Archive | June, 2014

_The Functions of Role-Playing Games_ –> Review and Notes

Bowman_FRPG_CoverSarah Lynne Bowman’s 2010 text, The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity, fills a basic gap in the literature about role-playing games by giving an overall history of the development of role-playing games in the United States and addressing the high-level benefits of role-playing to education, business, military and individuals. She attempts to connect research on role-playing, and the positive attitudes toward the benefits of simulation for developing creative scenarios and solving them, to leisure-based role-playing games (RPGs), which have frequently been stigmatized in the United States as frivolous or even dangerous. Her secondary research draws on anthropology, psychology, education, business management, and theatre/drama to make parallels and demonstrate commonalities in role-playing and its benefits across its many manifestations. Her primary research consists of interviews with friends in the role-playing game community, as well as her own experience with table-top and live-action role-playing games (LARPs). In particular, Bowman has been involved with Dungeons & Dragons-based games, and the White Wolf franchises, Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, two popular larps in the US that she and her interviewees have played.

Throughout the book she conflates role-playing with role-playing games, giving  passing mention to the fact that a game has a structure and rule system, whereas role-playing does not. She does not elaborate on this distinction, and instead focuses on the role-playing aspect of the game. Much of the research is about role-playing itself, and its social, creative, problem-solving, and psychological implications. Bowman assumes that this research is applicable to the role-playing game community, by virtue of role-playing being part of the game. The benefits of military simulation, for example, or classroom role-playing, or using computer games for learning, must transfer to the D&D or larp games she describes. I find this move between role-playing that is not in a game context and RPGs (table-top or larp) to be somewhat problematic, especially since there is a distinction, which Bowman notes, regarding their execution and their esteem. The question of WHY “serious” games or role-playing in the context of education, business, or the military is seen as useful while RPGs (computer, table-top or larp) are stigmatized is noted, and Bowman hopes her research can help eliminate this difference, but she does not attempt to explain why. That is a study I would like to see done. What is it about US culture in particular, that stigmatizes these activities seen as “leisure” or “fantasy” while heralding the same general behaviors in other more utilitarian setting? I have some ideas related to America’s utilitarian, protestant, capitalist culture, but that’s to be explored another day.

Bowman outlines three major benefits to role-playing that she connects to RPGs via the role-playing research, the anecdotes and reports of the players she interviewed, as well as her own experience. These are: (1) socialization, social skills, and community building; (2) problem-solving, innovative thinking and creativity; and (3) identity exploration and self-actualization.

She gives literal examples of her own role-playing characters and uses Erving Goffman’s notion of role-playing in everyday life to draw parallels between the skills she used in the game situation and the “fronts” she put on there, and the “fronts” (clothing style, mannerisms, and speech patterns) she uses or began to use out-of-game. She gives anecdotal evidence that playing in the game world with these etiquette and leadership skills (pp. 136-138) helped her to cultivate more mature skills and roles in the mundane world as a result of the practice in the safe space. She also briefly toys with the notion that players are projecting or attempting to embody their Ideal Selves through role-playing.

Bowman gives a primer on the classes and races of Dungeons & Dragons characters, which she ties to cultural archetypes, indicating that D&D draws on some deeper narrative and psychological tropes. Drawing briefly on Jung, Propp, and Campbell, Bowman delineates:

Character Classes in D&D, based on Archetypes

The warrior/fighter archetype, which includes subclasses such as the Cavalier (the chivalric mounted knight, typified by Camelot), the Paladin (typified by Lancelot, combines cavalry with limited spiritual power and devotion, the Ranger (best seen by Strider/Aragorn in LOTR,  skills in tracking and herbalism), the Berserker (Viking lore, undisciplined fighters who can sometimes transmogrify into wolves or bears), the Barbarians (after Conan, powerful and brutish and primitive, fearing magic and civilization) (p. 147).

The Cleric archetype or class, which also includes the Druid. A Knight of Holy Orders, dedicated to faith more than fighting. Uses healing magic and has limited combat skills. Often in the “true neutral” moral philosophy, viewing the binaries of good/evil, dark/light, etc. to be balancing forces of nature. (see Treebeard, Tom Bombadil in LOTR for druid types).

Wizard class, dedicated to magic. D&D divides these spells into “spheres” or “schools”, such as Illusionists (making reality appear different) or Psionicist (exerting control over reality using mental powers). Wizards are often mentors, advisers, tour guides for the heroes; helpers or donors. In RPGs, wizards are often also the hero. (Gandalf)

Rogues — follow their own individual creed and sometimes “swindle, beguile or foll others for personal gain or amusement” (p. 149). Subclasses of rogue archetypes include the Thief (finds treasure, is stealthy, pilfers, unlocks doors); the Assassin; the Bard. The roots of the Rogue class are in the Trickster archetype, boundary-crossers who blur the conceptions of ethical behavior and confuse the binary distinctions that humans tend to make.

Bowman delineates the races seen in D&D, including Human, Halfling (which Bowman sees as representing the friendly innkeeper, country bumpkin, or humble environment from which a hero emerges); Gnomes (typified by skills in the arts and building, as well as pranks) which appeared in Germanic myths and European folklore; Dwarves (superstitious miners who distrust magic) appearing in Germanic and French folklore, often living underground or in caves, including subraces of Duergar Dwarves, Hill Dwarves; and Elves (long-lifespan, associated with beauty, gracefulness, art). Subraces include High Elves, Gray Elves, Sylvan or Wood Elves, Drow (Dark) Elves.

Bowman notes that the general tendency to place characters into archetypal figures, bloodlines, clans, races, and classes is a way of replicating or mimicking traditions in the mundane world and also archetypal personality types such as Caregiver, Fanatic, Judge, Loner and Visionary (p. 153). I would argue that there is a basic sense of nostalgia and a desire to categorize as a way to push back against the fluidity and fragmentation of the post-modern world that is at play in these desires to replicate strict hierarchies in the RPGs, and not merely a psychological connection to shared universal humanity.

Psychological Basis for Role-Playing

In her attempt to legitimize RPGs, Bowman traces the impulse to role-play to early childhood explorations of alternate identities, adolescent blending of various social codes and mores to create a stable ego identity, and the postmodern world that demands a stronger fluidity of identity and multiplicities of self, which she sees as “sub-personalities” that also reflect archetypes that bubble up through the collective unconscious and are identifiable by their continual recurrence in cross-cultural narratives (p. 154). She defends modern role-playing games against critics who would relegate them to “abnormal escapism” by demonstrating that they are connected to inherent archetypal structures, legitimate identity exploration, and a tradition of role-playing.

