Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sky is Blue! More at 11...

I’m starting to find it valuable, as I settle into the rhythm of doing these blogs, to try to use the theoretical article we read each week as a lens through which to view the examples of research that we read.  This week’s theoretical article was “Imagining the ‘Iron cage’: The Rhetoric of Hidden Emotions in Critical Ethnography” by Paul Nugent and Mitchel Abolafia.  This article argues that successful ethnographers shape their “characters” much as fiction authors do.  While they may maintain the fa├žade of scientific disconnection, their human connection with the subjects of their research allows them to portray them sympathetically, not by overtly asking for the reader’s approval, but by describing “hidden emotions.”  I found this article to be a little “dog bites man,” just because these kinds of revelations (authors shape their narrative! News at 11!) are nothing new for rhetoricians.  In a journal called Ethnography, an engineer and a sociologist may be breaking new ground, though.

Erin Krampetz uses data gathered by Andrea Lunsford’s large study at Stanford to study the writing of international students in “Writing Across Cultures and Contexts.”  Although she uses a methodology that combines quantitative and qualitative data, her qualitative data, her study lacks the character portraits that Nubent and Abolafia describe.  Krampetz almost always uses direct quotes from the student interviews as she discusses the students and their writing, and I believe that this prevents her from painting the picture of hidden emotion described above.  The emotion comes not just from the subject, but from the researcher’s relation to the subject.  The fact that Krampetz did not have strong relationships with these students (because she was not doing an ethnography) is revealed in the way she writes about them.

David Foster describes his research (in Writing with Authority) as case studies and observer participation (42).  His work reveals a little more of the character of the students he observes, but because it is not an ethnography, I don’t find much suggestion of hidden emotion.  Sohn’s work, for example, much closer to an ethnography, draws character portraits fine enough to catch a vague sense of Sohn’s own personal relationship with her subjects.  Foster’s book, however, does a good job of laying out broad differences in collegiate writing between a U.S. university and a university within the German system—which was his purpose in writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In 2005, Richard Haswell wrote an article, published in Written Communication, that challenged NCTE and CCCC for not publishing and supporting more RAD scholarship.  ("RAD" stands for replicable, aggregable, and data supported.)  Haswell is quick to disallow binaries before they can be established; RAD scholarship is not in opposition to qualitative research, nor is it to be contrasted with "theory."  Haswell is more concerned with the conditions of the research being established and described so meticulously that "other people at other institutions could conduct similar surveys and be able to compare the data meaningfully" (201).

Lee Ann Carroll's description of Pepperdine's research in Rehearsing New Roles strikes me as qualifying as RAD scholarship.  Given that the book is not the only scholarship to result from this study, I believe there would be enough description of the parameters of the study to replicate it at another school.  The data is available on a website, and Carroll includes some of the questions in her Appendix.  As Haswell points out, other outlets are publishing this type of research (this particular book is in the Studies in Writing & Rhetoric series published by Southern Illinois University). 

Van Maanen's description of "impressionistic tales," on the other hand, would not qualify as RAD scholarship.  I have significant questions about Van Maanen's categorizations overall, but they culminate in his description in this chapter.  The research cannot be replicated because Van Maanen describes its aim as "braid[ing] the knower with the known" (102).  Therefore, if the knower is different (i.e. a different researcher), the research findings would also be different.  Rather than being concerned with replicability, aggregability, and data, Van Maanen tells the research to adhere to standards of interest, coherence, and fidelity.  The uniqueness of the situation, not its replicability, is what makes the situation valuable for research.

Though Haswell cautioned against binaries, impressionistic research as Van Maanen describes it is very different than RAD scholarship-- but the scholarly world would be poorer without it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It seems like a pretty common technique in academic writing to re-envision "this" as "that", using new metaphors to reframe the way we think about certain conventions in our profession.  This week, Fleckenstein, Spinuzzi, Rickly, and Papper (hereafter known as Fleckenuzzi-Ripper) invited us to re-cast research as ecology.  The characteristics of ecology they think should be embedded into research include interdependence, feedback, and diversity.  The manuscript excerpt on peer production by Moxley et al. seems to illustrate this idea of research as ecological. 

Moxley and his co-authors resist the temptation to view their immediate problem (lack of participation by writing instructors in the community provided by the WPAs) as isolated or narrow.  Their approach covers angle after angle of the program and its dilemma by quoting faculty, WPAs, mentors, and mentees; those in favor and strongly supportive of the program, those indifferent, and those opposed to one or more of its features.  This allowance for feedback from diverse sources has shaped the program at the same time that it was shaping the piece we read. 

Keith Rhodes, on the other hand, does not attempt to use a metaphor to reframe research.  Rather, he offers an entirely new term for "what compositionists do that they call ethnography": "Psychography."  He describes psychography as having "reasonably extended study, moderate thickness of description, small focus-groups, collaborative separation of teacher and researcher roles, self-conscious personalizing of all participants, and genuine concern for the dignity of the students and teachers being observed." 

