Courtney (Rancho Buena Vista; April 2005; Student interview pp. 14-15)

Courtney’s words ring with unmistakable clarity. As a writer, she knew precisely what feedback she needed; Courtney highlighted the writer’s role in processing and soliciting feedback. She was one of the high school girls whom we, two rhetoric and composition teacher/scholars, interviewed about her online writing lab (OWL) experiences; here, Courtney described how she crafted her message for her audience. Moreover, her words emphasized the OWL’s role in allowing students to reflect on OWL feedback. Like Courtney, many interviewees possessed particular expectations of the feedback they received on this OWL. Yet desires like these often go unheard and unstated in the research on high school writing centers, OWLs, and, more broadly, response. We were struck by the dearth of such research—we believe we have much to learn from writers about response, a lesson with significant potential for future students, teachers, and OWL consultants. Mindful of critical feedback from girls like Courtney, we identified California State University San Marcos’ (CSUSM) university-to-high-school OWL as a fruitful site for studying digital response.

OWLs, in various iterations, have existed for decades. While some provide useful handouts and content explanations, others facilitate one-on-one tutoring in synchronous and asynchronous exchanges. Yet digital writing centers linking universities and high schools are anomalous, and the scholarship on such OWLs is markedly limited. Thanks to a grant-supported partnership between CSUSM and five adjacent high schools, the CSUSM OWL operated as this kind of online writing center, where trained undergraduates responded to developing high school students’ work. Between 2002 and 2006, 3,294 high school students submitted over 4,230 written pieces to the OWL requesting feedback. Dawn conducted interviews with forty-three high school students from two partnering schools (see Appendix A for the questions and Appendix C for the interviews referenced within). Our initial analysis stressed the OWL’s benefits and limitations. Informed by Glaser and Strauss’ (1967) classic grounded theory method, we identified thematic categories within the benefits and limitations the girls identified. This article explores the acknowledged limitations.[1]

What these girls reported about their OWL experiences is telling. Girls’ comments, and the limitations that emerged, offer meaningful insight, addressing response research’s tendency to elide the writer. Informed by Ratcliffe’s (2005) work, we interviewed and listened rhetorically to the high school girls.[2] Through these interviews, we discerned girls’ OWL perceptions and their desired role in the feedback process. We also began to understand their expectations about the feedback they received. Our claims here should interest response research scholars while engaging teacher/scholars invested in meeting students where they are and developing them further as writers.

We study Courtney and her OWL-using peers because these girls’ words offer invaluable lessons about writers as feedback solicitors and receivers. Based on what our interviewees revealed, we identified five limitations of this OWL for feedback solicitors. Reflecting on their OWL experiences, girls clarified what they expected of this digital response site and its ability to strengthen their agency in soliciting and negotiating feedback. Moreover, we contend that the inherent patterns within these girls’ expectations can help develop an OWL response pedagogy, thereby strengthening dialogic digital sites for writers soliciting feedback. Here, we first review the literature on both high school OWLs and writers as solicitors of feedback. We then describe the CSUSM OWL’s design and theoretical framework. Next, the girls speak, for themselves and each other, through representative video clips in the categories we uncovered, and we explore what the girls’ ideas imply. Finally, we consider what these limitations might suggest for the next version of the CSUSM OWL.[3]

[1] A second article in preparation, “Online Writing Lab (OWL) as a site of feminist pedagogy/feedback: Lessons from girls on a high school-to-university OWL,” emerged from the thematic categories noted within the benefits the girls ascribed to the OWL.
[2] As Ratcliffe (2005) describes in her book Rhetorical listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, in the interviews we aimed for rhetorical and pedagogical listening. Rhetorical listening asks us to be open to what these girls shared with us. Pedagogical listening extends that thought by requiring our teacherly and scholarly selves to move from openness to recognizing resistance in ourselves and in the girls, analyzing that resistance (resisting it when needed), and developing dialogic pedagogies of response for our OWLs (along with our classrooms and writing centers). We know these girls took us seriously when we met with them to discuss the OWL In turn, we listened rhetorically as we took and continue to take their experiences seriously, understanding as clearly as possible their needs and expectations as solicitors of feedback on this OWL.
[3] The essay can be read in a linear manner, moving from one piece to the next using the main menu at the top. However, we invite readers to create their own texts by exploring the different sections in random order. Structuring the piece this way, we hope, reinforces our belief that giving prominence to the girls’ voices is essential to this discussion.

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