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Learning Writing Assignments Across the Undergraduate Nursing Curriculum Open Access


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Susan Chaudoir
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Thesis Abstract
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Many studies in the fields of postsecondary education and WAC/WID writing research have documented respectively the kinds of genres undergraduates write in college but few develop an in-depth and contextualized understanding of how students learn their major area of study through writing discipline-specific genres. This doctoral research specifically reports findings from an interdisciplinary case study that explored learning to write in one baccalaureate nursing degree program at one Canadian university. A combination of rhetorical genre and situated learning theories and institutional ethnography methods were used to help document student and instructor perspectives of learning to write two recurring writing assignments called the scholarly paper and journal of reflective practice, which students composed in each semester of their program. There were 32 classroom observations, 22 assignment documents, and 39 voluntary, semi-structured interviews with 34 students and 5 instructors from 4 courses. As a way to capture participants’ respective teaching, learning, and writing perspectives, interviews focused primarily on interactional patterns that enabled or constrained undergraduates’ writing development and professional enculturation across all four years. The study found that scholarly and reflective writing assignments were complex sites of interaction and dynamically entangled with changing personal, political, relational, emotional, and philosophical perspectives that differed from year to year as students advanced through their major field of study. From year to year, perspectives fluctuated with student/teacher assumptions, competitive/cooperative emotions, and values/attitudes towards writing assignment design, assignment supports, and classroom teaching and learning philosophies. Key factors that enabled students’ writing development were situated in the relational and affective domains of learning to write assignments, such as peer mentoring programs, where lower-year students learn to write from upper-year students, and rapport with nurse educators and professional nurses, where students learn to write content from a nurse with experience in the content area. Challenges to students’ writing development were situated in the personal, political, and philosophical domains of learning to write assignments such as having reading deficiencies, a myriad of expectations, inaccurate articulation of writing needs, assumptions about writing in professional nursing, developmentally inappropriate assignment design and assignment supports, and unpredictable competition between peers in classroom discussion. The significance of the study was to supplement existing knowledge of postsecondary WAC/WID pedagogies and to advance disciplinary strategies for faculty development and writing assignment design. Key Words: Postsecondary education, WAC/WID, writing assignments, student writing development, nursing education, interdisciplinary, rhetorical genre, ethnography, case study, interactional patterns, undergraduate teaching and learning
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