Bowman sees role-playing as a natural outgrowth of this post-modern sensibility of having to play so many different roles, but then she also traces the popularity of role-playing to the freedom of expression and breakdown of social structures of the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in the US, and also to the basic origins of humanity in tribal cultures. These are never reconciled into a narrative or theory in the book, however, so one is left feeling uncertain whether Bowman thinks today’s role-playing is anything more than modern expressions of basic human behavior or something new and different, though connected to the past. It seems that her point is to demonstrate the connection in order to legitimize modern RPGs such as D&D and World of Darkness. Her point is not to theorize or offer an explanatory or descriptive model, but to report linkages between RPGs and other disciplines as a means to demonstrate that they are “good” and beneficial.

Bowman destabilizes her previous six chapters at the beginning of chapter 7 by saying, “creativity is, by nature, an unconscious process” and thus it may be impossible to understand the causes, motivations and reasons for the characters enacted by players (p. 155). This is surprising, because Bowman has spent the previous chapters attempting to show that the behavior of the storytellers and the players in RPGs is based on unconscious archetypes and cultural traditions being expressed anew in ways that are fundamentally healthy and quintessentially human. She relies on self-reported “flashes of insight” into the creative process of her informants to attempt to pinpoint this process she sees as being unconscious, rather than using the previous research to corroborate a theory that role-playing can be predicted and explained via the psychological and sociological methods. After saying this, however, she goes on to trace the development of a role-playing character using typology and psychological identification between the player and the archetype.

The ideas of identity alteration, though only one of the three functions of role-playing initially identified in the book, seem to be where Bowman is most interested and where her greatest contribution lies. She is interested in HOW a player adopts a new identity and creates the multiple sense of of self. She spends a great deal of time reporting on clinical psychology and ideas of Dissociative Identity Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder, positing that these may not be disorders (and deserving of stigma or repair) but “advantages, resulting from an active, creative and intelligent basic consciousness” (p. 140). Her reasoning is that fantastical escapism can be present without trauma or alienation (though she spent much of Ch. 1 an Ch. 2 discussing how many role-players characterized themselves as outcasts); that the behaviors could be the result of “deeper wells of creative power” and an inherent human nature to draw from the wells of unconscious and represent with symbols, such as art. Bowman believes that role-playing is this same process of art creation, but that the medium and product of an RPG is simply not societally acceptable or economically feasible; and that clinical psychology as a discipline prefers to pathologize rather than “celebrate his or her uniqueness” (p. 141). Her example is that Vincent Van Gogh’s “unorthodox behavior patterns and roller-coaster like emotions” were the result of “high level of creativity” rather than lunacy, and that if only these artists “can acquire patronage or acclaim they become ‘rehabilitated'” (p. 141). Bowman sees exceptional creativity as a heightened identity crisis (drawing obliquely on Erik Erikson) and that role-playing is a manifestation of this creativity and identity exploration (p. 141). While I admire her point that humans do have a tendency to marginalize and stigmatize that which they do not understand, I would offer that a distinction between the creative imagination and true mental illness still exists, and that not all artists would find their troubles disappearing if only they were paid properly with money and esteem.  What I would like to explore here is our (United States) society’s tendency to hold up actors (who are indeed role-players) in high esteem, and to celebrate their talent and eccentricities as well as lament their tragic downfalls as a result of sacrificing themselves to their art or being the type of “creative soul” that is consumed by “normal society (e.g. Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman), while simultaneously stigmatizing those who role-play or act as a hobby (community theatre, larping), counseling against the dangers of a loss of self or not living “in reality”.

Bowman posits that Robert Assagioli’s theory of psychosynthesis, or an assimilation of alternate egos and fragmented consciousness may help get past the context of trauma and pathology associated with multiple identities, but Assagioli himself notes that the cycle of dissolution and reconstruction sometimes is healthy and other times creates “toxic conditions” and “psychopathological abscesses and tumors” (qtd. in Bowman, p. 143). Bowman, agreeing with Assagioli, states that “Integration” (the goal of psychotherapy and the “norm” of psychological health) can take places after ego identity dissolution. Following this logic, though, it would mean that role-playing is an immature consciousness struggling to integrate, and that after a role-playing stage, the player would dissolve these alter-egos and construct a healthy, normative, whole. Perhaps Bowman is attempting to say that the healthy, normative, ego identity is itself a blend of multiplicities and fragments, and that it is never stable, but always evolving and being re-synthesized. However, she does not say this explicitly, nor posit this as a theory to integrate the various sources she uses. This is an interesting idea, though, to think of a role-player as being hyper-aware of the performative nature of everyday life, more comfortable and adept at moving among roles and “fronts” both in-game and out, and eschewing a single “ego identity” that would be formed at a particular time in life, after the adolescent crisis, in favor of a more fluid identity that incorporates experience and the various psychosocial crises outlined by Erikson and that is a more accurate manifestation of the post-modern self than an ostensible singular integration that was posited by psychologists more than a century ago. Bowman spends her time justifying role-playing in broad terms and concentrating on de-stigmatizing or de-pathologizing it. She does conclude with the idea that role-playing various selves (see ch. 7) does help the player with his/her out-of-game primary identity, channeling Mackay, but she does not then reconnect that idea to this psychological research. She argues, agreeing with Daniel MacKay, that role-playing is an art form and role-players are artists. (p. 142). Here, she would agree with the proponents of the Nordic Larp movement, who, since the turn of the 21st century, have been advocating for larp as art.

Bowman puts forth the idea that the creation of alternate selves is an inherent human impulse, and that the content of these identities may arise from specific archetypes that exist in the collective unconscious as explained by Jung.The book is mostly a broad literature review related to role-playing and its origins and contribution. Its research scope is ambitious and broad, making it struggle to come to cohesion. Yet in Chapter 7, (this is the book)  Bowman offers a process for character creation and the beginning of a theoretical model of archetypal roles, which are corroborated by the experience of various players in modern US RPGs and larps.

She offers a four-stage process of character evolution:

  1. Genesis — origin or inception arising from a combination of archetypes, game mechanics, literature, popular culture, personal experience. May be motivated by social needs or psychological needs. Bowman sees this as an individual process, as existing internally to the player creating the character (I might argue that this is inherently social, given that it draws upon culture and society — see Bakhtin). Bowman sees this as the Gestalt of the character, the essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.
  2. Development — adds more details through creative exercises. This is still an individual activity which might include research into costuming, a particular time period, skills, etc., including the writing of backstory or scenarios.
  3. Interaction — a testing of the character within the game system and world. “Brought to life” and tested through play. The nascent personality is enacted and the player attempts to think “as” the character and immerse into the character and the world.
  4. Realization — The player has a distinct sense of “character’s past and present motivations, their complexities and idiosyncrasies” (p. 157). This comes as a result of passing through the previous three stages.

