Heidi Skurat Harris, University of Arkansas--Little Rock
The Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction (OWI) first appeared in 2016 after the publication of the 2013 CCCC’s Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction. The CCCC Online Writing Instruction committee saw a need to compile a bibliography of research that aligned with the OWI Principles. The first team of editors and annotators were tasked with gathering research in OWI from the beginning of “online” education (~1990) through 2015.
Research in online writing instruction exploded since the original bibliography was published in 2016. The first bibliography included over 370 entries covering publications between 1990 and 2015. The updated version includes an additional 216 sources, including 171 entries published between January 2016 and October 2019--meaning that nearly one-third of the research in online writing instruction has been published in just three-and-a-half years of the field’s 29 year history.
New journals, a new organization, and a new online community also came online between 2015 and 2019. A new peer-reviewed journal Research in Online Literacy Education (ROLE) was established in 2018, providing an outlet for “original research and scholarship in literacy-based online education.” This journal’s companion, the Online Literacies Open Resource publishes “brief and practical pedagogical strategies” that can be immediately implemented in online literacy classes. The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (established in 2016) hosts both of these publications and provides additional webinars, resources, and grants focused on expanding online literacy and writing instruction and research. Another online resource developed in 2015 is the Online Writing Instruction Community. This online resource is “an online, academic resource that provides a sense of community for online writing instructors around the globe and encourages the use of recent online writing instruction (OWI) scholarship, the sharing of assignments, feedback, and course design ideas.” In 2019, community creators Jessie Borgman and Casey McArdle released a book titled Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors that further develops the PARS method of online writing course design they outline on their website.
This updated Bedford Bibliography of Research in OWI includes ~585 annotated sources, including both a full, alphabetical list of all entries and updated lists of entries organized by the CCCC Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction. What follows is an overview of how the Bibliography was updated, trends and changes in OWI research between 2016-2019, and questions for further research in OWI.
Finding and Annotating Publications for the Updated Bedford Bibliography of Research in OWI
To update the bibliography, a team of researchers and annotators completed database searches for sources in OWI published between 2016 and 2019 as well as general searches of OWI sources from 2000-2015 that were missed in the first version. In addition to these searches, we reviewed the references of three additional edited books on online writing instruction (Applied Pedagogies: Strategies for Online Writing Instruction, edited by Daniel Ruefman and Abigail Scheg; Writing in Online Courses: How the Online Environment Shapes Writing Practices, edited by Phoebe Jackson and Christopher Weaver; and Handbook of Research on Writing and Composing in the Age of MOOCs, edited by Elizabeth Monske and Kristina Blair) as well as a special issue of Computers and Composition on user-centered design and usability (edited by Joseph Bartolotta, Tiffany Bourelle, and Julianne Newmark).
We extended invitations for authors to recommend their own work through the WPA-Listserv and the listserv of the CCCC OWI SIG. After we collected the work, a team of 17 annotators and I annotated remaining work and compiled the bibliography.
Trends and Changes in the Updated OWI Bibliography
As stated in the first Bedford Bibliography on Research in OWI, no resource can include every published text on a single issue or topic. In fact, as I wrote this introduction, a new collection of online writing center research was published in a special issue of Research in Online Literacy Instruction. However, this update adds to our general understanding of OWI research and identifies new directions for teachers, scholars, researchers, and online writing center tutors & directors.
Below, I connect current research to previous gaps in OWI research. The sections are organized according to the general categories in the CCCC OWI Position Statement.
Accessibility in OWI
The introduction to the first version of the bibliography called for additional research on accessibility, including how access to student support services could be improved and how we could better understand accessible course design, particularly on mobile devices.
Scholars continue to address accessibility in terms of course design (Belvins 2017, Borgman & Dockter 2018, Browning & Cagle 2017, Butler 2018, Jenkins 2017, Neilsen 2016, Oswal & Meloncon 2017, Pang & Jen 2018, Petrosino 2016, Vasquez & Straub 2016, Warner & Hewett 2017). The updated bibliography provides resources for instructors designing accessible courses, including online tools from the following national organizations:
- Arthritis Foundation
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Autism Society of America
- Epilepsy Foundation of America
- National Association of the Deaf
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- United Cerebral Palsy Association).
Additional research has looked into how to support online students through online writing centers/labs including the special edition of ROLE on online writing centers and online writing tutoring (see also Denton 2017, Gray 2018, Hallman Martini 2016, Holloway 2016, Hutcheson 2018, Prince et al. 2018, Simpson 2017, Thonus & Hewett 2016, Worm 2018). More work still needs to be done on how best to integrate other resources, such as library resources, into online classes (Haber & Mitchell 2017) and the discipline needs institutional ethnographies studying how campuses have built robust resources for online students.
