Overview of the 2012-2013 Research Project:
What Excites Our Students about Writing?
Facilitating faculty meetings, mentoring graduate students, working on department and college committees? I call all of that: "all in a day's work." Every once in a while though, you get the chance to do a kind of work that is not more syllabus design, student advisement, committee attendance, research publication, or conference presentation. The research projects that I got to engage as director of the first year writing (FYW) program most approximate what I mean. These kinds of research projects offer an opportunity to simply see, hear, and get closer to students' writing in a classroom rather than the usual protocol of college composition faculty writing about students or, worse yet, measuring and standardizing them. For this reason, this part of my ePortfolio highlights the work of a 2012-2013 FYW research project when I was a writing program administrator.
At the summer 2012 press conference sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union, noted educational researcher and activist, Pedro Noguera, proclaimed that if we attempted to engage a different educational question in relation to assessment and accountability, schooling today would be fundamentally altered. That question, as he posed it, was this: what gets young people excited about learning?
While his concerns were largely aimed at the current K-12 testing machines in New York, his call is easily relatable to higher education. Inspired by Noguera’s ongoing activism and vision for critical education, the 2012-2013 research question for the First Year Writing (FYW) Program was framed with Noguera’s call: what excites our students about writing? As director of the FYW Program, I designed and facilitated a research study that used this question as part of an assessment engine for the year. This study was, in part, an inquiry project where we are seeking to learn something about student writing, and, in another part, a research project where we define and pursue a planned methodology.
As a research project, engaging our inquiry question involved the process of triangulation where we used multiple data sources to build understanding. The goal of our “methods triangulation” was NOT to corroborate findings or test for validity since such definitions of triangulaton are considered problematic. We will use “methods triangulation” as most qualitative researchers approach it: with the assumption that no single method or one set of data can offer adequate or comprehensive explanation; with the goal of developing a rich, rigorous, multi-perspectival account; and with the purpose of seeing complementary aspects of the same phenomenon.
Survey of fall 2012 students
This survey was administered in the same week in all classes during November 2012 (pending IRB approval). An opening narrative written for students explained the project and why we wanted their input. Students had the choice of electing to participate or to not participate (CRN numbers were collected to ensure adequate distribution across all sections, but NOT students’ X-numbers to ensure their anonymity). The survey includes:
- multiple choice questions
- rank order scale questions
- narrative questions
- rating scale questions.
All survey questions were designed for students to address the following: what gets you excited about writing in ENG 1000c? In classes other than ENG 1000c? Outside of school? Fall FYW 2012 assessment meetings looked at this data.
Survey of fall 2012 Faculty
This survey was administered in January during the first week of spring 2013 classes, thereby offering faculty time to reflect on the previous semesters. Faculty had the choice of electing to participate or not participate (notification of full-time or part-time status will be required to ensure adequate distribution, but no names). The survey includes: multiple choice questions, rank order scale questions, narrative questions, rating scale questions. All survey questions were designed for faculty to address the following: based on what you noticed in your class(es) last semester, what seemed to get your students excited about writing? Spring 2013 assessment meetings looked at this data.
Student Focus Groups
On student consent forms, fall 2012 FYW students had the opportunity to volunteer for spring 2013 focus groups. These focus groups had a semi-structured format. Ideally, no two students from any one, same section of ENG 1000c are in the same focus group. Any and all faculty interested in hosting a focus group could do so after attending a training session in place of the spring FYW meetings. None of a faculty member’s students would be in their focus group, however.
2012-2013 is basically a data collection year. Full findings and implications will not be rigorously presented and analyzed until all data is collected, making this a research project that will be extended into the 2013-2014 schoolyear.
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Patton, Michael. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001.