Chapter 2: Looking for Transfer across Assignments

2.2 Composition II with Katie

Katie designed her first-year writing course with transfer across assignments in mind, aiming in particular for the transfer of practices related to inquiry and research—what Nowacek might label particular ways of knowing that might lead to new knowledge. Listen and look as Katie describes the goals and assignments of her course:

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Instructor Katie describes the goals and assignments for Composition II.

Descriptive Transcript

[No audio]White text appears on a black background reading "Katie discusses Composition II".
Crystal: So how would you describe the learning goals you have for students?
Katie: One of the things that I really want my students to come out of my classes understanding is that when you're writing, it's not simply about regurgitating information, but it's analyzing that information as well.
Katie and Crystal are shown sitting at a table in an office. Katie is a white female wearing a blue collared shirt with a white patterned sweater. The camera faces more toward Crystal, who is on the right, and less on Katie, who is on the left. Crystal is shown writing and taking notes with paper and a pen. Katie has a coffee cup in front of her. Katie gestures with her hands as she explains her answers.
Katie: So a lot of the time I'm telling, I'm talking to my students about the purpose and reason. Why would you incorporate this quote? Why would you incorporate this paraphrase? So analysis I think, I think that that is a skill that can be translated to any class at the college level. And I really think that it can be translated into future working environments for students.The angle of the interview switches, and only Katie is shown at the table. She is speaking to Crystal, who is off screen. She gestures with her hands as she explains her answer.
Katie: One of my outcomes is for students to define and execute correct documentation styles,Katie is shown teaching in front of her class in a traditional classroom. She is teaching based on a PowerPoint, and gestures often to the screen as she refers to it. Several students are shown listening intently and/or taking notes as she lectures.
Katie: whether APA or MLA. But I really do want my students to find their voice,Katie is again shown sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Katie: write for themselves and not necessarily just me. I really like to talk about writing anxiety. I really try and establish a, Katie is again shown in her classroom at the front desk with a student, and is showing the student something on the computer or assisting her in some way.
Katie: for a lack of a better phrase, a safe space for my students to discuss some of the issues that they have. I think the ultimate learning outcome is I really just want to empower my students. Katie is again shown sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Katie: That's, you know, I want them to know that they can do it.
Katie in class: Yeah. Ok, so you will, actually that's a great question. So you will be downloading this one right here.
Katie's students are shown in their classroom sitting at their desks working on an assignment as she walks around. She stops to help a student, leaning down to look at her laptop and discuss what's on the screen.
Crystal: So tell me about the assignments you use.
Katie: The assignments that I have consist of four major projects.
The angle of the interview shows both Crystal and Katie sitting at the table in the office again, to the right and left of the screen, respectively.
Katie: They're interrelated, so in future courses, I would probably introduce the course by saying, this is going to be a progressive course where we're going to start with your topic, your topic proposal.Katie is again shown sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Katie: Then we're going to do an annotated bibliography where you're collecting sources. Then I also have them do a video composition. And then the final is a inquiry through written research. A screenshot of a course syllabus corresponding to the assignments in the audio are shown. The four assignments shown are "Topic Proposal," "Annotated Bibliography," "Inquiry Through Video," and "Inquiry Through Written Research." Each has a point value and a description attatched to it.
Katie: So I really appreciate that specifically, this department and this field is looking at other mediums in writing. That it's not just, you know, a fifteen page paper. We can do video composition. There are also different venues that I can use to sort of engage my students and say, Hey. When does writing happen here? When does writing happen in biology? When does writing happen, you know, in these assignments?Katie is again shown sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.

Katie’s inquiry-focused, connected assignments worked in conjunction with composition across media and oral and written reflection to spark several acts of transfer for students, both as application and as reconstruction. Particularly notable were the experiences of one student, Sabrina, who demonstrated a highly developed meta-awareness of techniques, process, and media formats and described her acts of transfer as reconstruction catalyzed through composing first on video and subsequently in print.

