Chapter 1: Transfer across Media

1.1 What Is Transfer?

Participants in the study talked a lot about transfer—the act of using knowledge, habits, and skills developed and practiced in one site in other contexts. Often, they did so as they reflected on their experiences in first-year writing, as we will explore in the chapters to come. In my final interviews with them, I asked students specifically what they thought transferred within the course or might transfer out of the course. Here is a glimpse into how I asked the question and many of the participants' initial responses.

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This video provides a glimpse into how I asked students in the first-year writing study about transfer and how they responded.

Descriptive Transcript

[No audio]White text appears on a black screen, reading "Talking about Transfer".
Crystal VanKooten: So one of the things I want to look at in all these interviews I'm doing is what's called transfer. And transfer is where you learn something with one assignment or in one place and then you move it and it transfers over, right? So then you use it somewhere else and then you learn how to move it and like transfer it to a different area. When something is specifically over here in one assignment or in one part of the class, and then you can see it also over here. And so that can happen in a class where one thing in the same class transfers to like another assignment or something, and then you're doing the same thing, and sometimes it looks the same and sometimes it looks a little bit different. Like you use what you learned but you adapt and you change it and you can either apply it in exactly the same way, or it changes. You have to change it a little bit, what you learned, and then you can apply it in a different way. And then they take it, and they move it, and they apply it somewhere else.
Crystal: We've talked about it a lot.
A montage is shown of Crystal talking to participants in an interview setting in an office. They are sitting at a table and facing each other, and behind them is a book case. Crystal has a pen and paper in front of her for note taking for all clips. She gestures with her hands as she explains, and the student present is listening attentively. The first student shown is John, then Tiara, Alan, Mikayla, Madison, Samuel, Daijah, and Crystal.
Crystal VanKooten: So do you think in thinking about the class, was there any time when something transferred? Something was, you learned it there, and then it was useful over here or do you think maybe now things can transfer from the class? So something from the class can transfer out of the class and be useful later?
Tiara: I think, I think, yes I do.
A similar montage is shown of Crystal talking to participants. First shown is Gerry, then Crystal, then Tiara, who responds to the question Crystal asked.
Lauren: In the class I transferred information from paper to paper, but I think I talked about that a lot.Lauren is shown responding next, sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Alan: If I have to use MLA again, and definitely the use of a semicolon. Been using that at work. Alan's response is shown next, sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
John: And that really sounds accurate too, like the transfer. I think I do that without, you know, even thinking about it. Then John is shown, who gestures with his hands as he explains his answer to Crystal, who is off screen.
Mikayla: It's like having an idea and like having to figure out how you're gonna change it or something, I guess. I don't really know how to word what I mean.Mikayla is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Madison: Um... I guess the pathos could be transferred to other classes.Madison is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Gerry: Actually yeah. So you know the, they actually taught us how to make all the formats like, is it the MA? MLA? Yeah, MLA.Gerry is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Crystal: Maybe the production stuff that we worked with a little bit, this year, that's gonna transfer into next year. Crystal is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal VanKooten, who is off screen.
Daijah: I think the technique with the groups might transfer. Like the way she put us in groups to get constructive criticism.Daijah is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Samuel: I think the writing strategies I've learned that I found useful like the prewriting in the drafts can be used for, from different writing courses, or even my career. Samuel is shown sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
John: That transfer concept sounds like really cool, first off, yeah, so...
Crystal: That's what we want to have happen if we can but it's hard to, hard to find it.
Crystal's interview with John is shown again.

It's clear from these short excerpts that students in the first-year writing study transferred different kinds of knowledge in various ways. Recent research has helped us see this as well: for writers, transfer happens much more often, and perhaps in much more complicated ways, than we’ve observed and understood in the past.

Transfer is also a lens that can be used to examine another aspect of our work as rhetoricians and compositionists: writing for digital media. Transfer occurs organically at times when students write with various tools and technologies. Transfer can also be encouraged and supported through specific digital media pedagogies. I and others have argued elsewhere that certain types of writing for digital media, such as video composition, facilitate the transfer of writing knowledge and the development of an accompanying meta-awareness about composition. This eBook examines and demonstrates such a claim, bringing together scholarship on transfer and work on digital composition to articulate a theory of transfer across media that is specifically demonstrated through video composition.

