Archive | June, 2018

Status Update

See that break in activity between December 2015 and June 2018? That represents my transition from one-course-per-semester coursework to candidacy exam, prospectus writing and defense, and dissertation work. I’m not a consistent blogger. Most of the posts to this blog came from requirements or expectations of graduate coursework.

Why the burst of activity? It’s about the job market. I’m building a professional site that reflects who I am as an academic researcher, scholar, and teacher. I want to put my best persona forward, but I’ll admit, consistent blogging is hard for me. Doesn’t make it less important, just a reflection on the challenge it presents.

It’s not that I don’t write. Doctoral candidates don’t “not write.” We write emails, we write feedback on papers, we write grant applications, we write dissertations, we write positions, and we write publications. I’m writing all those things. I’ve posted drafts of my nascent teaching philosophy and research statement to represent that writing work, but so much writing is done behind the scenes, out of the public’s sight.

I’m struggling through the labor of writing my dissertation, and it turns out that a blog post is a useful distraction from that labor. But it’s also true that I’m working on finishing touches on the initial draft of my first chapter, that I’m about halfway through my review of literature, that I’ve written up one set of methods and results my pilot study, that I have completed most of my data analysis for my final results. I’ll be writing six total chapters, one more than a “standard” dissertation (whatever that means), that includes two result chapters: one addressing the results of my methods, and one addressing the issues with my methods.

We’ll see if “I’m back” to the blogging thing, if I ever was really “there” in the first place. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll try to do more of that writing that’s visible to the public here.

 

Research Statement: A Draft in Progress

As a technical communication scholar and professional, my research interests reside at the intersection of the human and technological, focused specifically on the way rhetorical agency emerges at these interstices. As technical communication scholarship and practice extends into user experience (UX), UX design, experience architecture, and usability testing, my research offers insights into changing understandings of what we mean by the term “user.” This user identity is less likely to be a human persona and more likely to be a collectivity of human activity and technological influence, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithm-mediated daily experience. We have entered the realm of the posthuman, and our technical communication theory, pedagogy, and practice must adapt to posthuman UX in order to understand and design the systems, communications, and experiences that account for the technological activity intertwined in posthuman agency.

Prior Research

My research focus on the emerging topic of posthuman usability in technical communication is the combination of two primary strands of professional and pedagogical experience.

Web Development

I am a self-taught professional web developer. My only formal instruction in web development came in the form of a free HTML class I took in 1996 while a public secondary English teacher. We coded HTML using a text editor and previewed our code using the Mosaic web browser — which reveals something about my age, but also represents the strong influence Internet technology has had on my professional experience. I worked over a decade as a freelance web developer and have worked as a web manager on a higher education marketing team, either part-time or full-time, for the past 18 years. I now immerse myself in the very algorithms I study and analyze as a scholar, developing and managing search and social media marketing campaigns while improving search engine optimization (SEO) through content creation and marketing. Experience in web development reveals starkly the pervasive influence that networks, hardware, software, and algorithmic procedures have on daily life. As my research into posthuman agency has accelerated, I’ve theorized that SEO represents algorithmic usability, where human-generated content is manipulated for ease and simplicity of use by algorithmic processes that generate top-level search results. I’ve presented and published research from my experience as a technical communicator in the Proceedings of the 34th and 35th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication.

Composition Pedagogy

Since training to become a secondary English teacher, I have taught students about writing and trained them to become better writers. Deeply influenced by the social turn in composition studies, I have focused my pedagogy on the collaborative social aspects of composing. Given the deeply mediated activity of writing through and with digital technologies, my research and teaching have focused on the collaborative affordances that composing platforms like Google’s G-Suite for Education and cloud-computing platforms like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive provide for practicing collaborative composing. I’ve collaborated with a colleague at Old Dominion University to publish works on using Google Drive for collaborative composing in the Journal of Usability Studies, in the Proceedings of the Annual Computers and Writing Conference: Vol. 1. 2016-2017 (edited by Cheryl Ball, Chen Chen, Kristopher Purzycki, and Lydia Wilkes), and in collections published by IGI Global (edited by Binod Gurung and Marohang Limbu) and Utah State University Press (edited by Rich Rice and Kirk St.Amant).

Current Research

Beginning with a “Theories of Networks” class I took with Shelley Rodrigo and Julia Romberger at ODU, my dissertation topic and research has shifted from a focus on literature and cultural studies (albeit with a technological overlay; my 1998 master’s thesis concluded with a comparison of non-linear narrative strategy in The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy with hypertext theory) toward a focus on networked agency in composing. I refined this focus with a class on theories of Technical and Professional Writing taught by Dan Richards, where I discovered the field of technical communication and realized that I had been working as a technical communicator for years without knowing it. I have honed my research to focus attention on tracing rhetorical agency as its emerges during online research practices. My dissertation seeks to trace, describe, and visualize the emergence of assemblage agency during online research as posthuman user experience. My object of study is a student conducting research using an academic library’s “one search” search interface, and my methods combine ethnographic observation with usability testing combined with mining network activity data from browser HTTP Archive (HAR) files. I’ve published my initial theoretical approach and visualization attempts in a special issue of Present Tense on platform rhetorics (edited by Dustin Edwards and Bridget Gelms) and presented these approaches at recent conferences including the International Critical Media Literacy Conference (Southern Georgia University), the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information (East Carolina University), and the annual Computers and Writing conference (George Mason University).

