PAB #3 – Driscoll (Redux) and Perdue

Driscoll, D. and S. Perdue (2012). Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in The Writing Center Journal, 1980-2009. The Writing Center Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, 2012 11-39.

Dana Driscoll - Portrait

Dana Lynn Driscoll
(link for CV)

Sherry Perdue - Portrait

Sherry Wynn Perdue
(link for profile)

“Much more work is needed to understand the complex relationships between writing centers’ practitioners and how we produce and discuss our research. We need more research on the education, training, and support writing center directors receive to conduct RAD research. We need to understand the place of tutor-driven research and ask how tutors can contribute to these ongoing conversations about our practices. We also need more research on the research process: How do writing center researchers plan and undertake studies? How is research funded and/or sponsored? Asking and investigating such questions and re-envisioning our relationship to research will help us develop more RAD research-supported practices and move our field into the future.” (36).


A Quick Reintroduction

I’ve decided to return immediately to Driscoll (in collaboration with Sherry Wynn Perdue) for this third PAB entry.  This is not to imply that Driscoll is the only producer of RAD/empirical research in the field, nor its only vocal advocate.  Rather, this is due to her tendency to cut wide swaths in her writing research articles, covering significant ground while surveying the field with both pinpoint accuracy and a broad scope.  (Yikes.  Five clichés in a single sentence.  If I were a student in my own ENG 101 course, I would probably have to shoot me.)

The theme of these PAB entries (nos. 3 and 4) is “Major Questions” of the field, in this case empirical research in composition.  One of the questions which perpetuates itself in almost all RAD advocacy and writing is “where is all the RAD research?”  Frankly, this ends up producing many histories and meta-analyses similar to what I studied in PAB entries 1 and 2.  However, I think this is an important first question to ask, even if it may seem to prevent much immediate progress in terms of the articles selected.  The second question, which I will endeavor to begin investigating in later papers, and which is hinted at by Driscoll and Perdue’s focus on writing center studies here, is “what are the sites of scholarship and pedagogy that are most compatible with RAD research?”


Summary

Much as Driscoll’s “Composition Studies, Professional Writing and Empirical Research: A Skeptical View” did before it, Driscoll and Perdue’s “Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in The Writing Center Journal, 1980-2009investigates the role of RAD research in composition communities and the philosophy behind empirical interpretations of writing outcomes.  However, this article in many ways is much more a reflection of Haswell’s “NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship,” investigating a specific publication (The Writing Center Journal, hereafter referred to as WCJ) over a specific period of time in order to determine the degree to which empiricism is present in the field of writing center studies specifically.  However, if Haswell’s article was polemic and even pugilistic towards the NTCE at times, it should be noted that Driscoll and Perdue bring a much softer touch to their analysis and a much more hopeful lens for viewing the future of RAD research in writing center studies.

In general, Driscoll and Perdue are trying to do three things with this article, two of which are overt, and one of which is slightly incidental or even covert:

  • Advocate publication of—and provide potential research models of—empirical study in the writing center studies discipline.
  • Address the history of RAD research in writing center studies, both in terms of methodologies and methods of inquiry, throughout the lifetime of WCJ publications.
  • Provide a model through their own article of the relative simplicity or painlessness of converting to a RAD methodology for meta-analysis of writing center studies.

In reviewing every article in WCJ from its inception in 1980 through the end of the study in 2009, the authors identified 91 of a total of 270 articles as being data-driven “research articles” (19-20).  Notably, the authors listed their metrics and rubric of determination for RAD status in their unabridged forms, providing a degree of empirical rigor not typical to WCJ articles.  Their methodology alone spans seven pages (17-24).

Unlike Haswell, Driscoll and Perdue’s results and analysis praise the WCJ for publishing a wide variety of articles and contributing to discourse in myriad forms.  The find a praiseworthy 25.9% of WCJ articles include data-driven research, both RAD and non-RAD (25.9%) However, they also note that the significant majority of the research articles present in the publication are either non-replicable, or not sufficiently empirical to be considered RAD research—only 15 studies, or 6% of the total articles in the history of the publication (24-6). (See Fig. 1)

Also unlike Haswell, Driscoll and Perdue discover trends that imply that RAD research is on the way up, with both mean and median RAD rubric scores trending upwards over time in the field of writing center studies (26-27).  This is a fascinating finding, because, while it does not obviate Haswell’s original claims regarding the overall treatment of RAD in Rhet/Comp for the same time period, it does demonstrate that RAD methodologies are becoming more and more accepted (and even embraced) in certain discourse and scholarship communities – and especially in research on writing center outcomes. (See Fig. 2)

The authors move throughout further discussion of methodologies and results in a discussion section that warrants more investigation and overview than I can provide here, and concludes (see pull quote above) that significant additional work is needed, though there have been marked improvements in the general state of research in the field.

