Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Getting organized

I'm still not quite ready to write. I'm organizing my sources and with them, my thoughts. I have collected most of my sources in CiteULike here. Most of what's there is just the audience chapter. I'm planning to move other stuff there later. It was actually very easy. Most of my library databases connect right in.

I've roughly got articles that deal with the following audience issues:

"Real" audiences for students--trying to find readers for student work outside the classroom
Cognitive studies of how novice and expert writers view audience
Approaches to teaching that take audience into account (overlaps some with the first)
Audience analysis
The connection of audience to pre-writing or invention (related to cognitive studies)
Theories of audience (is audience invoked or addressed; issues of rhetoric)
Audience and the web or electronic communication

Count to ten

I have ten articles to read before I begin writing. Many of them are short, so it's not so hard. I'm going to create a better bibliography because I'm losing track so quickly. Online sources are in del.icio.us. Here is a selection of the articles I plan to read.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What is an audience?

I'm going to do a bit more reading before I begin full-blown writing, but I want to do some thinking out loud here. Obviously, audience has been a part of composition pedagogy for a long time. Figuring out exactly how to deal with the issue of audience has proven difficult. As early as 1947 (and probably earlier), there were calls for having students write for "real" audiences, those outside the classroom. This has been accomplished in various ways. One has been to introduce peer review, but that has sometimes been problematic. Another has been to "publish" student work in a class newspaper or magazine. Still another has been to encourage students to submit to real publications such as newspapers or magazines.

These methods have met with varying degrees of success. Sometimes the mere impracticality of peer review or publication gets in the way of even attempting them. The web makes some of these methods more practical and chapter 2 of my dissertation offers very practical ways of publishing to the web and attracting an audience.

Even with the practicalities out of the way, you're still dealing with a set of novice writers confronting a real audience. How do we, as teachers, help them deal with that?

I guess I'm dealing with several questions here. First, there's the issue of why have a real audience at all. That's addressed on many fronts, most interestingly from the cognitive-develomental perspective of seeing how students conceive audience in a typical writing assignment. Second, if you buy into the first proposition that a real flesh-and-blood audience is a good idea, then you have to confront all the issues that audience brings with it.

And it doesn't erase the ways in which students will construct an audience. Even when face with real people opposing their views, students sometimes still write as if they were writing to their peers or only to people who disagree with them.

So why have an audience?
  1. Students are not particularly good at constructing their own audience without having dealt with an audience besides a teacher. Having something real gives them good starting point.
  2. Closes the feedback loop. In a writing transaction, there is a reader who reads something and has a reaction to it. Most of the time, that reaction never reaches the writer. In the blog, it does and so the writer can learn from that feedback either to improve the piece commented on or to improve future work.
  3. Provides many viewpoints. A worldwide audience as we had on the blog drew from many different walks of life.
  4. Writing for an audience is motivating.
  5. Goal of writing is to have an effect on a reader. Even if the teacher does their best to respond in ways that show they've been affected by a piece of student writing, they still grade the paper and that gets in the way.
  6. Having an audience that interacts with the work via the blog shows how readers play an active role in their reading of a piece.
  7. Removes some of the artificiality of the classroom.
What issues need to be tended to?
  1. Confrontation. I'm thinking about Long's assertion that the audience-writer relationship is usually grounded in adversity. The writer is trying to persuade the reader that his point of view is "correct." In some ways, this is something that's really made manifest on the blog. It doesn't take long for students to become confrontational with each other or for someone to wander in and disagree with the students in an aggressive way. We must constantly strive to break that dichotomy.
  2. Audience analysis/construction. With the blog, we have an opportunity to have an idea of who's reading our work. We can analyze what kinds of sites people come from to get to our blog or find out what parts of the country they live in. That tells us a little bit about who's reading, but not all. We still must aim our writing for an "ideal" audience. Who do you want your audience to be? The blog feedback helps begin to determine who you do and don't want to attract to your writing.
  3. On the other hand, one also realizes that you don't always have control over who reads your work or how they read it. Certainly one can reshape ones work to help achieve the desired effect in the reader, but you will still be left with uncertainty.
  4. Negative feedback. What to do when someone comes in and slams the student.
  5. Stage fright. Students who are so afraid of writing in public, they get severe writer's block.
I think I want to structure this chapter as follows:

A Lit Review which will cover many aspects of audience, but focusing especially on how people have attempted to get students to consider more than the teacher audience that's built into every class. I will also cover some of the cognitive work that's been done to show how many novice writers (students) conceive of audience. I will think about whether a blog means we're addressing or invoking an audience and in what ways one might be constructing an audience.

