Final ethnography elizabeth narváez cardona march 20th

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • 1. 1Initiatives on educating writers in Colombian Higher Education: reading ethnographically their websites as a pre-fieldwork Elizabeth Narvez-CardonaAbstractWriting in higher education in Spanish-speaking countries is an emerging field of social sciences in Latin-America. An ongoing project aiming at mapping current initiatives in the region have revealed that in theColombian case, one of the less frequent initiatives undertaken seems to be the writing centers.Consequently, exploring what counts as "writing centers" in the Colombian case might provide insightsupon conceptions on educating writers from this specific institutional site as well as understandings of thesmall presence of this type of initiative. To this exploratory project the websites publicizing the writingcenters are pieces of a larger everyday phenomena related to such initiatives. Therefore, I have deemedthis project an effort in starting the pre-field work, particularly, in reading ethnographically two websitesof Colombian writing centers. Ethnography involves an ongoing inquiry process in which theethnographer slowly grasps meaning from the community while acknowledges what could be aninteresting focus of analysis. To pursue a dynamic view of the writing centers, this preliminary projectrequires gathering more information in the actual fields in which such initiatives have been undertaken inthe Colombian universities. Especially, what is not ordinary and problematic should be investigated giventhat the information provided by the websites is not enough to talk about these aspects of the everydaylife in writing centers.IntroductionWriting in higher education in Spanish-speaking countries is an emerging field of social sciencesin Latin-America (Figure 1). The scholarship led by the Chairs of UNESCO for reading and writing in Latin-America (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico), has advocated since 90s to educating writers forcitizenship (Ortiz-Casallas, 2011). This means educating readers and writers able for self-learning, and asthoughtful consumers of the abundant information provided by mass media, technologicalcommunication, and commercial discourses (Martnez, 2001 & 2004).Different tendencies have emerged from these initiatives. One movement has argued, until 2006approximately, that incoming university students bring shortcomings as writers; thus, writing has beentaught in freshman courses (Murillo, 2010). A recent movement, mostly influenced by the leadership of anargentine scholar, has advocated in the last 6 years that academic writing is a disciplinary practice learnedexclusively in higher education (Carlino, 2001; 2006; 2008). Consequently, it is expected that universitiesprovide diverse, intensive, and sustained specialized settings to encourage writing developments ofundergraduate and graduate students (Murillo, 2010).Regarding public policies, the Colombian government has mandated since 2010 a compulsoryundergraduate assessment in the last year of the programs. The assessment on writing abilities in Spanishis one of the components of this public policy.

2. 2Figure 1The benchmarks of the Colombian field on higher education writing The government mandated the large scaleassessment (writing abilities in Spanish)Pruebas del Saber PRO2010 19992006 2006 2012 UNESCOforreading andwriting Argentineinfluence(Paula movements in Latin-America for Carlino/Phycology ) educating writers for citizenship and Scholar movements advocating academic self-learningliteracy to educating faculty members and Scholar movementsadvocatinggraduate students as disciplinary writers freshman courses to remediate student Theoreticalframeworks: sociocultural shortcomings psychology, new literacy studies (literature Theoreticalframeworks:textualin Spanish), and WACandWID linguistics, discourse analysis, genre movements (literature in English) studies, psycholinguistic, and didactic of mother tongue (Spanish).2009Emerged the first generation of writingcenters in the country An ongoing project called Initiatives on reading and writing in higher education, ILEES, Latin-1Americahas collected information through an online survey applied to about 67 scholars in Argentina,Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. Among other issues, these scholars have provided information about theinitiatives led by their universities or other universities, up to 10 institutions, in their countries. In the Colombian case, one of the less frequent initiatives seems to be the writing centers alongwith initiatives undertaken in foreign languages, and programs in charge of integrating the initiatives asfreshman courses, disciplinary writing after the first year, and writing across the curriculum, or graduatewriting courses (figure 2).1 This project started in summer 2012 as part of my doctorate experience, which has been developed along with aChilean colleague and by the guidance of Professor Bazerman of the Department of Education in University ofCalifornia, Santa Brbara. 