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


Leave a comment

Sills, Ellery. Creating “Outcomes 3.0.” CCC, Sept. 2018. Posted 10/24/2018.

Sills, Ellery. “Making Composing Policy Audible: A Genealogy of the WPA Outcomes Statement 3.0.” College Composition and Communication 70.1 (2018): 57-81. Print.

Ellery Sills provides a “genealogy” of the deliberations involved in the development of “Outcomes 3.0,” the third revision of the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ Outcome Statement for First-Year Composition (58). His starting point is “Revising FYC Outcomes for a Multimodal, Digitally Composed World,” a 2014 article by six of the ten composition faculty who served on the task force to develop Outcomes (OS) 3.0 (57).

Sills considers the 2014 article a “perfectly respectable history” of the document (58), but argues that such histories do not capture the “multivocality” of any policymaking process (59). He draws on Chris Gallagher to contend that official documents like the three Outcomes Statements present a finished product that erases debates and disagreements that go into policy recommendations (59). Sills cites Michel Foucault’s view that, in contrast, a genealogy replaces “the monotonous finality” (qtd. in Sills 59) of a history by “excavat[ing] the ambiguities” that characterized the deliberative process (59).

For Sills, Outcomes 3.0 shares with previous versions of the Outcomes Statement the risk that it will be seen as “hegemonic” and that its status as an official document will constrain teachers and programs from using it to experiment and innovate (75-76). He argues that sharing the various contentions that arose as the document was developed can enhance its ability to function as, in the words of Susan Leigh Star, a document of “cooperation without consensus” (qtd. in Sills 73) that does not preclude interpretations that may not align with a perceived status quo (76). Rather, in Sill’s view, revealing the different voices involved in its production permits Outcomes 3.0 to be understood as a “boundary object,” that is, an object that is

strictly defined within a particular community of practice, but loosely defined across different communities of practice. . . . [and that] allows certain terms and concepts . . . to encompass many different things. (74)

He believes that “[k]eeping policy deliberations audible” (76) will encourage instructors and programs to interpret the document’s positions flexibly as they come to see how many different approaches were brought to bear in generating the final text.

Sills invited all ten task members to participate in “discourse-based” interviews. Five agreed: Dylan Dryer, Susanmarie Harrington, Bump Halbritter, Beth Brunk-Chavez, and Kathleen Blake Yancey (60-61). Discussion focused on deliberations around the terms “composing, technology, and genre” (61; emphasis original).

Sills’s discussion of the deliberations around “composing” focus on the shift from “writing” as a key term to a less restrictive term that could encompass many different ways in which people communicate today (61). Sills indicates that the original Outcomes Statement (1.0) of 2000 made digital practices a “residual category” in comparison to traditional print-based works, while the 3.0 task force worked toward a document that endorsed both print and multimodal practices without privileging either (63).

Ideally, in the interviewees’ views, curricula in keeping with Outcomes 3.0 recognizes composing’s “complexity,” regardless of the technologies involved (65). At the same time, in Sills’s analysis, the multiplicity of practices incorporated under composing found common ground in the view, in Dryer’s words, that “we teach writing, we’re bunch of writers” (qtd. in Sills 65).

Sills states that the “ambiguity” of terms like “composing” served not only to open the door to many forms of communicative practice but also to respond to the “kairotic” demands of a document like Outcomes. 3.0. Interviewees worried that naming specific composing practices would result in guidelines that quickly fell out of date as composing options evolved (64).

According to Sills, interviews about the deliberations over genre revealed more varied attitudes than those about composing (66). In general, the responses Sills records suggest a movement away from seeing genre as fixed “static form[s]” (67) calling for a particular format toward recognizing genres as fluid, flexible, and responsive to rhetorical situations. Sills quotes Dryer’s claim that the new document depicts “students and readers and writers” as “much more agentive”; “genres change and . . . readers and writers participate in that change” (qtd. in Sills 67). Halbritter emphasizes a shift from “knowledge about” forms to a process of “experiential learning” as central to the new statement’s approach (68). For Harrington, the presentation of genre in the new document reflects attention to “habits of mind” such as rhetorical awareness and “taking responsibility for making choices” (qtd. in Sills 69).

Brunk-Chavez’s interview addresses the degree to which, in the earlier statements, technology was handled as a distinct element when genre was still equated primarily with textual forms. In the new document, whatever technology is being used is seen as integral to the genre being produced (69). Moreover, she notes that OS 3.0’s handling of genre opens it to types of writing done across disciplines (70).

She joins Yancy, however, in noting the need for the document to reflect “the consensus of the field” (72). While there was some question as to whether genre as a literary or rhetorical term should even be included in the original OS, Yancy argues that the term’s “time has come” (71). Yet the interviews capture a sense that not every practitioner in composition shares a common understanding of the term and that the document should still be applicable, for example, to instructors for whom “genre” still equates with modes (71).

