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Research Questions

Research Fellows Home| Research Examples

In an effort to guide the research inquiry, we have put together a series of questions that may help direct scholars and teachers in their research endeavors. Any research question should start its inquiry with gaining an understanding or the prior knowledge of the audience(s) being studies. For example,

To begin, A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction provides an excellent starting place for the types and kinds of questions that online literacy educators want to know. Very few of the effective practices have empirical evidence and those that do simply raise additional questions. For example, we do know that online discussion boards create a sense of community in the online classroom, but what we don’t know is how to make the discussion boards more purposeful for student learning outcomes.

We would encourage researchers to begin to ask research questions in relation to the areas below:

Questions about Effective Practices

Look to the CCCC’s Position Statement as a starting place for research ideas and then to your own practices to hone your research question(s). Examples of questions around the Principles and Practices are

  • how are instructors designing and delivering more accessible online courses? How do students with disabilities navigate OWCs? Are certain LMSs easier for students to navigate from an accessibility standpoint?
  • what kind of professional development are teachers and tutors receiving to achieve accessibility for students in OWCs and in online tutoring sessions?
  • how can we determine the literacy load of students and instructors? (see Griffin, June, & Minter, Deborah. (2013). The Rise of the Online Writing Classroom: Reflecting on the Material Conditions of College Composition Teaching. College Composition and Communication, 65(1), 140-161) How does understanding literacy load affect instructional practices in OWCs?
  • What are effective feedback and commenting practices in online literacy education? Should they differ/do they differ from face-to-face instruction?
  • What are best practices for converting instructional material to online delivery that would facilitate student learning?
  • How should instructors adapt and convert instructional content for online delivery? What modes of delivery work best for students?
  • How are instructors using multimedia and multimodal literacies in their teaching (such as the use of videos, audio, visual texts)? How do they know these modalities are working?
  • What practices work well for enhancing student engagement? How are instructors building online communities in OWC environments?

Questions about Theory

There are a number of theories that need additional research for either confirmation and/or insights into how to change current teaching practices. For example, Hewett’s (2015) theory of literacy-cognition (see The Online Writing Conference We have also ported online many of our face-to-face theories of writing instruction that need to be empirically tested and verified to their efficacy.
Some sample questions from a distinctly theoretical orientation are:
  • What theories of face-to-face instruction can be ported into online environments? Which ones have better results for online literacy instruction?
  • Instructor responses to the national survey (2013) indicated that most are using process based writing. What does that mean in OWCs? How is “process based” instruction facilitated in online spaces?
  • What can psycholinguistic theories tell us about reading and writing in OWCs?
  • How might recent developments in neuroscience and the science of learning be applied and extended to online learning environments?
  • What theories can better orient the practice of building community in OWCs and related, how can we determine when we have built a community in the OWC?
  • How does the idea of community influence student learning?
  • What other theories of pedagogy (such as race or LBGTQ or feminist) tell us about reading and writing in OWCs?
  • What impact does the disembodiment of the OWC have on students and/or instructors?
  • How can we encourage “mindful reading” within the limits of the literacy load?

Questions about Technology

Since OWI is mediated through different types and kinds of technology, we are interested in supporting research that begins to critically examine these technologies in an effort to improve OWI.
Such questions could be:
  • How can we use LMS analytic features to improve pedagogies and what should be concerned about?
  • How are students accessing OWCs? (mobile phones, tablets, etc.)
  • Are they using the same tools to compose and read materials?
  • What are some effective strategies for learning more about how students experience and use online course environments?
  • How might online literacy educators apply user testing and usability studies to better understand how students perceive and experience online courses?
  • What can eye tracking tell us about how students are interacting with the OWC?
  • To what extent to technological tools (researchers could specifically tell us what they are studying) promote learning and engage students?
  • What are the impact of the different tools for writing and reading on student writing, reading, and learning?

Questions about Environments

Not all online environments are similar with the variety of courses we teach (fully online and various types of hybrid courses) and using a variety of technological environments. Even more so, we know little about the environments in which students work in online courses. Thus, this general category provides suggestions for researchers to examine questions such as
  • Is there a need to keep course caps lower?
  • What can we learn from online tutoring environments that can be imported into class environments?
  • What role do emerging mobile technologies, virtual reality, augmented reality contribute to our understanding of online environments and learning ecosystems?
  • What are differences or similarities between fully online and hybrid courses and tutoring sessions? What can these differences and similarities tell us about online literacy instruction?
  • Where
  • What is the most common type of course delivery? What is the length of term for courses?
  • How many students are in typical kinds of courses?

Questions about Stakeholders

The movement to online learning has meant that there are multiple stakeholders involved in the development of online courses and programs. This general category encourages researchers to learn more about the dynamics that push on and pull against online literacy instruction from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. Some potential questions include:
  • What are the perceived benefits for administrators, faculty, and students in moving courses?
  • What role do administrators play in course or program development? Do faculty have the ultimate say in determine if and when courses or programs go online?
  • What percentage of online writing courses are taught by contingent faculty?
  • What types of professional development opportunities are available for all faculty types?
  • What are the minimum qualifications of someone to teach online?
  • Who has ownership of online courses (institutions, instructors, combination there of)?
  • How can we ensure that online courses are assessed in the same ways that face-to-face classes are assessed?
 We also strongly encourage researchers to engage with materials across the reading, writing, and literacy divides so that future research can consider these things together rather than separately as has been mostly the case in the past.
Even though many of the questions directly address online courses or programs, the same questions can be applied to online writing centers and online tutoring.

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