This post is written by members Joyce Kinkead and Jessie L. Moore.
We believe passionately in the transformative power of meaningful, authentic research for our students. Both of us are aware that students in English often don’t tend to think of themselves as researchers. Rather, they see themselves as rehashing others’ scholarly works. Part of the fault in their perception lies with us. We, as faculty members, may not have articulated to our students the methodology of inquiry in our fields. But we are working to change that. Joyce has written the first textbook for undergraduate students on how to undertake research in writing studies: Researching Writing: An Introduction to Research Methods. In collaboration with the CCCC Committee on Undergraduate Research, Jessie oversees the annual CCCC Undergraduate Researcher Poster Session, where students have the opportunity to participate in a national, professional conference. Students also can publish in the innovative Young Scholars in Writing, a journal that was created over ten years ago, among other places.
While opportunities for undergraduates to present and, to a lesser degree, publish their work exist, opportunities for undergraduates to gather and share research in process are rare. That’s where the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies, initiated at York College in Pennsylvania by Dominic DelliCarpini, comes in. The two of us have served as plenary speakers and mentors for the annual workshop. This weekend boot camp for students is exhilarating, energizing, and exhausting.
About 30 students are selected for the workshop from applications filed in the spring. Many of them are generously funded through the Naylor Endowment. The endowment also funds faculty mentors—like us. The weekend is organized so that participants arrive in time for an opening plenary on Friday evening that outlines the process: finding and narrowing a research question; reviewing the literature; determining appropriate methods and tools; drafting a plan and a timeline; and preparing for an initial report.
Prior to this date, mentors have been assigned a small group of student researchers and have communicated with them long distance about their projects. The intensive workshop experience continues on Saturday with small group sessions in which mentors listen to students’ individual research questions and begin providing feedback. Students write their research questions on whiteboards and revisit them consistently throughout the workshop, as the questions may change considerably as the students re-envision their projects. Yes, research is recursive—just like writing.
As faculty mentors, often collaborating with Naylor alumni, we lead a series of workshops that highlight tools and methods to conduct research and provide information about research processes, beginning with an overview of qualitative and quantitative methods and extending through resources for reviews of literature and advice on dissemination. Let’s face it: English majors can be frightened of numbers. Quantitative methods like coding can be daunting. The undergraduate researchers begin gathering tools needed to undertake research: participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and focus groups as ways to gather information. They learn about the difference between causal and correlational relationships and standard coding scales. By the end of the day, they have drafted a revised research plan.
Sunday morning is, well, exciting. Students present their work. Their posters are printed for a gallery walk, and they deliver elevator pitches about their projects. One student presented on his research on middle school writers, which was so advanced and professional that Joyce told him, frankly, that she could see him as a future president of NCTE. In fact, our crystal ball on these students’ futures is quite clear: they are engaged in meaningful questions about writing. These are our future literacy educators.
Why are we so keen on undergraduate research? It has been deemed one among a small set of “high impact educational practices.” According to George D. Kuh, “The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.” Another researcher, David Lopatto cited the many benefits of undergraduate research: “Research experiences enhance intellectual skills such as inquiry and analysis, reading and understanding primary literature, communication, and teamwork. . . . Undergraduate researchers learn tolerance for obstacles faced in the research process, how knowledge is constructed, independence, increased self-confidence, and a readiness for more demanding research. These benefits are an advantage in any career path.”
The students we worked with drew their own conclusions about how they grew professionally, suggesting that the Naylor Workshop helped them
- Learn inquiry strategies
- Grapple with interesting questions
- Develop professional relationships
- Construct knowledge
- Pursue disciplinary interests
- Gain self-knowledge
- Find new questions
- Challenge themselves
- Pursue their passions
- Build self-confidence
The Naylor Workshop provides its scholars with an opportunity to move from intuitive understandings of their work as writing fellows, tutors, and/or writing majors toward a deeper knowledge of the methodologies of our discipline. They are joining the conversation through a supportive and challenging learning environment. We are so pleased to be part of this transformative experience.
About the Authors:
Jessie L. Moore served as the inaugural plenary speaker for the Naylor Workshop in 2014. She is the director for the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University (@CEL_Elon) and Associate Professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric.
Joyce Kinkead, Professor of English, Utah State University, was invited in that role for the 2015 Naylor Workshop. In addition to the leadership of Dominic DelliCarpini, we also acknowledge collaborator Megan Schoettler, who has assisted with the Naylor Workshop, beginning as an undergraduate at York and continuing as a graduate student at Miami University.