FluentU Review

Watch Tool Review Highlights

Tool Description

FluentU is a learning site (www.fluentu.com) that uses videos to teach users a new language. Nine languages are offered, including Chinese, Spanish, French, English, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean, and Russian. The homepage provides a friendly video that shares an overview of the program. A “Try it Free” link on the homepage takes the user to a page with two 15-day free trial options: Basic and Plus. To sign up for the free trial, the user must provide his or her credit card number. At the end of the 15-day free trial, the user’s credit card will be charged for the selected plan. The Basic plan is $15 a month or $120 a year, and the Plus plan is $30 a month and $240 a year. The Basic plan offers unlimited watching and listening of videos. The Plus plan offers unlimited watching and listening of videos, but it also allows users to download PDF transcripts of each video for study while offline. It also provides quizzes, so users can self-measure their learning.

The tool utilizes YouTube to publish a variety of videos including, movie trailers, singalongs, news, music videos, and inspiring talks, so videos can be streamed but not downloaded. These videos include subtitles in two languages: the language being learned and the user’s native language. This allows users to watch, listen, and read to reinforce content. If the user hovers the cursor over a particular word in the subtitle, the video will pause, and the user can practice the material he or she sees on screen. At this point, the user may opt to review the definition of the word or see it used in other example sentences. The site tracks the learner’s progress and uses this progress to create “personalized” quizzes.

The range of intended audiences for this program is broad. In educational contexts, the site seeks to target K-12, universities, language schools, independent teachers, and home schools. The site also identifies several professional fields as audiences for this program, ranging from aviation and engineering to hospitality and sales. And, a user may choose to utilize this program for individual learning.

Considerations for FluentU

Introducing FluentU into the composition classroom would respond to Matsuda’s (2006) argument that composition has not fully recognized the presence of second language writers in college composition courses (p. 638). Videos that are published in an individual’s native language and integrated into instruction would embrace the language diversity of the classroom and promote the acceptance of those who do not speak or write in fluent English. It provides an opportunity to celebrate rather than ignore the presence of L2 writers in our classrooms.

FluentU as a resource was easy to find with a Google search and easy to learn and use with its simple premise: watch videos. FluentU could supplement instruction in any classroom as a digital instructional tool, and in doing so, support the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s (CCCC) Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers. In this statement, the CCCC addresses the writing teacher’s responsibility to draw on student competencies when designing curricula. They express that many L2 writers may possess strong skills in technology use, and it should therefore be included in the ESL classroom: “second language writers can learn to bridge the strategies they use to communicate socially through digital media to the expectations of the academy.” While FluentU could support the bridge between digital and academic contexts, it alone would not suffice to teach students how to write in academic contexts as the program does not provide opportunities for writing—only listening and reading.

One reviewer, Jesse, shared a mixed review of the program. He identified its ease of use as a selling point, but criticized it for not providing speaking opportunities, lack of scaffolding for the lessons, and the videos are too short, not exceeding 10 minutes. I a response to Jesse, another reviewer commented, “I’ve been trying FluentU. But so far I’ve found it lacking. I’ve purchased a one year subscription and less then [sic] a month in I’m starting to regret it. There are apps on my phone that seems to do the exact same thing this app does with [sic] less charge” (Hannibal Raspberry). While FluentU could be used in a composition classroom, its use would come with a cost to students.

To Adopt or Not to Adopt FluentU

I would not adopt this tool for several reasons. The parent company, FluentFlix Limited, presents their product as a universal language learning software, but one software cannot effectively reach such a broad range of audiences (professional and educational groups and individuals). Perhaps if FluentU offered more individualized programs that were tailored to group and individual instruction and educational and professional level, this software would seem more practical.

The homepage for FluentU documents what they view to be their selling points: “access to the web’s best foreign language content”; “understand and truly enjoy real world videos”; “learn words from real world context.” FluentU claims to give “students quality independent practice and offers valuable exposure in a way that is fun and appealing, yet effective.” These selling points are vague, however, as “real world” is never defined. It’s also unclear how this program is “fun and appealing,” though it could be argued that the activity of watching videos is entertaining—until the user becomes bored. Learning does not have to be fun, of course, but using such word choice is likely a persuasive tactic; when consumers spend money for a product, they may feel as though they’re getting more for their money if the product is practical and enjoyable. It’s also unclear how watching videos is an effective means of learning. This program does not include a curriculum that advances learners through levels nor does it provide opportunities for speaking or writing. The program does provide quizzes that check for comprehension, but this option is only available if the user purchases the more expensive Plus plan, and these quizzes do not ask open-ended questions that allow the learner to apply language concepts.

