A Critique of Kate Kiefer’s Article
Kate Kiefer provides a well-structured argument that posits that writing courses may not work well online. Kiefer’s essay “Do Students Lose More than They Gain in Online Writing Classes?” argues that online students experience mostly textual use of language as opposed to contextual use of language. According to Kiefer:
Unless students are sensitive to or willing to examine the different functions of text in an online class, they can be trapped by their constrained understanding of writing and finish the course with less awareness of the contexts of writing than their counterparts in a traditional classroom (Kiefer, 2007).
Kiefer constructs an argument around this lack of contextualized learning based on lack of appropriate software, time constraints, and market models. According to Kiefer, online learning breeds specific issues because of these factors which are a detriment to learning to write online. Although Kiefer presents well-constructed arguments based on experience her argument is less compelling due to lack of objective or empirical evidence.
Kiefer’s argument that software such as student blackboards creates a contextual problem because these systems were designed for lecturing as opposed to collaboration, is an interesting argument that superficially makes sense. Her argument is that because the software limits interaction it is difficult for students to gain a sense of other students and collaborative learning is lost. This concept seems to have an element of validity. In a study of collaborative learning it was reported that nearly 70% of students that participated in a collaborative learning environment reported that they benefited from the learning process (Gleeson, McDonald, & Williams, 2007). However, this study was conducted with traditional students. In contrast, collaborative learning that was not well structured (such as in the case of online classes) was actually harmful to students. The argument that the online software does not support learning writing because of collaboration is well supported (Gleeson, McDonald, & Williams, 2007).
Kiefer’s second argument is time constraints. Kiefer’s argument is that the online learning environment seems to be disjointed with regard to time. She uses the example of students responding to threads and the fact that the threads are often responded to days or even a week apart from the time they are written. This argument is also twofold as Kiefer points out that online students tend to be immersed in jobs and family. This factor limits the time that can be dedicated to creating substantive threads for participation and discussion.
The argument of time is a weak argument because it is based almost exclusively on Kiefer’s experience. While this problem might exist it is difficult to ascertain due to a lack of empirical evidence. This argument also flies in the face of the purpose of online education in that it is supposed to solve the problem of lack of time rather than exasperate it.
Kiefer’s third argument is based on market models. This argument is similar to Kiefer’s time argument except that in this case she argues that the type of student in the online environment is consumed with working at his or her own pace rather than within the confines of the course curriculum. This argument is problematic because Kiefer does not define the issue properly. The argument starts with being about online students wanting to work within their own curriculum and at their own pace but then the argument bleeds into collaborative learning.
Standard techniques — modeling good behavior, directed questions to elicit in depth response, evaluative response — all seem ineffective in the face of students’ determined pragmatic desire to improve their own writing skills without investing in community knowledge or practice. Learning from each other, then, is such a distant concern of these students that they resist most efforts to introduce genuine interaction with other students (Kiefer, 2007).
This argument is difficult to follow because it seems to be confused rather than built from the other points posited in the essay. There is also a lack of evidence to support this argument (Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003). Kiefer relies heavily on her own experiences to provide evidence for this argument which is less than compelling.
The essay “Do Students Lose More than They Gain in Online Writing Classes?” presents several intriguing arguments. However these arguments are overshadowed by the lack of empirical evidence to support them. This point does not prove these arguments wrong because in general there is a general lack of empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of online learning. The technology is new and there simply has not been enough time to study the issue effectively. For this reason, Kiefer’s arguments are reliant on her teaching experience but this does not make for a strong argument.
Gleeson, A., McDonald, J., & Williams, J. (2007). Student perception of the effectiveness of collaborative learning. Adelaide, Australia: Flinders Business School Research Paper.
Kiefer, K. (2007). Do Students Lose More than They Gain in Online Writing Classes? In Brave New Classrooms.
Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior, 335–353.