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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. 

Blog Assignment #1: Article Review

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.

The authors of this article conducted a study of using Twitter in two university courses, concluding that required use of Twitter with actively engaged faculty results in increased student engagement and academic achievement. In the study, one class was required to use Twitter and the faculty actively engaged with students on the platform, answering student-tweeted questions or offering tweets of encouragement in response to student tweets expressing anxiety. In the other class, Twitter use was optional and the faculty rarely interacted there with students. The authors used a mixed method with both qualitative analysis of tweet content and quantitative analysis of student grades and engagement survey responses. They find that students in the first group had significantly higher engagement over the course of the semester than the second group. Additionally, the first group had significantly higher grades and greater rates of improvement between a pre-test and post-test. Interestingly, the study found that there was no difference between students in the second group who used Twitter voluntarily and their peers who chose not to use it. This leads the authors to conclude that “faculty engagement on the platform is essential in order to impact student outcomes” (284). This article would be especially helpful to anyone interested in the pedagogical uses and benefits of Twitter. The authors clearly outline an effective strategy for use: requiring student use, meaningful course integration, and faculty interaction. I also recommend this article as an example of a systematic study of a pedagogical tool. Often studies of classroom techniques and tools rely on qualitative analyses only, such as anecdotal narratives. However, when arguing for the introduction of new tools in a department or asking for funding, quantitative or “hard” data is usually more convincing. Having a study like this that controls for external factors and uses reliable statistical analysis to show an unequivocal improvement in engagement and achievement is particularly useful. I also find this article helpful in supporting a position that faculty interaction is often the key ingredient in student success and building a sense of community.