Chapter 2: Looking for Transfer across Assignments
Rebecca Nowacek’s theory of transfer as recontextualization reveals that transfer is influenced by many factors and can be “widely varied” (33); in other words, there are “multiple avenues of connections among contexts” (20) that students might travel. In this chapter, I explore avenues for transfer that occurred between assignments within three different first-year classrooms at the second research site, Oakland University. Within Lauren’s Composition I course, Katie’s Composition II course, and Julie’s Basic Writing course, I examine particular moments of transfer related to knowledge and ways of knowing as students went from assignment to assignment as well as from medium to medium. Through moving through a curricular structure that asked them to compose essays, videos, and presentations, the students in these classes developed and demonstrated meta-awareness about composition to varying degrees and recounted several instances of what Nowacek would call transfer as an act of application and transfer as an act of reconstruction (25). Video served as a catalyst for some of these instances of transfer, providing a site where students could apply knowledge, habits, and strategies from their coursework and work toward adapting this knowledge as they reconstructed ideas in a multimodal space.
Lauren focused her Composition I course on rhetorical knowledge designed to facilitate meta-awareness of rhetoric and transfer from assignment to assignment. For Nowacek, knowledge is one broad avenue of connection for transfer (20), and knowledge consists of content (primary texts, historical figures and events, and authors within a discipline) and propositions (arguments made by participants in a discipline) (23). Listen and look as Lauren describes the goals and assignments of her course:
Instructor Lauren describes the goals and assignments for Composition I.
|[No audio]||White letters appear on a black background, reading "Lauren Discusses Composition I".|
|Crystal: All right so tell me about how you teach the class.|
Lauren: [sighs] Ok, so I would say that my main goals in teaching this are to communicate basic rhetoric concepts, so just, you know, the concepts of the rhetorical appeals
|Crystal sits down with Lauren at a table. Lauren is a white female wearing a polka-dotted dress and white sweater. Crystal is holding a paper that she takes notes on. Behind them is a window with the blinds closed.|
|Lauren: awareness of the rhetorical situation, keeping your audience in mind. So obviously that's the first goal. And I kind of start||Lauren is shown teaching in front of a classroom of students, explaining what is on a large screen next to her.|
|Lauren: with assignments relating to that so they can have the foundation. We focus on the academic tone,||Lauren continues to talk to Crystal as Crystal takes notes. Lauren gestures as she talks.|
|Lauren: academic writings. Obviously, the citations are important. Learning how to cite their research||Lauren is shown walking around her class and helping students as they work.|
|Lauren: and do quality beginning level research. And then looking at how those rhetoric skills can translate to their later college career and their professional career||Lauren continues to talk to Crystal as Crystal takes notes. Lauren gestures as she talks.|
|Lauren: and so it's tangible for them.|
Crystal: Ok, what are your major assignments?
|Lauren is shown teaching a class of students, who are sitting at computers. She raises her hand and her students also raise their hands.|
|Lauren: Ok, so the first assignment is a mini rhetorical analysis.||Lauren continues to talk to Crystal at the table. Crystal is off screen. Lauren holds a pop bottle.|
|Lauren: So they take an artifact or a document relating to their career field, and they have to||Instructions for an assignment titled "Mini Rhetorical Analysis" appear on the screen.|
|Lauren: break it down looking at the rhetorical situation and how the author uses the rhetorical appeals. Their second paper is the ad analysis.||Lauren continues to talk to Crystal at the table. Crystal is off screen. Lauren holds a pop bottle.|
|Lauren: So they work with a print advertisement and they're essentially doing a bulked up version of the rhetorical analysis, but also||Instructions for an assignment titled "Rhetorical Analysis of Advertisement Essay" appear on the screen.|
|Lauren: using the visuals. And then they do like a hypothetical redesign for a new audience, and that sort of gives them the opportunity to think about how they might start using the rhetorical appeals. And then the last project really is that, that career investigation. And that has multiple assignments||Lauren continues to talk to Crystal at the table. Crystal is off screen. Lauren gestures while she talks.|
|Lauren: sort of leading up to the final presentation.|
Crystal: So was it your idea to make the career investigation into a multimedia instead of an essay, or...?
|Instructions for an assignment titled "Career Investigation Multimedia Presentation Guidelines" appear on the screen.|
Crystal: How come you decided to do that?
