Enter the name for this tabbed section: Overview

Digital Transfer for FYC

The curriculum we use at the University of Central Florida, Writing about Writing, can be intimidating to students because they are expected to read, understand, and enact difficult theoretical concepts in composition and writing studies. Rather than attempting to teach students “how to write,” our curriculum focuses on teaching students transferrable concepts about writing, so they can apply this knowledge outside of the composition classroom. Some of the criticism of this curriculum has centered around the idea that introducing students to theoretical writing concepts by having them read scholarship in the field of rhetoric and composition may be overly complex and may limit the engagement and understanding of first-year writing students. We suggest that incorporating students’ existing digital literacies into the composition classroom may increase the success of writing-concept transfer into students’ future writing situations.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Frameworks

Supporting Frameworks

While the discussion of “transfer,” or what David Perkins and Gavriel Salomon have described as the assumption that “something learned in one situation gets carried over to another,” has roots in educational psychology research from the late 1800s, studies on the transfer of writing-related concepts from composition into other courses and contexts have recently entered the conversation. Working with what Joseph Petraglia describes as the “ill-structured” nature of writing, composition students and instructors depend on the potential for transfer, as they work to prepare students for the writing that they may have to do in settings outside of FYC. However, as Anne Beaufort explains, since FYC is often “taught in isolation from other disciplinary studies at the university as a basic skills course,” many FYC courses do not discuss the conventions of these courses outside of composition (9). This often leads FYC to become what Patrick Dias has described as a course in “writing to produce writing,”or what David Russell has explained as writing to “do school” (qtd. in Beaufort 9). Unlike some of the perceivably well-structured academic contexts in which students participate,where they may find an answer to a math problem or a solution to a test, the ill-structured nature of writing calls for writing instruction that teaches students to consider not only how writing may need to be structured within a single classroom, but also how this writing may need to adapt in other contexts in and outside of the university.

While contextual implications of transfer have allowed researchers to consider how students are applying (or failing to apply) writing-related knowledge learned in one setting to the writing that they do in other contexts, evidence of intentional, successful transfer from FYC is still difficult to identify and trace. Compositionists have been considering how the writing that students do in non-academic settings may be influencing their success in the writing classroom. For example, Kevin Roozen shows us how one student, Charles, navigates the exigencies for writing as a journalist, a stand-up comic, and a student in composition. Similarly, Rebecca Nowacek’s study on transfer in a multi-disciplinary learning community suggests, “A successful act of transfer is a complex rhetorical act,” one that involves the work of students as “agents” and instructors as “handlers” of transfer (11). In order for writing-related knowledge to be transferred across contexts, it seems, students and instructors must successfully draw connections among various settings, blurring the boundaries between the academic and personal. In this way, writing may expand beyond the constraints of academia, serving students not only as they “do school,” but also as they navigate various communicative boundaries.

These sorts of navigations and connections benefit from explicit instruction, a process at the heart of Downs and Wardle’s “(Re)Envisioning” of first-year composition. They suggest an emphasis on declarative writing concepts and meta-awareness of writing processes for incoming students, using the field of writing studies the content of writing courses. Fundamental concepts of writing, such as rhetorical situations, discourse communities, genre awareness, and intertextuality, when used as the declarative content of a course, become explicitly transferable to the other writing situations students will encounter in the future. By helping students learn this declarative knowledge about writing, we bring the current conversation in our discipline into the FYC classroom. This is no simple task. We each struggle to find creative ways to make the content of our courses relevant to the lives of eighteen-year-olds with diverse academic majors. No matter how convinced we are that our course content is beneficial and digestible, a disconnect persists. As Jarratt found, even if students across the disciplines “internalized the idea of writing as a process and a mode of learning…even the most successful…lacked fluency in basic writing terminology” (Jarratt 2, qtd in Clark and Hernandez 69). To be sure, our courses expect more than an agility with terminology. However, getting students to actively use important concepts from writing studies in their own work involves both transfer and metacognition.

Quoting again from Clark and Hernandez, “Anne Beaufort maintains that students need to acquire a metacognitive understanding of how the elements of a familiar writing context can transfer to another less familiar one” (68). Each of us works to ensure our students recognize the writing they have previously done and use those experiences to build a richer metacognitive awareness of their current writing strategies and situations, from which they can—we hope—generalize about the act of writing and apply their learning to future situations. This need for transfer permeates our FYC courses, and we strive to make learning students do in our courses relevant to the writing they will do in future situations. We emphasize the rhetorical nature of writing situations throughout our readings and assignments, highlighting the negotiations we all make each time we write.

Yet by presenting writing as a situated, rhetorical activity, we asked our students to think critically about their writing in ways that they may not have previously encountered. Our students find the content of our courses challenging, and they often lament that high school didn’t do much to prepare them for the writing they are being asked to do in college. But while many aspects of this curriculum were intimidating to both our students and to ourselves as instructors, we began our courses by considering the literacies that students were already bringing into our classrooms, asking them to think about how these literacies were already helping them to communicate effectively in communities outside of school. In this way, we hoped to encourage transfer from our classrooms by acknowledging what students are already bringing into their academic writing. Since, as scholars of critical literacy have noted, many of our millennial students “possess technological know-how and access to computers but lack critical technological literacy skills,” we began by helping our students expand on their conceptions of writing and literacy through the digital tools that were already familiar to them (Vie 2008).
For example, we asked students to apply the theoretical ideas about writing that were being introduced to them in composition (such as rhetorical contexts and purpose) to the types of writing that students were already doing on digital platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Likewise, after students gained new declarative knowledge about writing within our classrooms, we encouraged them to operationalize this new knowledge through the digital tools that they had mastered before coming into our classrooms. By acknowledging that digital texts embedded in their non-academic communities are also rhetorically situated with specific audiences, contexts, and exigencies in place, students in our courses were able to see the purpose of this theory beyond the classroom setting. Consequently, we hope, students left our classrooms with an understanding of writing and writing scholarship as boundary-crossing heuristics. In order to encourage transfer beyond our classrooms, we propose, writing-related knowledge should be recontextualized for students within FYC courses. Using digital literacies as part of this effort allows students to effectively serve as “agents of integration” who can reconceptualize writing-related knowledge across numerous boundaries (Nowacek 2011).

