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Technology and Collaboration II: Multiple Titles

by Jeris Swanhorst

This panel focused on the use of asynchronous and synchronous technology in the teaching of first-year composition.

In “Breaking down Boundaries with the Anonymity of Computers: Pedagogical Techniques for Synchronous and Asynchronous Chats and Discussions,” Michael MacBride and Todd Anderson discussed the benefits and drawbacks of using synchronous and asynchronous chats as components of their first-year composition (FYC) courses. MacBride suggested some ways to incorporate synchronous chats into the classroom as well as warned against some of their limitations. Based on his experience, MacBride suggested limiting chats to 30-60 minutes and creating rules of etiquette in order to conduct chats effectively. Some of the shortcomings included the problems that arise due to time constraints, such as students falling behind due to slow typing or students not having enough time for meaningful reflection, according to MacBride. Next, Anderson discussed his successes with asynchronous chats in the classroom, particularly with the use of LiveJournal, a type of online discussion forum. Anderson recommended this tool to instructors, since its options in creating user names or anonymous posts allow students to feel less self-conscious about their writing. The presentation provided helpful suggestions from two instructors with first-hand experience with these methods incorporating synchronous and asynchronous chats into the FYC classroom.

In “Why are My Students Writing More? Exploring the Mysteries of Teaching Composition Online,” Randall McClure presented a paper attempting to answer the question: “Why are my students writing more?” McClure posed this question based on his observations teaching an online FYC course, as it seemed students were writing more than the students from traditional classes. He then set out to discover if this was in fact the case and if so, why? He conducted a small study measuring the amount and quality of writing from students in an online course compared to students in a traditional course, when given the same assignments. The results were surprising; rather than confirming his initial hypothesis, McClure found that there was actually no substantial difference in the amount or quality of writing from students in the different classes. His study resulted in more questions than answers.Why, then, did it appear as though students in an online course were writing more? One possibility was that the permanence of the writing in the online courses created the illusion of more writing, but in reality was more constantly visible. In addition to this new question, the paper raised other intriguing and unexpected issues. If students in online courses are producing an equal amount of writing, as well as writing of an equal quality as those students in the traditional classroom, what does that say about teaching composition online? While his study was not large enough to produce any substantial conclusions, it posed interesting questions about the success of teaching FYC online.

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