Reviewing CCCC 2000: Research of Traditional and Online Communities (M.28)

All four presenters in this panel had wonderful projects to discuss and provided interesting ideas on researching communities. Kathleen Skubikowski and Amy Goodman presented findings, while Sharon Cogdill and Tari Fanderclai provided a brilliant critique of current literacy research methods and proposed a collaborative investigative method that may make literacy research more effective and rewarding.

Kathleen Skubikowski discussed her investigation of teacher and student roles in an online community. She pointed out that, in working in online communities, teachers need to see collaboration as key, remember that their teaching and their thinking is something that must be always in progress, reinvent their teaching just as students reinvent themselves online, and learn to play.

Amy Goodburn, though not able to attend the panel, did provide handouts of an abstract of an archival study of "students' literacy practices at an off reservation Indian boarding school in Genoa, Nebraska" that led to "an ethnographic study of Genoa residents' contemporary literacy practices and an understanding of how the town's identity is connected to the literacy artifacts that residents continue to produce about the school's history." The research sounds fascinating and would have added a wonderful, non-technologically based perspective.

However, the meat of the panel came from Cogdill and Fanderclai. Cogdill pointed out that increasingly sophisticated numerical models are not helping researchers reach any more useful conclusions, that quantitative studies are often quite small and don't generalize well, and that qualitative research, which is often of questionable rigor, has not cumulatively led us to better knowledge.

Cogdill added that this problem with research method is exacerbated by the fact that academics are rewarded for working alone and that by the time they publish their findings they are out of date. This introduced Fanderclai, who discussed the research methods of Linux developers. She pointed out that most developers, like academics, use closed source research in which they all work on the problem separately and race to finish and get their product out (publish) first. The Linux developers, however, use a more collaborative system in which a project is presented to a wide array of people all of whom are encouraged to work on it.

Because this system as been so successful in the computer world, Fanderclai proposes that the academic community might consider adopting a collaborative method in which researchers share data and work in progress (perhaps online) to further the work of the field. Picking up on that Cogdill reported on the successes she has had in beginning what sounds like a wonderfully useful multi-institutional study of collaborative writing software in which teachers from various institutions are collecting data from their classrooms and centralizing it so that it can be accessible to other researchers who are studying collaborative writing. It will be interesting to see how this experiment will work over time, and whether it will give researchers a better way to discover and share insights that may better advance literacy research.

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