Current Projects

Literacies in Times of Disruption: Living and Learning During a Pandemic

From the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, education figured prominently in many conversations, including everything from possible “learning gaps” to hampered social development. Yet, often overlooked in such conversations have been the voices of students, and their perspectives on the disruptive, sometimes traumatic, experiences of the pandemic. This book explores the experiences of a group of more than 30 university students over the first two years of the pandemic to understand the effects on them in terms of questions of affect and identity, place and technology, and their relationships to the university, both in terms of learning and as an institution. Through a series of interviews from April 2020 to January 2022, I both document and examine the practices, feelings, memories, attitudes, and responses to their lives as students, but also to their experiences in an extraordinary time of disruption and public turmoil. Such an in-depth analysis helps to illuminate the ways in which the experiences of the pandemic have shaped students’ ideas of themselves as students and writers, and the role of technology, place, and the university in how they perceive and feel about the ways they are engaging in their work and learning. Given the universal, and ongoing, nature of the pandemic, those of us who teach and research students and their literacy practices must realize that we will all be doing our work in the years to come in response, in some significant ways, to these experiences. The more we can look, in depth, into how students understood and felt about what was happening to them, the more varied ways we can imagine to respond to students in the years to come with innovative, nuanced, and empathetic approaches to learning and literacy. We are in a time in which trauma and disruptions of many kinds may very well continue to be part of students’ experiences in school. It is vital that we understand how these indelible experiences restructure lives, perceptions, practices, and ideas about the future.

Global Climate Change Education as Both Local and Global

I am involved with an international global climate change initiative focused on helping students from around the world to develop a greater understanding of the local and global impacts of climate change. The goal of the project, which at the moment is focused on middle-school students from South Africa, the Philippines, the US, and Austria, is to work with students to investigate the physical, economic, social, cultural, and political impacts of climate change in their own communities and sharing their insights with students in other countries. The project, in collaboration with Mary Brydon-Miller,involves researchers and teachers from schools from all of these countries. The issues of the climate emergency are simultaneously global and local. Although it is important to understand  global systems and impacts of climate change, it is making such issues meaningful in local contexts and cultures that leads to individual and collective action. Yet climate change education too often takes a generic, global focus, limited to the science classroom. Our goal is to bring a new perspective and approach to developing climate change learning and action, grounded in local knowledge, languages, and cultures. The project envisions climate change learning as a shared exploration involving schools and communities and crossing generations and disciplines. The ambition is to enact and articulate participatory processes and resources that ground issues of climate change in learning that is place-based, transdisciplinary, and multimodal. We hope that, through exploring climate change locally and then talking about it globally, the students may develop understanding and empathy about these issues that encourages them to think about how best to act to respond to climate change. My role in the project to help the students explore the cultural aspects of climate change with a particular focus on rhetorics of place, cross-disciplinary approaches for reading and writing about these issues, and digital multimodal literacy practices to communicate across cultures. We have a Spencer Foundation Conference Planning Grant to help us connect our research and teaching groups and plan for the next steps in the project. 

Literacy Practices and Perceptions of Agency: Composing Identities

This book, just published by Routledge Press, explores how people perceive their abilities and opportunities to read and write successfully when they perform literate identities. The perception of agency, not just whether a person is able to read and write but whether she or he perceives and feels able to read and write in a given context, is crucial in terms of how people respond to writing situations. Though some may consider agency difficult to define, it is a goal often articulated in research, on course syllabi, and in learning outcomes. It is important to investigate how individuals perceive agency, and what factors they regard as enabling or constraining their actions. At any moment there are many factors shaping agency and literate identities from social forces – history, material conditions, institutions, social roles, semiotics – to internal conditions – motivation, emotion, narrative, and memory. This book draws on interviews and observations with students in several countries to explore the intersections of the social and personal in regard to how, but also crucially why, people engage successfully or struggle painfully in literacy practices. If we can identify such patterns and moments we can, as teachers and researchers, rethink our approaches to teaching as well as intervene in the learning of individual students to help facilitate a sense of agency as writers and readers. I am following up on the work of the book with an article about how current national political discussions of education and writing influence students' perceptions of agency.

Writing Centers, Enclaves, and Creating Spaces of Pedagogical and Political Change within Universities

I believe that rhetoric and composition faculty and programs can play a role in the conceiving of the future of the university that is both disruptive to corporate structures and standardization and more focused on learning and exploration. What’s more I maintain that such a role need not be limited to issues of writing pedagogy, but can address broader concerns of the nature of learning and the structure of the institution. Using the example of Writing Centers, which have grown to more than 1,400 in the U.S. in the last forty years, I am interested in  how such programs, which often maintain significantly different visions of pedagogy as well as different political and institutional presences, can offer the possibilities for creating change in the larger university.  I am drawing on Victor Friedman’s (2011) concept of “enclaves” to discuss how Writing Centers can draw on their pedagogical and participatory values and practices to work as agents of institutional change in universities. Both the approaches to teaching writing, as well as efforts to create a culture of writing and participation at the university, can generate a different conversation about literacy and education in university settings increasingly driven by ideologies of standardized assessment and commodification. An article on this idea is forthcoming from the Writing Center Journal.