Date of Award
Master of Arts
In recent years, an increasing number of military veterans have enrolled in higher education. Little research has been conducted on veterans in tandem with higher education, but what does exist shows that they are a unique student population because of their military background. In the last few years, scholarship has called for research on veterans in classroom environments. Moreover, composition scholars in particular have called for research on veterans and writing. Although veterans have been recognized as a unique student population, little research has been conducted on what pedagogical practices can be used to help them as they become students. First-year composition courses are the perfect context to examine the intersection of these calls for research because most veterans have to take them – since they often enroll as freshmen – and they involve varied written assignments. The purpose of this study was to explore what veterans’ experiences had been in the classroom environment of first-year composition courses and in working towards the course goals for written assignments through qualitative methods. This study also sought to discover what veterans thought could be altered to improve their experience in first-year composition. This study focused on the context of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and its first-year composition course, Engl-101. In order to discover what veterans’ experiences had been, a focus group of five veterans that had taken Engl-101 at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale was held. Additionally, a follow-up interview was conducted with one of the participants of the focus group. The results were consistent with the findings of other research on veterans. What was most notably clear was that veterans’ experiences in Engl-101 were greatly influenced by their experiences in the military. Participants expected their instructors to wield more authority over the class, much like their superiors would in the military. Additionally, veterans were often challenged by the behaviors of non-military students, which they perceived as disrespectful. Despite these challenges that participants encountered in the classroom environment, they also drew from the leadership skills they acquired while in the military to counter them. Additionally, the participants of this study raised that their instructors cared about the students and the content of the course, which alleviated some of the challenges they encountered. When it came to working towards the course goals for the written assignments, veterans struggled to expand their ideas beyond a few sentences, largely due to the style of writing they were used to in the military. That said, once veterans had a clear understanding of the conventions needed for an assignment, they were able to write strong essays. Ultimately, instructors of first-year composition that work with veterans will need to further training on the expectations that veterans’ carry with them from the military. Once instructors have knowledge of the ways veterans learn, they can adapt their pedagogical practices to suit.
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