Stephanie Willett-Smith (1993) designed a study of a group of fourth graders at the Curry School of Education where the children wrote open letters to Jefferson On-line (letters are answered by network staff). Willett-Smith wanted to see if publishing the students' letters would have an effect on the quality and correctness (grammar and spelling) of the their writing. She used analyses of direct observation of behaviors, student interviews and assessment of the letters to arrive at her conclusions. She noted in her behavioral observations that students were very excited about having their work put on-line for other students across the state to read (p. 19). In her interviews with students, she quoted student comments such as, something real to write about (p. 21), and she noted from her assessment of the letters that the students were careful to use correct letter format, and consulted class notes and history texts to validate any statements they made concerning Jefferson (p. 18). Willett-Smith found that publishing student work enhances pupil motivation and interest in learning (p. 21), and that the increased collaboration and cooperation among students working on this telecommunications [project] likewise confirms the findings of the existing research (p.23). Through methods of observation, interviews and assessment of student letters, Willet-Smith's nomothetic case study looked at how publishing letters (continuing correspondence between students and staff employees posing as Thomas Jefferson) would affect student behavior, attitude, interest, enthusiasm and motivation. Her population was fourth grade social studies students from the Curry School of Education in Virginia. She randomly selected four students from this group to be her subjects--all of whom agreed to participate in the study. Willet-Smith described the previous experience of the students as well as giving the reader an idea of the personalities of each student. Her design sought to make general predictions and support popular theory that publishing student work motivates students to improve their writing skills. However, since her research was limited to the study of elementary aged school children, she could not predict that the motivation she observed in fourth graders might also be seen among older students (she did not address the problems that often exist in a secondary education setting).
A study by Nancy L. Neal (1995) highlighted the use of the World Wide Web as a research tool and a platform for student publishing. Although Neal's findings suggested that the World Wide Web is not an efficient tool for research (in 1995, Internet search engines were not nearly as efficient as they are today), her study asserted--and cited corroborating literature--that publishing student work motivates students to push themselves to do better work (p. 22). Neal studied the progress of Dr. Prudhomme's fifth grade social studies class in Albemarl County, Virginia at the Virginia L. Murray Elementary School as they researched topics which focused on the formation of the United States. The students converted their reports to html documents and published them as a collection of student works entitled Birth of the USA. The World Wide Web was introduced to the class as a supplementary research tool and as a medium to publish their reports when they were finished. The act of publishing the reports was an integral part of the assignment. Neal noted the students' progress and attitudes while she recorded her observations in a journal. She also made video recordings of the students at work as well as audio recordings of student interviews. One of the research questions Neal sought to answer was Do students and teachers have a positive attitude about using the Web as a research and publication tool? Neal concluded that students seemed especially enthusiastic, and that here again this study lined up with previous research (p. 21). In her interviews with the teacher, Neal stated that he (Dr. Prudhomme) noticed an obvious improvement in students' writing (p. 21), and that students also took the initiative in helping each other (p. 22). From her observations and student interviews, Neal affirmed that her findings supported the hypothesis that the wide audience motivates students to push themselves to do better work. They see more of a purpose behind their writing and are therefore more motivated to write (p. 22). Neal's nomothetic case study was limited to a population of elementary school children. Her subjects included 12 boys and 5 girls from a mid socioeconomic background; no mention was made of the students' work ethic. Her approach to answering her research questions was appropriate because she sought to document the students' attitude in their natural setting--the classroom. Again, her research was limited to the study of elementary aged school children. Valid methodology was used in that along with her journal entries, she could review the video tape and recorded interviews for the purpose of triangulation.
In a project called a Community of Learners, Gerald H. Maring, Ph.D., Kurt S. Myers and Beau J. Wiseman (1996) contended that the challenge of putting writing projects up on the World Wide Web helps individual students in a course become bonded into an enthusiastic learning community (p. 4). The project involved the publication of education students' (preservice teachers of literacy) writings on the World Wide Web so that they could explain to an audience of other teachers, parents and students the benefits, in terms of literacy theories, of publishing student writings, to describe the efforts of the project itself and to give advice so that other teachers could help their own students publish work on the World Wide Web (p. 2). In a college situation, Maring, Myers and Wiseman noted that one student in particular became extremely enthusiastic and quoted her saying, this is the greatest thing to do (p. 6). The population for Maring, Myers and Wiseman's ideiographic case study was literacy education students at Washington State University College of Education, and their subjects were limited to one section (class) of Survey of Elementary Language Arts and Reading and two sections of Content Literacy in Middle and Secondary Schools. Participant-observations were made in order to properly advise other teachers on how to incorporate the use of the World Wide Web in their own classrooms. The design of the research was appropriate because the technology was so new and the preservice teachers had little experience. Within the classes, three students emerged and identified themselves as having considerable background and interest in computer technology (pp. 5-6). The background of the other students was summarized as being pretty much computer illiterate (p. 6). Surveys and interviews of the students before and after the project would have yielded a clearer picture of the success of the program.
Scott Dixon and Libby Black (1996) discussed the Vocal Point project which was devoted to publishing a student run newspaper on the World Wide Web. They stated that perhaps the most powerful attribute of this educational project is that the participating students have been empowered and motivated to be learners, teachers and leaders (pp. 149-150). Student accounts claimed that the experience made the goals of the class much more real, exciting and satisfying (p. 153). Dixon and Black observed that the students were more motivated to produce quality work because their work could be viewed by their peers on the World Wide Web and because they received feedback from members of the community via the students' email accounts. Dixon and Black claimed that the motivational effect was so powerful that students--on their own--chose to work over their summer vacation on the project. This study serves as a model to other students and educators but lacks empirical data to substantiate the motivational claims.
In an article that was written to inspire teachers to have a presence on the World Wide Web, Barbara Spitz (1996) described her efforts to publish her sixth graders' reports in the spring of 1995 at a Madison Metropolitan School District middle school in Madison, Wisconsin. She claimed that the students felt that their work was particularly useful when they started to receive feedback from professionals stating that they thought their work was extraordinary--one doctor went so far as to create a link from his Web site to one student's report on acupuncture. Spitz reported that this recognition reinforced the students' self esteem and that when students feel that their work is valued, meaningful, and useful to others, they will be motivated to become participating and contributing citizens in their community (p. 190). Spitz made no analysis to confirm her assertions.
The significance of publishing research on the Internet was discussed in the March, 1997 issue of The Science Teacher, a journal of the National Science Teachers Association. In the article "Online Assignments," Louis Nadelson (1997) asserted that publishing students' science projects on the World Wide Web enables their work to be updated thus allowing students to view their work as ongoing. He also noted that published work can serve as a resource for other students as well as a way for students to receive feedback from a wide audience of other students regarding their research via email. Nadelson's idiographic case study in which he was a participant-observer in the role of facilitator, seeks to describe the benefits of publishing students' scientific research papers, the logistics of implementing Web laboratory reports and assessment strategies for evaluating student work. Unfortunately, his study only reported the process of the project and neglected to substantiate his claims with empirical research and data. He began his article with the observation that most science teachers I have worked with view the Internet as a vast database or library from which students garner information (p. 23). He omitted the fact that there is popular theory which would support his claims. Furthermore, he did not describe the students involved in the project nor did he describe the methodology (if there was any) from which he based his claims.