Media Literacy and Composition Studies

At the 2018 SXSW EDU conference danah boyd discussed media literacy, and contemporary struggles with media literacy. Namely, she pointed that the focus on skills and practices as applied through various digital tools can do as much harm as good. When we support student development of digital literacies and media literacies – they may use those skills to weaponize extremist groups (on both the left and right – using the American political system).

boyd points to the need to consider, discuss, and reconsider epistemology – how do we make knowledge, how do we discuss knowledge, how is that knowledge valued. Practices and knowledges have significant amounts of overlap – but they are different. That difference between the two is where media literacy falls short. Even incorporating information literacy, and many other xxxxx literacies, these approaches tend to focus on the skills and abilities, how students make knowledge of these existing communication acts without considering the larger cultural context, how knowledge operates, is made, is valued (or devalued) within the larger culture. Essentially, we are in the middle of a culture war that media literacy is ill equipped to engage in.

What I found so compelling about her discussion is the connection to Composition Studies. For decades, Composition Studies has been in a similar culture war. I re-read Yancey’s “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key” last night and was struck by her bleak picture of diminishing English departments, her tracing of the devaluing of ‘writing’ because of the numerous definitions, ideas, and assumptions held about writing. As we currently read about universities in Wisconsin cutting English programs and majors – reducing English faculty to Composition Instructors (not by title, but content area valued at the institution) it’s clear there is a similar culture war within higher education – or simply an area of the same culture war boyd mentions.

As a Composition Instructor I often hear “students can’t use APA and it’s just a series of rules,” or “students don’t understand grammar,” or “students can’t write.” My job is reduced to rule memorizer and grammar teacher. The understanding of writing, the value it lends to the university is rule based – ignoring the significant evidence that writing supports and develops reading, thinking, agency, identity, and so much more. boyd’s point really resonated with me – I do think that media literacy as supporting skill development is as useless as composition lecturing on grammar and MLA/APA rules. That decontextualizes information, knowledges, ideas, values. It removes these skills/practices from the real-lived situations where writing happens, where media making and consuming happens as if the ideas presented through the use of the correct rules doesn’t matter. It potentially weaponizes writing abilities, similarly to boyd’s discussion of weaponizing media literacy skills.

As a discipline, many within composition studies are focused on ideas and explorations of transfer. How do we help students understand the contexts they write within, the audiences they write for, the arguments available within those spaces, the practices expected, and the ideas valued as the approaches to helping students recognize the grammar and style guide rules. We spend more time developing epistemology than we discuss rules. Could this be the answer to media literacy – contextualize the skill development, ask students to determine the appropriate media for their message. Both approaches place significant value back on the message. Words matter, ideas matter – let’s spend time discussing that.

The downside to this discussion is always time and content. K-12 teachers prepare students for graduation requirements and standardized testing. Adding one more area of discussion that’s difficult to assess (if 30 students use 30 different media how can that be assessed?) is asking a lot of teachers. Similarly, college composition faculty spend so much time trying to help students think creatively and analytically and critically is there time to add more media literacy into the composition curriculum. I only have students for 15 weeks their freshmen year, and if i’m lucky, 15 weeks their junior year. That is such a short period of time to engage with epistemology, and writing, and disciplinary writing, and discourse community, and and and and…….

I know boyd’s video has been somewhat controversial and my aim is not to critique or defend her. Instead, I want to consider her struggle, the struggle of media literacy, through the lens of the struggle of composition studies as a discipline. Is there anything media literacy can learn from composition studies, and is there anything composition studies can learn from media literacy to help students as they wade into the contemporary culture war?


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What do we mean by OER?

I just finished reading The Educator’s Guide to Producing New Media and Open Educational Resources by Tim D Green and Abbie H Brown. I was really excited by the title of this book, and hoping for a discussion of creating OER to meet individual classroom needs – a discussion i’m hoping to cultivate as part of my Media Literacy Institute this summer.

Overall this book provides great, very basic, how-to instructions for first-time producers of digital materials for classrooms. A ton of time is spent going through how and where to click, how to plan for digital materials to reduce time spent creating. The richest chapter is the how-to create a podcast.

