0.1 Overview

If you teach college writing today, you already know that transfer—the act of connecting learning from site to site—is a big deal. At the 2017 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), for example, at least 47 sessions advertised a focus on transfer, and there was also a transfer Special Interest Group and a Saturday workshop on the topic. These conversations around transfer are important, even high-stakes: the idea that certain writing skills can be portable is one reason we continue advocating for and developing first-year and advanced writing programs on our campuses. Indeed, transfer is often at the core of what we do as rhetoric and composition instructors and researchers, and being able to articulate how transfer works to students, colleagues, administrators, and other stakeholders is necessary and vital.

The transfer of writing knowledge, however, is complex. New and experienced teacher-researchers are still learning what influences and motivates transfer, how to observe and assess transfer in our classrooms and research sites, and how to best teach for transfer. In this eBook, I use digital composition as one pathway toward a better understanding of the transfer of writing knowledge. Through an in-depth study of the digital video composing experiences of eighteen students, I suggest that video provides useful opportunities for transfer across media through multimodal production.

This argument, that we can better understand the complexities of transfer through the video composition experiences of student writers, is one I build not only through prose, but also multimodally. Thus in the chapters to come, I use video in combination with written paragraphs to present, analyze, and interpret data and findings, and I ask readers to alternate between prose and video content. The following video is the first of many woven into the fabric of this text. As you move through the eBook, you will see and hear that I use different kinds of videos, at times providing voice-over narration, at times featuring interviews with students, and at times composing multimodal narratives of student experiences using various data sources. This variety provides access to different kinds of data, analysis, and interpretation, and highlights the roles of students and my own role as researcher in this study.

Please watch and listen now as I provide an introduction to myself as a researcher and the first-year writing study. For this and all videos in the chapters to come, you can turn subtitles on or off by playing the video and then clicking the “CC” button at the bottom of the player. You can also use the link below each video player to access descriptive transcripts that include text-based descriptions of all audio and visual content within the videos. The descriptive transcripts were composed by Lauren Karmo, my research assistant and an undergraduate major in Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University. Lauren's transcript work was funded by a 2016-17 CCCC Emergent Research/er Award.

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This video provides an introduction to Transfer across Media, the researcher Crystal VanKooten, and the first-year writing study.

The song used in this video is by texasradiofish, Creative Commons license BY NC.

