Chapter 4: Pathways to Future Transfer

4.3 Meta-Awareness of Process

The kinds of awareness and knowledge students in the study anticipated might transfer out of the class were numerous and varied, as were the contexts within which students could envision their knowledge and skills becoming useful. For Tiara and Travon, articulating and putting into practice new knowledge about their composing processes was an important part of their learning, and one they could see as being useful beyond the video and the first-year course.

Learning to Be Uncomfortable: Spotlight on Tiara

Listen and look as Tiara describes what she might take from the video project and transfer to her studies in sociology and a career in the field.

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Tiara discusses the development of her meta-awareness of process as she composed her video.

Descriptive Transcript

[No audio]White text appears on a black screen, reading "Transfer to the Future: Spotlight of Tiara".
Tiara: Well, my name is Tiara Thomas, and I am a freshman. I plan on graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and becoming either a sociologist or a social worker.Tiara is shown in an empty classroom, sitting at a desk. She is talking to Crystal, who is off screen.
Crystal: So, tell me about the video, the Animoto and the Prezi that you're composing for this class now.
Tiara: Mine is about sociology,
The angle of the interview switches to show both Tiara, on the right, and Crystal, on the left. Crystal is sitting at a small desk with paper and a pen for notetaking.
Tiara: and how sociology pretty much helps people in, it makes a change in the world.The angle of the interview switches back to show only Tiara as she responds to Crystal, who is off screen.
[Music from Tiara's video plays with a lively beat.]A clip from Tiara's video is shown. In the top left corner, text appears reading "Tiara's video". The title screen of the video is shown, featuring a sign in a subway station that reads "Sociology By: Tiara Thomas". Next is an image of a sign on top of a taxi cab reading "Education Requirements: Obtain a B.A. in Sociology, engage in organization".
Tiara: Sociologists do a lot of things. They can work in politics, work for the government. They can become activists. They can work as school, or like, school or college professors almost.The clip from Tiara's video continues as a clip of Tiara's interview with Crystal is superimposed in the corner of the screen. In her video, an image of a group of people sitting at a round table and talking is shown. Then, a sign on top of a taxi cab is shown reading "Sociology: Sociology is a helping profession". Another sign on another taxi is shown, reading "Sociologist work fields: social service agencies, government, hospitals". Then an image of a sign in a subway station is shown, reading "What do they do? Study human's [sic] social lives and activities". Then an image of a student sitting at a desk and writing is shown.
[Upbeat background music continues.]The clip from Tiara's video continues as the image of her interview with Crystal disappears from the screen. An image of a sign on top of a taxi cab is shown, reading "How do they obtain information? Interviews, research, observational methods".
Tiara: You're learning about how other cultures, and you know, genders, and people, how they all act. How they behave.The clip from Tiara's video continues as the clip from her interview with Crystal returns to the bottom corner of the screen. An image of a sign on top of a taxi cab reads "Is there a good job outlook? There is no predicted growth for this profession." The next image shows a different sign on top of a taxi cab, reading "The purpose of this presentation is to explain how to become a Sociologist." At the end, the Animoto logo appears on a white screen.
Crystal: Do you think anything from the Animoto-Prezi project will be useful later on when you take other classes or even when you get into your job?
Tiara: I think that this Animoto-Prezi, it is, it can be beneficial because I think that in Sociology, we were going to be doing a lot of presentations and research work.
Crystal and Tiara are both shown again in the classroom, sitting across from each other as Crystal conducts the interview.
Tiara: And it's, you know, it's more creative and different, which some people like. You know, maybe the person like my boss or something, he might think that it's, you know, interesting enough,The angle of the interview changes to show only Tiara as she responds to Crystal's question.
Tiara: I might get a raise or a promotion,Tiara is shown in her computer lab style classroom working on a desktop computer. She is working on editing her video.
Tiara: or I might be able to do some type of project in another country because of that. And it's just certain things that you can do in order to,Tiara is again shown in the empty classroom, talking to Crystal who is off screen.
Tiara: you know, stand out in the world.Tiara is shown again in her classroom working on her computer as her instructor leans over her shoulder to help her with her project.
Tiara: I think that that's one of them. And like everybody else they wrote papers and stuff and I'll be having my little video [laughs].Tiara is again shown in the empty classroom, talking to Crystal who is off screen.
Crystal: So did making the video or making the Prezi, do you think that played into how you shaped your general approach to writing in the class?Tiara and Crystal are shown in an office sitting across from each other on the left and right of the screen, respectively. Crystal takes notes as she talks to Tiara.
Tiara: Pretty much, it shaped my understanding that I am very creative, and I am very visual, and I am very detailed when I'm writing.The angle of the interview switches to only show Tiara, as she talks to Crystal, who is off screen.
Tiara: So it gave me a chance to express that in an outlet. [Crystal: mm-hmm] Which is something newAn over-the-shoulder view is shown of Tiara in the classroom working on a computer as the instructor leans over Tiara's shoulder to help her.
Tiara: I never done before, so it was interesting.Tiara is in the office sitting at the table as she talks to Crystal, who is off screen.
Crystal: So now looking back at the 150 class, what, can you describe for me the purpose of the whole class is, do you think?Tiara and Crystal are again shown in an office sitting across from each other on the left and right of the screen, respectively. Crystal takes notes as she talks to Tiara.
Tiara: The purpose of the whole class was to teach everybody how to write effective college papers, to engage everyone into a new experience of writing other than what they're used to,The angle switches and Tiara is shown again in the office sitting at the table as she talks to Crystal, who is off screen.
Tiara: and to give everyone helpful information that will carry on through their writing careers.
Crystal: So do you think that's a key part of a class like that, is not just doing what you've always done,
An over-the-shoulder view is shown of Tiara in the classroom working on a computer to complete her project.
Crystal: but doing new, different things?
Tiara: Yes. Very much. Because it takes people out of their comfort zone.
Tiara and Crystal are again shown in an office sitting across from each other on the left and right of the screen, respectively. Crystal takes notes as she talks to Tiara.
Tiara: It helps to introduce them to new things. At that point, at that moment, it was uncomfortable. But at the end, you take something from it. But when you're in the moment, you don't understand what you're taking from it until the end. That's the thing about writing, Tiara is shown presenting her project to her class. She stands at the front of the room beside a screen showing her Prezi as classmates listen.
Tiara: is that, at the end, when you reflect on everything, you understand, what you wrote about, what you've done, and what you took from everything.Tiara is shown again in the office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.

