal community is continually formed and reformed around various struggles, activities, and challenges. For example, our class members united around the challenge of being unable to access readings in what we considered a timely fashion. We asked one another whether anyone had emailed the instructor, discussed whether texts might be available in open-source formats online, and generally bonded over our frustration. In Amy’s (2006) terms we recognized and capitalized on power differentials in our contact zone: a reference librarian held the cultural capital of quick access to open-source texts and shared that capital in our common goal of seeking resources; other members of the class held the cultural capital of temerity, willingly emailing the instructor to achieve the common goal of requesting access to readings in Blackboard.

Throughout the semester, community was continually built, refined, and reshaped (Brent, 2004), often the result of working through tensions in different contact zones (Amy, 2006). Two specific examples occurred when shifting out of Webex, first into Google Hangouts and again into Adobe Connect. In each of these instances, the backchannel took the forefront in alleviating anxiety as we wondered how or if we’d be reconnected to our assigned groups. Those with more experience held social capital and shared assurances with those with less experience; in my group, my own familiarity with Google Hangouts helped me assure others in my group and in other groups that all would work out, while Kristina’s familiarity with Adobe Connect provided assurance and instruction to those of us who had not used the tool. In both cases, our bonds of community were strengthened through tension and power differentials among ourselves — power differentials used to achieve common goals rather than forming around us-them rhetorical violence.

Closing Thought

Does community happen in the face-to-face video sessions via Jabber and Webex? Sure, but those experience are built around the instructor. Student community is built through informal communications that are outside the structured activities of the class. As a future OWI teacher, I need to remember my own experience with community development and understand the power of multiple communication channels.

References

Amy, L. E. (2006). Rhetorical violence and the problematics of power: A notion of community for the digital age classroom. In J. Alexander & M. Dickson (eds.), Role play: Distance learning and the teaching of writing (pp. 111-132). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Brent, J. (2004). The desire for community: Illusion, confusion and paradox. Community Development Journal, 39(3), 213-223. doi: 10.1093/cdj/bsh017

Breuch, L. K. (2005). Enhancing online collaboration: Virtual peer review in the writing classroom. In K. C. Cook & K. Grant-Davie (eds.), Online education: Global questions, local answers (pp. 141-156). Farmingdale, NY: Baywood.

Danowski, D. (2006). Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Leading discussions in cyberspace: e-Journals and interactivity in asynchronous environments. In J. Alexander & M. Dickson (eds.), Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing (pp. 97-108). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Depew, K. E. (Forthcoming). Preparing instructors and students for the rhetoricity of OWI Technologies. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew (eds.), Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Manuscript in publication

Depew, K. E., & Lettner-Rust, H. (2009). Mediating power: Distance learning interfaces, classroom epistemology, and the gaze. Computers and Composition, 26(3), 174-189. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2009.05.002

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2007). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Review of Google Docs as Instructional Tool

Video Review

Scope

Google Apps for Education is a suite of cloud-based applications provided free of charge to educational institutions for their students and faculty. Among the applications are Gmail (email), Docs (word processing), Drive (cloud-based storage), Site (web pages), Slides (presentations), Sheets (spreadsheets), and Calendar (Google, ca. 2014a). This review addresses the individual and collaborative composing affordances of Google Docs and the group sharing affordances of folders in Google Drive. While Google Docs and Google Drive are free-standing applications available to anyone with a Google account, this review focuses specifically on the tools as part of Google Apps for Education.

Context

Google and campus IT departments collaborate to install Google Apps for Education to become students’ (and optionally, faculty’s) default email and file-sharing applications. The Google Apps for Education benefits page insists that, when installed, “Your data belongs to you” (Google, ca. 2014a.) Closer reading of the Google Apps for Education Agreement indicates that data are stored on Google servers that are not necessarily on U.S. territory, and that location of the storage facility itself is not determined by the campus IT department (Google, ca. 2014b). Campus decisions to implement Google Apps for Education are fraught with competing issues of price (free) and convenience (very) pitted against data access, location, and institutional control.