Descriptive Transcript

Crystal: Welcome to Transfer across Media, an eBook that investigates transfer and the teaching of writing through digital video. White text appears on a black screen, reading "Transfer across Media: Using Digital Video in the Teaching of Writing".
Crystal: I'm Crystal VanKooten, author and researcher, Crystal is shown in an office with a table in the back corner, looking at the camera and waving hello.
Crystal: and in this book I look for observable evidence of transfer across media in student composing experiences using data from what I call the first-year writing study. This study, as you will see and hear as you move through the e-book, is a qualitative research project where I observed, interviewed, and collected materials from 18 students. These students all took first-year writing in 2012 or in 2016 at two different public universities in the midwest, and their first-year writing courses were taught by one of five different instructors.Different images of student participants in a variety of classroom settings are shown. Participants are working on computers, participating in class, asking professors questions, and working with peers. Images of Crystal collecting data and filming videos are also shown. She is in classrooms with participants and in an interview setting.
Crystal: Marlee, Shannon, and Vivian were students in Angie's college writing course in 2012, Two clips of students talking in an interview setting are shown side-by-side. On the left is a girl with glasses, Vivian, and her name appears in black text in the top left corner of the clip. On the right is another girl, Marlee, whose name appears in white in the top left corner of the clip.
Crystal: and Lauren, Logan, and Travon were students in Kelly's college writing course in the same year at the same school.Two clips of students sitting at tables are shown side-by-side. The clip on the left is of Travon, whose name appears in the top left corner in black, and he is working on a laptop. The clip on the right is of Lauren, whose name appears in the top left corner in black, and she is talking in an interview setting.
Crystal: Four years later in 2016, at the second school, Gerry and Alan took basic writing with Julie;Two clips are shown side-by-side of students working in a classroom setting. The classroom has desktop computers at every desk. Gerry is shown on the left, and his name appears in the top left corner in white. Alan is shown on the right, and his name appears in white in the top right corner.
Crystal: Daijah, Fawaz, John, Mikayla, Samuel, and Tiara took Composition I with Lauren;Six clips of students speaking in an interview setting appear in the order that they are listed in the audio. The clips appear in a 2x3 grid, starting in the top left corner with Daijah, Fawaz top center, John top right, Mikayla bottom right, Samuel bottom center, and ending in the bottom left corner with Tiara.
Crystal: and Crystal, Madison, and Sabrina took Composition II with Katie.Three clips of students talking in interview settings appear on the screen from left to right, starting with Crystal and ending with Sabrina.
Crystal: You can meet and get to know all of these students in more detail by watching and listening to the short videos located later in the introduction. A screenshot of the introduction and "Meet the Participates" page of the eBook is shown.
Crystal: You can also, if you want, dive right into the e-book and see and hear about these students' exciting video work.A screenshot of the "Chapter 1: Transfer Across Media" page of the eBook is shown.
Crystal: Overall for the first-year writing study, I conducted 24 classroom observations within these five different classrooms. When possible, I recorded class sessions using three video cameras, and I gathered over 90 hours of recorded classroom footage.Crystal is shown taking video footage, first of three students in a classroom discussing their video projects with each other; second, of students listening to their instructor as she walks around and explains coursework to them; and finally, of an instructor presenting information in front of a classroom.
Crystal: I also conducted 58 one-on-one interviews with the participating students and instructors, and these were recorded with one or two video cameras.Crystal is shown conducting interviews with students in classroom and office settings.
Crystal: Finally, I collected course documents from the classes: assignment sheets and syllabi, drafts and final drafts of all assignments, and when possible reflective materials such as goal statements, final portfolios, reflective essays and writings, and instructor feedback. Sceenshots of the materials described in the audio appear across the screen. First is of a course schedule that a student would recieve. Next is a clip of a participant's video, showing a subway stop that reads "Sociology By: Tiara Thomas.", as well as a city taxi with an overhead sign reading "Education Requirements: Obtain a B.A. in Sociology, Engage in organization." Finally, a screenshot of instructions for a reflective essay is shown.
Crystal: I invite you now into the composition experiences of these students and these instructors, presented here through my own voice as a qualitative digital researcher, a voice that uses both video and prose to make my arguments.Crystal is shown again in her office, talking directly to the camera.

Seeking to better understand transfer through a deep look at student video production experiences becomes even more necessary when we consider current literature on digital media and transfer in rhetoric and writing studies. Of course, composing with new and evolving digital technologies like video has been an area of study in the field for several decades. As Kathleen Blake Yancey stated at the 2004 CCCC, “literacy today is in the midst of a tectonic change” (298). This change involves not only the reading and writing tools we use—the technologies—but also what media theorist Lisa Gitelman has labeled the “associated protocols” related to technologies—the socially embedded actions of producers and consumers (7). Writers in digital spaces are now producing content using multiple modes of expression such as visuals, sounds, and words, and readers are active participants in meaning-making as they watch, listen to, comment on, and redistribute digital content. These shifts in technologies and actions have influenced the teaching of writing and digital rhetoric in college classrooms, and it is now fairly common for writing instructors to include both written essays and digital media assignments in their curricula.

The field, though, has at times encouraged and praised digital media composition pedagogy without providing systematic critique or specific evidence of what students learn through digital media assignments like podcasts, websites, and videos. Indeed, how teachers might best support student learning through digital media composition is only beginning to be explored through empirical research. As I discuss in more detail in Chapter 1, computers and writing scholars Jody Shipka, Bump Halbritter, Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, and Michael-John DePalma have begun to investigate how digital spaces such as video are particularly useful for student learning. Shipka, Halbritter, and Alexander and Rhodes make arguments based in analysis of theoretical texts and their own teaching experiences; DePalma presents an empirical study focusing on two students as they remediate a written essay into a digital story in a writing class. These scholars provide theories that form the basis of teaching practices and evidence from their own (and others’) classrooms that students benefit from carefully designed digital instruction, and that knowledge from digital composition can and should transfer to other contexts.

This work represents an important start, but it also demonstrates the current need for qualitative analysis of various student experiences with digital media and transfer. Through the research design and delivery of Transfer across Media, I present and analyze empirical data that highlights the voices, bodies, and experiences of eighteen students from six separate courses who were all working through different video assignments, as well as the experiences of their teachers and my own as a researcher. I enact and model a reciprocal, participatory, and interdependent digital research methodology (Almjeld and Blair; Selfe and Hawisher), in which building and sharing knowledge in multiple modes and forms is one goal. I seek to present a rich representation of many students’ video production experiences that includes student and teacher voices and reflections, students’ digital compositions, and analysis of interactions that occurred both in the classroom and in the interview room.

