Archives and Other Multi-literate Practices ~ Session F8

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Review by Mariana Grohowski

Read more about session F8 on the C&W conference site.

Panelists

Claire Lauer, Arizona State University
Colleen Reilly, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Stephen Carradini, Auburn University

Jennifer Veltsos articulately explained the quasi-appropriate location of the session, tweeting:

Though the journey to attend this session was not for the faint of heart, the session was widely attended, despite the absence of third panelist Stephen Carradini. Audience and location aside, Lauer and Reilly’s presentations invited lively dialogue during and after their presentations, making for an interactive and enriching session overall.

“Expertise with new/multi/modal/visual/media technologies desired: Tracing composition’s evolving relationship with technology through MLA JIL”

Claire Lauer

Lauer began by revealing her “obsession with terms” (e.g., see Lauer’s (2009) article “Contending with terms”). Indeed, as Lauer pointed out, there is great importance in analyzing the terms we use to describe the work we do, how we define said terms, and why we use said terms; such analysis is important for understanding the past, present, and future of our field.

Examining the last twenty years of the job information list (JIL) put out annually by the Modern Language Association (MLA), Lauer shared the findings from the 1690 total ads she examined. Lauer directed us to her recently published article “Technology and Technical and Professional Communication through the Lens of the MLA Job Information List 1990-2011” in Programmatic Perspectives, in which she reveals her methods and methodologies and her findings for job ads within Technical Communication. Additionally, Lauer noted that another version of her findings is forthcoming in Computers and Composition.

Lauer’s presentation made use of many graphs that she designed to organize and display her data collection and analysis. One graph I found particularly illuminating was Lauer’s tracing of the term “online” in job ads by classification. In looking at a 20 year view of the use of the term, Lauer found that the word online spiked and doubled from 2009-2011 of her analysis of all adds in all subfields (1690 total ads). Lauer found large Master’s degree granting institutions accounted for the largest percentage of this activity, which she attributed to the increased offerings of online programs at Master’s granting institutions. Lauer posited that following the trajectory of online education would continue to be of interest to computers and writing specialists in the coming years.

Looking forward, Lauer offered three interconnected implications from her work: the need to be aware and work to eliminate terminology ambiguity, the importance of defining and redefining the words we use to explain our work, and how both tasks will allow us to take ownership of our work and our field so that hiring committees can do so as well. As Lauer put it: the term and the subfield of the “digital humanities may have a major hand in saving humanities”; clarifying, Lauer noted that “by saving” she meant by facilitating humanists’ efforts to be seen by other disciplines as more cutting edge, relevant, and savvy, thereby improving our ability to reach / teach students. In closing, Lauer argued the importance for us as a field to have an overt sense of what we mean by the words we use so that ownership can be established and taken seriously by our colleagues in other disciplines. As Lauer stressed, the best way we can legitimize and grow our field is by being able to talk about what we do with more ownership through articulate definitions of our terminology.

“Data lives: Tracing information and locating connections through digital research methods”

Colleen Reilly 

Colleen Reilly’s presentation generously provided listeners an overview to the teaching and learning activities Reilly learned from the summer she spent as a student at the Digital Methods Initiative summer school (DMI) at the University of Amsterdam. Reilly hinted at the intensity of her schooling by noting the amount of reading she was assigned before classes started and by mentioning the amount of time she was required to be in the lab with her international and interdisciplinary colleagues during her summer schooling (e.g., some 500 plus pages; usually 8-9 hours per day).

Perhaps the most generous deliverable of Reilly’s presentation was captured in Shelly Rodrigo’s tweet (see image below), which includes the URL to a whole suite of tools developed by University of Amsterdam and which Reilly used during her schooling, which are open access for all interested.

The DMI taught Reilly how to collect and analyze data; Reilly clarified that the DMI sees data as “the bi-product of things found online.” Reilly offered sample assignments developed after her summer of learning and producing digital research at DMI. One such project she developed utilized GoogleAutoComplete. Reilly had students compile the results generated from Google AutoComplete into an Excel spreadsheet, and to shade Excel cells according to a coding schema they had to develop. For example, one student collected the top results for the GoogleAutoComplete search of the phrase “Facebook is” in a range of languages. As the student found, regardless of the language, the top results yielded mostly negative results.

Lauer and Reilly’s session yielded a lively post-discussion. Audience members left not only with ideas for pedagogy and research, the panelists also offered rich implications about the past, present, and future states of our field, further stressing the critical importance for digital archival methods and methodologies for computers and writing scholars.

I was inspired by Reilly’s explanations of the DMI’s approach to research: producing and sharing open-source analysis tools to examine archival practices (and data) on the Web. I appreciated Reilly’s sharing of her insider knowledge of open-source resources that I could not only share with my students, but that I felt my students and I could easily learn in just a few class meetings.

Additionally, hearing Lauer stress and exemplify the exigency for audience-aware terminology was crucial on a number of levels: as someone going on the job market in the near future, I was reminded of how important it will be for me to articulate how my pedagogy and research will fit within a particular department and institution; as a community researcher, hoping to reach an audience outside of academia through my research, I must remember the power of words to include and exclude. Indeed, being more transparent about the terms we use to describe the work we find ourselves doing is an important skill for students, teachers, scholars, and disciplines in general.

Mariana (Mare) Grohowski is a third-year PhD student of Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Her research examines the methods and methodologies of female military-service personnel’s literate practices. She is Vice President of Military Experience and the Arts, which encourages military-service personnel to heal themselves and educate others through artistic expression.

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