Tiara indicates that her newly developed video editing skills will be useful in her sociology major as she works on presentations and other research projects, and she thinks ahead to her career as well, envisioning video editing as a creative, interesting communicative skill that would make her stand out amidst other employees. Perhaps most notable, though, is Tiara's growing awareness of her own compositional process. She discusses how composing with video helped her to come to a more complete understanding of herself as a creative, detailed, and visual thinker, an understanding she anticipates using as she faces and evaluates new writing and composing tasks. Tiara also demonstrates that she has become a reflective composer through the video project, pointing out that new, uncomfortable composing experiences are necessary and valuable because of what a writer takes from them afterward through reflection.

All these statements demonstrate that Tiara is developing meta-awareness about composition in several areas, including a meta-awareness of process through which she is coming to better understand how she works as an author and what tools and scaffolds, such as reflection or new, uncomfortable composing experiences, might help her to continue improving. Such articulated meta-awareness is part of transfer across media as I define it through this project, as this meta-awareness is one way to consider compositional knowledge before applying or adapting it.

It’s interesting to note that while Tiara’s articulated meta-awareness is clearly growing and she has begun a process of transfer across media to future contexts, her video product itself is what some might not consider “high quality.” The written words in Tiara’s video are hard to read, the organization of ideas is a bit awkward, and the chosen transportation theme (from Animoto, with subways, cabs, and road signs) seems to have little to do with her subject. Again, Halbritter reminds me of the importance of assessing not only a student's product, but also the learning goal. Tiara learned much through the composition and presentation of what might be considered an underwhelming or even error-filled product, and her interview data indicates that she has already taken a key step in transfer across media as she considers what she knows. Developing an ability to compose digital products of higher quality along with continuing to develop meta-awareness about composition is perhaps another step in her learning.