|Lauren and Crystal are both shown sitting at the table. Lauren continues to talk to Crystal as Crystal takes notes. Lauren gestures as she talks.|
|Lauren: 'Cause they've been writing essays all semester, and it's something different, and I think that they can use these skills later when they get into their careers. Like putting a presentation together, public speaking, you know, connecting with your audience. And I really like to see how those concepts||Lauren is shown teaching in front of a classroom of students, explaining what is on a large screen next to her. Students take notes.|
|Lauren: they're learning, you know, the rhetoric concepts, can translate into these, these multimedia presentations. Because I like to see them use things, like images and colors and just, the music. Putting everything together. I feel like it's just, adds this whole new element to it that an essay can't really do, you know? It challenges them. Plus I think, you know, in general, I think they find it more enjoyable than just writing another essay, too.||Lauren is sitting at the table speaking to Crystal, who is off camera.|
What is notable about Lauren's Composition I assignment sequence is that students were required to identify, analyze, and compose with rhetorical knowledge across modes and media. Students looked for and used rhetorical appeals, for example, through written sentences in the mini rhetorical analysis assignment, through visuals and written sentences in the advertisement redesign, and through video, visuals, and written sentences in the career investigation project. This process resulted in several students developing meta-awareness of rhetoric and enacting knowledge transfer between assignments as application and as reconstruction. Still other students developed meta-awareness of process, discussing moments of transfer across assignments related to ways of knowing that included researching and organizing. For many, having the opportunity to compose multimodally using Prezi and Animoto was a catalyst for developing meta-awareness about composition in various areas and ultimately for acts of transfer.
From Lauren's Perspective: Applying Rhetorical Knowledge across Assignments
When I asked Lauren whether she saw evidence of her students transferring knowledge from assignment to assignment in the course, she answered with a strong yes:
Yeah. Definitely. We started with the mini rhetorical analysis and then went on to the bigger analysis where they were swapping audience and doing the whole audience analysis aspect. Then also the visual rhetoric. I definitely saw them applying the concepts they were learning in those three major assignments.
Here Lauren uses the phrase applying the concepts, referring to knowledge transfer as an act of application, what Nowacek would describe as “bringing knowledge or skills from an earlier context into contact with a later context, the earlier context shedding light on and changing the perception of the later” (25). According to Nowacek, transfer as application is a persistent metaphor, perhaps because “transfer is often an act of application,” but it is a “simpler” act than transfer as reconstruction, where “both the old and new contexts—as well as what is being transferred—may be understood differently as a result” (25). While knowledge application might be a simple form of transfer, it is nonetheless an important form that can be a goal to work toward within an assignment sequence. Lauren perceived that her students were understanding and importing knowledge of rhetorical concepts from context to context and seeing the latest assignment in a new light using knowledge from the previous one.
When I asked Lauren to describe in more detail how she assessed that transfer as application was happening for students, she pointed to the use of rhetorical terminologies in students’ products: “In the work, it seemed that they were able to use the language more successfully,” she said, and she also mentioned that students’ confidence level when brainstorming during conferences for the advertisement redesign was high. Lauren explained that this confidence was evident through body language and enthusiasm as students talked with her:
When you’re trying to explain something to somebody and they’re nodding in agreement with you because they understand. Something like that. Just the level of […] enthusiasm with using these creative ideas for the redesign, but also applying these rhetoric concepts.
Not only did Lauren witness students using rhetorical terminology correctly in their work, but she also saw that they were excited and enthusiastic about doing so. Nowacek suggests that transfer involves an “affective dimension,” observing excitement and satisfaction in the students she worked with as they made connections between disparate contexts (27). Lauren recounts a similar excitement as students learned concepts, applied them through creative ideas, and discussed these ideas in her office.
From the Students: The Application and Reconstruction of Rhetorical Knowledge and Ways of Knowing
The students in Composition I corroborate their instructor Lauren’s account of transfer as application of rhetorical knowledge across assignments and across media. Through their articulations during interviews with me and their actions as they composed products for class, these students also demonstrated that they were developing meta-awareness about rhetoric and process that contributed to acts of transfer in these areas. Watch and listen to the following video, in which Mikayla and John discuss transfer across assignments and some of their work is displayed.
