Web 2.0: It’s Social, Can it be Critical Too?<br />Sarah Bosarge<br />University of Utah<br />ELI Annual Meeting, Austin, TX<br />January 20, 2010<br />
Abstract: <br /> Research suggests that our current generation of undergraduates work and play in many modes simultaneously via ubiquitous web technologies. We know they like them, but when used in a learning environment, are some modes more effective at structuring critical-thinking experiences than others? This poster presents the results of a qualitative study of students in a required writing course. Students participated in a class online network, blogs, wikis and Wikipedia, and turned a formal, academic essay into a web-accessible public work of their own design. The poster presents evidence about which technologies succeeded in engaging students' critical-thinking abilities.<br />
Background Assumptions:<br />Conference on College Composition and Communication (2003)<br />“The focus of writing instruction is expanding: the curriculum of composition is widening to include not one but two literacies: a literacy of print and a literacy of the screen. In addition, work in one medium is used to enhance learning in the other.”<br />Course based on the assumptions of this position paper: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/digitalenvironments<br />The National Council of Teachers of English (2008)<br />Twenty-first century readers and writers need to:<br /><ul><li> Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems </li></ul> collaboratively and cross-culturally <br /><ul><li> Design and share information for global communities to meet a </li></ul> variety of purposes <br /><ul><li> Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous</li></ul>information <br /><ul><li> Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex </li></ul> environments<br />http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition<br />http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Press/Yancey_final.pdf<br />
Study Design:<br />With the goal of improving interaction in a hybrid (blended) writing course, traditional in-class informal writing assignments were moved to an online environment. Various technologies were used based on the pedagogical goal of individual assignments. Students would be given credit/no-credit for completion of all informal assignments, so this presented an opportunity to evaluate the affordances of individual technologies with regards to demonstration of critical thinking without penalizing students for variation in the technologies. <br />This study constitutes in-classroom teacher action research. It was naturalistic in the sense that very little instruction was offered in how to use the various technologies, so that students’ own paradigms for using the technologies were on display. Students had the option of meeting with the instructor if they felt uneasy with the technology but no students did. Furthermore, no students expressed anxiety about using any of the technologies and all students completed all assignments. <br />
Demographics<br />20 students in first-year academic writing (3 credits)<br />Hybrid (blended) course<br />9 women, 11 men<br />Most prefer taking courses that use technology moderately*<br />Most describe their overall experience using the course learning management system as positive*<br />Most were neutral about whether or not IT in their courses improves their learning*<br />*students were given part of the ECAR Students and Information Technology in Higher Education survey<br />
Methods<br />The section was part of a pilot project of the campus Visual, Information, and Technical Literacy (VITL) committee.<br /><ul><li> Students answered some questions from the ECAR </li></ul> Students and Information Technology in Higher Education<br /> survey.<br /><ul><li>Students completed a questionnaire about their </li></ul> technology and learning experience in the course.<br /><ul><li> Some students were interviewed about their technology </li></ul> and learning experience in the course.<br /><ul><li> The instructor evaluated general trends in the way course </li></ul> assignments were completed with regards to critical <br /> thinking and completed a discourse analysis of reflective<br /> essays students wrote about their learning in the course. <br />Codes for analysis were developed from the following <br /> rubric categories.<br />
Study Rubric for Critical Thinking<br />For the purposes of this project, “critical thinking” is demonstrated by the following:<br /><ul><li> Thinking which is responsive to and guided by relevance, </li></ul> accuracy, precision, clarity, depth, and breadth.<br /><ul><li> Thinking that demonstrates the development of traits </li></ul> such as humility, integrity, perseverance, empathy, and <br /> self-discipline.<br /><ul><li> Thinking in which the thinker can identify the elements of</li></ul> a problem and make logical connections between the <br /> elements and the problem itself.<br /><ul><li> Thinking that is routinely self-assessing, self-examining, </li></ul> and self-improving.<br /><ul><li> Thinking that is responsive to the social and moral </li></ul> imperative to not only argue from alternate and <br /> opposing points of view, but also to seek and identify<br /> weaknesses and limitations in one’s own position.<br />
Blogging<br />Instructor grade: B+ Students’ grade: C<br />“Easy and convenient”<br />“Interesting to see ideas I had not considered”<br />“Some had great feedback; others not”<br />“As I created it, the more I recognized the usefulness”<br />
Blogging<br />Students were assigned specific writing tasks throughout the semester that were to be posted to a blog at a private social network (www.ning.com). Students were typically required to post comments to a certain number of their peers’ posts.<br /><ul><li> Most students found these exercises “somewhat helpful.”
