AIR UNIVERSITY AND THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE – WRITING AND RESEARCH
Chapter 7 discusses Writing and Research
The act of writing and research in academia is one as old as education itself. Throughout history, the practice of searching out knowledge in order to complete or inform one’s field has been instrumental to the present and future functioning of said discipline. At AU the strategy of internal growth and innovation through research and production of empirical writing resources will only add fuel to an already good reputation as a school of excellence. The following articles give some good advice and a look into the practice of research and writing within higher learning. The first article, “Students’ perspectives on academic writing in the digital age” gives a view into how digital research and communication can be used to sustain and grow research within academia. Indeed, this very literature review was written using digital research. The second article, “Developing faculty as a writing community” looks at some of the same strategies for research and writing from the point of view of teachers. The united concepts of collaboration and synthesis within both groups have direct application to research within education as well as other fields.
Academic writing for all intents and purposes has changed drastically over the last few decades, mostly due to the ubiquity of online journals, books, and other digital resources that are easily accessed, researchable, and open for use by basically anyone who wants or needs information to use in research, qualitative or quantitative. Research used to be a laborious process of going to a library, schlepping stacks of books to a table or copier, poring over microfiche, and flipping through endless journals to glean some information on the appropriate topic. However, now with most content online and open for use by almost anyone, information on any topic is searchable inside and outside of almost anything. “The result is an exploration of how time and space together affect and alter modes of academic communication, how communication itself emerges from dialogues that combine our own and others’ thinking, and how attempts to close down and conventionalize academic practices will (and can usefully) be overcome through experimentation with genre” (Sinclair, 2015, p. 44). Through the means of digital research and collaboration, just about any topic can be scrutinized and analyzed to its deepest core. In her research, Sinclair borrows a concept from Bahktin’s essays on the novel published in The Dialogic Imagination (Bakhtin, 1981). “They are: The chronotope – a mutually constitutive configuration of time and space: for example, a meeting or a journey. Interanimation – the process by which languages and dialogues mutually illuminate each other: for example, picking up a new understanding from an interlocutor’s metaphor. The monologic – in contrast to the dialogic where language and ideas are negotiated, the monologic is authoritative and fixed, not open to change: for example, the genre of classical epic poetry” (Sinclair, 2015, p. 45). Through research and practice, these three conceptual methods can be used to explain and guide research in the digital age. Part of this concept is the use of the chronotope as a means of understanding ways in which to use time and space differently in education and research. “Bakhtin’s idea of the chronotope as a time-space ordering device in literary contexts has been adopted by writers on education to suggest that our current conventionalized routines of time and space are outmoded and that there is a need for new ways of thinking about time and space in technology-mediated learning” (Sinclair, 2015, p. 46). The practice of interanimation can also be used to great effect in research. “Interanimation means that one person’s words are taken on by others, who make them their own through their own practice. It is happening all the time” (Sinclair, 2015, p. 47). The idea behind this is that there is an ongoing conversation, academically, culturally, and socially, that was, is, and will continue to be. As researchers, the key is to be involved in the conversation and never discount information just because it appears to be outdated, but use the information either in different and new ways or as a way to transform modern conversation and research. Finally, Sinclair looks at the monologic as it relates to modern research. The monologic is characterized as authoritative and not open to change or discussion. However, in the sometimes post-modern world of academia and research, the monologic is seen as too restrictive as a means for meaningful and progressing research. Esearchers have the need to take a novel idea and make it take flight. This, after all, is what doctoral candidates are encouraged to do when writing dissertations. However, the tacit need to include supporting research in any study is understood, but sometimes more restrictive to the research process, especially in nascent areas. This leads to a need for reaching outside the monologic toward the novel and less supported. “Recognizing and challenging the monologic may be half the battle” (Sinclair, 2015, p. 48). While this method of research is counter to the best-practice of supporting research, some of the lesser-supported research of today is where the biggest breakthroughs ate being made. It’s through the hard work and courage of researchers operating on the fringes of the monologic that these leaps are made.
Writing communities have long been a constructive way to encourage and produce research in academia, but are often not used within the university. Unfortunately, there is often so much individualism and competition within academia that researchers tend to go it alone or simply are not encouraged or supported by their peers. However, through community and interaction, this can change. Human beings, after all, are social animals. “They want to live as writers in community rather than isolation” (Muller, 2014, p. 34). Through the interactions and encouragement within writing groups, researchers can produce more and better ideas and research. “Lots of people exercise more in groups, read more books with groups, lose more weight in groups. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that many faculty members might write more in groups, too?” (Muller, 2014, p. 35). In his study including faculty members at UNC Chapel Hill, Muller decided to set up a writing community and invite any and all participants. “The response was enthusiastic. Sixty-two faculty members joined the program from thirteen departments within the College of Arts and Sciences and nine of the university’s eleven professional schools” (Muller, 2014, p. 35-36). After the membership was settled, the researchers were sorted into groups after being surveyed to ascertain how they wanted to be sorted (i.e., by discipline or interdisciplinary). The general consensus was to be sorted at least along broad disciplinary lines. “The various groups developed different ways of working. All set regular in-person meetings (weekly or biweekly) of varying durations, and a few experimented with Skype sessions or other virtual meeting solutions. Some of the groups created writing log systems as a way of fostering accountability. Some of the groups experimented with tools for managing distractions. Some groups developed systems for sharing and critiquing drafts; others focused exclusively on the writing process and did not read one another’s work. Some of the groups interspersed sessions simply for writing rather than talking about their writing” (Muller, 2014, p. 37). After the inaugural program was finished, the results were examined and found almost universally positive. “There is little doubt that even in its inaugural season it was a success both at supporting scholarly productivity and building faculty relationships across campus” (Muller, 2014, p. 39). This type of writing and research community strategy could be extremely useful and productive within AU. Imagine giving the opportunity for your smartest people to really put their minds and power together and produce empirical research that can change the face of not only how AU does things and thinks, but the way education across the spectrum can be realized.
Muller, E.L. (2014). Developing the Faculty as a Writing Community. Academe, 100 (6), 34-38.
Sinclair, C. (2015). Students’ perspectives on academic writing in the digital age. TechTrends, 59 (1), 44-49.