Transfer scholars such as Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi (“Tracing”), Anne Beaufort (College Writing and Beyond), Dana Driscoll and Jennifer Wells (“Beyond Knowledge and Skills”), Angela Rounsaville (“Selecting Genres”) and Elizabeth Wardle (“Understanding” and “Creative Repurposing”), have researched and written about transfer between first-year writing and the work world, and they have examined transfer through genre, student dispositions, threshold concepts, and other theoretical frames. In 2014, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak forwarded a curricular approach called “Teaching for Transfer” that emphasizes teaching with a set of key terms and using reflection that helps students create a “theory of writing” (5). One of the driving questions in the work of Yancey et al. that is perhaps representative of much of the transfer work in the field is this: “How can we help students develop writing knowledge and practices that they can draw upon, use, and repurpose for new writing tasks in new settings?” (2). This notion of transfer as repurposing across writing tasks can be seen in much of the transfer literature. As Michael-John DePalma summarizes, work in the field on transfer currently examines how writers integrate, transform, remix and assemble, boundary-cross, recontextualize, and adapt their writing knowledge (DePalma 616, citing Nowacek, Brent, Wardle “Mutt”, Robertson et al., Reiff and Bawarshi, and DePalma and Ringer). Much of the terminology used to discuss transfer, though, connotes linear movement of knowledge from one site to another. Indeed, even my descriptions and hand gestures in the video above reflect such a "point A to point B" understanding of transfer.

Rebecca Nowacek’s five-part theory of transfer as recontextualization begins to shed light on more complex, nonlinear processes involved when students integrate knowledge across sites. Based on her qualitative study of students, Nowacek theorizes that transfer is “widely varied” (33) and “more common and more complex” (18) than has been talked about in the past. To better understand Nowacek's theory of transfer, I have chosen images that symbolize each part of her theory and combined them in the following video. The mashup image of the roads, lines, tubes, colors, and shapes that appears and fades as you watch and listen to the video represents the “multiple avenues of connection among contexts” students make, including knowledge, ways of knowing, identities, and goals (Nowacek 20).

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This video provides an audio-visual representation of Rebecca Nowacek's five-part theory of transfer as recontextualization.

The song used in this video is by airtone, Creative Commons license BY NC. The images used are by Mr. Nixter, Thomas Hawk, and AI_HikesAZ. Other images are in the public domain.

Descriptive Transcript

Crystal: According to Rebecca Nowacek, transfer is widely varied and it's more common and more complex than we've talked about in the past. Nowacek lays out five transfer principles.A black and white photo of an empty two-lane road in winter is shown.
Crystal: First, that there are multiple avenues of connection among contexts that students make including knowledge, ways of knowing, identities, and goals.The image of the road slowly fades into a black and white image that looks like a spinning pinwheel.
Crystal: Second, transfer for Nowacek is not only mere application, but it can also be an act of reconstruction where both the old and the new contexts as well as what is being transferred may be understood differently as a result.An image of a computer's hard drive and internal wires slowly fades in. Light blue tubes run across the screen, connecting at different points.
Crystal: Third, Nowacek's transfer involves emotions, what she calls a powerful affective dimension, and it can be positive or negative.A colorful image of red and rainbow colored abstract lines fades in.
Crystal: Fourth, genre provides an exigence for transfer.An image of differently-sized colorful balls fades in.
Crystal: And last, Nowacek points out that meta-awareness is a key support for transfer.A hand drawn image of a lone green eye on a blue and yellow background fades in last, before the first image of the road is shown again, after which the screen fades to black.

Nowacek’s framework is helpful when considering the complexity of all that is and might be involved in the transfer of writing knowledge across media, and her principles make clear that knowledge transfer is not one-directional. Her five-part schema indicates a need for research and teaching that examines transfer using multiple methods in varying sites, as transfer does not occur in the same way for all learners. Knowledge, ways of knowing, identities, goals, contexts, emotions, genres, meta-awareness—for Nowacek, all these influence, support, or hinder transfer, and these pathways and avenues for transfer need to be explored in more depth. In this study, I examine student learning through video across courses and within individual case studies to better understand several of Nowacek's and other pathways for transfer—rhetorical knowledge (Chapter 2), ways of knowing (Chapter 2), multiliteracies (Chapter 3), and meta-awareness (Chapter 4).