Toward a Complexity of Online Learning: Learners in online first-year writing

Merry Rendahl
Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch


In response to the growing presence of online first-year writing courses, this paper describes a case study of two online first-year writing courses and addresses the questions: What do students in an online first-year writing course perceive as good study habits, and what helps them succeed? Data includes surveys, online discussions, course management statistics, and selected interviews. The study is supported by social cognitive theory described by psychologist Albert Bandura, this methodology allows for examination of internal, external, and behavioral characteristics of participating students. Results of the study indicate that students who rated themselves as making good use of study time also succeeded in the course. Insights from students include information about study activities, management of study time, access to technology, and attitudes about online courses. A surprising result of the study was that students did not consider communication with peers as a productive study activity, despite a deliberate attempt by instructors to build peer interaction into the course. Yet students also reported high levels of engagement and positive attitudes about online learning. The social cognitive lens provides helpful insights about these complex findings by examining the external, internal, and behavioral aspects of online first-year writing students in this study.


Case study, Composition Engagement, First-year writing, Online learning, Online writing instruction, Social, Cognitive theory, Study time, Writing pedagogy


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APA Citation

Rendahl, M., & Breuch, L. A. K. (2013). Toward a Complexity of Online Learning: Learners in Online First-Year Writing. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 297-314. DOI: 10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.002

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Computers and Composition
Type of Research Qualitative
Research Design Text analysis
Intervention/Areas of Study Content-student interactions, Course design
Level of Analysis Course-level
Specific Populations Examined First-year students, Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution, Not-for-profit, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Course completion
Student Sample Size 0-99
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