From Katie's Perspective: Organization as Key for Transfer as Application

Katie designed her course assignments with inquiry as one connecting thread, and her students initiated and continued a process of inquiry across assignments. But the most noticeable piece of knowledge that had potential for transfer across assignments, in Katie’s view, was how the students approached organization. When I talked with Katie in the middle of the semester just after the “Inquiry through Video” assignment, she speculated that students might make connections between how they organized their videos and how they might organize their research papers. Two students mentioned organization in their video reflections, which were given aloud in class after they shared their video compositions with peers. Katie told me, “Those comments were really meaningful because I was thinking to myself, wow. […] We can use video to talk about how you can organize a written essay, organize information.” But the transfer of organizational knowledge hadn’t yet occurred, and Katie mused, “It will be interesting to see if that transfer does, in fact, happen. […] How do you organize your overall essay, and does it have any connection with the video composition?” The potential transfer that Katie’s students mentioned in their video reflections and that Katie ponders here could take various forms. It might be related to knowledge (of certain organizational forms and strategies) and ways of knowing (of how to approach organization in a new context), and it might manifest itself through application (putting established forms of organization into practice) or through reconstruction (seeing forms, strategies, and contexts anew based on use of prior knowledge).

When I talked with Katie after the semester was over, she mentioned several students who had shown evidence of transferring organizational knowledge or ways of knowing from the video assignment across media to the written research paper. One such student was Sabrina, whose video and research paper about the sizes of college classes used a similar organizational structure: that of a boxing match between small collegiate classes and large collegiate classes, with only one winner. As the instructor, Katie learned of this unique metaphorical way in which Sabrina coordinated her organizational efforts through a reflection. Katie told me,

When [Sabrina] reflected on that, I was like, “Oh my goodness! That is so cool, and that’s such sophisticated thinking, and creative thinking, visualizing your topic […] I liked that she visualized it in that way so that she could think to herself, she could move beyond the inquiry. She could move beyond the question and make a definite argument.

Katie then saw evidence of the “boxing match” organization in both of Sabrina’s products:

When I went to read her paper, it was structured in much the same way, with definite headings of small collegiate class sizes, large collegiate class sizes, the verdict. […] Because of the video composition, I was able to see what she was doing within her written essay. I was able to see, okay, this is how this student has put these two mediums into conversation with each other.

Katie observed Sabrina making a transfer-as-application move, importing an organizational strategy from one assignment and applying it in a similar way in another assignment. It is interesting, though, that Katie became aware of the way that this student was using a similar organizational metaphor to approach both her video and her paper only through a reflection from Sabrina herself. This led Katie to be able to look at both products with a new awareness of Sabrina’s critical and “creative" thinking, and be impressed with what she saw. Because Katie used reflection as part of her curriculum, she was prompted to look for the connections Sabrina was making. Without such reflection, Sabrina’s act of transfer might have remained invisible.

Katie also talked about seeing evidence of transfer in the work of another’s student, Megan, who composed about the identity crisis often experienced by identical twins. Though a twin herself, Megan didn’t use her own experiences in her video composition, but instead drew on primary research, conducting an interview with a mother of twins. After reading Megan’s essay, Katie recounted identifying “transfer of thinking” in Megan’s work, illustrated through the fact that Megan added material to the essay that had not been included in the video. Katie said,

She didn’t include herself too much in her video composition, but what I thought was so cool and so touching—it was one of the best-written essays that I read this semester—was that she included herself within her narrative. […] Megan’s experience doing the video composition enabled her to be self-reflective, I think, about her own identity. […] She began to think critically about issues like identity crisis, issues like self-doubt. Based on that, she was able to include a little bit more roundness and fullness to her essay. I really appreciated that she took the time to talk about herself.

Katie’s narrative about transfer in Megan’s work illustrates the complexity of looking for transfer. The appearance of new depth in Megan’s work—in Katie’s words, the “roundness and fullness” of describing her own experiences—appeared to Katie as the culmination of a self-reflective process beginning with primary research for the video but not fully realized until the written essay at the end of the course. This kind of transfer is an act of reconstruction, in which students take, adapt, and change what they have done before and understand both situations anew.

From the Students: Transfer as Reconstruction from Video to Paper

When I talked with Sabrina during my interviews, she didn’t mention the “boxing match” style of organization she discussed with Katie. She did, however, talk about the video and the written essay working together as sites to build and increase her topic-based rhetorical knowledge. The following video provides glimpses into Sabrina's learning processes as she reconstructed knowledge across media.

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Sabrina discusses transfer across assignments.

