DRC Fellows End-of-Year Reflection

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Paula Miller

In the 1970s, freelance journalist Ralph Lee Smith referred to the internet as an “electronic highway,” and through the 90s, we called the internet the “information superhighway,” a place to link humans with knowledge on just about every topic imaginable. Since those exciting early moments, the ways we conceive of the internet has shifted, and while that information component is still strong, we’re living in an era of community-driven digispace, with human-centric tools (the writing studies tree, rhetmap) and meeting places (Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat) that are empty without their communities driving them. There are even those digital phenomena that encourage us to create new community in “meat space” such as Pokemon Go and Meetup. The Internet is a constantly re-imagined makerspace, made by the communities that inhabit it.

In my 2014 intro video for the DRC, I said that the internet was obsessed cats. This is still true. After two years working with the DRC and some thought, I want to build on my statement: The internet is obsessed with cats and community – and so is the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative (at least the community part). Community has been the focus of the past year, and as I finish out my final year with the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative, I reflect on our journey since I joined the group in the Summer of 2014.

Kittens in a bullpen style office wearing headsets

How I like to imagine my #DRColleagues when we’re collaborating remotely.

Every summer, when the new cohort of fellows comes on board, we meet and talk about what we want our focus for the year to be. During my first year, our goal was to embrace more of the multimodal principles we espouse in the blog and encourage our students to consider in their own compositions. Despite being digital media scholars, we were raised in a text-privileging world, so making this deliberate move expanded the kinds of compositions we offered. As a result, we incorporated more video interviews and conversations, debuted our wikiquest game at Computers and Writing, and made more deliberate moves to consider how text and design play into our work. I was excited to spearhead the Google Hangouts on Air, a feature that allowed me to sit down and broadcast interviews with scholars working in the field.

During the second year, our focus was on our community. As we considered how to redesign the site, we thought about how we hoped our community might use it, and decided to focus on navigability for scholars and teachers. Throughout this year, we’ve had many conversations about how scholars and teachers can both engage with and contribute to the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative. In addition to our blog carnivals, which have focused heavily humans (we hosted one on makerspaces, one on K-12 writing, and one on cripping digital writing), we added a digital lesson plan feature to give instructors models for how to use the site in our classroom. Our wiki Wednesday posts featured reflections from instructors who incorporated the DRC Wiki into their classroom. Almost all of our features connected with how the community engages with the site, and how this engagement creates the site and the community.  I’m thrilled to have been a part of this group for two years, and I look forward to returning in a guest capacity as a blog carnival contributor, editing the wiki, and helping further develop the resource library.

Jenae Cohn

When I think of the work I did with the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative over the last two years, I tend to think less about what’s actually produced on the site (though all of that’s good stuff and you should totally explore our robust archives) and more about what gets produced off the website. I realize talking about the labor that goes into a website’s production is not at all what the genre of this kind of “reflective post” is supposed to do (a blog’s “year-end round-up” typically means highlighting the great accomplishments of the year, linking readers back to our stickiest content, which all makes perfectly good sense).

However, as I complete my two years with the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative, what truly stands out to me most is the concept of the “collaborative” that has built up this space and all of the efforts to build partnerships that have happened behind this website’s pages.

So! In the spirit of producing digital rhetoric on this site – and in the vein of reflecting on the work BEHIND the work that I’ve found most meaningful here at the DRC – I implore you to discover…

“3 Surprising Facts about the DRC!”

