Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Annotated Bibliography: Affordances of Public and Private Blogging in OWC

Studying  blogging in OWC is rooted in my interest in self-writing theory; traditional print manuscripts like diaries and journals have long demonstrated the types of writing which I consider bring meaningful reflection in a FYC course. For the past few semesters, I have incorporated some type of online self-writing in my face-to-face courses. I began small, and I used the “Journal” feature on my campus LMS. At this point, what was “new” to me was the type of self-reflective writing that I was assigning. While I had used journal assignments before, I had never asked students to write about their own writing in a way that would require them to consider their writing processes and rhetorical choices.
The journals were private, so many students divulged personal details as they related to class readings and writing. The rhetoric such a space afforded intrigued me. I began wondering how student writing would transform if they could read what their peers wrote and vice versa. So I then assigned discussion boards for peer review of thesis statements and other sections of essay writing. I casually observed that students, in an effort to produce higher quality work, used one another’s writing as a sample, imitating both the writing style and the content of their peers.
I want to understand an effective way at implementing reflective writing assignments which motivate student’s self-awareness of their writing choices while also having students participate in writing that affords legitimate audiences.
WordPress is the only free blogging software I have looked into that affords students the ability to post both publicly and privately on the same online space. Google Sites, which I currently use in my FYC courses, does allow this public/ private post option, but the private posts have to be separated from the public posts by tabs; there are problematic pre-settings; and Sites has a notoriously faulty commenting feature. After reading OWI literature and reflecting on my students’ experience with Google Sites, I wonder if that tool wasn’t aligning with CCCC’s OWI Principle 2, “an online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation,” (45) which leads me to fully investigate WordPress and its ease of use.
The annotations below review my outside readings I have completed in investigating this issue, but the conclusions were not surprising: writing in public online spaces affords a legitimate audience for student work which leads to higher quality work (Ewing; Foster; Nobles & Paganucci; Novakovich); online writing in private spaces demonstrates more personal risk taking and admission of misconceptions (Foster); and verbalizing (writing about) these misconceptions may lead to / is required for positive growth (Foucault).
With these experiences, readings, and goals in mind, my overall aim for this semester’s projects in English 824 is to realize how and why public and private online writing, as in Wordpress blogging, leads to higher quality and/ or more reflective writing especially throughout the drafting phases of a writing project in OWC. I am currently musing over (and building a unit of instruction which implements) beneficial blog writing as part of the drafting process for my students.


Ewing, Laura A. “Rhetorically Analyzing Online Composition Spaces.” Pedagogy. 13.3  (2013): 554-561. ProjectMuse. Web. 12 May 2016.


Ewing develops a case, with practical implications, for OWC students to write where they are already selectively reading and writing- online, public spaces. Ewing understands the need to teach students that “their writing can be rhetorical and relevant in cyberspace” (554). Additionally, Ewing wants to expose her students to rhetorical strategies they are able to implement in the reading and writing they are already doing online.
The majority of the article outlines Ewing’s OWC scaffolding semester projects: (1)“Internet Persona,” prompts students to analyze their pre-existing online social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) through a lens of ethos while simultaneously identifying fallacious rhetoric. Students orally reflect on their personal sites with the help of assigned class readings. (2) The “YouTube as a Stage” assignment basically tasks students with a rhetorical analysis of an argumentative YouTube video of their choice. This project allows students to continue reflecting on the rhetoric afforded by online spaces and the rhetorical choices of individuals online. (3) Finally, “Yelp It” requires students to write a short online review (of their choice) on Yelp, a review site of local businesses and services. The assignment sheet for this activity prompts students to consider their rhetoric and form: “Consider the rhetorical choices that people make when utilizing new media. How are logos, ethos, pathos and kairos used to present an argument online” (559)? Once the review is posted online, students write a full-length rhetorical analysis of their review which requires four sources.
Ewing claims that some of her students carried on online dialogues with business owners, received positive feedback from other reviewers on Yelp, and casually read and rhetorically analyzed other reviews on Yelp to aid their own writing. These outcomes may demonstrate Ewing’s success in teaching composition of relevant, rhetorically purposeful online writing.
Ewing’s work is insightful, as it provides real writing assignment ideas for a fully online, asynchronous FYC course. I have been wondering how my students would be able to engage with legitimate audiences for their writing, and Ewing provides a few possibilities. I wonder about the long-term effect the assignments had on her students; since her students rhetorically analyzed their pre-existing online spaces and personae, I assume her students begin the course engaged and reflective. I appreciate the applicability of Ewing’s OWC assignments. Additionally, her students are still engaged with a composition class that affords them “a place to discover and select the best medium and mode for their ideas” (554), but the assignments have value outside the classroom and in the community. I do wonder about the transference of the writing skills students learn in activities such as these. Will students realize that they can use the rhetorical concepts they have learned in classes like Ewing's and use them in their Biology writing assignment, for example? I believe that knowledge transference is part of a writing instructor's responsibilities.