FluentFlix links several reviews of their software on the site. These reviews were produced by bloggers and are all highly positive. This in and of itself is not concerning—I would not expect FluentFlix to publicize negative reviews. However, the comments on the blogs from individuals who are supposedly not associated with FluentFlix are also overwhelmingly enthusiastic and willing to try the software:


It’s concerning that each of the comments were posted on the same day within minutes of each other and almost immediately moderated. Most blogs do not experience such a high traffic and response volume. This suggests that the comments and/or the commenters are not authentic. Such sketchy behavior may cause users to hesitate in sharing their credit card numbers for use of this site.

The cost of the software also limits user access. In order to fully experience the software, a user would have to pay $30 for one month of access. A cheaper rate is available, but the user must commit to using the program for 12 months in order to take advantage of the cheaper rate. This is a significant commitment a user must make based on a brief, 15-day trial period. FluentFlix may argue that a 15-day free trial is ample time for a user to determine if the program would suit his or her learning needs, but it is unethical to ask for a payment method for an item that a consumer has not yet committed to buy, which FluentFlix does.

And finally, because this program can only be accessed online, users who do not have a full-time or reliable internet connection would not be able to fully experience this product, nor would they have the same uninhibited access as users with reliable internet.

820 Post for 4/12/17

“Will Rogers once remarked that ‘we are all ignorant, only on different subjects.’ To teach anything well, you have to place yourself in the position of the learner who does not already know the basics and has to be persuaded that the subject is worth studying.”

Morson (2015) hits on a key point that I think much of tenured academia needs to remind themselves of: Our specialties and fancy degrees make us scholars in a very specific area, leaving us ignorant in many other areas. We may know much about Derrida, Dante, and Foucault, but we know nothing about plumbing or electrical work.

I am—quite frankly—embarrassed when my colleagues gaff at blue collar workers, farmers, and stay-at-home moms who are not college educated. These citizens are essential to our society and economy, and their wages often fund the salary of many academics. The fact of the matter is, when we “smart people” need something fixed, we call the “uneducated” people to help us out.

Following the 2016 presidential election, one of my students commented that the reason more rural areas of the country voted for Donald Trump is because mostly uneducated people live in rural areas. And the reason she thought this was because her political science professor explained this phenomenon to the class.

Such rhetoric is dangerous, especially when dealing with students who don’t understand the value of taking a Literature course or wrestling with poetry (Schmieder). Such rhetoric leads students to think narrowly, forgetting that voting is a right of all citizens (educated and uneducated). It encourages students to cast stereotypes, assuming that no educated individuals live in rural areas and only educated people live in urban areas. But what is perhaps most depressing here is that such rhetoric influences students to categorize people in a society in which we already deal with much discrimination.

If we want buy-in… If we want our students to even begin to understand the complexity of Literature, then when we stand in front of a classroom, we need to be people before we are professors. We need to show humanity and compassion before we flex our published muscles. We need to remember that—like our students—there is much we don’t know. To teach them effectively, as Morson highlights, we have to realize our audience and help them understand not only the value of what we do, but the value of what everyone else does, as well. We cannot expect students to recognize the value of anything, including Literature, if we do not reciprocate respect for those who do not know about Literature.

Huot (2002) for 4/5/17

Learner first. Teacher Second.

Huot (2002) draws on Louise Wetherbee Phelps to answer questions about teacher response to student writing. Phelps (2000) highlights the issue that “Response is fundamentally reading, not writing” (p. 113), yet we (professors, instructors, teachers) make it about correct writing rather than meaning-making. Our comments focus on what’s right or wrong instead of how to move the learner to develop their thoughts more richly in writing.