The impact of mobile technologies on online writing classes has also seen attention from 2016 to 2019, no doubt as the use of mobile devices in online classes has increased. As of 2018, approximately 67% of online students used their mobile devices to complete coursework in online classes (“More Students Rely on Mobile Devices to Complete Online Classes”). Claire Lutkwitte’s edited collection Mobile Technology in the Writing Classroom: Resources for Teachers (2016) includes two articles on fully-online students (Dockter & Borgman, McArdle). As we can see from the increase in student usage of cell phones to complete online course materials, we need additional research on how to create online writing classes that are mobile-friendly.
Instructional Principles in OWI
Research on instructional principles dominated the research between 2016 and 2019. The first version of the bibliography called for additional research on how changes in technology impact instruction, how usability and user-centered design improved online writing courses, how scale affects online classes, and how we can move from lore to knowledge in our research.
Liz Monske and Kristina Blair’s address the impact of scale on OWI in their Handbook of Research on Writing and Composing in the Age of MOOCs. This collection seeks to understand how MOOC affects instruction and administration of online writing courses. Research related to technology in OWI addresses how multimodality enriches online classes as more programs use multimedia or multimodal composition (Borgman 2018, Bourelle et al. 2016, Bourelle, Clark-Oates, & Bourelle 2017, Bourelle & Hewett 2017, Chambers 2016, Dockter & Borgman 2016, Licastro 2016, McCool 2016, McEachern 2017, Richards 2018, Romberger & Rodrigo 2016, Skurat Harris & Greer 2017, Stewart 2017, Weaver 2018).
User-centered design is now central to discussions of online course development. Researchers in this bibliography connect the OWI principles to the principles of user-centered design and user experience (UX), a change that reflects the increasing need to teach writing students how to compose for digital and global audiences. Jessie Borgman’s and Casey McArdle’s Personal, Accessible, Responsive, Strategic: Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors introduces the PARS method as a way to create a learner-centered user experience based online classroom. A special edition of Computers & Composition (2018) dedicated to user-centered and UX design elaborated on those connections as well (Borgman & Dockter 2018, Bjork 2018, Greer & Skurat Harris 2018). Additional articles study how online writing instruction benefits from the principles of user-centered design (Borgman 2019, Evans 2019, Hutchison 2018, Opel & Rhodes 2018, Ruefman 2016, Skurat Harris & Greer 2017, Vie 2018)
Multimodal course materials and feedback continue to be studied as well, with researchers primarily seeking to understand whether students find video or audio content (Colby 2017, Francis et al. 2019, Kwak 2017, Lutkewitte 2016, Odom & Lindsey 2016, Pang & Jen 2018, Seward 2017) and video or audio feedback (Anson 2018, Bourelle, Clark-Oates, and Bourelle 2017, Ene & Upton 2018, Grigoryan 2017, Grigoryan 2017b) useful. Additional scholars have recommended ways that faculty can effectively implement student video and multimedia projects to meet course objectives (Hill 2017, Hubbard 2016, Licastro 2016, McArdle 2016, Weaver 2018).
Faculty Issues in Online Writing Instruction
The first bibliography called for additional research into online writing faculty issues in three areas: the impact of class size, the availability of professional development opportunities, and the role of contingent faculty. The first of these, class size, was referenced in the Monsky and Blair MOOC collection but still has not been systematically studied as a part of online writing instruction practice, perhaps because so few instructors of OWI have a say in their class sizes and class size is difficult to correlate with other variables.
Faculty professional development opportunities saw a surge of publications, including the special issue “Online Teaching and Learning in Technical Communication” (Technical Communication Quarterly 2017 later published as Professional Development in Online Teaching and Learning in Technical Communication). This edited collection continued the conversation that Beth Hewett and Christina Ehmann Powers began with the special edition of Technical Communication Quarterly on online teaching and learning in 2007. In addition to this special issue, the updated bibliography entries provide specific roadmaps for professional development at the program level (Bourelle 2016b, Greer & Skurat Harris 2018, Rodrigo & Ramirez 2017), in relationship to service and active learning and multimodal instruction (Bay 2017, Bourelle & Hewett 2017, Vie 2017), and on effective graduate student preparation for teaching writing online (Bourelle 2016b, Grover 2017, Grover et al. 2017). Professional development and working conditions for contingent faculty are often intertwined in articles calling for more professional development and fairer evaluation of online contingent faculty (Babb 2017, Beavers 2019, Howard 2017, Mechenbier & Warnock 2019, Melonçon 2017).