3. 3Figure 2Tendencies of the initiatives in the Colombian case Exploring what counts as "writing centers" in the Colombian case might provide insights uponconceptions on educating writers from this specific institutional site as well as understandings of the smallpresence of this type of initiative displayed by the outcomes of the online survey applied in the ILEESproject. Further, conducting micro-ethnographies upon such initiatives might be useful in understandingtheir local meaning-making processes. This paper is organized in four sections. The first one presents the theoretical framework assumedthus far; the following section deploys the process of data collection and analysis of the pre-field workthat I have conducted in reading ethnographically two websites of Colombian writing centers; and finally,the third section proposes further research efforts from an ethnographic perspective. 4. 4Theoretical framework The academic field on higher education writing has addressed different disciplinary and researchapproaches, which have been strongly configured by the features of the local university systems and thehome-based public policies in education. Consequently, researching on higher education writing hasaimed at exploring two sites. On the one hand, the expectations of the governments through their publicpolicies and of the university directives; and, on the other hand, the historical accounts about how andwhy writing in higher education has become either a pedagogic goal or a research focus. Identifying bothtypes of accounts are useful and necessary in guiding further research agendas regarding how and whypedagogies on writing might impact higher education. Theoretically speaking, this field has framed writing as an intertwined practice within universitycontexts and disciplinary epistemologies (Lea y Street, 1998; Carlino, 2008). As a result, writing isconceived as a historical and ideological practice and thus highly cognitively specialized (Bazerman, 2006;Kalman, 2008). Consequently, literacy practices of students and faculty are part of a specialized knowledgeassociated with epistemological and institutional contexts of higher education (Lea y Street, 1998). Accordingly, theoretical developments in the field have claimed that becoming a writer is a complexphenomenon highly configured by the conventions and expectations of their practitioners; however, sincesuch conventions and expectations are mostly a tacit knowledge, the access and practice of writing inhigher education are embedded in a struggle process for newcomers (Soliday, 2011; Thaiss & Myers,2006). Under this assumption, students shortcomings as writers are not interpreted as lacking ofgrammar knowledge. Rather, these difficulties are seen as evidence of a complex process ofacknowledging, using, and accessing to literacy practices affected by the own personal histories(Herrington y Curtis, 2000), and by institutional and disciplinary requirements and expectations,particularly, from academic and university cultures (Hall y Lpez, 2011). To sum up, in this project the writing difficulties of students or faculty are not seen as deficits(Ganobcsik-Williams, 2004). Rather, writing is understood as a specialized learning and practice forparticipating within academic contexts (Carter, 2007); therefore, writing is an intellectual challenge and astruggling process whereby writers build their own identities as members of disciplinary and universitycommunities (Herrington y Curtis, 2000; Castell, 2007). The figure 3 displays an attempt in summarizing and integrating visually some of the categoriesinvolved in the theoretical framework presented. 5. 5Figure 3Depiction of the theoretical categories 6. 6Methodological approachTo this exploratory project the websites publicizing the writing centers are pieces of a largereveryday phenomena related to such initiatives. Despite the websites have been designed by otherprofessionals not necessarily involved directly with the initiatives, these websites designs have beenapproved by the leaders of the initiatives; thus, inferences might be drawn from such online information.Accordingly, I conducted an online search by Google under the key words in Spanish Centro deescritura en Colombia to identify writing centers websites. The figure 4 displays the geographic locationof the four writing centers identified by the online search. These writing centers belong to privateuniversities located in the capital of the country, Bogot D.C. (# 1 # 3), Santiago de Cali (# 2), andBarranquilla (# 4). These three cities might be deemed as urban centers in economic terms. This firstapproximation enabled me to frame ethnographically the first question: What counts as writing centers inthe Colombian case?Figure 4The Colombian writing center websites appointed by the Google search 7. 