For Huot, this means “we are limited by our ability to evaluate student writing by the process we use to make meaning of a text in the first place” (p. 113). Such an argument is striking to me only because I hadn’t before considered how my comments may be limiting my students. I work to ask questions and develop my thoughts in the margins of their work, but I wonder to what extent my comments are pointing students to evaluate and critically analyze their own writing.

In the examples of teacher response that Huot provides, she also suggests that when we read as teachers we are limiting ourselves. Drawing on Freedman (1984), Huot explains that the teacher-raters judged student writing as inappropriate when the teachers assumed the roles that the students were supposed to fill as immature writers (p. 117). First, it seems to me that a teacher should never argue that he or she is done learning or learning to read. To assume that because one is a teacher that he or she is also a master at his or her practice is a poor understanding of what a teacher does. Second, how can we cultivate a curiosity and a desire to create meaning among our students, moving them to think and write more critically, if we assume the role of knowing best? Huot’s work reminds me that as a teacher, I am committed to being a life-long learner. I argue that I am a learner first and a teacher second.

Yancey (2016) for 3/22/17

A Rhetoric of Reflection

In the introduction to A Rhetoric of Reflection, Yancey (2016) draws on DiStefano et al. (2014) to explain that people use reflection to “secure their learning” (p. 8). This comment strikes me because, to this point, I have been thinking of reflection as a means to transfer skill, not as a means to reinforce or affirm skill. Of course reflection can be used for forward-reaching transfer, but I think sometimes discussion of solidifying an existing or newly learned skill gets bypassed when we begin talking about transfer. The aim is always looking forward. Yancey’s division of studies on reflection into generations (p. 9) was also helpful to me to see where our understanding of reflection has been and also conceptualize where it’s going.

Horner’s discussion of Action-Reflection and its alignment with Friere (p. 107) makes me want to investigate further to see if and where this idea may intersect with Russel’s activity theory. Horner notes that for Friere, “Action and reflection occur simultaneously. . . Critical reflection is also action” (Freire, 1970, p. 128). Russell (1995) describes human behavior and consciousness as “goal-directed,” and uses examples of action such as a child reaching for a toy (“Activity Theory and Its Implications for Writing Instruction”). In the past, I have drawn on activity theory in framing my discussions on transfer, and it seems that the goal-directed action of activity theory would necessitate reflection in order to affirm the action so that it could be conducted again.

Paper #6

The holiday season often prompts reflection, doesn’t it?
The ghost of Christmas past visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney's A Christmas Carol
The ghost of Christmas past visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s A Christmas Carol

We think of past holiday functions with family and friends, family and friends who have passed, and as academics, we look back on the semester—our students, our syllabi, ourselves—and try to convince our inner teacher that “we’ll get it right next semester.”

With the semester and the year coming to a close, this holiday season is particularly special for me, as I am 38 weeks and two days pregnant with my first child as of today. Needless to say, I’m a melting pot of emotions, I can’t reach my toes, and I’m ready to get my pre-pregnancy body back, but aside from all that, I’ve spent the last nine months reflecting on my childhood and my mother’s parenting choices and considering what I’ll do the same and what I’ll do differently to ensure I “get it right” with my own child (as if that’s possible).

So it’s ironic to me that this final ENGL 810 prompt encourages me to look back on what I’ve learned this semester and consider what contributions I will make to my field in the future. In doing so, I’ve realized that I really what to get it right—how I position myself as an academic, that is—but I have a long way to go. My main research interest is in transfer, but for this class semester, I needed a broader scope to focus on for a subdiscipline, so I have been looking at writing across the curriculum (WAC) and a little bit of how WAC informs discussions of transfer.

David Russell has been key in my understanding of WAC and transfer. He deals with the history of WAC in his work “American Origins of the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement.”
It’s here that he indicates that the origins of WAC date back to the late nineteenth centuryimportant-for-me and are a response to the progressive education that emerged from an industrialized society. We were able to gather this understanding from the readings we did in McComsky and Lauer, where we discussed the building pressure between the increased specialization of knowledge and professional work that was needed. Pressure still exists, but a different kind, and as I consider my role in the WAC field, it will be very important for me to emphasize the need for cultivating students to become effective citizens to alleviate the pressure of an unpredictable economy as well as unpredictable global tensions. Part of this involves developing curriculum that enables students to communicate effectively in both written and verbal contexts, but part of this also involves helping students understand the interrelatedness of what they do both inside and outside of the classroom.