In addressing this variation in the term’s function in practice, Sills notes Yancey’s desire for OS 3.0 to be a “bridging document” that does not “move too far ahead of where the discipline is,” linking scholarly exploration of genre with the many ways practitioners understand and use the term (72).

Sills considers challenges that the OS 3.0 must address if it is to serve the diverse and evolving needs of the field. Responding to concerns of scholars like Jeff Rice that the document imposes an ultimately conservative “ideology of generality” that amounts to a “rejection of the unusual” (qtd. in Sills 75), Sills acknowledges that the authority of the statement may prevent “subordinate communities of practice” like contingent faculty from “messing around with” its recommendations. But he contends that the task force’s determination to produce flexible guidelines and to foster ongoing revision can encourage “healthy resistance” to possible hegemony (76).

He further recommends specific efforts to expand participation, such as creating a Special Interest Group or a “standing institutional body” like an Outcomes Collective with rotating membership from which future task forces can be recruited on a regular timetable. Such ongoing input, he contends, can both invite diversity as teachers join the conversation more widely and assure the kairotic validity of future statements in the changing field (77-78).


Leave a comment

Opel and Rhodes. User-Centered Design in the Writing Classroom. C&C, in press. Posted 09/09/2018.

Opel, Dawn S., and Jacqueline Rhodes. “Beyond Student as User: Rhetoric, Multimodality, and User-Centered Design.” Computers and Composition (in press) (2017): xxx. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

Dawn S. Opel and Jacqueline Rhodes write about the complexities that arise when rhetoric and composition incorporates the principles of user-centered design (UCD) into pedagogical methodologies.

Interest in UCD follows from the work of scholars on usability in technical communication, who, the authors note, have addressed the concept of usability as a process of “design and testing of digital technologies” (1). Because technical communication shares affinities with rhetoric and composition, concepts like UCD have migrated into writing pedagogy (2). Opel and Rhodes are concerned that this migration has been accepted uncritically and urge a closer look at how UCD can best enhance the values and goals of current rhetoric and composition theory and instruction (3, 7). They offer a heuristic for adopting UCD to the composition classroom.

According to Opel and Rhodes, industry has incorporated UCD into the larger construct of “user experience” (UX), a term that draws on a number of fields, including market research, branding, psychology, anthropology, library science, software design, and graphic arts, as well as others (2). Technical communication scholar Michael Salvo advanced an early definition of UCD as “a process of collecting data from users, creating feedback in the form of information, and then delivering that information to designers” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). Writing more recently within the field of UX, Jesse James Garrett offers what the authors call an “extend[ed]” notion of UCD as “the practice of creating engaging, efficient user experiences” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). The authors see this latter approach as more concerned with making room for user input during design (2).

Opel and Rhodes see problems with such efforts to import UCD into rhetoric and composition because of differences in the underlying philosophies and theoretical approaches. They note that many of the fields from which UX, and by extension UCD, draws are “positivist” in nature, valorizing universal optimal designs (3). The authors cite scholarship from composition scholars acknowledging disjunction among three “competing mentalities” (Keith Garrison, qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 3): “the scientist, philosopher, and rhetorician” (3). This competition makes an affiliation between the positivist bent of UCD and the de-centered, constructivist values of composition problematic (3).

Opel and Rhodes write that a too-facile adoption of UCD principles can ignore the distinction between “user” and “learner” (4). The authors suggest a comparison with the approach taken in engineering pedagogy, which has assimilated tenets of “learner-centered design” (LCD) from the field of education (3). Resembling composition’s concept of active learning, LCD brings into UCD the components of “role-playing, case-based learning, project-based learning, and reflection” (3).

The authors advance their discussion of concerns about UCD in composition by exploring their understanding of rhetoric as ethics. They note that “the concept of UX has emerged in disciplinary conversations, bridging rhetoric, the digital humanities, and UCD” (4). Citing Jesse Stommel’s work on the digital humanities, the authors contend that the goal of this field is “not the creation of an effective system,” but rather “a purposeful breaking” (5) that functions as “an ethical interrogation, if not intervention” (4) into any system that purports to erase cultural differences (5). Arguing that rhetoric is about the relations within a system rather than the structure of the system itself, the authors draw on Kenneth Burke’s claims that all choices and actions have ethical consequences and result from the ethical decisions made by agents (5). In the authors’ view, “Designers, writers, users, and readers, then, can act . . . for ethical or unethical purposes” (5).

From this perspective, compositionists who import UCD into classroom practice have an ethical responsibility to interrogate what the authors see as “an ethic of expediency and efficiency” (6; emphasis original) that arrives via the industry-based vocabulary in which actors’ decisions are “tied inextricably to accumulation of capital” (4). Opel and Rhodes write that compositionists can too easily become like “contemporary UX professionals, who conduct research on consumers/users, rather than design in concert with users . . . in participatory design frameworks” (6).

