Juggling multiple perspectives

I met with my 5th committee member today, told him about my project, and asked him to officially become a member.  He said yes – but was surprised that I am choosing (so willingly) to have 5 committee members.  I am a little worried myself about juggling all the feedback.  Already I have received some conflicting advice and different reactions.

One area that my committee members have different views on is my idea to make the dissertation and the prospectus multimodal in some way -which probably means including some video if I can for data presentation.  I have received the following pieces of advice from different people:  1) don’t worry about the irony of composing a print dissertation about new media composition; just write it.  2) Don’t attempt to do anything multimodal because we’re not ready for that yet.  3) Do it – it sounds exciting and wonderful.  4) I’m on board, but I have no background knowledge about composing with video.  And I don’t read on a screen.  5) Using video makes sense for data presentation (perhaps for showing interview footage of participants) but not anywhere else.

In an ideal world, my diss would be able to house videos and written text, and it wouldn’t take me 3 times as long to compose a short video.  But in reality, readers can’t read pdfs with embedded video in the ways they are used to.  Some readers think that including video is just using “bells and whistles.”    And I don’t have all the functional knowledge I need to do it well yet.  But I WANT TO!  Perhaps the diss just isn’t the place, though.

A second area to consider, which the committee member I met with today gave me lots of advice on: do I try to study others implementing instruction in new media composition, or do I do the lessons myself and study the outcomes for students?  Originally (back a few months ago) I wanted to implement the curriculum myself and study my own students.  But I was advised against that by a few professors and mentors.  So I had the idea to create a unit and have others implement it and study them, the instruction, and the students.  But today, my 5th committee member advised me to implement the curriculum myself.  His argument was that I’m not actually studying myself at all, but the instructional moves I’m making and what the learning outcomes are for students.

But now I’m just confused – study a unit I do with my own students or study a unit others do with their students?  Either way, I’m studying the unit and its outcomes.  Just when I think I’m coming to a point where I know what I want to do and I think I know how to put it together, I get thrown for a loop.

AAAAAHHHHH.  I will mull this over tonight, and I hope the morning will bring some clarity.  I end with a prayer…


In the Lit. Review trenches

Sorry no dress pics today.  I worked on my Lit. Review for several hours and avoided most things wedding.  My main issue with the lit review  is that I have so many parts to the section, it’s hard for me to keep them all straight.  Also, I’ve pulled paragraphs from several course papers and exams that I’ve written over the last two years, so I’m also having a hard time weaving everything together into something coherent.

For example, I know that instruction in new media composition has something to do with all the following: transfer and meta-awareness literature (Wardle, Jaratt, etc); definitions of writing and composition and new media; Selber’s multiliteracies framework; learning-by-doing/social learning theory,; metalanguage for new media; reflection….

You see the problem.  How to put all of that together and transition between in a way that makes sense.  One of my committee members told me last week though that I can have some gaps in the prospectus and that those can be worked out in the diss itself.  So that’s comforting, although I want to keep everything straight in my head and understand how I can think of all these pieces aiming toward one goal.

Tomorrow = finish lit. review and figure out what the heck my conceptual framework is supposed to be.

On wedding dresses and lit. reviews…

I did a lot today, alternating between looking at wedding dresses online (I’m getting married in August) and revising my prospectus lit. review.  But I feel like I accomplished much.  So I will alternate in this post as well with talking about what I did on my prospectus and photos of my favorite dresses so far.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed both activities – the writing and the dresses!  So you get both too.

Prospectus Task #1.  I revised my research questions, yet again.  Yesterday, I was able to meet with one of my committee members, who gave me suggestions on refining the questions.  They are in a similar form to the form that I posted last, now with some more wording tweaks.  The most useful thing my committee member told me yesterday was that the RQs serve to shape my data collection and beginning data analysis, and that’s all they really have to do.  So I think that my questions are pretty much there for that purpose.

Here’s fave wedding dress #1: The Mackenzie by Jenny Yoo.  

Prospectus Task #2.  I re-wrote my prospectus introduction.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.  I really want to make a video for the intro still though, and I looked at the video footage of instructors talking about the challenges of teaching new media that I collected in Dec.  If I can get my act together, I’m making it and putting it in.

Fave wedding dress #2: The Presley by Amy Kuschel.  Looks a lot like fave dress #1, now that they’re juxtaposed!