Campuses that elect to install Google Apps for Education make available the free suite of applications to their students. Email addresses are tied to the campus student information system (e.g. Banner or PeopleSoft) and used as Google Accounts to provide access to the applications. File sharing services that may originally have been handled by on-site servers (like a shared drive) transition to cloud-based Google Drive, with free accounts providing gigabytes of data storage per account.

Function

As Google’s cloud-based word processor, Google Docs is deeply integrated into Google Drive; Google Docs is among native applications available in Google Drive when creating a new file (other applications include Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form, and Drawing; see Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 4.13.49 PM

Figure 1: Native applications available in Google Drive. Screen capture of ODU Google Drive interface.

As a word processing application, Google Docs uses a relatively familiar interface that resembles locally-installed applications like Microsoft Word or Office.org. Familiar menu items and icons represent standard functions, and the on-screen layout represents the printable surface of the document, complete with margins and page borders (see Figure 2).

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 4.24.12 PM

Figure 2: Google Docs interface resembles standard application interfaces. Screen capture of an untitled document in ODU Google Docs.

Google Docs’ print output features don’t match those of stand-alone  applications like Microsoft Word. Such limitations are well documented (Jesdanun, 2013; Leonard, 2014); among them are limited header and footer formatting (important for academic assignments), limited table of contents, and limited pagination options. Since Google Docs is web-based, its functions are limited to standard or proprietary HTML affordances.

Beyond print output constraints, Google Docs is a capable, easy-to-use, free word processor. It affords standard functions like copy, cut, and paste, font styling, list numbering, tab defining, and much more. It functions as a drag-and-drop application: images, videos, and other media files are easily added to the Google Doc either by selecting a file or by dragging it into the document. Because its interface resembles most stand-alone application interfaces, newcomers to Google Docs can quickly start creating documents.

Google Docs in the Classroom

Google Docs excels in sharing and collaboration. Files are easily shared from within the document using the upper-right “Share” button (see Figure 2) with the public, with members of the institution, or with specific individuals using an email address. Since a free Google Account can be tied to any email address, anyone with an email address can access a Google Doc. Google Drive affords customized group and individual sharing and permissions at the folder and file levels, so entire folders of Google Docs (and other files within a folder) can both inherit parent folder permissions or have custom permissions set.

Sharing a Google Doc means that those given appropriate permissions may access and edit the file simultaneously. Simultaneous access and editing gives Google Docs a clear advantage over other word processors. Microsoft Word, for example, can share files and track changes, but only a single user may access the file at a given time. Google Docs tracks every change made by every user, and every change can be undone by rolling the file back to any previous state. The document is saved automatically after every change as long as stable internet access is available, so there is little concern about losing data as a result of unsaved changes.

Google Docs affords unlimited commentary on highlighted text passages, and comments can be threaded to at least one level in subsequent responses. Comments can also be marked as resolved, an action that clears the on-screen comment thread but saves the entire comment text for access as needed. Users can respond to comments asynchronously or in real time during a composing session. In addition, synchronous in-document chat is available, meaning users can “text” one another as they work together on a document. The combination of collaborative tools makes Google Docs and Google Drive a versatile tool that affords group composing activities in synchronous and asynchronous contexts.

Caveats

As noted earlier, an institution’s decision to enter into an agreement to offer Google Apps for Education is fraught with questions of participant agency and data ownership. Even before a teacher makes decisions about using Google Docs for collaboration and composing, institutional administrators should recognize confluences that require cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental discourses involving IT departments, curriculum specialists, teachers, administrators, and students. All of these stakeholders in a distributed learning implementation should be encouraged to contribute to an ongoing conversation about best practices and lessons learned via implementation (Neff & Whithaus, 2008). And once the institution implements Google Apps for Education, the implications to students in the context of the class should be considered and communicated in the syllabus.