Mikayla and John discuss transfer across assignments.
|[No audio]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "Mikayla and John discuss transfer across assignments".|
|Crystal: Is there anything else, like skills or knowledge from past assignments in the class that are applicable in this assignment do you think?||Crystal and Mikalya are shown sitting across from each other at a table in a small office. They are in an interview style set up. Crystal has paper for notetaking. Crystal is shown in the center of the video as the focus, and Mikayla is off to the left side of the screen.|
|Mikayla: Definitely organization, and I would say maybe formulating ideas almost. Kind of making these ideas in my head of what I want to do and where I want to go has definitely gotten stronger with the amount of essays that we've written. Then, you know, organization comes into it afterwards because it's organizing those ideas.||The angle of the camera shifts and shows only Mikayla in the center of the screen. She gestures with her hands as she explains her answers.|
|John: The rhetorical appeals apply. You have to, you know, you have to tell them--I mean it's like applying all throughout the Animoto. You're showing them, you know, ethos and pathos and stuff like that, so. And that really, and now that I have a better understanding, that really helps out, you know, when I'm putting together the essay.||John is shown in the same room, sitting in the same chair as Mikayla was previously with Crystal off screen.|
|Mikayla: I think coming back to, you know, learning how to organize things, you know, like in the ad analysis essay. I had to organize it so it was, you know, the logical appeals of it, and then my redesign. And I think that'll help me in this, where I have to organize it with the video,||The clip of Mikayla returns to the screen as she sits at the table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|[Overlaying Mikayla's voice is upbeat instrumental music.] |
Mikayla: and the information I get, you know, and then, kind of how I've used it, and how it's used in the profession, and stuff like that. So organization's definitely a huge part for me.
|A clip of Mikayla's video that she created for her class appears on the screen. The title screen shows the title of the video, "Business Administration," and her name in a cursive font, as well as some photos of desert sand. It then flips to the secondary title screen, which reads "School of Business: Elliot Hall" next to an icon of an airplane. On this screen, there are photos of islands and bodies of water. The third screen shows a photo of Elliot Hall. The fourth is identical to the first, but instead reads "General management is my focus: This focuses on managers of companies."|
|[Music plays.] Lyrics: You can be the greatest, you can be the best. You can be the King Kong, banging on your chest...||The final screen of the clip of Mikayla's video is shown, which reads "Being a manager requires a degree especially if you want to reach CEO status." This is next to the same airplane icon and photos of an island as the second screen of the video.|
|[The music becomes quieter as Mikayla's voice begins again.]|
Mikayla: Just everything is organization. I don't know why, but it just is. I think what I've learned about organizing, you know, ideas and thoughts and papers,"
|Mikayla is shown again sitting at the table talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|Mikayla: planning ahead to what's coming, and||A clip of Mikayla's Prezi is shown as she continues speaking in voiceover. The Prezi is titled "Business Administration" like her video, and the screen also says her name on it. The design of the Prezi is a set of keys and a padlock on a yellow background, with circles that contain text.|
|Mikayla: being able to organize not just my paper, but myself to write it, is something that's going to stay with me now. The background music gets louder and Mikayla's voice stops, and then fades out as the Prezi ends.||The Prezi shifts to the first key and text bubble. The title in bubble reads "What is Business Administration with a focus in General Management?" with two bullet points following. It then shifts to the next bubble titled "Job Description" with five bullets following. It then shifts to a third bubble reading "Where to find more." The final one reads "Thank you!" The screen then goes back to the original title screen of the Prezi.|
|Crystal: So how does things like pathos and ethos look different in the Animoto, because it's not the same as writing a paragraph about it right?||John is shown in the office sitting in front of the table, talking to Crystal. Both can be seen from this angle, with Crystal on the center right and John off to the left, with his back more to the camera. Crystal has a set of papers and a pen for notetaking.|
|John: Right. It's not, now that we're doing a presentation, we're not, the pathos and ethos is not like written. It's shown to you.||The angle of the original interview clip has changed, and John is shown in the office sitting in front of the table, talking to Crystal who is off screen.|
|[Background instrumental music plays behind John's voice.] |
John: So like the pathos, I'm showing, you know, different pictures and stuff to the audience. And I'm showing logos, giving them statistics and stuff. But it's not, it's not said, it's shown in this presentation."