As an alternative for composition instruction, the authors propose a “theory+play” methodology that sees students as active participants in design, simultaneously recuperating the emphasis on “learner” that “user” tends to elide (7). In this view, multimodal composition, as understood in the field, offers scope for play in that it provides opportunities for “remix and mashup” (6) that accord with the idea of play as defined by Jody Shipka: a process of “purposeful choosing, adaptation, and material flexibility” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 7). In such play, the authors contend, actors can ask “what-if questions,” imagine new “realities,” and explore how choices constrain and enable action (7). This approach, in the authors’ view inherent in multimodality, “emphasiz[es] agency rather than reception on the part of students” (7).

Consonant with the emphasis on play is the concept of “speculative design,” which moves from a product intended to meet a predetermined goal to a process that explores what is possible, with the focus more on the “discussion” than the product (7).

The authors note that it is common to think of design as “problem solving” (9). They address, however, the issue of what happens when the problems faced by cultures today do not admit of solutions. In this respect, they argue for rhetoric understood as “embodied, relational, ethical, and playful” (7). They draw on Burke’s comic frame as a foundation for such rhetoric, in that it “insists on the continued responsiveness/responsibility of interactants” (7). Multimodal play, then, constitutes a rhetorical act in which students take responsibility for their purposes and choices and the consequences of their activities as “co-creators/designers of discourse operating in complex public spheres” (8).

The authors’ heuristic for incorporating UCD into the classroom provides seven tenets. Several of these address the need for interrogation of “industry rhetoric” as it extols “expediency, efficiency, engagement” (8). Other principles ask for examination of factors like “the cultural systems of normativity” that commonly drive design when it is seen as problem-solving (8).

Opel and Rhodes suggest that these principles follow from a view of design as an act that recognizes its rhetorical nature and that further takes on the inevitable ethical component of all rhetorics as, in Burke’s formulation, “rhetoric,” “persuasion,” and “meaning” (6) are inextricably linked to the purposeful acts of intentional agents. For Opel and Rhodes, UCD that truly positions students as co-designers can enable students to understand their responsibilities within such roles.


Leave a comment

Shepherd, Ryan. Digital Writing and Transfer. C&C, June 2018.

Shepherd, Ryan P. “Digital Writing, Multimodality, and Learning Transfer: Crafting Connections between Composition and Online Composing.” Computers and Composition 48 (2018): 103-14. Web. 4 Apr. 2018.

Ryan P. Shepherd conducted a survey and interviews to investigate the relationship between multimodal writing students did outside of school and the writing that they did for their classes. Shepherd focuses on students’ perceptions as to what constitutes “writing” and whether they see their out-of-school work as “writing.” He argues that these perceptions are important for transfer of in-school learning to new contexts (103).

He notes that scholars in the field have argued for the importance of drawing on students’ past writing experiences and their knowledge of those contexts to enhance their classroom learning (104). Some scholarship suggests that students do not see a relationship between the writing they know how to do for social media and school assignments. This scholarship indicates that one implication of this disconnect is that students may not apply the knowledge they accumulate in the classroom to the broader range of their writing activities (104).

Shepherd sent survey links to composition instructors and received 151 replies from first-year-writing students. He reports that the responses were skewed toward larger, doctoral-granting schools (104-05). In choosing 10 students from among 60 who were willing to be interviewed, Shepherd included Research 2 and Masters 1 institutions but found his population did not fully represent a diverse range of students (105). Interviews took place in Shepherd’s office or on Skype.

A principle question in both the survey and interviews was students’ definition of “writing.” Shepherd notes an emphasis on “expression” and “creativity” in these definitions, with 25% referring explicitly to the use of “paper” (105). In contrast, of the 132 definitions of writing in the surveys, only five brought up “digital” or “computer” and all five also included the word “paper” (106). The word “digital” did not occur in the definitions provided in the interviews.

At the same time, 92% of survey responses indicated experience with social media and 99% had used email (106). Forty-six percent of survey respondents had posted on four digital platforms: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, while only 5% had not posted to any of these venues and “only one participant had not written on social media at all” (106).

Similarly, interviewees reported extensive experience with social media. Students on both the surveys and in the interviews reported that they wrote “as much or more” outside of school than in class (107). In addition, students seemed uncertain as to whether they had done multimodal writing for school, “sometimes saying they ‘might’ have used images or charts and graphs with their writing at some point” (107).

Shepherd concludes that the students he studied did not connect the multimodal writing they commonly did outside of school with their schoolwork and did not include this use of social media in their definitions of writing. However, when encouraged to think about the relationship between the two kinds of writing experiences, “students were quick to make connections without prompting” (107).

For Shepherd, these finding impact recent discussions in composition studies about the transfer of academic knowledge to other contexts. He contends that many uses of the “transfer” metaphor do not completely or accurately capture what compositionists would like to see happen (108). This “incomplete” metaphor, he argues, implies that knowledge acquired in one place is simply carried to a new place. Thinking this way, Shepherd maintains, echoes the “banking model” of education in which knowledge is something teachers have provided that students can subsequently “withdraw” (108).