Valuing Revision: Spotlight on Travon

Through the video project and by the end of first-year writing, Travon, like Tiara, developed an observable meta-awareness about process, in particular regarding the function and utility of revising his work. In the following video, we can observe Travon’s articulations about himself as a writer and his compositional process near the beginning of his first-year course, while he was working on his video composition during the course, and then after the course was completed.

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Travon discusses the development of his meta-awareness of process as he composed his video.

Descriptive Transcript

[No audio]White text appears on a black screen, reading "Travon".
Travon: My name is Travon Jefferson. I'm a freshman at the University of Michigan. I graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit. I'm 18. Because usually when I write, I just write. I really don't, I really don't revise or nothing. I just write. I wrote it, it was due Sunday. But I wrote it that Friday. Was like, I just sat there at the, on my laptop, and I just typed. Just typed. I didn't think about nothing. I put a feel of what I wanted to, 'cause I didn't want to just make the paper based on just what she wanted. I wanted, like all right, I'm about to lose my voice. And that's what I like to do with my writings too, I like to make it sound academic, but at the same time you can still hear me in the paper. I like to always say I'm one of those people that delude myself and say that I'm in the perfect relationship with my paper. Like it's perfect the way it is. It don't need to be revised. So it was just painful to just sit there, and just like, ok, ok. I can do it. Yeah, I'll revise it. I'll do more examples here, so.Travon is shown sitting in front of a desktop computer in a swivel chair, which he turns in. On the bottom of the screen reads "October 9, 2012 / One month into First-Year Writing". He is talking to Crystal, who is off screen. Later, the text is replaced by "On writing his first paper in First-Year Writing..." which is later replaced by "On having to revise his first paper...".
Travon: My video is about, well it was supposed to be about summer bridge and what Michigan wouldn't tell you about summer bridge. A clip of Travon later on in his First-Year writing class is shown. He is sitting at a table in front of a blue wall, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. On the bottom of the screen, text reads "On composing his video...".
Travon: And the summer bridge program is something, just a program where prospective students, freshmen, instead of coming in the fall, you come in the summer. It didn't turn out how I wanted it to turn out. I had to cut a lot of the things out that made the video more creative, how I wanted it. So I'm not, because my original video had myself in it, and I was kind of like the narrator and helping the audience see where the video was going. But I had to cut myself out completely. So, it was like, it was just up to the audience to figure out what the whole video was about instead of me actually being there to help narrate it. So that was one creative technique that I liked in the video, and I didn't want to cut out.A clip from Travon's video is shown. First is the title screen, which is a black screen with a blue banner running across the center, reading "What are something U-M have not told you?" The words "From 'A University of Michigan Video' by Travon Jefferson" appear on the top and remain throughout his video. The next clip is of a traditional building on UM's campus, with a banner across the bottom, reading "Summer...". Next is a montage of students speaking to the camera in different outdoor locations on campus. Next is a POV shot of someone walking across the Michigan Diag, a central meeting place on campus with a blue banner running across the bottom of the screen, reading "Fall".
Travon: Basically, my peer editing workshops, they were leaning towards, "well, maybe if you cut yourself out, and keep the interviews...", and I was like, well, fine. I swear I hate that. I do not like chopping up my paper. And, just that whole, that type of revision process, I don't like it. And I said it before, started in the summer, and then it happened here with my papers in English class and then it turned around and happened with my video.Travon is shown again sitting at the table in front of the blue wall, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. On the bottom left corner, text reads "On having to revise his video...".
Travon: That's one of my rhetorical literacies. I don't even know. The music will go, during the cut scenes, during the walking, and all that stuff. I don't know how to do that just yet. Yeah, so, that's one thing that, one of my goals for functional literacies, to learn how to actually put music in there.
Classmate: You don't want to just try to have the music playing the whole time but just make it quieter?
Travon is shown in class sitting with a couple classmates, looking at a computer screen. They are talking about his video project. On the bottom left corner, text reads "Travon's Video Peer Editing Workshop November 29, 2012".
Travon: When writing a paper, it's, you're just writing a paper. But when you're recording a video, you see the video coming to life. And adding the different transitions, and the music, Travon is shown again sitting at the table in front of the blue wall, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. On the bottom left corner, text reads "On video composition...".
Travon: and the effects, all of that, it's like, it's, you get to see it coming alive instead of rather than a paper, where you have to keep re-reading it and visualize it in your head. The video is there. It's like, look at it. Look what I done. It's something that I enjoy using. 'Cause it's like making, again, it's like watching something grow in front of your eyes. Literally, physically, just grow. So it's hands-on. Instead of me sitting here in a library or at home like, "ah, I gotta write this ten page paper," it's a lot less stressful. It's more interactive, and way more interesting and fun to create this video and hear the music, and the sounds, and the colors, and all of that, that's a lot more fun than actually writing the paper. And you can still take the same techniques as writing a paper and incorporate them into making this video.An over-the-shoulder view of Travon in his classroom is shown. He and a small group of peers are sitting at a desk looking at a laptop as they work on and discuss the video project.
Travon: It's like, I have the ability to actually see where I messed up now. I'm not a deluded person that's like, "I can write a paper and be like, ope, it's good." No, I can actually write the paper, and re-read, and be like, "hhmmm, I don't really like the way that sounds. I'll change it." Peer revisions, with Ms. Allen, she helped a lot. Her asking questions and her giving examples. Like she challenged me to actually think beyond what I normally would think. To re-read my papers really. That's the best part that I like with revision, is just really re-reading my papers. And read the paper like it's not my paper. I've definitely grown as a writer because before I got in here, I knew, I was like, I don't, nope, I don't, not about to re-read this paper. I wrote it. It's perfect. I may re-read it once, but really nothing's going to change, 'cause I used to read the paper like, "This is my paper. I know what I wrote. It's good." But now that I read it like it's not mine, I can, I'm more aware of the errors and things that I made.Travon is shown in a new office setting in different clothes. He is being interviewed at another stage in his First-Year Writing class. He sits at a table and talks to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "On what he learned in First-Year Writing December 13, 2012".
[Soft instrumental background music plays.]White text appears on a black screen, reading "Video by Crystal VanKooten with thanks to Travon Jefferson".