|A clip from John's video is shown as his voice continues in the voiceover. The screen is blue and shows a glitching screen reading "Loading..." and then shows the title of the video "Mechanical Engineering" on a blueprint style design. The screen then changes to read "ME is the branch of engineering dealing with design, construction, & use of machines" on a blue background.|
|[The background music gets louder after John finishes talking.]||The third and final screen of the clip of John's video is shown, reading "Mechanical Engineers are needed in many fields, Ex: The Automotive Industry" on a blue background.|
|[The music gets quieter as Crystal begins talking.]|
Crystal: What was the most beneficial for you as a learner? Like what do you think you learned the most from?"
|The same interview set up in the office with Crystal and John is shown, with both of them shown on the screen.|
|John: My, my--obviously it's the rhetorical appeals. I think it was useful because it's something that you can use going ahead. You know, it's just not taped to the class, you know. It's--you can use it. You could apply it to everything. It's not just for the school. It's for life in general.||The angle changes, and John is shown in the office sitting in front of the table, talking to Crystal who is off screen.|
Mikayla's and John’s accounts reveal that both students applied rhetorical concepts learned in previous assignments as they made their Animoto videos for the career investigation project. Both students also show an articulated awareness of the need to adapt and shift prior knowledge for a different medium of expression. In John's case, his articulations and actions signal a transfer move that gestures toward reconstruction, in which the material transferred, as well as the old and new contexts, is understood differently as a result. In the video, John mentions how composing an Animoto video caused him to consider how pathos and logos might be shown instead of written, pathos through images and logos through statistics. John also mentions the role of an audience along with each appeal: “showing different pictures and stuff to the audience,” and “giving them statistics” (emphasis added). While considering pathos and logos was something John also did with written papers, the video and Prezi presentation allowed him to reconstruct his previous understanding of how the appeals might be composed and the purpose of such composition: to reach and move an actual audience.
Mikayla also noted that the class contained “a lot of the ethos, pathos, logos,” and told me it was a requirement to include these concepts in each assignment. She mentioned, though, that she planned to use the appeals in the final reflection even when not required to: “In my metacognitive essay, I’ll probably just use [the appeals], because now it’s already ingrained in my brain.” The repetition of rhetorical concepts across all the assignments brought Mikayla by the end of the course to a place where she was aware of the concepts, she had defined and used them, and she thought of them as useful for and easily transportable to other writing situations.
Along with the appeals, Mikayla mentioned several "ways of knowing" related to process that were useful as she moved from assignment to assignment in the course and that might become applicable to her work after the class in a business administration major focusing on fashion design. Nowacek describes ways of knowing as “intellectual activities that individuals engage in to articulate and support propositions” (23). Mikayla discussed ways of knowing that included work ethic, planning, and organizing her ideas and her process. When asked what from past assignments was applicable to the multimedia presentation, she responded, “time management, how to manage my time so I’m not sitting there at 11:58 trying to submit a paper.” Linked to work ethic was organization, which she discusses in the video above. It is interesting that the actual transfer of the skills Mikayla articulates—organizing ideas and compositional process—may or may not be visible to Lauren or to Mikayla’s future professors in other courses in college. Mikayla's learning about organization in the course might indeed have transferred between assignments and might still transfer to other courses and work, but this could remain invisible to those not knowing where or how to look for it.
Several aspects of the career investigation multimedia project itself might have helped John, Mikayla, and their classmates develop and transfer knowledge and ways of knowing, such as organizational skills. The project involved various parts students had to combine into a whole. They had to conduct and present primary research; they had to research their careers on the web and include what they found; they had to introduce and discuss their careers through one-minute videos and Prezi presentations that used words, images, and sounds; they had to cite sources; and they had to plan for an in-person presentation of the material. Figuring out how to organize and present all these parts was a challenge for many.
Students were required to present their videos and other work using Prezi, an online presentational software program. Unlike Microsoft PowerPoint and other slide-based presentational programs, Prezi does not offer a built-in organizational system; users must design the spatial organization of their work. Because of this, many students in Lauren’s class found organizing their presentations with Prezi a difficult task. Mikayla visually organized her Prezi on business administration using an image of a key unlocking a padlock. While there are ways in which Mikayla’s use of the organizational image might have been improved, it is likely that deciding on the organization of all the elements within her multimedia presentation allowed her to transfer previous organizational skills and build meta-awareness about process as she realized the importance of organization overall, thus preparing her for potential future transfer of her approach to organizing work and herself as a writer.
