Print Volume 23.1 (March 2006)

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Synchronous Online Conference-Based Instruction: A Study of Whiteboard Interactions and Student Writing
— Beth L. Hewett

This paper describes a small-scale, empirical study of synchronous conference-based online writing instruction (OWI) using an electronic whiteboard in a professional tutorial setting. Linguistic analysis of participant talk indicated that the interactions were both idea development focused and task-oriented as opposed to socially-oriented. The interactions often consisted of detailed dialogue wherein participants used primarily declarative language to give each other information about the writing under developmentand its processes. However, nearly half of the talk was oriented toward achieving interpersonal connections, facilitating the interaction, and communicating about the whiteboard's workspace. Textual analysis of the drafted student writing subsequent to the instructional interactions indicated that nearly two thirds of the interactions could be connected through iterability or presupposition with the writing and revisions. Most of the traceable writing and revision changes were meaning preserving in nature and of insignificant to moderate rhetorical force. Such writing and revision changes were generated by students or online instructors or through shared interaction, demonstrating a highly collaborative process. Based on these findings, implications emerge for online instructor training, for student preparation to use whiteboard platforms, and for future research into synchronous conference-based OWI.

Paying Attention to Adult Learners Online: The Pedagogy and Politics of Community
— Kristine Blair and Cheryl Hoy, Bowling Green State University

Our article profiles the evolution of a fully online writing course designed for adult learners in our university's Prior Learning Assessment Program. Based on our own observations and experiences teaching adult learners online, we question if the virtual learning environment presents different challenges and prospects for the adult learner versus the traditional student learner, along with an extension and complication of the more social metaphors of "virtual community." Moreover, because of the changing demographic from traditional to adult students, we argue that this change also fosters a change in the relationship between teachers and students. In chronicling this relationship, we note problems when the labor of adult education becomes invisible to those supervising online instructors. Because of these "invisible" labor issues, we argue that successful online instruction must include a range of interactions between students and instructors that extend the more public concept of community to better acknowledge the importance of personal, private interaction. Thus, we conclude with a call to rethink our online writing pedagogies to be more flexible to adult learner needs and learning styles, simultaneously recognizing the impact of adult online education on faculty workload.

Designing Efficiencies: The Parallel Narratives of Distance Education and Composition Studies
— Kevin Eric DePew, Old Dominion University, T. A. Fishman, Clemson University, Julia E. Romberger, Old Dominion University, Bridget Fahey Ruetenik, Pennsylvania State University, Altoona College

Distance education programs at many universities have been initiated to generate new efficiencies for the academic process, particularly cost efficiency and pedagogical efficiency. In writing studies, this move toward digitally mediated instruction has, in some classrooms, recreated practices that resonate with the pedagogy that resulted from current-traditional rhetoric. Thus, a trace of distance education's and composition studies' parallel narratives demonstrates that writing studies has already addressed some of the questions (and concerns) that online writing instruction raises. By specifically focusing on the tensions created by negotiating cost efficiencies and pedagogical efficiencies with communication efficiencies and medium efficiencies, we interrogate current administrative decisions as well their pedagogical outcomes. We conclude by proposing strategies for re-articulating future narratives about online writing instruction in potentially productive ways.

The Price of Free Software: Labor, Ethics, and Context in Distance Education
— Colleen A. Reilly and Joseph John Williams, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

The use, development, and dissemination of open source software (OSS) appears to be more in line with the liberatory, collaborative, epistemological ideals of institutions of higher learning than does commercial software. However, our primary and secondary research reveals that due largely to institutional pressures and labor issues, open source software options are often not explored or considered when teaching distance learning writing courses. In this article, we compare open source and commercial content/course management options and demonstrate the benefits and problems of specific applications. Additionally, we discuss our results from case studies of four instructors who teach distance learning writing courses. We detail what types of applications they use, the level of institutional support they receive, and the motivations for their choices of applications.

Determining Effective Distance Learning Design Through Usability Testing
— Susan K. Miller-Cochran and Rochelle L. Rodrigo, Mesa Community College

To add to the developing understanding of Web-based writing instruction, we conducted usability testing to assess the design of our online first-year composition courses at a large community college in the southwest. Beyond the course-specific results, this study offers two primary contributions. First, it offers a model for conducting usability testing of Web-based writing classes to diagnose potential design problems in a course. This includes providing an indication of what kinds of results and data teachers should expect to gather, how to interpret that data, where to go for assistance, whom to involve in the testing process, and what to do with the results. Second, this study provides an initial understanding of guidelines for course design using Web-based technologies. These guidelines were developed by examining writing classes in the study and then comparing the results with already established principles of design from usability engineering.

Writing Power into Online Discussion
— Bill Anderson, Massey University

This article considers the way in which control of interaction emerges as a function of personal agency and external factors in a group of students engaged in online asynchronous text-based communication in a distance education program. It is structured around the argument that control is partly related to the power that individuals have to give effect to their wishes, but also acknowledges that this sense of agency is always in relation to the powers of others and more structural constraints. A picture emerges of the choices students make in deciding when to initiate discussion and respond to others, and about decisions concerning whose messages they would read and when. The impact of other students, of online groups, and instructors seems to play an important role in determining how participants participate in online interaction. Consideration of broader issues shows how the context in which students engage in interaction impacts the nature and extent of that interaction. The article concludes that being aware, and taking advantage of the socially grounded nature of online interaction provides the basis from which educators can act to ensure that interaction in online learning communities is enabling for the learning of all students.

Complexity, Class Dynamics and Distance Learning
— Kate Kiefer, Colorado State University

Classroom participants learn early on that each classroom has its own dynamic comprised of personalities, motivation levels, skills, and other variables. This paper explores features of complexity theory-nonlinearity and emergent self-organization-relevant to dynamics in physical or virtual classrooms. These central notions of complexity theory and their importance in composition classrooms help explain why students in virtual classrooms are often less successful than their physical classroom counterparts in negotiating the eddies of virtual interactions. The paper closes with a brief consideration of how teachers can interrogate all the elements of teaching and classroom context (whether physical or virtual) to influence the emergent dynamic of our classrooms.

Distance Learning: From Multiple Snapshots, A Composite Portrait
— Jane Blakelock and Tracy E. Smith, Wright State University

This article discusses the current state of distance learning in composition by reporting on and interpreting a 2005 survey that assesses trends and workload conditions in distance learning. Areas examined in the article include attitudes of faculty and administration, faculty demographics, student demographics, online course and programdevelopment, course caps, course delivery and management tools, technology support, course design freedom, impact on writing pedagogy, and institutional DE profile. The article concludes by summarizing the current DL picture, identifying areas of need, and providing research recommendations for the future.

Keeping with the currency of the print-based journal, Print to Screen focuses on the themes found in the recent issues of Computers and Composition, and includes multimodal commentaries that explore and remediate relationships between print and screen.

Section Editor — Elizabeth Monske

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