Student Experiences of Writing Conferences in a Blended First Year Composition Course: A Case Study
Swan, Lisa M.
Slater, Wayne H.
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The purpose of this case study was to investigate student experiences in the writing conferences in a blended first year composition course at a large public institution in the Mid-Atlantic region. I applied a critical sociocultural framework, cultural mismatch theory, to examine the relationship between students’ experiences and the culture of an instructor’s writing conference practice. My central research question was: what are students’ experiences in writing conferences in a blended first year composition course? I used an interpretive single-case study design to investigate the writing conference practice of one skillful instructor and the experiences of six students. The instructor offered three writing conferences per semester, each lasting twenty minutes. Data sources included: surveys, artifacts, field notes from observations, audio recorded writing conferences, and interviews. I analyzed the data deductively using a conceptual framework consisting of three key factors in the conference interaction: purpose, participant roles, and classroom context. I presented key findings thematically and discussed them in terms of literature to develop analytic generalizations. Study findings suggested cultural mismatches in the purpose and participant roles of the writing conference. The instructor’s purpose of the conference was invention, yet students’ purposes varied from generating ideas to getting instructor feedback and fixing errors. Students also reported varying familiarity and comfort with the prescribed participant role, which assumed students would prepare materials, direct the conversation, and answer questions. While all the students in this study evaluated their conferences as successful and reported positive outcomes in terms of learning, the students for whom the interaction was relatively culturally congruent described their experiences positively, reporting feelings of confidence and willingness to seek individualized help with their writing. In contrast, the students for whom the interaction was comparably culturally mismatched described their experiences in mixed terms. They reported persistent anxiety and opted not to seek additional individualized help because they did not trust the interaction would be productive. Study findings highlight the general utility of cultural mismatch theory to examine classroom practices. It also suggests a potential refinement of the conceptualization of educational equity to examine students’ experiences of the learning process, in addition to outcomes.