Google is a for-profit multinational corporation whose ultimate goal is to generate profits for its stockholders. Entering into a business relationship with Google has costs that may not appear in institutional accounting spreadsheets, but will emerge in terms of power relationships between Google and the institution regarding data ownership, location, and access. More directly, as DePew and Lettner-Rust (2009) point out, asking students to use any technology inherently “shapes the power relationship between instructors and students[;] interfaces cannot be perceived as neutral or innocent” (p. 175). The goal of the decision to bind one’s institution to Google for its services and one’s students to Google Docs for its affordances should be one and the same: to empower end-users to make pedagogy-driven decisions about course content that are complemented by affordances of the technology tool (Hewett, forthcoming; Cook, 2005; Hantula & Pawlowicz, 2004).

Recommendation

The decision to use Google Docs in the classroom should support the learning outcomes of the course. For online writing teachers, those outcomes include creating communities of inquiry that integrate cognitive, social, and teaching presence (Garrison & Vaughan, 2007); providing low-stakes student-centered composing opportunities and engaging student and instructor feedback (Warnock, 2009); reinforcing “critical and liberatory pedagogies” (Reilly & Williams, 2006, p. 59); and teaching and exemplifying meta cognitive reflection on the technologies themselves as applied rhetoric (DePew, forthcoming). Google Docs and Google Drive, as applications in Google Apps for Education, support these outcomes.

Sharing folders and files supports the creation of a composing community focused on a common subject or object of inquiry. The teacher can create the shared environment using shared folders and a scaffolded writing assignment that requires file sharing among groups and associated feedback written work.

The comments feature in Google Docs affords rich commentary and meta-commentary from students and teachers alike throughout the composing process, from low-stakes feedback in invention, drafting, peer review, and revision, to formal assessment from the instructor. Comments afford multi-way conversations that empower students to respond to peer and teacher feedback.

Teachers can use Google Docs to reflect on the affordances and constraints of the technologies. By using the very technology they are assigned to critique, rich conversations about power politics, accessibility, availability, and other critical approaches can emerge and be facilitated by a trained, engaged teacher. More directly, Google Docs, like any other ICT in OWI, is both an object of critical analysis and a functional technology. As such, it affords opportunities to encourage students and teachers alike to practice applied rhetoric. And with the backing of the corporate behemoth that is Google, Google Docs provides a remarkably rich object of critical analysis and represents DePew’s (forthcoming) “pivot point where function and rhetoric merge” (n.p.).

As a result, I recommend that teachers in both OWI and f2f environments consider incorporating Google Docs in their classes as a free and capable word processor and a highly collaborative, student-focused composing tool that functions as both medium for collaboration and assessment and object of rhetorical study.

References

Cook, K. C. (2005). An argument for pedagogy-driven online education. In K. C. Cook & K. Grant-Davie (eds.), Online education: Global questions, local answers. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood Publishers. Baywood’s Technical Communications Series

DePew, K. E. (Forthcoming). Preparing instructors and students for the rhetoricity of OWI Technologies. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew (eds.), Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Manuscript in publication

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2007). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines, (3-30). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Google. (ca. 2014a). Google Apps for Education. Retrieved June 5, 2014, from http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/education

Google. (ca. 2014b). Google Apps for Education agreement. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/terms/education_terms.html

Hantula, D. A., & Pawlowicz, D. M. (2004). Education mirrors industry: On the not-so surprising rise of internet distance learning. In D. Monolescu, C. Schifter, & L. Greenwood (eds.), The distance education evolution: Issues and case studies (142-162). Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Hewett, B. L. (Forthcoming). Foundational principles that ground OWI. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew (eds.), Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Manuscript in publication

Jesdanun, A. (2013, August 31). Review: Google Docs vs. Apple iWork vs. Office. USA Today. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/08/31/review-google-apple-decent-contenders-to-office/2723315/

