Date of Graduation

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

College/School

School of Education

Department/Program

International and Multicultural Education

First Advisor

Susan R Katz

Second Advisor

Helen Maniates

Third Advisor

Mark Meritt

Abstract

Written communication is a cornerstone of college and career success, yet many students arrive at college underprepared for the writing demands of the academic discourse community. The potential reasons for the perceived gap in writing ability point to the ongoing challenges of education in the United States. As the population pursuing college degrees becomes more diverse, expectations differ between high school and college, equity in education issues persist and standardization focuses on academic skills, overlooking the potential role that nonacademic or "soft" skills play in student success. When decisions are made to address these concerns, the student perspective is frequently left out of the discussion.

By taking a Participatory Action Research approach, this study explored the skills, habits, and behaviors used in the transition to college and college writing from the student perspective. The research team included 20 first-time freshmen college students and one instructor/university researcher in a first semester Written Communication I course. Research data consisted of a survey, journals, discussion board posts, partner dialogues, final research papers and presentations, and reflections on the process. Emergent themes included the need for students to take responsibility and manage themselves, to adjust their attitudes and expectations, and to recognize the role of writing and reading in academic success. The results validated the intricate link between writing and college success and the role that nonacademic skills play in fulfilling academic goals. In addition, the team found value in conducting this type of study during the college transition process.

This PAR study emphasized that college students can and should take control of their education and highlighted how colleges and high schools could support students in the preparation and transition stages. The co-researchers made many specific suggestions for future development and further research. However, the research team realized the most immediate benefits by seeing how they were able to use what they observed and researched to improve their own experience and the experiences of future freshmen. By aligning the study with the course goals and learning outcomes, the research team witnessed firsthand the power that can come from writing and having their voices heard.

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