New Job and Old Research Projects Made New Again

I feel like I’m in Confession every time I begin a new blog. “It’s been 10 months since my last entry.” I originally conceived of the blog to keep me on task with research projects and deadlines, but teaching 8 courses a year–and in my case, 10 last year–really took the sails out of any impulse to blog. I have some time now though. I just turned in grades for the Winter quarter; I’m almost done planning courses for the Spring quarter, and I have about a week before classes start. So I thought I’d talk about several of my writing goals I’d like to meet over the next 6 months or so.

Also, I got a new job! Starting in August I’ll be a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English and Associate Director of Composition at the University of Toledo in Ohio. I’ll be really, really sad to leave beautiful California but I’m also excited to start somewhere new. I’ll be building/developing curricula for some new initiatives in the English department, which I’m really excited about, and I’ll be teaching fewer classes so I can build up my research profile and tenure case. So, while there’s so much I can say about what it’s been like on the job market this year, how awesome it’s been teaching, and where my head’s at regarding moving to Ohio, I think I’ll just keep this post strictly research-based and summarize the projects I’ve been working on sporadically. I’m really just grateful and privileged to be able to have more time to work on all these over the next few years.

Business Writing in Departments of English

I’ve been giving this project a lot of thought over the past couple years. It’s partly due to me having to teach Business Writing over and over again. But also because I think we have a lot of wiggle-room as a field to claim Business Writing as our own. I’ll be presenting a paper at the CCCC Summer Conference in San Jose this June about how to inject more elements of “critical literacy” in the Business Writing classroom. My main argument is that Business Writing is one of the most important courses in the Writing Studies curriculum but we don’t treat it that way. The traditional way we teach the course is outdated, unhelpful, and prepares students only for the “textual etiquette” of the business world. But if Writing Studies applied actual Writing Studies theories to courses like Business Writing we would begin to see the opportunity we have. We can use the course to help students think critically about work, workplaces, and the role of writing in mediating human experience. By making Business Writing more aligned with Writing Studies’ best practices, we can better distinguish this course from its other iterations across academia and re-theorize the course as one primarily situated in a humanities-based mode of inquiry.

This presentation in San Jose is part of a larger essay on the history of the Business Writing Course in Departments of English. My argument in that piece is that courses like Technical Writing rose to prominence in Rhetoric and Composition because it was humanities-based, while Business Writing was distributed among many fields and disciplines on an ad hoc basis, which stifled theoretical growth or innovation. I am using this concept of “Renovation” (been watching a lot of HGTV with my wife lately), and I think it’s about time we do some reno-work on the course. My self-imposed deadline for the article is August 1, and I want to submit it to College English before I start work in Ohio in the Fall. Excited to get some good feedback in San Jose, too.

Public Partnerships: The NCTE and the Common Core

I’m also really excited to open up my dissertation and go back to the Common Core. And luckily, I was accepted to the CWPA conference in Knoxville, TN this June to present my research on the strange relationship between the NCTE and the authors of the Common Core State Standards in 2008. I’ll finally be able to really crank out some presentations and get some good feedback for an article! The main idea between the research is that in our current climate of austerity (which is the theme of the conference), it’s more important now than ever to argue for the value of writing to public audiences. One way to understand this work is through the lens of partnership. Partnerships, as opposed to Mortensen’s argument that scholars need to “air [our research] in the most expansive, most inclusive forms imaginable,” are ways of engaging the public by forging relationships where we leverage disciplinary expertise to work on public problems. In this presentation to my colleagues in Knoxville, though, I’ll discuss a specific partnership that wasn’t so peachy: the NCTE’s feedback in 2009 on a draft of the Common Core’s English Language Arts Standards. This partnership, in many ways, was a failure. But through this failure we can better understand the challenges we face as WPAs trying to impact public issues related to writing. Through this case study, we can open a dialogue about the interaction between writing partnerships, public engagement, language policy, and WPA work. It’s part archival, part old-school textual analysis, and part interview-based. I’m really excited to get cracking on this. I need to get started like, right now, in order to have a strong draft of a presentation by July. My goal is to use the feedback from the conference to submit an article-length version to CCC by the end of my first semester at Toledo.

Public Ecologies: A Micro Case Study of Public Writing Pedagogy

Another project that had to hit the back burner last year was a piece on Public Writing Pedagogy. I collected data from a Writing for Public Discourse Class in the Fall of 2016 and asked students series of questions about what it means to be a member of a public and how the work of the course is helping them think more deeply about writing for public audiences. I have all the data, but I haven’t been able to write it up yet.

But no longer! I was accepted to the Community Writing Conference in Boulder this October, where I’ll finally have a deadline to write up my results. I’m excited too, because despite calls over the last few decades to become more publicly engaged, writing teachers still don’t quite know how to meet or assess those goals in the writing classroom. My data will hopefully show us a glimpse into the kinds of concrete teaching practices that resonate with students. Or, I should say, with one particular class. I’m doing what I’m calling a “micro-case-study,” because I don’t want to presume that you can generalize an outcome like “publicity.” However, by analyzing one class and their writings and responses to survey questions, I hope to showcase how just one classroom navigates through a course on “public writing,” and how their understanding of “publicity” changes and morphs and functions in tension with that of the instructor over the semester. Because ultimately I think our field’s compulsion to teach public writing is necessarily determined by how we define and theorize publicness, and also how students understand their own public ecologies—their networks, their friends, their contacts, the genres available to them—as both enablers and inhibiters of public engagement. My goal is to have that data written up in the first few months on the job in Ohio.

Writing about Writing during the Trump Administration:

A recent idea I’ve been working on is how to think about and teach writing from a Writing about Writing perspective in an era of misinformation, “fake news” and anti-intellectualism. I went ahead and threw a proposal at an MLA 2018 CFP for a panel in New York next year, but I’m already working on some ideas in the classroom. This Spring I’ll be teaching my favorite course at UCSB, Writing 105PD, or “Writing for Public Discourse.” I was a collaborator in the 105-sequence outcomes and the 105PD outcomes were my own little pet-project, so I’m very partial to this class. My idea for the class is to conceive of publics like John Dewey, who said publics come into existence to address particular problems. In that way, publics are fleeting, contingent, contextual, time-bound, and action-oriented. Thus I arranged my class not as a genre-based class on public writing (Unit 1 = grants; Unit 2 = Op-Eds, etc.), but as a series of “public problems.” For our class, I chose three “problems” we will unpack throughout the quarter: Free Speech on College Campuses, The Role of the Public University in Public Life, and Fake News and Media Literacy. These three issues are super relevant in our lives right now, and they’re also significant public problems in that they’re fleeting, contingent, contextual, time-bound, and action oriented. My goal is that we read how authors address each of these issues in various ways through various mediums. So my”Reading List” for the course is very much issue-based, but my intention (I’ve been laboring over this for a couple weeks now), is to get students deeply immersed in the arguments surrounding a public issue as a way to get them familiar enough to “put in their oar,” so to speak, with their own instance of public writing. But as we know from Writing Studies, writing doesn’t have to be formulaic essays. Writing is determined by our own discourse communities, and “good writing” varies depending on audience needs and expectations. So I’ll ask students: What are your discourse communities? What are your audiences? What networks do you belong to? What kinds of relationships can you utilize or forge in order to make an impact on these issues? Feel free to check out my reading list and make suggestions if you like. I’ve also included the assignment here as well. I’d like to use this next quarter as a gestation period for the idea, and we’ll see what MLA says. If accepted, I’ll have a year to really start plotting out a project designed around John Dewey, Public Discourse, and Donald Trump.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll post a bit less infrequently from now on.


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