Emergent design: tracing and studying knowledge transfer through composition networks Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Hall, E Ashley
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • In recent years, composition scholars have taken an interest in studying the transfer of writing-related knowledge. This dissertation takes up the question of writing-related transfer within the larger context of education reform, examining our assumptions about transfer, our teaching practices, and our methods for studying writing-related transfer. I make contributions to the field of rhetoric and composition by proposing emergent design, a theory and method for studying writing-related transfer, and by offering three possible pathways for composition teachers who want to teach for transfer. In chapter one, I analyze the rhetoric of education reform using selected texts published during the thirty-year period between 1983 and 2013 to demonstrate how four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S. faced a version of what Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen calls the innovator's dilemma. I take up appeals for education reform as case studies to examine how the discursive framing of problems and solutions shapes beliefs concerning the need for education reform and the subsequent course(s) of action that should be pursued. My analysis reveals that transfer--the movement of knowledge or skill from one domain to another--is a fundamental underlying assumption about the purpose of higher education. In chapter two, I survey the history of transfer studies to support my position that the concept of transfer provides a rhetorical warrant in discourses of education reform. I first offer my working definition of transfer and provide a survey of major debates about transfer. I then show that transfer studies routinely produce results that fail to provide evidence that the hypothesized transfer occurred. I argue that this problem is caused because researchers are expecting one kind of transfer (high road) and therefore designing hypothesis-driven experiments to look for it; our teaching practices, however, more frequently assume a different kind of transfer (low road). I show how acknowledging this contradiction can explain why so many studies fail to demonstrate transfer. I conclude the chapter by discussing the relevance of this problem to the field of rhetoric and composition. I do so by showing that we lack a suitable method for investigating high road and low road transfer of writing-related knowledge and skills. In chapter three, I present emergent design as a research method for studying writing-related transfer. The chapter opens with a description of emergent design as a method for studying recent changes to the composition curriculum at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill requiring all first-year students to take English 105. I analyze the proposal for the new course, arguing that Writing Program administrators used two competing beliefs about transfer to rationalize and justify the curricular change. To extend previous studies of transfer, I designed a three-phase study focused on the implementation of UNC's curricular changes to first-year composition, which were in part designed to promote transfer. I analyze the results using emergent design and compare my findings to other studies of writing transfer. Chapter four contributes to emerging efforts by composition and rhetoric scholars to promote transfer from first-year composition to future rhetorical situations. I extend previous research on transfer studies by theorizing and proposing a series of transfer-oriented pedagogical interventions for use in first-year composition courses: (1) developing genre-based writing assignments, (2) using design plans to prompt metacognition, and (3) providing students with opportunities to conduct undergraduate research.
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  • In Copyright
  • Anderson, Daniel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
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  • 2013

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