In short, faculty issues in online writing instruction are still front and center of our concerns as a field. As more and more online courses are taught by contingent faculty, and as institutions are pinched to increase class sizes and save money, our field needs to argue that fair faculty working conditions are vital to retention and student success.
Institutional Principles in Online Writing Instruction
Perhaps the most notable edited collection regarding institutional principles for OWI is the special edition of Research in Online Literacy Education (ROLE) on online writing centers and online writing tutoring (2019). This special issue addresses three key areas: building online writing centers, asynchronous tutoring practices, and online tutor training. This collection responds to Denton’s (2017) call for online writing lab research to focus more on data to help prove or disprove lore-based practices regarding asynchronous tutoring.
Several bibliography entries focus on how writing centers enhance technical writing courses, including courses across the disciplines (Hallman Martini 2016, Hutchinson 2018). Two annotations on writers studios study how online writing students were effectively embedded in a first-year composition course (Grey 2018, Miley 2019). Several publications address effective methods of training online writing tutors (Hallman Martini & Hewett 2018, Holloway 2016, Thonus & Hewett 2016). And new scholars in the field are placing online tutoring as part of the national conversation on writing centers and computers and writing (Prince, Willard, Zamarippa, & Sharkey-Smith 2018; Worm 2018).
Institutional policies regarding online writing instruction vary greatly, whether the institution is not-for-profit or for-profit, private or public. Additional research on how online classes and programs function within schools and universities with and without fully online writing programs would contribute to our understanding of online writing instruction within larger institutional frameworks.
Research and Exploration in Online Writing Instruction
As we continue to research and explore facets of online writing instruction and refine our principles and effective practices, research studies should continue to apply current principles in practice. The application of the CCCC OWI Principles and Example Effective Practices was evident in sources published between 2016 and 2019. In addition, the Global Society for Online Literacy Educators developed their Online Literacy Instruction Principles and Tenets, expanding online principles into digital writing and reading as well.
While the CCCC OWI Principles do not directly mention how online writing instruction impacts international students, a number of entries in this updated bibliography address online writing instruction on the global stage. Two edited collections forefront this work. The first, Mary Deane’s and Teresa Guasch’s Learning and Teaching Writing Online: Strategies for Success, features research in online writing instruction and collaborative writing from scholars around the world. Thinking Globally, Composing Locally (2018) by Rich Rice and Kirk St. Amant, while not explicitly about international online writing instruction, provides useful resources on the ways that global audiences write online. Additional scholars take on writing for global and international audiences, including Borgman, et al. 2019, Budiman 2018, Oswal 2016, St. Amant, 2017, St. Amant and Rice 2015.
Longitudinal studies of programs and classes are still needed to determine if the principles and effective practices of OWI will/have changed over time. While the bibliography includes some excellent descriptions of online writing programs and online writing classes at particular points in time, more research needs to track what changes in OWI courses and programs most effectively retain online students (and on-campus students taking online classes). Articles on writing program administration related to online classes include several that address how WPAs handle (or could handle) professionalizing their online writing instructors (Babb 2017, Beavers 2019, Blevins 2017, Borgman 2017, Clark-Oates et al. 2018). Other publications discuss the challenges of developing and sustaining online programs (Blevins 2017; Bourelle 2016; Bourelle & Bourelle 2015; Greer & Skurat Harris 2018; Oswal & Melonçon 2017; Quezeda, Brunk-Chaves, & Posey 2016; Skurat Harris & Jensen, 2019). Follow up studies on these publications would provide insight into long-term trends and developments in the field.
One exciting development in online writing instruction research is the number of new scholars writing in this area. Eight new dissertations in online writing instruction cover graduate student and contingent faculty training (Beavers 2019, Grover 2017), social presence in OWI (McCool 2016), theories of OWI (Carmichael 2018) and online writing center and class design (Hallman Martini 2016, Proulx 2017, Richards 2018, Simpson 2017). Research into online communities of practice by Mary Stewart and colleagues (Hillard & Stewart 2019, Stewart 2017, Stewart 2018, Stewart 2019; Stewart Cohn & Whithaus 2016) provides a model of how to develop a framework and systematically study that framework longitudinally. These scholars will create exciting new research models vital to continued OWI research efforts.
