Corpus and Repository of Writing

Sarah Merryman is a senior at Purdue University majoring in Professional Writing and minoring in Communications. At the invitation of Crow PI Bradley Dilger, Sarah started working with Crow as a project intern and wrote a series of blogs for its 2018 spring methodology workshop, her first venture into blogging. After becoming a full-time undergraduate researcher in the fall of 2018, her role expanded into social media promotion, IRB drafting, and creating content strategies.

These tasks challenged her to learn a new set of communication and writing skills. Because Crow is a multi-institutional team, she often conducted meetings and blog interviews through digital mediums like Google Hangouts. Navigating Crow’s organization platform, Basecamp, and learning how to pair-write articles with fellow Crowbirds helped her better understand the importance of sustainable collaboration in the workforce. Likewise, helping draft IRB proposals and contracts gave her a glimpse at the steps researchers take to launch their projects. On the flip side of the research equation, Sarah had the privilege of listening to linguistic scholars from various post-secondary institutions present their research findings at Crow’s 2018 Writing Research Without Walls symposium. Witnessing the internal process and public-facing product of linguistic research, inspired her to consider a research-oriented career sometime in the future.

Sarah proudly displays her certificate for completing the introductory Python coding course with teacher, and fellow Crowbird Ge Lan.
Sarah proudly displays her certificate for completing the introductory Python coding course with teacher, and fellow Crowbird Ge Lan.

However, collaboration and scholarly research were not the only areas of Crow she found both challenging and rewarding. Sarah completed a beginners course in Python coding taught by fellow Crow member Ge Lan. After years of considering the difficulty of computer coding on par with learning ancient Sanskrit backwards, Sarah was surprised to discover she enjoyed coding, and hopes to continue learning it in her spare time after graduation.

Her favorite part of being a Crowbird is the freedom to try new experiences. Unlike the repetitive, coffee-fetching experience she envisioned to be the rite-of-passage for interns everywhere, working with Crow allowed her to integrate her personal goals with Crow objectives. At the start of each semester, she met with PI Bradley Dilger and together they brainstormed a list of skills she wanted to develop. They then created a workflow that would allow her to work toward these professional goals. Sarah credits Crow with giving her the knowledge and experience to thrive in today’s workforce, where content strategy and the ability to collaborate with peers from different backgrounds and geographic distances is key.

Outside of Crow, Sarah has held a variety of positions at Purdue. Ever drawn to the publishing world, she has been a reporter for The Purdue Exponent and a member of the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research Student Editorial Board. She has worked at the Purdue University Press since 2017, first as the Administrative and Marketing Intern and then as the Assistant Editor for the Joint Transportation Research Program. As Assistant Editor, she edits and facilitates the publication of JTRP reports, which are downloaded and used worldwide. Always interested in trying out things that have never been done before, Sarah also served as the first undergraduate blog coordinator and social media intern for the Purdue English Department. She is finishing her time at Purdue as an undergraduate tutor in the Purdue Writing Lab.

Passionate about usability and UX design, Sarah conducted two research projects: one on the usability of writing center usage data, and another on a redesign of the PASE Mock Career Fair. However, her most memorable research experience was investigating the experiential design of the Purdue Farmers’ Market. What started as an in-class assignment somehow turned into a friendship with one of the farmers and a part-time job flipping burgers at his market booth. Who says research is all done in a lab?

Following her graduation in May, Sarah hopes to pursue a position in scholarly publishing. However, she also plans to spend some time enjoying the freedom of not having homework and to continue her education informally through hobbies. She wants to sharpen her social media skills, learn professional photography, and to travel. If she is feeling particularly ambitious, Sarah might even pursue a more health-conscious lifestyle. After her surprisingly pleasant experience learning Python, nothing seems too unusual to try – not even exercise.

Crowbird Adriana Picoral is a prime example of taking an interdisciplinary approach to academic research. Passionate about computer coding since the age of nine, Adriana always knew she wanted to be a computer scientist. Unfortunately, with female Computer Science students outnumbered by a ratio of 1 to 15 at her university (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil), Adriana’s presence in a STEM-focused major was constantly called into question. Jokingly, she credits her eventual interest in linguistics research to “running away from computer science because they were mean.” In reality, Adriana’s undergraduate thesis on developing a computer game to teach Portuguese to non-native adults is what sparked her interest in language learning.

