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Rueben's Venus

Reflection in the Electronic
Writing Classroom

L. Lennie Irvin, San Antonio College




The Importance of Reflection
Reflection as a Catalyst

Reflection in the Writing Classroom
Reflection in the E-Writing Classroom


Reflection as Observation
Reflection as Refraction
Reflection as Coherence



Reflection as Observation


Conclusion -- Works Cited


Commonly, reflection is seen as an individual act of writing; however, to observe is an act of reflection as well.  When students read the texts of their peers (as well as observing their own texts and experience), they are engaging in an act of reflection: "Our internal thinking as we observe is a kind of reflection" (Irvin "Observing to Learn"). Kenneth Bruffee in his article "Collaborative Learning and the 'Conversation of Mankind'" states a similar view: "Oakenshoot argues that the human conversation takes place within us as well as among us, and that conversation as it takes place within us is what we call reflective thought. ...Oakenshott assumes what the work of Lev Vgotsky and others has shown, that reflective thought is public or social conversation internalized" (397).

Donna Qualley and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater provides an interesting confirmation of this idea in their statements about collaboration:  “If collaboration is to provide a way for students to negotiate multiple (and often contradictory positions), it must involve two recursive moves: a dialectical encounter with an “other” (a person or idea) and a reflexive engagement with the self” (“Collaboration as Reflexive Dialogue"). By its nature, having students share text and dialogue results in a “dialectical encounter with an ‘other.’” When Wayne Butler, former member of the Daedalus Group, says computer networks super-charge collaboration, he is referring to computer networks’ ability to integrate more broadly the “community of knowledgeable peers.” Computer networks facilitate what I have called “multiplicity”—through the sharing of text over computer networks, students are exposed to a greater multiplicity of views and ideas.  For this reason, computers and writings scholars and practitioners have pointed to social construction and collaborative learning as preferred pedagogical practice in a networked environment and looked in particular to Bakhtin for inspiration, as Marion Fey illustrates:

Bakhtin points to an inner-outer tension in the development of meaning, a process that occurs in communication with others, through ‘the layering of meaning upon meaning, voice upon voice, strengthening through merging (but not identification), the combination of many voices (a corridor of voices) that augments understanding.’”

In short, multiplicity is this “combination of many voices,” this "dialectical encounter with an other" that generates the conversation within us that is "reflexive."  Fey goes on to say, “Collaboration through the computer enables the connections for this transaction and at the same time provides the silence and freedom to consider one’s own intentions, to develop one’s own voice, not from a sovereign self but from a self freed in the midst of supportive peers.”  Through the sharing and observing of text, students gain perspective and knowledge that may take the form of things like a greater understanding of the writing assignment, a deeper understanding of the subject matter, or something simple like the correct way to use quotes.

Qualley’s notion of collaboration as both “dialectical and reflexive” as well as Bakhtin’s notion of the tension between the inner and the outer point to another social aspect of the networked computer writing setting that makes it a powerful setting for reflection--the unique "situatedness" of students in an electronic writing classroom as they observe.  In my own inquiries, I have been interested in describing “where” students are as they share text in a computer networked environment—what is their “situatedness,” their “context,” their “positionality” as they read the texts of others, respond to other’s texts, read their own text, and write pieces of writing they know will be posted to the group.  I have described this duality, this dialectic/reflexive and inner/outer dynamic, by a term I call “the role of the spectator-participant.” When I looked at an electronic writing classroom where a lot of text-sharing and student-to-student communication was occurring, I saw that students were both spectators as they read the text of their peers and participants as they posted their text to the group. As students interacted in virtual space with their peers, they inhabited both roles simulaneously. Although students in a traditional classroom are also spectators and participants, in the computer classroom the roles have changed:

What we have in this context is a radically different “positionality” of the student compared to the traditional classroom.  The student’s role as spectator has shifted from primarily spectating the instructor to viewing fellow students.  Their role as performer [or participant] has shifted from performing predominantly for the teacher to performing for other students “in the audience.” (Irvin “Spectator”)

This shift in the experience for the student sitting before the computer screen cannot be underestimated. The two simultaneous roles of spectating (reflecting) and participating (acting) have a synergy that strongly affects the learning experience for the student. Students at first may be reluctant to read the text of their peers because they are used to seeing the teacher as the only person valuable to observe in the classroom. However, once students become engaged by the text of their peers, they begin to see that they can gain something valuable for their own participation in the group.

James Britton in an article called “Spectator Role and the Beginnings of Writing” highlights the significant impact of observing--spectating--on learning. In his article, he makes this intriguing comment:  “as participants we APPLY our value systems, but as spectators we GENERATE and REFINE the system itself” (135).  He goes on to quote D.W. Harding:

the events at which we are "mere onlookers" come to have, cumulatively, a deep and extensive influence on our systems of value. They may in certain ways be even more formative than events in which we take part. Detached and distanced evaluation is something sharper for avoiding the blurrings and bufferings that participant action brings, and the spectator often sees the event in a broader context than the participant can tolerate. (qtd. in Britton 134)

As spectators, students are engaged in a form of reflection that can have a significant impact on their subsequent participation where they put the knowledge gained from “spectating/reflecting” into action. Likewise, students produce texts as participants with a heightened critical awareness because they know their peers will be reading their work.

In the classroom, that means we as teachers need to promote students reading the work of their peers. We may need to teach a new kind of reading for many students. We need to create a learning environment where most if not all of the texts of the class are public and available for students to look at and go back to when they want. We could have students simply read (observe), but we may want to guide their reading--and hence reflecting--activity. In practice, we also may need to provide some incentive for students (at least at first) to read the posts of their peers--usually this incentive would be a text recording some of the reflections students have as they read the text of their peers. (More detailed examples of classroom practice highlighting observation as reflection.)


Next: Reflection as Refraction


Introduction | The Importance of Reflection | Reflection as a Catalyst | Reflection in the Writing Classroom | Reflection in the E-Writing Classroom | Reflection as Observation | Reflection as Refraction | Reflection as Coherence | Conclusion | Works Cited
by L. Lennie Irvin, San Antonio College