Unfortunately, if you know a little about how to create materials, this is not a helpful book. I skimmed so much of the how-to clicking because it’s either clicking I already know, or clicking I can figure out when I’m creating new media.

What I found most interesting about this book is the discussion of Open Educational Resources, or OER. There is a basic overview of Copyright considerations (I think Hobbes covers more in Copyright Clarity and highly recommend that book to anyone interested). It’s the discussion of creating OER by culling sources through an RSS feed, or simply sharing worksheets that is so interesting to me.

Yes, culling a unique list of sources is OER – sharing that source (like a reading list) is technically OER. But I don’t think that’s how most educators use the term “OER”. I think most educators think of digital articles, free to download (and change/modify/remix) textbooks – not personalized magazines of articles. I kept wondering how the personal list of sources was any different than a Learning Management Source module. I have accumulated the sources in my LMS module to support student learning, I created the assignment sheet with my unique approach to language and document design – if I published the module folder here does that mean i’ve created an OER?

I don’t want this post to sound like I’m splitting hairs on definitions, however, I do think having a baseline agreement on what OER means has implications for adoption and credibility of those resources. It seems Green and Brown are arguing for a really broad understanding to increase searching for, remixing, and adopting already-available sources. But that argument seems misplaced in a book about producing resources.

I wish more time and guiding questions were available to help educators with the decision making portion of OER. I have my students read digital articles, while my colleagues circulate articles about lack of engagement with digital articles. I wanted to see questions to guide my design (beyond the paragraph on UDL) to help students engage with the digital materials i’ve created for them in the LMS. I wanted the book to say “students struggle with engaging with digital text (see research studies here, here and here (yes I need to start looking for this research so I have actual examples in the future))” here are some questions to consider to support student reading engagement and content learning as you design your own digital media, or as you remix existing media to support your learners.

I love access to digital materials, and I think there are a lot of opportunities for digital resources to support more engaged learning with so many of our students. But not if we don’t ask the questions and consider what students need as we discuss how to design, remix, and cull sources. If you want to have these harder conversations, unfortunately this is not the book for you. If you want some basic information on a few types of digital resources available to K-16 classrooms, with detailed information on how and where to click – this is the book for you.

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No Such Thing as Bad Writers

I’ve been reading extensively in Digital Citizenship lately as I prepare for some new research projects, prepare my Media Literacy Institute on Digital Citizenship (more information here), and reconsider approaches in composition classrooms that could include more direct conversation on our social media/content creation use as digital citizenship. The goal for me has become the idea of digital citizenship as critical approach to technology and stewardship to support digital citizenship understanding by others.

So with these two approaches to thinking always at the forefront of my thinking, I read an Inside Higher Ed post on “Bad Writing“. While the blame is placed heavily on K-12’s required standardized tests that force the hands of educators – I think we need to stop calling this Bad Writing. Again – at the forefront of my thinking is this idea of stewardship, if we (educators/faculty) continue to have public conversations about how “kids today don’t write so good” that negativity will continue to be associated with writing. While there is plenty of evidence that standardized testing to measure writing ability requires very formulaic structure that has very little to do with the actual content of writing, scores are decent which means kids today write very well! For where they are measured!

This is the key for me – for where they are measure, how they are measured. When students come to my composition courses with my adapted Teaching for Transfer curriculum (shout out to #4c18 and my panel on this curriculum on Friday 3/16), they are asked to understand the interchange among discourse community, purpose, audience, and ethos. As the understanding develops through the theme (for me, remix) students begin to understand that certain discourse communities allow for certain arguments and analysis – purpose is not global it needs to match the argument within the discourse community AND be meaningful to the audience. I could go on and on – but the key here is – coming out of high school these students graduated and were admitted to college. They understood how to develop an argument on a standardized test that met the needs of their audience (the test grading service), and demonstrated their ability within the discourse community (K-12 education).

If I supported the idea that these students were bad writers i’m not allowing them agency over their successes so far. In fact – I’m denigrating their successes so far. I’m taking away the success they had at developing an argument for a discourse community. They are in college! They have succeeded. My job is to help them be successful at navigating the more nuanced discourse communities. I want to empower my students to recognize these communities and determine how to adjust their writing process accordingly. Because, let’s be honest, they’ll take a class from that one professor who cares more about spacing in APA citations than they do the content of writing (ahem….how is this different than the standardized test?). They’ll also need to understand their education and educational experiences so they craft themselves as strong employees to their internship supervisors and future employers – so they get the interviews, the jobs.

