Inquiry, Engagement, and Storytelling: Using Narrative to Develop the Skills of Research Writing

By Jacqueline Cason

Jacqueline Cason Poster

Context of the Inquiry

ENGL 414 RESEARCH WRITING, FALL 2009

  • An individualized distance-delivered course; curriculum updated Spring 2010

  • Meets upper division writing requirement for programs that exceed the university’s minimum 6 credits of written communication; otherwise an elective course for students working on research projects

The course invites students to embark on a journey of deep revision to produce an academic research paper that meets disciplinary expectations for inquiry, method, reporting, and documentation. Though students may compose an original research paper, the course is ideally suited to students who are prepared to adapt an existing project to a specific academic community. Research Writing prepares students for opportunities to communicate effectively in their personal, professional, and civic lives.

Course Artifacts

Focus of the Inquiry

Students often write in isolation, unaware of the systematic inquiry taking place in their field. They cite sources dutifully and mechanically as an end in itself, not as a means to entering an ongoing intellectual conversation.

  • Normative goal: to socialize students into their professional and academic research communities and to help them understand the role of research beyond the context of a classroom.

  • Integrative, critical thinking goal: to guide student researchers to integrate their own life experience and traditions into the normative practices of a particular academic discipline.

  • My Classroom Inquiry Hypothesis: By adding narrative elements into course interactions, by beginning and ending the semester with reflective practice, and by integrating assigned readings more meaningfully into course assignments, I was anticipating the following:

    • students would engage and be engaged by their sources, as evidenced by their ability to integrate those sources into a coherent review of the literature

    • students would learn to guide their own research processes and become more self-aware of how their work is connected to a larger research community, as evidenced by their interaction with fellow researchers and by their reflective self-assessment of both findings and research processes.

Course Artifacts

Course Design and Implementation

While maintaining an emphasis on deep revision, I revised course interaction and content to reflect relevant Alaska Native pedagogies. Together, these strategies were implemented to foster more meaningful engagement with sources and an enduring understanding of disciplined inquiry.

  • First, I have attended to relationships within the course by scheduling a series of four live chat sessions in small groups, 12 sessions total. I have also recorded and posted weekly addresses to maintain an oral presence that would orient students to weekly tasks and deadlines.

  • Second, I have encouraged self-reflection and fostered the habit of paying close attention, listening, and observing by creating a new assignment, Research Considerations, fashioned afterthe appendix in Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley’s A Yupiaq Worldview:A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit. Kawagley’s appendix narrates the autobiographical story of his dissertation research project, and the assignment invites students to narrate their own story of research and discovery and to listen to the stories of others. The semester began and ended withthis reflective assignment.

  • Third, I have designed assignments based on experiential learning, through which students investigate and write for authentic research forums. To this end, I integrated individual readings into specific assignments so that my own assignment resources were cast as a means to an end, much as I would expect students to make use of sources to serve the ends of their own research.

Findings

  • Student participation in live chats led to a decline in assignment anxiety and more substantive email communication regarding assignment requirements.

  • The biggest change, compared to previous semesters, was the depth and attitude of final reflections. I witnessed higher levels of critical thinking, more serious commitment to revision, and a stronger sense of membership in a community of researchers. Students exhibited a stronger understanding of publication forums and how such forums constrain thier communication.

  • Literature reviews revealed coherent ideas and arguments in which source material was subordinated to the writer’s sense of organization, and the citation practices conformed to disciplinary norms.

Course Artifacts

Reflections

I have discovered that Native ways of teaching and learning coincide with the teachings of ancient rhetoric. Both encourage researchers to inquire within a community, and both emphasize the contextual nature of knowledge, communication, and persuasion. Attending to relationships; giving time to self-reflection; paying close attention, listening, and observing; and emphasizing experiential learning—all constitute best practices for research writing.

My investment of time in live chats and weekly addresses helped create relationships of trust. I participated in extensive conversations with individual students who felt comfortable seeking guidance as they confronted the challenges that research writing presents. 

I value the individualized nature of this course because it accommodates students from all disciplines and provides them extensive support and feedback for their writing. However, individualized elements can lead to isolation and undermine the social nature of research. The re-design has provoked me to use technology to create a space where students can tell the story of their own research and listen to others tell theirs.

Course Artifacts

Faculty Contact

Jacqueline Cason

jcason@uaa.alaska.edu

907-786-4367