While the proliferation of screen-based technologies has resulted in more extracurricular writing than ever, research has suggested that students tend not to transfer writing knowledge across extracurricular and academic domains. In other words, although they are writing more, contemporary students are unlikely to see connections between their online writing and their academic writing, which raises questions about whether they achieve gains in their academic writing due to the time and effort they put into their online writing. To explore this research problem through qualitative, longitudinal case studies of individual student writers, I narrowed in on a specific domain of online writing: online feminist discourse. In doing so, I have sought to better understand whether and how students engaged in a specific type of online writing might be transferring knowledge across online and academic domains.
Through this research, I explore how feminist college students at a Midwestern research university engaged with writing in (and across) academic and social media contexts. Following the traditions of learning transfer research in composition studies and education, I consider how these students made decisions about transferring, adapting, or integrating knowledge from one context when faced with writing challenges in another context.
Contrary to prior research, my two sets of findings suggest that the participants in this study did transfer writing knowledge between these domains, and that they did so in both directions. First, I found that participants transferred writing knowledge from academic contexts to social media, but that they only did so when cued by readily discernible similarities between contexts. Through the combined lenses of antecedent genre uptake and adaptive remediation, my research explores how study participants leveraged (and adapted) academic genre knowledge when composing longer online genres such as blog posts and articles, but not when composing shorter genres such as Tweets. While previous research exploring adaptive remediation has primarily considered students’ responses to formal writing assignments, the experiences of participants in this study suggest that adaptive remediation might also occur in response to more organic rhetorical challenges in a new domain, such as an unprecedented rhetorical situation like writing a blog post or an online article.
Additionally, I found reports of transfer across domains in the opposite direction: from online domains to academic domains. Participants reported cultivating specialized content knowledge about intersectional feminism through their online reading practices, which they would subsequently leverage as a strategy for approaching open-ended writing assignments in unfamiliar disciplines. While reading has remained somewhat understudied in writing transfer research, the experiences of these participants suggest that by expanding our lens to consider “reading” as a component of writing knowledge that may transfer, transfer researchers may be better equipped to fully understand writing knowledge transfer across domains.
Ultimately, these participants’ experience suggest that writing knowledge may be cultivated in a wide range of locations, and that when faced with an unprecedented challenge in one domain, writers may reach into another domain to locate the knowledge that may help them adapt to their new situation. In other words, online writing may cultivate knowledge that is in conversation in various ways with the writing knowledge that contemporary college students are required to learn in more formal academic contexts.