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Teaching Online in Texts and Technology

About the Author

Landon Berry is a PhD student in the Texts and Technology program at the University of Central Florida. His research interests include digital rhetoric & composition, digital identity, and using video games to teach digital literacy. In his spare time, Landon enjoys playing video games, espeically the Final Fantasy and Resident Evil series, and reading the works of H.P. Lovecraft and S.D. Perry.

Mitigating Learning Transfer in an Online Writing Course

The following texts (to varying degrees and from various angles) engage with the issue of mitigating learning transfer in an online writing course. There are few scholars who deal with transfer in an online-specific community, and therefore, the issue must be tackled by exploring transfer in regards to face-to-face writing classes, and by exploring how writing occurs in digital environments. By combining these two categories, researchers interested in online-writing transfer will begin to see that online writing can function as an independent discipline, founded on its own discipline-specific content and genres. Genre Theory, therefore, will be crucial for tackling this issue, because as discussed in several of the following sources, one of the major components for mitigating transfer is creating authentic rhetorical situations for students to navigate. Moreover, several of these sources discuss tools that are specific and conducive to online writing and can not only aid the online writing process, but inform it as well.

As a whole, these texts provide researchers with information regarding Genre Theory, transfer issues in face-to-face writing courses, and the use of digital tools in the writing process. While none of the following texts deal with online writing transfer specifically, together, they can help researchers to understand what mitigating transfer in an online writing course might look like, and what some of the best practices for mitigating issues of transfer might be.

Landon Berry

Research Recommendations

Abercrombie, Sara. "Transfer Effects Of Adding Seductive Details To Case-Based Instruction." Contemporary Educational Psychology 38.2 (2013): 149-157. Web.

Sara Abercrombie performed a study that examined the effectiveness of using “seductive details” or details that were interesting but contained no content-specific value in classroom instruction. The author found that students perform higher based on instruction that is meaningful and lacking in seductive details. For an online writing class, transferability might correlate directly with not only the appropriateness of instruction, but the utilization of tools and technologies that are most directly conducive to an online environment (ones that can directly affect learning without including seductive details).

Barton, David, and Lee, Carmen K. M. "Redefining Vernacular Literacies In The Age Of Web 2.0." Applied Linguistics 33.3 (2012): 282-298. Web.

Barton and Lee look at “Web 2.0 literacies” and how students develop a vernacular literacy and perform writing activities that are unique to that realm. The authors look at data from the popular photo site, Flickr, as well as interviews with multilingual Flickr users, and conclude that these vernacular literacies are self-generated but in some ways are constructed by the companies that market certain sites and technologies, in this case, Yahoo (owner of Flickr). In regards to transfer, this article does not overtly correlate. However, in light of Genre Theory, this article is useful in discussing how tools that are created specifically for online use can inform web-based composition practices, which can be helpful in the aiding of transfer when teaching about online writing as its own discipline.

Buck, Amber. "Examining Digital Literacy Practices On Social Network Sites." National Council of Teachers of English 47.1 (2012): 9-38. Web.

In this article, Buck examines how the building of online identity through using various social networking sites has a profound impact on how students conduct their literate activity. For instructors, it is crucial to understand these social networking practices as they help to shape the types of academic literacies students bring into the classroom. By taking these social practices into consideration, instructors can see how students understand rhetoric as they approach various audiences and exigencies. Much like Barton and Lee’s article, Buck’s discussion of social media does not seem to directly correlate to mitigating transfer in an online writing course. However, in regards to Genre Theory, it is also useful in discussing how students compose in forms that are unique to an online environment.

Burkholder, Joel M. "Redefining Sources As Social Acts: Genre Theory In Information Literacy Instruction." Library Philosophy And Practice (2010, August): 1-9. Web.

Burkholder argues for including Genre Theory in information literacy instruction. The authors argue that by including genre and context in library instruction, students can better dissect rhetorical situations and have a more full grasp of the rhetorical nature and implications of the works they choose to cite and work with. Organizing works by social acts, therefore, better equip students to function in an “information-rich environment” (9). While Burkholder’s article doesn’t directly deal with transfer, the discussion of Genre Theory is very important for understanding how an online writing course can function as an independent entity. For transfer to occur, students need realistic rhetorical situations in which to function, and the genre of online writing needs to be considered for this to happen.