Leonard, W. (2014, May 29). Review: Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use. InfoWorld. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/review-google-drive-leads-in-features-lags-in-ease-of-use-243281

Neff, J. M., & Whithaus, C. (2008). Writing across distances & disciplines: Research and pedagogy in distributed learning. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reilly, C. A., & Williams, J. J. (2006). The price of free software: Labor, ethics, and context in distance education. Computers and Composition, 23(1), 68-90. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2005.12.001

Warnock, S. (2009). Teaching writing online: How & why. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Early Results: UAE iPad Learning Initiative

Hargis, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kamali, T., & Soto, M. (2014). A Federal Higher Education iPad Mobile Learning Initiative: Triangulation of Data to Determine Early Effectiveness. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9259-y

Introduction

HCT logo

Higher Colleges of Technology Google+ profile image. From the HCT Google+ page.

This article reports early results of a higher education iPad® initiative implemented in a pre-Bachelor’s Foundation English Language Learning (ELL) program designed to prepare students for instruction delivered in English at 17 campuses of the Higher College of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the study was to “identify faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of early implementation of the iPad, specifically as it related to enhancing the student-centered learning experience” (p. 46). The purpose of the federally-funded iPad initiative was to advance “active learning methods” in face-to-face classes in order to “provide students with the skills and experiences needed in flexible work environments” (p. 46).

Summary

Faculty were trained in iPad implementation by Apple World Education leaders. The training and implementation program sought to “build excitement about the iPad implementation and camaraderie among the federal universities” using faculty champions and a teaching and learning conference focused on “ways to implement the iPad and engage students in active learning” (p. 46). Faculty spent the summer prior to fall implementation “playing” with the iPads to explore ways to engage with students. iPad 3 devices were provided free of charge to every student in each class with a combination of pre-installed free and paid apps.

Using a combination of faculty case studies, faculty self-reporting survey results, and feedback from initial faculty champions, researchers organized and reported findings using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) framework. In each of the three areas (case study, survey, and feedback), researchers noted that “weaknesses and limitations were much lower in frequency and magnitude than expected for a first-of-its kind program” (p. 56). Faculty responded positively to the technology, pedagogy, and content in the first month of implementation. They reported that campus administrators and technologists “actively supported” their implementation efforts and that “the most frequent uses of iPads were for student-centered and interactive applications” (p. 56). They close the study with this endorsement: for institutions considering requiring incoming freshmen to use iPads, their results “indicate a favorable environment for success” (p. 56).

Recommendation

The UAE government’s willingness to launch and fund a large-scale technology initiative is laudable, likely made possible by the UAE’s size. The state launched the initiative with extensive faculty training and engagement, a model grounded in theory and apparently effective, at least through the early stages of the initiative.

Missing from the study was a focus on specific active learning methods implemented in classrooms. While the objective of the study focused on faculty perceptions, the goal of the iPad initiative to increase active-learning activities in the classroom begs examples and case studies of successful activities that met those goals. As a result, I recommend the study to administrators and grant funders seeking faculty buy-in for large-scale mobile device initiatives, not to teachers seeking examples of effective active learning activities.

Early Results: UAE iPad Learning Initiative

Hargis, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kamali, T., & Soto, M. (2014). A Federal Higher Education iPad Mobile Learning Initiative: Triangulation of Data to Determine Early Effectiveness. Innovative Higher Education, 39(1), 45-57. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9259-y

Introduction

HCT logo

Higher Colleges of Technology Google+ profile image. From the HCT Google+ page.

This article reports early results of a higher education iPad® initiative implemented in a pre-Bachelor’s Foundation English Language Learning (ELL) program designed to prepare students for instruction delivered in English at 17 campuses of the Higher College of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the study was to “identify faculty perceptions about the effectiveness of early implementation of the iPad, specifically as it related to enhancing the student-centered learning experience” (p. 46). The purpose of the federally-funded iPad initiative was to advance “active learning methods” in face-to-face classes in order to “provide students with the skills and experiences needed in flexible work environments” (p. 46).