David Russell’s work on activity theory has also informed my understanding of WAC and transfer. He uses this theory to analyze human behavior and consciousness in terms of an activity system. Activity systems are social and negotiable, and as such, every activity system is unique. It’s for this reason, learners often struggle to apply the skills that were learned in one activity system to another activity system due to their inability to adapt those skills. While every activity system is unique, learners often fail to recognize the similarities between them. As a scholar, activity theory helps me understand how the rhetorical situation of my classroom works and enables me to negotiate it more effectively. Thus, in the future, I see myself drawing on this theoretical knowledge to build a case for WAC and transfer at my institution.activity-theory

Epistemologically, I align myself with social constructivism, “wherein knowledge is understood to be dynamic, provisional, and developed and mediated socially as people operate within various ‘communities’ of knowledge.” Psychologist Lev Vygotsky, scientist Thomas Khun, and rhetorician Kenneth Bruffee—though they come from different disciplinary backgrounds—have informed my understanding of social constructivist epistemology. Ultimately, understanding social constructivism allows me to make the teaching and learning experience transparent, which is essential to successful transfer as students leave my English classroom and enter into classrooms of other disciplines. But further, drawing on social constructivism will make me a more effective scholar and colleague, as I tackle questions about WAC and transfer at my institution.

For WAC scholars in general, WAC remains to be a challenging pedagogy to assess because WAC looks different at every institution. In assessment, scholars seek to determine what is best practice for their program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that best practice for one program will be the same for another program. This has been an issue that has surfaced at my institution, where we have been under a QEP and looking to other institutions to determine where and how we want to align ourselves in order to promote a stronger interdisciplinary research focus. Herein lies a main area of study for me and potential contribution moving forward: How can we adapt a WAC curriculum that is effective for our institution while still cultivating effective citizens? And more broadly, how can we utilize WAC to promote transfer not only across the curriculum horizontally, but vertically as well?

I find my questions about the field and what it has in store for me to be parallel to my questions about child-rearing and the potential of the little one inside me. Perhaps I will cultivate an effective citizen at home and figure out how to transfer what I learn from him or her to my classroom. Either way, I recognize the value of reflection during all times of the year. I just hope my reflection begins to lead to me to some answered questions before I generate too many more new ones.


Hewett, B. and Ehmann, C. (2004). Preparing educators for online writing instruction. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Russell, D. (1995). Activity theory and its implications for writing instruction. In J. Petraglia (Ed.), In Reconceiving writing, rethinking writing instruction (51-78). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Paper #5

A Discipline Divided

As I reflect on the literature we have read this semester, I realize that the
state of our beloved field reflects the current state of our beloved country: we’re divided. The 2016 presidential election was over a week ago, and it seems that individuals across the United States who are voicing their distress over and disgust for our nation-dividedcurrent president-elect will continue to do so long after inauguration day in January. The debates in the field of English over foundations, theories, practices, and approaches likewise carry on. And, like politics, our English-related debates have developed over decades and continue to persist. Literary studies, for example, oppresses composition with its humanist approach to pedagogy, thereby deeming literary studies as superior and composition as “a barely tolerated stepchild (cited in Gaillet, p. 164). Tensions persist, but in the midst of them, we—citizens and scholars—must still work to be productive.

Our effort to be productive ensures that we continue to move forward as a field, advancing the work of our predecessors in spite of those who challenge us. WAC is a response to the tensions in and surrounding our field (Depew, personal communication, October 26, 2016). It works to cultivate students’ understanding of the discourse of a discipline so they may write across the disciplines successfully.

A Major Question in WAC

Scholars in this field often question whether goal-oriented progress, or the use of outcomes, increases the tension that exists between the disciplines. Interestingly, institutions who utilize a WAC model each designate their own outcomes to work toward, but for Condon and Rutz (2013), successful WAC programs are supported by a complex infrastructure that supports general education and first-year seminar goals (p. 359). Disciplines across the university as well as first-year programs across institutions, therefore, need to be in conversation with each other for WAC programs to thrive. For Fishman and Reiff (2015), first-year composition (FYC) has become less isolated from the rest of the university due to WAC (p. 69), so this expectation should not seem so ambitious.