More appropriate, Shepherd writes, is the idea of transfer as a “bridge or connection between one area of knowledge and another inside of the learner’s mind” (108). He uses an analogy of knowing how to drive a car and later having to drive a “large box truck.” He posits that using prior knowledge in this new situation involves “generaliz[ing] the knowledge” by “creat[ing] a larger theory of ‘driving’” that encompasses both experiences (108-09). This re-theorization, he states, does not involve transporting any knowledge to a new place.

Shepherd reviews theories of transfer, arguing that similarity between two experiences is central to successful transfer. The comparison between driving a car and driving a truck is an example of “low-road transfer,” in which the two situations are easily seen to be similar (109).

Many kinds of transfer, in contrast, are “high-road transfer” in which the similarity is not necessarily obvious. Shepherd develops an example of relating knowing how to drive to learning how to ski. Theories suggest that in order to see connections between disparate activities like these, learners need to apply what Gavriel Salomon and David N. Perkins call “mindful abstraction” (109). According to Shepherd, related terms used by compositionists include “reflection” and “metacognition” (109). Shepherd argues that what matters is not so much whether or not the activities are clearly similar but rather the degree to which learners can come to perceive them as similar through metacognitive reflection (109).

In this reading, high-road transfer consists of “backward-“ and “forward-reaching” efforts. “Backward-reaching” transfer involves drawing on past experience in new contexts; Shepherd argues that composition uses this form less than “forward-reaching” transfer, which encourages students to think of how they can use classroom learning in the future (109-10). Shepherd maintains that his study supports the claim that both kinds of transfer are “quite difficult”; students need to develop a more complex “theory of writing” to see the necessary similarities and may require guidance to do so (110).

Shepherd suggests that theory-building can begin with students’ own definitions; they can then be challenged to explain why specific modes of communication, for example in social media, do not fit their definitions (111). Teachers can also ask students to teach kinds of writing in which they may be skilled but may not recognize as writing (111). Throughout, teachers can press for “guided reflection” (111) and “mindful abstraction” (112) in order to foreground connections that students may not see as self-evident.

In introducing students to multimodal work in the classroom, Shepherd suggests, teachers can show students that these kinds of assignments are actually familiar and that the students themselves “might already be experts” (112). To design curricula that facilitates the creation of these connections across writing contexts, Shepherd writes, research needs to address “two key areas”: “what students know” and “what students need to know” (112). More attention to the kinds of literacies that students practice outside of the classroom, Shepherd concludes, can equip teachers to apply this kind of research to teaching for more productive transfer.


Leave a comment

Horarik et al. Teachers’ Subject Knowledge about Grammar. RTE, Feb. 2018. Posted 03/11/2018.

Macken-Horarik, Mary, Kristina Love, and Stefan Horarik. “Rethinking Grammar in Language Arts: Insights from an Australian Survey of Teachers’ Subject Knowledge.” Research in the Teaching of English 52.3 (2018): 288-316. Print.

Mary Macken-Horarik, Kristina Love, and Stefan Horarik report a study of Australian English teachers’ attitudes toward teaching grammar in elementary and secondary schools. The study addresses the effects on writing instruction of a recent national program, Australian Curriculum: English (290). This “ambitious program” (291) asks teachers to implement a many-faceted “relational approach to grammar” (291). Macken-Horarik et al. draw data from a 2014 survey of 373 Australian English teachers to assess their support for the incorporation of this approach into writing instruction and to measure their confidence in their ability to effect this incorporation (291).

The authors cite research from the U.K., including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and from the United States to note increasing calls for grammar instruction that moves beyond workbook exercises to help students understand grammar as a rhetorical element in which choices affect meaning (289, 312). This international research also calls into question whether teachers are prepared to follow through on such a curriculum (289-90).

A “relational approach” as described by the Australian curriculum breaks down amorphous “knowledge about language” into “grammatical subject knowledge” (GSK), which involves “structural resources of lexico-grammar (sentence level and below)” and “linguistic subject knowledge,” which “includes understanding of nonstructural resources such as cohesion (text level and beyond)” as well as “constructs such as genre, register, and discourse semantics” (293-94). GSK includes the ability to recognize and define grammatical elements, while LSK addresses how such elements function in use. In addition to these levels of knowledge, teachers implementing this approach are expected to possess “semiotic subject knowledge” (SSK) that will allow them to extend grammatical instruction to images, performances, etc. (292).

Macken-Horarik et al. identify three features of a relational approach. The first is a “broad scope” that covers multiple genres and forms of communication. The second is a “multilevel” approach, in which “a labeling of grammatical structures is important but insufficient,” with emphasis on how grammatical elements work to enable “higher levels of meaning in language.” Third is a “contextual orientation to grammar,” which allows for analysis of the function of language in diverse communicative and social environments (294).

Australia’s program requires students to study language through this relational lens beginning in kindergarten and throughout their school careers (291-92). The authors point to increasing burdens on teachers not only to convey the higher-level concepts inherent in the relational approach but also to incorporate ever-changing processes important in multimodal genres. They argue that the Australian program has not supplied adequate support to help teachers implement the curriculum (292-93, 313).