Again, I’m approaching life through positive development of digital citizenship and stewardship. We’re all already using technology. If I rage about the misuse of Twitter I’m accomplishing nothing – my students are just hearing more negativity (by the way, there is an interesting IHE post on citizens stepping back from social media sharing). They are sick of the negativity, so they tune it out. This – tuning out – that is dangerous for writing instruction. I don’t want students to tune out and not care about thinking and writing and learning and how all these will help them in their classes – their careers. So why would I approach the situation so negatively? It’s not working for cyberbullying campaigns (thanks Digital Citizenship theory) why would it work for teaching writing?

So I’m calling on al my readers (hello!) to consider their approaches to teaching, or studenting (there is not good word for this, hahahahaha), or citizenship as stewardship. I’m not just an eternal optimist arguing for positivity, I’m drawing on real data from digital citizenship studies that show positive approaches – stewardship – to digital citizenship supports better understanding and critical engagement with technology and what citizenship means in a global technology world. Let’s use that in composition studies – let’s use that with writing!

What would it mean to drop the conversations about “Bad Writing” and instead focus on the ways that students succeeded in writing, and the ways we (educators/instructors/researchers) can help students develop a richer understanding of writing (again TFT model here) for more successful writing for specific situations. Let’s actually make this happen and stop calling writing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ which confuses college students by removing their agency. Let’s say “Great work – you’re in college! Now, let’s start developing a richer understanding of writing so you don’t write a 5 paragraph essay for a discourse community – a course – where your audience will not approve of the stilted argument development and structure”.

Let’s approach the teaching of composition as stewards instead!

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OER Week!!!!

This week scholars, teachers, and organization celebrated Open Educational Resources (OER) week to raise awareness of OERs available. Millersville celebrated with online, streamed sessions covering topics such as finding and creating OER, copyright and OER, and my session reading with OER/digital materials. We recorded the sessions and are hosting them here. We had a lot of fun with these sessions, I encourage you to check them out!

My session focused on reading with OER and digital materials. I talk a lot about the connections reading makes with learning, background knowledge, and the need for learning pathways (High Impact Practices). My session really hits a lot of the popular key phrases about education currently. BUT, connecting what we read to existing knowledge is so important for students today – especially with the amount of digital reading available. You can watch my session and post questions if you have theory questions – I don’t want to recreate my talk here.

What I want to focus on is the question I was asked. One of the participants asked how to support K-12 students understanding facts, opinion framed facts, and ‘fake’ news.

I love that this question was posed. The celebration of OERs usually focus on textbooks. With many K-12 institutions adopting 1-to-1 (one device one student), the assumption is students already know how to read digital materials. When I first proposed my reading session I did hear that feedback. What’s so interesting to me is Composition scholarship and scholars (just this week in a listserv) have been discussing reading, and the need for teaching deep reading to support students as they learn to write since Composition scholarship began.

Before that, Literature has made this argument since written literacy became valued over oral literacy. In other words, supporting reading is not new – and the assumption that 13 years of education = deep reading across all disciplines is also not new.

To further complicate these ideas, we now live in a media saturated world, with a 24 hours news cycle, easy access to digital information, and a proliferation of ‘fake’ news. It’s impossible for us (scholars, teachers, educators, parents) to separate media literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy from reading, writing, and the discourse surrounding ‘fake’  news. So the fact that this question was asked is not at all surprising, but instead AMAZING. A K-12 educator who streamed the session cares about supporting good reading in their students – and wants to develop connections to information literacy. This is really important.

As I move toward developing the Media Literacy Institute for Summer 2018 I’m starting to reconsider some sessions, some activities. Problem #1: there is too much to include. Problem #2: there is too little time.

On a random side note – i’m on all the email list servs and seeing Media Literacy Institutes and certifications offered by so many organizations. Can one ever be “Media Literacy Certified” OR is this certification of life-long learning and good question asking?

