1. What I Hoped to Learn
As a student in the final throes of undergraduate work, I’ve begun to look back at my college career and consider the academic experiences that made me into the writer I am today. The element that most intrigues me is the role my professors have had in shaping my writing voice and approach, and as I move forward in academia, I can’t help but wonder about the dynamic between the student writer and the professor reader. Academic writing, to me, has sometimes felt bound within the four walls of the institution, making the writing I have done for classes feel like it is meant for professors’ eyes only. I wonder what effect this single audience has had in shaping me as an academic writer. Obviously there are times and classes where having a sole reader of work is both appropriate and freeing, and this is especially true in early composition classes where student writers are developing confidence. But, for me, this dynamic did not change much as I progressed through my undergraduate degree, and I have to imagine that this constant and familiar single audience played a part in molding who I am as an academic writer. So, I set out to discover the effects a professor has on student writing when acting as a terminal audience. Do students approach academic writing for a professor differently than they approach self-directed writing? How do students view their class assignments in terms of their validity for publication or even for sharing with loved ones? And what are the alternatives to having the professor act as a sole audience? These are the questions I intend to answer.
I’m going about finding the answers to these questions a number of ways. First of all, I’m going to examine my own experience as an undergraduate. I am a Language, Literature, and Writing major in my last semester right now, so I am not at all removed from the pressures and expectations that professors have of student writing. I will describe how I feel that writing for a sole professor audience has affected the approach I take to my academic writing, both in a positive and in a negative sense, and how valid I consider my class work for publication or sharing with others.
After I lay out my own experience, I am going to explore what scholars have to say on the subject. I will be examining journal articles from the top minds on composition pedagogy, and I will contrast and compare their findings. I’ll be reading important names in composition like Peter Elbow, Philip Eubanks, John D. Schaeffer, and more. These scholars, as professors and practitioners in the field, will serve to balance out and give perspective to my experience.
Following this, I will examine the experiences of my student peers. I realize that my experience is limited and localized, so it may not be representative. One of the main intrigues of this project is to find out if my peers have had a similar experience to mine. This semester, I have the special opportunity to act as a teaching assistant for a senior seminar class. For this class, I have been able to help create assignments, shape the syllabus, and help define the audience for class writing assignments. In this section, I will be interviewing three students in that class, asking about their experiences when writing to a professor as terminal audience. I will find out how this has affected their approach and how they see their academic writing. Getting honest reactions from my peers will get a less academic take on the issue, and it will be intriguing to see where the students’ perspectives speak to the observations of the scholar.
Finally, I will be interviewing the professor with whom I am serving this semester as a teaching assistant. The professor’s take on this issue will prove enlightening, as I will be able to compare the intents and experience of this professor with those of the students. From this interview, I hope to find out to what degree this professor considers the role and effect of audience for classroom work. This will be the final perspective I will research, so I will be able to examine my experience, the experiences of my peers, and the observations of the scholars in relation to the professor’s viewpoint.
With all of these different perspectives, I hope that I will be able to bring light to the sometimes-troubled dynamic between students and their professor audience, and possibly help find some solutions.