Writing Beyond the University in Self-Sponsored Writing Contexts
by Paula Rosinski
My first blog post examined broadly the role rhetorical considerations—like audience, writer, genre/text, and context—might play in writing beyond the university research. In this second blog post, I focus on the kinds of writing that happen in the more narrowly defined spaces of self-sponsored writing contexts, what some of the research so far has to say about the relationship between this kind of writing and academic writing, and the implications for writing instruction and ongoing learning, with the intention of establishing writing in self-sponsored contexts as valuable and worthy of study.
Here I define self-sponsored writing contexts as any space in which students are self-motivated to write that is beyond the university or classroom setting, which produces any kind of non-academic text (such as personal journal entries, social media posts or blogs, videos or memes, fiction, letters to family and friends, or opinion pieces). With the proliferation of online writing communities and spaces, social media platforms, and free and open-source software for producing and sharing texts seems to have come a renewed interest in learning about the kinds of online or digital writing students do in self-sponsored writing contexts. It is important to note, however, that self-sponsored writing may be, but doesn’t have to be, digital or delivered online. I also don’t consider here the research on co-ops or internships, as writing produced in these contexts seems neither solely self-sponsored nor solely academic, falling instead in the in-between space of extra-curricular writing.
A few studies over the past 10 years have brought to light the sheer volume and variety of self-sponsored writing in which students engage. The Stanford Study of Writing, Jeff Grabill et al.’s “The Writing Lives of College Students,” and Jessie Moore et al.’s “Revisualizing Composition” all note the wide range and volume of self-sponsored texts students write in their everyday lives. The Meaningful Writing Project, while focusing on what makes writing meaningful to students in primarily academic contexts, also mentions that students found a fair amount of their outside of class writing meaningful (Eodice, Geller, and Lerner). A more recent article of mine (co-authored with Heather Lindenman and currently under review) surveyed 138 students about their non-academic writing and concludes that not only do students write a copious amount in these contexts, but that they show a fair amount of rhetorical savviness in these situation as well, suggesting that writing professionals could benefit by paying more attention to the entire writing lives of students.
Kevin Roozen’s ethnographic, case study work has added much to our understanding of how students’ literate lives evolve and can be traced across different spaces and self-sponsored genres (“Tracing Trajectories of Practice” and “Comedy Stages, Poets Projects, Sports Columns, and Kinesiology 341”). One of my own chapters which emerged out of Elon’s research seminar on Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer, “Students’ Perceptions of the Transfer of Rhetorical Knowledge between Digital Self-Sponsored & Academic Writing,” notes that students show more rhetorical sensitivity when writing in self-sponsored contexts compared to writing in academic contexts, and that this points to opportunities worth exploring in the classroom and in curricular design. Several other researchers have examined the potential for transfer between academic and non-academic writing contexts, between the writing that happens in school and in work and social communities, concluding that such writing can indeed have important effects on students’ rhetorical abilities (Cleary; Courage; Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak).
Examining the writing students do in self-sponsored contexts is relevant to the study of writing beyond the university because, as the above brief survey of research suggests, students do a lot of this kind of writing, they often care about this writing a great deal, and some research indicates that writers learn rhetorical writerly strategies and behaviors from the writing they do in self-sponsored writing contexts and bring these strategies back into their academic writing contexts, and vice versa. However, some research suggests that students are slow to make such connection between deploying these rhetorical strategies across academic and self-sponsored writing contexts without prompting (thus emphasizing the need for reflection and meta-cognition) and may be reluctant to admit these kinds of rhetorical knowledge transfer to academic researchers. Given this brief review of research on the writing of students in self-sponsored writing contexts, some possible research questions, implications, and avenues include:
- What are common self-sponsored writing contexts in which students/alumni write? Are there patterns based on year in school/beyond school, gender, age, etc.?
- What kinds of writing do students and alumni do in self-sponsored writing contexts, and what ways, if any, does this kind of writing impact their more professional or civic writing beyond the university, and vice versa?
- The writing in self-sponsored contexts in which students often engage seems more in-line in some ways with the writing they do after graduating – it is often more short, concise, visual, and multi-mediated. How might a multi-institutional research study be designed to determine the validity of such a statement?
- How might we design larger-scale, longitudinal, and multi-institutional studies of students’/alumni’s writing in non-academic writing contexts?
- Should researchers consider inviting students/alumni to be co-researchers in studies of writing in self-sponsored contexts, as a way to try and ameliorate the reluctance on the part of students to discuss with researchers the writing they do in self-sponsored writing contexts?
- Cleary, Michelle Navarre. (2013). Flowing and freestyling: Learning from adult students about process knowledge transfer. College Composition and Communication, 64(4), 661-87.
- Courage, Richard. The interaction of public and private literacies. (1993). College Composition and Communication, 44(4), 1993, 484-96.
- Eodice, Michele, Anne Ellen Geller, & Neal Lerner. (2016). The meaningful writing project: Learning, teaching, and writing in higher education. Utah State University Press.
- Grabill, Jeff et al. (2010). The writing lives of college students. Writing in Digital Environments Research Center.
- Lindenmann, Heather, and Paula Rosinski. (2018). Elon University Alumni Survey of Professional and Civic Writing after graduation. In process.
- Moore, Jessie L. et al. (2016). Revisualizing composition: How first-year writers use composing technologies. Computers and Composition, (39), 1-13.
- Roozen, Kevin. (2012). Comedy stages, poets projects, sports columns, and kinesiology 341: Illuminating the importance of basic writers’ self-sponsored literacies. Journal of Basic Writing, 31(1), 99-132.
- —. (2010). Tracing trajectories of practice: Repurposing in one student’s developing disciplinary writing processes. Written Communication, 27(3), 318-54.
- Rosinski, Paula. (2017). Students’ perceptions of the transfer of rhetorical Knowledge between digital self-sponsored & academic writing: The importance of authentic writing contexts & reflection. Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer, edited by Chris M. Anson and Jessie L. Moore, WAC Clearinghouse, 247-71.
- The Stanford study of writing. https://ssw.stanford.edu/
- Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. (2014). Writing across contexts: Transfer, composition, and sites of writing. Utah State University Press.
Paula Rosinski is director of Writing Across the University in the Center for Writing Excellence and professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric at Elon University. She is co-leading the 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency.