I teach at James Madison University in the School of Rhetoric, Writing and Technical Communication and study literacy, or literate acts. How do individuals “read” situations whether delivering a speech, or making conversation at 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 alphabet rich text; other times, I’m more interested in broadly defined ecologies of literate acts happening in a range of media. Whether researching social media venues and online advocacy arguments for cyclists’ rights to the road, or queries with local riders about how they interpret the cues on the road (white lines, stop signs, width of roads, driver behaviors), I’m curious about how a nation-state articulates its values, how state power moves through a nation’s institutions, 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.
women and bicyclingI study the literacies necessary to “read” a road’s markings, both the permanent signage, and the moves of other participants because I want to understand how rhetoric and infrastructure can collaboratively encourage more bicyclists to choose to use the roads for their transportation needs. While some of my research here has charted the online practices for arguing for rights to the road, I’m increasingly interested in how to reach out to potential groups of women who might bicycle, as we are underrepresented on bicycles. If bicycles offer women and men an option for transit, how might we, as women, advocate for other women to imagine bicycles as a viable means of transportation, as part of a repertoire of options in the right to freedom of movement. In advocacy contexts, I’m also curious to explore the interrelation of bicycling and pedestrian concerns, in rhetorics that shift the focus away from car-centric privileging in public policy.
bike sharing programsCitibikes and other bike share programs have tried various strategies in order to increase participation amongst women cyclists. Part of my current research is focused on how a women’s group of bicyclists draws on social media resources to facilitate local community building. From this focus, I’m expanding to an interest in bikeshare programs, and effective approaches that draw more women to the possibilities of mobility by bicycle.
transportation informationSome of my current research examines the relationship between a national advocacy organization–The League of American Bicyclists, local advocacy organizations for bicycling (in our area, the SVBC — Shenandoah Valley Bicycling Coalition), and the kinds of information available at the local university regarding bicycling. I’m interested in messages about sustainable transportation, about the interrelated challenges of walking and bicycling in town, about the collaborations between the city and the university on pedestrian and bicycling agendas. I’m currently working on a project that explores universities’ strategies for conveying values about sustainable transportation. From the accessibility of the information to the range of information offered, what are contemporary patterns in the narratives, and what counts as best practices in terms of the content offered for a range of media devices?
vertical research projects
Writing with people enrolled in some of my classes, we’re creating a magazine – like blog on mobility concerns at our local university. Writers take up a range of topics, and we create a set of resources that we hope are useful to incoming freshmen or to a range of other local audiences.
This project, in conjunction with some collective crowd-sourcing research that we conduct on university websites and their information about transportation, affords me the opportunity to think and write about what it means to engage students in the kinds of writing projects that are focused on sustainable transportation and the politics of mobility. I am currently writing two documents on the issues at stake in taking up these kinds of projects.
Some of my research has been concerned with faculty development and with writing program administration. I have a text, Aging Literacies, which 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. If faculty development is to be effective, aging (and how we learn as we age) should be part of the considerations.
In past ten years, I’ve studied both research in surveillance studies and a range of policies regarding technology that have resulted in giant pools of student writing. I’ve followed the rise of e-portfolio systems for gathering and analyzing students’ texts which has happened in tandem with university decisions to switch to email access through Google or Microsoft services. These corporations exchange security services for data, collecting a large majority of the communication occurring at institutions. Add in the central courseware providers who collaborate with an ever shrinking number of publishers, and interconnected online education providers, and the possibilities for data collection become significant. While individual companies have offered intriguing findings from their pools of data, companies have collaborated on shared practices which facilitate data sharing. As a result, we are starting to see arguments based on research generated from collective giant pools of data, and as participants/observers, it matters that we find a way to collaborate in the generation and analysis of current and future data.
My writing has focused on the implications of these collaborations, suggesting both the possibilities and the dangers of participating in these docile / soft surveillance framings, and then also relying on the scholarship by researchers like danah boyd and Kate Crawford to suggest the necessity of understanding how data is cleaned, who shapes what kinds of research questions are asked of such data, who has access to the data, and the implications at stake if we fail to find a way to contribute disciplinary perspectives and values in the study of these giant pools of data.
While I’m interested in and wring my hands over the range of ethical challenges raised by the ability to collect big pools of written genres, I also recognize that research on social networks, on social contagion are valuable tools in faculty development. I remain most interested in understanding and/or providing the networks and the structures that facilitate and encourage faculty to feel confident when adopting new and unfamiliar/contemporary writing practices.