Introduction     By Chance    By Choice    Theory     Results      References


The Opening of A Door . . .

"Are we meeting in the lab today?"

While the digital heuristic described in this article was initially derived by chance, it evolved into a more clearly wrought pedagogical tool, by choice. In its first derivation, the heuristic provided a means for sparking ideas, facilitating organization, and building audience awareness among struggling writers. In its second, (admittedly modest) derivation, the digital heuristic stood as an option alongside more traditional composing mediums among more advanced writers. Finally, in its most current derivation, the digital heuristic underwent a deliberate Redesign that allowed for the original plan of promoting invention, focus, and audience concerns and a pointed metacognitive aspect meant to foster critical thought among first-year writing students.

Admittedly, the research described here is in a nascent stage with the initial evidence gleaned in retrospect. My part in this experience has been that of the “loosely scheduled traveler” described by Robert Bogdan and Sari Kaplan Biklen in their Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods (2003), whose “plans evolve as [she] learn[s] about the setting, subjects and other sources of data through direct examination” (p. 49). Thus, with the origins of this project resting in happenstance, I followed and recorded the results of the project first in an anecdotal manner and then in an increasingly focused manner as the incorporation of the heuristic moved from “chance” to “choice.” In addition, the research here has a decidedly ethnographic bent as my initial impulses about the value of the heuristic led me to begin polling my students—in one case after they had taken the class and in another case as part of the design of the heuristic—in order to discern their thoughts about the digital heuristic as tool to aid composing. Furthermore, a colleague (with whom I had shared the digital heuristic idea) agreed to incorporate the activity in her own writing class and then share her students’ thoughts on the process as well. Consequently, the “results” of the study, thus far, can be heard mainly in the voices of the students and the instructors—an approach legitimized by Rosanna Hertz in Reflexivity and Voice (1997) , Wendy Bishop in Ethnographic Writing Research (1999), andCindy Johanek in Composing Research (2000).

So, did the incorporation of the digital heuristic meet the learning outcomes and goals as intended in its various inceptions (i.e. motivation, invention, organization, audience awareness and critical thought)? In terms of student motivation, both my colleague and I witnessed increased engagement, preparation, and attention to detail when our students shifted from their traditional pre-writing tactics to their digital heuristic work. We each noted an increased energy in the room as well along with the active participation of all students. To the question of motivation, one of my students noted: “I think exploring and learning new techniques for creating my projects was a great way to break away from the regular format.” In truth, this student’s response encapsulates my primary motivation for incorporating the heuristic in the first place: to provide a “change of pace.” Pamela Takayoshi and Cynthia Selfe (2007) claim “such instruction is often refreshing” for students “because it’s different from the many other composing instruction experiences they’ve had . . .” (p. 4).

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