Within Mikayla’s Prezi presentation, her learning about organization is somewhat evident. As Halbritter reminds us, though, assessment of learning should take us beyond examining the product. When analysis of Mikayla's product is combined with her narrative as given during interviews, her learning becomes even more visible. The same is true when looking at other student products for evidence of the transfer of learning across assignments. Taken by itself, most students’ work contains some observable evidence that they have built meta-awareness through compositional actions and transferred knowledge related to rhetorical appeals, research, composition process, or reflection across assignments. Tiara’s video, for example, is aimed at an audience of prospective students interested in sociology through a template that uses travel system and street advertisement signs to display written content—an approach potentially appealing to young people on the go. In her Prezi presentation, Tiara used various colors in combination to represent the theme of diversity within the study of sociology to her classroom audience. Viewing and listening to these products in conjunction with hearing Tiara reflect on trying to appeal to her audience during interviews is one way to triangulate the data about her still-developing meta-awareness about composition and subsequent acts of transfer.
John’s video and Prezi materials clearly reveal a meta-awareness of and ability to use the rhetorical appeals and to compose for a specific audience, the learning he mentioned transferred across assignments. His video introducing mechanical engineering, for example, utilizes a career-appropriate technology-themed template, complete with numerical and written data scrolling, geometric lines and shapes flashing in the background, and machine sound effects as each slide transitions to the next. The music John chose has a medium-paced beat, and he uses images in conjunction with written text as examples of locations that are in need of mechanical engineers. These choices make his video appropriate for his audience of prospective engineering majors, and he appeals to them with logic (through examples of where an engineering major might be hired), emotion (through upbeat and positive music), and credibility (through a well-organized and well-executed theme and video).
John’s Prezi presentation uses some similar rhetorical approaches: it is organized visually using the image of an electrical circuit, and the image uses blues, grays, and greens, colors similar to those in his video that evoke technology. His Prezi presentation is organized and clear, uses headings to introduce each section, and meets all assignment requirements, including citation. Alongside his narrative given in interviews, John’s products confirm a well-developed meta-awareness of rhetoric that led to knowledge transfer as application and reconstruction across assignments and media.
Other students in Lauren’s class, Samuel and Tiara, mentioned how knowledge of the rhetorical appeals applied beyond one assignment. Samuel discussed how knowledge built through an earlier assignment affected his composition of the career investigation presentation, stating, “The analysis for the ads of the different rhetorical principles gave you a better understanding […] that you can then apply to this when you're trying to explain the different rhetorical principles used in your career field.” For him, the understanding of rhetoric developed through the ad analysis assignment was directly applicable to the career investigation project, although he did not discuss specifics of how.
Likewise, Tiara mentioned that several attributes of an earlier paper had been helpful as she composed her career introduction video. She explained, “The way I wrote my paper before, I can look at that as inspiration to help me and give me little tips to how to make my video. I could look at how I’ve situated the paper, how I did the rhetorical appeals, how I cited it […].” Tiara mentions providing context, using rhetorical concepts, and citing sources as sites of potential transfer across assignments and media. Like her classmates, Tiara indicates that several acts of knowledge transfer as application were occurring as students worked across assignments and media.
Overall, Tiara reflected the most on the importance of citation, a practice that was required in all the written essays and in the career investigation multimedia project. She stated,
At first, I just didn’t know how to cite my paper at all. I didn’t know how to write the sentence in citation. I didn’t know how to write the name of the publisher, what the magazine was. I didn’t know how to format it. But now I know how to do that.
As Tiara explains, the format for citing sources was unfamiliar before the writing course, but once she learned it, it was useful for acts of transfer as direct application within the course because citation in MLA style was a requirement in each assignment. This transfer of citation-formatting knowledge from paper to multimedia presentation required Tiara to learn a skill and then apply that skill in a different context.
Beyond simple citation format, Tiara also discusses the importance of establishing the credibility of sources: “I think that the citation is another important factor, because she [the instructor] wants to know if it’s credible. Since it’s a video, […] she needs to know if it’s credible in order to give you a good grade.” Tiara’s learning about citation thus includes more complex rhetorical knowledge regarding evaluating the quality and credibility of sources, even if only to earn a high grade. Her acts of transfer across assignments, then, began to move beyond knowledge and tap into ways of knowing as she learned the importance of evaluating sources for credibility for papers and then at the end of the course for a video. This transfer of ways of knowing also moves toward reconstruction, as evaluating a source for credibility would not be a staple skill applied in an identical manner in all situations, but a set of practices learned, adapted, and put to use differently depending on the writing situation.