The 2014 survey to measure teachers’ appreciation of and ability to teach the curriculum included both quantitative and open-ended measures. Macken-Horarik et al. write that an initial paper drawn from the quantitative questions reported that teachers believed strongly in the value of a contextualized, relational grammar curriculum and generally responded that they were confident in their ability to teach it (296). However, analysis of the discursive, qualitative data “revealed anomalous patterns” (298).

Teachers surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that they valued all aspects of a relational approach, including SSK (the knowledge necessary to engage in multimodal composition) (298). However, questions focusing on specifics received lower positive response rates, and examination of the responses to open-ended questions found that comparatively few employed “a technical metalanguage” (298) that allowed them to discuss how form related to function (300). Despite endorsing the importance of SSK, when asked what kinds of knowledge were important, only 3 of 227 teachers who answered the open-ended version of the question mentioned multimodality (300).

Analysis of demographic data indicated that among the variables studied, including type of school and geographical location, only the teachers’ level of experience and the level at which they taught influenced the importance they attached to teaching grammatical knowledge. Less experienced teachers and primary-school teachers valued this knowledge more than more experienced counterparts teaching higher grades. The authors posit that teachers at higher levels may have assumed that by the time students reached them, the “core business” of grammar was “already ‘in place’” (301). In alignment with research in other cultures, teachers working with students from lower economic strata placed more importance on grammar than did their counterparts (301-02).

When asked in the quantitative sections of the survey about their confidence in their ability to teach the Australian curriculum, teachers again responded overwhelmingly that they felt prepared to do so. New teachers were more likely to express some doubt about their competence (303). Noting prior research that suggests that confidence levels do not necessarily indicate competence (303), Macken-Horarik et al. found that in the discursive answers to a question about the challenges the teachers faced, of 104 respondents, 69 found aspects of grammatical subject knowledge challenging (304). A number of these teachers stated that they had not been taught this knowledge in their own educations; others found “mapping functional grammar terminology onto traditional grammar terminology” difficult, while a third group noted that teaching a relational approach required them to work with more complex and difficult components and texts than they felt prepared to teach (305).

Further coding suggested that 63.5% of teachers responding to the issue of challenges “had already developed [knowledge about language] but needed to add ‘nuance’ to this in one or more areas of knowledge,” while 31.7% struggled with “basic knowledge of language” (305). These same teachers expressed “easy confidence with subject knowledge” in the quantitative measures (306-07). The authors find that this mismatch increases as teachers are asked to articulate specifics, particularly involving the role of lower-level components of language in developing higher levels of meaning (307).

Asked what professional development they needed, teachers identified published resources appropriate to the new curriculum, “infrastructure support,” and collaboration within and across schools (307). Again, roughly 30% of those who answered requested “a comprehensive introduction to subject knowledge” (308), and again, large majorities of those indicating such needs expressed high levels of confidence in their ability to teach the material (309). Discursive responses again revealed “an eerie silence” about the tools needed to teach in multimodal contexts (309).

The authors write that their study of “perceptions” did not allow them to judge whether teachers were actually capable of implementing contextual, nuanced instruction (310). Although more than 60% of the teachers surveyed rejected “decontextualized grammar exercises” (311), the authors call for further research including interviews. focus groups, and possibly text-based testing to illuminate teachers’ actual performance (311). In the authors’ view, Australian literacy education must do more to help teachers understand “how” to achieve the mandated goal of “[c]learly relating grammatical choices to meanings in texts and to contexts in which texts are produced” (312).

 


1 Comment

Kitalong and Miner. Rhetorical Agency through Multimodal Composing. Mar. 2018 C&C. Posted 02/02/2018.

Kitalong, Karla Saari, and Rebecca L. Miner. “Multimodal Composition Pedagogy Designed to Enhance Authors’ Personal Agency: Lessons from Non-academic and Academic Composing Environments.” Computers and Composition 46 (2017): 39-55. Web. 21 Jan. 2018.

Karla Saari Kitalong and Rebecca L. Miner discuss the use of multimodal assignments to enhance student engagement and personal agency. They compare and contrast the responses of students working on multimodal projects in three different scenarios to argue that multimodal assignments, if well-structured, offer opportunities to move students beyond “normative reproduction of received knowledges” (52).

The authors state that even though the “current turn” to multimodality began in 1999-2000, composition is “still grappling with how to teach and engage with the many complexities of multimodal composition” (39). Kitalong and Miner see agreement among scholars that effective use of multimodality involves more than simply including a multimodal component in an assignment (40). In their view, multimodal composition, like all composition, should

allow students to practice so that they can synthesize modes, genres, ideas, and skills, and become ever more fluid and flexible composers. (40)

Such assignments, the authors argue, should instill in students as well a sense that their work has value and can impact issues important to them on both a local and global level (40, 41). Quoting Anne Wysocki, they define this component of “agency” as an awareness that

[b]ecause the structures into which we have grown up are neither necessary nor fixed, they can be changed when we forge new positions for ourselves among them, or when we construct new relations between the different structures that matter to us. (40)

Effective agency is “alert,” in Wysocki’s words, to openings for activism and change (40). Kitalong and Miner argue that their three scenarios illustrate how such alertness can result from the specific activities inherent in multimodal learning when those activities are paired with reflection and revision (40).