  1. We pretty much always partner on our projects. You may notice a number of single-authored posts around here and/or blog carnival round-ups that are single-authored, but the efforts of pretty much all of the initiatives on the DRC are collaborative. In particular, the Makerspaces Blog Carnival might have been my initial suggestion, but it was the work shared among me, Paula Miller, Brandy Dieterle, and Neil Simpkins that actually made the awesome posts in that blog carnival appear. Countless e-mail threads are the evidence of tremendous communicative efforts to get posts edited, to stay in touch with authors, and to ensure that we stayed on track with our theme and our vision. Last year, I didn’t get the chance to work on a Blog Carnival, so I really appreciated the opportunity during this academic year to see how scholarly voices around a particular topic can come together to create the rich tapestry of a conversation. Again, that could never have happened without the support of my fellow fellows (redundancy intended!).
  2. We look for a lot of feedback. Each post on this site is polished and that has to do with the fact that we’re some conscientious academics here (this… might not be so surprising). I don’t think I’ve ever composed anything for the DRC that has not been vetted by at least one other fellow. This may be standard practice for a web publication, but I think what’s unique about the DRC is the group’s constant striving to create and share content that is reflective of our values, interests, and scholarly ethos. We want the work of our community – computers & writing scholars and enthusiasts – to be, you know, reflective of the brilliant conversations that make up the world of our work.
  3. We value our audience – a lot. We never want any of the content from the DRC to exist in a vacuum. What excites us most is knowing that our work is going out into the world and starting other conversations and projects. Part of what made our presentation at the Computers & Writing conference this year so eye-opening was learning about how the site already has a presence in some college classrooms and how many more folks were interested in thinking about how they could powerfully use the content to support their teaching. We know our audience loves their students and wants to help generate a digitally literate populace (and yes, I drop the big “digital literacy” concept here, acknowledging that it necessarily stands in for myriad things!). Therefore, every time our group met, we considered what our readers might want to read and how they might want to get here. There’s always work to do to engage our audience (yes, you, the person reading this right now!), but this year, we were thinking a lot more about how to get people to take what’s on our site and run with it!

OK, maybe these facts weren’t so “surprising” after all, but living through my experiences as a graduate fellow with the DRC, I was constantly surprised by the spirit of generosity that defined the authors and other fellows working on this site. I can’t express enough how valuable it was to be involved in a professional network beyond my institution – as I was finishing coursework and dissertating! – and to see the energy and enthusiasm tapped into the kinds of informal conversations about digital rhetoric that make being a compositionist so exciting. As a graduate student, it was easy for me to feel like my world was small. The DRC expanded that world and helped me see that the concepts I learned inside the walls of my classes could reach others beyond those walls. Now that I’m no longer a graduate student (I’m an Academic Technology Specialist at Stanford University), I hope to take with me the skills I gained here to communicate and form connections with other institutions and continue fostering conversations and, yes, even “surprises.”

Nathan Riggs

This last year went by fast. Faster than I remember fast being fast. During my tenure as a graduate fellow at the DRC in this hurried year, I learned more than I could possibly write—about myself, about my (hopeful) profession, about the DRC and about the world alike. If I had the time—and let’s be clear, none of us, neither writer nor reader, ever actually have the time—I would write every detail, carefully poured over to ensure the illusion of completeness. But I don’t, and you don’t, and so we are left with mere fragments—but good ones, I think!

So here is a short, and woefully incomplete, list of four things I’ve learned and experienced with the DRC in the last year:

  • Professional Collaboration Online. Honestly, if I had to choose one single valuable thing that I have learned at the DRC, it would be the ability to organize and work collaboratively with scholars who live and work half a planet away. I have always known the tools were there—tools like Google Drive, Hangouts, WordPress, etc.–and even used most of them of them frequently. But my use of these tools has been a far cry from how the DRC uses them, and already I find myself putting these skills to work in other collaborative endeavors in which I take part.
  • The DRC’s community base is growing—fast. This is purely anecdotal, but I’m going with it nonetheless. I have never, as far as I can recall, been asked so much about something I’m doing—not because of interest in me or my work, but because those who had inquired were interested in working with the DRC, as a graduate fellow or as a contributor. I think the DRC is fast becoming an impressive force in rhetoric & composition studies, and I am delighted to have had the chance to be a small part of it.
  • Practical Matters. Something that I have continually struggled with is putting theory into practice. Being here at the DRC has helped me realize that it isn’t abstract scholarly jargon that gives me difficulty; it is the doing. The Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative does this: it puts the theory into the practice and the practice into the theory, and had I not been a graduate fellow here, I don’t believe I would have learned this about myself—at least not before it was too late.
  • A Personal Note. I am a firm believer in the DRC not only because I have benefitted so handsomely from being a part of it, and because I believe in its core mission, but because I would not have the chance to work with other scholars across the United States and the world if it were not for collaborative projects like it. Having been born with a medical condition that currently limits my ability to travel long distances (by air, in particular), I cannot afford, to put it lightly, the mobility that many scholars take for granted. I cannot possibly express the gratitude I have for the people working to make this world more traversable without the traversing, especially when it applies to something as crucial to my own continued success as a scholar. And the DRC doesn’t just make that possible; its latest Blog Carnival, “Cripping Digital Rhetoric and Technology,” explores the issue of ableism that, in my case, the DRC helps to unravel. The world needs more of these technology-driven collaborations; and in particular, the world needs more of the DRC.

