College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


1 Comment

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc. Scalar Analysis in Literacy Studies. RTE, Feb. 2016. Posted 03/20/2016.

Stornaiuolo, Amy, and Robert Jean LeBlanc. “Scaling as a Literacy Activity: Mobility and Educational Inequality in an Age of Global Connectivity.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.3 (2016): 263-87. Print.

Amy Stornaiuolo and Robert Jean LeBlanc introduce the concepts of “scales” and “scalar analysis” as tools for examining how people locate themselves in a stratified global context. Scalar analysis moves beyond the dichotomy between “local” and “global,” shedding light on the ways in which locations are constantly in flux and in interaction with each other, often shifting as a result of strategic moves to respond to asymmetries and inequalities.

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc applied their analysis to five teachers in four countries—India, Norway, South Africa, and the United States—who worked with adolescent students on “a Space2Cre8 (S2C8) project,” which was “oriented to helping young people in challenging circumstances engage in cross-cultural communication” (270).

The five teachers worked with the S2C8 groups once or twice a week during the two-year duration of the project; students engaged in various forms of media to communicate with each other about their lives and cultures. During the project, the teachers met ten times via Skype, communicated in emails, and produced memos and notes; additional data came from interviews and classroom observations (271-72, 284-85). The teachers came from varied disciplines, such as technology, art, history, and design (271). Much of the work took place in English, which was the “only shared language” across the sites (270).

According to Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, scalar research is useful for literacy studies because of its power to examine how meaning gets created and how it shifts as it moves into and through different contexts (267). Understanding literacy through scales “compels several shifts in literacy research” (268). These shifts revolve around moving from a sense of literacy actions and artifacts as fixed in time and space to understanding them as products of “ongoing and often contentious labor” that evolve through “the active and strategic working/reworking of texts in unequal globalized contexts” (268; emphasis original). Scalar analysis asks scholars to examine “how people are positioned and position themselves and their literate identities in and through literary practice” (269).

Such a focus on the “mobilities” of meaning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc contend, is necessary to understand how inequalities are created and sustained, how meaning becomes more or less “understandable” (269) as it enters different scalar levels, and how people negotiate the hierarchical contexts that characterize globalization and in which they inevitably locate themselves. The authors were specifically interested in the ways that educators functioned in an environment understood through the lens of scales; the use of scales as a heuristic can both “explain how difference is turned into inequality” as well as how movement within and across scales can enhance agency for individuals and groups addressing their own marginalization (266).

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc delineate six scalar “jumps” or “moves.” “Jumps” include “upscaling,” which involves “invok[ing] a higher scale rationale to prevail over lower-scale orders of discourse” (272); for example, institutional factors might be named as a reason for a particular choice. Kgotso, working in South Africa, refers to exam schedules and a teachers’ strike “to justify how he had been using his time” (280). Via “downscaling,” an actor asserts his or her local circumstances to validate a choice (272). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc recount how Amit, writing from India, focused attention on how local technology limitations affected his group’s participation in the project (275). “Anchoring” privileges the actor’s location in the “here-and-now” without necessarily invoking higher or lower scales. The authors cite teacher emails in the project, in which the teachers claimed authority in reference to “an issue at hand” (273).

Other moves do not necessarily involve jumps. “Aligning” occurs when actors compare scalar locations to strengthen positions. As an example of aligning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc present the efforts of Kgotso in South Africa to compare his concerns about the dominance of English with similar issues he saw as affecting Amit’s work in India (278). Kgotso further engaged in “contesting,” a scalar move in which he challenged the “US-centric imprint” of the project, suggesting that the curriculum be reconsidered to address the needs of the two “linguistically disadvantaged” sets of participants (qtd. in Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc 278). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc provide an example of “embedding” in the way that Maja, in Norway, saw the project as “nested within a number of other entities” such as school and university commitments that affected her own use of time (281).

Such examples, for Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, indicate the usefulness of scalar analysis to illuminate “gaps” that reinforce inequality. Differences in resources, such as adequate bandwidth, affected the ease with which the teachers were able to integrate the social-media exchanges the project hoped to foster (275). Another important research gap uncovered was the varied access to English as the primary language in communications among students. For example, Maja in Norway saw the need to translate S2C8 contributions into English, and Kgotso contrasted his students’ use of Afrikaans with the need to “cross over” to an outside language when working in the project. Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc consider moves like Kgotso’s and similar ones by Amit to be examples of downscaling, asserting the validity of students’ local practices and needs (277, 281).

