Our Assessment Approach: Ethnography

Starting in the academic year 2014-2015, the Writing Program has been researching the practice of writing on campus, building on the work of the Georgetown Writing Study and a quantitative benchmarking study completed during the summer of 2013. This new research responds to concerns raised in the 2012 Middle States Accreditation report. Even more importantly, this research will help us see the impact of the significant general education curricular changes spanning 2014-2017, including a revised and expanding first-year writing course and the Integrated Writing curriculum.

Our research method is ethnographic. This means we analyze a variety of documents, including students’ writing, syllabi and assignments, as well as interview students and faculty – even run small focus groups – in order to build a rich description of the varied practices of writing at Georgetown. This approach adapts innovative models from current research in Writing Studies – practices we believe represent the best practices in our field. Our goal is to create a kind of campus map of how we write at Georgetown and the forces that shape this practice.

We are asking two research questions:

  • What variables – faculty status and perspectives, disciplinary expectations, institutional resources, curriculum and pedagogical design, student experience, and so on – shape people’s teaching and learning about writing?
  • What opportunities for strengthening the culture of writing at Georgetown emerge from this analysis?

If you’re interested in the scholarship on Institutional Ethnography in Writing Studies, check out:

In the summer of 2016 we began to pivot from a heavy emphasis on data collection to a rhythm of data collection in fall and spring and analysis in summer. We conducted the first round of analysis of WRIT 015 data in summer 2016, which is represented in part by our Institutional Ethnography Report. Future summers will take us into analysis work of Integrated Writing data.

For more info on our results and methods, check out our infographic, which provides a visual for the results of a student survey that we partnered with The Office of Assessment and Decision Support (OADS) to add writing questions to.