I’m starting to see the need to shift digital literacy to digital fluency – but I want this to mean media literacy + information literacy + reading + writing + discourse community awareness. The more I think of ways to define a general understanding that will shift as needed for learners I’m liking this idea more and more. So, I want to thanks the participant in my OER session for pushing me in this direction by connecting reading OER with ‘fake’ news!

And now to further explore the idea of digital fluency so I can add more concrete details to the daily schedule for the Media Literacy Institute Summer 2018.

If you have time, check out our recorded sessions. There was so much amazing information, and fantastic questions from the global participants (we advertised globally!). If you have questions about my session, feel free to ask them here.

Here is a direct link to my recording.

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Civil Conversation

Many many years ago I was presenting on rhetorical practices in a political blog site at a regional conference. One of the attendees commented that exploring content and rhetorical practices through a popular political blog site would be a great assignment for students – but they should have to follow a blog with opposite beliefs.

For years I’ve struggled with this comment – I don’t know many 18-20 year olds comfortable enough with the content of their political beliefs or political party to understand, engage and recognize the belief systems and practices of an opposition party. In the last 5-8 years with various third parties rising to some prominence, there is also the very real issue that there are not just two political parties in America, so the idea of following an ‘opposite’ could be wildly problematic.

While the conversation occurred years ago, I was recently asked to take part on a planning committee for a conference that will focus on media and civil responsibilities. Some leaders of this particular committee saw I’m teaching a Media Literacy Institute on Digital Citizenship and asked if I’d be interested – since the topics were so much in alignment. During the planning, my class, the idea of teaching teachers, and digital citizenship/digital natives as important but complicated concepts were raised as important ideas to explore at the conference.

I left the meeting to teach my freshmen composition course, where my students struggled through Adam Banks work on digital griots. I began to wonder how i’m introducing and using articles written by women and people of color to engage with ideas of citizenship, rights and responsibilities, and their connections to literacies (reading, writing, and internet-based). We use social media extensively in the classroom – we discuss positive uses, and use the space to engage with complicated conversations – but am I supporting transfer so these practices will help students in their role as global citizens internet produsers. We engage with amazingly civil conversations about difficult subjects, and I was even accused (although I found it complimentary) of “making students think too hard, and thinking is hard”.

As i’m beginning to think through ideas for this future conference (Fall 2018), I’m wondering if there are more structured ways of discussing the civil engagement of the course in social media space, on difficult subjects, to more overtly draw attention to the digital citizenship support of my curriculum. I’ve drawn attention to the engagement with race, gender, class, SES – the use of social media to support good writing of various types for various audiences – to building a positive digital footprint. But i’ve never said “digital citizen” in class.

How overt should our discussions be in class to support positive digital citizenship formation?

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Assignment Guidelines

I introduced the Module 2 assignments to my Web Writing and Content Management course on Monday. They are creating a Landscape Analysis, Audience Analysis, and Content Recommendation report.

I’m so excited about these assignments. Students can do so many creative things, with very little work, and no design experience. So, I left page requirements, word requirements, general recommendations related to formatting completely off the assignment. I told students to refer to the course textbook which includes summaries, bullet objectives, graphics, and images to convey information as a guideline.

So reading Warner’s similar recommendation on Inside Higher Education was great. Similar to Warner’s discussion, I left off requirements because I want students to think about content design in their reports about content design. I told them this.

BUT, I still had questions about page length. While this is really not surprising – this is a Junior level course, these students are really good at being students – it is more difficult to help guide students through analysis of content applying principles from the reading while also asking them to apply those same ideas to their own document. The questions students asked about document length and formatting absolutely indicated the final ‘reports’ they imagined look like essays.

Next week when we meet we’ll briefly discuss content, so they use their analysis of Landscape and Audience to connect directly to content recommendations and content created. We’ll discuss how this is what they’re very comfortable doing with secondary evidence in writing that is familiar to them, and more reminiscent of writing they’ll complete in professional settings. Now, I need to further reinforce that they need to critically analyze the format of THEIR content as an ethos move.

I’m considering tweeting good and bad examples all week, but that would require so much work. How did I learn to consider document design as part of ethos, how do I help students to that metacognitive space?

