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Agents of Integration

Agents of Integration

Understanding Transfer as a Rhetorical Act

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Rebecca S. Nowacek


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
192 pages, 5.5 x 8.5, 2 illustrations

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric


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About the Book

The question of how students transfer knowledge is an important one, as it addresses the larger issue of the educational experience. In Agents of Integration: Understanding Transfer as a Rhetorical Act, Rebecca S. Nowacek explores, through a series of case studies, the issue of transfer by asking what in an educational setting engages students to become “agents of integration”— individuals actively working to perceive, as well as to convey effectively to others, the connections they make. 

While many studies of transfer are longitudinal, with data collected over several years, Nowacek’s is synchronous, a rich cross-section of the writing and classroom discussions produced by a team-taught learning community—three professors and eighteen students enrolled in a one-semester general education interdisciplinary humanities seminar that consisted of three linked courses in history, literature, and religious studies. With extensive field notes, carefully selected student and teacher self-reports in the form of interviews and focus groups, and thorough examinations of recorded classroom discussions, student papers with professor comments, and student notebooks, Nowacek presents a nuanced and engaging analysis that outlines how transfer is not simply a cognitive act but a rhetorical one that involves both seeing connections and presenting them to the instructors who are institutionally positioned to recognize and value them. 

Considering the challenges facing instructors teaching for transfer and the transfer of writing-related knowledge, Nowacek develops and outlines a new theoretical framework and methodological model of transfer and illustrates the practical implications through case studies and other classroom examples. She proposes transfer is best understood as an act of recontextualization, and she builds on this premise throughout the book by drawing from previous work in cognitive psychology, activity theory, and rhetorical genre theory, as well as her own analyses of student work. 

This focused examination complements existing longitudinal studies and will help readers better understand not only the opportunities and challenges confronting students as they work to become agents of integration but also the challenges facing instructors as they seek to support that student work.


“The treatment of knowledge transfer in Agents of Integration is more comprehensive, nuanced, and informed than anything I have seen in our field to date. The transfer matrix it develops as well as the case studies it explores are rich and informative. The idea, as well, that agents of integration are both seers and sellers of connections has important implications for studying and teaching for transfer, revealing along the way the institutional context in which students are able to sell or not sell connections and suggesting that transfer is as much a rhetorical activity as it is a cognitive activity. This book will have significant and lasting implications for teachers and researchers working in various areas in Rhetoric and Composition studies.”—Anis Bawarshi, author of Genre and the Invention of the Writing: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition and, with Mary Jo Reiff, Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy

Agents of Integration offers original, often exciting, insights on how students make connections across disciplines, how their personal identities and academic goals interfere with or enable the transfer process, and how teachers from different disciplines either facilitate or impede transfer in spite of their best intentions to be interdisciplinary.”—Terry Zawacki, director, Writing Across the Curriculum, George Mason University

“Helping students connect learning across settings and apply it in new contexts has never been more important. But it’s no easy task. What Nowacek brings to the challenge is a conviction that the dynamics of transfer just might reveal themselves more fully through a close look at her own classroom. Sure enough. The result is a richer, more promising model of how and under what conditions students can actually become, as the title of the volume puts it, agents of integration.”—Pat Hutchings, co-author with Mary Taylor Huber of The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons 

“This book brings light to the dark forest of interdisciplinary learning and teaching. It treats students as the ones responsible for integrating their knowledge, and it dramatically shows how writing, in various genres, is a key tool for students struggling to knit together disparate learning into something meaningful for them. The book also provides key tools for teachers and administrators who want to help students do this hard and complex work.”—David R. Russell, author of Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History