Prospectus Task #3.  I added to the meta-awareness section of my Lit Review, putting in Jarratt et al., Fraizer, Bergman and Zepernick, and Nelms and Dively.  At this point in my grad career, I’m a master lit. reviewer, so I feel good about that section.

Fave wedding dress #3 (on the right), Bella by Jenny Yoo.  Conservatory appropriate, but mucho dinero for a little bit of dress.


All right, enough is enough.  Tomorrow I shall return with more prospectus news, and perchance you’ll get more dress options as well.


Revising my questions

This week’s overarching job is to get the research questions in line and then to attack the rest of the paper with the revised questions as a guide.  Here are the questions as revised based on the feedback I received last week: 

  1.  How should students learn to write in the 21st century?  What do composition instructors and students need to know about this learning process? 
  2. In what ways can strategic instruction in new media composition lead students to develop a deep meta-awareness about writing, rhetorical choices, and multiple modes of expression?  When is strategic instruction in new media composition not a mechanism that leads students toward this goal? 
  3. What aspects within strategic instruction in new media composition lead students most effectively to develop a meta-awareness about writing? 
    1. What is the role of learning-by-doing?
    2. What is the role of instruction in metalanguage?
    3. What is the role of reflection?
    4. What other aspects should be involved in strategic instruction in new media composition?
  4. What opportunities and obstacles exist for instructors and students when strategic instruction in new media composition is implemented in a college writing class? 
    1. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ prior experiences with writing?
    2. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ expectations and emotions about composing in new media, such as excitement or anxiety?
    3. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ functional and technical knowledge of various software programs and tools? 
    4. What is the role of the instructor’s and the students’ critical and rhetorical literacies? 
    5. What is the role of collaborative learning? 
    6.  What other factors can assist or hinder the implementation of strategic instruction in new media composition?
  5. In what ways can composing in new media in this dissertation inform the development of new media instruction?  What do composition instructors learn when they compose in new media?  What are the limitations of having instructors compose in new media? 

I seem to have too many sub-questions and overarching questions in general, but I feel like I need them all to look at the entire new media composition instruction process.  I have a meeting in 45 minutes with a professor who is not on my committee but who has read the first draft of my prospectus that I wrote last term.  I am going to ask her to look at these revised questions and help me revise them yet again.  The next task after the questions are ready is to go back to the lit. review and start revising it to center around the questions.   

Thinking about making video….while listening to Etta

I just heard that Etta James passed away today, which makes me sad.  So I’m listening to her “The Essential Etta James” CD as I compose this post.  Here’s a taste for you, so you can listen while you read.

This morning I attended a workshop on making and teaching video led by MSU’s Danielle Nicole DeVoss.  I was excited to meet her as I’ve used her book Because Digital Writing Matters in a few papers.  It was a small group for the workshop, which made the format informal and conversational, which was nice.  We talked about teaching video in a writing class because most of the attendees were writing teachers.  It was interesting to hear different folks talk about their perceptions of video composing and its role (or non-role) in the writing classroom.  For some, “writing” and video seem like two totally different things, for others, making video opens up possibilities to highlight a rhetorical approach to writing any kind of text.

A few instructors voiced anxieties or frustration with having their students compose in video but not knowing how to help them or coach them when technical issues arose.  I think it’s true that the instructor should have at least a little bit of knowledge about software and hardware; however, I also think that the classroom can become a sort of “workshop” space where students and instructor play and learn together, where no one really is the “expert.”  This approach is a definite switch from the model where the teacher brings in the expert knowledge, but I think it’s a model where collaborative learning is at the forefront, even for functional or technical questions such as how to import a video clip into a software program such as imovie.

Another concern that was raised was how to assess products like videos in the writing classroom – a question which I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about lately, too.  I’ve come to see that setting students up to self-assess (set goals, reflect and revise their goals multiple times, and then evaluate their goals and process) is very useful along with evaluation from the instructor.  This approach highlights not just the video product in the end, but also the process.

I was also happy to get some time to just play around with imovie in the workshop.  Danielle provided us with “found materials” – images, video clips, songs – and we got to spend about an hour manipulating them in imovie and making a short video.  This is the kind of activity that would work great in a writing class to introduce video composing.  I’ve done something similar, but I really like that Danielle provided the materials for us, which saved a lot of searching time.  I think I will steal and adapt for my own classroom in the future!


a burning pile of RQs…

Today I met with my co-chairs and we discussed my committee, my timeline, and my prospectus draft itself – mostly the research questions.  We decided on other members of the committee which I now need to meet with and ask to join the project (one of which I talked to this afternoon and is on board!), and my co-chairs approved my proposed timeline.  So we are shooting for a prospectus defense for the week of March 12, as long as that works for other committee members.

