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Upstairs/Downstairs: Conversations from the attic about the classroom below How professors convey their expectations about writing assignments to their.

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Presentation on theme: "Upstairs/Downstairs: Conversations from the attic about the classroom below How professors convey their expectations about writing assignments to their."— Presentation transcript:

1 Upstairs/Downstairs: Conversations from the attic about the classroom below How professors convey their expectations about writing assignments to their students

2 Research Team Theresa Hyland (Huron/Western) –Director, Huron Writing Centre Grace Howell (Huron/Western) –Instructor, Huron Writing Centre –Research Scientist, Faculty of Education Allan McDougall (Western) –Doctoral Student, Health & Rehabilitation Sciences

3 Overview of the Project 2008/09:Developed Course Syllabi Project 2009: Presented findings to Huron Faculty and received feedback 2010: Published findings: Graves, R. T. Hyland & B. Samuels. Undergraduate Writing Assignments: An Analysis of Syllabi at one Canadian College. Written Communication 27, 3. pp : SSHRC Grant: Writing Assignments Across the Undergraduate Curriculum: Anson & Danells Focus Groups for individual disciplines Follow-up interviews. (current study)

4 Theoretical Framework: Program Profiles Anson & Dannels (2009): creating a profile based on internal, consultative study of a program.... representing the departments current status: how writing and speaking are used, where, to what ends, and in what relationship to broader curricular, pedagogical and career goals (p. 1) Attention to the subject matter with attention to the genres, audiences, language, presentational modes and other aspects of communication in the field (p. 2)

5 Research Questions Questions were developed from faculty response to our presentation in 2009 and from our own questions derived from the primary research analysis in 09/10. 1.To what extent are writing activities in a department consistent with and working towards the departments stated learning outcomes with regards to writing? 2.What instruction methods are employed to achieve those outcomes and what challenges does the department face? 3.Are the methods employed by departments dictated by individual personalities or by disciplinary demands for writing?

6 Methodology Mixed Methods Approach –Qualitative approach to transcripts of focus groups Constant comparison –Quantitative approach to written information Faculty Information Sheets Follow-up surveys

7 Our Constant Comparative Approach Collect data Review data and record impressions, keywords, and memos Re-review data, refine impressions, and continue memo-ing We are constantly comparing impressions, memos and theories throughout the project and begin forming theories

8 Methods of Data Collection Ethics Review and Approval Contacted department –Determined interest (English, History, Psychology, and Political Science) Distributed preliminary materials –Consent Forms & Pre-focus group surveys Held Focus Groups (video-taped) –Collected preliminary materials –Asked questions –Distributed & collected Post- Focus Group Feedback forms. Securely stored and transcribed focus group transcripts

9 Focus Groups Semi-structured –Basic questions provided a framework for the discussion –Added other questions as indicated by the discussion Use of and distinction between primary & secondary sources dig deeper into kinds of assignments definition of critical thinking

10 Focus Group Questions 1.What writing skills have you, as a department, identified as important for students to acquire? 2.What kinds of assignments and assessments do you pose? 3.How do these assignments address your departments stated outcomes? 4.What difficulties emerge when students attempt to complete your assignments? 5.What teaching strategies do you employ to help students overcome those difficulties? 6.Are there departmental challenges that provide barriers to you as you attempt to overcome those difficulties? 7.Are there departmental challenges that provide barriers to the students when they try to overcome those difficulties?

11 Preliminary Analysis 1.Watched video-tape recordings, recorded field notes 2.Recorded keywords from field notes and discussions 3.Imported written transcripts into Nvivo 9.2 Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software 4.Created an organizational framework for comparative analysis 5.Analyzed data using standard QDA approaches (e.g., structured queries, content/thematic coding)

12 6 early topics that were intuited from the focus groups: –What is seen as credible evidence in each discipline? –Kinds of assignments in each discipline –What skills/ characteristics represent disciplinary progress from first year to senior papers? –How do professors work together as a department to articulate skills for the students, and how are these related to observable learning objectives? –How do course outlines, supplemental class information, group feedback sessions, or individual feedback convey expectations? –Classroom strategies for developing relevant skills: developed by particular member of faculty, or are they determined by the discipline itself? Preliminary Observational Findings

13 Departmental characteristics –Metaphors (silos, meal, models, craft) Disciplinary characteristics –Research /Objects of study Themes from preliminary analysis

14 Writing Metaphors in the Disciplines –Dept. of English (silos) They write for different professors, and different professors are going to want different kinds of analyses, so … –Dept. of Psychology (modelling) our aim, ultimately, is to get our students to write in exactly the same style that we ourselves write to produce professional journal articles. –Dept. of History (the stuff of history) [Historical research] is looking at materials that are generated in... were generated in the period that you're studying, so that is the stuff of history basically, the primary sources themselves that come from that period. –Dept. of Political Science (the well-prepared meal) And I always tell them a thesis is a sort of a five course meal, you have to have a... the appetizer and the soup and then the main course. Departmental Characteristics

15 How participants described student writing –Dept. of English Student writing analyzes assigned literary texts –It seems to me that prior to the actual writing... there is the object that they're writing about, which in our case is always a literary text. And before they can write about it they have to have understood something about it as well. –Dept. of Psychology Student writing codifies observations in a formal, standardized format (APA) –I mean really what we're trying to do is get them to learn APA style writing and then along with that sort of stylistic pattern, I want them to learn to write as precisely and [unclear] as accurately as possible as to what actually went on, you know, during the course of the study. Departmental Characteristics

