A Curation of Student Voices on Participation in the Writing Classroom

A Curation of Student Voices on Participation in the Writing Classroom

Lauren Obermark

Methodology: Curation and the Commonplaces

Curation as Methodology

This chapter is largely comprised of interviews; I collected this data through video/audio recording. I then edited the recordings to best feature the students' voices and worked to craft manageable and comprehensible videos for readers. Because I am a novice multimodal researcher and writer, this work pushed me in challenging new methodological directions. I have come to call this challenge curation as methodology.

The use of the term curation in this chapter’s title is an intentional metaphor to partially explain how I analyze and present the interview data. Traditionally associated with museums and objects/artifacts, curation involves selection and organization and is guided by professional knowledge and expertise. But once objects (or, in this case, interviews) are curated, the professional knowledge moves to the background, and the objects themselves seem to do most of the communicating. At the same time, the behind-the-scenes organization and selection of the objects undeniably shapes that communication. I thus view curation operating as an analytic method in this chapter in several ways: acknowledging my own interests as the curator; coding the data; identifying and narrowing themes; analyzing the data; and editing the interview footage.

My Interests and Commitments as the Curator

As the curator of these interviews, I first acknowledge that my research interests are guided by Critel’s original findings. In fact, as evidenced by Figure 2, my outline for interviews shows my focus on how the commonplaces of participation discovered by Critel played out (or not) in student experiences. In short, the commonplaces served as a guiding curatorial heuristic.


As an organizational technique, coding is the second piece of curation as method. I first coded the interviews to identify themes. The commonplaces themselves served as codes, and I further developed codes from the students’ responses to the prewriting prompt and then from rewatching/relistening to the interviews themselves. Some of the new codes included: shy, collaboration, online, conversation, peers, writing, nontraditional/returning student, ideas, and engagement.[1]

Through coding the data, I found Critel’s commonplaces came up frequently and organically and, at times, overlapped. For example, video and discussion board both served as codes; I aligned these codes with the larger theme of technology, though they also connected with the theme of community since students from my online class saw these practices as building our community of writers.

Identifying and Narrowing Themes

Like any curator, I was faced with the difficult task of being unable to represent everything. I had to narrow my scope or the chapter would make little sense and feel unwieldy to most readers. To accomplish this, I coded individual interviews first, and then I combined the codes across the interviews to identify larger themes. This single chapter is not the place to explore all the themes, so with Critel’s own systematic research methods in mind, I let my data lead me and curated this chapter according to the four most frequently emerging ones.[2] Perhaps not surprisingly, because of both their fertility and the way my research interests shaped the conversations, the dominant themes in the data I collected align heavily with Critel’s original commonplaces. The themes discussed in this chapter are grades, technology, community, and identity. While my findings echo Critel’s in some ways, my curation of this data shows how the students move the commonplaces in new directions and provide insight teachers alone could not.

Analysis and/as Editing of Interview Footage

Finally, curation as method also informs my analysis of the interview data. Approaching my interview data as a curator helps me with the difficult process of balancing my editorial decisions with a desire to let the students speak for themselves. While my primary goal in authoring this chapter is to feature students' voices, I also realize it is impossible to fully represent the students without the limiting effects inherent in my curation (as articulated above: my commitments, coding, narrowing of themes). This is, of course, a common and much discussed struggle among researchers using ethnographic methods, but curation as a method has allowed me to strike a better balance, especially because I am able to include video and audio in this chapter. The digital curation of this chapter has encouraged me to lower the volume of my voice (as much as that is possible in scholarly work) and amplify the voices of students. I hope readers can approach the remainder of the chapter with this in mind. The main takeaways of the chapter can be understood through my editing and presentation of the footage from the interviews. In other words, the editing of the footage serves as one kind of analysis. In fact, some readers might choose to experience this chapter solely through the embedded clips and transcriptions.

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[1] More of the codes can be viewed in the tables in the "Meet the Students" section, listed as "keywords" from the interviews. [Return]

[2] For example, a few themes that intrigued me that I would like to give more attention include: the importance and definition of engagement; writing as participation; listening as participation. [Return]