WAC Objects of Study


The field seems to accept that there’s “no one writing course that can accomplish the curricular or pedagogical goal of teaching students ‘how to write’” (Reiff, et al., 2015, p. 121). For this reason, various curricula have become sites of study to understand how students are learning and what they are doing with that learning beyond FYC (Ballif; Boone, et al.; Kinney & Costello). These sites serve as just one of the several objects of study (OoS) used by the field to measure the effectiveness of various WAC pedagogies. Of course, we still lack interdisciplinary conversation with our colleagues outside the field of composition (and some of these colleagues may still be scholars of English), so other OoSes are often focused within composition classrooms; students, their writing, and instructor pedagogy allow us to gain insight into the effectivity of specific WAC curricula.

For example, the use of writing to learn exercises in the classroom prompts students to think through key ideas and concepts. We use experimental studies, administering pre-tests and post-tests to allow us to capture the development of skills that occurs in students during the course of a semester. We also use case studies of students, which are designed to prompt students to talk about how the writing is shaping their understanding of the content of the discipline. Case studies are not limited to students, of course; at times, case studies of instructor pedagogy have proven to provide valuable insight into the learning and writing environment (Bacon; Beaufort; McCarthy; Nelms & Dively; Sternglass; Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak).

Our goal is to make the learning and teaching experience transparent for both the student and the teacher. Doing so could lead to not only successful transfer from first-year composition to other writing situations for students, but it could also enable instructors to enhance their goalinstructional strategies to further support transfer (e.g. student understanding of context in classes outside of and beyond FYC). These benefits, however, can only achieve their potential through communication and cooperation across the disciplines. So with such potential benefits that could result from WAC, I can’t help but wonder why the disciplines remain divided. Why do we resist each other? Or better yet, why do other fields (English and non-English) continue to resist composition? It’s ironic to me that the university often prides itself in its interdisciplinarity, but when it comes to reaching across the aisle to a different discipline, power often takes priority over cooperation.


Condon, W. & Rutz, C. (2013). A taxonomy of writing across the curriculum programs: Evolving to serve broader agendas. Conference on College Composition 64(2), 357-382.

Fishman, J. & Reiff, M. J. (2015). Taking the high road: Teaching for transfer in an FYC program. In M. J. Reiff, et al. (Eds.), Ecologies of writing programs: Program profiles in context (pp. 68-90). Anderson, SC: Parlor Press.

Gaillet, L. L. (2009). A socially constructed view of reading and writing: Historical alternatives to “bridging the gap.” In L. Ostergaard, J. Ludwig, & J. Nugent (Eds.), Transforming English studies: New voices in an emerging genre (pp. 163-178). West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press.

Paper #4

vietnam-war-hub-aWhile over 200,000 American troops were fighting abroad in the Vietnam War by the 1970s, American education at home was taking a shift toward science, technology, engineering, and math studies (STEM) in order to better prepare a workforce for post-industrial society. Writing education, as a result, also shifted, seeking to identify pedagogical approaches for getting students to think about the content in their various courses and the interrelatedness of writing between them. According to Kevin Eric DePew, Associate Professor of English at Old Dominion University, Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) emerged as a product of the 70s and a response to this writing studies need: “Though they weren’t using the acronym STEM yet, you had the sense of making everything very STEM-like, or practical, including writing” (personal communication, October 26, 2016). In a post-industrial society in which services were dependent upon intelligent designers and users of technology, practicality in writing meant that the consumers, or students, would be able to see the usefulness and transferability of their writing skills across contexts.

WAC was one way to get students to perform better by using writing to get them to think about the course content. Today, linked courses, learning commons, and learning communities are an extension of WAC, and if done well, the literacy students learn in the writing class can be used to think
about the material being learned in classes of other subject matter. At institutions where WAC curriculums are utilized, instructors often talk to each other about ways of building knowledge that complement each other as well as foster the transfer of knowledge and skills.


