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Siha, Alfred. Using iPads and iPhones as Teaching Tools. TETYC, Mar. 2019. Posted 04/28/2019.

Siha, Alfred. “In the Palm of My Hand: The Efficacy of Mobile Devices in a Community College Developmental Writing Class.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.3 (2019): 192­-209. Print.

Alfred Siha conducted a qualitative study to determine how students reacted to instruction delivered through iPads and iPhones using iOS apps in their developmental writing classes.

Siha notes that despite some instructors’ concerns about the presence of phones and other electronic communication devices in classrooms, technology is becoming more and more common in learning environments, earning generally “positive” reviews in studies (193). Evidence indicates a number of benefits from incorporating technology, such as improvements in motivation, collaboration, and interaction as well as engagement beyond the classroom (194). Siha feels, however, that more research is needed into students’ actual responses to the use of such devices as teaching tools (195).

Siha recruited students from two semesters of face-to-face developmental writing at a community college. Twenty-three of the thirty-eight students enrolled consented to participate. Names of the participants were shielded from the researcher/instructor until after final grades were awarded (196). Participating students allowed their work to be used and were interviewed at the end of the semester (196).

The course was designed around the use of iPads and iPhones; students were notified of the need to have a device. Seventeen study participants already owned a suitable device, while six purchased one (196). Siha writes that the students were also required to open an Apple ID account (204). The textbook for the class, developed through the educational software in the apps, cost $1.99. Students were able to make their purchases through the college bookstore and to use financial aid (204).

The course was built around iTunes U, which Siha characterizes as a “public and private quasi learning management system, or LMS” (192). This platform allowed the instructor to create his own interactive textbook, notify students of new posts, link posts to chapters, and connect directly and immediately with students (200-01). In order to promote a more interactive student-centered experience, Siha assigned a companion “visual project” for each of the five major writing assignments (198). Siha notes that despite being “digital natives,” students did require some help using the new tools (199).

The study yielded many positive responses from the participants. The “simplicity and mobility” provided by the devices allowed students to work on class assignments in any location, even in the company of friends (199-200). Students found responding to notifications sent to their devices to be more helpful than having to check email for posts (200). Siha found that students appreciated being able to communicate more easily with the instructor; he cites one student who “claimed that this class was the first time he ha[d] ever communicated with a professor outside of class time” (201).

Siha advocates an “intentional pedagogy” to make best use of the features devices and apps like the iOS systems provide (201). Student responses indicate that students reacted well to a textbook written by the instructor and specifically paired with posts and assignments, so that components could be accessed with a touch (201). The students responded that they felt the instructor was ‘“talking directly to’ them” (qtd. in Siha 201); this kind of relationship, he maintains, “elicits self-confidence and allows them to feel invested and cared for in their educational experience” (201). Siha also posted sample student work from previous semesters. He writes that such pedagogical approaches are important in any writing classroom but argues that properly “leverag[ing] mobile devices” provides “complete and unfettered access to high-quality course content . . . at their fingertips” (202).

The author found that varying screen sizes did have a small effect on the ease of reading and writing, with some students planning to use different devices in future classes with similar design or working on desktop computers before posting work to their devices (202-03). Compared to iPhones, the iPads used in the course did require students to be near a safe Wi-Fi network in order to receive immediate notifications (203).

As a developmental writing class, the study course required students to pass with a C or higher to move on to credit-bearing college work. The 74% pass rate for the course compared favorably to the 70% institutional pass rate (203). Siha argues that in addition to pass rates, courses should be assessed on their contribution to student confidence and understanding of writing. He cites student responses indicating that students did find the course a positive influence as they considered moving forward in their college careers (203-04).

Siha notes both his own bias as a researcher and the small sample size of his study (204). However, he states that his sample was a “diverse participant group in age, gender, race, and ethnicity” (205).

Throughout, Siha emphasizes the importance of course design to ensure that “the technology is being implemented wisely into the class curriculum” (204). Instructors, he urges, should receive adequate training and should have administrative support (205). In his view, an “intentional pedagogy” using applications and devices like iPads and iPhones should aim to exploit the “potential technological advantages” in order to move beyond “merely replacing paper handouts with PDFs” (197).


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Bourelle et al. Multimodal in f2f vs. online classes. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 01/24/2016.

Bourelle, Andrew, Tiffany Bourelle, Anna V. Knutson, and Stephanie Spong. “Sites of Multimodal Literacy: Comparing Student Learning in Online and Face-to-Face Environments.” Computers and Composition 39 (2015): 55-70. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

Andrew Bourelle, Tiffany Bourelle, Anna V. Knutson, and Stephanie Spong report on a “small pilot study” at the University of New Mexico that compares how “multimodal liteacies” are taught in online and face-to-face (f2f) composition classes (55-56). Rather than arguing for the superiority of a particular environment, the writers contend, they hope to “understand the differences” and “generate a conversation regarding what instructors of a f2f classroom can learn from the online environment, especially when adopting a multimodal curriculum” (55). The authors find that while differences in overall learning measures were slight, with a small advantage to the online classes, online students demonstrated considerably more success in the multimodal component featured in both kinds of classes (60).