Adriana’s research process has come a long way since her undergraduate thesis, but one key element has remained the same: a focus on interdisciplinary methods and tools to understand language acquisition. Her research analyzes the intersection of corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and foreign language acquisition. For her dissertation, Adriana is researching how different factors affect third-language acquisition in adult learners. Specifically, she is looking at Spanish-English bilingual adults, and investigating how their native language affects their ability to learn Portuguese. She uses mixed methods by creating a corpora of Portuguese, English, and Spanish texts and then applying computational linguistics methods to analyze the language behavior.

Graphic used in Adriana's dissertation on copula verbs to adverbs
Preference of ESTAR copula use with intensifiers across different corpora for Adriana’s dissertation

But as much as she enjoys research, Adriana isn’t ruling out the possibility of working in industry instead of academia. In her internship with the Educational Testing Services (ETS), Adriana discovered how valuable an interdisciplinary researcher is in an industry already saturated with specialized employees. This became further evident in her 2018 internship with Google, where there was an abundance of linguists and software engineers, but not many employees who could do both, like Adriana.

After taking a corpus-linguistics class taught by Crow co-founder Shelley Staples, Adriana became a Crowbird in the fall of 2016. Since then, she has put her computer skills to work by standardizing the text format of Crow’s collected materials. Using her experience in coding, she worked with Shelley to create a system that converts all documents to normalized UTF-8 text files. This also labels the words in the texts for speech tags, such as verbs or nouns, for future language analyses. Adriana also created Python scripts to ensure repository materials are tagged and encoded accurately, and JavaScript web-interfaces to assist in manually coding students’ texts for a number of things, such as citation practices.

Aside from her work doing text nominalization, Adriana has also participated in multiple Crow workshops. In July 2018, she helped lead the debut of the Crow web interface in a 3-hour workshop at the Teaching and Language Corpora (TaLC) conference in Cambridge, England. That same year, she presented a comparative analysis of various linguistic tagging tools at the 14th American Association of Corpus Linguistics conference and a workshop on the citation practices of L2 writers at the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conference.

Adriana with colleagues at AAAL 2019
Adriana (back, second from right) with colleagues at AAAL 2019

Moving forward, Adriana is interested in taking Crow’s research on citation a step farther by incorporating the computational methods she used in her dissertation into Crow. She intends to create machine learning models to classify new data. She is excited to work on a project that unites Crow work with her dissertation research. The ability to incorporate different interdisciplinary approaches into her work is Adriana’s favorite part about Crow.

We look forward to seeing how Adriana will continue to improve our interface and promote interdisciplinary research methods.

Aleksandra Swatek

“That’s the beauty of doing research: You do one small thing…and it grows to be something bigger,” says 5th year PhD candidate Aleksandra Swatek. This is certainly true, although one could hardly describe Aleksandra’s research as “small.”  Her dissertation seeks to analyze the language of engagement in online instructional videos, specifically math lectures from both Khan Academy and MIT. To do this, she has created a corpus of lecture transcripts from each source—both of which total about 1.5 million words.

Aleksandra’s research is uniquely positioned at the intersection of Second Language Studies and Corpus Linguistics, and she draws on methodologies from the latter in a variety of ways. For example, after assembling her data set, she used Sketchengine to analyze and compare the language used in the two corpora. She has already noted differences in the type and frequency of personal pronouns (we, I, you), stance markers (specifically modal verbs), and hypothetical reported speech (imagining how a student might respond). She hopes that the results of her research will help instructors better use language to engage online students, especially as traditional classroom settings transition into online spaces.

Chart showing the personal pronoun frequency within math lectures of Khan Academy and MIT. Khan used significantly more "we" pronouns and MIT used significantly more "I" pronouns. The use of "you" was roughly the same for both.

Aleksandra’s interest in corpus linguistics made her a perfect fit for Crow even before it existed. Initially, she worked with former Purdue professor Dr. Shelley Staples on the Purdue Second Language Writing Corpus, from which Crow eventually emerged. To date, she has been involved in a variety of Crow projects and conferences, including our recent presentation at the Teaching and Language Corpora (TaLC) conference where she helped to debut the Crow platform and collect feedback on our online interface. In collaboration with other Crow members, Aleksandra used our platform to research reporting verbs in student writing. She isn’t slowing down any time soon, either; a new project on formulaic language is currently in the works.