Summary

Faculty were trained in iPad implementation by Apple World Education leaders. The training and implementation program sought to “build excitement about the iPad implementation and camaraderie among the federal universities” using faculty champions and a teaching and learning conference focused on “ways to implement the iPad and engage students in active learning” (p. 46). Faculty spent the summer prior to fall implementation “playing” with the iPads to explore ways to engage with students. iPad 3 devices were provided free of charge to every student in each class with a combination of pre-installed free and paid apps.

Using a combination of faculty case studies, faculty self-reporting survey results, and feedback from initial faculty champions, researchers organized and reported findings using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) framework. In each of the three areas (case study, survey, and feedback), researchers noted that “weaknesses and limitations were much lower in frequency and magnitude than expected for a first-of-its kind program” (p. 56). Faculty responded positively to the technology, pedagogy, and content in the first month of implementation. They reported that campus administrators and technologists “actively supported” their implementation efforts and that “the most frequent uses of iPads were for student-centered and interactive applications” (p. 56). They close the study with this endorsement: for institutions considering requiring incoming freshmen to use iPads, their results “indicate a favorable environment for success” (p. 56).

Recommendation

The UAE government’s willingness to launch and fund a large-scale technology initiative is laudable, likely made possible by the UAE’s size. The state launched the initiative with extensive faculty training and engagement, a model grounded in theory and apparently effective, at least through the early stages of the initiative.

Missing from the study was a focus on specific active learning methods implemented in classrooms. While the objective of the study focused on faculty perceptions, the goal of the iPad initiative to increase active-learning activities in the classroom begs examples and case studies of successful activities that met those goals. As a result, I recommend the study to administrators and grant funders seeking faculty buy-in for large-scale mobile device initiatives, not to teachers seeking examples of effective active learning activities.

Posthumanist Approach to Technology Tools

Bray, N. (2013). Writing with Scrivener: A hopeful tale of disappearing tools, flatulence, and word processing redemption. Computers and Composition, 30(3), 197-210. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.07.002

Introduction

In this article, Nancy Bray (2013) shares her struggle to match her own composing practices with the right technology tool — and in the process recommends a posthumanist approach to writing tools that blurs “the boundaries between machine and human” (p. 199). I seek to apply her conclusions about selecting and studying composing technologies as a posthumanist approach to adopting iPads in a WI class.

Summary

Bray narrates her rationale for choosing Scrivener as her composing technology of choice as she realized that Microsoft Word did not adequately meet her needs. Underlying the narrative is this critique of our discipline: although writing relies on technology, “writing technology is rarely discussed in our composition classrooms, despite repeated appeals from many technology and composition experts” (p. 198). Bray suggests our lack of interest relates to “deeply ingrained prejudices in the humanities” (p. 199) based on a binary view that pits technological machine against human being. Bray’s preferred attitude toward technology calls “for a posthumanist approach in which the boundaries between machine and human are blurred” (p. 199).

Scrivener logo

Scrivener Logo. From Literature & Latte’s Scrivener page.

Bray relates that her “highly recursive, nonlinear composition, and revision style” simply did not work well in Microsoft Word, although, ironically, research suggests that style could be the result of learning to write with a word processor (p. 199). After working uncomfortably in composing tools like wikis, which limit the writer’s view and access to a small section of a text, Bray realized she preferred composing with text sense, a vision and understanding of the project as a whole. Because “a lack of text sense is one of the key differences between on-screen and paper text” (p. 203), she started seeking a writing tool that more closely matched her composing style, that afforded writing at the micro level and reviewing at the macro level. She chose Scrivener.

