The Physical, Digital, and Affective Spaces of Writing During a Pandemic
With the move to online instruction on many campuses in spring 2020, university students not only had their writing processes disrupted, but had to adapt almost immediately to writing in new physical and emotional circumstances. Ethnographic research into literacy practices has often recognized the importance of place in writing processes and perceptions of agency. Yet the drastic shifts in, and shocks to, writing practices necessitated by the pandemic forced many to confront and respond to new experiences of place and mobility on their writing processes. I am involved in an ongoing research project undertaken in which I am conducing a series of interviews with 40 university students, from first-year to doctoral students, about their efforts to adapt to their altered writing - and living - situations. The changes in where and when they can write, as well as their restricted movements, have heightened their awareness about the role of place, technology, and mobility in their writing. Yet writing from home during the pandemic involved more than just a shift in location and materials. The writers’ descriptions of place, time, technology, and writing have become became more intimately involved with their descriptions of their embodied and affective responses to writing practices. Writers’ responses to this traumatic situation offer insights into the interanimating effects of location, identity, and affect in terms of student agency in writing.
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.
Global Climate Change Education with Middle-School Teachers and Students
I am involved with an international citizen science initiative focused on helping middle school 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 involves middle-school students from South Africa, the Philippines, the US, and Australia, 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, initiated by Mary Brydon-Miller, involves researchers and teachers from schools from all of these countries. 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, the rhetorical approaches for reading and writing about these issues, and digital multimodal literacy practices to communicate across cultures.