7A first attempt in turning reality into texts The first attempt in exploring meanings of the community that can be seen as a writing center, Istarted making detailed written descriptions from the websites. This first attempt in turning what has beenstated by the websites into texts confirmed me that the huge challenge in analyzing ethnographically iscontrolling ethnocentrism (Emerson, Fretz, Shaw, 1995). Accordingly, I conducted carefully a grand tourobservation to describe a website as well as using emic terms and taxonomies of the cultural grammarpertain to the phenomenon analyzed (Green, Dixon, & Zaharlic, 2003). I started to analyze the website of the writing center # 1 given this initiative belongs to the most 2important private university in the country, Universidad de los Andes (Figure 1). To start my gran tourobservation, I decided to read the information available in the home page of the website, but aiming at 3describing process and practices that could be inferred from the information deployed by the website .Figure 1A snapshot of the home page of the website of the writing center #12Universidad de los Andes has been deemed as the best private university based on a Colombian ranking, which tookin consideration the number of international publications produced by the faculty members and the number ofresearch groups. Additionally, the ranking place took in consideration the amount of master and doctorate programsoffered by the University and that have been approved by the Ministry of Education in the institution. This informationhas been retrievedfrom: website is available at: 8. 8 I used a rubric with three columns in which I arranged texts, descriptions of cultural process orpractices, and my interpretations or glosses (Table 1). I have called texts to those sections in the websitethat were clearly delimited graphically in the website design, because were envisioned as meaning units ormessages to interact with websites readers. The figure 2 illustrates graphically the segmentations of thetexts in the case of the website of the writing center # 2.Table 1First analytic rubric designed # TextInscribed cultural process/practiceMy interpretation or gloss1University students could ask for the services of an university site called: a writing center to succeed in their programs In doing so, the student can set anWhat countsas writingQu es el Centro de Escritura?appointment with someone calledassignmentsforthe --------------------------------------tutor to receive assistance in participants? El Centro de Escritura es un lugar al que los writing assignments estudiantes de todas las carreras pueden asistir para This tutor will be a graduate student recibir tutoras que los lleven a mejorar sus habilidades During the appointment the tutor What this mean? What is the de escritura para enfrentar exitosamente los retoswill work with the student who set difference between working acadmicos de la vida universitaria. Los tutores delthe appointment, not with his/herwith the student rather than Centro trabajan con los estudiantes para mejorar sustextsworking with his/her text? textos, no con los textos.Students could practice theirWhat counts of those for the reading and writing skills according participants (tutor and to their needs student)? Especially, whatwould be a need? Studentshould bring to Why? appointments the instructors prompts and the textFigure 2Graphic depiction of the segmentation of the website pages by texts Text 1 Text 2 9. 9 After having detailed descriptions in the rubric, semantic relationships were identified to categorizethe cultural grammar emerging from the data translated from the website (Spradley, 1979). The table 2deploys an example of this analytic procedure.Table 2Rubric to analyzing semantic relationshipsRelationshipForm Example Comments/glossSpatial X is a place in Y A writing center is a place (ispart of) in the Universidad delos AndesCause-effectX is a result of YSucceed in the programs is theUniversidad de los Andes is aresult of attending to thewriting centerRationale X is a reason for doing Y Having writing assignments is a If it so, the entire studentreason to setting appointmentspopulation should attend toin the writing center the writing center, becausewriting assignments are themost common means toevaluate studentsAttribution Xisan attribution Being a graduate student is an(characteristic) of Y attribution of being a tutorSince I realized that I had not been consistently systematic in making visible the culturalknowledge (e.g., beliefs, views the world, rights, and obligations), the following analytic rubric (Table 3) 10. 10has been designed to pursue such aim (Green, Dixon., & Zaharlick, 2003). For this second analytic attempt,I explored the website of the writing center # 2 of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Santiago de Cali.Table 3An analytic rubric to make visible cultural knowledgeNo. TextsWhat is FirstActorsRoutinesMeanings Memb...