Writing in Place

“Place-based” pedagogy attempts to engage the world around us and our students with our classrooms. A place-based pedagogy means bringing current events into your classroom (what’s the relationship between time and “place”?) or taking a class field-trip to the transfer site. It means engaging Alaska as place or assigning a prompt that encourages students to explore the place, the context, in which they are writing. In this sense, place-based pedagogy is deeply connected to the concept of the rhetorical situation, which is central to our curriculum. Writing in place means recognizing that writing does not happen in a vacuum, but is instead connected to the place, time, context, and lives of students.  We’re teaching them to write in here so that they can write out there.

A place-based pedagogy means expanding your classroom and encouraging students to see themselves as writers and learners not just inside the classroom, but outside as well. When you spend a class period doing a close read of a print ad, even “non-academic” texts that students encounter in their daily lives begin to draw their critical and analytical attention as learners rather than mere consumers of text. This addresses one of the core outcomes for General Education at UAF: “[That students] acquire tools for effective civic engagement in local through global contexts, including ethical reasoning and intercultural competence.” Once the classroom becomes about place, and this place in particular, it also becomes about us. Students begin to bring their identities-as-place into the classroom and classroom learning takes on a personal meaning and motivation that often falls away in academic settings.

Place is temporal and personal, but it’s also geographical and cultural. Alaska is a place that is very much defined by its geography and culture. We build community around our shared experiences of the long winters and the midnight sun. Many fish and hunt through the summer and share meals through the winter of stored salmon and moose meat with foraged blueberries, cranberries, and spruce tips. Nearly 20% of our student population comes from Alaska Native backgrounds and bring with them traditions, stories, cultures and experiences that get attention from a place-based pedagogy. In the Fall of 2013, 92% of incoming freshmen at UAF were local to Alaska (see “UAF Facts and Figures“). The context from which the majority of our students are coming is an Alaskan one and bringing “Alaska issues” into the classroom often means that students will have something to contribute.

It’s important, of course, to treat Alaska not as a single place, but as a diverse one. Though many of our students are native to Alaska, some grew up in rural villages while others were raised in Anchorage or spent their high school on a military base. Alaska as place then becomes an opportunity to explore diversity and the relationship between rhetor and context, or writer and Alaska. It’s also an opportunity to explore the ways in which our place is related and interconnected to other places and how these seemingly disparate places come together to form the global society in which we live.

The University Writing Program is responsible for a course sequence that teaches “academic writing.” A place-based pedagogy refuses to let “academic” be confined to the classroom, or even the university campus. Another of the General Education core outcomes that we target is: “To integrate and apply learning, including synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies, adapting them to new settings, questions, and responsibilities, and forming a foundation for lifelong learning.” We believe that a place-based pedagogy addresses this outcome by making students agile and motivated learners.

Use the menu below to learn more about place-based pedagogy in the University Writing Program.
Writing prompts about Place

Lessons about Place

Sample 111x Syllabus on Place

Sample 213x Syllabus on Place  

Sample Syllabus on Alaska  


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