Bowman states that in this process, the player is the “Primary Ego Identity” which still exists, although “the more immersed in the game world the players become, the more they perceive the character as a distinct entity from the Primary Self” (p. 157), manifested in nine different ways with various degrees of similarity to the Primary Ego Identity. Bowman, then, sees a character as an alternative self that is brought to life by the player as a result of tapping into primal psychological urges, universal narrative, collective unconscious, and formed via interaction with other character identities and the social norms of the game world. For Bowman, a character (or persona) is a distinct entity and identity that is related to the player in one of nine ways.

Her Nine Categories of Archetypal Selves that are enacted in role-playing games are as follows (though she notes that some characters will share qualities of multiple categories). She derives these from the interview questions that she asked her informants:

Doppelganger Self — closely resembles the primary ego identity. Puts primary self into new situations. Sometimes  (Bowman says “the majority of the time”, citing Fine and Mackay) dismissed in role-playing (at least in the US and in the traditions Bowman explores) as amateurish and immature, used by “younger, less-skilled players” (p. 165), claiming that “serious role-players” instead concentrate on the  “successful enactment of an entity other than the self” (p. 165). This is seen as “surface level” and a lack of immersion. Bowman cautions that this Self need not be viewed as shallow; that playing a Doppelganger can “enhance self-esteem” and allow the “ordinary” (by which she means the player) to do “extraordinary things” in the game situation.

Devoid Self — this is basically the Doppelganger Self minus one or more essential qualities the player possesses out of game. For example, the character may have a physical disability, lack of empathy, etc. Bowman notes that this single change often radically changes the behavior of the character, distancing it from the Primary Ego Identity.

Augmented Self — Doppelganger Plus. Take the player and add a super power, wealth, immortality, etc. Again, this change tends to change the behavior of the character to create a more distinct persona.

Fragmented Self — take a fragment of the player’s personality and accentuate, amplify it. By exaggerating this aspect, one creates a “new” identity or way of being. Bowman notes that these aspects are played out archetypally (rogue, rake, femme fatale, vixen, animalistic impulses through anthropomorphic play, sexuality — feminine side or masculine side — altruism or greed, etc.) and allow expression of behaviors that may be repressed.

Repressed Self — Bowman refers to this as the Inner Child. Open expression of “childish” or naive behaviors and play with a sense of “well-meaning mischievousness” (p. 170). Can be seen as regression to a less-evolved state or to play or reason with childlike perspective and abandon.

Idealized Self — a persona that possesses qualities the player wishes that s/he had (Fine: “taking on a role helps one overcome deficiencies of one’s ‘real self’ … qtd. in Bowman, p. 172). Often a hero with great physical strength, acumen, and sex appeal who accomplishes amazing feats (and thus, hopes to transfer some self-esteem and confidence to the player). Often the idealized characters behave with altruism, nobility, strength of purpose, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

Oppositional Self — complete opposition to the primary ego identity, including attributes and behaviors that the player finds repulsive (though not always). Could be a philosophical difference (e.g. playing a homophobe or a passive female when the player is tolerant and accepting or an independent, strong woman). Can be a way to explore other mentalities and ways of being to understand those the primary personality has conflict with out of game.

Experimental Self -- character created as an exercise to test the bounds of role-playing and rethink assumptions. Might be fantastical.

Taboo Self — a persona that is able to explore, in the generally safe and consequence-free space of the RPG, topics that are normally off-limits, such as rape, abuse, incest, cannibalism, etc. Often the player’s moral stance is reaffirmed rather than subverted due to the role-playing in this persona.

MacKay, and then Bowman, posit that as a result of experiencing these alternative selves in the role-playing environment, players have an underlying sense of psychological unity that helps them as they navigate the fragmented out-of-game world. Bowman attributes this to the ritual space of the gameworld, which allows for reintegration at the close of the ceremony/game. Using the anecdotes from her informants, Bowman concludes that enacting other entities helps players better understand their primary selves (ego identities). She does not connect this to psychological phenomena or role-playing research she delineated in the first few chapters.

Limitations: Bowman bases all of her conclusions on the slice of RPGs and Larps (particularly World of Darkness) that she has played. Her ideas about character creation presuppose that the player creates the character him/herself (many larps have pre-written characters) and is able to develop the character over time.

Bowman does not give information about her research methods, so it is unknown how she selected her informants, who they comprise, how she collected the information, etc. It is unclear whether those she spoke with constitute a viable sample of the role-playing community and whether their anecdotes are generalizable.


Bowman, S. L. (2010). The functions of role-playing games how participants create community, solve problems and explore identity. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.
Fine, G. A. (2002). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

ENGL 824 Blog Community Analysis

Community development seems a common concern for instructors in online writing courses, so one might assume that those of use concerned with community share the same goals; however, when embarking on an exploration of whether an assignment sequence or pedagogical tool has been successful in develop community in an online course, it’s prudent to explore what we mean when we reference “community.” What do we hope to achieve when we aim for community development? How do we best accomplish it? According to Jeremy Brent, community is actually an undefinable term because it is “moving, divided and incomplete” (219). What we long for when we talk about community is “the continually reproduced desire to overcome the adversity of social life” (Brent 221). Indeed, desire to overcome or achieve a purpose is a central component of other attempts to articulate community. Garrison and Vaughan describe community, or the “community of inquiry” “as the ideal and heart of a higher education experience” (14). They claim that the driving force behind community development is “purposeful, open, and disciplined critical discourse and reflection” (Garrison and Vaughan 14). While Garrison and Vaughan suggest that community is disciplined and purposefully created, Trena M. Paulus suggests that off-topic discussions have a hand in the development of an academic community “in the absence of a physical co-location” (228). For Paulus, community building requires the development of connections and the establishment of common ground. Off-topic discussions help students engage in “grounding,” the establishment of common ground or the “‘mutual understanding, knowledge, beliefs, assumptions, pre-suppositions, and so on’ (Baker et al. 1999, p. 3) that exist among people communicating together” (Paulus 228). Grounding goes hand-in-hand with connecting, which involves “affinity (small talk and humor), commitment (a sense of presence) and attention (negotiating availability for conversation)” (Paulus 229). Paulus explains that “connection is about interpersonal relationships, whereas common ground is about information exchange” (230). We can conclude then, that the development of an academic community in an online writing class requires both informal socializing with those whom we have established common ground as well as purposeful discussion and collaborative action to achieve academic goals.

