Three main themes guide my research.
A sense of place: The built environment has a tremendous influence on our everyday engagement not only with buildings, but also with institutions and with other individuals. My work explores the connection between rhetoric and place in order to provide us with a greater understanding of how spaces are made and experienced — from both the perspectives of experts and users.
Professional Communication: I am also interested in the needs of students in STEM fields learning to become professional communicators. My research takes into account the institutional structures that need to be created and maintained to provide students with such experiences, as well as the friction that can arise from asking students to become “more professional.”
Digital Stewardship: Digital stewardship involves more than simply maintaining a web presence or using digital technology in a classroom setting. In effect, digital stewardship comes with its own set of rhetorical choices that need to be carefully considered with various different stakeholders in mind. My work looks at how digital tools can be deployed communally –whether that be in coordination with other classes, with other administrators, or with other users– in hopes of creating artifacts that carry more participatory weight that those constructed from a top-down perspective.
Feel free to read about my current and previous research projects
Recently, Rhetoric and Composition have begun to pay attention to the ways that the built environment has impacted public space. In particular, studies and research projects have highlighted how inequities resulting from planning and design policies disconnect individuals from their communities (Ackerman, Fleming) or how urban development has created a crisis in how individuals relate to each other (Rice). As an example of this disconnection, in the 1960s, when the state of Minnesota ran the Interstate 94 corridor through the densely populated Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, a once thriving African American community, was chosen as the “most expedient” site. This virtually gutted the cultural area of its neighborhood shops and residential hallmarks that gave this place an historic identity and bonded its residents together. Unfortunately this story of disillusionment is not unique to St. Paul, as similar events can be found in the history of transportation systems and general place-making in the United States. This project then explores how urban designers compose space as they draft plans for redesigning a particular area, paying particular attention to which constituents are allowed to influence a design and which remain on the periphery. Moreover, I seek to determine how publics are construed in this process and the engagement that takes place between communities and experts through the visual/material media that designers deploy.
Because much of the work in rhetoric and composition often casts place-making professions in a monolithic light, I suggest that there we can learn more about the ways that spaces impact communities by turning to recent research in Technical and Professional Communication on network theories and workplace studies which may help shed light on the various actors that help bring about multimodal communicative artifacts to the public. In this way, we can have a better sense of the complicated web within spaces are designed and determine which arguments and values might correspond with which particular stakeholders in these scenarios. Thus, my project extends work on place-based rhetorics by turning a critical lens toward urban design classrooms and workplaces in which students and experts assemble their visual artistic and inartistic proofs in the composition of spaces.
As I highlight, there may be numerous experts within place-making fields which may share our concerns for usable and socially responsible designs with whom we can align in order to convey the discursive concerns of the public on issues of space. Despite the allies that we may have in place-making fields, as recent publications have noted, there is still much that these experts can learn from professional and technical communication and rhetoric studies as well. This research project then, is a response to such calls by opening conversations with urban designers about community engagement, usability, and ideology. At the same time, we can benefit from these conversations by learning more about visual communication and design from fields that default to these forms of communication. Indeed, while many studies have been produced on visual communication and multimodal design in professional writing and technical communication, this research has usually treated multimodality as an add-on to alphabetic text which helps only in the transmission of technical ideas. My project asks us to examine fields where the visual is the primary means of discourse and where text is secondary to the message. In this way, our students may think more broadly about digital design—beyond document design software to engaging with design technologies.
As Digital Humanities scholarship has made clear, students, researchers, and instructors can learn more about technological communication practices by engaging with platforms directly—creating, iterating, and disseminating these digital work. Such practices however will involve collaborating with other experts outside our field, breaking down academic and professional silos. Throughout this project, I highlight ways that we can become more active in discussions with STEM and design professions implicated in place-making and teach students in our classes to consider developing a broader awareness of design implications.
