Writing professor takes a new approach to students’ learning

Taylor Crumley, Staff Reporter

The 2019 Best of Journals in Rhetoric and Composition is a collection that features the finest scholarly work in the industry. Elizabeth Allan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Oakland University and was recently recognized for her distinctive work in her field, which will be featured in the journal later this year.

Allan’s article, “Real Research or ‘Just for a Grade’? Ethnography, Ethics and Engagement in the Undergraduate Writing Classroom,” was originally published in the journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture in April of 2018.

Her article is one of only 14 to be published this fall in the “Best of the Journals in Rhetoric and Composition 2019” collection.

Allan’s article studies a different approach to how she teaches and how students learn. She teaches ethnography, or the study of culture, to undergraduate students.

Two ways that we can learn about cultures by observing people in their everyday lives and by interviewing people,” Allan said. “My approach to teaching ethnography is hands on, meaning that the best way to learn about ethnography is to do it.”

The undergraduate students that participated in the study collaborated in research teams and designed and coordinated their own microethnographies.

“Microethnographies are very small-scale ethnographies,” Allan said. “Some large-scale ethnographic research can take months or even years to complete, but the students in my research study designed and conducted microethnographies that lasted just a few weeks.”

The undergraduate students were encouraged to observe and identify how cultural factors influence teaching and learning. They also documented students’ learning habits.

“They observed formal or informal learning environments and interviewed participants about their learning practices,” Allan said.

Allan’s study revealed to her that students are much more engaged when learning in this hands on way and reap more benefits from their studies. She said the study was a great benefit to the students overall.

“The students benefited by learning about research ethics, expanding their understanding of research and being more engaged in their own learning,” Allan said.

She also noticed a variable in how her students were approaching and engaging with the project that was assigned to them.

“My findings also showed that some of the students considered their projects real research, while others just thought of them as class projects just for a grade,” Allan said. “Those students who focused on the benefits of their research projects for other people, not just for themselves as students, viewed their research experiences as real.”

Allan has always had a passion for teaching and learning since she can remember. She teaches first-year writing and also upper-level courses in the writing and rhetoric major, and has been with Oakland University since 2009.

“In my field of writing and rhetoric, ethnography is an important research method that we use to study how people learn to write and how people make arguments in their everyday lives,” she said.

Finding the best techniques and practices for learning is very important to Allan. As she continues her career, she hopes her students will continue to learn and grow with the most up-to-date and most effective teaching and learning methods available.