In the lit review as well, I will also look at work that's been done on web writing and audience, mostly from a pedagogical standpoint.

Then, I'd like to have a few pages, 5-7, that show some examples from the blog, looking at such issues as confrontation within and without the class, ways that some students show some sophistication in who they're writing for, compared to the beginning when it's pretty obvious they were writing for themselves.

Lots to do here--could be fun.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Waiting for the IRB

Well, I'm waiting for the IRB to approve my project. Gah!

While I'm waiting, I'm reading up on audience. I've decided to go ahead and tackle that chapter rather than the case study since it's possible I may not even be able to use it. Double gah!

Anyway, I just read an interesting article by Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede that re-examines their earlier article, "Audience Addressed, Audience Invoked." Some interesting critiques in there. I also read a couple of articles on qualitative research. The other article I read was a history of Computer Aided Instruction and Computer-Mediated communication. Also very interesting.

Tomorrow, I will focus strictly on audience articles and try to begin sketching out something that might be chapter outline. Maybe just a general brainstorming session.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coding and good writing

Today I have coded up one interview. I'm looking for other possible themes that I might consider. I will have two other people look at the interviews and code them. The rest of my work today will involve reading and thinking about how to approach the case studies I'm preparing. Tomorrow, I feel the need to do some writing, so I want to write up the background to the case study sections, discussing the class and its goals and the reasons I chose to do a case study in the first place.

Then, I'd like to start reading some material, also for that section, about what constitutes good writing. I just want to look at some of the available research and instruments that are often used to determine good writing. I have my own ideas of course, but it would be good to use some kind of evaluative measurement and/or research to back that up.

From the IRB front

One thing I did when I traveled to Arkansas (my home institution) was to check in with the IRB (Institution Review Board) who oversees the use of human subjects in research. I'm in a kind of sticky situation since I didn't decide to use my class (my students really) for my research until the class was nearly over. Literally, my husband (who taught one section of the class) and I were driving to work together talking about how successful the class had been when he told me I should use it to finish up my Ph.D. So I didn't get prior informed consent from my students to use their work in my research.

In talking with the people at the IRB at Arkansas, they thought this wouldn't be too big of a problem, considering that the nature of the use of human subjects in my research is pretty minor. I've had to get the IRB at Bryn Mawr involved because the students are Bryn Mawr students even though the research is for the U of A. Sheesh the complications. I think I've thoroughly confused the IRB chair at BMC because no one has ever done this type of research before. Mostly we deal with Science and Psychology research or research with minors. Using student writing just hasn't been done here. So here I am, someone who's never had to go through the IRB before confronting someone at the IRB who's never dealt with my kind of research before. Should be fun for all.

I would gladly take recommendations, comments, thoughts from those of you familiar with the IRB process.

I don't know what I'll do if I don't get approved. I can hope to teach the course again in the fall and get prior approval. I can write a theoretical dissertation that leaves out the data from the class itself (which seems crazy). I think it will be okay. Really I do.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Technical Chapter

Here's a pdf of Chapter 2, which is with the committee right now. I'm sure it will need some revision; I've already seen a couple of things I would change. If you want to read it, feel free. There's lots of pictures, so even though it's about 30 pages, it's not too hard to read.

Monday, March 06, 2006

More on data

Tonight's task is to figure out what the heck I'm doing. I feel a bit at sea. The plan is to do a couple of case studies. I'm armed with some books on qualitative research so by the end of the evening, I'll have some kind of direction. If nothing else, I'll know how to approach the next research project more appropriately. We'll see where we go.

And, I'm planning to teach a course with blogging again in the fall--if the request goes through. I'd love to do it all online and see how that works.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dealing with data

So, here's the thing. My background is primarily literature based, that is, most of my previous work involved applying theory to texts. I am now faced with having data--most of it text--that I need to analyze in some kind of scientific way. I have decided to write up a case study or two or three (I actually have 6 people's data) because that seemed the easiest approach for me to take given my time frame and my subject. However, I have a couple of issues. One is the coding of this data. I have interviews with my subjects. I'll be coding them and then having a couple of outside readers code them. I'm not sure exactly how to do this, only having read results of such a process and not having done it myself. I think I will be able to work this out with some good resources that my committee has pointed me to.

The second, and perhaps more important, issue is the rest of the data. I have tons of it. I wanted to somehow analyze the blog itself. But I have no idea how to approach that. Also, I have survey results and class evaluations. What do I do with that? I was thinking I could summarize some of it, writing a short chapter on some of the issues raised by the blog and these surveys and evaluations. That chapter would be followed by the case studies. But maybe there's something else I should do with it. It's possible that I could use this data later. I am planning to teach the class again, after all.

It's a dilemma.