The first scenario involved a “front-end evaluation” for an exhibit, Water’s Journey Through the Everglades, “a collection of interactive science museum exhibits” designed to educate visitors in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area about the importance of water to individuals and the environment (41) as well as to encourage interest in STEM careers among middle-school children. The evaluation, conducted by Kitalong as “lead formative evaluator,” measured middle-school students’ levels of knowledge about water and its role locally and globally (41). Kitalong and Miner report data collected from 20 sixth-graders given the task of “visually depicting” their knowledge (41).

From drawings provided by the sixth-graders, the authors conclude that at the local level, the students envisioned themselves as active conservators of water, whereas, when asked to portray their role and that of other actors at the global level, they showed humans as “small and passive” (42). Some of the drawings seemed to present “distant views” that included no indication of human action, even though the sixth-grades were enrolled in a STEM magnet school (42).

Kitalong and Miner conclude that while the sixth-graders’ responses indicated that they grasped the material and would be able to learn more, they were not inspired to develop agency.

In contrast, in the second scenario, 75 late-elementary and middle-school students worked with Sketch-N-Tell, an interactive “Discovery Game” that allowed them to create images and designs from “traditional art supplies (paper, markers, crayons)” that they could then digitize and animate (45). The primary purpose of the activity was testing for usability and audience appeal of the game for Come Back to the Fair, an “immersive game-like learning environment that virtually replicates the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair” (44). This environment was intended both to stimulate interest in STEM and to encourage participants to think more critically about the ways technology can impact lives (44).

Kitalong and Miner contend that the assignment to create their own “visions of future technologies” and the encouragement within the project to reflect on and revise their efforts quickly led these students to assume agency as actual contributors to the project (46). Hands-on multimodal participation, they maintain, sparked engagement and inspired students to modify their creations in ways that suggested attention to the global effects of their visions (47). In the authors’ view, students’ responses indicated that “[t]hey were not merely accumulating modes, but coordinating and synthesizing them” (47).

Scenario 3 took place in a sophomore-level composition course taught by Miner at a “STEM-focused school” (47). Students created “Timeline Maps” tracing the development of a product in a field they were considering as a career. The assignment, which led from the production of a multimodal exhibit to a researched argument paper, required attention to ethical issues in the field (48). Creating the Timeline Maps and the related presentations asked students to “dearticulate an assemblage of texts and rearticulate them” in new forms, in the authors’ view thereby encouraging new perspectives and new connections (48). Peer review and a reflective essay helped to generate agency by triggering questions about otherwise familiar processes and products, so that, by the argumentative paper, students were considering their personal positions in relation to ethical issues and taking strong, critically informed stances (49).

The authors posit that the prompt for Scenario 1 limited students’ engagement and sense of agency by asking for “depictions of the status quo” rather than solutions (52). Thus, design of prompts that “explicitly encourage students to learn something new” is one of three components that the authors recommend for making full use of the potential of multimodal assignments (53). A second component is giving students freedom to combine multiple modes; the authors contend that this freedom results in “excitement” and “engagement in their own learning,” which in itself produces the “reflectiveness and self-awareness” necessary for agency (53). In this view, the responsibility imposed by uncertainty about what the teacher expects further demonstrates to students their own ability to exert control (53).

Third, Kitalong and Miner identify time for reflection as one of the most formative elements in Scenarios 2 and 3 (53). They see the act of reassembling familiar materials into new forms as requiring extended time that allows students to find connections to their personal interests. Reconsidering their products through different stages in light of input from peers and other respondents leads students to revise the impact of their projects, in itself an exercise of rhetorical agency (53). The authors argue that multimodal composition enhanced by “the act of describing and reflecting upon their rhetorical choices . . . ultimately provoked a sense of personal agency” in the learning scenarios (54).


Leave a comment

Bastian, Heather. Affect and “Bringing the Funk” to First-Year Writing. CCC, Sept. 2017. Posted 10/05/2017.

Bastian, Heather. “Student Affective Responses to ‘Bringing the Funk’ in the First-Year Writing Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 69.1 (2017): 6-34. Print.

Heather Bastian reports a study of students’ affective responses to innovative assignments in a first-year writing classroom. Building on Adam Banks’s 2015 CCCC Chair’s Address, Bastian explores the challenges instructors may face when doing what Banks called “bring[ing] the funk” (qtd. in Bastian 6) by asking students to work in genres that do not conform to “academic convention” (7).

According to Bastian, the impetus for designing such units and assignments includes the need to “prepare students for uncertain futures within an increasingly technological world” (8). Bastian cites scholarship noting teachers’ inability to forecast exactly what will be demanded of students as they move into professions; this uncertainty, in this view, means that the idea of what constitutes writing must be expanded and students should develop the rhetorical flexibility to adapt to the new genres they may encounter (8).