In the WAC field, different methods are utilized by administration, instructors, and scholars to test whether WAC pedagogy is effective. According to DePew, two of the most common methods are experimental study and case study (personal communication, October 26, 2016). To conduct an experimental study, a pretest is often administered at the beginning of the semester to see what the students have knowledge in. Two classes may be chosen, one of which serves as the variable group and is taught with a WAC pedagogy, and the second of which serves as the control group. At the end of the semester, another test is administered to see how student knowledge of the course material has changed among students throughout the duration of the course for both classes. In contrast, case studies are designed to prompt students to talk about how the writing is shaping their understanding of the content of the discipline. The use of writing to learn exercises in the classroom, for example, prompts students to think through key ideas and concepts, and case studies also allow us to witness student development through such exercises.

It seems that WAC, as a practical field, uses practical methods to determine its effectivity. Interestingly, the theories in the field that are used to generate knowledge are also practical. One common theory know-thyselfrepresented in WAC is rhetorical theory, which Bazerman and Russell (1994) discuss in their introduction to Landmark Essays. WAC was evident in the rhetorical traditions of the Ancient Greeks as it is today, and for Bazermen and Russell, there is a long tradition in rhetorical theory to support the reasons we have WAC.

Trends in the field reveal that there has been a movement toward practical writing exercises; English instructors are using writing to help students think about the context of their writing situation. This movement has had more buy-in among faculty, a noteworthy point considering that in the beginning of the WAC movement, there were some scholars who pushed against WAC, advocating for expressivist approaches to FYC. DePew commentated that “[t]he desire among WAC stakeholders—deans, instructors, students, etc.—is to use WAC to build an infrastructure or transfer within the university that is sustainable. . . WAC is a field that works to create partnerships with other disciplines rather than trying to ‘save the disciplines’. Proponents of WAC don’t force people to do WAC. . . it should always be voluntary because in order to get success, one must breed success” (personal communication, October 26, 2016). Debates in the field are therefore old as most support the notion that for students to be effective writers in their STEM classes, they must develop the necessary (and practical) writing skills in their FYC classes.

In spite of its ambitions, common theories, methodologies, and trends, WAC remains to be a challenging pedagogy to assess because WAC looks different at every institution. In assessment, scholars seek to determine what is best practice for their program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that best practice for one program will be the same for another program, so why is it that while WAC seeks to encourage students to see interdisciplinarity across contexts, WAC is rarely the same across institutions?


Bazerman, C., & Russell, D. (Eds.). (1994). Landmark essays on writing across the curriculum. New York, NY: Hermagoras Press.

PAB Entry #8

In Caitlin Cornell Holmes’ article, “At the Commencement of an Archive: The National Census of Writing and the State of Writing Across the Curriculum,” she explains the background of the National Census of Writing (NCW) and how it can allow us to archive information, potentially solving the problem of definition for the field (in this case, writing across the curriculum, or WAC) as well as benefiting methodological concerns among scholars who seek to represent WAC work in their scholarship and at their institutions. She argues for archives as a methodology for gathering and sorting research, noting that “[a]rchives—and the databases that constitute them—have since remained a focal point within rhetoric and composition as an emerging and evolving field, often calling attention to what is included and what is excluded” (p. 76). The CWP is a type of survey that collects and compares data from participant responses to a variety of WAC program-related questions.

archiveHolmes draws on Susan Wells to justify her support of the archive, and reminds us that we are no longer limited to traditional archival work due to recent technological advancements; searchable and generative databases should be considered archives. According to Wells, archival work “help[s] us to rethink our political and institutional situation,” thus allowing us to reconfigure “how we situate and represent our larger scholarly conversation and practices” (cited in Holmes, p. 77). Archival work, therefore, allows us to discover the definition of WAC and the methodologies we use to implement and assess WAC in spite of what our current situation is or is not.

Holmes also draws on several scholars who have highlighted the problems of definition and methodology in their work. In her discussion of the definition of WAC programs, Holmes highlights Condon and Rutz (2012) who wrote, “As WAC’s thirty-plus-year history argues, the pedagogy and associated philosophy have become widespread, yet WAC as a phenomenon does not possess a single identifiable structure; instead it varies in its development and manifestation from campus to campus” (p. 80). This is, of course, because WAC programs have a tendency to be absorbed into other institutional structures such as composition programs or assessment initiatives (p. 86).methods

To address methodological concerns in the field, Holmes points out the struggles of several scholars, including Thaiss and Porter in their 2008 survey that sought to determine how many WAC/WID programs exist in the US. Holmes posits that “all efforts to survey and report. . . have been limited by the fixity of data represented in publication, the labor-intensive nature of collecting this information from individual schools, and the continuing ambiguity around how these types of writing programs are constituted and positioned within local contexts” (p. 78).