Aleksandra’s familiarity with corpora allows her to see and appreciate just what makes Crow unique: an eagerness to share and make data accessible. These attributes make Crow the only active, open-access corpus and repository of academic materials in the world. Aleksandra is excited to be part of a project that will benefit the greater community, particularly those conducting research on student writing. Going forward, she plans to continue doing research and finding ways to bridge the gap between science and humanities. In fact, this is something that occupies Aleksandra’s mind even in her rare free moments. What started as a hobby has turned into a project on the relationships between writing studies communities encompassing rhetoric and composition; second language writing; and technical communication and EAP. She is also an avid Starcraft 2 e-sports fan and a gamer herself.

Whether she’s working on her dissertation, analyzing the Crow corpus, or mulling over the role of humanities in the world, there is one thing we know for sure: Crow is lucky to have someone as dedicated to and passionate about accessible data on our team.

Photo credit: Zhaozhe Wang

Crow researcher Shelley Staples has been invited to speak as part of a workshop hosted by The Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster University. Staples’s talk, “Using multidimensional analysis for language assessment,” will be at 13.00 UK time (8:00am US/Eastern). We’ve reprinted the event announcement below.

Update 3/07: Video of the event is available. 

Corpus-based approaches to language testing

The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University is organising a free half-day workshop on corpus-based approaches to language testing. The event offers a combination of two lectures and a practical session. The practical session focuses on major corpus techniques used in language assessment research and practice. The workshop is suitable for students, researchers and practitioners interested in language assessment, applied linguistics and corpus methods. No prior knowledge of corpus linguistics is required. We are delighted that Dr Shelley Staples from the University of Arizona accepted the invitation to give a guest lecture at the event.

Follow the event on Twitter from 12.00 UK time.
Event link: http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/mycalendar-events/?event_id1=67

Research, teaching, and podcasts, oh my! If three words could summarize Crowbird Michelle McMullin’s time at Purdue, those would be it. Michelle is studying Rhetoric and Composition, with a focus on technical communication. She is interested in the ways public policy and public rhetoric inform each other. Her dissertation explores the HIV outbreak in southeast Indiana and how this public health crisis motivated state legislature to implement needle exchange programs.

Graphic detailing Michelle's dissertation on public policy after HIV outbreak in Indiana.
Michelle McMullin’s dissertation explores the intersection of public rhetoric and policy.

A lover of infrastructure, Michelle tries her best to reserve Thursdays and Fridays for writing her dissertation, and dedicates the rest of the week to other work. Last semester, she taught Business Writing and a Data Science Learning Community section of first-year writing. She has also served as a mentor for other PW instructors, and said, “My teaching gets better when I talk to others about their teaching.” This kind of collaborative conversation is Michelle’s favorite part of her job, and is why she is working toward a tenure track position at a university that values community engagement. As she said, “I think it’s important that research doesn’t just live in journals, but does real work in our communities.”

When asked about what she does in her free time, Michelle laughed and said she likes “to sleep and sometimes do laundry.” With her busy schedule, most of Michelle’s “free” time is taken up with research and listening to podcasts—two concepts that have more in common than one might think. Several of Michelle’s favorite podcasts are created by the McElroy family. Fans of their shows, such as My Brother and Me and The Adventure Zone (TAZ), recently managed to raise more than $48,000 in 72 hours in support of the Boys and Girls Club of West Virginia. The organization lost funding because they were serving LGBTQ+ kids.

Ever the academic, Michelle couldn’t help but analyze the experience through the lens of her research, saying, “as somebody interested in community building and public problem solving, this was fascinating.” She also noticed that audience members of the actual play podcast TAZ engage with the creators to inform the writing of the show. Based on audience interaction, the McElroy family continues to challenge hetero-normative gender representations and include queer characters in their storytelling. Michelle’s observations of this collaborative storytelling led her to a collaboration with fellow academic and TAZ fan Lee Hibbard on an article about queer representation in an actual play podcast community.