Gaps in availability of time also figured prominently in the findings. Materials presented by Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest that the teachers regularly made scalar jumps and moves to position themselves in relation to the amount of time required by the project in comparison to the demands of their local situations and of the higher-order scales in which they found themselves embedded. The teachers, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest, saw S2C8 as such a higher-order scale, one in some sense “imposed” on their immediate missions and requiring strategic negotiation of the scalar landscape (281).

Although Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc acknowledge that their account of the S2C8 project echoes “familiar narratives” about the issues that arise when the promise of digital communication across space and time is actually put into practice, they argue that these narratives “mask” what scalar analysis can illuminate: “the ongoing labor of producing texts and contexts over multiple affiliations in time and space” (283). Especially visible, they indicate, are the ways that literacy productions are valued differently as they move through different scales. The authors contend that attention to scales provides a “concrete set of tools to highlight the constructed and contingent nature of all literacy practices” (283).


Leave a comment

Obermark et al. New TA Development Model. WPA, Fall 2015. Posted 02/08/2016.

Obermark, Lauren, Elizabeth Brewer, and Kay Halasek. “Moving from the One and Done to a Culture of Collaboration: Revising Professional Development for TAs.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 39.1 (2015): 32-53. Print.

Lauren Obermark, Elizabeth Brewer, and Kay Halasek detail a professional development model for graduate teaching assistants (TAs) that was established at their institution to better meet the needs of both beginning and continuing TAs. Their model responded to the call from E. Shelley Reid, Heidi Estrem, and Marcia Belcheir to “[g]o gather data—not just impressions—from your own TAs” in order to understand and foreground local conditions (qtd. in Obermark et al. 33).

To examine and revise their professional development process beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2013, Obermark et al. conducted a survey of current TAs, held focus groups, and surveyed “alumni” TAs to determine TAs’ needs and their reactions to the support provided by the program (35-36).

An exigency for Obermark et al. was the tendency they found in the literature to concentrate TA training on the first semester of teaching. They cite Beth Brunk-Chavez to note that this tendency gives short shrift to the continuing concerns and professional growth of TAs as they advance from their early experiences in first-year writing to more complex teaching assignments (33). As a result of their research, Obermark et al. advocate for professional development that is “collaborative,” “ongoing,” and “distributed across departmental and institutional locations” (34).

The TA program in place at the authors’ institution prior to the assessment included a week-long orientation, a semester’s teaching practicum, a WPA class observation, and a syllabus built around a required textbook (34). After their first-year, TAs were able to move on to other classes, particularly the advanced writing class, which fulfills a general education requirement across the university and is expected to provide a more challenging writing experience, including a “scaffolded research project” (35). Obermark et al. found that while students with broader teaching backgrounds were often comfortable with designing their own syllabus to meet more complex pedagogical requirements, many TAs who had moved from the well-supported first-year course to the second wished for more guidance than they had received (35).

Consulting further scholarship by Estrem and Reid led Obermark et al. to act on “a common error” in professional development: failing to conduct a “needs assessment” by directly asking questions designed to determine, in the words of Kathleen Blake Yancey, “the characteristics of the TAs for whom the program is designed” (qtd. in Obermark et al. 36-37). The use of interview methodology through focus groups not only instilled a collaborative ethos, it also permitted the authors to plan “developmentally appropriate PD” and provided TAs with what the authors see as a rare opportunity to reflect on their experiences as teachers. Obermark et al. stress that this fresh focus on what Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher call a “participatory model of research” (37) allowed the researchers to demonstrate their perceptions of the TAs as professional colleagues, leading the TAs themselves “to identify more readily as professionals” (37).

TAs’ sense of themselves as professionals was further strengthened by the provision of “ongoing” support to move beyond what Obermark et al. call “the one and done” model (39). Through the university teaching center, they encountered Jody Nyquist and Jo Sprague’s theory of three stages of TA development: “senior learners” who “still identify strongly with students”; “colleagues in training” who have begun to recognize themselves as teachers; and “junior colleagues” who have assimilated their professional identities to the point that they “may lack only the formal credentials” (qtd. in Obermark et al. 39). Obermark et al. note that their surveys revealed, as Nyquist and Sprague predicted, that their population comprised TAs at all three levels as they moved through these stages at different rates (39-40).