The CWP is not fail proof, however, as some respondents from the same institution gave conflicting answers, some respondents did not feel capable of giving information about their programs or requirements, and some respondents were sure there was a WAC program but did not know who at their institution would be able to provide information on it. It
seems that problems of methodology cannot fully be addressed until the field has defined itself. If this is the question-markcase, then the field will continue to struggle to define itself as long as there are questions about methodology. So at what point do definition of a field and methodology depart from each other? Are the terms inseparable? Must our methodology be driven by the conventions of our field alone and vice versa? Given these questions after thirt-plus years of WAC research, we seem to still be at commencement.

Holmes, C. (2015). At the commencement of an archive: The national census of writing and the state of writing across the curriculum. The WAC Journal 26. Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/journal/vol26/holmes.pdf

PAB Entry #7

Plato and Socrates

In the introduction to their edited collection, Landmark Essays on Writing Across the Curriculum, Charles Bazerman and David Russell (1994) explain how specialized discourses are grounded in the rhetorical theory that dates back to the Ancient Greeks and the debates and discussions that were shaped by the Sophists, Plato, and Aristotle. Bazerman and Russell explain that “[a]s there are professional rivalries today, so there were battles among the technai in the fifth century b.c.e., as one group of practitioners challenged the knowledge or skill of another group to win social credit in some activity field” (xvii). This history interestingly parallels the evolution of the field of English over the last 60 to 70 years, as literature has sought to suppress technical communication, composition, creative writing, etc.

Yet specialized fields such as writing across the curriculum have evolved. Bazerman and Russell explain, “the Sophists were interested in the uses of discourse for training young men to speak persuasively in legal and political forums.” As such, “rhetoric became the art of civic discourse and what came to be known as liberal education” (xix), and the evolution of specialized discourses in general first became evident during the Middle Ages after the breakup of the Roman Empire: “by the twelfth century, social structures for organizing specialized knowledge had begun to evolve, and with them specialized discourses” (xxiv). The first universities began to take shape in which students could study law, theology (including religion), and medicine, and while rhetoric “was relegated to lower levels of teaching,” it greatly influenced the activity of law and religion.

The School of Athens (1509-1511)

According to Bazerman and Russell, “the Renaissance further complicated the relationship between the formal study of rhetoric and communicative practices in specialized fields.” Because of the invention of the printing press, specialized discourses were now accessible to the university while other discourses in practical arts and technology such as martial arts, mining, herbal lore, and shipbuilding began to evolve. The fourteenth century humanist revival of classical learning and education reinstituted and encouraged the study of rhetoric in the university, but it in turn “militated against the acceptance of specialized discourses as objects of study” (xxv). Humanist education was highly literary and Ciceronian prose was the compositionist ideal.


Other individuals such as Francis Bacon (16th century), Joseph Priestly and Adam Smith (17th century), and Hugh Blair, George Campbell, and Richard Whately (19th century) have influenced the ebbs and flows of rhetoric over the course of time. In spite of what rhetoric has endured over the last 16 centuries, it has proven, in one way or another, to be foundational in every discourse, even supporting specialized discourses such as writing across the curriculum. But if rhetoric is so foundational to the many disciplines, why do we, scholars of English, continue to struggle to locate ourselves? Bazerman and Russell’s essay is useful in identifying and understanding the theoretical underpinnings of not only the field of English but also WAC as a subdiscipline, and I expect this work will be useful to me as I continue to work to locate myself within our field.

Bazerman, C., & Russell, D. (Eds.). (1994). Landmark essays on writing across the curriculum. New York, NY: Hermagoras Press.

