Document Type



Doctor of Education


Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Carl Hoagland


William Klein

Joseph Polman

Randall Sommers


One of the primary objectives for many instructors of first-year composition (FYC) is to encourage students to use their own voice/persona, or express themselves with authority in their writing. While there are many pedagogical methods to address this in a face to face environment, there is now need to understand how the course tools and architecture in online versions of the course can facilitate “voice” in writing. This qualitative study observed a summer FYC (First Year Composition) course online at one institution in the Midwestern United States. At the conclusion of the course, two students and the instructors were interviewed to determine which course elements were most effective in promoting the development of voice. The instructor was then invited to attend a focus group of other FYC online instructors to discuss ways online tools were used. The researcher used a case study approach with elements of grounded theory for data analysis. This study found that there is great potential for students to develop their voice in online FYC courses if 1) there has been clear communication of expectations between the instructor and student; 2) feedback for student writing has been given from multiple resources; 3) the time spent in class is focused on voice as opposed to grammatical aspects of writing or technical problems; 4) FYC online students have passion for the subject of their writing. Although these findings relate to the research question for this study, there were also unexpected findings that contribute to the study’s conclusions. From the instructor’s perspective, the reliability and usability of the technology being used for online courses was fundamentally important to encouraging voice in student writing. If too much time was spent on these issues, less time remained to explore the various nuances of writing and content that encourage development of voice. Additionally, online students placed grades at the forefront of the conversation. This was a point of frustration for instructors.

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