What are the qualities of meaningful writing experiences as reported by seniors at three different types of institutions?
- Are those meaningful/valuable experiences inside their majors/disciplines or out?
- Do those experiences vary across our three institutions?
What might students’ perceptions of their meaningful writing experiences reveal about students’ learning?
- Does that learning occur in multiple literacy communities in and out of classrooms?
- Does that learning occur across the disciplines?
- How are these experiences connected to students’ identities and disciplinarity?
What might faculty who offer the opportunities for students to gain meaningful writing experiences conclude about the teaching of writing across the disciplines?
- Are faculty whose writing assignments are frequently cited found in high-level disciplinary classes or in general education?
- Are faculty veteran or new? Comfortable with communication tasks? Active writers themselves?
Importance of Research Questions
Many institutions attempt to assess the impact of their efforts to teach writing, whether driven by outside accreditors, institutional mandate, or program improvement. However, we know little about the value students place on the writing tasks that they undertake, whether the classes are first—year composition or senior chemistry lab (Hilgers, Hussey, and Stitt—Bergh 319). When Bob Broad presents What We Really Value in student writing in his book by that title, the we are teachers, not students. The value that students find in their assigned writing tasks is relatively unknown.
Our proposed research will attempt to fill this gap, offering our own institutions valuable data to guide writing classroom and writing—across—the—curriculum efforts. We also hope to offer the larger field concrete evidence of the meaning students find in what they write, as well as what they do with that meaning, i.e., how those writing tasks affect their growing sense of who they have been, who they are, or who they will be. Our research, thus, puts student writing in the center as a meaning—making activity and draws from students themselves the elements that might contribute to that meaning making. Such understanding could greatly shape curricular efforts as well as our understanding of the key factors for writing instruction in higher education.
Finally, our research will help to continue to build theory about the relationship between writing, learning, and student development. Do students prefer writing in or outside their majors? How much does that answer depend on the major itself? How closely tied are writing and disciplinary identity? Answers to these questions will contribute to our growing understanding of the role of writing for undergraduates. Ultimately, we hope our research might inform a CCCC Position Statement on undergraduate writing instruction across disciplines ——its emphases, goals, and vital conditions——based on the research evidence about students’ learning “incomes” (Guerra) and outcomes we intend to provide.
- Obtain IRB approval at all three institutions.
- Design a web-based survey of seniors at all three institutions: Open-ended and scaled questions focus on demographic data (e.g., major, languages spoken and written, age), self-perceptions of writing ability, and naming of specific “meaningful” writing projects and contexts for those projects. The survey was pre-tested with a small number of seniors at two of the three participating institutions.
- Invite seniors at all three institutions to compete survey and indicate if they are willing to participate in follow-up one-to-one interviews.
- Train a cohort of undergraduate researchers at each institution to conduct one-to-one interviews.
- Collect, in addition to interview data, the specific writing projects that seniors identified as most meaningful.
- Have undergraduate researchers interview faculty who were repeatedly cited as offering opportunities to complete meaningful writing projects.
- Collect from faculty the assignments and syllabi that led to meaningful writing projects.