Date of Award

December 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dave Clark

Committee Members

Stuart Moulthrop, Patricia Mayes, Candance Doerr-Stevens


Activity Theory, FYC, Hairball, Pedagogy, Systems


Context is key. We as First Year Composition (FYC) teachers focus on context when teaching the rhetorical situation as a reading and writing tool. Contexts influence the systems we teach within as well as how and why we teach, and determine students’ experiences and perspectives as writers. A required course, FYC acts as a contextual nexus: we help students bridge high school writing to college writing; we assign more generalized essays and research papers to prepare students for more discipline-specific genres in advanced writing courses; and we have activities that (un)intentionally develop “soft skills” in preparation for upper level courses or future professional work. When students take knowledge, skills, and experiences about writing from FYC contexts to future ones, they’re enacting the often practiced yet not overtly discussed phenomena of writing transfer. In addition to (un)knowingly employing writing transfer in FYC curricular design and teaching, we draw from a wide range of Composition scholarship. However, where do we start when considering what writing knowledge and skills students should learn in FYC contexts to use in future, unrelated contexts? To explore this curiosity, I conducted a qualitative research study of FYC administrators and teachers at three different universities in a major, midwestern, metropolitan city to answer my central research question: What influences writing program administrators and teachers when they form and communicate FYC objectives? Couching this research in scholarly discussions about writing transfer, and using Activity Theory as a methodology, I discovered—via interviews, observations, and artifact analysis—how and why administrators and teachers design FYC programs and personal pedagogy. My findings determined that administrators and teachers tend to consider more non-scholarly influences (e.g. labor, administrative expectations, empathy, etc.), yet rely on one or two specific scholarly approach. Likewise, the data reaffirmed how teachers enact transfer, although not in those terms, and valorize specific FYC objectives more than teaching all of them equally. I conclude this work on a discussion of King Beach’s Mediational Transition, a writing transfer scenario, that aids in learning by using simulated contexts in assignments and activities.