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Media Literacy Institute

I am coordinating the Media Literacy Institute again!!!! This summer we will focus on Digital Citizenship. But not cyberbullying digital citizenship – deep discussions of what it means to be a public participant and global citizen in a technology world. We’ll also consider how to keep our understandings flexible so we can grow and adapt as technologies change, to support our own learner needs, and help others as we can.

First, visit my new course site:

Second, I’m way overthinking the design, information architecture, discourse community, and audience of my webspace. So I’m teaching Web Writing and Content Management this semester. I’m currently finalizing their first big project (1 of 2) and determining how to guide students to engage with these concepts as they analyze the existing space and offer recommendations.

As I’m building this course space, I’m now over analyzing it. I have 2 audiences, teachers who will enroll as students, and graduate students. For all students the major question (information architecture) is what do they think they need to be students in the course, to be actively engaged? What do I think they need – and how do I find a happy student in the mix between those two needs?

The teachers may only take the summer institute for professional development – so they won’t have long-term access to D2L – what are their unique needs? How can a course website serve their purposes?

If I keep using this space in future semesters – how will it need to be updated, shifted, changed – how will that affect the students from Summer 2018?

For now – I’m trying to keep navigation at a minimum to ensure students access the syllabus and understand the course requirements. I want them to see the freedom they have to decide on what elements will meet their needs, will support their learning, so they see the benefit to the course and register. But, I also want to push them – I want them to create digital or multimodal texts, I want them to push their learning. So there are elements of the syllabus I’m not publishing (ahem…….in class group work exploring how to exploit algorithms to support learning…….I’m so excited for this). So, in publishing this syllabus, am I demonstrating the openness of this course (with a content focus that can shift to meet learners where they are at, and where they need digital citizenship), am I showcasing how doable the course is, and am I building in time to push learners in new directions? I’m architecting so much learning, with guest speakers thrown in, that it’s no wonder I’m overthinking 🙂

As I’m brushing up on my digital citizenship theory i’m seeing tons of connections to composition theory. I’ll explore this in a future post 🙂

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What is ‘good’ writing?

As my students begin (hopefully) writing their Reflection essays this weekend (it’s due next Friday so this is possibly wishful thinking) – I’ve noticed I’ve discussed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing A LOT this week. Not just with students in my classes, but with former students, grad students, colleagues, and even at home.

As part of a faculty reading group in my department we’ve discussed teaching – especially teaching moments in online courses (and their relationship to design, assignments, assessment, etc.). So i’ve been contemplating how i’ll assess and comment on the drafts submitted next week. As I was thinking about this, I was told a story about a professor saying “since you struggle with writing, go to the Writing Center.” This reminds me of an elementary teacher telling my mom I’d always struggle with writing. In both these situations I would argue the professor/teacher is the culprit of ‘bad’ writing. Clearly there was a lack of audience awareness for the potential outcomes of such a statement. For me, I obviously set out to prove her wrong (HA! joke is on you teacher who I really do appreciate). For the other student, she’s rethinking how far she’ll continue in higher education and reducing her career goals because she obviously selected beyond her capabilities. NO!!!! Just no!

I think what’s hardest for me, and probably the reason Rhet/Comp resonated so much with me, is I could have been that statistic. One mis-directed comment could have derailed my educational plans, when that was completely unintended by the speaker/writer.

So coming back to assessment – how can we use the Teaching for Transfer key concept model AN view assessment feedback as a teaching moment so we don’t recreate ‘bad writing’ through our comments? And, how do we balance these teaching moments so students attend to the comments and transfer the learning to the next essay?

The easy answer is to keep the feedback short – right. So students will actually read it.

I use a 1 point rubric – which is as un-rubric like as you can get – which is why I love it. I break feedback down into “What you did well” and “where to improve”. So now I’m considering how I need to attend to each of the 4 key concepts (5 for Content Management) within this structure – to tie my assessment feedback to the core of my curriculum in an attempt to maximize transfer. So when I go through ‘how is purpose attended to in this essay’ in class – I need to better use that in my rubric.