Foster, Drew. "Private Journals versus Public Blogs: The Impact of Peer Readership on Low-stakes Reflective Writing.Teaching Sociology. 43.2  (2015): 104-114. Sage. Web. 23 March 2016.


Foster's study of thousands of blog and journal entries across two semesters found that "specifically, students appear to be overall more likely to take greater intellectual risks in blogs, which they know will be read and commented upon by their peers. Conversely, [private] journals compel students to be vulnerable and take more personal risks in their reflection" (111).
Foster’s interest in this study was the sparse scholarship concerning the most effective platform for reflective writing: public blogs or private online journals (104).
The previous research surrounding blogs and journaling and the effect an audience (or lack thereof) has on student writing concludes that "college teachers have found that 'lowstakes' writing assignments completed at regular intervals can yield positive learning outcomes through reflection and maintain a sense of accountability regarding readings” (105). Additionally, blogs allow for exploratory writing that engages a community of like-minded readers and writers; the exchange on blogs helps construct meaning for the users as they reflect on ideas (106). Additionally, it has been well established that students who write for a legitimate audience produce higher quality work (106).
Foster’s study utilized a coding system when sampling student writing in 2 identical Introduction to Sociology courses; the variable was the use of private online journals versus public blogging. The samples were quite large: over 2,000 pieces of writing were evaluated for specific “traits” of quality writing, as Foster points out, “quality of writing defies objective measures” (108). The blogging group was required to make comments on one another’s posts to ensure public readership was present and active.
The results were significant in the areas of intellectual and personal risk. As noted, public blogging afforded more argumentative, positional writing and theorization about world issues; private journaling elicited more admission of misconceptions or discussion of personal experience as they tied into the class readings. Foster emphasizes that both writing shows “risks”that are meaningful to learning (112).
The results of this study made me wonder if the benefits of blogging may be gleaned while using other tools for feedback, as in Google Docs via the "Comment" tool. Or is the blog platform perceived as an “intellectual space” that elicits more intellectual risks?
I think most instructors want students to produce more polished, intellectually focused pieces on public spaces for legitimate audiences. Similarly, the reflective (private) blog post assignments will more than likely produce more honest, personal insights, which is where “writing about writing” would seem to fit; I want my students to admit/ become aware of their writing choices, weak and strong in a space where they feel safe to admit any misconceptions, like in Foster’s study.
Moreover, I like the combination of both private and public writing in OWC, as this mirrors the public and private self that normal humans switch between anyhow.


Foucault, Michel, et al. Technologies Of The Self : A Seminar With Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 14 May 2016.

Michel Foucault’s work is well known for his analysis of the “confessional” and its role in society, especially in regard to how humans feel the need to tell the truth about themselves (16), making this theoretical piece fitting for blog study. In this piece, Foucault aims to understand how humans “transform” themselves, and he sees four types of technologies that humans utilize, in harmony and, rarely, separately (18): “production:” perhaps related to science and how things are manipulated; “sign systems:” language and linguistics; “power:” related to politics; and “self:” the study of psychology.
These technologies both lead to self-knowledge but also, and mostly, have the power to police and censor the individual as the individual processes their self-knowledge through the possible perceptions of society. Individuals are compelled to alter their behavior, thoughts, etc. in an effort to conform, so while the subject is able to achieve self-knowledge, they are also further removed from a “real” sense of self as they alter themselves.
All the technologies work together to provide a manufactured sense of self to the individual and society that is acceptable to the powers that be. After pointing out the faulty presupposition of
gnothi sauton, “know thyself,” over epimelesthai sautou,“take care of thyself,” Foucault reminds us that “Writing was also important in the culture of taking care of oneself. One of the main features of taking care involved taking notes on oneself to be reread, writing treatises and letters to friends to help them, and keeping notebooks in order to reactivate for oneself the truths one needed” (27).
After a lengthy discussion about the varying types of self-examination (Cartesian, Senecan, and Christian hermeneutics), Foucault pauses to consider the act of expression as means to achieve self-knowledge which is actually a consequence of “caring for thyself”: “Confession permits the master to know because of his greater experience and wisdom and therefore to give better advice. Even if the master, in his role as a discriminating power, doesn't say anything, the fact that the thought has been expressed will have an effect of discrimination” (47). Foucault understands that verbalization leads to renunciation of “self,” but within the 18th century to present times, confession was no longer used as a means of repudiation, but as a means of constructing a more “[positive], new self” (49).


Foucault admits that his main interest is the “interaction between oneself and others and in the
technologies of individual domination, the history of how an individual acts upon himself” (19). In other words, Foucault is asking, how do individuals change themselves, including their thoughts, as a reaction to others’ powerful perceptions? I consider this a foundational question for writing instructors to ask themselves when they assign reflective and/ or public blogs in class, especially in asynchronous OWC, as face-to-face interaction is limited or non-existent.