The researchers learned that even experienced TAs still often had what might have been considered basic questions about the goals of the more advanced course and how to integrate the writing process into the course’s general education outcomes (40). The research revealed that as TAs moved past what Nyquist and Sprague denoted the “survival” mode that tends to characterize a first year of teaching, they began to recognize the value of composition theory and became more invested in applying theory to their teaching (39). That 75% of the alumni surveyed were teaching writing in their institutions regardless of their actual departmental positions reinforced the researchers’ certainty and the TAs’ awareness that composition theory and practice would be central to their ongoing academic careers (40).

Refinements included a more extensive schedule of optional workshops and a “peer-to-peer” program that responded to TA requests for more opportunities to observe and interact with each other. Participating TAs received guidance on effective observation processes and feedback; subsequent expansion of this program offered TAs opportunities to share designing assigning assignments and grading as well (42).

The final component of the new professional-development model focused on expanding the process of TA support across both the English department and the wider university. Obermark et al. indicate that many of the concerns expressed by TAs addressed not just teaching writing with a composition-studies emphasis but also teaching more broadly in areas that “did not fall neatly under our domain as WPAs and specialists in rhetoric and composition” (43). For example, TAs asked for more guidance in working with students’ varied learning styles and, in particular, in meeting the requirement for “social diversity” expressed in the general-education outcomes for the more advance course (44). Some alumni TAs reported wishing for more help teaching in other areas within English, such as in literature courses (45).

The authors designed programs featuring faculty and specialists in different pedagogical areas, such as diversity, as well as workshops and break-outs in which TAs could explore kinds of teaching that would apply across the many different environments in which they found themselves as professionals (45). Obermark et al. note especially the relationship they established with the university teaching center, a collaboration that allowed them to integrate expertise in composition with other philosophies of teaching and that provided “allies in both collecting data and administering workshops for which we needed additional expertise” (45). Two other specific benefits from this partnership were the enhanced “institutional memory” that resulted from inclusion of a wider range of faculty and staff and increased sustainability for the program as a larger university population became invested in the effort (45-46).

Obermark et al. provide their surveys and focus-group questions, urging other WPAs to engage TAs in their own development and to relate to them “as colleagues in the field rather than novices in need of training, inoculation, or the one and done approach” (47).


Leave a comment

Geiger II, T J. “Relational Labor” in Composition. CS, Sept. 2015. Posted 11/23/2015.

Geiger II, T J. “An Intimate Discipline? Writing Studies, Undergraduate Majors, and Relational Labor.” Composition Studies 43.2 (2015): 92-112. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

T J Geiger II examines undergraduate writing majors as sites in which “relational labor” forms a large part of faculty activities and shapes student perceptions. He considers the possibility that, despite the tendency to view dedicated writing majors as a step toward disciplinary status, the centrality of relational labor to writing instruction may undercut this status. Further, he addresses the concern that support for writing majors may devalue writing instruction itself (94). He focuses on “what the field learns” about these concerns when it listens to students in these programs (98).

Through surveys and interviews with undergraduate majors in “independent writing programs” at a “Private Research University” and a private “Liberal Arts College” (98), Geiger establishes “relational labor” as work done between faculty and undergraduate writing majors in which the personal connections formed contribute to the students’ representations of their learning. The students discussed and quoted consider their relationships with faculty crucial to their “personal development” (“Mark,” qtd. in Geiger 99), which Geiger characterizes in this student’s case “as synonymous with writing development” (99; emphasis original). He argues that faculty attentiveness to the affective components of writing instruction provides students with a sense of a caring audience interested not just in conveying the technical aspects of writing but also in fostering the growth of “unique” individuals through social encounters (102):

Interactions with faculty, part of the context for writing, encourage not only writing majors’ literacy acquisition, but also a sense of themselves as individuals who matter, which in turn can fuel their capacity to take rhetorical action. (99)

Geiger develops this picture of faculty engaged in relational labor against a range of scholarship that has expressed concern about “the ideological complex that figures the composition teacher as a maid/mother disciplinarian,” a characterization he attributes to Susan Miller’s 1991 critique (106). Similarly, he addresses Kelly Ritter’s critique of a “gendered ideology of ‘help'” that Ritter sees as potentially “counterproductive to the discipline of composition studies as a whole” (qtd. in Geiger 106).

Geiger detects justification for these concerns in students’ use of terms like “lovely,” “nice,” and “help” in describing their interactions with faculty (106). His question is whether accepting the role of empathetic helper or the centrality to writing instruction of affective responsiveness necessarily restricts the field’s focus to the “teaching of writing” rather than “teaching about writing” (96; emphasis original).

