Navigation and Negotiation : Examining the Ecology of Service-Learning Composition Courses

Chao, Roger. Navigation and Negotiation : Examining the Ecology of Service-Learning Composition Courses. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

When integrated together, service-learning and composition provide an opportunity for college students to develop as writers and rhetoricians while simultaneously engaging their local community. However, for writing instructors, the integration process is far from simple; when service-learning is taught through composition, instructors must design a course that acknowledges and responds to a wide range of influences. The hybridized position of service-learning programs - lying both between and within the university and the surrounding communities - presents certain challenges. The pedagogy and classroom practices must pull triple duty: prepare students for future college writing, develop a form of rhetorical awareness for engaging audiences beyond the university, and assist in developing a critical awareness of sociopolitical issues. Thus, the process of integrating these components is what makes teaching service-learning unique. When instructors continuously rearrange, revise, and re-negotiate these forces within their pedagogy, they participate in a dynamic ecology that shares and draws on the ideologies and practices of so many other communities, yet ultimately stands as its own specialized learning environment.

This research attempts to look at the various components that construct and perpetuate English 121, the first-year service-learning composition course offered at the University of Washington. However, the scope of this study goes beyond examining the roles that instructors and students play in this ecology, but how other material and discursive factors also contribute to its formation. Drawing on interviews with both students and instructors, as well as institutional and course material, this study analyzes the relationship between the various elements of English 121 in order to gain insight into the types of discourses that emerge out of the classroom. In doing so, we may be able to better understand the process by which writing instructors balance and counterbalance the institutional, communal, and sociopolitical objectives that govern the service-learning context, and how writing instructors and their students come to define and express the values, goals, and ideologies of the English 121 program.

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