I am getting ready to work on the chapter that is supposed to be somewhat empirical in nature. I had initially decided (and my advisors agreed) on doing a case study or two. Then I started looking at all the data I had--hundreds of blog posts, rough drafts, final papers, interviews, self evaluations--and I thought, surely there's more I can do with this. So I sounded out the empiricist on my committee. The problem is, I'm not an empiricist. The methods that he suggested I am unfamiliar with and I'm afraid I'd misapply them. Further, I'm skeptical of an empirical approach to teaching writing. I don't think, even if I had designed an experiment appropriately, that I could prove that blogging improves students' writing skills. There just isn't any objective concept of good writing skills. Yes, there are schemas that one could use, holistic scoring, primary trait analysis and the like, but I don't buy any of them. I think that my reason for rejecting some of these approaches is that they articulate an outcome that I just wasn't looking for from my students, so it doesn't make sense to apply them. In a way, I was an outlyer among the other faculty teaching the course. They all complained about the lack of theses and topic sentences while I was excited about the ideas my students were presenting and didn't care so much about a thesis as long as the central idea was clear.
So, I'm back to a case study approach. It is suggestive and descriptive rather than empirical and that may be problematic to some, but it just feels like the right way to go. I definitely think that one could apply something more empirical to the data I have, but right now I don't have the time to figure out what that approach might be and it's not where my research is. So the potential for future research is huge, which I think is positive. I just hope it won't be held against me that I can't include that approach in this work.