Introduction: Opens a space to discuss spatial design in technical communication. I present in more detail the studies that I allude to above that center on matters in design in rhetoric and composition and note the lack of engagement with classroom and workplace practices that professionalize students in place-making fields. I argue that such attention could better help us see the panoply of actors in the process of space-making and would help us to engage with allies in our rhetorical work.
Chapter 1: Highlights the ways that “design” has been invoked in the professional and technical communication literature in order to showcase that there is an opportunity in technical communication to think of design broadly. I propose a model for thinking about design research that spans method and methodology and instead focuses on the roles that technical communication researchers play in the design process. Specifically, technical communication researchers can play the roles of observers, testers, critics, consultants and even creators of designed artifacts—and often take on multiple roles simultaneously.
Chapter 2: Presents a historical overview of the field of urban design. Stemming from landscape architecture in the early 20th century, urban planning was heralded as the field of design that would fuse together the design of buildings (architecture) with the design of public places (landscape architecture). However, in the 1960s, the field turned to social and policy issues of space, leaving urban design to architecture. Recently, seeing the benefits of controlling design, not merely producing policy, urban planning has attempted to re-enter the realm of urban design, leading to many contentious arguments between planners, designers, and architects. From this overview, I highlight the importance of controlling design within our own field.
Chapter 3: Traces the perceived networks that students in urban design courses see themselves working in for their projects and for their future work. After a prolonged analysis of the objects produced by 4 students across multiple institutions over the course of their semester-long redesign projects, I conduct discourse based interviews in order to note the actors, techniques, and technologies that they draw on in order to create these spaces and how they think that this work will differ when they are engaged in space-making practices in the field after graduation. I put forth implications for teaching user discourse analysis as it pertains to design practices to students in professional writing and technical communication courses as well as across the disciplines.
Chapter 4: Discusses the multifaceted distributed work of a project to extend the transportation system in a pseudonymous town of Watertown. Having seen the contentious history of urban design as a field (Chapter 2) and how it dictates the various actors in place while students learn to design in a laboratory setting (Chapter 3), I put this knowledge into context to show how multiple actors play a role in presenting visuals to the public as arguments. Moreover, these visual arguments are used to place members of the public in specific positions, which make it difficult to engage in mutual exchanges of ideas for the improvement of a system’s design. I end by discussing implications for implementing usability protocols and by showcasing possible ways of speaking with place-making experts to improve their design and communication practices.
Chapter 5: Proposes an assignment that would ask students to consider iterative design practices. I use Rittel and Weber’s notion of “wicked problems”—problems in design that stem from design choices and which cannot be predicted—as an occasion to teach students about consequences of design. I offer an activity in which students would be asked to play SimCity 4 in order to take into account how a proposal for improved design may have implications years and decades down the line. Students are asked to consider how their proposals would impact users and whose voices and spaces they consider as they bulldoze houses or increase sprawl in the name of progress. Students then make recommendations for improving the game to allow for more rhetorical options which may be missing.
Many studies in professional writing have engaged with a broad range of issues in design. Those that investigate spatial design (via architecture and landscape design projects) have studied the implications of effectively communicating design to others after a design has been created. My project shifts the focus of analysis, asking us to interrogate the rhetorical choices that are made not only during the communication of a design but those that are assembled together in the moment when experts design. In this way, I hope to open conversations about the importance of discourse and equity, which the field of urban design is currently needing.
Recently, many articles have promoted mapping activities as a way for students to develop their understanding of local community issues. This article, titled “Re-Experiencing Space: Mapping Campus Terrains through Disabilities” (currently under review) extends this work by communicating the value of asking students to move beyond their own positionality on local issues and instead adopt a different perspective through which to map spaces. In particular, I discuss the results of a student project in which students mapped campus through disabilities as a way to open conversations regarding the ideologies of space. Such an approach may help students to break from their usual view of space and may develop a first-hand awareness of how spaces have an impact on others in their community. An iteration of this project was presented at the 2014 Society for Disability Studies in Minneapolis.
