About a month ago Clancy suggested transfer is a hot topic in writing studies right now. Certainly, there’s a lot of interest: CompPile will publish three bibliographies on transfer in 2011, and Elon’s “Criticial Transitions” research seminar received 125 applications–more than even they expected. Yesterday I found out mine wasn’t one of those selected. Ah well. Fortunately, I’ve got another in the pipeline, targeting Dartmouth’s Summer Seminar for Composition Research. The Dartmouth seminar is a little different than the Elon program, since it doesn’t have a topical focus, and is more likely to include people like me with less experience conducting empirical research. I’m applying with the hopes of improving my knowledge of research design and methodology–a task I’ve been doing on my own during my leave.
I’ve already started working on the project I’m proposing to take to the Dartmouth seminar. Starting in the Spring 2011 semester, Neil Baird, Joan Livingston-Webber, and I will be collaborating on research with several overlapping objectives. I’m happy to say my department and college are eagerly supporting this work, and I’m building a large network of other interested parties, from our professional development center to our WID committee.
Our first and most important goal is establishing structures which will address what might be called the data problem. Recently, a large number of WIU students failed the Illinois Basic Skills Test. As you might imagine, this is causing some consternation, since passing is required for graduation. (Update 12/15: See my comment below.) Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data of our own to help us better understand the test scores–or the way writing at the university works in general. We aim to change that through collection of student writing, interviews with students and teachers, and other forms of direct observation. During the Spring 2011 semester, we will begin this work on a small scale, honing our methodology in preparation for a wider deployment come Fall 2011.
Secondly, we are hearing a lot of anecdotal reports about problems with student writing, particularly in upper-division classes, as students move from writing in gen-ed to writing in their majors. Given current research on transfer (the sources Clancy names, and others like Downs & Wardle), we suspect difficulties arise when students go to the transfer well, and come up dry. With this in mind, we want to find out what strategies students use, or attempt to use, as they try to write for courses in their majors. Do they even try to adapt what they were (presumably) taught in composition? When they run into problems, how do they react? What support networks do they call upon? Neil and I will call upon earlier research (for him, negotiation; for me, ease) to understand students’ attempts to move between the different activity systems involved in these transitions.
I’ve previously discussed some implications of “2+2” model, which imagines bachelor’s degrees as two years at community colleges followed by two years at universities. (Assuming perfect progress, availability of courses, etc.) As Western whole-heartedly embraces this approach, more of our students are satisfying writing course requirements at community and for-profit colleges, rather than in our writing program’s two-year composition sequence. This is our third focus: what differences, if any, exist between students who take required writing courses at Western, and those who take them at community or for-profit colleges? In other words: how do transfer students transfer writing skills and knowledge?