These concerns accord with those expressed in a larger debate about whether the field should “distance” itself from the constraints that some see as imposed by first-year writing courses, concerns that Geiger notes are themselves broached in affective terms of escape and freedom, indicating that attention to “feeling” permeates all levels of the field (96).

Among the specific concerns that Geiger explores are the ways in which intensive interpersonal investment in students and their work can intersect with professional exigencies. He notes the Modern Language Association’s 2006 report, “Still Standing;: The Associate Professor Survey,” which finds that women in the field report marginally less time spent on research and marginally more on teaching than men; these small differences seem to add up over time to a slower path to promotion for female faculty (107-08). In addition, he addresses the possibility that students who cast faculty as empathetic helpers downplay their role as experts with valuable knowledge to convey (106).

In Geiger’s view, the disciplinary promise of a focus on “teaching about writing” need not be at odds with a pedagogy that values developmental relationships between faculty and students (109). He cites student responses that express appreciation not just for the personal interaction but also for the access to professional expertise provided by faculty during the interactions: He quotes “Jeremiah,” for whom “faculty in the writing program understand themselves as not just research producers, but also as people working with their students” (qtd. in Geiger 102). Indeed, Geiger claims, “students recognize the need for informed care” (108; emphasis original). Such an understanding on the part of students, Geiger argues, demonstrates that investment in a writing major need not crowd out pedagogical value (102), while, conversely, focus on the teaching of writing through an ideology of “care” need not interfere with more intensive study of writing as disciplinary content (107).

Students interviewed do recognize the professional burdens with which faculty must contend and value the personal investment some faculty are still able to make in students’ individual projects and growth (104); Geiger advocates for ongoing consideration of how this ubiquitous and clearly valued kind of labor “is distributed within a program and a writing major” (108).

In addition, Geiger argues that developing as writers through close working relationships with faculty instills in students an understanding of writing as a rhetorical process:

situated, not context-free; social, not solely personal; collaborative, not entirely individual; and (though less often) explicitly politically implicated, not neutral. (108)

Building on the collection by Greg A. Giberson and Thomas A. Moriarty, Geiger urges composition professionals to attend not just to “what we are becoming” (108; emphasis original) but also to “who . . . writing majors (i.e., students) are becoming” (109; emphasis original). Attention to the students’ own perceptions, he contends, provides informative indications of these attainments (109).


Leave a comment

VanHaitsma, Pamela. Student Inquiry through Archives. CE, Sept. 2015. Posted 09/08/2015.

VanHaitsma, Pamela. “New Pedagogical Engagements with Archives: Student Inquiry and Composing in Digital Spaces.” College English 78.1 (2015): 34-55. Web. 2 Sept. 2015.

Pamela VanHaitsma discusses an approach to involving students in archival research that she developed in first-year-writing classes at the University of Pittsburgh. Maintaining that students explore as well as create archives throughout their activities both in and outside of class, VanHaitsma hopes to connect the kinds of inquiry that archives make possible with the focus on student interest and lives that informs writing pedagogy. She also investigates how digital collection and dissemination options affect the process of using and building an archive (36).

She notes that the term “archives” might designate a range of collections, such as databases students use in research for classwork, broader collocations of information like Wikipedia, and even sites housing student material for plagiarism detection. VanHaitsma chooses to avoid resolving this definitional debate that, on the one hand, recognizes any collection of information as an archive, but on the other, insists on specific content and formal organization. Instead, she wants to “work between the . . . extremes of broad and narrow definitions” (35), drawing on the relationship between collections “from the past” as well as “present-day spaces” where archives might exist or be created (35). The specific assignment she presents calls on students to use collections that fit the traditional model while also developing their own collections in order to ground inquiry in their writing classes (36).

In VanHaitsma’s view and that of other scholars she cites, archival methods and research inherently encourage inquiry, simultaneously evoking critical attention to methodology (36-37). Practicing these methodologies has the added effect, VanHaitsma argues, of drawing both undergraduates and graduate students into the kind of scholarly work done and valued beyond the classroom: Students can “transform from thinking of themselves as students to seeing their insights and their work have value to an academic field” (Wendy Hayden, qtd. in VanHaitsma 37).

In her view, exploring digital archives has added benefits. She cites the collaborative work across areas of scholarly emphasis enabled by access to many different digital collections (37); she quotes James P. Purdy to stress that digital archives “eliminate many temporal and spatial obstacles” as students explore connections across disciplines (qtd. in VanHaitsma 38).