They examined student learning in two online sections and one f2f section teaching a “functionally parallel” multimodal curriculum (58). The online courses were part of eComp, an online initiative at the University of New Mexico based on the Writers’ Studio program at Arizona State University, which two of the current authors had helped to develop (57). Features derived from the Writers’ Studio included the assignment of three projects to be submitted in an electronic portfolio as well as a reflective component in which the students explicated their own learning. Additionally, the eComp classes “embedded” instructional assistants (IAs): graduate teaching assistants and undergraduate tutors (57-58). Students received formative peer review and feedback from both the instructor and the IAs. (57-58).

Students created multimodal responses to the three assignments—a review, a commentary, and a proposal. The multimodal components “often supplemented, rather than replaced, the written portion of the assignment” (58). Students analyzed examples from other classes and from public media through online discussions, focusing on such issues as “the unique features of each medium” and “the design features that either enhanced or stymied” a project’s rhetorical intent (58). Bourelle et al. emphasize the importance of foregrounding “rhetorical concepts” rather than the mechanics of electronic presentation (57).

The f2f class, taught by one of the authors who was also teaching one of the eComp classes, used the same materials, but the online discussion and analysis were replaced by in-class instruction and interaction, and the students received instructor and peer feedback (58). Students could consult the IAs in the campus writing center and seek other feedback via the center’s online tutorials (58).

The authors present their assessment as both quantitative, through holistic scores using a rubric that they present in an Appendix, and qualitative, through consideration of the students’ reflection on their experiences (57). The importance of including a number of different genres in the eportfolios created by both kinds of classes required specific norming on portfolio assessment for the five assessment readers (58-59). Four of the readers were instructors or tutors in the pilot, with the fifth assigned so that instructors would not be assessing their own students’ work (58). Third reads reconciled disparate scores. The readers examined all of the f2f portfolios and 21, or 50%, of the online submissions. Bourelle et al. provide statistical data to argue that this 50% sample adequately supports their conclusions at a “confidence level of 80%” (59).

The rubric assessed features such as

organization of contents (a logical progression), the overall focus (thesis), development (the unique features of the medium and how well the modes worked together), format and design (overall design aesthetics . . . ), and mechanics. . . . (60)

Students’ learning about multimodal production was assessed through the reflective component (60). The substantial difference in this score led to a considerable difference in the total scores (61).

The authors provide specific examples of work done by an f2f student and by an online student to illustrate the distinctions they felt characterized the two groups. They argue that students in the f2f classes as a group had difficulties “mak[ing] choices in design according to the needs of the audience” (61). Similarly, in the reflective component, f2f students had more trouble explaining “their choice of medium and how the choice would best communicate their message to the chosen audience” (61).

In contrast, the researchers state that the student representing the online cohort exhibits “audience awareness with the choice of her medium and the content included within” (62). Such awareness, the authors write, carried through all three projects, growing in sophistication (62-63). Based on both her work and her reflection, this student seemed to recognize what each medium offered and to make reasoned choices for effect. The authors present one student from the f2f class who demonstrated similar learning, but argue that, on the whole, the f2f work and reflections revealed less efficacy with multimodal projects (63).

Bourelle et al. do not feel that self-selection for more comfort with technology affected the results because survey data indicated that “life circumstances” rather than attitudes toward technology governed students’ choice of online sections (64). They indicate, in contrast, that the presence of the IAs may have had a substantive effect (64).

They also discuss the “archival” nature of an online environment, in which prior discussion and drafts remained available for students to “revisit,” with the result that the reflections were more extensive. Such reflective depth, Claire Lauer suggests, leads to “more rhetorically effective multimodal projects” (cited in Bourelle et al. 65).

Finally, they posit an interaction between what Rich Halverson and R. Benjamin Shapiro designate “technologies for learners” and “technologies for education.” The latter refer to the tools used to structure classrooms, while the former include specific tools and activities “designed to support the needs, goals, and styles of individuals” (qtd. in Bourelle et al. 65). The authors posit that when the individual tools students use are in fact the same as the “technologies for education,” students engage more fully with multimodality in such an immersive multimodal environment.

This interaction, the authors suggest, is especially important because of the need to address the caveat from research and the document CCCC Online Writing Instruction, 2013, that online courses should prioritize writing and rhetorical concepts, not the technology itself (65). The authors note that online students appeared to spontaneously select more advanced technology than the f2f students, choices that Daniel Anderson argues inherently lead to more “enhanced critical thinking” and higher motivation (66).

The authors argue that their research supports two recommendations: first, the inclusion of IAs for multimodal learning; and second, the adoption by f2f instructors of multimodal activities and presentations, such as online discussion, videoed instruction, tutorials, and multiple examples. Face-to-face instructors, in this view, should try to emulate more nearly the “archival and nonlinear nature of the online course” (66). The authors call for further exploration of their contention that “student learning is indeed different within online and f2f multimodal courses,” based on their findings at the University of New Mexico (67).