I use Rebecca Nowacek’s work to explore and complicate the intersection between digital media composition and transfer. Pointing out “multiple avenues of connection among contexts” (20), Nowacek conceptualizes transfer as recontextualization, in which both the material learned and the new compositional context are understood differently as a result of an act of transfer. Whereas other scholarship has characterized multimodal transfer as linear or one-way (for example, from print to digital), Nowacek’s theory helps me understand transfer across media as a more complex process that involves a circular, recursive shifting of knowledge in many areas. I also draw on Stuart Selber’s framework for multiliteracies to examine several other pathways toward transfer via digital media composition. These pathways include and push beyond knowledge of Selber’s functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies.

In the chapters that follow, I address these research questions: What is transfer across media, and how can it be observed? What opportunities for transfer are presented through video composition in writing courses? How do students take up these opportunities (or not), particularly within a writing course? What is the role of teaching practices in transfer across media? Building on conversations on meta-awareness and transfer within the field of Rhetoric and Composition, I lay out a theory of transfer across media for scholars and instructors, trace this theory across the digital video composition and essay-writing experiences of students, and present five research-based best practices for instructors who want to better teach for transfer across media through digital and multimodal assignments.

Overview of Chapters

The remaining sections of this introductory chapter will introduce you to the first-year writing study in more detail, including a description of methodology and methods (0.2), a video introduction to the student participants (0.3), and a note about copyright and fair use of the material in this eBook (0.4).

“Chapter One: Transfer across Media” develops a definition of transfer across media used as a framing theory throughout the eBook and provides an overview of literature in the field of Rhetoric and Composition relating to the concept. Working toward answers to the first set of research questions—what is transfer across media, and how might it be observed?—I draw from the work of educational theorists and writing researchers, and I trace the concept of transfer through its use in the field, ultimately taking up and building on Rebecca Nowacek’s conceptualization of transfer as recontextualization. I discuss transfer in general (1.1), transfer across media in particular (1.2), and digital video as a site for transfer across media in rhetoric and writing studies (1.3).

“Chapter Two: Looking for Transfer across Assignments” uses the theory of transfer across media to seek answers to research questions about opportunities for learning through video and how students transfer knowledge across media within a course. I discuss the composition experiences of students in three first-year courses at one large public university. This chapter focuses on looking for observable evidence of transfer as students move through course curricula, and it traces several types of transfer—as application and as reconstruction—that became observable as students composed written essays and videos. I focus on Lauren’s Composition I course (2.1), Katie’s Composition II course (2.2), and Julie’s Basic Writing course (2.3).

“Chapter Three: Looking for Transfer through Multiliteracies” examines other pathways toward transfer across media within students’ writing classroom experiences using Stuart Selber’s multiliteracies. In particular, I zoom in on moments when students demonstrated functional, critical, or rhetorical knowledge, and this knowledge then became useful and portable to other work in the course. I examine the acquisition and transfer of functional literacies (3.1), critical literacies (3.2), and rhetorical literacies (3.3).

“Chapter Four: Pathways to Future Transfer” looks and listens to student accounts of what they suppose and hope will be useful after their experience in first-year writing or college as a whole is over. In particular, I look for pathways to future transfer from course to course as students discuss moving into the disciplines beyond first-year writing, as well as to future writing and work contexts outside of the university. The data in this chapter demonstrates how students learned to consider their compositional knowledge (4.1), develop meta-awareness of the writerly self (4.2), develop meta-awareness of process (4.3), and develop meta-awareness of techniques and intercomparativity (4.4).

“Chapter Five: A Pedagogy of Teaching for Transfer across Media” addresses the final research question regarding the role of teaching practices in transfer across media through offering implications for teachers, administrators, and researchers. The chapter begins with a look at student participant Evan’s experiences with video composition and transfer in an advanced composition course (5.1), centers around five best practices for teaching for transfer across media in any writing course (5.2), includes advice from the instructors in the study for teaching video composition (5.3), and concludes with final thoughts about the intersection of transfer across media and digital video composition (5.4).