Old Dominion University’s English 724/824, entitled “Online Writing Instruction,” has given us an opportunity to examine the way in which community is created, or not, via the use of blogs. Students were required to post five successive blog entries reviewing scholarly articles on some aspect of online writing pedagogy. No two students were allowed to review the same article. My analysis of the community of learners in this course as well as the blog entries leads me to conclude that blogs are not the most effective tool for the development of community in an online course, though I do conceded that they may have some role to play. A review of blog entries for the course reveals that only about half of the students in the course engaged in commenting in any significant way. In fact, it seems that five of eleven students did not comment on others’ blog entries. Comments seemed to be based around several themes: seeking clarification about the article, expressing interest, agreeing with the article, or expressing disagreement with some aspect of the article. Of the approximately 57 comments posted in response to blogs, around 42% of those comments were posted by two very active commentators. Another student who posted nearly 16% of the comments on the blogs did so two days before the blog analysis was due. Some students responded to the blogs posted on their webpages, while others did not. One interesting thing to note is that there seemed to be a correlation between length of time in the Ph.D. program and lack of engagement with the blogs. Only about 22% of the blog comments were posted by Ph.D. students who entered the program during or before the fall of 2012 despite the fact that they make up 45% of the course enrollment.

Students were not required to comment on each other’s blogs, but even if they had been required to do so, engagement with each other’s blogs would not be the most effective community building activity this course has afforded. Garrison and Vaughan say that communities of inquiry are open, and Paulus suggests that negotiation and the personal are important aspects of community building. Lori E. Amy claims that “the discussion lists and bulletin boards we ask students to use mimic virtual social spaces, such as the internet chatrooms in which many students ‘hang out’” (115). She claims that “Dissensus and healthy conflict are crucial arts of the contact zone, and we do need to structure spaces in which we engage one another in open, honest exchanges that engender ‘active, engaged discussion’ capable of sustaining passionate disagreement through which we can educate one another” (Amy 119). I agree with Amy on this point; however, I disagree with the notion that discussions and blogs that are posted for a grade mimic informal, online social hangouts. In discussing Blackboard, Gillam and Wooden develop a critique that is relevant to blogs. They say that Blackboard “positions the writer primarily as the isolated recipient of information, who contributes his or her thinking in discrete little bullets to the discussion forum or via various assessment instruments” (27). Blogs, like Blackboard discussion forums, encourage students to write in solitude, particularly when, as in the case with English 724/824, students are not allowed to write over the same subject.

Interestingly, accidental violations of the assignment rules had the potential to engage students more deeply, since the shared knowledge of the articles gave them a common ground, an element vital to community, according to Paulus. Gillam and Wooden state that “we must encourage them [students] to see their complex ecological makeup and that of their collaborators, to mindfully participate in the formation of a new ecological community with their peer group, and to become cognizant of the ways in which those complex ecologies influence knowledge formation and communication” (28). The few occasions in which students accidentally reviewed the same article provide strong evidence that we are the product of our ecological makeup. For instance, Kelly Cutchin and I both reviewed Gillam and Wooden yet our summaries and reviews highlighted different aspects of the article and different applications of the theories discussed. Despite the fact that I had unintentionally violated the assignment guidelines, I found it exciting that someone else had read the same article I had and I purposefully sought out that review. This was the one instance in which I found myself hoping that my fellow student would respond to my comment and checking to see whether she had done so.

To increase the chances of establishing common ground, blogs from the assigned readings could be required, but this changes the purpose and intended outcome of the assignment from resource compiling, writing in the disciplines, and reflection to simply an assignment focused in writing in the disciplines and reflection. Even if that were the case, there still might be potential issues with the community building, as blogs assigned for a grade are reflections of power differentials in the course and may not allow for truly open and honest exchanges. Try as we may, we students are keenly aware that the blogs will be graded. It’s possible that students may take that into consideration when responding to each others’ blogs. DePew and Lettner-Rust explain that “the power to survey and assess gives instructors sole authority in the class” (178). We students are aware of that authority when we engage with others’ work. True community development through the forging of connections must be facilitated in other ways that allow for collaboration, negotiation, and shared experience.

One of the most interesting aspects of the blog engagement or lack thereof in ENGL 724/824 was that most of the Ph.D. students who engaged with blogs were newer students, while students who have been in the program for several semesters did not engage to a significant extent. There may be numerous reasons for this, but I feel that this resulted in part from a pre-existing idea that we are already members of a strong academic community. Even though the stated goal of the blog assignment was not to build community, the community analysis assignment suggests that it is an intrinsic goal. I would argue that the Facebook backchannel and group assignments have built community more effectively. Both have been places to discuss assignment expectations, to negotiate, to support, and to collaborate. Both have allowed for the forming of informal connections in an open manner while sharing information and working toward a goal with a purpose.  Smaller group projects have required negotiation, information sharing, and connections, while the backchannel has served to make navigating the course akin to a larger group project. While students need to develop the backchannel themselves, they can be encouraged to do so. Kelly shared a 34 page document of our June 17 WebEx chat with the backchannel to support discussions of community. Daniel shared a Wordle that he created from the text. A backchannel chat from before, during, and after the course meeting in June 17 was 112 pages in length. Navigating the course itself seems to create more community than the blogs have done because rather than solely replacing the instructor as the knowledgeable informer, we have created knowledge socially and equally via the backchannel and group projects.

Works Cited

Amy, Lori. “Rhetorical Violence and the Problematics of Power.” Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing (2006): 111.

Brent, Jeremy. “The Desire for Community: Illusion, Confusion and Paradox.” Community Development Journal 39.3 (2004): 213-223.

DePew, Kevin Eric, and Heather Lettner-Rust. “Mediating power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze.” Computers and Composition 26.3 (2009): 174-189.

Garrison, D. R., and Norman D. Vaughan. Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Gillam, Ken, and Shannon R. Wooden. “Re-Embodying Online Composition: Ecologies of Writing in Unreal Time and Space.” Computers and Composition 30. Writing on the Frontlines (2013): 24-36. ScienceDirect. Web. 28 May 2014.

Paulus, Trena M. “Online but Off-Topic: Negotiating Common Ground in Small Learning Groups.” Instructional Science 37.3 (2009): 227-245.

Community Analysis

What is Community?

Community is having a sense of belonging to a group. Several key concepts are embedded in this simplified definition, the first being the idea that community is sensed or felt on an emotional level. This intangible quality is also suggested in definitions that position community as “a phenomenon” that “does not appear to have a concrete existence” (Brent 214). Phenomena by their nature are not wholly quantifiable, but scholars can work descriptively to identify reoccurring aspects of community.

A second key concept is that of group, which are based on common bonds; the commonality may be being part of the same course, program of study, or organization. Common bonds lead to having shared experiences. Communal experiences strengthen the group dynamic, creating shared history and increasing understanding; students feel closer when they have gone through the same challenges and successes. This also leads to a mutually constructed culture; the community establishes norms and expected/acceptable behaviors.

