Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Stephen Brier

Patricia Brooks

Luke Waltzer

David Rindskopf

Subject Categories

Communication Technology and New Media | Curriculum and Instruction | Developmental Psychology | Digital Humanities | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Methods | Instructional Media Design | Social Media


writing, sense Making, blog, low-income, transition to college, narrative analysis


Drawing on insights from Bakhtin (1986) that demonstrated the significance of writing as an interaction, and building on recent developments in narrative analysis that offer insights into narrator’s sense making processes (Daiute, 2014; Lucic, 2013); this research explores how freshmen in an educational opportunity program used interactive writing media to make sense of their transition to college. The exploration involved three main questions and each question concerns students’ development over time:

  • First, did college students’ writing in two different media (blogs and word-processed text) differ and did these differences change over time?
  • Second, how did the narrators and audience interact and specifically why did some blog posts receive more comments than others and how did commenting patterns change over time?
  • Third, how did the linguistic trends detailed in questions one and two play out for individual students and over time?

The implications of each of these questions are then explored in terms of understanding how the interactive potential of the media influenced students’ psychological development over the first six months in college.

Analyses indicated the bloggers were motivated by the interactive community of peer readers, as evidenced by greater rates of cognitive expression and intensity in their writing over time than students who word-processed. Writers use intensifying language to communicate emphasis and call attention to their psychological states, which comprise both cognitive and emotional expressions (Daiute, 2014). Interestingly, peer readers made more comments on blog posts with high levels of intensifying language and psychological state words. Finally, a detailed comparison of writing by three students suggests that the students who blogged not only used greater rates but also greater varieties of intensifying language. Students in both media used traditional intensifying language such as “really” and “very”. However, the bloggers used greater varieties of intensifying techniques including creative punctuation, such as multiple exclamation points, strings of capital letters, and emoticons. These results demonstrate the multiple ways that the media influenced students’ thinking processes in writing over time.

These findings extend the current understanding of narrator-audience relationships by demonstrating that the potential for narrator-audience interactivity in a given writing medium influences narrators’ use of writing for sense making over time. The ways that students’ writing changed over time and by media indicate how the activity influenced students’ psychological development during their transition to college. In addition, the features of the blog allowed students to develop a culture of commenting within the digital college community. Future work may consider how media with different features may contribute to differences in student writing and psychological development.

This contribution has relevance for the design of university writing programs within and beyond the program of study. Practitioners will find these results particularly significant as they show that the interactive blog allowed students to develop a supportive digital community as they transitioned to college. I plan to build upon the current findings, and continue my collaboration with the program of study and the office of assessment, to explore if first year retention rates and GPA differed for students who blogged as compared to those who word processed about their transition. The current findings have significance for scholars seeking to understand connections between interactive media, writing processes, and audience, and for college programs across the U.S. that provide support for low-income freshmen.