Extrapolation

What I find applicable in Bray’s narrative is that technology is the subject, whether composing tool or mobile tablet device. In moving past a humanist approach to technology as mysterious and rigid, Bray recommends that “instead of asking how using technology likes Microsoft Office or Scrivener make us better writers, we should ask instead how they shape our writing experience and how we, in turn, can shape these tools” (p. 206). It is in studying and shaping technology tools that a posthumanist approach like Bray promotes can apply to classroom adoption of iPads. We can encourage metacognitive analysis of technologies as they to match (or don’t match) students’ learning and invention strategies. As Bray put it, we should encourage our students (and ourselves) to “try on many writing tools and to explore technology” (p. 206).

Recommendation

Bray nears her conclusion by articulating this hope, which I reiterate as my recommendation for colleagues: “By focusing on our writing tools in ways that acknowledges [sic] the interconnected nature of the writer, the writer’s individual writing processes, our software, and our computers, we can perhaps begin to chip away at our distrustful humanist assumptions about technology” (p. 207).

Kindle in the Writing Classroom

Acheson, P., Barratt, C. C., & Balthazor, R. (2013). Kindle in the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 283-296. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.005

Summary

325px-Amazon_Kindle_3

Amazon Kindle 3 by NotFromUtrechtOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This article studies the pedagogical effects of using Kindle™ readers for accessing texts in an English classroom in 2011. The results demonstrate minimal changes in learning as a result of using Kindle devices for reading and writing, but predict the likelihood that students of the present and future seek to access texts in multiple modes using multiple platforms (like laptop or desktop, smartphone, and e-readers).

Findings

Two librarians and an English professor at the University of Georgia received a grant to provide Kindle 3.0 readers “to be used as an integral part of the writing classroom experience for students” (p. 283) in a literature and composition class. The three developed a mixed methods study to assess students’ “comfort with and use of technology, their preferred method for reading different types of texts, and their experience with the Kindle at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester” (p. 284). The researchers concluded that pedagogical aims were neither more nor less effectively accomplished with than without Kindles. “None [students] noted either benefit or liability in the use of the Kindles for learning” (p. 291).

Although learning outcomes were not affected, researchers noted that some students struggled with disorientation as they transitioned from print text to e-text. The researchers recognized the value of disorientation: “We as professors and instructional librarians would be wise to expect and even encourage new tools in the classroom; the disorientation that accompanies these evolutions is often paired with new and valuable possibilities” (p. 293).

The Kindle afforded searching, highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking, but not every student found those features useful. In fact, librarians and professor alike found students taking notes on paper with Kindles in hand during class sessions. The researchers realized that students accessed texts in multiple formats as conditions dictated. Some found print copies easier to read and annotate. All used their Kindles for reading, but most also used other digital devices to access texts.

Review

I found the conclusion that students “prefer access to materials in multiple formats” (p. 293) most interesting. This suggests that teachers must be prepared to support and provide information on multiple platforms for our students.

  • Provide Kindle section numbers and print page numbers for readings.
  • Expect students to highlight and annotate electronically and write marginalia in print copies.
  • Evaluate the fairness of asking questions about repeated uses of words as part of textual analysis, given the e-reader’s ability to conduct full-text searches.
  • Determine whether an e-reader’s ability to “read” the text back to the student is adequate to grasp its meaning and significance.

As a result of the study’s sharp focus on Kindle 3.0, I would recommend this article only to colleagues seeking information about the use of e-reading devices and/or e-reader software in classes. However, colleagues seeking insight into the future of digital text access will likely find the study informative.

Kindle in the Writing Classroom

Acheson, P., Barratt, C. C., & Balthazor, R. (2013). Kindle in the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 283-296. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.005

Summary

325px-Amazon_Kindle_3

Amazon Kindle 3 by NotFromUtrechtOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This article studies the pedagogical effects of using Kindle™ readers for accessing texts in an English classroom in 2011. The results demonstrate minimal changes in learning as a result of using Kindle devices for reading and writing, but predict the likelihood that students of the present and future seek to access texts in multiple modes using multiple platforms (like laptop or desktop, smartphone, and e-readers).

