Academic journal article College and University

DIRECTED SELF-PLACEMENT AND Digital Literacy: HELPING AT-RISK STUDENTS NEGOTIATE THE TRANSITION TO COLLEGE COMMUNICATION

Academic journal article College and University

DIRECTED SELF-PLACEMENT AND Digital Literacy: HELPING AT-RISK STUDENTS NEGOTIATE THE TRANSITION TO COLLEGE COMMUNICATION

Article excerpt

Institutions using directed self-placement to assign incoming students to composition courses may seem more welcoming toward new students-especially those deemed "at risk33-by explicitly embracing students3 digital literacy backgrounds.

For many new college students, enrolling in a first-year composition course remains a key marker of the transition to postsecondary education. Such a course frequently focuses on writing skills that incoming students will require for academic success during their college careers. And because new students often enroll in such a course during their first year (or semester) of college, it plays a unique role in many students' first-year experience-especially because it typically is characterized by small class size and close interaction with faculty, factors that may enhance retention efforts and student acclimation (Powell 2009).

Even though a first-year writing course remains a nearstandard component of the college experience, its content and thepath students take to enroll in it are not so standard. Two recent changes at a public, land-grant institution with a selective admission policy and an undergraduate population of approximately 10,000 spotlight these variables (Indiana University 2015, University of Wyoming 2015a).

First, the university revised and refocused its general education program (the new program launched in fall 2015). One change involved shifting away from a university-wide vertical writing requirement to a communication requirement, which reflects a national trend toward rethinking the role and definition of writing curricula, including the first-year composition course (see, for example, University of Kentucky 2015). "Communication" courses at the university will now feature consolidated instruction in writing, oral communication, and digital communication. Second, in 2013, the university's program for students admitted conditionally and deemed at risk launched a directed self-placement (dsp) process. The DSP enables incoming students to self-determine an appropriate, desired level of academic support for the cohort-based cluster of general education courses they take during their first year, including (but not limited to) the first-year composition course.

The convergence of these two changes, which occurred independently, challenges the institutional community to begin to consider two key questions of broader national importance-as well as a possible relationship between them:

* What do students experience in a first-year writing-now "communication"-course in the context of this particular university?

* How do students who are admitted conditionally come to enroll in composition courses, whether their emphases are traditional print or digital? How, in other words, are they "placed ?"

Changes in the definition of "composition" and the move toward a more expansively defined "communication"-changes driven by emerging digital technologies- can complicate curricular placement for institutions and students alike. Moreover, these changes highlight literacy parallels with students' increasingly digital lives, as well as affective dimensions of placement practices as students make the challenging transition from secondary to post-secondary education. Support and hope, especially for at-risk students (considered here to be students who are statistically less likely to succeed in college for any of a host of possible reasons), is crucial (Harding and Miller 2013). As Alfred Lubrano (2003) remarks in his discussion of class, mobility, education, and the anxiety of coming to college from a working-class background, "People moving from the working class to the middle class need a strategy, a way to figure out the rules, the food, the language, and the music' '(p.io). For many at-riskstudents, a parallel sense of movement from a past experience to higher education- or an integration or reconciliation of the two-transpires. How might institutions using placement in a composition course best facilitate a transition that helps at-risk students imagine themselves-their literate selves-as both belonging in college and bringing something to that experience upon which they might build? …

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