National and multi-institutional studies are another needed area of research in OWI. This bibliography includes one national study of student perceptions of online writing instruction described in two articles in the journal Research in Online Literacy Education. Martinez et al. (2019) reported on the results of a survey of 569 students and their experiences in online writing classes in the U.S. Skurat Harris et al. (2019) published a companion piece that elaborated on the qualitative survey results and developed a theory of “purposeful pedagogy-driven course design.” Other national studies include Melonçon’s 2017 survey of 346 contingent faculty to understand how they were trained to teach online and the autonomy they have in their online courses. Studies such as these, while complicated and time-consuming, can help OWI researchers use empirical research to develop sound online writing practices across institutions.
Directions for the Future
Higher education faces tough challenges as we enter a new decade. Universities struggle with dwindling budgets in part due to fewer traditional college-age students in the general population. A decade ago online classes was a means of staving off the wolves at the door of traditionally brick-and-mortar universities.Online public and private schools delivering high-quality education to individuals limited by time and place have seen increasing enrollments. Online writing programs and classes have met the call to deliver a high-quality education, but we are at a crossroads in higher ed where simply implementing new online programs or classes might not be enough to sustain currently struggling programs.
With these challenges in mind, I see four high-demand areas for future research: 1) research on retention in online writing classes, 2) research using student experiences to shape online writing course design, 3) research in writing-intensive online courses across and in the disciplines (WAC/WID), and 4) research that identifies how race, gender, and socioeconomic status impact student performance online. In short, online writing instruction needs to develop data-driven evidence that supports effective writing practices and demonstrates the value of writing instruction to retention at the university-level for all students across the world.
Research on retention in online education indicates that online courses have a higher attrition rate than on-campus classes (see Bawa 2016 for a literature review of retention studies in online education). This bibliography includes only one study of retention in developmental writing classes (Carpenter, Brown, and Hickman 2004). OWI scholars need to identify course-related factors that impact retention and use effective principles to keep students enrolled and engaged in online writing courses.
The second area of research connects to the first--the need to systematically study students’ perceptions and experiences in online writing classes. Some of this is a natural extension of evolving research in learner-centered or user-experience design. A number of articles discuss UX design (see “Instructional Principles” above). Making our online writing courses inclusive and teaching our students where they are continues to be a focus of OWI research. As students increasingly use mobile devices to complete online assignments outside the home, or on the move, big-box LMSs are struggling to keep up with the needs of their mobile users. Innovations in voice-to-text technology bring orality back to the center of composing and delivering practices as well. OWI needs to address how we can accommodate learners using mobile devices more effectively, including at scale, while maintaining inclusive classrooms for all learners.
The third area of potential research addresses the increasing role that high-impact, writing-intensive courses can make in the disciplines (Griffin 2018), including social work (Derossier, Gabbard, and Funk 2015), business (Austin et al.), the natural sciences (Larsen 2018, Licastro 2016) and nursing (Stephens et al. 2014). Online writing instruction research needs to expand more fully into writing across the curriculum to provide models of how to effectively write online, regardless of genre or discipline.
This document would not exist without the annotators and editors who dedicated their time to this project.
- Jessi Ulmer (South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind)
- Melody Pickle (Purdue Global)
- Jen Cunningham (Kent State)
- Stephanie Williams (Henderson State University)
- Maria Alberto (University of Utah)
- Jessie Borgman (Texas Tech University/Arizona State University)
- Mahli Mechenbier (Kent State--Geauga)
- Mary Stewart (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
- Jason Dockter (Lincoln Land Community College)
- Megan Tyler (University of Utah)
- Richard Samuelson (Idaho State University)
- Michelle Stuckey (Arizona State University)
- Scott Warnock (Drexel)
- Cassandra Goff (University of Utah)
- Kirk St. Amant (Louisiana Tech University)
- Natalie Stillman-Webb (University of Utah)
- Michael Greer (University of Arkansas -- Little Rock).
Special thanks go to the citation editor, Sarah Ricard, and Jason Godfrey (University of Michigan) who compiled the master list of sources and updated the annotations by principle. Jessie Borgman and Micheal Greer gave necessary and critical feedback on the introduction, for which I am grateful.
Thank you to the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Arkansas--Little Rock for your unending dedication to online writing instruction and your support of this project. I am fortunate to work with a dedicated group of instructors providing quality professional and technical courses across modalities.
And last but not least, thank you Daria and Darby. I know you are looking forward to getting your mom back again. Thanks for your love and patience.