Driscoll/Perdue Fig 1 - Research Published in WCJ: Pie Chart by percentage, RAD (6%), Non-RAD (28%), Non-Research (66%)
Driscoll/Perdue Fig 1 – Research Published in WCJ: Pie Chart by percentage, RAD (6%), Non-RAD (28%), Non-Research (66%)
Driscoll/Perdue Fig 2 - RAD Research score by Year: scatter chart with trend line - from 1980 to 2009, average RAD score for WCJ research increases from less than 2.0 to 8.0
Driscoll/Perdue Fig 2 – RAD Research score by Year: scatter chart with trend line – from 1980 to 2009, average RAD score for WCJ research increases from less than 2.0 to 8.0

Analysis

However, the authors also note that, despite these improvements, the vast majority of the more rigorous research in the field is still not being performed by writing center experts in composition, but rather by behavioral and educational psychologists and educational scholars.  In exploring the implications of this, Driscoll and Perdue note that “while one could infer that writing center scholars have abdicated the responsibility to document the efficacy of our practices […] historically, many writing program administrators and writing faculty (particularly in higher education) have been trained in humanistic inquiry with research concepts and methods that differ from those outlined in our RAD Research Rubric” (30).  I think this is a huge point, and reinforces my general conclusion from PABs 1 and 2 and Paper #1: Rhet/Comp and WPA studies are not preparing compositionalists with the tools necessary to meaningfully and fully evaluate outcomes and efficacy, nor with the appreciation of the virtue and value of those tools.  As a result, much of the work of the WPA in terms of programmatic assessment is falling instead to scholars within the various colleges of education, devaluing and decentralizing Rhetoric and Composition as the sole arbiter of WPA programmatic questions.

I think one of the most important things that Driscoll and Perdue are doing by raising these questions, however, is not raising awareness of the deficit in rigorous RAD research – these issues have been discussed and retread, with calls for more data-driven analysis of writing center outcomes spanning the last twenty years.  Rather, I believe a key to the importance of this specific article, at this specific time, in this specific publication, is that it provides a real-world model of how accessible, informative, and viable RAD research can be for WCJ contributors.


Questions:

What does this mean for the Rhet/Comp discipline as a whole?

All in all, I’m optimistic (in this specific case) that writing centers are moving in the best possible direction, both in terms of providing best practices and best value to students, and in terms of demonstrating their own value to the increasingly corporatized (satanic?) higher administrative offices of the modern university.

In my humble opinion, writing centers and WPA, as the “boots on the ground” of Rhet/Comp, have frequently dragged the “rhet” folks kicking and screaming into the modern era (see: Computers and Writing).  I’m hopeful this means, with the continued support (and haranguing) by dedicated RAD scholars like Driscoll and Perdue (and Haswell), further resources and models will be made available in order to accentuate the importance of and facilitate the production of empirical research protocols.

There, I was optimistic for once, in my own cynical way.  I hope you’re all happy.

At what point is it enough RAD research?

You know, I’ve spent the last two weeks or so ruminating on this.  I don’t think it’s possible to say “all research, if data-driven, should be RAD.”  I think that the answer is one we’ll come to in time, when we realize that we’ve hit a saturation point, and RAD research is utilized as often as possible to address demonstrable and replicable claims.

Nor do I think it’s in any way productive to get into the “qualitative vs. quantitative” squabble.  Both have value.  I considered making my “major questions” the qualitative vs. quantitative concern before I remembered two things:

  1. I don’t care, I’m just happy people are doing research.
  2. My god, the people having that fight are just… mean.

When it comes to qualitative vs. quantitative concerns, or RAD vs. Non-RAD research, or just academic squabbling in general, I often think back on a very important line of dialogue from Zero Effect (1998): “there aren’t any good guys.  You realize that, don’t you?  I mean, you realize there aren’t evil guys and innocent guys.  It’s just, it’s just… It’s just a bunch of guys.”

It’s easy to assume that because you are advocating for one methodology, it’s better than other methodologies.  But it’s not.  It’s just better at some things, and worse at others.

What should this mean for scholarly and course outcomes?

I’m honestly still working on tying the research concern back to the classroom (and alternate sites of pedagogy.)  At the end of the day, you have to understand something to improve it, and even though RAD research brings a lot to the table, it also isn’t capable of solving things overnight.  The biggest desired personal outcome for now is for me to influence my colleagues and future scholars to appreciate the role that statistical, replicable, empirical research can have in their development as thinkers, teachers, and administrators.

Also, I need to be more clear about the difference between data-driven and RAD/empirical categories, since I’m still having trouble with some classmates articulating the significance of replicability and falsifiability as research essentials.

References

Driscoll, D. (2015). [Personal photograph]. Retrieved from Academia.edu.http://oakland.academia.edu/DanaDriscoll

Driscoll, D. and S. Perdue (2012). Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in The Writing Center Journal, 1980-2009. The Writing Center Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, 2012 11-39.

Perdue, S. (2015). [Personal photograph]. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/oakland.edu/write-space-resources/home/about-sherry-wynn-perdue

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