Transformation in the writing classroom: The transition from computer as tool to communications medium

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Susan Hynds


Computer-mediated communication, Email, Composition, Transformation, Writing classroom

Subject Categories

Educational Psychology | Higher Education and Teaching | Instructional Media Design


The purpose of this qualitative study was to provide an account of one college writing teacher who incorporated a technological classroom innovation, an electronic mail project, over two semesters. This study explored the teacher's and the students' perceptions of the project, as well as the changes in the teacher's pedagogy over time. Three research questions were explored: (1) How did one teacher plan and implement a technological classroom innovation, an e-mail writing project, into his classroom over the course of two semesters? (2) How did one teacher change his perceptions and teaching strategies over the course of two semesters? (3) How did this teacher and his students perceive the e-mail project as it was implemented in each phase?

Participant observations were conducted in a college writing class over the course of two semesters. Visits were frequent, every time the class met (Tuesdays and Thursdays) during the eight week duration of the e-mail project for both semesters. In addition, taped interviews were conducted with the teacher and 12 students, and written artifacts were collected.

Since this is a study about a technological classroom innovation that required a shift in pedagogy, classroom change served as the theoretical framework. Implementing classroom change involves simultaneous change in beliefs about teaching and learning, teaching approaches, and the use of classroom materials (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Short & Burke, 1991; Wasley, 1991). Symbolic interactionism served as the research framework. Analysis of data was continual and led to more data gathering. Analytic memos were written to explore emerging themes and patterns.

Results of the study demonstrated that, although the e-mail writing project began as a collaborative use of the computer as a communication medium in Phase One, the e-mail writing project was reinvented as an individual use of the computer as a tool in Phase Two. Thus, the teacher initially expanded his pedagogy and use of computers to a collaborative student-directed model and ultimately reverted back to an individualistic, teacher-directed model. Results are consistent with research that suggests the following: (1) teacher's often revert back to his/her ways when a classroom innovation creates discomfort or a fear of a loss of control (Short & Burke, 1991; Wasley, 1991); (2) an innovation is often changed through the process of implementation and as a teacher works with it in an educational setting (Gushey, 1990; Rhodes & Shanklin, 1993); (3) the experience of the teacher, the actual use of the computer, the way the teacher organizes writing instruction, the type and amount of computing equipment all impact the outcomes of using the computer as a communications medium (Greenleaf, 1994); (4) computer-mediated communication may require a transformation from traditional classroom pedagogies to pedagogies that are collaborative (Gruber, 1995). In addition, because there is little research to date that considers the daily realities that students and the teacher face when a technological classroom innovation is implemented, and that considers the students' perspectives about a technological classroom innovation, results contribute new understandings in these areas. Implications for instructional change and innovation are discussed.


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