In particular, VanHaitsma points to scholarship that argues for the value of digital tools in helping students contribute their own collections to the growing universe of archives. Daniel Anderson contends that students’ ability to gather and store materials without expert technical knowledge makes them “producers and consumers, or ‘prosumers'” (qtd. in VanHaitsma 38). VanHaitsma provides examples of such “prosumer” behavior across communities and within classrooms, for instance the use of MediaWiki software to generate collaborative collections (38).

Her students explored the topic of “language use in romantic relationships” (40) through two traditional archives of nineteenth-century letter-writing instructions and then through materials available to them today that offered similar instruction. Her goals included encouraging comparison of these rhetorics while also asking students to consider how new technologies affected the dissemination and effects of the information they were examining (40, 42). Students concluded the project with an essay analyzing similarities and differences. Thus, for VanHaitsma, the assignment led to substantive inquiry at many levels. The students’ archives were collected in the Blackboard Course Management system in use at the university; the results were not made public 40-41).

VanHaitsma stresses that substantial learning resulted from her decision to allow students to develop their own archives rather than provide them with present-day materials of her choosing. Teachers, she argues, may not clearly anticipate what students will find useful or relevant; moreover, pre-empting students’ agency in choosing what to include in the archive stifles the kind of active inquiry the assignment is intended to promote.

VanHaitsma notes that students’ choices were not all “overtly instructional” like the letter-writing manuals; although how-to articles were included, students added other diverse options such as YouTube music videos, excerpts from novels, and film clips (43). She provides five examples of essay topics, for example, a comparison of a letter-writing manual to “present-day Chinese TV dating shows” that noted how both “focus on a man’s ‘wealth’ and a woman’s ‘appearance'” (student, qtd. in VanHaitsma 44); and an examination of the manuals through the lens of Jersey Shore, noting the shift from “courtesy” to “language and tactics . . . for hooking up” (student, qtd. in VanHaitsma 44). Two students noted that the earlier manuals did not admit the possibility of gay relationships (44-45).

VanHaitsma illustrates the critical analysis encouraged by the assignment: Students explored both the advantages and limits of both rhetorics as well as the effects of the media used. For example, a student analyzing a clip from the film He’s Just Not That Into You used the term “bombarded” to describe current-day techniques for creating relationships while other students noted that relationships today have been made “too easy” as people turn to online media to convey thoughts that were once written out with great care (46-47). Students also noted the limitations of the nineteenth-century process, contending that there are virtues to today’s more expansive options (47).

However, VanHaitsma’s ultimate focus is not on the content of the archives and essays themselves; rather, she hopes to foreground the degree to which the work of examining traditional archives while simultaneously creating related archives from materials of interest to students promotes “the sort of scholarly inquiry that teacher-scholars have emphasized as a potential for pedagogical engagements with brick-and-mortar archives. . . . ” (48).

VanHaitsma recommends that despite the ease of use of familiar platforms like Blackboard, students will benefit from trying out other systems, especially those like Archive-It and Omeka, which are specifically intended for the generation and dissemination of archives (49). While encouraging the option of taking student-created archives public, VanHaitsma cautions that teachers will need to address “questions about the audiences, purposes, and effects of such publication, as well as copyright issues relevant to archiving artifacts” (49).

Her final caution is for teachers to remember that when they provide archival materials for student study, they may come with “preconceived ideas” about how the materials should be valued. Again, she believes that student agency in selecting and evaluating collected material is paramount to the learning such assignments foster (50).


1 Comment

Giulia Ortoleva and Mireille Bétrancourt. Articulation of School and Workplace Learning. Journal of Writing Research, June 2015. Posted 06/18/2015.

Ortoleva, Giulia, and Mireille Bétrancourt. “Collaborative Writing and Discussion in Vocational Education: Effects on Learning and Self-Efficacy Beliefs.” Journal of Writing Resaarch 7.1 (2015): 1-28. Web. 6 June 2015.

Giulia Ortoleva and Mireille Bétrancourt, researchers in Switzerland publishing in the Journal of Writing Research, address articulation between school and workplace activities for students in a “vocational” program in Geneva. The 40 students were in their first or second year of study in the School for Social and Health Care Assistants. Two teachers with professional histories as nurse practitioners participated in a project to investigate the effects of writing, discussion, and collaboration in preparing these students for careers (8).

