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WHAT THE eFs?!?: Why Our Research Matters NOW

In this presentation I outline ideas about how to talk to various publics about the value of writing studies research.
by

Roger Graves

on 19 February 2014

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Transcript of WHAT THE eFs?!?: Why Our Research Matters NOW

WHAT THE eFs?!?: Why Our Research Matters NOW
To whom?
Starting small: Arguments to funders
The purpose of this institute will be twofold: first, it will provide a centre for the study of discourse across a range of modalities and disciplinary contexts; and second, drawing on this research, it will provide a multidisciplinary research-informed foundation for the study and implementation of a 21st century redesign of writing curricula and assessment across the K-postgraduate educational continuum.

Defined by the National Commission on Writing (2004) as a threshold skill, the ability to write well is among the most important skill sets required in the modern workforce.

Student writers in this digital age face the challenge of learning how to compose across an ever-shifting array of technologies, genres, and modalities (Leu et al., 2004).


To administrators:

By conducting research to identify best practices in teaching writing and writing-to-learn, the WAC program supports all University of Alberta faculty and plays a leading role in Canada and internationally.

Because writing is fundamental to all aspects of scholarship, discovery, teaching/learning, this project aligns closely with the goals of Dare to Discover


R. Light's study from Harvard University and Rogers' study from Stanford University point to the importance of content-specific, out-of-class peer-group writing experiences as key ways to improve student writing (Light, 2003; Rogers, 2010).

If students continue to return to the gamified environment after completing the course (i.e. a program-long rather than a course-long association), they will develop as writers throughout their undergraduate careers. We can also imagine an extension of this course for recent alumni as they become professionals.
Where to begin
Values:
K-post secondary education system improvement
Workforce skills for 21st century
UAlberta mission and vision
Best practices at prestigious universities
Connect with alumni

Strategy:
Reconfigure English Studies to solve 21st Century problems in society (energy source/use/sustainability; identity in society; literacy and work)

Questions:
What beliefs do we share with the administrators who we wish to restore faculty lines? funding for graduate students?

How do we create identification between secondary school English teachers and our research work? How do we connect it to their concerns?




Us
To other academics
To administrators
To SSHRC
To students
To voters
To alumni
To subjects of the research
To educational systems k-12
To politicians

Arguments and values
Shared belief is where agreement begins;
No shared belief, no movement forward.
Burke: Identification with the audience
Friends, Colleagues, UAlbertans, lend me your ears;
I come to bury the Arts, not to praise them.
The evil that disciplines do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with the Arts. The noble politicians
Hath told you the Arts were irrelevant:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath the Arts answer'd it.
The Arts hath taught many students in Campus Alberta
Whose tuition did the general coffers fill:
Yet politicians say the Arts were narcissistic
Self-referential, elitist, and uneconomic.

Politicians, as you know, were higher education’s angel:
Judge, O you provosts, how dearly we loved them!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Arts saw them defund us,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
Quite vanquish'd us: then burst our mighty spirits;
O, what a fall was there, my colleagues!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish'd over us.

I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir action: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you the Arts cuts, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I a politician,
And politicians were me, there were a rhetorician
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every Arts cut that should move
The academics of UAlberta to rise and mutiny.

Project: Canadian Institute for Writing and Rhetoric

The goal of this grant application is to assist us in developing a successful SSHRC Partnership Grant to support the development of a Canadian Institute for Writing and Rhetoric (CIWR) to be jointly housed at the University of Alberta (research streams 1, 2 ,3) and the University of Lethbridge (research streams 4, 5, 6). The purpose of this institute will provide a centre for the study of discourse across a range of themes, technologies, and disciplinary contexts.

Academic Writing as Gaming: Learning to write in the 21st Century

The project. I propose to use existing and emerging scholarship in gaming, human-computer interaction, writing studies, rhetoric, and natural language understanding to identify the significant aspects of a new online environment for learning to write (a model). The field of writing studies needs this research project badly: the history of crises about writing (for example, “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” 1975; “Literacy Matters,” 2007) often lead to knee-jerk, impromptu, and regressive policies such as returns to traditional school grammar instruction that have been shown to not improve student writing. The current cultural moment marks a turning point as sales of traditional print handbooks in the US and Canada drop precipitously. The “digital natives” who use these devices now turn to the web and to apps for knowledge, not to paper books. Online technologies have emerged over the last decade in response, such as learning management systems Moodle, Blackboard, and Desire2Learn. Websites developed over the last 30 years, such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), offer static content to support students learning to write. Publishers such as Pearson (http://www.mycomplab.com/), Cengage, and McGraw-Hill all have developed their own online writing resource sites in an attempt to create online writing environments linked closely to their print products. What the publishers don’t have and what we don’t have right now in writing studies is a model for learning to write using online content that goes beyond the static web page and embraces social media and interaction among participants; that can be scaled the way massive open online course (MOOC) can; that function using gamification techniques familiar to the learners of the 2015 and beyond; and that welcome and encourage contributions from participants.

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs in the United States often develop a curriculum—usually consisting of upper division writing intensive courses (67% of older programs have them)—to support the work of the program (Thais and Porter 2010). This curriculum often becomes part of the requirements for graduation, and in the US context these requirements often work in tandem with first-year writing requirements, writing fellows programs, and writing center instruction (Russell 2002). Taken as a whole, these writing support activities represent a significant investment by institutions (Beaufort 2007). Russell pointed out that the WAC movement grew out the contradiction between generalist approaches to writing used in first-year courses and discipline-specific approaches used in upper-division courses (311). This has led some to question the need for all of these supports—the so-called “abolitionist” movement to eliminate first-year writing courses is one example. Thais and Porter, looking forward to the challenges they see facing writing across the curriculum programs, note that existing WAC programs (and only 50% of post-secondary institutions have them) can easily be curtailed or eliminated entirely given the current and ongoing budget pressures on higher education (563). Assessing the effectiveness of all writing development strategies—first-year writing, writing centres, and writing intensive courses—will help build the case for continuing to fund them.
A big meal, best digested in small bites rather than all at once.
Dear Mr. Harper, Mr. Alexander, and Mr. Uppal,

I am writing to you to ask you to have someone look into the application of a graduate student who has been accepted into the doctoral program in the department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. . . .

I am disturbed by the implications of these visa application decisions and what seem to be unnecessary roadblocks being thrown up in this student’s pathway. . . .

While she is a graduate student at the U of A, she will also help me better equip both Canadian AND international graduate students with the communication skills they need to contribute to their professions while studying here in Canada. . .

Finally, it is in Canada’s best interests that we facilitate this young woman’s efforts to educate herself and her children to counter the negative representations of our country and our way of life promoted by their government leaders.

Heather Brodie Graves, BA, MA, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English and Film Studies
Acting Director of Writing Across the Curriculum
Associate Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning
Humanities Centre 4-81
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E5
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