Reviewing the preliminary findings of this ongoing study, it seems reasonable to conclude at this point that online first-year writing courses not only pose new challenges for compositionists but also offer us opportunities to redefine our roles and our students' roles as members of these course communities. Allowing students both to shape and to improve the course community and, in turn, the course itself enables them not only to develop as writers and critical thinkers but also to understand, as Simmons and Grabill explain, their ability to impact other communities of which they are a part outside of the classroom (p. 440).
At the heart of this study and course design was my desire to decenter the virtual space of the course, and students' participation in the activities described in this webtext as well as their responses to survey questions regarding decentered teaching suggest that they did not, in fact, view me as the center of the course and that they did take on greater responsibility for their own learning. What is missing, however, is the shift for the majority of students in seeing themselves not as individual learners but as co-teachers within the online course.
Still, at the end of the semester, the majority of survey respondents (73.7%) revealed that they had been at least somewhat involved in shaping the course, with 10.5 percent explaining that they had been very involved. For a virtual first-year writing course in which there were no required f2f meetings, these student self-asessments suggest that it is, in fact, possible to maintain a significant level of student engagement at a distance and to begin to meet the goal of decentered teaching set out by much of the literature on distance learning.
Future research might explore the ways in which we can continue to foster co-teaching among students enrolled in online courses and how we might expand opportunitites for collaboration and participation within these virtual communities. In other words, how might we share teaching with students in ways that help them to grow as writers and communicators while supporting their peers toward similar growth?
Ultimately, in combining the goals of feminist pedagogy, first-year writing, and civic rhetoric in our design and delivery of online writing courses, we can begin to fulfill our vision for significant learning experiences for our students that will be as good as or better than their experiences in the traditional classroom.