Research Statement

In a report published by the National Council of Teachers of English, Kathleen Blake Yancey posits that the 21st century marks a shift towards “multiple models of composing operating simultaneously, each informed by new publication practices, new materials, and new vocabulary.”[1] My research explores how writing teachers and students have responded to the demands yielded by what Yancey calls the “new composings and new sites of composing” of the 21st century. For example, my work has provided me with opportunities to closely study how teaching and learning takes place in general education courses that prioritize the composition of multimodal projects. I also had the privilege of studying and publishing work on the pedagogical implications of a massive open online writing course that I helped design and teach. Finally, I am currently working as part of a research team investigating how general education writing courses can foster collaboration between community members and students to generate new understandings of literacy. My belief in the usefulness of composition scholarship to discover and share new pedagogical approaches undergirds each one of these research experiences. Put simply, research inspires my teaching and teaching informs my research.

My recent research focuses on how students in general education writing courses characterize the material conditions that affect their multimodal composing efforts. Much attention has rightfully been devoted to the material conditions of teachers and administrators, and how these material conditions impact teaching practices and labor. Little work has been done to study the relationship between student material conditions and writing efforts. To address this gap, I gathered data from student interviews and surveys to uncover which material conditions were most saliently related to learning challenges and successes for these participants. I also conducted multiple interviews with instructors and teaching assistants to see how their perceptions of relevant material conditions compare to those described by students. My research extends the work of Asao Inoue, who argues that writing assessment based on the concept of labor functions as a more equitable alternative to assessment based on judgments of writing quality.[2]

In addition to investigating how teachers describe the experiences of students, I am also interested in how students characterize the work of instructors. My Computers and Composition article (co-authored with my colleague Chad Iwertz), “‘Are the Instructors Going to Teach Us Anything?’: Conceptualizing Student and Teacher Roles in the ‘Rhetorical Composing’ MOOC,” examines how massive open online environments can challenge students’ expectations of what writing instruction entails. In this article, my colleague and I analyze discourse about teachers in the most viewed and discussed message board thread, “Are the Instructors Going to Teach Us Anything?” and demonstrate how participants in the course shift between the roles of passive learner and expert teacher to both acquire and produce knowledge in the MOOC environment. Our findings suggest that we should move beyond traditional, binary ways of understanding performed roles of student and instructor so that we can better understand how learning takes place in online writing environments.

I am also a part of a four-person research team established to investigate student and teacher experiences in a community-engaged second-year writing course titled “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus.” Since 2010, this course has asked students to collect, analyze, and preserve literacy narratives from members of black communities in the Columbus, Ohio area. Our research team, which includes faculty members Beverly Moss and Sara Wilder, is interested in studying how students and teachers engage diverse communities both in and outside the university and how this engagement affects their understandings of literacy, research, composition, and social diversity. To meet these research goals, our team has collected interviews from every instructor of the course for the last five years as well as interviews and surveys from a sample of students enrolled in the course during that same five-year period. We are now in the data analysis phase of our research where we are using a grounded theory approach supplemented by critical discourse analysis to uncover emerging themes relevant to our research questions.

Looking ahead, I am interested in gathering more data to expand my research on the teaching and learning conditions that characterize community-engaged and digital media-oriented composition classrooms. My research findings have demonstrated to me that student material conditions have profound effects on how students evaluate their writing efforts and complete composing tasks. I am committed to learning more about the relationship between material conditions and student learning so that I can help create composition classrooms that foster equitable learning conditions for students and meet 21st century writing demands.

[1] Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writing in the 21st Century: A Report from the National Council of Teachers of English.” National Council of Teachers of English (2009).

[2] Inoue, Asao. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. Parlor Press, 2015.

[3] Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press, 1958.