Ortoleva and Bétrancourt discuss the skills necessary for “[p]rofessional competence,” distinguishing between “hard skills” like mastery of concrete procedures and “soft skills” such as the ability to communicate and develop productive interpersonal relations (2). Ortoleva and Bétrancourt contend that the common practice of combining academic training and workplace experience to impart this range of competences can fall short because the two contexts are often “disconnected” and because workplace experiences can vary widely (2-3).

To address this problem, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt turn to an “integrative pedagogy model” developed by P. Tynjala and D. Gijbels, which outlines the necessary interaction of “four types of knowledge: practical, conceptual, self-regulative, and sociocultural (knowledge that is embedded in the social practices of workplaces and is learned through participation in these practices)” (3). The intervention tested by Ortoleva and Bétrancourt draws on two elements of this model, writing and collaboration. They argue that although the role of writing in promoting “deep processing” that encourages more intensive and productive learning is widely cited, clear demonstrations of this effect have been elusive, perhaps because assessment has focused on memorization and not the actual production of transformative knowledge (4). Moreover, to be most effective, writing must be part of a broader set of activities that include personal and social connections, such as personal reflection and class discussion to prompt students to consider a range of perspectives and revise their own (4-5).

Collaboration in the study involved peer feedback, but Ortoleva and Bétrancourt note the need for well-designed interaction if such feedback is to prove effective. They reference guidelines from the field of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) to suggest that computers can facilitate peer interaction if appropriate prompts and combinations of individual and group activities are in place (5).

Ortoleva and Bétrancourt hoped that their intervention would not only increase students’ acquisition of a range of professional competences but would also enhance self-efficacy beliefs—students’ perceptions that they could do well in their workplace settings (6-7). They review research on self-efficacy from Albert Bandura and others. They considered growing self-efficacy a marker of a maturing professional identity (7).

To measure the effects of writing, peer feedback, and class discussion on students’ professional capabilities and self-efficacy beliefs, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt used two pre/post measures: a test of “declarative” knowledge that asked students how they would respond in a specific situation they were likely to encounter in their workplace; and a self-efficacy instrument. The test of declarative knowledge comprised two parts: multiple-choice questions about the best handling of the situation and an open-ended discussion of the student’s reasons for his or her choices. Ortoleva and Bétrancourt caution that they will be unable to “disentangle the effect of each component alone” (8), but they see a correlation between a student’s level of participation and any gains the student makes as a useful measure of the effects of the intervention as a whole (8). Students also evaluated their experiences as participants in the activities.

The three components were scheduled in ninety-minute sessions two weeks apart. In the first phase, writing and peer feedback, students wrote about a “critical incident” they had experienced, responding to specific questions about how they had responded to it; using a wiki program, other students responded, following guidelines for effective feedback. Students then followed directions to respond to the suggestions made by peers (9-10). Class discussion constituted the second phase, while in the third phase, second-year students returned to their accounts to reflect further. This variation of the third phase appeared to be “too repetitive,” so the phase was reconceived for the first-year students, who read research materials on the relevant issues before revisiting their written accounts (11).

Post-test results for second-year students indicated no gains in the multiple-choice component of the declarative knowledge test but minor gains in responding to the open-ended questions. First-year students improved significantly in their ability to choose the best handling of the scenarios but no gains in the open-ended response (13-14). Similarly, second-year students’ self-efficacy beliefs did not change, but those of first-year students improved (14-15). Participation was measured by assessing the length of written components and by number of contributions to class discussion. This measure showed that students who wrote more in their first-phase accounts performed better on both the pre- and post-test competency assessment (16). The teachers, who had noted problems with participation in class discussion in previous classes, felt that the intervention generated more student engagement and better participation (15). The student response to the project was positive (16).

In general, Ortoleva and Bétrancourt judge the intervention “partially” successful both as a means of enhancing and articulating school and workplace learning and as a way of developing higher self-efficacy (17-18). They posit that the different outcomes for first- and second-year students, in which second-year students did not improve on the multiple choice or self-efficacy measures but first-year students did, result from the degree to which second-year students knew more about workplace options because of their more advanced schooling and also had already developed “more stable (and accurate) image[s] of themselves” as professionals (18). The researchers judged that participation in the written phases was quite high and the feedback phase was well-received. They note that students who wrote more were less active in the oral discussion phase, implying that a mix of the two types of participation accommodates differing communication preferences (18).

Among the study’s limitations, they note the small sample size, lack of a control group, and especially the lack of an adequate measure of the kind of complex learning they hoped to promote (19). Recommendations from the study include beginning with individual writing activities to foster later engagement; providing clear guidance for feedback sessions; and using wikis to generate and record collaboration (19-20).