Descriptive Transcript

[No audio]White text appears on a black screen, reading "Transfer Across Assignments: Sabrina".
Katie [teaching class]: First let's get started by talking about what kinds of video, or I'm sorry, audio you might use in your video project.
Katie's voice continues but is much quieter and fades into the background as Crystal begins her voiceover.
Crystal: This is Sabrina. It's the first class after winter break, and her professor Katie talks about starting to work on their video projects. Today is audio workshop day, where students will think about what kinds of sounds and music they want to use in their videos. While you might not be able to tell here, Sabrina is really nervous about making a video in her writing course. At the end of the class session, Katie asks for takeaways.
Sabrina is shown among several other students sitting in a traditional classroom at a desk, listening to her instructor, Katie, who is teaching off screen. Sabrina takes out a notebook and paper and begins to take notes as the camera zooms in on her.
Katie: Yeah?
Sabrina: I just think, when you first brought up the video project and everything, that I, myself, I don't know about everybody else, I was kind of scared, because I've never done anything like this. [Yeah] So I guess I just want to say thank you for having a week where you show us how to do the video. Because I was in the dark. I've been so stressed out about this. Over break, I'm like, "I'm just going to try."
The same image of Sabrina in class is shown, but zoomed back out.
[Intense instrumental background music begins underneath Crystal's voiceover.]
Crystal: In the end, Sabrina was able to do much more with her video than "just try."
In the upper left corner of the screen, white text reads "From Sabrina's video..." The clip of the video shows white text on a red screen reading "Large Vs. Small Collegiate Class Sizes: A Problem Facing A Nation".
Sabrina's video: Collegiate class sizes are growing all over the nation. This is because more high school graduates are going to college. These graduates are faced with a question: do they go to a university with lecture halls, or go to a university with small intimate classes?The video clip then cuts to a cell phone video of a girl in a yellow shirt with glasses in front of a white wall talking directly to the camera. The words "From Sabrina's video..." still appear on the top left corner of the screen in white.
[Background music becomes the only audio.]The red screen fades and white text appears, reading "Large Collegiate Class Sizes".
[Sabrina is speaking in the interview, but the sound is quieted as Crystal speaks in voiceover.]
Crystal: After finishing the project, Sabrina talked in interviews about how the video actually helped her to think about the other assignments in the course. The connections she was making I call acts of transfer as application and transfer as reconstruction.
Crystal, in interview: So talk about how what you did in the video was applicable to the big paper that you're working on now.
Sabrina is shown in an interview with Crystal, who is taking notes as Sabrina elaborates on an answer. They are both sitting at a table in an office with Sabrina on the left and Crystal on the right.
Sabrina: I feel like the video was like... to me it was like the rough draft of my paper.The angle of the same interview switches to only show Sabrina sitting at the table. She is speaking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Sabrina: Like it helped me find out a) what side should my thesis really be on? And how can I expand from there?White text reading "From Sabrina's video..." appears in the top right corner of the screen. Large white block letters on a red background read "Small Collegiate Class Sizes."
Sabrina's video: Small collegiate class sizes can be defined as a class with under 35 students, one professor, and is in a small classroom.The girl with the yellow shirt and glasses is shown again in a cell phone video clip. White text reading "From Sabrina's video..." appears in the top right corner of the screen.
Sabrina: I just, I really think that the video was, it introduced me to the paper. It introduced me to how I wanted to write the paper, how I wanted to make everything sound, how to make it interesting. So I guess the video paved the way for the paper.White text reading "From Sabrina's video..." appears in the top right corner of the screen. A still image of a smiling man holding a small child is shown on the screen. On the bottom center, red text reads: "Name: Matthew Osterman, Student at Central Michigan University, Opinion: Easier opportunities to connect with professors." A second still image follows of a smiling woman with brown hair. On the bottom center, red text reads: "Name: Heidi Ritchie, Student at Oakland University, Opinion: Students are more likely to participate in class and become involved."
Sabrina: When I did the video, I knew what I wanted my friend to say, and that was like my hook. Getting you, getting you introduced. So I guess I was doing it subconsciously, but I was also laying out my paper. Like the hook I use in the video, it's the same hook I used in my paper.Sabrina is shown again sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal who is off screen.
Sabrina's video: Collegiate class sizes are growing all over the nation. This is because more high school graduates are going to college. These graduates are faced with a question: do they go to a university with lecture halls, or go to a university with small intimate classes?A screenshot of Sabrina's essay appears on the screen with a section of the essay highlighted, reading "While collegiate class sizes increase, high school graduates now have to consider which class size they'd like to take: A large lecture hall full of over one hundred students, or a small classroom with only twenty to thirty students." In the top left corner of the screen in white text reads "From the intro to Sabrina's written essay." in the bottom left corner reads "audio from intro to Sabrina's video."
Sabrina: I think if I think about the paper, a paper as a video first, it really helps me make the paper more interesting and appealing to somebody else.Sabrina is shown again sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal who is off screen. She gestures as she answers Crystal's question.
Crystal: One of the most noticeable aspects of Sabrina's process that transferred from her video to her written paper was her approach to organization. After presenting her video in class, Sabrina reflected orally about her learning.A clip of Sabrina presenting her video to her class is shown. She stands at the front of the room with the video pulled up on the big screen as several students watch her presentation from their desks.
Sabrina: I guess it's like, I wanted to explain class sizes better, and really prove, I wanted to prove to myself, kind of, that smaller class sizes are better for the individual student. I think the project relates to the written project, I guess it's going to kind of help me organize how I'm going to do my written project. Like I'm going to talk about large collegiate class sizes first and very much so compared to small class sizes.Sabrina is shown reflecting on her video at the end of her presentation. She is sitting at the front desk in front of a computer as she looks at her peers and discusses her process and takeaways.
Crystal: So do you feel like you use the same kind of techniques in the video and the paper? Or you just altered them, or what happened?The same interview set up is shown from the angle that includes both Crystal and Sabrina to the right and left respectively. Crystal is writing notes as she talks to Sabrina, who listens to her question intently. In the bottom right corner, black text reads "...after Sabrina's video and paper were complete..."
Sabrina: I think I altered them, I altered them as like, at first I made everything... like in the video, it was, I pointed out all the large classroom benefits. The angle of the interview changes, and Sabrina is shown again sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal who is off screen.
Sabrina: And at the very end, I kind of analyzed them. I was like, okay, this obviously has moderate benefits, and the same with small. But then when I went to the paper, I had all the information from my research,A clip from Sabrina's video is shown. A still image of a smiling student with headphones on is shown. Red text on the bottom center of the screen reads "Name: Taraj Livesay, Student at Central Michigan University, Opinion: More classmates to connect with, learn with, and do research and homework with." A second screen is shown with black text on a red background reading "Large Collegiate Class Summary: Average GPA 2.9, Teaching Techniques: Lectures, Student Achievement: Moderate, Benefits: Classmate Interaction."
Sabrina: just all my research, my secondary and primary, and I put that down in my evidence section of my paper. And then I took that stuff, and I separated it into an analyzing large and small class sizes, and how they help the individual students. And then from there, I took the information from the video that was about why small class sizes are better, and I kind of incorporated that along with my analyzing from the paper all into one concluding paragraph.Sabrina is shown again sitting at the table in the office, talking to Crystal who is off screen.
Crystal: Sabrina transferred a lot from the video to the paper. She used the video as a place to try out and to develop her ideas, she used a similar introduction in both places, and she thought strategically about her organization in the video, and then transferred that process over to the paper.A video clip similar to the one beginning the video shows Sabrina sitting at her desk in her classroom working on her assignments on her laptop among several other students.

