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Philip Kreniske Dr. Philip Kreniske is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. Philip graduated from the Developmental Psychology Training Area of the Psychology Program in 2016. His dissertation research, How Interactive Writing Media Influenced the Way First-Year Students Made Sense of their College Transition, was mentored by Dr. Colette Daiute, and his dissertation committee consisted of Drs. Stephen Brier, Patricia Brooks, Luke Waltzer and David Rindskopf.

Philip was awarded the Silver Medal for the James McKeen Cattell Award presented by the New York Academy of Sciences in "Recognizing Outstanding Doctoral Dissertations in Psychology" for the years 2014-2017. He continues to collaborate with Dr. Daiute and faculty at the New York City College of Technology to examine how a similar digital social network may be used to support students in First Year Learning Communities. He also performs his postdoctoral research with Dr. John Santelli in the study of adolescent transitions with a focus on education, technology, and health, in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.

A synopsis of his award-winning abstract follows.

Given the significance of writing as an interaction, and building on recent developments in narrative analysis that offer insights into narrator’s sense-making processes, this research explored how the interactive features of two distinct writing contexts influenced how low-income, first-year, students made sense of their transition to college. Transitioning to college requires students to navigate rigorous academic coursework and assume greater independence with increased responsibilities in domains ranging from time management to financial management. This process can be especially challenging for students from low-income families, many of whom are first generation college students. While the new college context can be stressful, it also presents an opportunity for students to adapt to, and overcome apparent obstacles.

Writing is a developmental practice in which a narrator transforms amorphous thoughts and emotions into expressions, and it is through this process that a narrator makes meaning of past, present and future.  In the current study, incorporating low-stakes expressive writing into the first-year seminar curriculum encouraged students to use writing to make sense of their transition to college experiences. Sense-making can be especially useful for people who face challenging transitions, and may question do I belong or am I going to succeed? Given theoretical and empirical work on the importance of audience, how might writing to an interactive audience, on a blog, as opposed to an imagined audience, on a word processor, influence the way that students used writing to make sense of their transition to college experiences? There were three main research questions concerning how students’ in the two media developed over time. First, did college students’ writing with two different media (blog and word-processor) 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 were then explored in terms of understanding how the interactive potential of the media influenced students’ psychological development over the first six months in college.

The method grew out of a two-year collaboration with administrators, faculty, and students at an urban college, and with the New Media Lab at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. Participants were recruited from the first year class of a program that provided funding low-income students. The participants were from diverse backgrounds; 54% reported being born in the United States and 46% reported being born elsewhere. Additionally, 60% of the students reported being fluent in another language, including Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Uzbek, Urdu, Punjabi, Georgian, Turkish and Tagalog.

A type of narrative analysis, called a significance analysis (Daiute, 2014), was used to systematically compare students’ writings from the two distinct contexts. The analysis focuses on the evaluative components of language (Labov & Waletzky, 1967/1997) which have been used to study the development of narrative abilities (Peterson & McCabe, 1983) and to analyze narratives in social science research (Daiute & Griffin, 1993; Daiute, Buteau, & Rawlins, 2001; Kreniske, 2014; Lucic, 2013). Using a significance analysis enables researchers to identify, and measure, a narrator’s intended emphasis as well as the cognitive and emotional energy devoted to creating the narrative (Daiute, 2010, 2014; Kreniske, 2104; Lucic, 2013; Peterson & McCabe, 1983).

To answer the first question regarding the influence of media on student writing, results of the narrative analyses for students in the two contexts were compared using a series of Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM), and indicated that students who word processed wrote longer narratives, referred to as fluency, at both time points, while the bloggers used greater rates of cognitive and intensifying expressions in their writing over time as compared to the students who word-processed. Multiple linear regression was used to explore the second research question: why did some blog posts receive more comments than others and how did commenting patterns change over time? The analysis showed that students made more comments on blog posts with high levels of intensifying language and psychological state words. Furthermore, these evaluative expressions better predicted commenting at Time 1 than at Time 4, suggesting that over time students developed a culture of commenting where posts that expressed the most intense thoughts and emotions received the most comments. For example, one student wrote an emotional post that included the following bolded psychological words, “I feel alone and isolated. I know it’s my fault because this is my personality that I can’t change”. In response her peers students wrote multiple supportive such as, “Just go and say “hey what’s up?!” and the conversation will follow automatically. You need to take the first step and talk to someone. We all want to make new friends so now it’s the time!  ”. The blog provided a tool that enabled students to support each other in ways that are simply not possible in traditional physical campus environments.

To investigate the third question that concerned how the linguistic trends detailed in questions one and two played out for individual students and over time, the researcher made a detailed qualitative comparison of writing by three students. Results from the comparison suggested 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. This research illuminates the relationship between blog posting and commenting and demonstrates that the interactive media served as a tool for developing a digital community that may be particularly important for low-income students transitioning to college.

Future work may consider how media with different features may contribute to differences in student writing, psychological development and perhaps academic achievement. 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 psychological development, and for college programs across the U.S. that provide support for low-income first-year students.