In sum: it has been a great year, and I am quite sure that every future year in the DRC will be even greater for future fellows. I can’t believe it would go any other way.

Leigh Meredith

It’s hard to believe that a new academic year is about to begin, and a new set of Fellows are getting ready to start their time at the DRC! This year has both flown by and been packed to the gills, to mix metaphors. In particular, it’s been full of transitions for me, both in my personal and in my academic life; I completed my PhD program, moved halfway across the country from Chicago to California, and am about to begin a new job.  My own time as a DRC Fellow has played an important role in these transitions, helping to bridge the gap between the image I held of myself in the beginning of the year, as still a student, and now, finally, as a teacher and scholar (albeit one who is always learning!).  For me, it provided opportunities for authorship and a sense of speaking to and with a wider academic community, critical aspects of feeling like a real, grown-up scholar. More generally, I think “bridging” is also a good description of the DRC’s biggest strength, and captures much of what has been so exciting about being part of the DRC this year.

Most obviously, being a DRC fellow has helped me bridge institutional boundaries, because the fellowship forges extensive and year-long (or longer) collaborations amongst graduate students from universities across the country. Together, as Fellows, we wrote and edited website content for Blog Carnivals, planned for the Computers and Writing presentation, collaborated on multimodal interviews through TwitterChats and Google Hangouts-on-Air, and developed new initiatives and ideas for the site in monthly planning meetings – endeavors that lasted longer and required more ongoing communication than most of the other ways I’ve tended to cross institutional boundaries, such as at conferences and workshops.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, being a Fellow has also helped me bridge the disciplinary boundaries sometimes erected between the communication and composition fields of rhetoric.  Coming from the communication side myself, I found that there far fewer conceptual and pedagogical differences than I anticipated.  I learned so much from the composition and writing scholars that make up the majority of the DRC’s community, and now feel myself to be part of a larger rhetorical community comprised of both composition and communication scholars. The fact that I am now teaching both communication and composition is at least partially a consequence of this experience.

Going forward, I think the DRC is an ideal space to continue to bridge that field-specific gap between rhetoric in communication and composition. In particular, I hope to see the DRC involved in disseminating ways to bridge the teaching of writing and speaking in the classroom. This is an approach that universities, teachers, and students are increasingly finding fruitful but that, particularly because it’s less traditional, could benefit from the free exchange of great teaching ideas.  Incorporating digital media — because of their capacity to be aural, visual, and textual — seems like such a promising way to bridge speaking and writing pedagogy.  As I test out my own pedagogical strategies in this direction, I hope to be a contributor to our new Digital Lesson Plan series! So stay tuned….I know I will be watching the new Fellows, and looking forward to the new directions that the DRC will be taking in the coming year!

Brandy Dieterle

It’s hard to believe that my first year as a DRC fellow is coming to a close. The past year has been full of new experiences with new people as I had the opportunity to explore areas of research that I might not encounter otherwise, and also some that I would expect to encounter. I even got a taste of some administrative work helping to facilitate the Computers & Writing conference reviews! For my end-of-the-year reflection, I’m really going to look inward at what has personally impacted me and my research this past year by focusing on three areas: the personal, the pedagogy, and the community.

The personal: Due to my educational background, it’s often been instilled in me to keep my personal position out of my writing. This goes against what I know as a feminist where all of our stories and experiences have merit, and we should not hide our voices if we are comfortable expressing them. But I’ve always had a hard time balancing the academic and the personal in my writing. Looking at three different webtexts for my Webtext-of-the-Month “Webtexts on the Wide Web of Pinterest” really helped me to see how our voices can appear in academic writing, both in very intimate and private ways and in more ambiguous ways. Harding spoke very intimately about her experiences with Pinterest as a mother, whereas DeLuca and Vetter took a less-intimate approach to their exploration of feminist and queer identities and performances on Pinterest. This really solidified for me that the academic is always personal. It is our stories and experiences that drives our academic research. Except we get to decide how intimate and revealing our research is, and whatever we decide is perfectly okay.

