12.11.2006

Introductions are in Order...

Welcome and all that stuff....

This blog stems from my research as a writing instructor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison where I am in the Ph.D. program in Rhetoric and Composition. While I teach courses in composition and Native American literature, I researched for my dissertation a course that combined both. Students enrolled in this course traveled to various locales in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota, the land sacred to the Lakota people.

What got me blogging, though, were the student journals. The academic papers were pretty typical and they responded to instruction in pretty
typical ways. I tried to look at both the writing products and processes by combining participant-observer methods with independent analysis using grounded theory. Moreover, I used a theoretical framework that drew from recent studies in literacy, writing, and learning as ecological activities, namely the New London Group, embodied literacies, and ecocomposition. By coding the journals in relation to my field notes and experience of the trip, I was trying to understand and theorize what students were actually doing with these journals.

The assumption is that journals are places where students begin drafting. Part diary and part commonplace books, academic journal writing is a fairly common assignment for courses in composition, literature, and other courses where writing is a mode of learning. Blogs, of course, are being heralded as the "new journal" mode for student reflection. This may or may not be true - an awful lot of research needs to be done in order to assess such claims.

My position is that such research is warranted, but with special attention to the kinds of reflective activities that are assigned. I came to this conclusion through my research because what I saw in student journals was a tendency to really wrestle with ethical, moral, and spiritual questions in ways that largely vanished from their formal responses. To me, this was really exciting since this is often what compositionists argue for in student writing. Here were students actually doing it!

So, in the pages that follow, you'll get some theorizing about how and why I think these students succeeded in their journal writing. Moreover, I hope to make the case to the more tech savvy that very non-technological writing can be just as beneficial. This isn't a critique, since I obviously feel computers and online communities valuable. I intend, rather, that it be a cautionary moment where we can stop and ask ourselves critical questions.

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Not always theoretical... not even always academic.. but always written..