Reflections on Cs 2013

Post-Vegas, my brain is a little fuzzy.  I’m now 3 hours off, and I didn’t sleep much last night because I took the red eye into Detroit.  Before I am swallowed whole by the coming week, which will involve continuing to draft my dissertation, driving to campus for class, and showing around the new class of recruits, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect over my favorite moments from this year’s Cs conference.

Awesome moment 1: making myself compose with objects in the half day workshop “Evocative Objects.”  We brought objects into the workshop, we traded with other participants, and we picked one object out of a bag.  Then we had an hour to “compose” with the objects in front of us.  I found myself sitting there with an organic paper stationary set, 2 notepads, chalk, and a cloth doll, rolling the paper and unrolling it, situating and re-situating the doll with the other objects before me.  I kept thinking to myself what’s my purpose?  What am I trying to say with this composition?  I tried new combinations and new juxtapositions; I cut up letters and started to spell.  Check out my composition here.  But the the coolest part of the workshop was having others “read” our compositions to us once they were finished.  Being able to see where my own piece was unclear or not as directive as I’d hoped was fascinating.  And I also was a little shocked at my own ability to analyze and pick out the messages in the work of others.  The entire experience left me with much to ponder about how composing with objects is different from and the same as composing with words.

Awesome moment 2:  Yancey’s talk on Wednesday at the end of the QRN: “Navigating the Currents of Research Activity on Transfer of Knowledge and Practice in Writing.”  It was the end of the day and I was exhausted, but Yancey’s concise summary of the transfer research in the field was so useful.  She pointed me to several recently published texts, and made me think deeply about concepts such as the role of metalanguage in our courses.

Awesome moment 3:  Kevin Roozen talked about transfer of writing knowledge across media in his Thursday morning session with Wardle and Nowacek.  He called it “remediation,” drawing from Bolter and Grusin.  I was just excited that someone else was actually going there.

Awesome moment 4:  Saying hi, ever so briefly, to my wonderful mentor Lisa Ede after her feminist rhetorical practices panel on Thursday.  She is so wonderful!

Awesome moment 5:  My favorite panel of the conference was “Compositional Expansion: De- and Re-Composing Materialities” with Jody Shipka, Erin Anderson, and Trisha Campbell.  Dr. Shipka showed her latest video, which was layered and complex in exciting ways.  She layered together found home-video footage and sound material, along with a ghostly image of herself on the side – reminding me that there she was, underneath it all, mixing and remixing the materials.  Some of the sound she used came from her classroom and some from interviews with others, and she layered multiple sound tracks at various points in the movie.  The video we watched isn’t up on her website yet, but she has posted many of her other projects there.  Erin Anderson then showed us her “Coerced Confessions” remix videos– she uses digital video editing to remix the words of actors into confessional statements.  The videos are jarring and bizarre, but suggest much about what can (or should) be done with digital voice as a compositional medium.  Finally, Trisha Campbell finished the panel by showing her “Composing Murder” project, where she maps and composes a network for the murders that take place in Pittsburgh each year.  She also collects evidence of the victims’ digital imprint, archiving Facebook pages and images.  I was emotionally moved by Campbell’s project and think it could have an important impact as a tool for the community, but it also challenges my notions of composing new media.  Is her archive a composed text?

Awesome moment 6: Presenting with Chris Dickman and Ben Gunsberg during the last session to a much larger audience than expected!  People hung in there for us, and we had a great showing.  I talked about my dissertation research, and Ben and Chris showed really interesting work relating to making video resources for students and having students compose screencasts.

And there were other awesome moments, too – hanging out with others in my program, seeing graduates and catching up on their lives, seeing the fountain show at the Bellagio, and realizing that writing teachers, well, we just rock!  But I already knew that before.

Thanks, Cs 2013 and everyone involved, for a great conference!

Reading and Reorganizing

Today’s agenda included reading a couple more articles on transfer of learning from the writing classroom, and then thinking carefully about a few sections of my prospectus draft and considering ways to expand and revise.  I decided to work from home today because I didn’t have any other appointments on my calendar, and I recently cleaned my desk, so I was happy to have some work space (see below – although it doesn’t look too clean, it is, trust me!)

my desk at home

So I read two articles today: Foertsch’s 1995 article “Where Cognitive Psychology Applies” and Bergman and Zepernick’s 2007 “Disciplinarity and Transfer” study of how students learn to write in their discipline.  Foertsch’s article is a bit dated, but she argued that we need to use theories of local and general knowledge to teach writing, combining insight from cog psych and memory studies with social theories of learning and discourse communities.  Bergman and Zepernick’s study was pretty negative towards first year comp., and they land in the camp that writing should ideally be taught in the disciplines and that not much transfers from FYC to other writing contexts.

After I read these two articles, I did a bit of “mapping my study,” where I thought about what I really want to study and measure with my diss.  I started to reformulate my research questions, as you can see at the bottom of my notes, and then I did some practical thinking about how much data I can collect and where it will come from.