Nobles, Susanne, Laura Paganucci. “Do Digital Writing Tools Deliver? Student Perceptions of Writing Quality Using Digital Tools and Online Writing Environments.” Computers and Composition. 38.1  (2015): 16-31. Elsevier. Web. 12 May 2016.


Nobles and Paganucci claim that writing classes should incorporate more opportunities for students to compose and provide feedback online, as students perceive their writing of higher quality when writing online. The authors base their study on previous scholarship which indicates a “direct correlation between student perceptions of themselves as writers and their writing output” (18). In addition, previous research demonstrates that “digital tools positively impact the writing process in three ways: increased feedback, connection to authentic audiences, and opportunities for multi-modal composing” (17).
The sample group was a high school freshman English course with 18 students. The students’ three assignments in a 4 week poetry unit, all composed online, were reviewed for the study: (1) informal reflections on poetry read in class; (2) drafts and revisions of students’ original poetry; (3) a video comprised of the student’s recitation along with other visual effects to enhance the symbolism or other literary devices within the student piece. All assignments were completed collaboratively online (both written and audio) in a public space, accessible to everyone participating in the assignment. The students received feedback from the help of graduate students in a M.E. program.
The authors conducted a mixed study (qualitative and anonymous feedback) using surveys to discover student perceptions about their own writing; students were asked questions about how they perceived their writing utilizing blogs and Google Sites versus pen/pencil and paper during the poetry unit. The student responses showed students’ significant positive perceptions when composing online, and most interesting, “students perceived that digital tools and writing online helped them be better writers,” noting the “affordances for increased organization/structure/clarity/spelling/vocabulary development” (23-24). Students also commented on the wide audience and feedback available through online writing, leading to nearly 40% of students claiming that writing online increased their amount of revisions due to the amount of digital feedback they were able to receive; this claim was supported by over 90% of students agreeing that writing online afforded more opportunities for feedback (25) and several students selectively commenting on the ease of making revisions online versus on paper (26). The public space of online writing also contributed to students’ positive perceptions of their writing; over 80% of students agreed that writing on blogs made them more aware of a legitimate audience (27). I think this observation is important as previous scholarship suggests that print writing usually is done for an “abstract” audience, but online writing affords real readers who may contribute comments (28).
The limitations of the study are obvious: the sample was small and the writing feedback during the unit of study was provided by graduate students, not peers. Additionally, the most troubling aspect of this study was that students attributed the positive impact of online writing to grammar and spell check functions. What I appreciated about this study is that the revision/ feedback components were assigned, but the online conversations about writing were observed to gradually become more natural and went beyond the assignment (26). I understand that some instructors perceive assigned comments possibly unhelpful; yet the research here leaves skeptic instructors with something to consider.
Novakovich, J. “Fostering critical thinking and reflection through blog-mediated peer feedback.” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 32.1  (2016): 16-30. Web. 23 March 2016.


J. Novakovich discusses the author’s study about how using blogs for writing feedback resulted in higher quality writing and feedback.
Through a quasi-experimental study, Novakovich aims to discover the following: (1) does using blogs for writing revision and feedback improve the quality of writing over traditional, face-to-face writing workshops? (2) Does peer feedback improve while using blogs instead of face-to-face writing workshops? (3) How do the types of student feedback, related to transference, influence the quality of student writing? (20). For measurement, Novakovich uses FYC student grades, students’ publication rates (for a community website) and student feedback “quantity and quality” (20).The experiment required both the control and treatment group to complete three essay assignments with 3 drafts each, but the control group utilized printed copies of electronically created drafts to handwrite comments during in-class peer review. On the other hand, the treatment group  worked online while in class, utilizing blogs to post their drafts and comments.
The peer revisions in both groups were reviewed by outside coders and feedback comments were assigned points based on “learning benefits that a comment would generate in terms of the likelihood that it would result in a revision strategy that would lead to improvement in the quality of writing” (22). Novakovich leans on previous scholarship in creating code values which ranged from “naive comments” (good job) to “directive comments” (I think you should move this sentence to the beginning of the paragraph because...) (21-22).
The conclusion of the study indicates that “when performing on blogs, students engage in more directive and critical feedback then they do when engaged in traditional classroom practices” (25).
Novakovich presents the limitations of the study, especially the small sample size. Despite this limitation, I believe this article is worthy of reflection as peer feedback is a common weakness for many writing instructors. I understand how structuring this activity for meaningful comments can be frustrating and disappointing. Novakovich’s results show that writing on public spaces provides a legitimate audience for students, inspiring more risk but higher quality work. Also, since the blogging group generated more “directive” comments, both the reviewer and writer participated in reflective, text-based dialogues that required critical analysis for implementation.


Works Cited
Hewett, Beth L., and DePew, Kevin Eric (Eds.) Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Fort Collins: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. PDF file.

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