Another key concept from that initial definition is belonging. Members of community feel that their some aspect of their identity is reflected by a specific group. However, self-identification alone does not lead to community inclusiveness. The individual must also be accepted by the existing group members. Therefore, a community both reflects and reinforces individual characteristics.

This belonging is also reinforced by an egalitarian power structure with foundations in “co-presence and interaction” (Pratt qtd. in Amy 114). This is valuation placed on each member, so that his or her contributions are respected and integrated. Even in communities where power may not be completely equitably distributed among members—a president or team captain for example—power variations are not abused. A community needs a balance between the freedom of speech and behavior and restriction of any violence, verbal or otherwise, that could be directed toward any member (Amy 120). Without co-presence and power balance, individuals are not likely to feel a sense of belonging and community become unsustainable

Meaningful communities must emerge organically. For example, in any of the groups listed above, there will be certain interactions that are established: class meetings, discussion board assignments, or an organization’s event. These interactions may dictate participation in a group, but without that phenomenological feeling, this is not a community. Communities do not “exist in every place, and the differences between places are not necessarily based on the differences between them as communities” (Brent 217). In other words, a community may develop in one class and not in another, even if the conditions set by the instructor—the place— are identical. Camaraderie can be invited by the group interactions, but whether a sense of community emerges seems to rely on the unique chemistry and psychology of the group’s individuals.

Interactivity versus Community:

Public blogs are often assigned in online writing courses, with students interacting in posts and responses, but whether this interaction is a community or simply the surface appearance of one is debatable. On the one hand, “even if an illusion,” community “has very real effects” (Brent 216). Junco et al’s study suggests that requiring students to interact using Twitter did lead to greater student engagement and academic achievement by clarifying content and providing emotional support. Even if the students did not feel they belonged to a community, the participation had real effects as Brent suggests. Therefore, even if assigning blog writing and responding does not establish a meaningful community, it will encourage interaction that in and of itself has benefits.
The assignment to write blogs in this course supports this argument because peer comments leads to affective relationships between classmates. I know that for me, when I saw that Carol, Laurie, Margie, and Daniel had left comments on my posts, I felt a greater sense of belonging and respect as a community member because I knew they took the time to read and respond. These relationships are then strengthened as I appreciated their efforts and reciprocated my feelings of respect.

However, there is also the argument that embedded within all communities is “conflict and division” (Brent 214). Cliques will be present in an online setting because virtual “communities mirror inequity” in society (Amy 117). Students are bound to be offended, remain silent, and not participate at all (Amy 117). As a result, the interactive blog assignment could potentially result in the kind of power inequities and rhetorical violence that devastate community-building efforts.

While violence did not occur in our class assignment, I can see how there was division. With the exception of Laurie, I have had previous classes with each of the aforementioned commentators. This suggests that within a community, previous experiences will impact how we interact. Others may feel excluded or not as well respected by some peers if they are not receiving the same level of interaction. Even if the selective interactions were a product of comfort rather than intentional exclusion, as Brent argues, effects can be very real.

Another issue is that blogs are not “informal rap sessions with close friends,” they are performances in a class for grades (Amy 122). For example, in the responses I had to my first blog post, I responded to Laurie’s post directly, but when she responded it was to the thread of discussion started by Carol’s response. Then Margie started yet a new direction for the conversations. This shows that although students may be reading and commenting, this work is not necessarily integrated in a way that develops deep communication and community. Responses may only be “performing” interaction for the instructor audience where the performance is satisfied by the existence of a post without sustained involvement.

Facilitating Community with Assignment Design:

Interaction has benefits even if that it does not result in a sense of community, so requiring commenting on blogs is worth noting as a design element. However, it is possible use assignment design to also encourage community in an online course if the right intangible mix of students exists—primarily with synchronous activities that can serve “the needs of writers in terms of forming community” (Breuch 151). Breuch notes that “speech patterns and behaviors become lost because of the disruptions of time and space that occur in virtual environments” (144). For example, when Margie left her comment on the first blog entry, I had already posted the last review and I did not respond to her directly. Online students can read and respond to one another at any time, but this can result in responses being posted after the writer has moved on to other assignments and concepts. If we responded to one another in real time, like we did with the tool review, it could overcome any time-related irrelevancy. Maybe adding break out groups, as afforded by Adobe Connect, would help students to engage with the reviews and build conversation that eliminates the effects of time separation. These groups could also help “students have the opportunity to get to know one another,” fostering new relationships and mediating the potentially divisive pre-existing relationships (Breuch 148).

Community Outside the Blog:

As many of my peers will probably discuss, our community lives vivaciously outside of the blogs in our Facebook class group. I started this closed group before our first class meeting, and was inspired to do so after having the experience of being invited to a group for previous classes. I wanted to repeat the positive experiences of support, humor, and clarification of content, which seems to align with Brent’s argument that “the concept of community always seems to contain nostalgia, the idea of an imagined past” (220). We also use this space to build community because it mimics the informal conversation and interaction that occurs in informal physical spaces like student lounges. Through sharing emotional experiences and challenges, we engage in the history-making, culture construction, and norm setting that builds community. Carol has even noted that she was not much of a Facebook user before the class, but engages there more and more. This is because even though a “community may lack tangible substance…it possesses a gravitational pull, a magnetic existence that creates real effects - at its best, social relationships of mutual care and responsibility” (Brent 221). We create these outside communities because we “desire to overcome the adversity of social life” (Brent 221). The adversity of graduate school is very real, and we all express feeling insecure about our abilities and our right to belong to the larger PhD program. We create community to feel accepted as we are, to find “connectedness in all [our] imperfections” (Brent 222). While the instructor may not be able to do more than set conditions for community to grow, not standing in the way of these informal connections is an important step in facilitating community. Past experiences and indirect instructor support are two powerful reasons why interaction outside the course assignments will occur and foster community.

Educational communities have enormous benefits to students. They often provide support and assistance both for personal and academic challenges. For groups facing especially difficult academic expectations, this support system function of community can help people enter “the maelstrom rather than succumb to it” (Brent 216). This support system can often be the difference between discontinued or sustained academic participation, and should therefore be encouraged at every level of the institution.

Works Cited:

Amy, Lori E.. “Rhetorical Violence and the Problematics of Power: A Notion for the Digital Age Classroom.” Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Jonathan Alexander and Marcia Dickson. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2006. 111-132. Print.

Brent, Jeremy. “The Desire for Community: Illusion, Confusion, and Paradox.” Community Development
39.3 (2004). 213-223. Web. 17 Jun. 2014.