The pedagogy: Part of my research is focused on multimodal composing. Prior to being a DRC fellow, I had heard of makerspaces but had always perceived them as something completely disconnected from multimodal composing. It was something that people with high-tech skills engaged in, whereas I see myself and my own experiences with multimodal composing as being low-tech. However, the makerspaces blog carnival really challenged that perspective, and I had a light bulb go off. Multimodal composing happens in makerspaces AND makerspaces don’t require high-tech skills. As I’ve been planning for this fall semester, I’ve challenged myself to simulate a makerspace environment for a single day in my classes. It will be low-tech with glue, tape, markers, colored pencils, crayons, ribbon, stickers, construction paper, and the like, but it IS a makerspace and it IS multimodal composing.

The community: I really feel like I’ve become a part of the computers and writing community through this past year as a DRC fellow. I’ve established relationships with other fellows and even past fellows, and I’ve also engaged with members of the community through Twitter chats for our blog carnivals. However, I felt this most acutely at the Computers and Writing conference. I’ve struggled a bit in the past with feeling like a loner at conferences, not really knowing many people and the people I do know (namely faculty) always had other people clustered around them so I didn’t want to intrude. But being a fellow, I felt, helped me feel like I had a stronger place in the computers and writing community. I not only met people face to face that I had only met through email interactions as a DRC fellow, but I also had colleagues (the fellows) to chat about my conference experiences with right there in the moment. When facilitating the conference reviews, I even felt a bit like an expert (although I’m certainly not—imposter syndrome is strong within me) as I walked people through the process of drafting and revising their reviews for the site.

So, to sum up, being a DRC fellow has been an eye-opening experience. Thanks to my work this past year, I see the world of digital rhetoric and computers and writing a bit differently than before. I am a more confident personally, pedagogically, and within the community than I was one year ago.

Neil Simpkins

I have enjoyed my time as a DRC Fellow immensely, and really value what I’ve learned about collaborating across distances. From the practical side of being a fellow, I got to experience distance collaboration through our monthly Google Hangouts as well as email and social media communications. For other academic groups who are considering collaboration across distance, our scheduled meetings over Hangouts and use of Google Docs to write as a group worked very well as a model for keeping in touch with the different projects we worked on as fellows. Jenae explores this in a little more depth in her portion of the post above. I’m very glad to have experience with distance collaboration and hope to incorporate it with other scholarship and academic projects I’m working on with a group of people who are all at different institutions.

When I became a fellow, I wanted to use my time and particular knowledge to host discussions about how disability and digital rhetoric intersect. We did that this year through a really spectacular blog carnival that Nathan mentioned above. In our Cripping Digital Rhetoric and Technology blog carnival, we explored many different dimensions of disability and digital rhetoric. Some of my favorite topics in this blog carnival included discussions of better methods for coding visually accessible webtext, rethinking how captioning is a rhetorical process rather than a simple transcription of sound to text, and exploring how disabled people are using community mapping technology.

To wrap up, I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to be a DRC fellow and to bring conversations from the disability studies folks in rhetorical studies to the forefront of our site. I look forward to meeting cohorts past and present in the future!

About Author(s)

Leigh is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Public Culture at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching interests center on digital representation, subjectivity, and intersections between old and new media.

Paula is a PhD graduate fellow at The Ohio State University studying rhetoric, composition, and literacy. Her research interests lie at the intersection of writing centers and multiliteracies. You can visit her online at paula-miller.com

Jenae Cohn is a PhD candidate in English and Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies at UC Davis. Her research explores how materialities of reading and writing technologies affect established and emerging writers' perceptions of reading and writing experiences. She works in her university's WAC program as a graduate writing fellow and also serves as a HASTAC Scholar. She blogs irregularly at www.jenaecohn.net and to get herself writing, she lights candles and dons the fuzziest of socks.

Brandy Dieterle is a doctoral student in the Texts & Technology program at the University of Central Florida (UCF). At UCF, Brandy has been a graduate student tutor in the University Writing Center and has taught first-year composition courses. As a teacher, Brandy encourages students to think of writing and literacy as both self representation and identity forming. Her research is focused on identity and self representation, gender identity and representation, multimodality and new media, and digital rhetoric.

Nathan Riggs is a doctoral student in the Rhetorics, Communication and Information Design program at Clemson University. His current research focuses on the convergence of simulation, cognitive science and new (and old) materialisms as they relate to Rhetoric and Communication. On the side, Nathan creates digital artifacts and serious games. You can find more information, as well as some of his work, at http://www.nathanriggs.com; the website is currently being redeveloped.

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