In December of 2015, Michelle became one of the first members of Crow, specializing in creating and sustaining Crow’s infrastructure. She recently finished a best practices article with Crow team leader Bradley Dilger. This isn’t the first project they’ve collaborated on; in fact, their overlapping interest in technical writing is what originally prompted Michelle to join the Crow team. In this ongoing study of our best practices, we are using data about our distributed work to evaluate and improve our collaborative methods. Michelle is leading this effort, developing a research design based on data we can collect from Basecamp, Google Drive and GitHub. From this data, supplemented with team interviews and discussions, we are identifying trends in participation, leadership, and efficiency. This mixed methods approach is allowing us to identify the best practices needed to make Crow sustainable.

Crow co-founder Shelley Staples said it best: “I have seen firsthand the application of Michelle’s research methods and the framework she uses in the work she is doing for Crow. She has been instrumental in mapping the networks of collaboration and communication that we use as part of our complex, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional team, and has identified specific aspects of our own technical communication that are effective and ineffective, leading to concrete changes within our team’s practices.”

Michelle has returned as a full-time Crowbird this spring, on research assistantship to help us wrap our Humanities Without Walls grant and kickstart outreach now that we have the Crow platform up and running. She is eager to continue her infrastructural work and begin mentoring undergraduate researchers from a new position.

Purdue Crowbird Ashley Velázquez is a fifth-year PhD candidate researching L1 and L2 engineering students’ writing practices. She is currently finishing her dissertation, “What’s the “Problem’ Statement? An Investigation of Problem-based Writing in First-Year Engineering (FYE),” on fellowship from the American Association of University Women. The project analyzes how linguistically diverse students in Purdue’s FYE program complete written tasks, particularly problem statements. Her research has involved building a corpus of student texts, analyzing pedagogical materials, and conducting interviews with FYE faculty.

Ashley’s involvement with Crow started as a complete (but happy) accident. Her mentor, Shelley Staples—one of the founding members of the Crow team—invited her to a Crow meeting, as the topic was relevant to a reporting verb project they were collaborating on. Three years later and Ashley still hasn’t left the “meeting,” having assumed multiple leadership roles in our Crow team.  As a Crow Graduate Lab Practicum RA, she helped with corpus building, participant recruitment, mentoring, and more. This past year kept her especially busy: Ashley was writing grants, scheduling our 2018 Writing Research Without Walls symposium, and co-authoring a study on reporting verbs for L2 Journal.

In October 2017, Ashley was one of several Purdue Crowbirds able to travel to Tucson, Arizona for a project summit funded by our Humanities Without Walls grant. On the way to the airport, Bradley Dilger was emailed a grant opportunity. “We can do that,” Ashley said. And before the plane left, the team had an outline, a draft abstract, and a Basecamp buildout underway. “It’s amazing how much Ashley has grown as a grant writer,” said Dilger. “Her work on the narrative of our recent ACLS application was stellar, and we’re glad we can count on her for help with our next grants.”

Crow isn’t the only commitment on Ashley’s plate. Throughout her time at Purdue, she has taught first-year writing courses, developed her dissertation and other publications, worked for the OEPP and OWL, and served as a Mechanical Engineering Writing Enhancement Coordinator. For the latter, she developed rubrics, hosted writing workshops for students, adapted pedagogical materials, and assessed student writing skills. She also helped international teaching assistants effectively evaluate their students’ writing.

Following the completion of her dissertation, Ashley hopes to obtain a tenure track position in either applied linguistics or rhetoric and composition. After five years in the arctic tundra that is Indiana, she’s ready to move somewhere warm with her two Hobbit cats, Merry and Pippin. Her job search extends “coast to coast and off the coast,” ranging from the East Coast to Hawaii.

Now that her reporting verbs article is published, Ashley is brainstorming her next Crow project: an empirical research study on the use of collocations (which are groups of words commonly grouped, such as “potential solutions”) by L1 and L2 students. She is also busy working on a translingual writing piece and an engineering research project with the University of Arizona. Luckily for us, she plans to continue working with Crow at her next institution. We can’t wait to see where that will be!

Our Crow team reached a new milestone at the 14th American Association for Corpus Linguistics (AACL) this past September: our first presentations of inter-institutional projects! The two presentations, “Annotating learner data for lexico-grammatical patterns: A comparison of software tools” and “Lexico-grammatical Patterns in First Year Writing across L1 Backgrounds,” were given by Crowbirds from the University of Arizona, Purdue University, and Northern Arizona University.