Breuch, Lee-Ann Kastman. “Enhancing Online Collaboration: Virtual Peer Review in the Writing Classroom.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelly Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood, 2005. 141-156. Print.

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.

Pedagogical Tool Review: Wiggio (A Desire2Learn Productivity Platform)

When I set out to do a review of a pedagogical tool to facilitate student-centered learning by fostering engagement in either a hybrid or online-only course, I intended to focus on the a variety of tools embedded within Desire2Learn (D2L) that could be used for just such a purpose, but the uniqueness and complexity of Wiggio, a productivity platform used to facilitate group meetings and collaboration, necessitated an in-depth look at this particular tool. The capabilities offered by Wiggio are not new, but what Wiggio does that many platforms do not is offer a combination of capabilities that is usually achieved through the use of multiple platforms or programs, and while Wiggio is embedded in D2L, those who do not use the D2L learning platform can still benefit from Wiggio.

Wiggio, which is marketed primarily to academic communities, offers a host of productivity and collaborative tools ranging from a convenient method of setting up a face-to-face meeting to holding group meetings in video chat while synchronously working within a word-processing program. The FAQ section gives a quick run-down of the offerings: “mass messaging (emails, text messages, voicemails), scheduling, file sharing and editing, polling, conference calling, video conferencing, and project management” ( The program is entirely web-based and requires no software downloads. Users can access a free version of the platform by making an account through Wiggio’s website, but there is a premium version available, such as that embedded in D2L. Wiggio can be used to set up a group by first defining asynchronous group communications such as listserv email exchanges, receipt of short messages by SMS and longer messages via email, receipt of a daily summary of communications, or discussion boards with no mailed message. Once a group has been established, group members are invited. Text-based or video messages can be sent by group members to other group members from within the platform. Rather than having to upload a video message, the program includes an embedded video recorder. Without changing navigating to a new webpage on the Wiggio site, group members can share files, share links, launch a meeting via teleconference or video conference, create a to-do list, create a poll, send a message, or schedule an event or meeting on a group calendar. Sub-groups can be created within established groups. The meeting platform allows users to chat via text, share files, share a desktop, share video and audio, use a whiteboard, and synchronously edit a shared document. This combination of capabilities is akin to adding Google Docs to WebEx in an interface that also allows for file sharing, emailing, text messaging, video messaging, surveying, and calendar scheduling. Wiggio has a bit of a minimalist feel, and there may be fewer bells and whistles in the combined interface than may be found in systems that offer similar capabilities separately, but Wiggio’s developers argue that the features that are left out aren’t necessary for productivity and collaboration. This argument is convincing because it’s likely that Wiggio users will feel that the convenience of a one-stop-shop for group communication and productivity outweighs the loss of a few features that they could do without anyway.

A survey of the capabilities offered by Wiggio clearly suggests that the platform can be used to encourage student engagement in an online or hybrid course, but the question of how the platform can be used specifically to support best practices in online writing pedagogy remains. Perhaps one of the first places we should look for guidance on the value of Wiggio in online writing instruction would be the “Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction” published by the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Principle 11 states that, “Online writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success” (Oswal). In the rationale for the development of this principle, the authors explain that a feeling of connectedness to each other and the instructor helps students be more successful. While encouraging student engagement with the goal of student success in mind is a worthy goal, best practices in writing pedagogy call for strong student engagement because it encourages students to grapple with theoretical concepts it helps them to understand writing as a social activity. In “Mediating Power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze,” Kevin Eric Depew and Heather Lettner-Rust apply Paulo Friere’s advocacy of “problem-posing education” to composition pedagogy by claiming that a participatory and liberatory approach to composition, much preferable to an instructor-centered approach, can be facilitated “through experiential and participatory activities, such as open dialogue, collaboratively designing or modifying assignments and allowing for student interest to alter the direction of the syllabus as a means of creating an egalitarian dynamic among students and instructor” (177). Such a participatory and liberatory approach requires a class design that allows for such open dialogue to take place. InBlended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines, D.R. Garrison and Norman D. Vaughan advocate for the development of a Community of Inquiry which requires that students have the opportunity to express themselves openly, that they have opportunities for reflective and interactive learning, and that students are guided by a teacher who provides “students with a highly interactive succession of learning experiences that lead to the resolution of an issue or problem” (25). Common distance education tools, such as discussion threads and blogs, do allow for some dialogue to occur, but participatory and interactive activities are often difficult to facilitate within learning management systems, and often the conversations that take place within discussion boards (the most common tool for facilitating group communication) are aimed at satisfying the instructor rather than being an organic and student-driven exchange of ideas. As a solution, many instructors have turned to the use of multiple supplemental tools (such as Google Docs) to achieve pedagogical goals. By offering several tools for facilitating collaboration, Wiggio allows for the development of this kind of participatory class environment. In “A MOOC with a View: How MOOCs Encourage Us to Reexamine Pedagogical Doxa,” Halasek et al., describe how a MOOC that they created challenges the notion that MOOCs cannot support effective pedagogical approaches to the teaching of writing. Halasek et al., found that the large enrollment in the course prevented them from taking what they call the “Teacher Knows Best” role (the teacher provides the instruction and feedback) and required students to take a larger role than the “Attentive Student” role (the student listens to content and follows directions; in fact, the roles seemed to have reversed here (157). Halasek et al. found that “no longer solely (or even largely) responsible for the shape of the course, the direction it took, or how the participants engaged the material” (160). Though the CCCC recommends an enrollment of no more than 20 students in online writing courses and the MOOC that Halasek et al. created had an enrollment of tens of thousands, we may be able to learn something from the way in which the MOOC encouraged student-centered learning. Perhaps the multiple ways in which students can interact in Wiggio and the participatory activities it allows could facilitate this type of role-reversal in online composition courses.

If we can use Wiggio to challenge the “banking concept of education,” what strategies might we use in order to do so? Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden suggest an ecological approach to the teaching of composition designed to help students understand writing as part an ecological act done within a community and for a specific purpose. The assignment sequence incorporates distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enaction. The ideal online course incorporating these principles, according to Gillam and Wooden, would include scaffolded assignments beginning with group negotiation of a topic of exploration, data collection via a group constructed survey, multimodal presentation of findings, a collaborative annotated bibliography, and an individual final project (a problem/solution paper accompanied by a reflection paragraph). Another example of a collaborative assignment sequence is described by DePew. In order to facilitate students’ development of rhetorical literacy and a sense of audience awareness, he suggests students use literacy narratives to develop a literacy survey, the results of which they will use to compose a corroborative report. How might Wiggio be used to facilitate these assignment sequences described by Gilliam and Wooden and DePew? Wiggio can be used to facilitate group communications in a variety of modes (email, text, teleconference, video conference, video messaging, and video conferencing). Surveys can be created within the Wiggio interface. Without leaving the interface, students can collaborate synchronously on projects and easily provide their peers with feedback. While it’s very possible for students to conduct such collaborative projects with other technological tools, Wiggio offers all of necessary tools in one interface.


