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Understanding First-Year WFU Students’ Argumentative Writing

by Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, Humanities Institute

On Friday, February 7th, Assistant Professors of English Laura Aull and Zak Lancaster, along with a group of undergraduate research assistants working with them, presented Understanding First-Year WFU Students’ Argumentative Writing: Pairing Large-Scale Linguistic Analysis of Students’ Essays with Surveys about Writing Confidence and Preparation. This presentation was part of the Digital Humanities Initiative’s spring series of talks and workshops. 054

The presentation began with an overview of the project by Aull and Lancaster, followed by individual presentations by undergraduate URECA grant recipients Courtney AbernathyDineth Bandarage, and Jesse Konig.  

The research team presented the results from a reflective survey that incoming Wake Forest University freshman completed after participating in the Directed Self Placement (DSP) process, used to determine the writing course in which they would choose to enroll. First, students were asked to write an 800-900-word academic essay in response to a writing prompt. In this case, the students were asked to read both an informational piece and an argumentative piece on climate change and a potential carbon tax. The prompt instructed the students to use the evidence in the informational piece to either support or challenge the argumentative piece.

After completing the essay, students answered the questions in the reflective survey. The survey questions asked the students to report on their high school writing experience, their use of the source material, their assessment of their preparedness to complete the task as well as their proficiency in written English, their attitudes about academic writing, and finally, the course they believed they were likely to take first at Wake Forest University.

028The DSP team presented the results from this survey and their analysis of the results using corpus linguistics and concordance tools. Each of the undergraduate students focused on a specific aspect of the findings.

After the presentations concluded, the team took questions from the audience and received some feedback for future presentations. The group just recently presented their work at the North Carolina Symposium on Teaching Writing at North Carolina State University on Friday, February 28, 2014.

For more information on upcoming Digital Humanities Initiative presentations and workshops, click here.