Dahliani Reynolds, PhD
Earning a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree from Roger Williams University demands that you fulfill a number of different curricular requirements in addition to the courses required by your major(s). Some of these courses will clearly build on each other. For example, BUSN 100: Enterprise introduces students to key concepts in business that they then build on in upper-level courses, and PSYCH 100: Introduction to Psychology provides an overview of key psychological concepts and theories that are the foundation for advanced work in the field . Other courses may seem less connected to each other, or to your interests, or to your major area of study.
Often, some courses you take to fulfill a requirement feel disconnected. If you are not personally interested in the subject matter, and if it does not serve as a critical building block for your major, it is easy to see the course as a stand-alone class—to be taken and quickly forgotten. However, the problem with this approach is that it means you are failing at one of the most fundamental principles of education: knowledge transfer.
Knowledge transfer involves transferring the knowledge and skills acquired in one class to other classes or learning situations. It is probably not hyperbole to say that this transfer is fundamental to the whole enterprise of education. Certainly, if you are getting a degree in civil engineering, you will need to transfer the knowledge and skills you gain through your coursework to the work you do as a civil engineer after graduation. Likewise, if you are an anthropology major, you will rely on what you have learned about methods and methodology to conduct ethnographic studies on the job. In these situations, if you do not transfer knowledge and skills acquired in your coursework, once in the workplace, you’ll likely be thinking you wasted time and money by not paying attention to how the building blocks of your education fit together.
As a key concept in education, transfer is often broken down into near and far transfer. Near transfer occurs when you transfer the knowledge gained in one situation to another, similar situation. For example, learning to drive involves learning a variety of skills: how hard to press the gas or brake pedals, looking in the side and rear view mirrors, using a turn signal, etc. Once you have learned those skills—and they have become habitual to your driving practices—it is relatively easy to transfer them to the “near” situation of driving a manual transmission vehicle. There are some differences between driving an automatic and a stick, but they’re pretty close.
Far transfer means transferring knowledge and skills from one situation to another, more distantly related situation. For example, learning to play chess and directing actual military operations. Yes, chess is a game of chess, and you learn some things about strategy, teamwork, and sacrifice. The game is not really anything like actual warfare, yet warfare and chess rely on similar sets of skills and attitudes, and, in effect, the mastery of the game would allow you to cultivate those skills and attitudes to then adapt and deploy in other situations like warfare.
Writing classes, like all your classes, are intended to facilitate knowledge transfer. We want you to transfer and apply what you learn in one class to other classes and writing situations. In other words, what you learn in Writing for Business Organizations should be transferable to Advancing Public Argument, but also to Operations Management, and to your Communications internship. Likewise, what you learn in this class should be transferable to future writing situations, in other classes and in your life post-graduation, as you continue to engage problems that matter in your communities. Even though it might seem like writing in one situation is similar to writing in another situation (near transfer), sometimes it might feel more like far transfer. After all, writing an essay on feminism in the workplace for a publication like Bitch Media (which could be an assignment for this course), is pretty different from writing a feasibility study for your engineering co-op.
Noticing differences in writing situations is important because transfer doesn’t happen automatically—especially far transfer. Those engaged in warfare may not immediately recognize they are making chess moves unless someone draws their attention to the similarities. Likewise, with general education writing courses and writing on the job, you may not make the connection unless you have learned to recognize that issues of audience, purpose, genre, and style are relevant to all writing situations—and that you have practiced transferring this knowledge from one setting to the next.
Since we can’t possibly teach you how to write all the genres you might encounter in your major or field, this course (like all writing courses at RWU) is designed to facilitate transfer. If transfer doesn’t happen automatically, that means it has to be intentional, and applied metacognition is the best way to create such intentionality. The metacognitive activities you will do throughout the semester are aimed at helping you think about your writing processes and choices, to consider why you are making the choices you are. Being deliberative and aware of what you are doing as a writer—and why—allows you to achieve both near and far, and forward and backward-reaching transfer. If near and far transfer refer to the degree of similarity between two writing situations, forward and backward-reaching transfer refer to how you draw on prior knowledge or hypothesize future applications of knowledge:
Forward Transfer: thinking metacognitively about how the writing knowledge and skills you are obtaining might be transferred forward to future writing situations (for example, considering how the knowledge you gain from this class might be useful in the internship you’ve obtained for next semester).
Backward Transfer: thinking metacognitively about how writing situations you have previously experienced might be of value in a current situation (for example, how the knowledge and skills you developed in WTNG 102: How Writing Works might be usefully translated and applied to this class).