One of my first experiences in academic writing happened during the first week of my freshmen English 102 course. My professor, a slight woman wearing a cardigan with an affinity for English literature, stood at the front of the classroom and spoke to us about a short writing assignment due by the next class. At the time, I was 20 years old, and scared. I was paying for college myself, had signed up for classes on my own, and felt truly alone in my goal to earn an Associate’s degree since that goal was not supported by my parents or siblings who hinted routinely that they thought my place was on the family dairy farm, building my parent’s business. Compounding that fear, it had been over two years since high school, and I was worried I would not remember how to write for a school assignment, or worse, that I had never really learned to begin with. Would I embarrass myself? What was my writing supposed to look and sound like?
It’s an amusing story to look back on now, because that writing class ended up being one of the most challenging and reassuring classes for me as I learned how to write academic papers. I have not thought about that moment of slight panic and being alone for years, but the memory came back to me during our first face-to-face class this semester when we talked about linguistic diversity, and how presumed mistakes in student writing are traditionally seen as errors, when in fact, they can reveal strengths in student communication, strengths that can be called out, and celebrated. Not every student in that first class finished English 102 with me. I wonder if their experience would have been different had our professor been more aware of the language diversity in her students, and called out our strengths in communication, instead of our deficits.
For our team of researchers in English 713, that is the goal of our qualitative research project: to gain a sense of the linguistic diversity of UW-Milwaukee students and how that diversity can be viewed as not something to change to write well, but something that can be valued outside of academics. Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Strommel write in their article, Teaching the Students We have, Not the Students We Wish We Had, “the work of higher education — as with all of education — has to begin with a deep respect for students. They are not mere data points, not just rows in an online grade book. Students are human first.” Appreciating where students are linguistically is one step in the direction of deep respect for where students are, not for where we wish they were in their writing journey.
The first step of beginning our research project was completed on Monday night, February 11th to answer the question of how we would hold each other and ourselves accountable for learning and growth. Over the past week we added information to a “Collaboration Contract” document to share what our personal and professional needs were. In class, we coded the data from patterns we found across our responses, and working in small groups, synthesized the feedback into four categories of expectations: Communication, Workload, Accountability, and Respect. To complete the process, we each signed the contract and then turned our attention towards writing a research question. Multiple ideas for a potential research question were shared, with no clear plan reached before the end of class.
But that is okay. Although an often-quoted self-help book encourages aspiring successful people to “begin with the end in mind,” our work on the collaboration contract helped provide a set of expectations for moving forward. We know how we will arrive at the end, even if we do not know yet what the end result of our research will be. While I felt alone during my first weeks of class in English 102, I did not have that feeling in English 713. Here, I am surrounded by a group committed to shared expectations and professional goals. We have a purpose to gather data to support a conclusion about the diverse languages, dialects, composition practices, and resources that UW-Milwaukee students use in their daily lives as they move across campus spaces. And, the results of our research has the potential to shape our own, and our campus’ view of student language and writing, from a deficit, to an understanding of linguistic diversity and complex communication navigation skills.
By Madison Williams
Despite Mother Nature's best efforts in keeping us apart, we finally kicked off the Spring 2019 semester in English 713 on Monday, February 4th with our first face-to-face meeting. Adjusting to life after the polar vortex was difficult; we were faced with untangling the confusing mess our weekly schedule had become and catching up to where we hoped to be at this point in the course. Although we had all communicated in the preceding weeks, this would be the true inaugural class, thus, it began with an abridged introduction to the course.
This seminar, a.k.a. English 713: Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement, will be centered on the practice of methodological approaches to qualitative research, specifically in relation to the field of rhetoric, writing, and literacy studies. In order to achieve a practice-driven approach to studying research, we have the opportunity to collaboratively design, implement, and conduct a preliminary analysis of our own qualitative research project. The overarching goal of our research project will (hopefully) be to get a sense of the diverse languages, dialects, composing practices, and resources UWM students use in their daily lives and as they move across different academic and/or non-academic spaces.
Our objective for this class period was to discuss the readings we had completed over the past week and, more importantly, embark on the first steps of designing our Linguistic Landscape Project. We began by diving headfirst into a brainstorming session in an effort to come up with potential research questions we can spend this semester studying. Not only were we tasked with deciding on a research question, we also had to consider how we would conduct our study, what methods we would use, what population we would focus on as participants, and a number of other potential variables. Most importantly, we had to keep in mind, what would be realistic to complete within our class constraints?
