Exploring writing practices of Colombian former undergraduate students: a strategy to create accounts about writing development in higher education

Elizabeth Narváez-Cardona, Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, Colombia

 Latin American Writing Studies emerge approximately since 2000.  Exploratory studies about programmatic initiatives and research suggest that the field roots in Linguistics (Bazerman et al., 2016; Navarro et al. 2016). This implies that pedagogical and methodological perspectives are primarily relying on describing textual patterns of genres across time or contexts to identify conventions (Narváez, forthcoming). Emerging networks and data bases has started advocating for incorporating pedagogical interventions, research, and venues for publications with special emphasis on writing across curriculum, writing in disciplines, writing centers and programs. However, academic publications and pedagogical materials produced by Latin American scholars tend to be focused on school genres (essays, summaries, book comments, essay responses) regardless disciplines/professions (Narváez, forthcoming).

Regarding writing development research, specific Colombian studies or publications in higher education are scare. These projects are focused on students’ changes as writers, and those are limited to questions about the impact of freshman composition courses (Flórez et al., 2010) or learning changes associated with systematic interventions for learning disciplinary concepts through writing (López & Ramírez, 2012; Arciniegas & Lopez, 2012).

Furthermore, as part of accreditation, The Colombian Institute for the Progress of Higher Education (ICFES) has mandated since 2009 a large-scale exit assessment for senior undergraduate students in which writing is seen as a generic skill. Therefore, regardless the majors, students have to write either an essay or a report synthesizing two sources. Since this writing assessment is applied under the assumption that writing is a competence that still undergoes development during college years, this public policy is an opportunity for scholars of Writing Studies to conduct research for examining disciplinary/professional writing development in higher education and adding empirical data that empower scholars for further participation in public debates about Higher Education Writing and Assessment.

Within this context, I am currently participating in a collaborative and inter-institutional research project titled “Studying writing practices of Colombian former undergraduate students in workplaces to contribute with empirical data in discussing results of a Colombian large scale writing assessment”. This project aims at describing variation of writing practices of practitioners who were former students of the following majors offered by 5 different Colombian universities: Spanish and literature education, sociology, media and communication, graphic design, advertising, and speech therapy. Selection of these majors relied on researchers’ convenience and research team formation. This means that every institutional research team is collecting data only related to one up to three of these majors. Emerging databases and other raw data have been offered as useful information for institutions to utilize them in accountability process either internal institutional evaluations or for national accreditation processes.

During the first stage of the study, data belonging to media and communication, graphic design, advertising has been collected through an online open-answer survey applied with support of the department of alumni affairs. We gathered thus far 104 responses from alumni between 2004 and 2017.

Since this study is aligned with a theoretical model that explains collective human activity, language and writing are simultaneously seen as artifacts/tools/resources and outcomes utilized to think, interact, and materialize products/results. Language and writing are thus understood from a semiotic perspective and genre theory when embedded as part of collective human activities of practitioners (Bazerman, 2003; Engeström & Sannino, 2010; Russell, 2010).

Therefore, the online survey has been designed as follows:

First section: Features to capture variation among individual trajectories

  • Organization

  • Time in the organization

  • Position/job title

  • Time in the position/job title

  • Major

  • Graduation year

  • Graduate studies, if any

Second section: Professional experience

  • Mentioning a challenging professional project to answer the rest of the survey

  • Why the project was challenging?

  • Describing deliverables

  • Describing collective activities with other colleagues within and outside from the organization

  • Describing collective activities with other practitioners within and outside from the organization

  • Job title of the surveyee within the project

Third section: Writing presence in the professional experience

  • Mentioning writing situations related to the challenging project

  • Mentioning collaborative writing situations related to the challenging project

  • Mentioning at least one writing duty the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning at least one writing duty other colleagues or practitioner of the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning and explaining at least one demanding writing duty the surveyee had for the project

  • Mentioning and explaining at least one easy writing duty the surveyee had for the project

As the prior protocol shows, during the first stage of the study, we will gather information about challenging collective professional experiences in which writing presence will be mapped. Initial exploratory findings might allow us to inform regarding how in specific Colombian disciplines/professions:

1.    Writers develop in relation to the changing social needs, opportunities, resources, and technologies of their time and place; and,

2.    The development of writing depends on the development, redirection, and specialized re-configuring of general functions, processes, and tools.

Since we are exploring professional challenging events or situations former students might associate with writing as part of collective activities, once we organize them by graduation years, for instance, we could create accounts regarding benchmarks of writing events across alumni cohorts and discipline/professions. This analysis relies on the assumption that the notion of “challenging” might reveal elements of writing events that practitioners are still developing or does not mastering yet.


Arciniegas, E., & López, G. S. (2012). La escritura en el aula universitaria: estrategias para su regulación. Santiago de Cali, Colombia: Programa Editorial Universidad del Valle.

Bazerman, C. (2003). Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People. In Bazerman, C., & Prior, P. (Eds.) What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. (pp. 309-340). Routledge.

Bazerman, C., Avila, N., Bork, A. V., Poliseli-Corrêa, F., Cristovão, V. L., Ladino, M. T., & Narváez-Cardona, E. (2016). 15 Intellectual Orientations of Studies of Higher Education Writing in Latin America.

Engeström, Y., & Sannino, A. (2010). Studies of expansive learning: Foundations, findings and future challenges. Educational Research Review,5(1), 1-24.

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López, J., Stella, G., & Ramírez Giraldo, R. (2012). Los resúmenes como estrategia de aprendizaje. Lenguaje, 40(2), 315-350.

Narváez, E. (forthcoming).  Las teorías de los géneros discursivos en el campo dela lectura y la escritura en la educación superior: análisis de datos emergentes de artículos publicados en una revista científica colombiana. Revista Acción Pedagógica, 26.

Navarro, F., Ávila Reyes, N., Tapia-Ladino, M., Cristovão, V. L., Moritz, M. E. W., Narváez Cardona, E., & Bazerman, C. (2016). Panorama histórico y contrastivo de los estudios sobre lectura y escritura en educación superior publicados en América Latina. Revista signos49, 78-99.

Russell, D.R. (2010). Writing in multiple contexts: Vygorskian CHAT meets the phenomenology of genre. In C. Bazerman, R. Krut, K. Lunsford, S. McLeod, S. Null, P. Rogers, et al. (Eds.), Traditions of writing research (pp. 353–364). New York: Routledge.