This definition of psychography seems to describe Herrington and Curtis's study of their student Francois.  The study is extended--it follows Francois for more than one semester and through dozens of pages.  Its description is moderately thick; while it doesn't do much physical description or context setting (at least in the sections we read), Francois' writing and comments are described at length.  The teachers are actually writing the book, but the "part" of the researcher is "played" by "Elizabeth." (Actually, this quite confused me; both Anne Herrington and Marcia Curtis write in first person in this chapter.)  They go out of their way to be fair to Francois, as frustrating as he must have been to have as a student.

Finally, we looked this week at van Maanen's chapter on the confessional ethnography.  Van Maanen emphasized that this genre of ethnography is often interwoven into a larger framework of a different ethnographic genre. I can see some of the context-setting sections of readings we've done falling into this category--perhaps Sohn's description of her own experiences in Appalachia, for example.

Of the three descriptions of qualitative research (ecological, psychography, confessional) that we read this week, I'd like to read more about the ecological.  The emphasis on dialogue, responsiveness, and truly listening to the research subjects shows promise for guiding qualitative research towards productive ends.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Article Presentation: Integrating Information Literacy with a Sequenced English Composition Curriculum


For my description of the article I read this week, I’m stealing Megan’s beautiful research article meme:

Title: “Integrating Information Literacy with a Sequenced English Composition Curriculum”

Authors: Wendy Holliday and Britt Fagerheim

Where you can find it: portal: Libraries and the Academy. 6.2 (2006): 169-184.

Audience: Compositionists and academic librarians.

Genre: Quantitative research chiefly based on surveys.  The narrative follows the course of the study, but I would not call it “story-telling.”  There are hints of qualitative methods, such as focus groups of students and librarians and anecdotal comments.

Epistemology: Post-positivistic in that it is hypothesis generating and it does not generalize universally.  The authors use the surveys to generate a hypothesis, which they then incorporate into the curriculum and assess, to some extent.

General focus: authors seek the best way to sequence information literacy instruction within the existing composition curriculum.  Their two research problems: 1) library instruction not meeting the needs of their students and 2) shortage of resources (librarians) (170).  I chose the article because I was hoping to find something cross-disciplinary.

Research questions:
  • What do our students do when conducting research? What are the gaps between what they do and what we would like them to do?
  • What are the English instructors’ learning outcomes for English 1010 and 2010 as they relate to information literacy? How do they identify gaps in students’ information literacy?
  • How do the librarians define and prioritize information literacy learning outcomes?
  • Where is the common ground between librarians and English instructors? (171)

Lenses/theories at work: Both authors are librarians and this article was published in a library journal.  I would not call it interdisciplinary; I would place it squarely within the library discipline.  I would say that in Cross’ schema, it is written from a community perspective, as the librarians try to work with the English faculty to improve information literacy education.

Methodology: “We decided to conduct a literature review of undergraduate information-seeking behavior to identify general trends among this population….We then conducted surveys with USU librarians and English instructors.  We also held a debriefing session with librarians, following an initial survey.  Through discussion, we reached a consensus on learning goals and refined the results of the librarian survey” (171).  The researchers counted the results of the survey, but did not do much interpretation past the numbers.  No triangulation was mentioned.

The Research found: The librarians thought that they should teach Information Literacy Standards One and Two and that writing instructors should teach Standards Three and Four.  They thought that Standard Five should be shared.  The surveys given to the English professors asked which Standards were important and which class the Standards should be taught in; the English faculty indicated that all the standards were important, though Standards One and Two had somewhat of an edge (175). 

Pros/Cons:
Pros
  • Clear in terms of their purpose and methodology
  • Used standard terms and learning outcomes (the ACRL Standards)
  • The information gained was put to use in redesign of the curriculum and then assessed.
  • Innovative “modules” from which instructors can choose to meet the needs of their class.
Cons
  • Too localized
  • The surveys given to the English faculty and the librarians were different, thus making it difficult to compare their opinions.
  • Debate between credit-bearing and course-integrated information literacy was the topic of the first paragraph, leading the reader to think that perhaps that would be the focus of this study.  It serves as somewhat of a red herring.
  • All research on student needs was done through the lit review.
  • On the English teacher survey, the professors seemed to rank all of the items high.  This probably was an accurate reflection of their belief, but it doesn’t help much in terms of research.  
  • Assessment completely subjective: “all of the English instructors surveyed said that students’ research met their expectations in terms of quality….Students appeared to be more confident….Students used higher quality and more relevant sources in their assignments….The vast majority of students said they learned something new as part of the library instruction” (181).

Implications: I thought the best part of the paper was the description of the modules for their 2010 course, even though overall this was a very small part of the article.  I would like to see research on these modules: how are they developed? Is it easier to measure learning module-by-module? Are some modules more successful than others, and why? I would have also liked to see much more involvement of the English faculty in the study overall, so if I were going to research in this area, I would try to do better at gathering information from the composition instructors.