This initial brainstorming session was supplemented by the week's readings in Qualitative Communication Research Methods (Lindolf and Taylor), which included Chapters 4-6 and focused on implementing research projects, studying social action, and qualitative interviewing. We considered how we would incorporate purposeful sampling, balancing research demands, and preparing for different variables or unknowns. Our discussion revolved around how to approach the basic questions that would serve as the foundation for our research project, such as what methods from our readings appeared the most useful and realistic for our data collection. The result of our time spent generating ideas and conceptualizing potential research questions was a labyrinth of interconnected and conflicting thoughts (pictured below). Although there was no clear focus in sight, we had an abundance of promising and creative material to work with as we forge ahead.
We also spent time exploring Kim Tallbear's article "Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry", which introduced us to a new framework for thinking about Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) that advocated for "standing with" and opposed to "giving back". Tallbear proposed researchers think of the community they engage with as "colleagues" and not "subjects", focus on creating reciprocal relationships, study "the colonizers rather than the colonized", and demonstrate "objectivity in action" (Tallbear).
This article produced a lively discussion, but our class was left wondering about certain aspects of the "standing with" concept: who exactly was the author's intended audience? Is it possible for communities to really benefit from studies as much as researchers? How can we keep this critical lens in mind when conducting our own research? Ultimately, Tallbear offered a number of considerations our class found useful as we move forward, such as democratic knowledge production, negotiating risks and benefits, and opening own minds to working in non-standard ways.
In the end, after discussing all of the factors we must take into consideration, potential research questions, and our personal research interests, the class concluded without any clear answers. The monumental undertaking of creating an agreement on a singular research question between 11 headstrong graduate students proved to be too much for one day's work. Undeterred, we decided to spend the next week narrowing in on potential research questions and working on our class Collaboration Contract to come back together to negotiate a consensus during the following class period.
Join us this semester as we ride the roller coaster of conducting qualitative research on our fellow UWM students. What will our research project be? Will we ever agree on a research question? Will the stress of this massive endeavor tear us apart? Stay tuned to find out the answer to this sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, or at the very least, what our class comes up with next week - same place, same time.
The spring semester is underway at UW-Milwaukee, despite the multiple blizzards we've had here in Wisconsin. This semester, eleven graduate students are taking my course on Qualitative Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement. In this post, I'll share a bit about the course to set the scene for my students' posts this semester. Here's an excerpt from the syllabus: "To achieve the learning objectives for this course, everyone will work together to design, implement, and conduct a preliminary analysis of a qualitative research project on the linguistic resources of UWM students. We will take an asset-approach to exploring what innovative ways UWM students write and speak in their daily lives.
...What this project will look like depends a lot on how engaged everyone will be in the process and what we all decide we want to do with it. I hope you’ll reach the end of the semester with a good sense of who you are as a researcher, what informs the ways you research, and what you might take from this class into future studies or work. I also hope everyone finishes the semester with two things: pride in the work that they’ve done (individually and collaboratively) and confidence that they’ve learned something and developed as a researcher along the way. With these goals in mind, the 'end product' of this process becomes less of a focus, since wherever we end up in May is exactly where we should be at that point. Hopefully, if we do not meet the goals we set up at the start of the semester, we still have learned a few things throughout the process that would positively inform our approaches to research and collaborative work in the future. After the semester is over, some of you may decide to stay on as part of the research team with this study and we can pursue grants and future steps together."
My idea behind this design was to give students the space and time to experience the complexities of qualitative research, while also getting hands-on experience with designing a qualitative study, "collecting" data, and doing a preliminary analysis. These courses are often taught in a way that sets students up to do some portion of their own research projects, but for a variety of reasons, I thought that the experience of collaborating as a class on a single project that could be developed beyond the semester might be a better approach. Students will also write at least one entry per week in a "field note" journal and I want that to be a space for whatever is most useful for them--reflecting on the process, noting something they observed in their daily lives, or working through ideas for the project.
The blog posts that you'll see this semester are an extension of those field notes. I've asked them to write "From the Field" posts (and I'm defining "field" very broadly) about their experiences and highlights from class, readings, and research activities. You'll soon see what the students are thinking about the process so far, but my take is that we're off to a challenging (yet productive) start in taking on the ambiguity of a new project, the ways small details make a big difference, and how we have to constantly return to our proposed schedule to adjust and revise based on the groups' needs. It's unlike any class I've ever taught, and I imagine it's unlike any class most (if not all) of them have ever taken. It's risky and we're going to make mistakes along the way, but if I've learned anything from my seven years doing qualitative research, it's that this type of work--working with people, communities, and other researchers--requires an ability to adapt and a set of skills that are difficult to teach by just giving a lecture or assigning readings. So, I'm trying something different with the way I've set this up, and we'll see how it goes. I hope you'll join us each week and see what kinds of conclusions, reflections, and research findings we come up with together.