Roles of Technical Communication Researchers
Design has come to be understood as an essential aspect of the work that technical communicators are responsible for. As a result, research in the field of Technical Communication has approached studies of design in numerous ways. This article (currently under review) showcases how technical communication researchers assume the roles of observers, testers, critics, creators, and consultants in their studies of design artifacts. This article uses a review of these key design roles to better understand the design relationships researchers see or presume as they further knowledge of design within our field. With this framework in mind, we may be better able to communicate a more comprehensive and integrated model for explaining our work on design to others outside of technical communication. For the Appendix to this article, please visit the Google Document here: http://bit.ly/1WugWJn or click on the following link to open a pdf: appendix-roles-of-technical-communication-researchers-in-studies-of-design
Previous Research Articles
WAC Work and Tactics
In “Of Evolutions and Mutations: Assessment as Tactics for Action in WAC Partnerships,” published in the WAC Journal 27 (2016) my co-author, Daniel Kenzie, and I argue that although much of the scholarship in Writing Across the Curriculum has focused on strategic planning and partnerships, we can learn much from looking at WAC work tactically as well. This focus on strategy makes sense given that administrative endeavors typically involve shoring up resources and expanding programs. However there are salient benefits to adding tactical thinking to strategic planning in WAC work. Borrowing from Michel de Certeau’s framework on strategies and tactics, this article argues that thinking tactically can 1) lead to increased administrative agency—particularly for WPAs and graduate WPAs (gWPAs) who spearhead WAC programs that are not on the path towards evolving—and 2) reveal new strategies that can aid in administrative work as particular WAC programs and partnerships mutate (rather than evolve). Through two case study experiences of how assessment-based tactics can function in WAC contexts, the authors discuss the benefits of introducing local “busts of action” into WAC administrative work.
Portions of this article were presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Houston, TX in April 2016.
Mapping Queer Rhetorics
The article, “Locating Queer Rhetoics: Mapping as Inventional Method”, co-written with Don Unger, in Computers and Composition 38 (2015) discusses how mapping technologies can aid researchers in identifying relationships that may often remain hidden. We use Google Maps to trace queer dissertation networks, noting the spatial relationships that begin to emerge. The abstract is presented below.
Because of the sheer abundance of scholarship employing spatial metaphors to trace Rhetoric and Composition’s development, it feels disingenuous to argue that mapping has recently emerged as an important method for shaping and reshaping the field. However, much of this scholarship challenges the lay of the land by describing the discipline as a map (e.g., Glen’s “Remapping Rhetorical Territory,” 1995). In so doing, this work glosses the complexities involved in making and reading maps. More recently, Sullivan and Graban (2010), Tirrell (2012), and others have delved into these complexities by employing mapping technologies to visualize aspects of the field that get overlooked. We draw inspiration from both bodies of work in order to locate queer rhetorics in two maps: one visualizes published work, and the other marks where, when, and from whom dissertations emerged. In one sense, our maps conceptualize queer rhetorics as a landscape in order to complicate how published works define this area of inquiry. In another sense, discussing our processes for creating and reading these maps points toward the limited way we are able to extend this conversation and complete our project. Put simply, we argue that mapping is an inventional method, and maps not an end in themselves. In order to raise questions for future research, we address how our maps locate (and dislocate) what they attempt to visualize.
WAW and Digital Rhetorics
In “Engaging Writing about Writing Theory and Multimodal Praxis: Remediating WaW for First Year Composition,” published in Composition Studies 42.2 (2014) –co-written with Liz Lane and Tyler Carter–we discuss the implications of combining digital rhetorics pedagogy within the framework of a Writing About Writing approach to first year composition. In this course design, we review the advantages of asking students to engage in such practices as
- developing a visual and reflective awareness of their sponsors of literacy through social media platforms,
- creating multimodal assignments that showcase the communication practices of discourse communities that they are a part of, and
- networking across sections of our introductory composition courses to ask for and receive feedback on the design and content of these multimodal assignments.