16 How participants described student writing –Dept. of History Student writing discovers and analyzes texts as historical artifacts –I think we frame it as what can we learn about the past from this document. (I: Okay.) And so in that case their sort of thesis is here's what we can learn. –Dept. of Political Science Student writing reflects balanced analysis of empirical studies and theoretical texts –What we expect by the end of the fourth year is for the student to be able to critically take apart what she or he is writing about. Again, within the format of setting out the theory, finding evidence, inferential and... you know, and other forms of evidence, using deduction as well, using logic. And to come to a conclusion. Departmental Characteristics

17 Disciplinary Characteristics: Ontology, Research, and Writing Ontological orientation Research orientation Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist PsychologyPolitical Science Relativist EnglishHistory

18 Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist Relativist For the most part we feed a lot of what we're expecting to the first years, so we give them a major article then we take them through all the major points and then, you know, try to draw it out of them but... for the most part tell them here are some points that you probably want to hang all your stuff on. (Psychology)

19 Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist Relativist For the most part we feed a lot of what we're expecting to the first years, so we give them a major article then we take them through all the major points and then, you know, try to draw it out of them but... for the most part tell them here are some points that you probably want to hang all your stuff on. (Psychology) Two [essay assignments in my class] are very specifically on the text that we are reading, I don't let them use secondary sources, I want them to engage with the text... I want them actually to deal with the text as an object that they can... they can say things about that can be demonstrated from the text rather than just how it makes them feel. (English)

20 Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist Relativist For the most part we feed a lot of what we're expecting to the first years, so we give them a major article then we take them through all the major points and then, you know, try to draw it out of them but... for the most part tell them here are some points that you probably want to hang all your stuff on. (Psychology) Two [essay assignments in my class] are very specifically on the text that we are reading, I don't let them use secondary sources, I want them to engage with the text... I want them actually to deal with the text as an object that they can... they can say things about that can be demonstrated from the text rather than just how it makes them feel. (English) Political Science writing, is the ability to kind of set out a theoretical framework or context to begin the essay … And then provide a transition into some illustrative case study material … And then be able to link those two components together in a synthetic conclusion.(Poli Sci)

21 Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist Relativist For the most part we feed a lot of what we're expecting to the first years, so we give them a major article then we take them through all the major points and then, you know, try to draw it out of them but... for the most part tell them here are some points that you probably want to hang all your stuff on. (Psychology) Two [essay assignments in my class] are very specifically on the text that we are reading, I don't let them use secondary sources, I want them to engage with the text... I want them actually to deal with the text as an object that they can... they can say things about that can be demonstrated from the text rather than just how it makes them feel. (English) Political Science writing, is the ability to kind of set out a theoretical framework or context to begin the essay … And then provide a transition into some illustrative case study material … And then be able to link those two components together in a synthetic conclusion.(Poli Sci) I think one of the key things that we emphasize is... and this may not be a writing question so much as a research question, but... an ability to conduct primary research we'd say, to how to interpret historical documents. (History)

22 Assigned TextsText Discovery Positivist Relativist For the most part we feed a lot of what we're expecting to the first years, so we give them a major article then we take them through all the major points and then, you know, try to draw it out of them but... for the most part tell them here are some points that you probably want to hang all your stuff on. (Psychology) Two [essay assignments in my class] are very specifically on the text that we are reading, I don't let them use secondary sources, I want them to engage with the text... I want them actually to deal with the text as an object that they can... they can say things about that can be demonstrated from the text rather than just how it makes them feel. (English) Political Science writing, is the ability to kind of set out a theoretical framework or context to begin the essay … And then provide a transition into some illustrative case study material … And then be able to link those two components together in a synthetic conclusion.(Poli Sci) I think one of the key things that we emphasize is... and this may not be a writing question so much as a research question, but... an ability to conduct primary research we'd say, to how to interpret historical documents. (History)

23 English : first-year students learn by writing and each assignment longer than the last (500, 750, 1000, 1500) Psychology: One major assignment but broken down into parts which students practice (i.e. essay proposal, literature review, results section). There are more nested assignments that lead to the final draft. Findings keeping with course syllabus study

24 the frequency of different assignment types is twice as high [in the social sciences]as in the humanities (pp. 312, 313) History: the greatest variety of assignments (archival research, historiography, reflection papers, document analysis) Psychology: many different assignments, but also variations within one type (i.e. lab reports) Poli. Sci & English: focus mainly on research essays with some variations Findings not keeping with original study

25 One problem from course syllabus study was the vagueness of assignment names. In the course syllabi study we found that 26.9% of assignments were named essays, 20.9% were named papers and 17.8% were called reports. One of the purposes of the focus groups, then, was to generate a discussion about the kinds of assignments that professors gave to students. Professors used diverse, descriptive names for their assignments: movie reviews, book reports, policy briefs, edited collection or archive, reflections, literature reviews, etc. Problems with naming assignments

26 Genre theory seems to be a useful lens for further analysis: –We observed cross-disciplinary assignments (document study, book review, research essay) –We also observed what could be discipline-specific assignments (lab reports, historiography, poster presentations) –Is there a terminology for genre characteristics across unique disciplines with unique assignments? Primary/secondary research Theoretical Approaches to analysis of reading texts Critical thinking and synthesis of sources –To what extent does the discipline mediate the genres it adopts? What is it about history that leads to their wide breadth of assignments? Implications for WAC/WID: Genre Theory

27 Genre theory seems to be a useful lens for further analysis: Finish Focus Group Analysis by Question Analyse written Faculty Information Sheets (pre-focus group surveys) Progress of Data Analysis

28 Have we explored enough disciplines or do we need to continue with other focus groups (e.g. Economics, Global Studies and Philosophy)? Do we need to supplement this with individual interviews? Do we need to move on to student focus groups for 2 nd to 4 th year students? Should we compare course outlines from 2007 to 2012 to determine change in number, length and types of assignments given to students? Future Directions for Research

29 Thank You!


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