Paper #3

I struggle in admitting I am an English professor. My students call me
“professor” and my mail comes to me with “professor” in the greeting, yet I still have a hard time introducing myself as such though I’ve been teaching at the collegiate level for five years—I usually just tell people, “I teach English.” “Professor” suggests that I have earned respect from my field and academia as a whole. The title suggests that I have studied, reflected, and can articulate where I align myself in my field. My theory-questionsapprehensions about being called “professor” were affirmed when I was tasked with this blog post, and I began to realize the challenge—and value—in being able to articulate how I align myself theoretically and epistemologically. What theories frame my pursuit of knowledge? What are my beliefs about discovering knowledge about my field? Perhaps I have struggled to embrace my position as an educator because I had not before defined myself in these terms, and in doing so, I had not before claimed a position as a scholar in my field or in academia.

After much reflection, I found that I align myself theoretically with David Russell’s (1995) explanation of activity theory which “analyzes human behavior and consciousness in terms of activity systems.” Through the activity system, we see 1.) the subject, or the writer, who 2.) mediates the situation in order to 3.) achieve an objective or outcome (n. pag). In effect, the activity system takes on a triangular shape that depicts each aspect of the activity system as dependent on the other two. The subject chooses which tool he will use to mediate the situation (in this case, writing) and how he will use it, but whether or not he achieves the objective—or finishes his written assignment—depends on how well he uses his tool to manage the situation he is in. Ultimately, the writer is impacted by the tool and the objective, modifying his use of the tool and his understanding of the objective as he pushes forward to completion. Therefore, activity systems are social and negotiable, and as such, every activity system is unique. However, learners often struggle to apply the skills that were learned in one activity system to another activity system due to their inability to adapt those skills. While every activity system is unique, learners often fail to recognize the similarities between them.


It is activity theory that gives me a language with which I can study transfer, which Perkins and Salomon (1988) describe as “something learned in one context [that helps] in another” (p. 22). That something, often consisting of a single skill or a set of skills, is beneficial to learners, who are ultimately responsible for their own independent ability to successfully manage writing situations. Downs and Wardle hold that this management is best understood through Russell’s lens of activity theory. Hence, the Writing about Writing approach, first introduced to the field in 2007, was designed in part as a response to a long-standing discussion on how to promote transfer in first-year composition classrooms.

Epistemologically, I align myself with social constructivism, “wherein knowledge is understood to be dynamic, provisional, and developed and mediated socially as people operate within various ‘communities’ of knowledge.” Psychologist Lev Vygotsky, scientist Thomas Khun, and rhetorician Kenneth Bruffee have contributed to our current understanding of social constructivist epistemology (p. 33). In essence, our inner speech, or thoughts, are on a higher level than our verbal, or social speech (Vygotsky), and these inner thoughts are inspired by our interactions with the social world around us, which is complex, interdisciplinary, and shapes our knowledge (Kuhn). Therefore, collaborative learning strategies, or socsocial-constructivismial opportunities, enable us to use our higher level thoughts in conjunction with our surrounding environments that are working to shape our knowledge and in turn shape our output (e.g. verbal and written speech) (Brufee) (Hewett and Ehmann, 2004, pp. 34-37). Social constructivism allows me to make the teaching and learning experience transparent, which is essential to successful transfer as students leave my English classroom and enter into classrooms of other disciplines.

My theoretical and epistemological alignment are connected to my professional objectives as an educator and a faculty member at my current institution. I want students to understand the interconnectivity of the disciplines they are studying and the value of a liberal arts education. At the beginning of every semester I ask them, “What is a liberal arts education?” Their responses are limited to the idea that they need to be “well-rounded”—a reminder for me every semester that students need to see the social nature of learning and the activity systems in which they engage. A reminder that, as a professor, I am a window through which my students will view the university and the English discipline for 15 weeks, and I better know where I align myself in order to help align them.


Downs, D. & Wardle, E. (2007). Teaching about writing, righting misconceptions: (Re)envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” CCC, 58(4), 552-584.

Hewett, B. and Ehmann, C. (2004). Preparing educators for online writing instruction. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Perkins, D.N, & Salomon, G. (1988). Teaching for transfer. Educational Leadership, 46(1), 22-32.

Russell, D. (1995). Activity theory and its implications for writing instruction. In J. Petraglia (Ed.), In Reconceiving writing, rethinking writing instruction (51-78). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.