Transfer vs. transition

[Response to Ann M. Blakeslee, “Bridging the Workplace and the Academy: Teaching Professional Genres through Classroom-Workplace Collaborations”]

I found all the articles we read in Teaching Technical Communication this week to be rich in pedagogical implications. I have notes galore, but I have decided to focus my post on one word—transition.

Seeing everything through the lens of “transfer” as I have this quarter, I found myself almost reading right over Ann Blakeslee’s four organizing issues surrounding classroom-workplace collaborations—exposure, authenticity, transfer, and response (349). Wait—she didn’t say “transfer,” she said “transition.” This transition is defined as “how students move from the contexts of schooling to those of the workplace” (349-50). So the idea is much like, if not synonymous to, transfer. But I think I like the connotations of transition better than transfer. Here are my thoughts:

Transfer implies that knowledge can merely be picked up and carried to a new context. Based on their Latin roots, the words transfer and transport are virtually synonymous; they both mean “to carry/bear across.” When one transfers or transports something, it is carried to a new place unchanged. So when we speak of transfer of knowledge, the implication is that the knowledge stays the same; it’s just used in a new context. Writing skills from school transfer/transport unchanged to the workplace. The problem is that that’s not how it happens. The five paragraph essay doesn’t transfer to writing in the disciplines. The knowledge or skill must be adapted or transformed for use in a new context.

Rather than think of this transformation of knowledge for a new context as “transfer,” I think “transition” better captures what happens. This previous sentence transitions from the subject of the preceding paragraph (transfer) to the subject of this paragraph (transition). It links the old knowledge to a new context. Thinking of knowledge as transitioning (instead of transferring) implies change, conversion, transformation, development, evolution, growth, progress. These ideas are more in line with what situated learning tells us about the transition of knowledge from one context (writing in the university) to another (writing in the workplace). The two contexts are not the same and so writing in each context will not be the same; it cannot transfer unchanged. Students can build on what they have learned, but skills and knowledge that are not transitioned for the new context will be inadequate. That seemed to be the gist of the articles this week—students should realize, and teachers should teach, that moving from writing for school to writing for the workplace involves a transition, and they will be more successful if put their minds to learning how to learn in the new situation.

I doubt that we will adopt this new terminology, but it was a least helpful for me in thinking through what we expect when we talk of transferring genre knowledge from school to the workplace. Transition helps me to better conceptualize the idea.

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