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Thursday, June 19 • 11:30am - 12:20pm
CON5.05 – “He Just Told Me to Get On With It”: Insights into Transforming Doctoral Writing Development (Room A334)

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This workshop will describe a New Zealand qualitative research project that explored and identified two threshold concepts (TCs) in doctoral research writing – the point(s) at which students can become “stuck”. A key goal has been to use the research findings to develop effective strategies for building a doctoral research and writing community, while also extending “traditional” supervisory practices. The workshop will describe one such strategy, the “4x4” (four by four), which provides a flexible framework for considering topics, processes, outcomes, and required resources to help students become successful scholars. Workshop participants will be guided through a practical 4x4 session in which they will work in pairs or small groups to identify a problem in their own research or practice, articulate it (in layman’s terms), discuss it with their partner or group, and then together plan how to address the issue. Participants will then discuss how the framework could be adapted to their particular learning contexts.

Kiley (2009) argues that doctoral candidates face a number of challenges and that surmounting them both requires, and facilitates, personal transformation. Similarly, TCs have been linked to ontological shifts (Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2010), changes in identity, and hence understanding of what it means to become an academic scholar. Students need to successfully cross intellectual thresholds and until they do so, they are unable to solve new problems or address different situations. In a conceptual sense, students are lost (“stuck”) – wandering in a mental space of incomplete understanding.

Drawing on survey and interview data with doctoral students in New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, two threshold concepts (TCs) related to doctoral research writing were identified (Johnson, 2013).  The first, “talking to think”, encompasses the idea that academic writing includes more than the mechanical presentation of words on a page. Until one has clarified one’s thinking (and has something to say), meaningful writing is difficult and can contribute to feeling lost. The second TC, “developing self-efficacy”, is closely related. Writing includes the ability to understand research practices, extract meaning from data, clearly articulate ideas (talk), and then present, shape, and reshape text on the page. Writing also includes a belief that understanding will emerge as new ideas are discussed, clarified, written, and refined.

Identification of the TCs has influenced how we structure a weekly, cross-disciplinary writing program (Doctoral Writing Conversations (DWC)) and the range of activities we use to help students engage in a collaborative, peer-learning environment. One such activity (the “4x4”) helps students step back from the written page, and through conversation develop and plan with an “educated other” the organizational writing structures needed to bridge from the spoken to the written. Engaging in such critical conversation in small groups and then reporting back to the entire group has afforded students opportunities to clarify their thinking. In addition, the collegiality of the discussions has created a physical network of social support and learning development for higher degree students at our university that extends what supervisors can provide.

Thursday June 19, 2014 11:30am - 12:20pm EDT
A232 McArthur Hall

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