Findings

Two librarians and an English professor at the University of Georgia received a grant to provide Kindle 3.0 readers “to be used as an integral part of the writing classroom experience for students” (p. 283) in a literature and composition class. The three developed a mixed methods study to assess students’ “comfort with and use of technology, their preferred method for reading different types of texts, and their experience with the Kindle at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester” (p. 284). The researchers concluded that pedagogical aims were neither more nor less effectively accomplished with than without Kindles. “None [students] noted either benefit or liability in the use of the Kindles for learning” (p. 291).

Although learning outcomes were not affected, researchers noted that some students struggled with disorientation as they transitioned from print text to e-text. The researchers recognized the value of disorientation: “We as professors and instructional librarians would be wise to expect and even encourage new tools in the classroom; the disorientation that accompanies these evolutions is often paired with new and valuable possibilities” (p. 293).

The Kindle afforded searching, highlighting, annotating, and bookmarking, but not every student found those features useful. In fact, librarians and professor alike found students taking notes on paper with Kindles in hand during class sessions. The researchers realized that students accessed texts in multiple formats as conditions dictated. Some found print copies easier to read and annotate. All used their Kindles for reading, but most also used other digital devices to access texts.

Review

I found the conclusion that students “prefer access to materials in multiple formats” (p. 293) most interesting. This suggests that teachers must be prepared to support and provide information on multiple platforms for our students.

  • Provide Kindle section numbers and print page numbers for readings.
  • Expect students to highlight and annotate electronically and write marginalia in print copies.
  • Evaluate the fairness of asking questions about repeated uses of words as part of textual analysis, given the e-reader’s ability to conduct full-text searches.
  • Determine whether an e-reader’s ability to “read” the text back to the student is adequate to grasp its meaning and significance.

As a result of the study’s sharp focus on Kindle 3.0, I would recommend this article only to colleagues seeking information about the use of e-reading devices and/or e-reader software in classes. However, colleagues seeking insight into the future of digital text access will likely find the study informative.

iPads in the Classroom

Rossing, J. P., Miller, W. M., Cecil, A. K., & Stamper, S. E. (2012). iLearning: The future of higher education? Student perceptions on learning with mobile tablets. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 12(2), 1-26. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/

Introduction

iPads

Apple® iPad® – image from apple.com/ipad

Grounded in the assumption that “the future of the classroom, including learning activities, research, and even student-faculty communications, will rely heavily on mobile technology” (p. 1), this article presents preliminary results of an experimental study at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) on the use of Apple® iPad® mobile tablets in synchronous, collaborative, socially constructive class sessions. The authors conclude that mobile tablets offer nearly unlimited access to “information and advantages for collaborative learning” (p. 20) in a range of instructional settings and disciplines, but caution that these same devices may introduce distraction and frustration in the classroom.

Summary

The goal of the IUPUI study, ongoing since fall 2010, is to determine the effectiveness of mobile learning in classroom settings. The study involves students and teachers in several disciplines: tourism management, organizational leadership and supervision, music, communication studies, English, physical education, and library skills. The report’s conclusions draw heavily on qualitative data collected in open-ended questions, part of a mixed-methods research instrument (p. 6). Within these responses researchers identified five major themes: “1) access and availability of information, 2) sharing and collaboration, 3) novelty, 4) learning styles and preferences, and 5) convenience and functionality” (p. 10).

Survey results yielded several “amplifying advantages” of mobile technology:

  • iPads, like other new technologies, evoke “excitement and anxiety from students” (p. 14).
  • Connectivity and access to information “enhanced in-class discussion” (p. 14).
  • Benefits of information access can be harnessed to “maximize the collaborative potential of mobile tablets” (p. 15).
  • Mobile technology is flexible and adaptable “for many learning styles and preferences” (p. 16).