Ittersum, Derek Van. “Composing Text / Shaping Process: How Digital Environments Mediate Writing Activity.” Computers and Composition Online (Fall 2013) n. pag. Web. 10 March 2014.

Ittersum’s webtext seeks to understand how the use of digital tools (e.g. distraction-free writing environments) can shape writers’ composing processes. By analyzing these tools and discussions with the creators of these tools, Ittersum advocates focusing on writing processes in the FYC classroom once again. This study finds that the tools students choose to compose with have a drastic impact on not only their composing process, but their sense of agency as well. While this article doesn’t discuss issues of transfer, it does present an interesting intersection between FYC transfer and the online classroom. By focusing on digital tools, researchers interested in transfer in the online classroom can work towards understanding how students can actively work towards transfer through their complex composing processes.

Mascle, Deanna DeBrine. "Writing Self-Efficacy And Written Communication Skills." Business Communication Quarterly 76.2 (2013): 216-225. Web.

Mascle examines knowledge transfer in regards to writing and how students believing that they aren’t “writers” contributes to their lack of skill transfer. The authors discuss how writing instruction typically does not ease these feelings of doubt for students, but fostering writing self-efficacy can. One way to accomplish this is to give writers an active hand in their choices and goals. This can improve writer agency. Mascle takes a unique stance on transfer, and instead of focusing on genre, chooses to focus on self-efficacy and writerly authority. While this discussion isn’t specific to online learning, it does provide a very important foundation for how instructors of online writing can go about treating issues of authorial doubt. In terms of helping students feel like “writers,” this article opens up interesting possibilities for students to feel like “bloggers,” “designers,” and “webmasters” as well.

Urbanski, Heather. “Knowledge Transfer: Rethinking the Research Methodology and Investigating the High School-College Transition.” Review of CCCC’s panel. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 08 August 2010. Web.

In this brief review, Urbanski discusses three panel presentations from the CCCCs 2010. One presentation discussed how activity theory can help to understand how students navigate specific tasks by honing in on how the systems in which students operate influence their “experiences and performance.” A second presentation brought the intertextuality of both the student and the instructor into the discussion and examined both of those against the rhetorical context that surrounds a given task. The final presentation discussed an experiment that followed several high school students through their first year of college and found that several factors that are most-determining of student success are emotional maturity, self-efficacy, and a sense of locus of control. While this review doesn’t draw any conclusions, it does offer interesting insights into the examination of knowledge transfer. For those interested in transfer in a FYC course, activity theory, intertextuality/rhetorical situations, and emotional maturity seem to be helpful avenues to pursue.

Wardle, Elizabeth. “‘Mutt Genres’ and the goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?” College Composition and Communication 60.4 (2009): 765-789. Web.

Wardle gathered and examined data from a large Midwestern University’s second-semester FYC courses over the course of two years. Her results show that overwhelmingly, FYC students experience little transfer in regards to the typical skills/assignments (profiles, argumentative papers, observations, rhetorical analyses, etc.) that are taught in FYC courses. Using Genre Theory, Wardle examined the effectiveness of teaching FYC students authentic assignments that are discipline-based. However, the types of writing that students would be required to do in higher level, discipline-specific classes (upper level Biology, for example) were mostly unattainable to young writers. Wardle proposes that FYC courses be centered around creating authentic/ genre-specific assignments which focus on Writing as a discipline-specific subject. For researchers interested in mitigating transfer, the subject of Writing About Writing holds great promise in that it helps students better understand how writers use writing as a tool. While this article doesn’t discuss online courses, it does provide insight as to how Genre Theory can be used to help mitigate transfer.

Wingate, Ursula. "Using Academic Literacies And Genre-Based Models For Academic Writing Instruction: A ‘Literacy’ Journey." Journal Of English For Academic Purposes 11.1 (2012): 26-37. Web.

Wingate argues for a genre-based approach to teaching writing and that the best starting point for this instruction is an “analysis of discipline-specific texts” (26). While the study is ongoing, the author did find that student writing improved by viewing models of genre-specific academic writing. Hence, modeling might be an effective tool to mitigate negative transfer. Certainly, for the online writing classroom, the genre-specific academic writing would need to be altered so that it is conducive to the genres that occur only or primarily online. Therefore, for those interested in transfer issues in an online writing course, this article further roots this issue in Genre Theory.