 Works Cited

CCCC. “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI).” (2013): 1-35.

DePew, Kevin Eric. “Preparing Instructors and Students for the Rhetoricity of OWI Technologies.” N.d. M.S.

DePew, Kevin Eric, and Heather Lettner-Rust. “Mediating power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze.” Computers and Composition 26.3 (2009): 174-189.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” 2001. Web. 16 June 2014.

Halasek, Kay, et al. “A MOOC With a View: How MOOCs Encourage Us to Reexamine Pedagogical Doxa.” Invasion of the MOOCs: 156.

Garrison, D. R., and Norman D. Vaughan. Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Gillam, Ken, and Shannon R. Wooden. “Re-Embodying Online Composition: Ecologies of Writing in Unreal Time and Space.” Computers and Composition 30. Writing on the Frontlines (2013): 24-36. ScienceDirect. Web. 28 May 2014.


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.


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.

Blog Entry #5 Redux – Wach, Broughton, and Powers

Wach, Howard, Laura Broughton, and Stephen Powers. “Blending in the Bronx: The Dimensions of Hybrid Course Development at Bronx Community College.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 1 (2011): 87. Academic OneFile. Web. 12 June 2014.

In this article, Wach, Broughton, and Powers describe a faculty development program at Bronx Community College (BCC) in which faculty members are trained in hybrid course delivery over a six month period (June to January). BCC, a branch of City University of New York (CUNY) is very supportive of a move toward hybrid course delivery as it helps use an online environment to build an active, collaborative learning environment in blended versions of high-enrollment courses. Wach, Broughton, and Powers explain the faculty training program that requires a six month program beginning with a face-to-face workshop (on topics such as pedagogy, best practices, content presentation, disability accommodations, instructor presence, facilitation of communication, collaboration, and assessment) lead by experienced online instructors. After the initial workshop, course-developers (instructors in training) spend several months developing an online hybrid course with the oversight of peer mentors and student technological assistants who help faculty and students with technical assistance, tutor student peers on content-related issues, and assist faculty with content presentation. The development and assessment of hybrid courses is guided by the use of several types of documents: a contract created by the new instructor outlining how the course will be developed, a teaching guide that outlines best practices and expectations for instructors, a learning unit planning guide emphasizing engagement, collaboration, and improvement of student learning generally, and an online course development checklist that new course-developers use for self-evaluation through the development process. In November, following course development, mentors, guided by a rubric, perform an evaluation of the newly developed course and make suggestions for revision. Revisions are made in preparation for the course to be launched the January following the beginning of the program.

I chose to review this article because of its relevance to my own project of creating an effective hybrid course and then creating a workshop describing how such a course could effectively be created. That BCC has such a streamlined, formal process for the training of new hybrid instructors is very impressive, but without such strong institutional support for such faculty development, similar lengthy training programs would be difficult to undertake, particularly since those involved receive incentives from the institution to teach hybrid courses and act as peer mentors. While not all institutions have the same goals, interests, or resources, the program at BCC seems to be a good model for making a concerted effort toward increasing the number of hybrid courses as well as the quality, so anyone interested in faculty development and departmental or institutional moves toward increasing hybrid offerings would have in interest in examining this model. One thing that I felt was missing was a deeper discussion of the theory or ideology driving BCC’s and CUNY’s move toward hybrid courses, as such justification for course development could be useful to others.

Penzu Video Review

Watch the video below for a tour of Penzu and discussion of how it could facilitate the use of journals in an online writing course (complete with audio appearances by John and Francesca...).


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.


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.


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 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.


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).


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.


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

Google. (ca. 2014b). Google Apps for Education agreement. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from

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

Leonard, W. (2014, May 29). Review: Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use. InfoWorld. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from

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.

ENGL 824 Blog Entry #5 – Gillan and Wooden

Gillam, Ken, and Shannon R. Wooden. “Re-Embodying Online Composition: Ecologies of Writing in Unreal Time and Space.” Computers and Composition 30. Writing on the Frontlines (2013): 24-36. ScienceDirect. Web. 28 May 2014.

In this article, Gillam and Wooden utilize ecological theory to describe the way in which writing courses should operate as learning communities as interconnected and collaborative. The central problem with online writing courses is that the current tendency in online writing pedagogy is to plan courses in a way that emphasizes the cognitive-process model, valuing the writer as a solitary individual who works alone, while more recent scholarship and best practices in composition studies place more emphasis on collaboration in a community of inquiry. One problem with online education is that the way in which course set-up tends to value and privilege strong writing and communication skills, the very skills that students should be developing in the course. Referring to Garrison and Vaughan, Gillam and Wooden explain that online courses encourage both personal but also purposeful relationships. They issue a call to action to their readers: bring the personal back into the class through collaborative group projects that make community a “content-oriented” goal of the course benefitting from the interconnectedness and collaborative nature of these activities. Gillam and Wooden advocate an online course that incorporates the principles of distribution (that learning is situated and negotiated between a variety of sources), emergence (the adaption and coordination in the process of creating knowledge), embodiment (through recognition that student embodiment impacts the process of learning and writing even in online classes), and enaction (the final product). In order to satisfy these principles, Gillam and Shannon describe an online course containing scaffolded assignments beginning with group negotiation of a topic of exploration, data collection via a group constructed survey (the design of which requires emergence and enaction), multimodal presentation of findings, a collaborative annotated bibliography, and an individual final project (a problem/solution paper accompanied by a reflection paragraph). The assignment helps students understand writing as ecological, writing for a community, and writing for a purpose instead of presenting writing as a solitary act done by an independent writer (35).

While I am focused on hybrid course design, I felt that this article was beneficial for me to examine because of the focus on writing as enaction of the ecological. The notion that writing is the result of engagement in an ecology makes community-building in the writing course seems not only desirable but necessary. The writing that students do in their future careers will be ecological in nature-steeped as it will be in the conventions and purposes of specific discourse communities-so one could argue that writing instructors have an impetus to teach writing as ecological enactment. Another reason that I found this article very useful is that I was drawn to Garrison and Vaughan’s notion of “communities of inquiry” and part of the aim of my project will be to build such as community. After reading Garrison and Vaughan I still wasn’t quite certain how one might facilitate the building of such communities. Gillam and Wooden put the notion of “community of inquiry” into action in the course design that they discuss in this article.