We include feedback from our students as well as samples of their products which showcase students’ enhanced learning in these “hybrid” sections and end by making recommendations for other instructors wishing cultivate students’ meta-awareness of their writing practices through digitally engaging ways.
Online Spaces and ESL Learners
In “Creating Accessible Spaces for ESL Students Online,” published in WPA 37.1 (2013), I call for administrators of online sites to take English-as-a-Second-Language students’ accessibility needs into account when they re/design their digital spaces. Through an empirical study of writing center websites, I outline some recommendations that Writing Program Administrators and Writing Center Directors should follow to allow for greater access. The abstract follows:
This essay responds to the 2012 CCCC featured session, “Access–A Happening, “in which Blackmon et al. focused on “removing barriers and confusing the discipline’s boundaries, with a focus on the bodies and minds that have been excluded. “As a presenter, Paul Kei Matsuda called on instructors and WPAs to create access for ESL students into such spaces. WPAs have long sought out opportunities to allow students to have more of a voice when it comes to policy; in this way, this study examines whether WPA documents–specifically information and support resources available on writing center websites–meet the needs of ESL students. I studied eight OWL websites in universities with large international student populations to gauge how well these sites took into account criteria pertinent to ESL students as evident in the available scholarship: intercultural needs, writing resource needs, plagiarism resource needs, and readability. The article ends with specific recommendations for WPAs to follow in creating documents–online or otherwise–that will incorporate ESL audiences. By following these recommendations, WPAs can be more attuned to the needs of more individuals and can better accommodate access to places which may ordinarily prohibit entrance to those without particular (or with divergent) physical and linguistic capabilities.
An iteration of this article was presented in West Lafayette, IN, at the 2012 Symposium on Second Language Writing.
Animal Sciences/WAC Collaboration
The essay “Crossbreeding Disciplines: Collaboratively Developing a Writing Culture in Animal Sciences Courses” co-written with Stacy Nall, in Writing Programs, Collaborations, and Partnerships: Working Across Boundaries (edited by Alice Myatt and Lyneé Gaillet, Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming) traces the collaborative work involved in creating sustainable partnerships across writing and STEM fields. Using a case study from our institution as a backdrop for this discussion, we ask WAC scholars, teachers, and administrators to consider the different priorities for assessment that professionals outside of writing programs have for their students, and how we can help shift these priorities through time and negotiation. Below is our abstract:
In this chapter, the authors discuss a sustained writing across the curriculum (WAC) partnership between the Animal Sciences and English departments at their institution. Drawing on archival and interview research, they explore the decade-long collaboration between graduate student coordinators and course faculty to negotiate between learning to write and writing to learn objectives. This chapter aims to encourage WAC practitioners to engage with content experts about differing concepts of and approaches to writing instruction in STEM courses. The history of this partnership demonstrates that graduate students can make a strong impact on faculty development in writing instruction. The authors conclude with a list of recommendations for administrators who may be forming writing partnerships on campuses where there may not be a strong WAC presence.
Aspects of this project have were presented in Minneapolis, MN at the 2014 International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference and in Bloomington-Normal at the 2014 Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference.
More information on my assessment project of this collaborative relationship can be found in my Administration section.
The White Tiger and Queer Transgressions
In “Queer Transgressions: Same-Sex Desire and Transgendered Representations in Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger,” published in Trans-Scripts 2 (2012), I explore how characters within Aravind Adiga’s novel transgress emotionally and physically authorized spaces. I point to two particular examples of how Adiga’s text asks us to role queer desire with transnational subjectivities. Firstly, I argue that the inherent master and servant relationship between Balram and Ashok places the two men in homosocial spaces that ask them to explore same-sex desire. At the same time, Adiga also bars the pursuit of any such exploration through the disapproval of other characters and the strategic placement of heteronormative rules and conventions throughout the text, thus hinting at the maintenance of heteronormative codes. Secondly, I discuss how crossing national borders into India and the United States, respectively, creates a transgendered experience for Pinky, and more specifically Ashok, whose Americanization leads to his feminized portrayal and, ultimately, his death.