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Crossing Boundaries: How Students Transform Rhetorical Knowledge in the Workplace Doug Brent University of Calgary.

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Presentation on theme: "Crossing Boundaries: How Students Transform Rhetorical Knowledge in the Workplace Doug Brent University of Calgary."— Presentation transcript:

1 Crossing Boundaries: How Students Transform Rhetorical Knowledge in the Workplace Doug Brent University of Calgary

2 Glass half empty: “When students leave the university... they will need to sense from the inside the nature of the social action entailed by these new genres: the instrumental and praxis-oriented social motives, the complex phenomena of multiple readerships (some remote in time and place), the different life-cycle of their texts, and the different literacy practices surrounding the texts (reading practices and collaborative composing strategies). None of this know-how will have been made available through simulations, no matter how realistically or elaborately staged.” Freedman, Adam, and Smart (1994)

3 Glass half full: “Our findings suggest that what occurred might best be characterized, not as the transfer of learning, but rather as a transformation of learning that made possible the reinvention of expert practices. The interns, having previously developed the expert writing practices needed to perform well in academic activity systems... were able to resituate and extend—or reinvent—these practices in their new worksites in simultaneous acts of performance and learning.” Smart and Brown (2004)

4 Some general insights from “transfer of learning” literature: Transfer benefits from metacognition: mindful reflection on what one is doing and why. High level generalizations, if learned through repeated practice, aid re-learning in new contexts than isolated skills. Experience is most transferrable when learned in a long-term, sustained environment: “Evidence for a gradual accumulation of a varied and flexible repertoire emerges plainly in the contemporary work on expertise.” (Salmon and Perkins, 1989)

5 Leslie: marketing major working for a small skin-care company, a new Canadian expansion of a US firm. Activities: Reception Proofreading Preparing a proposal for a flyer campaign Preparing a proposal for an advertising campaign Co-ordinating a major product show Redesigning web site for a Canadian audience Writing a strategic marketing plan

6 “And I looked off one of her old proposals just to see how it was laid out. It was very different; I had to make a lot of changes to it for my needs, but just to kind of see like what they were looking for in their proposal was helpful because I don’t know, I’ve never made a proposal before other than maybe being like this is what I want to do for my paper. But that’s not an entire proposal broken down for how much is it going to cost? What are the differences -- what are all the options? What are all the options within those options? Just you have to look at every angle. Any question they could ask has to be in there and answered.”

7 Smart and Brown’s comment on these practices: “None of the interns received regular, intensive coaching from a more experienced co-worker.... Rather than depending heavily on other people—as they had with their teachers and classmates in school—the interns became remarkably resourceful in exploiting the distributed cognition, or “intelligence” (Pea, 1993), embedded in culturally constructed artifacts.” Smart and Brown, 2004

8 On writing for an option course: QOkay. So you’ve never written a COM Rehab case before? ANo. QHow did you know how to do it? A I looked -- my other roommate, the one who’s not taking the class with me, so took it previously and she got an ‘A’ in it. So looking off her formatting and what -- so obviously he wants to see these things, so we made sure that our paper had those aspects in it so that it was well received, and it obviously was because we also received an ‘A’.

9 On developing a marketing plan in class: “Ours was on cars, so we had to choose a car company, and from that car company we did like a broad overview of the company, which was a lot of research, a lot of writing professionally, and then we had to take that and pick one line of car, and we had to prepare a marketing plan broken down to every -- like everything from price point, and how we were going to reach the consumer; who were our consumers, what was our target market.”

10 Leslie’s conscious takeaway: “Being detailed, and thorough, and professional, I think was something I really learned from that class just because it was the first time that I’d been doing something that was in my major and, okay, this is like kind of what I’m going to be maybe doing out there someday.”

11 On developing a marketing plan for real: “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a company marketing plan other than excerpts from text books. Even the ones in the library are market plan summaries. And laying it out in a good order that flows, that’s correct, that’s similar to other companies in the way that you arrange your information, that took a lot of research, just finding a template of what should be included in a marketing plan.”

12 On doing research: “I think it’s something I learned from doing research papers for school. But, obviously it’s something that has really been strengthened during this job and just digging around until you find what you are looking for and making it happen, finding it somewhere, someplace, anything you can gather pretty much and just doing it.”

13 General impressions of transfer: “I don’t know if I learned anything that I hadn’t known, but I think just I was able to apply more of what I’ve known. In classes, I thought ‘When am I ever going to use that, this is dumb,’ and [now I think] ‘okay, now I have to use it here.’ Even if it’s the most basic form of something you learned in a class, you're still applying it. And it was interesting to see just how your brain can just think, oh, we already learned that somewhere, and apply it to a task given to me at the office.”

14 Some general takeaways: The most common takeaway from the technical writing class is a ruthless emphasis on clarity and concision. The most common mode of on-the-job learning seems to be using existing documents as templates to be repurposed for a new situation. The most common disposition required seems to be a high tolerance for multitasking and learning on the fly.

15 “Most students seemed to bring to their workplace environment a flexible rhetorical knowledge that can be traced to much more general features of the academic environment than to any particular course in which they were ‘taught’ it. In many cases, this knowledge took the form, not of specific precepts for managing a particular task, but of highly general strategies for managing new task environments.” Brent (2012)

16 Discussion How can we best design environments in which students can learn “general rhetorical savvy”? Is it worth our while to design instruction that is a close simulation of workplace genres? What role should employers play in helping interns and graduates make the transition to workplace writing?


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