Blog Assignment #5: Article Review

Mandernach, Jean B., Amber Dailey-Herbert, and Emily Donnelli-Sallee. “Frequency and Time Investment of Instructors’ Participation in Threaded Discussions in the Online Classroom.” Journal of Interactive Online Learning 6.1 (2007). 1-9. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Jun. 2014.

The authors of this study acknowledge the significant investment of time initially required to prepare a course for online delivery; however, they are interested in the time demands on faculty in facilitating an established online course. This study aims to establish some “empirical information to guide the frequency and nature” of faculty involvement in asynchronous discussions; evidence-supported information the authors note as underrepresented in the literature (2). They argue that with students’ increased expectations for instructor availability, greater quantitative data about the investment of time is needed. This quantitative study evaluated a random sample of ten undergraduate courses that students rated as highly effective in promoting understanding of course material. The authors analyzed the course management archives for each course. The results indicate that faculty time spent facilitating discussions is highly variable: each week faculty responses ranged from 0-22 posts, their time logged in ranged from 22-450 minutes, and they logged in on 4-6.8 days. The authors conclude that facilitating discussions in “online courses may not take any more time than facilitating discussion in face-to-face courses, but that “the time investment is distributed differently throughout the week” with greater time spent working on the weekends being “one of the biggest shifts in online faculty workloads” (6). The authors caution that the study is limited in that it does not measure other means of facilitation that cumulatively require greater time demands. I find this study helpful in that it begins to measure the amount of time needed to complete the various functions of the online instructor. Anecdotally, teachers in online courses report that they are making a significant investment of time, but studies like this can provide the kind of administratively valued quantitative data needed when arguing for limiting online class size or reduction of teaching loads. As courses are encouraged to be moved online, considerations must be made for the workload inequity between online and face-to-face courses. The collation of previous studies of the increased demands on time and the value of discussion threads in the literature review are especially useful for building an evidence-based case for reasonable online faculty course loads and class sizes and for the pedagogical value of incorporating discussion when designing courses. I think that although the authors are not willing to suggest guidelines based on this study, it is useful as a starting point for new instructors wondering how much time to spend responding to students. The mean time spent in discussion boards was 187 minutes per week over a mean of five days each week. I think this is valuable because the students reported that these courses were highly effective, and with this in mind, instructors can remind themselves that daily, extensive involvement in discussion boards is not necessary: a little more than three hours over five days can be enough. This is obviously not the only responsibility of the online instructor, and more time will be spent in other ways, but it can help to find at least one boundary.

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


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).


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).


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


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).


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).


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.

Technology as a Classroom Distraction for Students

Essay in Inside Higher Education by Mary Flanagan, distinguished professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth College and a fellow of The OpEd Project.

Flanagan concludes with this plea:

We need a culture change to manage our use of technology, to connect when we want to and not because we psychologically depend on it. Enough is enough. We need strategies for unplugging when appropriate to create a culture of listening and of dialogue. Otherwise, $20,000 to $60,000 a year is a hefty entrance fee to an arcade.

While this conclusion resonates with me, as a technophile and college composition teacher I’d like a more nuanced approach to the encroachment of technology on the classroom environment. Sometimes students don’t recognize their reliance on the technology to alleviate boredom, to stay connected and “in the know,” or simply to distract themselves.

I assigned an in-class collaborative writing activity in a networked computer classroom with a student population of working professionals. We used a shared Google Doc as our creative canvas, but I encouraged students in the written and oral instructions to use all affordances offered by the classroom.

The result was absolute silence, less the tapping of keyboard keys.

Rather than using the immediately-available affordance of face-to-face collaboration, students remained entirely engrossed in their technology-mediated collaborative space. I ended up reminding them that the classroom offered additional collaborative opportunities and tools, which prompted several of them to say a metaphorical Homer Simpson “Doh!” when they realized they could have simply talked to one another about the assignment.

While this reinforces Flanagan’s conclusion that students need to unplug from their technologies and they need to understand how and when to unplug, I think students probably also need to understand and recognize their reliance on technology as an issue. This kind of education — that eliminates the need to whisper in a student’s ear that his or her technology use is inappropriate in that context — is an important part of our responsibility as technophiles in the classroom.

ENGL 824 Blog Entry #4 – Arms

Arms, Valarie M. “Hybrids, Multi-Modalities and Engaged Learners: A Composition Program for the Twenty-First Century.” Rocky Mountain Review 2 (2012): 219. Project MUSE. Web. 28 May 2014.

Arms’ case study explores the development of the English Alive pilot program at Drexel University, which was built upon the recognition that technology has caused the younger generation to communicate differently, to be innovative, and to incorporate technology into their everyday lives; therefore, writing classes should reflect the digital world our students navigate effortlessly while also helping students meet the goals of traditional composition courses. Relying heavily on WAC principles, the program helped students develop reading, writing, and critical thinking skills through a hybrid course delivery model; it allowed students to look for real-world examples of course concepts within their chosen disciplines which they would then write about; and the course encouraged the development of multi-modal projects to explore their learning and to provide a written rationale for the development of those projects. Arms came away from the project with eight key “lessons”:

1. Use sound research, such as that into the connection between technology and students’ improving communication skills, as a foundation.

2. Information technology specialists can be helpful in finding innovative ways to use technology.

3. Pilot program teachers should be allowed and encouraged to take risks and share their successes and problems they faced.

4. Courses should use rubrics based on course learning outcomes, particularly for multimodal projects.

5. Allow student to be “agents of change” and take ownership through inclusion in program assessments.

6. Used mixed methods to evaluate the new pedagogies.

7. Submit proposals to administration at every level to solicit support and potentially grant money.

8. Once the pilot is concluded, disseminate the results to a broad community for feedback.

She concludes by arguing that the program encouraged students and teachers to be creative, innovative, and motivated, and that it served as a reminder that “learning does not stop at the doorway to a classroom” (209).

This particular article differs a great deal from previous articles I examined because the program is based on the idea that an entire generation of students (digital natives) are very proficient in the use of technology. While that may be the case with some students, certainly issues of access and skill result in an uneven distribution of technological skill and know-how that Arms does not really acknowledge. In contrast, Stine acknowledged these barriers while also arguing strongly for hybrid education. While Arms’ suggestions are helpful to someone developing such a program, those opposed to the idea of online education could easily argue that Arms is too optimistic about students’ technological skills and that issues developmental students face in particular are being ignored. The article would likely be of interest to those wanting to find innovative ways to approach WAC/WID. Also, the article was valuable to my own project, as it is helpful to see a detailed case study, rationale, and an explanation of how the results might be communicated to colleagues.