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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

White paper heralds a new age of writing

As UNC Pembroke undertakes a major academic initiative this year to support student writing skills, a study co-authored by Dr. Dundee Lackey may provide insights.

Dundee LackeyTitled “Revisualizing Composition: Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students,” the white paper focuses on student  “writing behavior” in the digital age.

The online survey of 1,366 first-year students who are enrolled at an array of institutions, including UNCP and Elon University in North Carolina, evaluated what students are writing, in and out of school, and how they value their writing.

“The survey shows the ways we need to adjust the practice of teaching writing,” Dr. Lackey said. “It shows what students are doing, what they know and don’t know, and how we can support them in building on those extant skills.”

Dr. Lackey, an English professor whose academic interests include digital and community literacy and rhetorics, multimodal pedagogy and health literacy, connected with other members of the study group while working on her doctorate at Michigan State University.

She said the white paper is a call to action. Some of the results of the survey are surprising, she said.

“With the new focus on writing here, I think the survey identifies some valuable issues for all the disciplines,” Dr. Lackey said. “We can’t teach writing the way we did 100 years ago. We must realize that our students write for many different purposes and audiences in a rapidly changing world.

“We can’t teach our students how to write everything they might be called up to write in the future, but we can teach them how to learn,” she said.

The popularity of digital communications has affected the youngest students the most. The survey shows SMS text messaging is the most utilized form of writing and the most valued form of writing.

Dr. Lackey was not surprised by that finding, nor is she discouraged.

“Texting is a form of writing that requires learning and practice,” she said. “It teaches students to write concisely.

“These are acquired rhetorical skills that are transferrable,” Dr Lackey said. “How to write in different settings is the issue that must be addressed.”

What is surprising is how students feel about writing papers, lecture notes and research papers, she said. Three of the top five most utilized and most valued forms of writing are academic.

“This is particularly interesting,” Dr. Lackey said. “It is encouraging too, as it suggests that students place great value on the role of writing as part of the learning process.”

Dr. Lackey said another surprise is about how low writing emails ranked.

“This is how faculty communicate,” she said. “This finding demonstrates how fast things are changing in the digital world for this group, and suggests we may need to find other ways to communicate with students outside the classroom.” she said.

As an instructor of composition and professional writing, Dr. Lackey places high value on writing at UNCP and beyond. This white paper will undoubtedly be studied at UNCP and elsewhere.

“I really do think freshman composition is an important academic class and an important thing for citizens of the world,” she said. “It teaches critical and rhetorical thinking, research, and argumentation.

“We do so much more than teach grammar,” Dr. Lackey said. “We are training people how to think and how to organize their thinking so that they may communicate effectively in the wide variety of rhetorical situations they will encounter as students, professionals, and citizens.”

The white paper’s authors were led by Jeff Grabill, director of Michigan State’s Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center. The study group plans spinoff studies.

The group included William Hart-Davidson, Stacey Pigg, Michael McLeod and Paul Curran of Michigan State, Jessie Moore, Tim Peeples and Paula Rosinski of Elon, Suzanne Rumsey of Indiana University, Perdue University, Fort Wayne, Martine Courant Rife of Lansing Community College, Robin Tasaka of Leeward Community College and Beth Brunk-Chavez of the University of Texas, El Paso.

The paper may be viewed at: www.wide.msu.edu/special/writinglives/.

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