The inquiry employed elements of ethnography to include participants’ voices and allow the researcher collaborate with them on shaping instructional discourse on C-MOC. Ethnography is a kind of field research that has gained popularity in composition studies. The ethnographic framework was chosen because it allows the researcher to (1) reflect on her own subjectivities in relation to this topic, (2) have the student participants infuse their voices into the findings and representation of data, and (3) explore C-MOC beyond the narrower bounds of textual analysis.
In order to devote a significant amount of time to working with each informant, I chose three participants. This choice is in keeping with Potter’s stipulation that ethnographic inquiry focuses on a small number of cases. My informants were specifically:
• Molly: A Junior Kinesiology major and English minor, currently doing her student-teaching in Physical Education.
• Chandra: A First-Year English Major who had experience with Dragon Naturally Speaking and had grown tired of what the termed the more “formal” speech demanded by the program. She was also just completing the required second semester first year composition course.
*Denisha: A Sophomore double majoring in Occupational Therapy and Spanish who was also just completing the second-semester first-year composition course.
Each writer produced two documents: a freewrite (a ten to fifteen minute exercise) and a longer piece (Molly: rhetorical analysis of a speech, Denisha: a field guide, Chandra: a persuasive letter). The three students offered specific commentary on their composing processes as well as their attitudes toward this medium. The observations derived from their composing transcripts illustrate the various aspects of composing through C-MOC. Close observation of aspects of composing unique to C-MOC, such as use of verbal commands and errors, was also a benefit afforded by this method.
The focus of this study was on informants’ experiences producing different genres via Dragon Naturally Speaking 7 Standard (DNS). This program was chosen because of its rate of success in educational settings, especially for writers with disabilities. This version of DNS does not have the more advanced playback features of DNS Professional. However, DNS 7 Standard was an adequate tool for the inquiry because of its well-documented quality as a speech recognition program. One informant produced a persuasive letter, one an analysis of a speech, and the other a field guide to a skill she was familiar with. Each also produced a short free-writing document. In asking the three informants to respond to different assignments, feedback was obtained on the process of speaking for different audiences and purposes in this medium.
For the purposes of this article, I am primarily interested in reporting the three informants’ interaction with and commentary on the medium itself.
The informants, excepting Chandra, were new to oral composition and C-MOC. Therefore, much of the frustration they expressed during composing had as much to do with the newness of the composing process as it did with the interference of misrecognized words. However, the participants and the consultant collaborated throughout the study to learn ways of addressing issues related to mastery of the system and composition in this environment.
At times, the frustration felt by each of the informants at the constant need to fix mistakes interrupted the flow of their composing, and I wondered how this mediation affected the process. The students each cited a discomfort with this aspect of C-MOC, though to varying degrees. When asked what effects they felt the medium had on their writing processes and products, the informants had a specific response, and each mentioned the distracting element of error correction. However, Molly’s perception of the changes in her thought process is notable in light of the treatment of oral composing in composition studies.
C-MOC errors are an inevitable aspect of composing with any VRT system. The degree of accuracy one may achieve depends on the quality of the equipment being used as well as the amount of time spent training the system and composing various types of documents. Because the informants worked within a brief amount of time, it is probable that they would have over time both developed a mode of speaking more understandable to the system and, in turn, trained it to recognize their own speech patterns. But because errors were present to some degree during every composing session, I feel it is necessary to consider this unique and inevitable aspect of C-MOC.
What my collaboration with these student writers contributed is a valuable depiction of what happens in practice when writers navigate C-MOC. C-MOC can be a messy process, one whose mediation we will need to address from several angles if we wish to usefully integrate C-MOC into our classrooms. And I propose that our students should have a voice in shaping the training paradigms and pedagogies we develop.
Student Writers and C-MOC’s Mediation: The Ethnographic Study