The results also yielded potential drawbacks to incorporating mobile technology in the classroom:

  • Students may not be prepared for new technologies, and educators should not assume preparation.
  • Tablets introduced the potential for easy distraction, requiring structured pedagogy.
  • Mobile technology requires significant investment in wireless network infrastructure.

In its conclusion, the report recommended future study in three areas: learning habits of mobile tablet owners, potential competitive advantages of mobile technology literacy, and ways mobile tablets can improve or enable faculty work.

Review

This article offers a wealth of results on student perceptions of iPad use. However, I hoped to see additional conclusions drawn from the data. Although instructors “designed iPad activities that promoted active learning, collaboration, and/or student engagement” (p. 5), I would like to review comparative effectiveness rankings of different instructional activities.

I was surprised that the study restricted students to using iPads in class sessions, and that some classes had only a single instructional session using iPads. Given the mobility of the technology, limiting its use to in-class sessions seemed incongruous.

As a result of these concerns, I would not recommend this article to colleagues seeking input on the use of mobile technology in distance learning. I would, however, recommend that colleagues review the evaluation instrument included in the report for ideas on developing their own surveys for measuring effectiveness of mobile technology in blended and distance learning environments.

Authentic Learning & Google Drive

Rowe, M., Bozalek, V., & Frantz, J. (2013). Using Google Drive to facilitate a blended approach to authentic learning: Authentic learning and Google Drive. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 594-606. doi:10.1111/bjet.12063

Introduction

google drive logo

Google Drive logo

This article “describes the use of Google Drive to create a blended learning environment” in which  “students completed authentic tasks that aimed to develop critical thinking” (p. 596). Using authentic learning as a pedagogical framework, the authors provide qualitative results to identify ways that Google Drive complemented and enabled authentic learning outcomes. They conclude that specific affordances of information communication technology (ICT) should be selected to meet specific pedagogical outcomes rather than shaping pedagogical principles around ICT affordances.

Summary

The authors describe a pedagogical refinement in a 2nd-year Applied Physiotherapy module at the University of the Western Cape. The refinement consisted of converting a didactic, lecture-oriented pedagogy toward a socially-constructed learning environment in which students actively engaged in authentic learning. Google Drive was selected as the ICT used to facilitate communication and learning, both of which occurred during and outside the class.

The authors identify three meaningful outcomes of the pedagogical enhancement and use of Google Drive:

  1. It transformed “student perceptions around learning,” enabling the facilitators “to help change how students perceived their own role in the learning process” (p. 601).
  2. It changed “power relationships as part of learning,” enabling students to openly and safely “explore their own understanding without fear of being exposed and shamed” for not always knowing the right answer (p. 602).
  3. It helped develop students’ critical thinking skills, enabling students to “grasp that knowledge is distributed and that the teacher is not the sole source of information” (p. 604).

The authors conclude that, if educators hope to improve critical thinking in students, they should seek first to change their pedagogy, develop authentic activities, and integrate those activities “across physical and online spaces” (p. 605) using ICT that complements the theoretical perspectives informing the pedagogy.

Review

Although the object of study in this article was an applied physiology class, the practice of selecting ICT affordances to complement theoretically-grounded pedagogical principles applies across disciplines. The article’s focus on improving the application of critical thinking skills to real-world practices also applies to learning environments outside the clinical medical discipline.

And although I consider the sample size small (n = 12) and the methodology admits self-selection bias (students volunteered to participate in focus groups), the authors openly admit these limitations (p. 604) and, in so doing, invite larger-scale studies.

This article offers applicable advice to composition and rhetoric teachers seeking to draw parallels between academic and workplace writing. The article’s application of authentic learning principles in a clinical medical setting offers an intriguing model for considering authentic learning in FYC contexts, where assignments and assessments might be altered to highlight skills that are portable from academe to workplace.

As a result, I recommend that colleagues seeking to revise pedagogy to incorporate blended communications and learning read this article and take to heart its findings.