Research Agenda

I seek to pursue posthuman UX in future research. Assemblage agency consisting of human and nonhuman entities is relatively straightforward to theorize through work by such disparate scholars as Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, N. Katherine Hayles, James Brown, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, and others. Assemblage agency is devilishly difficult to trace and reveal, and the methods for doing so are clumsy and untheorized. I intend to adapt existing and explore new methods that technical communication scholars can use to uncover the black box of algorithmic and procedural rhetorical influence. The result of this work, which I intend to introduce in my dissertation, is to provide accessible heuristics and pedagogies that can help scholars and students alike recognize, reveal, and understand the shared agency that emerges in algorithm-mediated daily life. While algorithmic literacy is a term that Cathy Davidson and Ted Striphas have introduced to describe this awareness, my long-term research goal is to develop posthuman UX studies as a practical approach to designing products, systems, and experiences that both recognize assemblage agency and make explicit the shared nature of agency that emerges when humans use algorithm-mediated networked products.

Since I started working as a web developer at the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies in 1999, I’ve engaged in designing online experiences for human and, increasingly, algorithmic audiences. The opportunity to study and theorize the very activities I’ve engaged in daily for the past two decades excites and engages me. I’m extending a long history of pedagogy and professional experience into the realm of knowledge making, and I’m eager to keep advancing.

Teaching Philosophy: A Work in Progress

My philosophy of teaching opens with the premise that I teach students, not professional or academic communication. Students enter the classroom with years of writing and communication experience, and among the first goals of any course I teach is to guide students to recognize their existing practices as experiences on which to build. This approach helps me better understand the strengths and challenges each student brings into the classroom, and develops an ethos of care and understanding by valuing the composing activities in which students already engage. When students report they regularly compose social media posts and text messages, we’re immediately able to examine the generic expectations emerging around different kinds of posts and messages and to identity the audience, purpose, content, and style of message genres. This rhetorical approach to communication practices both values students as writers and demonstrates the rhetorical approach to composing that I bring to any composition-intensive course.

My teaching philosophy is refined by demonstrating that I join students in a community of learners. I seek to facilitate the advancement of students’ composing practices through instruction, practice, feedback, and iteration. While I represent the class subject matter expert on composing theory and practices, I willingly share my own learning experiences, including my writing challenges and successes, to demonstrate my approach to composing as continually working toward, but not quite achieving, mastery. Rather than focusing on lecture as a primary instructional strategy, I seek to engage students in Socratic dialogues on composing strategies writ broadly. Dialogue content ranges widely, but I encourage students to make claims, recognize warrants, provide evidence, and generate counter claims about specific strategies like document design, the ethics of data visualizations, and using un-gendered language and imagery. Facilitating such dialogues provides opportunities for students to engage in community learning experiences all — students and teachers — work and learn together.

Nurturing a community of learners reflects my approach to composing as a collaborative activity, practiced in social contexts. As a result, my classroom is not only orally collaborative through Socratic dialogue, but also textually and technologically collaborative through hardware and software. I prefer to teach composition-intensive classes in a computer lab, where the technologically mediated experience of composing is obvious and clearly displayed. I require students to compose in collaborative settings through group composing activities, collaborative synchronous composing using Google Docs, and peer review sessions using Google Docs. I understand teaching as a collaboration among students and teachers, and I tend to use the classroom environment, packed with technological affordances for collaboration, to model this understanding. Like my students, I also engage in collaboration through reviewing drafts in Google Docs and providing feedback that can be seen not only by the writer, but also by the student’s composing partners. I do this not to shame students, but to demonstrate that composing happens in social environments and to provide feedback that other students may be able to apply to their own work.

I focus attention on the collaborative, social context of composing because I seek to prepare students to compose in workplace contexts where collaboration is the norm, not the exception. Nearly two decades of experience working in higher education marketing and communication inform this collaborative approach. Workplace composing necessarily happens in social contexts, often imbued with undertones of workplace politics, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Workplace contexts regularly require joint authorship and the sharing of rhetorical agency while navigating these undertones. I seek to create a classroom environment where collaboration among weaker and stronger composers, among native and non-native English speakers, and among speakers of multiple Englishes, is practiced, valued, and honed. I trust such activities prepare students to compose in workplace environments, even when their composition assignments are academic in nature.

I operationalize my philosophy of teaching by assigning compositions that seek to address a specific problem in society. In a classroom focused on academic composing, assignments focus on solving a public problem. In a classroom focused on business and professional communication, assignments focus on professional and workplace problems that need to be solved. In both contexts, I seek to create assignments that students have agency to shape to problems and situations in their field, major, discipline, profession, or area of interest. I also encourage open conversations about social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to make and support their own claims about contemporary issues and policies and to challenge claims made around these issues by others, either in our beyond the classroom walls. These conversations are planned around assignments toward scaffolding composing experiences from the conceptual to the practical. I facilitate classroom and online conversations; given my preference for technology-mediated classrooms, I include online discussion expectations in classroom-based, in-class/online hybrid, and online learning environments.

 I seek to improve instruction with every class I teach. Beyond formal course evaluations, I provide time and space for students to share what worked and didn’t work in each class I teach. While power differentials between teacher and students necessarily color feedback, I am pleasantly and regularly pleased that students willingly provide honest critical feedback when asked. I trust and believe this comes as a result of facilitating a community of learners in which all voices, including dissenting opinions, are not hushed, but heard and valued. I reflect on feedback I receive and combine it with personal reflections on students’ progress to adjust learning activities, instructional design, assessment rubrics, teaching style and mode, and the syllabus to ensure improvement. I seek improved pedagogies with each passing semester, and I actively seek them out when they are not immediately forthcoming from feedback or reflection. I seek out teachable moments, whether they come from campus lectures or events, blog posts or news items, emerging scholarship, conferences sessions, colleagues and students themselves, and look to incorporate them into classroom discussions, readings, and assignments when possible. I seek to adapt to student needs, to adapt to the teaching environment, and to adapt to the contexts in which instruction occurs — political, economic, social, emotional, and intellectual — in each class I teach.