We spent the remainder of our meeting talking about my research questions, which at this point feel like piles of burning refuse.  Not really – but I’m finding it hard to articulate the big questions about what I want to know and learn through my study.  Here are the questions I brought to the meeting today: 

Study Research Questions:

  1. What are the challenges to implementing strategic instruction in new media composition in the college writing classroom?
  2. What role does the instructor’s prior experiences and background knowledge play in the implementation of strategic instruction in new media composition?   
  3. What is the role of a learn-by-doing approach within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  4. What is the role of instruction in metalanguage within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  5. What is the role of reflection within strategic instruction in new media composition?
  6. Does strategic instruction in new media composition open an instructional space that leads students to develop a deep meta-awareness about writing, rhetorical choices, and multiple modes of expression?

1 and 2 probably will collapse into one question about the obstacles and opportunities for instructors and students presented by new media composition.  3-5 most likely will collapse into one question something to the effect of “What factors within strategic instruction in new media contribute most effectively to students developing a meta-awareness about writing?”  And question 6 can’t be a Y/N question, but a how question makes too much of an assumption, so I need to figure out a way to word it that takes the middle ground. 

All this tinkering with wording in the RQs seems silly to me in some ways, but on the other hand, it is true that I need to think carefully about what exactly I want to learn before I can think about designing my methods or about how to organize my lit. review. 

So the plan at this point:  continue forming my committee and dance around the fire of the RQs that once existed.  It’s ok – they weren’t that good anyway.   


Reading and Reorganizing

Today’s agenda included reading a couple more articles on transfer of learning from the writing classroom, and then thinking carefully about a few sections of my prospectus draft and considering ways to expand and revise.  I decided to work from home today because I didn’t have any other appointments on my calendar, and I recently cleaned my desk, so I was happy to have some work space (see below – although it doesn’t look too clean, it is, trust me!)

my desk at home

So I read two articles today: Foertsch’s 1995 article “Where Cognitive Psychology Applies” and Bergman and Zepernick’s 2007 “Disciplinarity and Transfer” study of how students learn to write in their discipline.  Foertsch’s article is a bit dated, but she argued that we need to use theories of local and general knowledge to teach writing, combining insight from cog psych and memory studies with social theories of learning and discourse communities.  Bergman and Zepernick’s study was pretty negative towards first year comp., and they land in the camp that writing should ideally be taught in the disciplines and that not much transfers from FYC to other writing contexts.

After I read these two articles, I did a bit of “mapping my study,” where I thought about what I really want to study and measure with my diss.  I started to reformulate my research questions, as you can see at the bottom of my notes, and then I did some practical thinking about how much data I can collect and where it will come from.

Prospectus Notes

I want to study two writing classrooms doing new media composition and gather the following data:

  • Interviews with instructor: at beginning of the unit, at the end of the unit, and at the end of the course (x2)
  • Interviews with 2-4 students from each class: at the end of the new media unit and at the end of the course, potentially 6 months after the course concludes as well (x2)
  • Observations: one workshop day, one lesson on metalanguage, one goal-setting day (x2)
  • Documents: Student reflections throughout the new media unit (on blog), reflection prompts written by instructor, metalanguage lesson plan materials, workshop lesson plan materials (x2)

So if I do all this, I will end up doing 22 interviews, 6 classroom observations, examining 8 student reflection blogs, and 10 instructor-generated prompts.  That seems like a lot – although I have no concept of how much data collection is “enough” for a diss project.  I will have to think on this and run it by my co-chairs on Wednesday.

The last thing I did today was go through my literature review in my first draft.  I mapped it out for myself my paragraph and I thought about ways to incorporate the articles I’ve read over the past few weeks into it, as well as how to move some of the material that I put in the conceptual framework into the lit review.  My concern is that it’s getting enormous, and I’m not sure what to keep and what to cut.  I feel like I need all the parts I have though.

I have a 5 PM appointment with the gym tonight, and then choral union this evening, so I will be getting some exercise and SINGING-yay!  I hope that tomorrow I can come back refreshed and start to actually rewrite some of the lit review and conceptual framework.  And plan the meeting with my co-chairs for Wednesday.