Adriana Picoral leading PowerPoint presentation in front of classroom of researchers.

Adriana Picoral leading the first presentation, “Annotating learner data for lexico-grammatical patterns: A comparison of software tools.”

The first project, “Annotating learner data for lexico-grammatical patterns: A comparison of software tools” was led by Adriana Picoral. The team, consisting of Adriana Picoral, Dr. Randi Reppen, Dr. Shelley Staples, Ge Lan, and Aleksey Novikov, compared three tools: 1) Biber tagger, a POS and syntactic tagger that integrate rule-based and probabilistic components; 2) MALT parser, an open source statistical dependency parser; and 3) Stanford parser, another open source statistical parser widely used in natural language processing applications. The corpus for this study was sampled from our larger inter-institutional corpus of first year writing (FYW) texts, and consisted of a total of 16 documents from 3 institutions (Purdue University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University) and 4 first language backgrounds (Arabic, Chinese, English, and Korean) for a total of 27,930 tokens.

All documents were annotated using all three tools. Gold standard labels were also created by up to four human coders for each document. Predicted labels from the three tools were then compared with the human-created gold standard labels. Precision (when a word was annotated, if it was correct) and recall (whether the annotation was identified on a word) were calculated for each one of our target features (noun-noun sequences, attributive adjectives, relative clauses, and complement clauses) across the different tools. The team presented methods, including descriptions of the web-based interfaces built for human tag-checking, and the evaluation measures from all three tools. While the Stanford parser performed better when labeling our target clausal features, the Biber tagger performed better for the targeted phrasal features.

Post-processing scripts will be used to improve both tools’ accuracy, and the team may combine their output to achieve higher performance rates on automated annotation of our learner data in the future.

The second project presentation, “Lexico-grammatical Patterns in First Year Writing across L1 Backgrounds,” was led by Dr. Shelley Staples with help from other Crowbirds Dr. Randi Reppen, Aleksey Novikov, and Ge Lan, and including collaborators Dr. Qiandi Liu and Dr. Chris Holcomb from University of South Carolina. The group compiled a balanced corpus (612,100 words) of argumentative essays across four L1s – English, Chinese, Arabic, and Korean, which was then tagged with the Biber Tagger and improved for accuracy with post-tagging scripts. The researchers investigated the use of six features: attributive adjectives, pre-modifying nouns, that- and wh-relative clauses, that- verb complement clauses, and that- noun complement clauses both quantitatively and qualitatively. ANOVA was applied to test the differences among the four L1 groups and across two different institutions (Northern Arizona University and University of South Carolina).

The results showed significant differences in the way the four features were used across the four L1 groups (p < 0.05), particularly attributive adjectives, premodifying nouns, that- noun complement clauses, that- and wh- relative clauses. Compared to L1 English writers, L2 writers tended to rely more on the repetition of phrasal features. They also used more wh-relative clauses than that- relative clauses, which could be explained by more prescriptive instruction on wh- relative clauses for L2 writers, as opposed to the influence of oral language and a lack of register awareness for L1 English writers.

Finally, attributive adjectives and that- relative clauses had significant differences for Chinese L2 writers (p < 0.05), whereas no significant difference was found for any feature between the two institutions for L1 English writers. A possible reason for this difference is that students from USC who used more of the two features, may have had higher proficiency, but the NAU students were in a bridge program working on improving their proficiency. An alternative explanation is that relative clauses were included in the USC syllabi, while it is unclear whether this instruction was received at NAU.

Both conference presentations were very well received at AACL. We plan to submit a publication for the first paper to NAACL or ACL in the near future.

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Continuing our symposium recaps, we want to share a bit about every session. Writing Research Without Walls 2018 hosted presenters from various US institutions and programs like English, Rhetoric & Composition, Second Language Studies, and Engineering. Their contributions enriched our conversations about approaches to teaching and researching writing. The thematic relevance of these talks provided opportunities for scaffolding research initiatives and networking among presenters who shared common research interests. These brief recaps move in the order on the program.

