Writing and Learning in View of the Lab: Why "They" Might be Right

  • Catherine Prendergast University of Illinois
Keywords: writing, learning, science, undergraduate education, laboratory research


To interrogate the field’s current understanding of writing as central to learning in the sciences, this study offers results from a qualitative, emic study of college students and their scientist mentors at work in an NSF-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates. I observed that the work of this professional research laboratory mainly recruited and developed literacies, such as manual dexterity and visual acuity, other than language-based ones. Describing here the various laboratory activities that fostered higher-order thinking and knowledge transformation, I conclude that “writing to learn” research must consider how writing fits in with an ever-developing understanding of the complexity of learning.

Author Biography

Catherine Prendergast, University of Illinois
Catherine Prendergast is Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Her research and teaching are in the areas of literacy, disciplinary rhetorics, and disability studies. She is author of two monographs: Literacy and Racial Justice (2003) and Buying into English (2008), and blogs at about writing at www.firstyearcomp.com.