INKSHED XXIII May 6, 2006

Diana, Josie, Kathleen -- Client-based research projects: Students negotiating organizational culture, client priorities, and classroom goals

What continues to puzzle me is the duality of the written product of such projects: the report is written to serve two matters and thus must be adapted to serve two audiences.

Dias et al problematized for us the correlation (or not) between the academy and the workplace. This problematization seems to have galvanized research and pedagogy into "transitional" pedagogies. These pedagogies are now feeding back into many programs. This is a really, really good thing (to quote Martha Stewart). I really like the way we are working towards developing savvy learners. Savvy users of genres -- it's a Canadian institution to research in writing, communication and teachers.

Regarding those mysterious changes to the survey -- these probably are an instance of the very different ideas about authorship and the ownership of texts of all kinds that are prevalent in workplace -- as opposed to academic contexts.

Not to suggest they might not have known all this in some discursive or abstract sense, but dwelling in the situations, and making those powerfully rhetorical decisions about what got included (or when), and even trying to infer what cryptic or veiled responses really meant -- obviously helped them think clearly about issues like audience and purpose and their embodiment in text. A question I have (rhetorical, I guess), is what can those of us who teach in a-professional programs with no access to this area between planets, do to make this sort of experience available to our students.

You had to cope with changes to your survey, but at least had a welcoming client. What support is there for hostile or uncooperative clients, or for less adaptable researchers?

"We felt we had lost control of the research project". Not to worry, as there can be only one Frankenstein. Actually, realizing the research project has achieved a life of its own can be empowering and uplifting: ride the wave.

There's nothing like the real thing. Having a real client with a project/concern/goals is crucial. "No dummy runs" says John Dixon. Is there some way to capture what is going on in the space between Instructor and Client -- for the students besides looking at the writing changes. We got a big of a view with the question of whether the clients comment was good or bad.

I'll retain the anecdote about the doctored online version of their survey for a while. This would not have happened if the students were "real" consultants. How often does an Anthony Pare get his questionnaires altered by his research "clients"? As writing professionals, we want our students to work with "real" audiences. How can we protect them from those audiences? (Response: Yes, there are still questions to e resolved about students and authority.)

Client based teaching does, however, need to rest on very solid scaffolding and clear theoretical foundations, as Diana points out -- not to mention good institutional support systems. I'm a bit perturbed by the term "transitional" learning spaces, though. That has a slightly pejorative sound to it, as if it isn't really there, as if its presence is subject to sudden or unexplained absence. Maybe I'm finding significance in a small point, but what about another term? One that more positively reflects the goals of client based research? -- Amanda

Great to see/to be confronted with, some of the actual students referred to in the various talks -- the subjects of our research, here to contribute to our work while at the same time enacting the subjectives we talk about. You can see activity theory at work here -- legitimate peripheral participation -- and that really shows the limited state they occupied between student/employee, student/researcher. -- Roger

The tensions weren't just at the surface, according to my reading of the Shadbolt situation: the reconstructed online questionnaire shows a real disregard for the professional writing students' purposes, so well as an unsettling micro-management. However, the aplomb shown by people so second-guessed really comes through, and indicates successful negotiation of the space between. -- C. Creed

This is a brilliantly presented case study which certainly illustrates how students can negotiate the convention and demands of very different organizational cultures. But it's important to note that Josie and Kathleen were doing something more rhetorically complex than simply moving from the academy to the workplace. -- Geoff

If students are supported with scaffolded learning they can and are able to negotiate those nuances of course requirements and client expectations.

I found very interesting the aspect of the tension between following your own preferences vs. those of your client. Do you think as you gain experience that you will assert your own views more? Does a client genuinely want your perspective or do they want their own views validated? This might depend on how clearly they know their own views, how cohesive their views are within their organization and how well you will be able to "read" these facts. Similarly with experience might you "chastise" whoever changed the survey and assert your right to have yours there. Complicated terrains! Good luck! -- Pat S.