One noteworthy aspect of Sabrina’s comments about her learning is that she said the video pushed her to think more about hooking an audience—making her topic and argument interesting to “somebody else,” a reader. As she developed meta-awareness of rhetoric, the idea of composing for an audience applied, or transferred, to her written-paper process, causing her to think about making the beginning of her paper engaging and interesting as well. She elaborated,

Before [this class], I guess my papers were analytical and very informative, straight to the point. I didn’t really care if my teacher was paying attention or not. I was just trying to get the rubric across. […] I never really figured that I would be writing for an audience.

The video assignment, however, along with Katie’s explanations that students could seek to publish their videos or written work if they wanted to, grounded Sabrina’s conceptions of audience as she began to envision a reader with a role beyond that of grader, someone whose attention could be hooked and who could get interested in the material presented. Thus within the class, Sabrina’s act of transfer with the introduction was one of application (using the same hook for both assignments), but the knowledge and meta-awareness of audiences built through this move indicates the potential for future transfer as reconstruction, taking the desire to grab and interest audiences into other composition sites. In a final interview, Sabrina reiterated how the video helped her prepare for the assignments to come: “The video is almost essential at this point after doing it. I thought it would be ridiculous and I scoffed […] but after doing it, it was awesome, totally beneficial to the paper process.” Sabrina characterizes the video as part of her “process” for the paper, one step among many that was then re-seen, reconsidered, and reconstructed through the composition of the essay.

