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The invention of transformative agency: collaborative inquiry as graduate-level mentoring

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This dissertation examines collaborative inquiry as a form of graduate mentoring. To investigate this issue, I analyze the research and writing process of a team of five multilingual graduate students

This dissertation examines collaborative inquiry as a form of graduate mentoring. To investigate this issue, I analyze the research and writing process of a team of five multilingual graduate students and their mentor as they collaboratively design, implement, and report a study based in their local writing program over the course of two years. Through a qualitative activity analysis of team meetings, participant interviews, and the team’s written drafts and email correspondence, I investigate the ways in which self-sponsored, team-based collaborative research and writing supports participants’ learning and development of a professional identity.

Key findings show that unanticipated obstacles in the research context present participants with “real-world” dilemmas that call forth disciplinary alignments, reinforce existing disciplinary practices, and, most importantly, generate new practices altogether. An example of this process is reflected in the research team's frequent need to adjust their research design as a result of constraints within the research environment. The team's ability to pivot in response to such constraints encouraged individual members to view the research enterprise as dynamic and fluid, leading ultimately to a heightened sense of agency and stronger awareness of the rhetorical challenges and opportunities posed by empirical research. Similarly, participants’ demonstrated an ability to recognize and resolve tensions stemming from competing demands on their time and attention during the course of their graduate study. Actively constructing resonances across various domains of their graduate worlds—coursework, teaching, and non-curricular research and professionalization activities—served to clarify purposes and increase motivation.

An additional aspect of this study is the way graduate students leverage their language resources in the collaborative process. This dissertation extends the disciplinary conversation by investigating ways in which language resources function as rhetorical tools within the research context. This focus on language, in concert with collaboration and rhetorical stances to inquiry, challenges persistent views of authorship, apprenticeship, and language norms, while simultaneously lending insight into how graduate students invent new ways of participating in their professional worlds.

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  • 2015