Research Spotlight: Susan Lang

October 14, 2020

Research Spotlight: Susan Lang

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Each month, the Communications Team reaches out to members of the Department of English faculty and asks them to elaborate on a current research or creative project they are working on or have recently completed. For this month, we asked Associate Professor Susan Lang about her research on virtual, asynchronous tutoring in writing.   

In your own words, as the expert that you are, can you explain the overview of your project? 

Briefly, my larger body of work deals with using data-driven approaches and analytics to examine how people write and how we teach writing. The particular project I’m working on investigates the role that asynchronous online tutoring has in students’ revision processes by investigating the differences and similarities between the drafts students submitted for tutoring, the final assignments submitted for evaluation by instructors and the tutors’ feedback to those students. The data set that we are using for this project contains data collected over five years. To this point, we’ve written about two-thirds of the manuscript. I’m looking at the last part of this data set, the tutors’ comments, at this time. 

Now, could you shorten this description into one sentence that uses accessible language? 

My current project examines the relationships between initial drafts submitted for tutoring, subsequent assignments turned-in and evaluated by instructors and the online tutors’ comments on those documents to understand the effect of online tutoring on student writing. 

In what ways is your research significant?  

My work crosses boundaries in writing studies—between administration, analytics, composition, pedagogy and technical communication. It also has examined in detail how technology might help writing programs at all levels better attend to student needs and ensure student success. I’ve been interested in the intersection between digital technologies, writing instruction and student learning since beginning my career. I’ve taught in and researched online learning environments, important knowledge that has become even more critical during the COVID pandemic.  

Are you working with any colleagues or collaborators? 

I’m working with one primary collaborator on this particular project; I tend to alternate between working with others on projects and writing single-authored work.  

Is the project being funded or supported by any individuals or organizations that you would like us to acknowledge?  

Not at this time. 

Where do you see this project going in the future? 

I can see several more manuscripts and presentations coming from this data set. One part of the research methodology, the process by which my co-author and I came to agree on coding the data, will be presented in April 2021 at the CCCC's [Conference on College Composition and Communication] convention. Parts of this data set could help inform how writing program administrators design curriculum for first-year writing programs. The data set can also inform how writing centers train tutors to work in online environments. And it can answer more questions about how students learn to revise documents as they progress through a two-semester course sequence.  

What's next for you? What would you like to work on once this project is completed? 

I always have several projects going at once. In addition to the agenda coming from this data, I’m working with colleagues at several other institutions to begin building an API [application programming interface] for evaluating aspects of student writing. I’m working with another colleague on a study that evaluates and recommends direction for technical communication curriculum in the next several years.

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