At the unit's end, students produced solid analytic essays. More important to me, though, was what they learned about research. Alessia realized that
it is important to write down every single piece of [data] you come across because you don't want to forget something you may have found at the beginning of your analysis. This understanding is essential for conducting primary research; unlike secondary research, once an event occurs, it cannot be recreated exactly and risks being lost as a data source. Jenna
learned that analysis takes trial and error, not just finding a correct answer as quickly as possible. Robert learned about the importance of allowing time for research:
when you have a ton of data to work with, it's imperative that you start early. Liz learned about the complexity of research:
Everyone has a different perspective on what something is and how to analyze something. This assignment has shown me that two people can analyze the same thing, come up with two completely different analyses, and still both be correct as long as they can back up their claims with evidence. Liz's comment shows the understanding of research as conclusion-drawing and interpretative activity that I wanted students to learn.
In addition, students reported an increased understanding of the complexity of writing as a process. Ashely realized
there is a lot of detail and thought that goes into the writing process, much more than I thought. Alessia's response mirrored standard thinking in Writing Studies about process:
I learned that although all writers usually go about the same ‘guidelines’ to complete their work, they all come about them in different ways that make them comfortable with their work and their process. Jenna's insights were more focused, but just as valuable; she learned
that writing entails minor and major revisions and that the minor revisions will always aid the major revisions. These types of insights are essential for the future teachers who made up the majority of the class. They hopefully will not force their future students into one version of writing process; instead, they will respond to what their students already do and work within that basic structure.
This sequence of activities seemed to prepare students for the third project: an ethnographic description of a discourse community. Students gathered data via textual analysis, along with either observations or interviews. While everyone had their own data, all used John Swales' (1990) definition of a discourse community as an interpretative lens. Because students already practiced analyzing data, we could spend class time talking about and designing the instruments needed to gather it. We also discussed issues related to working with human subjects. By the end of the ethnography project, almost all students showed they understood the basics of conducting primary research.
As useful as these materials were for meeting my goals, creating them took a lot of time. The more they are used, the greater the possibility students will recycle ideas. I would also need to do more to make the audio and video data assessable. Neither has been fully transcribed, mostly because of my own limited tech skills. However, I am not the only scholar I know. Some of my colleagues may also be willing to contribute drafts. Other data sources, such as the rhetoric.io site previewed at Computers and Writing 2014, may be lurking online in spaces I have yet to discover. Regardless of where the data comes from, I plan to keep using this activity for my Writing about Writing course. It does not make primary research much easier for students, but it does help make them slightly more comfortable doing it.