Moreover, Bastian argues, citing Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi, that students’ dependence on familiar academic formulas means that their responses to rhetorical situations can become automatic and unthinking, with the result that they do not question the potential effects of their choices or explore other possible solutions to rhetorical problems. This automatic response limits “their meaning-making possibilities to what academic convention allows and privileges” (8-9)

Bastian contends that students not only fall back on traditional academic genres but also develop “deep attachments” to the forms they find familiar (9). The field, she states, has little data on what these attachments are like or how they guide students’ rhetorical decisions (9, 25).

She sees these attachments as a manifestation of “affect”; she cites Susan McLeod’s definition of affect as “noncognitive phenomena, including emotions but also attitudes, beliefs, moods, motivations, and intuitions” (9). Bastian cites further scholarship that indicates a strong connection between affect and writing as well as emotional states and learning (9-10). In her view, affect is particularly important when teachers design innovative classroom experiences because students’ affective response to such efforts can vary greatly; prior research suggests that as many as half the students in a given situation will resist moving beyond the expected curriculum (10).

Bastian enlisted ten of twenty-two students in a first-year-writing class at a large, public midwestern university in fall 2009 (11). She used “multiple qualitative research methods” to investigate these first-semester students’ reactions to the third unit in a four-unit curriculum intended to meet the program’s goals of “promot[ing] rhetorical flexibility and awareness”; the section under study explored genre from different perspectives (11). The unit introduced “the concept of genre critique,” as defined by the course textbook, Amy J. Devitt et al.’s Scenes of Writing: “questioning and evaluating to determine the strengths and shortcomings of a genre as well as its ideological import” (12).

Bastian designed the unit to “disrupt” students’ expectation of a writing class on the reading level, in that she presented her prompt as a set of “game rules,” and also on the “composing” level, as the unit did not specify what genre the students were to critique nor the form in which they were to do so (12). Students examined a range of genres and genre critiques, “including posters, songs, blogs, . . . artwork, poems, . . . comics, speeches, creative nonfiction. . . .” (13). The class developed a list of the possible forms their critiques might take.

Bastian acted as observer, recording evidence of “the students’ lived experiences” as they negotiated the unit. She attended all class sessions, made notes of “physical reactions” and “verbal reactions” (13). Further data consisted of one-hour individual interviews and a set of twenty-five questions. For this study, she concentrated on questions that asked about students’ levels of comfort with various stages of the unit (13).

Like other researchers, Bastian found that students asked to create innovative projects began with “confusion”; her students also displayed “distrust” (14) in that they were not certain that the assignment actually allowed them to choose their genres (19). All students considered “the essay” the typical genre for writing classes; some found the familiar conventions a source of confidence and comfort, while for others the sense of routine was “boring” (student, qtd. in Bastian 15).

Bastian found that the degree to which students expressed “an aversion” to the constraints of “academic convention” affected their responses to the assignment, particularly the kinds of genres they chose and their levels of comfort with the unusual assignment.

Those who said that they wanted more freedom in classroom writing chose what the students as a whole considered “atypical” genres for their critiques, such as recipes, advertisements, or magazine covers (16-17). Students who felt safer within the conventions preferred more “typical” choices such as PowerPoint presentations and business letters (16, 22). The students who picked atypical genres claimed that they appreciated the opportunity to experience “a lot more chance to express yourself” (student, qtd. in Bastian 22), and possibly discover “hidden talents” (22).

The author found, however, that even students who wanted more freedom did not begin the unit with high levels of comfort. She found that the unusual way the assignment was presented, the “concept of critique,” and the idea that they could pick their own genres concerned even the more adventurous students (18). In Bastian’s view, the “power of academic convention” produced a forceful emotional attachment: students “distrusted the idea that both textual innovation and academic convention is both valid and viable in the classroom” (20).

Extensive exposure to critiques and peer interaction reduced discomfort for all students by the end of the unit (19), but those who felt least safe outside the typical classroom experience reported less comfort (23). One student expressed a need to feel safe, yet, after seeing his classmates’ work, chose an atypical response, encouraging Bastian to suggest that with the right support, “students can be persuaded to take risks” (23).

Bastian draws on research suggesting that what Barry Kroll calls “intelligent confusion” (qtd. in Bastian 26) and “cognitive disequilibrium” can lead to learning if supported by appropriate activities (26). The students reported gains in a number of rhetorical dimensions and specifically cited the value of having to do something that made them uncomfortable (25). Bastian argues that writing teachers should not be surprised to encounter such resistance, and can prepare for it with four steps: ‘openly acknowledge and discuss” the discomfort students might feel; model innovation; design activities that translate confusion into learning; and allow choice (27-28). She urges more empirical research on the nature of students’ affective responses to writing instruction (29).

 


Leave a comment

Rodrigo and Romberger. Roles of “Writing Program Technologists.” C&C June 2017. Posted 07/25/2017.

