Program Philosophy of Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication

WRAP logo

The teaching practices and the research agenda of the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication Program stem from a few central principles that support our goal of preparing students to be expert thinkers, writers, and speakers:

 Integration

Our program is structured to integrate conceptual lessons about writing and speaking within regular MIT subjects in every discipline.  At one level, this integration is practical and structural; in communication-intensive subjects, lecturers from WRAP collaborate with course faculty in the design of communication assignments, lessons, workshops, and rubrics.

This integrated model is also  informed by theory and research.  Because communication is always situational, addressing specific audiences through disciplinary patterns of reasoning and for specific purposes, teaching communication in the specific contexts of its use helps students learn to apply the theory to practice.  Many studies have shown that, because communication in the disciplines is complex, students need to learn more advanced knowledge about audience analysis, genre, and argumentation as they progress in their field.  While dedicated courses in writing and rhetoric are very useful on their own, no single course can teach students all they need to know about communicating complex ideas to many different audiences, both orally and in writing.

Coherence

While the production of communication is always situational and within particular disciplines, a set of common, central concepts inform the rhetorical choices we make in those situations.  Having a consistent vocabulary for identifying those concepts helps students create a coherent framework for composing this variety of texts, and has been shown to aid the transfer of conceptual knowledge from one communication situation to another.  While audiences change, for instance, a conceptual focus on methods of analyzing and accommodating the needs of different audiences can be consistent across disciplines and modes of communication.  Similarly, while students will need to produce many different genres, from essays to design reports, proposals, journal articles, and poster presentations, gaining expertise in genre analysis will aid them in all of these situations.  By teaching concepts through this analytical and comparative framework,  we help students transfer conceptual knowledge about rhetoric, discourse, and argumentation from one subject to another.  We align our terminology and use a spiral approach to these core concepts, creating a foundation in the CI-H subjects and deepening the instruction at later levels of CI-M subjects, so that students develop an increasingly robust understanding of how to make appropriate rhetorical choices in specific situations.

Research and Innovation

Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication’s teaching practices stem from current research in the fields of writing across the curriculum, writing in the disciplines, and professional communication.  In addition, WRAP has a long record of contributing to research in these fields as well; our lecturers have published books, regularly present at conferences in the field, and have created nationally-recognized teaching resources, including a video on peer review and the Mathematical Communication site, now sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America.  We are also in the midst of a d’Arbeloff-funded project to produce online communication instruction in project engineering labs, and an ongoing research project on teaching source use and citation. To find more resources on research in these fields, and to see a compilation of best practices in teaching communication based on this research, please visit our research-based teaching pages.

Another central focus of our research is on how digital media is shaping new practices in professional communication and in communicating science and engineering to the public.  Many of our research projects are developed in our new research lab, ArchiMedia, for which we gratefully acknowledge the support of the Qatar National Research Fund.

Technological Currency

Along with our interest in how digital media shapes communication practices, we are interested in using and researching new technologies for teaching writing and communication.  We work closely with Hyperstudio on the development of Annotation Studio, a collaborative annotation platform for teaching reading and writing; collaborate with CSAIL on the development of NORA, a platform for teaching paraphrase; and, through our research lab, ArchiMedia, develop Metalogon, a platform for teaching oral presentations.   We also develop assessments of these and other technologies for teaching communication, so that these new media will have a research basis for particular uses.

Transparency

WRAP is dedicated to making the conceptual knowledge, systems, and practices of communication explicit to students, and “demystifying” them.  We also make our pedagogical goals, methods, and reasoning explicit for the faculty with whom we collaborate, disseminate the results of our research and assessment, and aim to make our research methodologies transparent.  The teaching platforms we build are open source and free to use, as well.