Writing to Learn in a Mutt Course: How Writing Functions in a Social Justice Living Learning Program Seminar
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Educational Policy and Leadership
Learning communities, first-year seminars/experiences, writing intensive courses, and diversity/global learning programs are among the high-impact practices (HIP) shown to influence college student learning, retention, and overall experience (Kuh, 2008). Colleges and universities are creating programs and courses that incorporate these and other HIPs. Some of these courses do not fit neatly into particular disciplinary or interdisciplinary categories. The current research refers to such contexts as “mutt courses.”Writing is often used to facilitate learning in mutt courses, yet virtually everything that is known about how writing promotes learning comes from research on writing in traditional disciplinary settings (e.g. history, engineering, psychology, etc.). The current research sought to understand if writing in a mutt course facilitated learning in similar ways as writing in other disciplinary courses.The context was a credit bearing seminar part of a first-year residential living learning community focused on privilege and oppression. This seminar was not housed in any of the academic colleges at the university at which the research took place, but students received academic credit for the course, and it satisfied the university’s core curriculum diversity requirement. The seminar was taught by instructors in student affairs and non-teaching academic divisions of the university. Students engaged in great deal of writing in this seminar (12 weekly response papers, an identity reflection, and an analysis paper). Through an ethnographic study writing in this context, the current research sought to understand how writing facilitated achievement of course goals. Activity Theory (Engeström, 2015) and the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) were used as theoretical frameworks to understand what learning occurred and how.The research found three functions of writing similar to those in traditional disciplinary settings (a demonstrative, learning, and discursive function). The discursive function was nuanced in that students conceptualized writing as a sort of conversation with peers. Additionally, instructors used writing to inform their practice. Furthermore, writing was found to influence students’ desire to work toward inclusion. Implications for using writing in similar contexts is discussed as well as implications for theory and future research.