  • Neil Baird and Bradley Dilger showed how the discourse-based interview is an insightful research technique for investigating writers’ tacit knowledge, a rich source of data for writing researchers. We found the techniques they shared about updating this research method for digital media helpful and up-to-date.
  • Jie Gao, presenting on behalf of a team at Purdue and Arizona, described the form and function of L2 writers’ citation practices in first year writing courses. Their emphasis on defining the rhetorical function of these citations allowed us to witness connections with pedagogical materials and source texts.
  • Eunjeong Park’s mixed-methods study of lexical bundles combined analysis using a learner corpus with interviews and intervention in an L2 writing course. Attendees valued the depth her research design provided.
  • Ashley J. Velázquez discussed her investigation of L1 and L2 students’ problem-based writing in a first year engineering program. The mismatch between pedagogical materials and faculty expectations about writing quality was an interesting takeaway.

  • John Gallagher, Nicole Turnipseed, John Yoritomo and Julie Zilles focused on integrating writing instruction into engineering and science at Illinois Urbana Champaign. We benefited from their design of instructional materials and assessment of writing in engineering and physics courses.
  • Tatiana Teslenko exposed the advantages and challenges embedded in collaboration among faculty in writing studies and engineering courses at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Attendees found her emphasis on mentoring international graduate students who are serving as writing fellows in WID courses very insightful.
  • Tamara Roose described her approach to shaping both her curriculum and pedagogy in response to the input of the Chinese international students in her ESL writing course. We loved the way she asked audience members to voice her students’ writing.

  • Mariam Al Mayar presented an interesting profile about the needs of the Afghani student population in US institutions. Her contribution was instrumental to clarifying the literacy experiences of these students while learning English as a foreign language in Afghanistan highlighting their challenges in transitioning to the US.
  • Estela Ene and Thomas Upton presented two studies. The first described their corpus-based move analysis of teacher-student chats in ESL online and hybrid classes. Their emphasis on the negotiation taking place between the teacher and students was eye opening. The second continued the conversation about teacher feedback by comparing between synchronous and asynchronous teacher e-feedback in ESL classes. Their findings about teacher feedback practices and students’ receptivity and interaction generated a lot of questions from the audience.
  • Negin H. Goodrich discussed the efficacy of applying a combination of two types of corrective feedback to promote accuracy of student texts in an international writing classroom. Her results show the benefits of integrating two types of feedback, which helped the audience reflect about the practices we use for assessing L2 writing.
  • Sweta Baniya, sharing a Purdue study of linked courses, introduced Adaptive Comparative Judgement as a method for holistic assessment of writing and comparison of various student work in a writing classroom. They presented alternatives for rubric-based methods and reflected on the groundwork needed to build criteria for assessments in linked courses.
  • Adriana Picoral’s presentation on native language identification was unique. She used computational methods to show how she constructed L1 background profiles from L2 writing. Her work inspired us as we think of the profiles of student writers we can create from the metadata accompanying corpus texts in Crow.
  • David O’Neil used corpus methods to investigate how fourteenth and fifteenth century alliterative poems were part of a continuous tradition dating back to the seventh century. His rigorous data coding methods of syntactic, prosodic, and rhetorical features were engaging and inspiring.

  • Alisha Karabinus and Lee Hibbard shared with us the results of a survey they conducted at Purdue in 2017 and 2018 to investigate student perceptions of pre-university writing instruction and experiences. The diverse profiles they constructed from their data will help first-year writing administrators design writing curricula and classes that cater for various needs.

  • Adam Steffanick shared the Vanderbilt University Writing Repository, repository of L2 student writer texts constructed by collaborations between libraries and second language researchers at Vanderbilt. Attendees compared their project to the methods we adopted in building the Crow corpus.

We found the conversations between writing researchers and engineering faculty particularly constructive given our interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and its usefulness for designing curricula, pedagogies, and teaching artifacts that help bridge between writing practices in academia and the industry. We’re grateful to all the presenters for sharing their work.

It has been over a week since we wrapped up our Crow symposium, and we can’t stop thinking about the great conversations that took place. Our keynote speakers, Dr. Susan Conrad and Dr. Shondel Nero, both explored potential changes to writing instruction: the former by integrating it more into Engineering coursework, and the latter by engaging the vernacular rather than standard concepts of English. Their research presents us with the opportunity to transform and adapt pedagogical strategies to better suit the needs of students and challenge the thinking of instructors.

