"Guerilla Conversations:" The Role of Informal Peer Collaboration on MA of Rhetoric and Composition Students' Learning and Disciplinary Identity
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When I entered the Masters of Art in Rhetoric and Composition (MARC) program at Texas State University (TXU) in the fall of 2015 I had an idea that it would, in a yet undefined way, be more difficult than my undergraduate experiences had been. The large, dense, and at times abstract reading assignments, the unarticulated expectations from the faculty, coupled with my fears of sounding stupid in class discussions fell under the big question, how do I do graduate school? Instinctively I sought out my peers through study groups, grabbed them before and after classes, met them for coffee, even family and friends to talk about all the aspects of the program. These casual conversations provided me with much needed intellectual and emotional support through the acculturation process to the new world of graduate school. Based on my own experience, I wanted to understand how others in the program experienced the transition and if they, too, found these informal discussions helpful. Therefore, I designed my research project around this question, How, if at all, does informal peer collaboration support MARC program students?
In order to answer this question, I designed a case study of five MARC students on the premise that the potential of informal peer collaboration was rich with possible benefits: that students grapple individually with new ideas, then reach out to others who also grapple, and discussing these ideas—in locations outside of the earshot of the professors—to gain a better understanding. My analysis of the findings showed that the “guerilla” conversations they frequently had together helped them to learn and develop disciplinary identity--and that was through these repeated casual conversations that several reported surprising learning moments. As there is much research regarding the benefit of peer collaboration as support to graduate students, there is little focus on MA students nor on peer collaboration in its most informal practices. My research provides this perspective, contributes to the larger conversation regarding how students learn and develop disciplinary identity, and provides important insight for program directors as they design programs with student support in mind.