I teach at James Madison University in the School of Rhetoric, Writing and Technical Communication, and I study literacy, or literate acts, really. How do individuals “read” situations whether delivering a speech, or discovering the appropriate rhetorical moves for a small gathering? When would the people involved in an exchange mark it as successful, and why? What prohibits the exchange of ideas? What encourages a productive exchange? And who determines what counts as productive? Sometimes my work approaches traditional literacy studies, i.e., the written word, limited exclusively to the alphabet rich text; other times, I’m focused on more broadly defined frames for literate acts and study a sort of ecology of primary and secondary genres and speech acts, happening in a range of media. I might focus on social media venues, or a study of literal street design, how we read the viability of traveling down literal roads on bicycles, given the signs and spaces allowed for motorists and cyclists. In all my work, I’m curious about how a nation-state articulates its values, how state power moves through a nation’s institutions. I’m interested in how the individual experiences those nation-state framings, and how the individual attempts and understands agency in the midst of an often shifting set of economic, institutional, and social realities.
This desire to understand these underlying issues associated with literate acts becomes specific in current research about how communities articulate appropriate relations to risk taking (both in ceramics communities and bicycling ones), or how instruction sets are shaped in the frames of individuals’ authority. It takes the form of a research study on contemporary literacy narratives in social media venues, or the politics and ethics associated with selecting online portfolio resources for a writing program, or the challenges for developing curriculum appropriate to the changing definitions of what it means to write.
approach to teaching
Most of my thinking time, whether in publications or course preparation focuses on how we discover and participate in a range of rhetorical situations, how we read situations well, assess the rhetorical moves available to us, create & produce the documents as a means of participation, and then evaluate those rhetorical situations; most of the courses I shape follow this organization, from studying the documents a community produces, understanding them with a range of theoretical approaches that may aid in understanding and also participating in those communities through the production of appropriate documents.
I value the opportunity to participate in a the vertical course offerings possible within a writing studies/technical communication major, from first year writing to graduate courses and hope that I can create research projects that offer that range of students an opportunity to participate in focused work that helps them to improve their abilities to communicate in an always changing set of rhetorical situations.
At the moment, I am fascinated with social media venues online, the concepts of social networks both online and in face to face interactions, and the challenges of communicating in these evolving venues. While I try to bring a contemporary focus on literacy studies to a range of courses, I also draw on research and current understandings about how writers can be assisted with their writing projects. From helping students with the discovery of projects and ideas to the feedback offered on texts, I pay attention to what contemporary research recommends both in terms of shaping the curriculum and structure for courses, assignment design, support with creation of documents, and the kinds of feedback that may improve writers’ strategies.
Students need to know how to participate in a range of digitally rich rhetorical situations, and I hope I shape courses that ask writers to understand the impact of the various technologies, venues, platforms as they influence how, where, and what we currently write.
Some of my research has been concerned with faculty development and with writing program administration. I have a text, Aging Literacies, that explores the interrelations of shifting literacy requirements within the context of our identities as teachers and scholars and our approaches to our own experiences with aging. I argue that if faculty development is to be effective, aging (and how we learn as we age) should be part of the considerations.
Recently, I’ve combined an interest in surveillance studies with issues related to writing program administration. As soon as the word surveillance is uttered, my defenses go up, and surveillance studies scholars have been extremely thoughtful about the way popular culture encourages a sort of enjoyment, a docile attitude towards surveillance. Looking at venues such as Facebook, this training becomes apparent, but it’s also true–and this is the interesting conundrum about surveillance– that online networks and programs, while providing troubling relations to surveillance also offer interesting information about how networks function, information that can help a group to choose better directions. I’ve been looking at how online social network programs function within what some would call soft surveillance and have become fascinated with how social networks shape some of our motivations. For example, I think it matters to understand how social networks influence technology. Attending to social networks may help to facilitate the process of learning new ways of integrating digital literacies into the curriculum.
I also have been focused on how data from students (their essays, entered into programs like Turnitin, or MyCompLab) can be used to promote an agenda that may be antithetical to our core values and ways of knowing about how learning happens, how students become stronger writers. I’ve explorde the ethical issues at stake in choosing online companies who offer to support student portfolios which facilitate the assessment process for first year writing. Mostly, I’ve tried to understand the issues at stake for writing program administrators who may or may not feel like they have many options?