Plenary 1: Dr. Susan Conrad

In “Improving Writing Instruction in Engineering through Interdisciplinary Collaboration,” Dr. Conrad focused on the gap in writing style between Engineering students and practitioners and ways to address that gap without completely changing the curriculum. Her research has found that students write long, complex sentences thinking that makes them sound smart. By contrast, practitioners write simple and concise reports, which are easy for clients to skim and understand. Additionally, students tend to use superfluous terms, whereas practitioners are very careful about certainty and quantification due to the real-world implications of absolute, immeasurable language.

Dr. Conrad traced the differences between student writing methods and practitioner writing methods back to three instructor conventions. The first is for English faculty to have a formulaic set of rules for producing good writing, while practitioners rely on the development of judgement. The second convention is for writing instructors to give students more room for self-expression and independence, whereas practitioners function within tighter constraints. Lastly, instructors view writing as a series of style choices, but practitioners see writing as a form-follows-function process.

Dr. Conrad is working to address this gap in writing style (though she wished for a different term!) by collaborating with practitioners and Engineering faculty to determine best pedagogical practices. To achieve this goal, Dr. Conrad and her colleagues have created a website for their study, including materials to help students develop writing practices that more directly correspond to their field. By more closely matching practitioners’ work, Civil Engineering students will be better prepared for the workforce. We thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Conrad’s presentation and look forward to seeing future impacts of her project.

Plenary 2: Dr. Shondel Nero

Dr. Nero’s presentation, “Engaging Vernacular Englishes through Literature in the Writing Classroom: Paradoxes, Pedagogy, Possibilities,” addressed the dichotomy between “standard” language and the equally important but often ignored vernacular and urged for the rethinking of language awareness.

Working in applied linguistics and English as a Second Language (ESL), Dr. Nero witnessed the way the ideology of standard language produced educational inequality. For instance, a student from her native country of Guyana, in which English is the official language, was placed in an ESL class despite his proficiency in English.

From these experiences, Dr. Nero raised questions about the validity of standard language with academia. Who gets to decide who is a native speaker? Why are all non-standard dialects considered “deformed” despite the great prevalence of multilingual speakers within American society and the fact that most multilingual speakers in classrooms are born in the US? Language is an ever changing medium in which everyone has an accent, so why the shame in using vernacular speech in the classroom?

Dr. Nero’s answer to these questions started with exposing the myths surrounding standard language and vernacular language. The myth of standard language is supported by the beliefs that there can only be one superior language which remains fixed and unchanging and is devoid of accents. These beliefs work alongside the anglo assumption that knowing only the English language is enough. In contrast, the myth of the vernacular is that it is a “deformed” version of the standard, lacking in grammatical structure, and spoken only by the uneducated or so-called lower classes.

To dispel these erroneous assumptions and shift academic attitudes away from language awareness and toward Critical Multilingual Awareness (CMLA), Dr. Nero has worked to foster greater acceptance of linguistic diversity among educators through workshops and the use of linguistically informed teaching material. She described ways to help teachers learn about different cultures so they could be more culturally responsive, and modeled an activity which included listening to vernacular literature then discussing the literary elements—figurative language, multiple layers of performance—which we can ignore if we focus on the differences between the vernacular and the “standard” language typically identified with literature.

Surprisingly, students were reluctant at first to engage the vernacular in classroom assignments. However, by challenge the assumption that learning in classroom should only take place in “standard” English, the language attitudes of students and instructors became more receptive and student writing showed greater linguistic awareness. Dr. Nero’s presentation demonstrated that by embracing and learning from the vernacular academics can obtain a culturally responsive pedagogy and a more inclusive attitudes toward multilingual and multiethnic students.

In addition to our keynote speakers, there were many other presenters that we would like to highlight, and we got some great feedback about the Crow web interface, too. Our next few posts will cover the various topics and offer more takeaways from our 2018 symposium.

That’s a wrap! Everyone on the Crow team would like to thank the presenters and attendees who made our Writing Research Without Walls symposium a success. We’ll share more here shortly, including information about our next steps with the Crow system. For a quick recap, have a look at the tweets from the conference. We’ll be archiving them shortly.

Dr. Susan Conrad presenting “Improving Writing Instruction in Engineering through Interdisciplinary Collaboration” at our 2018 symposium

As always, our thanks to the Humanities Without Walls consortium and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their support.

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