Loosening the Grip on Academic Writing: A Learning-Centered Approach

Original Lilly Conference, 2017 Plenary Presentation

Chris Anson, English, North Carolina State University

Consider the variety of genres and purposes of oral communication students practice in college: formal, rehearsed speeches to classrooms of people; informal dyadic conversations to discuss ideas; coordinated small-group meetings with specific agendas; free-roaming class discussions; lightning-fast PechaKucha and ignite presentations; poster sessions and gallery walks; podcasts; spontaneous micro-speeches; and more. Unfortunately, writing shares little of that diversity. In a study of 2,101 college-level assignments, Melzer (2014) found that only a very small percentage invoked audiences other than the teacher or had purposes other than serving as a test of what's been learned.

In this presentation, I'll make a case for changing our dominant skills- and assessment-based approach to writing in higher education and adopting a social practices orientation. This shift in how we think about writing opens up possibilities for a richer and more innovative variety of genres, uses, and purposes for writing that can more effectively foster students' learning through heightened agency and stronger levels of engagement.

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