Travon initially mentions his dislike of revision, both of papers and of his video. This dislike is linked to the value he places on his own voice in his work. Revision in response to a teacher’s or a peer’s comments caused him to feel as if he might lose his voice. This feeling was strong with his video project, as his first draft was much too long for the assignment requirements, and he was advised by his professor and his editing group peers to cut out footage in which he appeared as narrator. Even so, Travon describes the enjoyment he experienced through video editing, where the composition was “coming to life” through combinations of transitions, music, and visuals, and he as an author was able to watch the composition grow.

By the end of the writing course, Travon displays an articulated meta-awareness of a new compositional process that includes rereading his work, finding errors and places to revise, and making revisions. Gone is the language of hatred and pain associated with revision; instead, Travon states that rereading his work is “the best part that I like, with revision.” Along with teacher support and other assignments, video—and extensive, difficult revision of video—was part of Travon’s overall learning process and his development of meta-awareness of how revision might be one not-so-terrible tool he could use as a writer.

Like Tiara's product, Travon's video is not overly impressive in and of itself. As you see in the short excerpts above, his video contains a grammatical error in a written title, transitions that perhaps unnecessarily call attention to themselves, and shaky camera work. But important aspects of Travon's learning are not apparent in these elements or truly through his video product at all, as we realize when we see excerpts of Travon's final interview in which his articulated meta-awareness about composition is on display and continuing to grow. This has important implications for instruction in digital media within a course like first-year writing, and especially for approaches to assessment, as Halbritter has also pointed out. Assessing product only or prioritizing the production of a professional-grade or error-free product puts emphasis in the wrong place, especially if learning goals center on the development of meta-awareness and transfer. I further explore possibilities for the assessment of digital media composition in Chapter 5.