Sabrina’s classmates Crystal and Madison also demonstrated some evidence of developing meta-awareness of process, and both talked about transfer as reconstruction between the video assignment and the written essay. Like Sabrina, Crystal saw connections between previous assignments and the final written essay. She described the assignment sequence in the course this way: “The final paper is the tie-all to everything. Each little assignment builds up to the final paper.” In particular, the video, for Crystal, served as “a trailer for the paper,” a place to forecast what was to come, develop ideas, and find and experiment with using sources. Madison talked about the video being a form of visual, nonlinear invention, much like proairetic processes described by Carter and Arroyo. She stated, “By doing this video, it’s going to help me perform my essay a lot better knowing I have some kind of visual I focus on.” She then talked about how making the video had been useful for her as a person who learned visually some of the time. Madison described the video as a space to move beyond using print alone to express ideas, what she called “just writing, writing, writing.” These comments from Crystal and Madison suggest that students were aware of acts of reconstructive transfer between assignments, in which they thought about and adapted the actions and knowledge used in an earlier assignment (the video) for use in a later assignment (the research essay). Moving from digital video to written essay facilitated reconstructive transfer, perhaps because the vehicle of delivery must be adapted when composing across media—ideas are not easily presented and expressed in identical ways in a video and in an essay. The differing medium required students to adapt and change the form of the ideas—from spoken voice-over to written sentence, from music to a paragraph of description, for example—and as students changed the form, they considered revising the content as well.

The transfer Katie’s students discussed during interviews with me is evident in their compositional products as well. In Sabrina’s video and paper, a similar but slightly shifted introductory strategy is noticeable, as she mentioned. In the video, the narrator opens by stating that high school graduates have to choose a university with small or large class sizes; in the paper, Sabrina uses her own experience of entering college and taking a class in a large lecture hall to make the same point. The “boxing match” organization Sabrina described to Katie is more evident in the video, which is sectioned into parts for large class sizes and small class sizes, with a “winner” declared at the end. The music Sabrina uses in her video also brings with it an ethos of sports and boxing, with a trumpet introduction commonly used in sports casting and a driving electronic beat throughout. In Sabrina’s essay, this organizational theme is downplayed, yet still present: she includes a section for large classes, a section for small classes, an analysis section, and a conclusion labeled “Small Collegiate Class Sizes Prevail.”

Crystal’s video mentions several points within the gun control debate (America’s need to defend itself from foreign threats, for example, and the utility of firearm education) that she reiterates in her paper. Her paper and her video share only one outside source, but both rely fairly heavily on personal ethos for persuasion. Madison’s video received a better grade than her essay: she received over 100% for her video, earning ten extra-credit points for recording and utilizing all her own footage and images, including lots of footage of cheerleaders and coaches practicing and performing as well as many college students stating their opinions on whether or not cheerleading qualified as a sport. In reviewing the essay, Katie noted that Madison had not addressed the opposing side of the argument, had used several overly lengthy quotes, and had had some formatting issues related to APA style. These problems were not evident in the video project; in fact, Madison included more aspects of the argument in the video, a strategy that she didn’t use in her paper. Madison’s idea that the video would help her “perform” the essay better is not specifically evidenced through her grades on the projects.

One of Katie's critiques of Madison’s essay was what Katie called “the problem of ‘monster quotes,’” or lengthy quotations used at the beginnings and ends of paragraphs with little to no analysis. Interestingly, Madison used a similar technique of presenting a quote with no analysis in her video. To close one section of the video, for example, Madison typed out a quote from a source about cheerleading’s connection to American emotional life. She cited the source of the quote but did not provide further commentary or analysis, and the effect is a glimpse into published scholarship amid much primary research. Katie did not comment on this approach in her feedback on the video, and use of research beyond citation was not included on the grading rubric. For the written essay, however, the rubric advised that “all sources [be] analyzed in context of the topic,” and thus when Madison allowed quotes to stand without analysis in her paper, Katie deducted points. Was this lack of analysis with quoted material an example of “negative transfer,” meaning Madison might have imported a successful strategy from one medium into another where doing so was inappropriate? Perhaps. It also might have been the case that Madison was still working toward an understanding of the importance of analysis linked to source material, evidenced both in the video and in the written essay, and she might have needed more instructional prompting to develop her knowledge and skills in this area.

Overall, testimonies from Katie’s students and evidence from their work itself reveal that the interconnected nature of Katie’s assignment sequence helped to foster articulated meta-awareness and some acts of transfer as application and as reconstruction. Composition across video and prose formats facilitated some of these acts of reconstructive transfer through forcing students like Sabrina to change the form and delivery of their ideas, leading to even deeper acts of reconstruction as students reconsidered and revised content. Students like Crystal and Madison were set up for acts of transfer and expected it to happen, but they might have transferred habits, process moves, or techniques (such as failing to include enough research or analysis along with quotations) that weren’t completely suitable for the assignment.