It’s on like Donkey Kong: Dissertation update

So here is my little ugly duckling of a dissertation proposal, with data collection planned for this Fall. Wish me luck! Of course my hope is that it grows into a swan that helps push the field forward on theoretical, methodological, and practical levels, but, to be perfectly honest, I'll be glad even if it grows into a little larger ugly duck.

Tentative Title: The Influence of Peer Review on Writing Achievement and Individual Writing Self-Efficacy

Draft Abstract: This study will examine the influence of peer feedback and review on individual writing achievement and self-efficacy. Undergraduate first-year composition students will engage in normal instructional activities, using the Eli Review program in order to conduct peer feedback and review sessions. Using the data collected from surveys and through the web-based peer review system Eli Review, the influence of giving and receiving writing feedback in peer review groups on both individual writing achievement and individual self-efficacy will be modeled using a multilevel, social-network analysis methodology. The influence of other possible mediating variables also will be explored, including: the influence of the instructor; the influence of outside help such as roommates, family members, or use of the university writing center, and the individual’s prior achievement. This study will contribute to understanding the influence of peers in the writing peer feedback cycle as well as the ways in which writing achievement and self-efficacy are influenced.

My Epistemological Leanings: or how I know I know

Recently for my Introduction to Qualitative Methods course, I was asked to identify my own epistemological leanings, specifically in the context of how I design research studies. I thought it would be useful to post those musings here and check back in a bit to see if they still hold. As always, comments and criticisms are welcome:

The root of the word “science” is to “know.” My epistemological leanings, my understandings of how I “know,” are heavily influenced by my undergraduate training in the biological sciences. The scientist is trained not only in designing and executing experiments, but also in observing the natural world. Charles Darwin, a notable scientist surely, grounded his theory of evolution in what is technically a case study of the Galapagos Islands’ avian residents. Science and research need not be limited to one methodology, for there is much that we do not understand, and it would be foolish to think that one method alone was the sure path to knowledge. I situate myself in a place that is driven by questions and methods that are strongly grounded in theoretical frameworks.  If there is an observable phenomenon that I have questions about, I consider those questions through the lens of a theoretical frame. I first consider what specific theories might predict about the phenomenon.  Nonetheless, predicting outcomes is not the only way to do science or to have knowledge. I consider myself post-positivist in this sense. I habitually think in terms of theories making predictions, yet I recognize that not every human action is predictable. Learning and the study of education are complex and messy, and not every situation will fit in the theory-prediction box.  As Erickson (1986) notes about school classrooms, “Interpretive researchers presume that microcultures will differ from one classroom to the next, no matter what degree of similarity in general demographic features obtains between the two rooms, which may be located literally next door or across the hall from one another (p. 128).” No matter how large the sample size or how robust the theory is, there will always remain a percentage of outcomes that remain unexplained. This ambiguity is where I find the entire “wild profusion (Lather, 2006)” so important.   I earnestly reject the quantitative/qualitative divide while recognizing that my own personal research brain tends to work best in a more quantitative environment. That being said, I joke that I am a positivist with critical theorist (and even post-structuralist) leanings.  I may feel most at home with a giant data set and a regression, but that does not mean that I don’t reject the dominant culture’s blind acceptance of the validity of these methods.  As a former K12 classroom teacher, I have the lived experience of the ways in which statistics and data are used as a hegemonic tool, one that often was used even to disempower teachers and students. As Lather (2006) stated, “Profoundly interventionist in the history of the welfare state, statistics has served as a political tool in the theatre of persuasion in a way that maps onto the recognized needs of policymakers (p. 49).”  I began teaching the year No Child Left Behind was enacted: I can’t think of a better example of political theater in which statistics played such a menacing part.  Social science has no option of conducting research in a vacuum, and as a social scientist, I feel it is my responsibility to not only advance the field, but do it in a way that is ethical.  My definition of ethical responsibility includes a responsibility to identify the ways in which my own privileges (as a middle-class person, as a white person, as an educated person, as a quantitative researcher, etc) inform my research.



Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative research in education. In Merlin C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research in teaching (3rd ed., pp. 119-161). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Lather, P. (2006). Paradigm proliferation as a good thing to think with: teaching research in education as a wild profusion. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19, 35-57. doi: 10.1080/09518390500450144

Damn, I’m a writer

When I went through the Red Cedar Writing Project in 2005, I was a teacher of writing who was becoming a writer. At the center of the Writing Project experience is the notion that to teach, one must do. One of the first steps was to own our identities as writers, even though calling myself a ‘writer’ felt as if I was overreaching. That changed on our Writing Marathon day when we adopted the mantra: “Damn, I’m a Writer.”  I love that phrase because it encompasses that moment when we move from being afraid of that identity to coming more fully into ourselves as writers.

This summer marked the launch of the Gradhacker website, and I’m proud to report that I’ve been a contributing writer since the first week. I love the Gradhacker community and there are some great posts going up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The only downside to writing on biweekly basis (not to mention all the writing one does as a student) is that my personal blog space has been a tad neglected. I am starting lots of new things this Fall, so that hasn’t helped matters either. I figured I should give myself credit for those other posts, so I wanted to just acknowledge that work in this space, too.

My Gradhacker posts from this summer:

  • Grad School made me stupid
  • I loved writing this post. It is the closest I’ve come to articulating how I generally feel most days in school. The title is a little misleading: in this context “stupid” is a good thing.
  • Google + Grad School = Awesome?
  • The best part about writing this post was that Professor Hacker ran a post on the same topic on the same day. I had a lot of fun between the discussions in the two communities.
  • Hacking the Digital Classroom with ‘Digital Is’
  • I am a HUGE fan of Digital Is.  The National Writing Project’s work on digital literacy always impresses me.
  • 7 Ways to Survive a Lit Review
  • All summer I worked on a lit review and the best part about it were the little notes to myself I wrote as I went along for the blog post I knew I would write when I was done. Somehow the fact that streamlining my workflow might turn into a helpful blog post made it more fun. Maybe the 8th tip would be: plan a blog post about your workflow when you finish 😉
  • Banishing Impostor Syndrome
  • While this post has the least amount of comments on the actual post, I’ve had more messages sent to me privately about this post than any other I have written. It clearly is an unspoken issue for lots of us (and I didn’t just hear from grad students).
  • I also repurposed an old post: Mamacademic: how I hack parenthood, grad school, etc

In other news, a book chapter I wrote finally came to fruition. Here I am holding a real live book with my real live writing in it.

Zellner, A. (2011). Reflections of a Cultural Translator. In L. Rex and M. Juzwik (Eds). Narrative Discourse Analysis for Teacher Educators: Managing Cultural Difference in the Classroom. (pp. 131-135). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.