My long-term goal with this weblog is to have it help me work towards finishing my dissertation. I’ve got a few sub-goals as parts of that long-term goal.
By April of 2004, I’d like to have a completed prospectus and at least a chapter or two, so I can apply for a university dissertation fellowship. The odds of me getting one are prohibitive, but I figure I might as well at least give it a shot.
By the end of this Summer — before Fall semester classes start at the end of August — I’d like to have (1) a one-page ur-prospectus and (2) a plan, with IRB approval, for a qualitative classroom study for the two computer sections of first-year writing I’m teaching. Here’s what I think that’ll involve. (This probably won’t be all that interesting to anyone except people like me semi-lost in prospectus-land; it’s more process writing than anything else, to help me get my ideas more concrete, and have a record of them. But I’d be really grateful for feedback from anyone who’s been there and has strategies for getting past the amorphous, giant-amoeba-like prospectus-beast.)
1. The ur-prospectus.
Important things here are a working title, to help guide my research, and a research question, which will probably break into my Big Questions and some Smaller Questions. A way of sorting this out might be to ask, what questions have compositionists not yet asked about the intersection of computers, class, and writing instruction? What questions have computer theorists not yet asked about computers, class, and writing instruction?
Beyond that, I’ll have to talk about what the practical and theoretical implications of my research might be for my field: how does class affect computers and composition? How do I respond to those people who say that class doesn’t matter in the intersection of computers and writing instruction?
I feel, in my gut, that class does matter for students writing with computers. That’s not useful in the least as an argument; it’s eminently useful as a motivation. As far as arguments go, one starting point is the fact that Cynthia and Richard Selfe have shown in a very basic and powerful way how aspects of identity affect and are affected by computers, in their essay “The Politics of the Interface”. Furthermore, feminist researchers have produced a compelling body of work in the field of computers and composition that constitutes the field’s most important examination of how identity and difference affect the way students write with computers. Billie Wahlstrom, in her chapter in the 1994 Selfe & Hilligoss MLA anthology Literacy and Computers, points out that “Feminist theory provides such an augmentation [of existing theoretical perspectives] by delineating connections between technology and the cultural hegemony from which it emerges” (171), and I feel feminist theory can certainly help me to examine the classed nature of some of those connections. Carol Stabile’s book, Feminism and the Technological Fix, also looks like it should be helpful on the theory side. (Thanks, Donna!)
So I think my directions in terms of pursuing theoretical implications are fairly clear. As far as practical implications go, well, that’s where I’m hoping the next thing will be helpful.
2. The plan, with IRB approval, for a Fall semester qualitative classroom study.
The more clear I am in the ur-prospectus about where I’m headed, the more useful my research questions in the study will be. The basics are that I’ll have to tell students from the beginning that I’m doing the study, make it clear that participation is entirely optional and decisions to participate won’t affect their grades, and that in fact I won’t know who’s participating until after the semester’s over and grades are in. So I’ll have to ask another teacher to help me; ask her to come to the classroom, hand out and collect permissions forms and questionnaires so I don’t see them, and then once the semester’s over and I know who’s participating, I can burn their writing onto a CD (if I’ve gotten permission to use it) and set up interviews with them during the Spring semester.
A second and possibly more productive option might be to ask another teacher if I could be an ethnographer in her classroom in the Spring semester; that would help ameliorate some of the awkward teacher-researcher / student power relationships involved in researching my own classroom. It might even be interesting (but also possibly problematic) to see I could do it in someone’s honors section, to try and examine any possible class differences between such a section and my non-honors sections. Being in someone else’s classroom in the Spring might also let me observe certain factors more closely, like doing more usability-style observations, watching how students click through various Web sites.
One final angle might be looking for class differences between institutions. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I think colleges and universities are themselves classed institutions, and I believe that the classed nature of the institutions could be reflected in how computers are used in the writing classroom. Maybe this is where, once I figure out what I’m doing and what questions I’m asking, I put out a request on Kairosnews for instructors who might be willing to respond to a survey. Hm. So what would I ask?