I’m thinking:

Based on our class discussion, each key concept needed to be directly discussed in this Reflection, and considered as a rhetorical move within the text of the essay. Here are my comments for where you excelled and where there is room for growth:

What you did well:

Where to improve:

Since I have a week until I’ll need this structure it may change, we’ll see. Too formulaic?

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eportfolios and badges

On Saturday I attended the full day workshop on ePortfolios at AAC&U. In several different sessions, and by several different speakers, the idea of using ‘badges’ to support student learning through eportfolios was mentioned.

While I use games in my classroom I’ve never found good integration points for badges – I always see them as behavior driven, or skill-based. I don’t think writing is a skill – I don’t think certifying students in FYC who earn a C or better as “FYC Writing Skill” would carry significant meaning/weight.

I think the mentioning (and it was mentioning not full panel discussions – more ‘here’s another way to use eportfolios, digital badges’) of badges was to add a layer of cool, to point to recent innovations and further digital connections – the idea really stuck with me as a framework for approaching eportfolio design as my institution. In focusing on developing an online graduate certificate program for writing, the goal is to clearly communicate to potential students (and employers) the value of this degree. This is where eportfolios is a great connection – they allow professional writing samples and reflection on learning to raise student awareness of their writing practices and their understanding of writing.

If badges are system ‘awards’ that ‘certify’ learning – how can these be integrated to better demonstrate and exemplify learning outcomes of the program in a way that both attracts students and communicates meaningful information to employers?

I currently (and have for a long time) play Words with Friends (the newer edition). This game awards badges for completing points in a week, for creating a specific number of words using difficult letters like J, Q, Z, etc. The app is designed to force me to click through badges (good UX design to raise awareness for a new award system!), but beyond some coins or help, these badges don’t have any meaning. For me, these types of badges dilute the meaning of meaningful badges because they offer nothing to the player. They don’t support game learning, they don’t support learning of new words (the dictionary attachment with definitions is a great addition for on-demand learning!). What is the value of these badges.

So as I move forward with my difficult question of considering how to design program learning outcomes as badges to support a portfolio project in a graduate certificate (hahahaha that is quite the goal for the next month), I want to draw from meaningless to craft meaningful.

I do think that translating program learning outcomes to badges, then asking students to understand the learning outcomes by submitting portfolio quality papers to each area of the program is a great way to visualize learning goals that will help learners through the program, and help them communicate their own learning and expertise upon graduation. The first obstacle will be committee buy-in of the learning outcome translations I present to them……..

I am excited that there are meaningful ways to rethink badges – to use badges without even necessarily describing them with that videogame-based terminology that will support better student learning. Now to design that at the program level, then the course level………

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What is Writing?

This semester I’m teaching an Advanced Composition course – Web Writing and Content Management. I have all these wonderful, newly published, short articles on why web design, web planning, web implementation, information architecture and user experience design need to work with content creators – the WHOLE time. Fantastic for supporting the goals of Advanced Composition through Web Content Management and strategy, right?

Since it’s week 1 I’m introducing ALL the ideas – what is writing? Key concepts to build foundational knowledge to support future transfer. As I post Active Reading questions to support engaged learning I’m struggling with the non-Composition perspective of writing – learning to write as a skill that will benefit you (learner) forever.

Yes, I completely, 100% agree with that position, BUT I want to know what “learning to write” means. How does one show they can write? If this huge category of web creators need writers, the implication is they need help with writing – so how is successful content measured.

Yes, I study writing so I clearly have all the writing questions – but I’m genuinely curious how this functions in the businesses. I know a few faculty have worked with companies to support writing, and written studies on this, but I’m interested from the teaching perspective. How do I help my students (many are not Writing Studies majors) recognize the need for good writing, and teach them to argue for and value their abilities to employers who don’t understand the skill set?

I love the sequence of a one semester Freshmen Writing and a one semester Junior Writing, but I also feel like Advanced Composition is really complex for the Capstone support and post-graduation support required from a 15 week course. I need to structure readings and writings to support assignments, that have real-world applications, and help students use their writing development to support post-graduation – when they are more concerned with graduating on time. So when the super relevant articles for class emphasize “learning to write” – which is supportive of my curriculum and their learning in my course – how do I also support questioning what that means to support post-graduation critical thinking?

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