Many liked the opportunity to see what others posted but</li></ul> didn’t find comments given them to be very helpful.<br /><ul><li> The instructor likes the ease of use of this technology. </li></ul> Students preferred the blog/comment paradigm over the <br /> threaded discussion paradigm.<br /><ul><li> The instructor liked the flexibility of this technology. </li></ul> Students’ rhetorical choices are not constrained. The <br /> potential to demonstrate critical thinking is present in<br /> the original posts, comments to peers, and responses to <br /> peers’ comments.<br />NEXT TIME: Provide more direction and modeling for how to offer constructive comments.<br />
Creating a Wiki<br />Instructor grade: C- Students’ grade: C-<br />“I liked doing it but it wasn’t helpful”<br />“I had never worked in wikis and had a hard time understanding what to do”<br />“It wasn’t bad, but personally I would learn more from a class discussion”<br />
Creating a Wiki<br />Students were assigned to collaborate on a wiki (at pbwiki) that would be a reference resource about characteristics of web genres. A list of genres was created in class and then the instructor set up the initial organization of the wiki based on this list. <br /><ul><li> Most students were unfamiliar with wiki publishing and </li></ul> ended up just posting comments to the wiki instead of <br /> collaboratively writing and editing the content.<br /><ul><li> Most students listed this as the least helpful of all the </li></ul> class activities.<br /><ul><li> Some students did think the wiki provided a good </li></ul> resource for the web projects they would create later.<br /><ul><li> The instructor did not want to take precious class time to</li></ul> teach students how to edit the wiki.<br />NEXT TIME: Leave this assignment off the syllabus. Perhaps incorporate an assignment in the future in which students add to or edit Wikipedia pages about their research topics.<br />
In-Class Writing<br />Instructor grade: C Students’ grade: B<br />2 students rated in-class writing “very helpful” <br />15 students rated in-class writing “somewhat helpful”<br />“At the time they seemed like busy work, but over time the process was helpful as part of the big picture”<br />“They helped in my writing but I put them off until the last minute”<br />“They prepared me for the larger assignments”<br />
In-Class Writing<br />Various typical in-class writing assignments (sometimes “in-class” actually means submitted through Blackboard’s assignment or assessment tools). <br /><ul><li> Students are comfortable with these “traditional” </li></ul> assignments, but some students find them to be busy <br /> work.<br /><ul><li> The instructor is bored by them and feels there is </li></ul> evidence that students are bored by them as well. <br /> Some students take them seriously, but many do not <br /> and dash off fairly thoughtless answers.<br /><ul><li> By their nature they are one-way communication from</li></ul> student to instructor. They are not dialogic.<br />NEXT TIME: Use in-class writing only to check understanding of concepts. Use more dialogic technologies to facilitate the practice of critical thinking.<br />
Argument Essay<br />A traditional researched argument essay of at least 1800 words citing at least six academic sources. Addressing a counter-argument was a required element of the assignment.<br /><ul><li> Students rated this assignment highest for helping them </li></ul> learn. <br /><ul><li> Students took this assignment most seriously as being </li></ul> relevant to the rest of their education.<br /><ul><li> The instructor was pleased with the demonstration of </li></ul> critical thinking in the final revisions of most students’ <br /> papers, especially with regard to addressing counter-<br /> arguments, and logical fallacies in their own arguments. <br /><ul><li> Students are often writing for the instructor, so pairing with</li></ul> the open genre web project was a nice twist.<br />NEXT TIME: Keep assignment sequence.<br />
Open Genre Web Project<br />Students wrote a traditional researched argument essay and then turned their claim into a public, web-based project for which they could choose the genre. They also wrote a reflective essay about the rhetorical choices they made in creating the project. Completed projects included:<br />2 videos posted to YouTube<br />1 site created at wetpaint<br />6 Facebook groups created<br />6 blogs started<br />3 wikis started<br /><ul><li> Students enjoyed this assignment the most; most report </li></ul> that it helped them look at their argument in new ways.<br /><ul><li> The instructor liked the combination of project + reflective </li></ul> essay. Some projects failed to reflect critical thinking but all<br /> demonstrated an awareness of audience and rhetorical <br /> situation.<br />NEXT TIME: Keep assignment, but adapt to disallow Facebook groups as an option.<br />
Social Network Groups<br />SNS were used in two different ways in the course.<br />Students joined a private social network (at ning.com) to facilitate blogging, forums, video sharing, and so forth. <br /><ul><li>This worked well with no students reporting barriers to use or dissatisfaction with the SNS.
The SNS itself was not evaluated by the instructor in terms of critical thinking.</li></ul>Several students chose to create Facebook group pages for their open genre web project. <br /><ul><li>The open genre web project was students’ favorite assignment.
The instructor finds Facebook too limiting to facilitate critical thinking. In reflective essays, students had relevant rhetorical reasons for choosing Facebook groups to promote their arguments, but the content itself was lacking due to constraints in the way Facebook organizes content.</li></ul>NEXT TIME: Disallow Facebook groups as an option. (?)<br />
Reflective Essays<br />Students write reflective essays about all assignments and a final reflective essay about their learning in the course. Assignment sheets provide specific questions to address.<br /><ul><li> Difficult to generalize; students seem to really like or </li></ul>really dislike this kind of writing.<br /><ul><li> Difficult to structure; for some students it becomes a </li></ul>valuable experience in discovery and for some it does<br />not.<br /><ul><li> For the instructor, these essay seem the most</li></ul>consistent way to illicit information about the barriers <br />students encounter, the resistance they feel, and the<br /> progress they make towards critical thinking.<br />NEXT TIME: Keep the assignments but keep working to improve the prompts that students write to.<br />
Conclusions<br />This pilot study attempted to tease out whether or not the affordances of certain web technologies facilitate critical thinking better than others, but it is acknowledged that many interdependent variables are at play including the instructor’s scaffolding of assignments. <br />However, the following trends were noticed:<br /><ul><li> Technologies that structurally constrained the organization or length of text presented barriers to the expression of critical thinking.
Students demonstrated more critical thinking in assignments where the technology was familiar or matched an already familiar paradigm (a WYSIWYG text editor, for example); blogs were more “successful” than wikis.
Students reported enjoying social interaction but also expressed more trust in authoritative texts (rather than their peers’ work); however, peers’ first-person arguments could push thinking in ways “expert” texts sometimes did not.</li>