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An Online Composition Course

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Included in this section are samples of English 1102 student responses to questions asked about the use of the discussion board and peer review in their online classes.

The Online Composition Course section of The Things They Carry is a study that evolved out of my research for my Ph.D. My dissertation focused on training online ENG 1102 instructors on social presence, determining the instructors’ usage of social presence in their courses after the study, and measuring the students’ usage of critical thinking and argumentation in courses with both the trained instructors and those who were only trained on critical thinking and argumentation.

I had five research questions for my dissertation:

  1. After the designated instructors are trained in the use of social presence cues will they use more cues than they did before the training?
  2. Will the instructors’ use of social presence cues correlate with the incidence of students’ use of social presence cues in the students’ discussion board postings?
  3. Will the students whose instructors receive the social presence cues training achieve higher quality written argumentation than the students whose instructors were not trained?
  4. Will the students’ use of social presence cues predict students’ achievement on the development of a written argument?
  5. Will the students’ use of social presence cues correlate with the incidence of individual and/or collaborative critical thinking?

In compliance with both the IRB at my university in attendance and the university from which the data was being collected, I was able to attain both quantitative and qualitative data from students who consented to participate in the study. Because I, as both the study designer and an ENG 1102 instructor, was interested in the students’ feedback on the use of both the peer reviews and the discussion boards, I included an evaluative component at the end of the course. The brief survey asked the students to respond to basic questions about the course.

The qualitative results from the survey led me to develop new several new questions about the online students. Since I believe that the use of collaboration and interaction in online courses may lead to a sense of community for students and to a better understanding that other “real” people are in the course, including those who are also soldiers, I felt that the students’ responses to these questions would help to determine if the discussion board and peer reviews helped students develop a sense of community in the online classroom. I asked these questions in the survey:

  1. What did you think about the course?
  2. What did you enjoy? Was there anything you just did not like?
  3. Do you feel that you learned to think in new, more critical ways?
  4. Were the discussion board postings thought provoking?
  5. Did you enjoy interacting with your classmates?
  6. Did you find the peer review assignments helpful?
  7. Did you learn anything about proofreading on your own?

I have provided some of the students’ responses to the surveys that I have used to determine if the students’ provided positive responses to the class and to the discussion board and peer review assignments in the course. One interesting finding to note is that online students seem to be more willing to express their true thoughts and feelings rather than thinking that they need to say what they feel is the “correct” answer. After completing this study, I realized that for my own research for my courses, I need to re-evaluate the questions on the survey so that I can better determine if the students experienced the sense of community that I aim to provide in my courses.

Students were randomly assigned to online composition instructors. Some instructors actively interacted with students on the discussion board, and others did not interact much, if at all. Instructor interaction is indicated in each posting included. Human subjects research permissions have been obtained from the student authors whose work is represented in this webtext.

As one reviews the comments below, he or she will find positive responses to the use of discussion boards. Many students found that the discussion board provided valuable interaction between peers that encouraged students to consider new ideas and approaches. Where the instructor interacted with the students, much of the credit was given to the teacher for encouraging this “deeper” or more critical thinking. It is interesting to note that the students who did not interact with an instructor still found value in the discussion board exchanges. Even though the instructor did not provide feedback, the students were assigned and encouraged to post their responses and to provide their thoughts on their peers’ postings as well.

There were both positive and negative responses to the use of peer review on essays in the class. Many students (and instructors) found that the online environment makes peer review more challenging. Timing is a major challenge in online courses that are six to ten weeks. Students often do not have time to complete a draft, submit it to a peer, review responses, and edit the final draft when there are four to five essays due in an abbreviated time period.

Although the brick-and-mortar campuses of my university follow a more traditional sixteen to eighteen week semester, our Global Campus offers five nine-week semesters per year. As challenging as it might sound, Global Campus instructors must meet the same objectives as those of the more traditional semester sites. Although it does sometimes call for creative scheduling and a heavier workload, both the instructors and students are aware of the abbreviated schedule and work to meet the demands of these courses.

In such a context, student feedback is one of the most valuable assessment tools that an instructor may use. When trying to determine value of assignments, it is the students’ own voices that speak the loudest.


An Online Composition Course: Outcomes – 2