ELECTRONIC LITERACY IN THE FRESHMAN COMPOSITION CLASSROOM
This is a pilot study developed by the two authors for discovering how students perceive and use electronic literacy both in and outside the freshman composition classroom. With this understanding of student perception and usage of electronic literacy, we aim to structure composition classrooms that will efficiently enable students to attain proficiency with electronic literacy. This level of literacy will not only fulfill the traditional goals of the composition classroom (writing, reading, and analytical skills), but also provides students with an awareness of e-literacy beyond the conventional concepts of e-literacy primarily social/entertainment. Students need an awareness of how important being electronically literate is in all aspects of their lives.
Electronic literacy, hereafter known as e-literacy, is defined by Kaplan as: "first, to mean those reading and writing processes specific to electronic texts (by texts, I mean a whole range of digitally encoded materials -- words, sounds, pictures, video clips, simulations, etc.); second, to signify eliteracies as in those socio-economic elites whose interests might be served by electronic literacies of one sort or another, or who might come to be elites by virtue of their ability to shape electronic literacies" (E-literacies). We interpret this to mean that e-literacy is the awareness that there exists a multi-leveled electronic discourse, the understanding that one may enter into this discourse and become a citizen of the electronic realm, and a practical knowledge of the tools that are used to access and interact with this medium.
We want to know how students engage in and perceive electronic literacy in their lives. Do students perceive e-literacy at all? In what contexts are students comfortable and uncomfortable with the tools they use to interact in the electronic medium?
To examine and understand student perception of e-literacy, we have incorporated the WebCT platform into two freshman composition courses. Both of these courses are focused on the subject of electronic literacy, and students must use the platform to obtain assignments and relevant online readings. These readings supplement the main readings of the course, three Science Fiction books. We have utilized the discourse of a specific genre of Science Fiction (cyberpunk) as a basis of discussing the discourse of e-literacy. The supplemental readings are online articles that contrast the cyberpunk discourse of e-literacy with the current concepts of e-literacy that operate in the world.
We are also studying the student usage of two practical WebCT platform tools: message boards and chatrooms that enable us to examine how and if students choose to interact with each other and the teacher outside of the traditional classroom. Specifically the message board is being used for student participation ratio of online (message board) vs. offline participation (traditional classroom).
The chat room tool is being blended with a page created specifically for these classes on the Kent State Writing Center site to provide an Online Writing Lab as a matrix for electronic communication with tutors. Students are partitioned into peer editing groups and email their papers to the Writing Center and fellow students in the peer-editing group. A tutor is assigned to each peer-editing group. Both the tutor and the students critique the papers and then meet in the chatroom to discuss how the papers can be revised.
Relevance of This Study
We believe this study is relevant to teaching because as teachers enhance traditional classrooms with platforms such as WebCT or Blackboard, an awareness of the contextual student understanding of communication in the electronic world is necessary. Teachers need to know how to effectively structure the usage of the electronic tools to enable student awareness of how literacy is factored into electronic communication. There are certain freedoms that seem to be apparent to students in the electronic medium but in fact do not exist. For example we found, at the beginning of the study, that a student had posted sexually harassing messages to another student. He did not think that the teacher would be aware of these messages. So, a teacher needs to communicate to the students that the means of electronic communication have boundaries just as conventional means of communication have boundaries. The lack of physical presence does not negate the need for this type of awareness. With this kind of understanding we can structure the student experience to get the maximum benefit out of the electronic and physical experience of the classroom.
At the beginning of the semester, students in both classes were given a survey, which asked them to explain their experiences with the electronic mediumspecifically how they used it and how comfortable or uncomfortable they were. Seventeen surveys out of fifty surveys were returned. All seventeen students indicated that they primarily used the electronic medium as a communication/socializing tool.
Student participation online vs. offline: The majority of student participation up until the sixth week of the semester has occurred offline in the classroom. Up until that point, the message board has been used to announce assignments and, occasionally, questions students have for the teacher. From the seventh week on in the semester, students have started to participate actively online. However, with the exception of one online threaded discussion, the majority of the online message board posts have been required by the teacher. The students who have voluntarily participated online, with the message board, usually participate in class, with one notable exception who has stated that he feels more comfortable participating online. Students who do not participate offline do not show an inclination to participate online.
The results of the first peer editing chat sessions were mixed. Some students and tutors felt the online session was very useful, while others did not. There were several contaminants that occurred for this session. 1) Technological issues. Many students sent papers to the WC and to each other, but the papers were not received due to current domain/networking problems. 2) Interpersonal issues uncooperative (intimidating) students and students who didnt show up, but these issues occur in face-to-face tutoring as well and were not specific to the technological medium we worked in.
In the first paper assigned to students, we have noted that twenty-three out of fifty students perceived e-literacy as a social/entertainment cultural discourse. Ten students out of fifty perceived e-literacy in relationship to their future careers. Fourteen students out of fifty perceived e-literacy in terms of advantages vs. disadvantages in societal usage of e-literacy. Three students out of fifty did not turn their paper in on time and so were not included in this analysis.
Structuring the Continuing Experience
We have found that, to structure the student experience of developing a conception of e-literacy, we will need to examine student participation online and offline, but with modifications to the participation requirements for the class. We will require one class to participate online, and we will use the other class as a control group to determine if that class does or does not use the online tools to participate.
We have found that we need to keep up to date on network support issues (WebCT and Kent webmail) to effectively utilize that technology for each class. An example would be an email issue that tutors and students encountered for the first chat session; The students would send papers to each other and the tutors, but not all of the emails were received by the other students or tutors. This suggests the need to construct a dialogue with the WebCT help desk in the library, WebCT administrator in Moulton hall, and the webmail administrator. This dialogue will allow us to pass on information to students, tutors, and teachers so that potential mix-ups with email delivery of papers and other technical issues can be averted.
We think that tutor/student comfort and ability to work together will be enhanced if first the tutors meet and work with their respective student groups in the physical classroom. We need to provide additional training for the Writing Center tutors to work in the online chat medium. To this point, tutors have generally thought about online tutoring taking place in a one-on-one, asynchronous email environment. We are considering future group sessions taking place in the asynchronous message board environment (which can utilize message attachment and may be a way of working around the issues encountered with email attachments), with follow-up sessions taking place as one-on-one synchronous chat sessions.
TCC Online Conferences