Working from our objective of encouraging students to apply knowledge about writing across contexts beyond our classrooms, we have compiled various examples of student work and instructor assignments that represent our efforts in helping students with such transitions. While our courses were structured differently and though our teaching styles varied, these examples show how we positioned our students’ digital literacies as tools to encourage the acquisition and application of new knowledge about writing.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Assignments

Sample Assignments

Here we offer a few examples of recent assignments we’ve given and some of the student work we’ve received. These assignments have been a part of a larger classroom effort to encourage risk-taking and to encourage students to think about nontraditional ways of conveying the learning that they are doing.
  • Writing Self Study
    This assignment is the Writing Process Study. To prepare for the assignment, students read articles like Sondra Perl’s study of unskilled college writers, Mike Rose’s study of “blocking” as a result of rules, and Christina Haas and Linda Flowers’ article that suggests a strong connection between readers and writers, and the actual processes of reading and writing. In each of these, the authors have conducted studies where they examine the moment-by-moment actions of individuals’ writing processes. This assignment asks students to do similar self-study projects, either modeling a think-aloud study on Perl's, or doing a week-long work habits/writing habits study. After students gather their data—whether that is transcribing then coding their think aloud or accumulating a week's worth of notes about writing habits—we work closely as a class on making meaning out of that collected data. Then they are asked to present this information either in tradition written form or in an alternative genre that best showcases their findings.
  • Genre-Based Final Project
    The final assignment for this course was a product, created in the appropriate genre, with information appropriate to their stakeholders. By refusing to use a traditional research paper as the final product in the course (against a number of unexpected student complaints over the decision), I shifted the context of the learning and work of the course. Rather than aiming for a written product designed exclusively for the teacher within their classroom, students were required to think of the relevance of their ideas and research in other contexts. This deliberate attention to “real world” relevance almost demanded that students think of their learning within the class as being intended for different contexts. In their end-of-semester course reflections, students often phrased their learning in terms of the research process or writing for situations beyond this course.
  • Rhetorical Analysis of Writing Constructs
    In this assignment, I asked students to consider their understanding of rhetorical situations in reference to texts about writing. As usual, I asked students to read and reference theoretical texts, such as Grant-Davie's "Rhetorical Situations and their Constituents." I then asked that students apply these concepts to their understanding of any texts discussing writing constructs such as "error" and "plagiarism." My goal was for students to understand how these constructs are situated in different contexts. Once students identified and analyzed their texts, they were to present their arguments in a genre of their choosing. Many of them, as represented in my sample video, implemented their digital literacies as they fulfilled the requirements of the assignment. This allowed students to incorporate their reading and analysis of dynamic texts into an argument that was delivered through a digital platform.
Enter the name for this tabbed section: Student Projects

Student Projects

The examples below showcase our students' digital literacies. They represent student responses to the assignments presented on another tab.

Student Feedback

When asked for final reflections on their courses, students provide comments that indicate that the transfer of concepts from digital literacies into their FYC coursework, and then from FYC into future applications.
  • Building Genres
    I felt that once I completed this assignment, I truly know how to build a document for a specific audience and be able to relay my message in their own comfortable form. I understand this knowledge will continue to come with experience of other genres, but I feel confident that I at least know where to find information on how to build these genres in the future.
  • In the Real World
    It was at this point where pathos, logos and ethos could finally be conveyed. I was taught how to conduct these three components in writing essays, but using it in a “real life” genre allowed me to make connections to the point of the assignment: how to use research to create a genre for a particular group in order to convince them to take action or make a final decision. I feel I have grasped this concept and it has made me look at everything as a genre. I now see how this concept is used everywhere in today’s society.
  • Not Just About Essays
    So you mean to tell me that not everybody communicates in the form of an essay? Shocking! The course has taught me the importance of choosing an appropriate genre depending on who your audience is as well as what you are trying to convey.
  • Adjusting to Audiences
    I also understand the idea that there are many audiences out there, and that I have to adjust my own writing to the genre these audiences use to communicate. For example, my audience were parents, and my genre was an article just like the ones in parenting magazines. I would not have used the same genre my audience would had been teachers or high school students.
  • “Who Cares?”
    Looking back, this semester would have been much more difficult if it wasn’t for what we learned in [my previous composition course]. In that class, we were able to look at different genres and how they operate in discourse communities. This made answering questions like “Who is going to care about your research?” easier to answer.
  • Credibility in Classes
    While exploring genres further and the concept of their importance, I was able to more effectively communicate in my classes as well as in other aspects of my life. Understanding that a genre is about how you reach your intended audience improves the accreditation and effectiveness of your writing.