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.
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 center scholarship often high-lights the ways in which their distinctive, less directive, nongraded, and individualized instruction can make them distinctive social and pedagogical spaces. There is a simultaneous argument, however, that writing centers are often institutionally vulnerable and may be unable to engage in or promote such differences within the larger college or university. Yet, despite their size and possible vulnerability, the daily practices and institutional positioning of writing centers can help change conversations and work toward a different vision, political approach, and institutional presence. Drawing on Victor Friedman’s concept of “enclaves of different practice” and Brian Massumi’s theories of affect, this article explores how writing centers can adopt a theory of institutional change grounded in social fields and relationships. If, as Friedman advocates, institutions can be changed from the “inside out” through attention to empowering relationships and reconfiguring social fields, writing centers can adopt dispositions and practices to create the environments from which futures can emerge that sustain their values. The article provides brief examples of how a writing center can explicitly frame and promote pedagogical and participatory values to work toward larger institutional and political change. This article has recently been published in Writing Center Journal.