Prospectus Notes

I want to study two writing classrooms doing new media composition and gather the following data:

  • Interviews with instructor: at beginning of the unit, at the end of the unit, and at the end of the course (x2)
  • Interviews with 2-4 students from each class: at the end of the new media unit and at the end of the course, potentially 6 months after the course concludes as well (x2)
  • Observations: one workshop day, one lesson on metalanguage, one goal-setting day (x2)
  • Documents: Student reflections throughout the new media unit (on blog), reflection prompts written by instructor, metalanguage lesson plan materials, workshop lesson plan materials (x2)

So if I do all this, I will end up doing 22 interviews, 6 classroom observations, examining 8 student reflection blogs, and 10 instructor-generated prompts.  That seems like a lot – although I have no concept of how much data collection is “enough” for a diss project.  I will have to think on this and run it by my co-chairs on Wednesday.

The last thing I did today was go through my literature review in my first draft.  I mapped it out for myself my paragraph and I thought about ways to incorporate the articles I’ve read over the past few weeks into it, as well as how to move some of the material that I put in the conceptual framework into the lit review.  My concern is that it’s getting enormous, and I’m not sure what to keep and what to cut.  I feel like I need all the parts I have though.

I have a 5 PM appointment with the gym tonight, and then choral union this evening, so I will be getting some exercise and SINGING-yay!  I hope that tomorrow I can come back refreshed and start to actually rewrite some of the lit review and conceptual framework.  And plan the meeting with my co-chairs for Wednesday.

Fraizer on coaching transfer in context

Not much time to work on the prospectus today, but I did read Fraizer’s 2010 article on coaching transfer after FYC.  His point is that transfer coaching strategies (he pulls these from Beaufort: genre analysis, discourse community analysis, and metacognitive reflection) should be done when students are encountering new writing situations and new disciplines.  He points to “writing studios” and writing centers as places where this kind of transfer coaching can be done. 

I agree that “in context” coaching for transfer seems logical, but I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon having students reflect a lot in first year comp.  And new media composition offers a space where they can experience diverse writing situations IN the writing class, using diverse materials.  Can’t FYC be used to develop a “metacognitive foundation” for the awareness to come, if you will?  I will have to consider more.

I have a plan of attack!…and Jarrett et al on transfer

I’m calling it a day, and proud that I actually worked today.  Here’s what I got done and a few musings and questions on what I learned.

I went through the comments I received from my co-chair and my professor on the first draft of my prospectus that I wrote a few weeks ago.  I made a Word doc and summarized all the important themes throughout the comments.  Then I made a plan of attack for revising the draft, which includes revamping the research questions pretty much completely, adding to the lit. review section but at the same time cutting it down so I don’t lit review on and on for 20+ pages, backgrounding literature and foregrounding my terms, my voice, and my arguments in the conceptual framework section, adding a section about the unit I want to design, and developing the methods section in depth (it is bare bones if that right now). 

I also made a timeline / syllabus / schedule for this semester that I will discuss with my co-chairs next week.  I put a tentative defense date for the week of March 12, the week before Cs, so we’ll see what my advisors think about that.  I also confirmed a co-chair meeting via email for next Wednesday where we will discuss my timeline and other members of my committee. 

In the afternoon, I spent a few hours reading Jarrett et al’s 2009 essay “Pedagogical Memory.”  They offer what they call pedagogical memory as a framework that writing instructors and researchers can use to approach questions of transfer from first year comp.  They interviewed almost 100 college juniors and seniors about their first year writing course and their upper level writing course, looking for what students remembered from their first year course and how they charted a path to their upper level course.  They organize their data according to four categories: students that had difficulty remembering or explaining what they learned in FYC, students who talked about writing as a process, students who saw writing as technical correctness and grammar, and students who constructed learning about writing in the moment during the interview. 

Jarrett et al then conclude that based on their data, transfer is difficult to chart and that it might be the wrong question.  Instead, they suggest our energies be spent in helping students to translate discourses about writing from site to site.  They call this “pedagogical memory work” which involves reflective writing as a tool to map pasts and imagine writing futures. 

I found the article fascinating, as many of the pieces of data that Jarrett et al cite are similar to the data I collected from my former students for the small study I put together for Qualitative Methods last term.  I also think that the way the authors frame this issue in terms of “memory” is intriguing – they avoid using the term “meta-awareness” all together. 

A major note: they do not mention technologies whatsoever, or a definition of writing for the 21st century that may be expanding beyond print and traditional genres/formats.  This is where my work can add to this conversation, I think.  Does new media writing help students to move from writing site to writing site more fluidly?  Does reflection over new media composition serve the same purposes as reflection over print writing? 

I will definitely use the Jarrett et al article in my meta-awareness section of the lit. review.  I also culled their works cited for more articles on transfer which I will look at tomorrow.