Rodrigo, Rochelle, and Julia Romberger. “Managing Digital Technologies in Writing Programs: Writing Program Technologists and Invisible Service.” Computers and Composition 44 (2017): 67-82. Web. 13 July 2017.

Rochelle Rodrigo and Julia Romberger discuss their concerns that the work done in writing programs by faculty with expertise in technology is often not recognized by programs or institutions. To highlight this issue, they interviewed 23 faculty at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference (72). Because the data consisted of “detailed anecdotes,” the authors consider their project a “phenomenological study to learn about what is going on in the field” and to determine whether the issue of recognition for technology experts merits investigation (79). They contend that the degree to which digital modes have become central to writing instruction makes the issue worth further study.

The authors create the designation “Writing Program Technologist” (WPT) for “faculty who have scholarly expertise in various technologies” (67-68). They see the role of such faculty as in part a labor issue in that much of the work needed to support digital spaces falls under “service” rather than research or teaching (70); Writing Studies, they argue, has not fully examined what is involved when particular faculty play supporting roles in programs that incorporate online and digital learning (68).

Rodrigo and Romberger locate what they consider a “gap” (68) in scholarship in a set of pervasive cultural and rhetorical perspectives on technology. In these views, technology is a neutral tool to which work can be “handed over” (Carolyn Miller, qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 68). The tool itself acquires authority that can override human agency and knowledge (69); even though it is considered “basic, like the hammer” (77), it is at the same time often seen as “magical,” with the human effort needed to produce and sustain it hidden from common view (69).

Rodrigo and Romberger detect a shift in revisions of outcomes documents from the Council of Writing Program Administrators in which technology moves from being “a separate plank” to an “infusion of technological awareness and expertise throughout the statement” (69). In their view, this infusion increases the need for explicit articulation of WPT work, which, they contend, does not appear in either the 1998 CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology nor the 2015 update (68).

The authors note a range of WPT activities, from informal help for other faculty to setting up and maintaining networked classrooms and other spaces for digital writing. They write that faculty not engaged specifically in WPT work do not always realize that technology presents “a moving target” (68) as software and devices evolve regularly and WPTs must remain up to date. They note that the documentation necessary to formally account for the variety of services WPTs perform “added another layer of work” to unspecified duties already performed (78) and therefore might not be undertaken; only 4 interviewees reported doing “any sort of accounting” of their labor (73). As an aid to WPTs working to make their contributions visible and valued, the authors point to the history of the position of writing program administrator (WPA) and efforts to ensure that activities related to this position are recognized as intellectual work (72).

Of the 23 interviewees, only nine had formal job titles, with WPT assignments often overlapping with a designation as WPA (73), a reflection, the authors state, of the growing importance of digital modes within some programs. WPT work, the interviews note, did not end when appointments as WPAs ended (73).

Types of compensation varied from stipends to course releases to resource allocation (73-74). The study uncovered less tangible forms of compensation as well. Interviewees addressed rewards accruing from increased contact and influence across their campuses as they served on committees with decision-making power (74). One interview noted the agency provided by the expertise:

There’s a great power in being a volunteer that we tend to underestimate because you get to choose your projects. You’re accountable for only the things you want to be accountable for. So that, I don’t know how much I would want to be compensated. (qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 75)

Apropos of this kind of response, Rodrigo and Romberger note a concern that WPTs can be highly intrinsically motivated to take on the extra duties their expertise permits and that this motivation can be seen by some both within and outside of the WPT community as reward enough (76). WPTs take on tasks that enable their own work as well as that of fellow faculty (74). Desires for compensation, in these cases, focused on acquiring the “space,” “time,” and “resource support” to achieve individual and scholarly goals (74-75).

Citing Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, the authors work to chart the accumulation of both positive and negative forms but find quantifying this accumulation difficult (77). Interviewees who report increased status because of their cross-campus networking are balanced by those who find their expertise being taken advantage of. Some interviewees felt that colleagues did not fully understand what they did (77).

Rodrigo and Romberger write that the value assigned to WPT work and the sense of appreciation and recognition expressed by the WPTs themselves is “highly contextual,” dependent on the particular configuration of the program involved as well as on the status of the WPT him- or herself; non-tenure-track or contingent faculty reported negative experiences that the authors link specifically to their positions within the institution (76-77). The authors did not collect data that allowed them to compare experiences across different institutions because “individual contexts would be too variable and anecdotes too likely to be traceable back to a particular individual at a particular institution” (73). Further research might include such data.

Rodrigo and Romberger detect changes in the role of WPTs as digital work becomes more diffuse across campuses; some of their interviewees report evidence of a shift from “a support worker” to a role within “the decision making infrastructure” (78). Although the authors encourage providing job descriptions, titles, and documentation for WPT work as such changes develop, some interviewees report that such descriptions actually limit the work they want to do (78). The authors suggest, finally, that “[t]he closely related, sometimes overlapping, work between the WPT and the WPA means that carefully mapping both jobs and the relationships between them might benefit both individuals” (78).