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“Because I Actually Want to Write It”: A Longitudinal Study of the Relationship between FYW curriculum, Knowledge Generalization, and Students’ Consequential Transitions

  • Author(s): Ogilvie, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Adler-Kassner, Linda
  • et al.
Abstract

The idea of transfer—that individuals use knowledge beyond the context of the initial learning site—is generally considered to be the fundamental aim of all educational systems.Writing instructors in college teach their students ideas about argument, structure, and grammar based off of the idea that students will use this knowledge when they write in other courses and in the workplace beyond college.

Yet despite these kinds of pervasive and ubiquitous assumptions that educational systems prepare students for tasks, vocations and careers beyond the classroom context, there is little agreement that transfer actually occurs (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999: DeCorte, 2003). Over a century of transfer research has failed to produce any firm conclusions on whether transfer can actually happen, how it should be defined, or whether it can be taught.

Doubts and concerns about the viability of transfer and the value of college seem to be particularly acute within the field of writing studies. Elizabeth Wardle (2007) has argued the field’s practitioners "would be irresponsible not to engage the issue of transfer" (p.66). The present study takes up the question of transfer in studying how two students, Clare and Sara, potentially generalize prior knowledge from a first-year writing course in writing situations in six subsuquent semesters.

This project is built upon the idea that transfer is idiosyncratic and incremental, that it is shaped by the interaction of an individual and the individual’s perception of the environment’s affordances, and that a broader conception of the term transfer is needed to broaden how it is studied.

In the present study I draw on Beach (2003) in reconceptualizing transfer as generalization, which can occur in two forms. The first is the explicit application of prior knowledge, a form of knowledge use that is visible and conscious. The other form of generalization is implicit propagation, the tacit continuation of prior knowledge in ways that are neither explicit nor clear. These two forms of generalization comprise key parts of my generalization framework, which helps me operationalize my definition of transfer for this study. The generalization framework examines potential evidence of generalization through three different knowledge elements: knowledge similarity, knowledge influence, and knowledge frequency. Together, these three framework elements help me clarify, refine, and evaluate the specific nature of any generalization in looking at what kind of knowledge is generalized (knowledge similarity), how influential that knowledge is as part of a writing situation (knowledge influence), and how frequently that knowledge is generalized (knowledge frequency).

I use the generalization framework to study if any knowledge from the transfer-centric FYW course is generalized in Clare and Sara’s thinking as they negotiate new writing situations in semesters 2-7. In addition to looking for generalization, I also develop accounts of the personal connections Clare and Sara make of writing situations, specifically in terms of how they perceive and assign value to the writing situation. In the next chapter, I articulate what I mean by a transfer-centric FYW course by locating the course’s curriculum within previous approaches to curriculum that supports and facilitates future knowledge transfer.

This study's findings suggest that generalization can occur though there are significant qualifications to this positive claim of generalization. One is that while Clare and Sara did at times apply and propagate prior knowledge what is clear is that the environment plays a significant role in whether or not generalization occurs.

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