As their time with the DRC draws to a close, the 2016-2017 DRC Fellows offer reflections on their time, what they’ve learned, and where they go from here.
The DRC has been a wonderful experience of engaging in and promoting community in our scholarly world. I am using this post to share some things I’ve learned about digital community building—something I am interested in and something I believe is very key to the DRC, it’s purpose and success. I recently published an article in Computers and Composition about graduate students engaging in community building on Twitter at the 2015 Computers and Writing conference. Yes, this is a selfish plug, but I also intend to point out that my personal journey with digital rhetoric has lead me to this question of digital community—which is what I believe the DRC is all about.
Graduate students often become isolated—especially in the humanities and social sciences. We work on our own research and writing without connecting, getting feedback from each other, or finding out what others are doing in their isolation. It is so important that we reach out and break that barrier. Not only do DRC fellows have the unique opportunity to work with each other in a community-centric way but their job is also to foster community across all career levels in the academy in fields relevant to digital rhetoric. This is the kind of community that cuts across lines of place in career, gender, race, ethnicity, and other lines like intellectual and mental disabilities and differences. We all have differences, noticed and unnoticed. However, online digital community is about building something meaningful out of these differences.
Without community, it becomes easier for us to forget that our differences are good, and can indeed be puzzle-pieced together with others in significant ways that make a beautiful picture that is funky and unique. As humans and as rhetoricians, we are certainly valuable individually, but what I am saying is that our individual value can fade in our minds when we forget that others value us too—when we forget to see the piece we play in the larger puzzles we are in. Part of what the DRC has done for me, personally and professionally, has been to teach me to foster this kind of community.
Constructive community building through digital media and digital rhetoric is not automatic, by the way. As we can see from how certain spaces within Twitter and other sites has become increasingly antagonistic and unwelcoming over the past year or two, the prevalence of negative experiences that many deem hurtful or inappropriate on social media is growing. We must be thoughtful rhetoricians online in order to continually build constructive digital community—our tools of rhetorical awareness and flexibility prepare us well for this task.
Building digital community is not a one-time endeavor either. It is an ongoing, day-by-day work. It starts with the decisions we individually make, but it doesn’t end there. It ends with community. So, I end my DRC year with a call to continue finding pieces of our digital communities’ puzzles and carefully putting them in place: find new ways to build up and not tear down, to respect and not disrespect, and to value both individuals and communities. It’s been an awesome experience being a part of the DRC—so thank you to the DRC directors and fellows for this very fun year of learning and growing.
In working with the DRC this year, my hope was to meet people across the computers and writing community. I imagined sharing resources and ideas, working on collaborative projects, and talking to people who were already plugged into the conversations I am interested in. I feel fortunate to have participated in all of these activities and conversations this year, but one experience in particular stands out for showing me the value of fostering this community through the DRC.
At the DRC meeting following the election, we decided to scrap our original post-election idea: a roundup of the top election-related webtexts (videos, graphics, memes, etc). Instead, we talked about the conversations we were all having at our different institutions and found that they all shared similar concerns for teaching. How do we teach digital literacy in the age of fake news and post-truth? How do we promote discussion, reflection, and inclusivity in this particularly charged moment? In light of this, we decided to make a broad call for reflections and resources on teaching post-election.
In co-leading this blog carnival, I experienced how the DRC can be a powerful platform for sharing experiences, building resources, and carrying conversations back. At my university, a professional development workshop on fake news used DRC resources on digital literacy to generate conversations. In turn, some of those discussions and ideas were submitted to the DRC and became part of the blog carnival. These conversations were so important to my teaching that semester, and I am excited about seeing the discussions this community takes up next year!
This past year as a DRC Fellow provided me with an opportunity to balance the seemingly endless bouts of dissertation writing I’ve had to complete lately with shorter term projects that allowed for a more immediate and present sense of audience. Whether we were meeting each other in a video chat, writing a collaborative post, or developing ideas for the next blog carnival, everything involved careful conversations about what it is that matters to other digital rhetoricians and what we could develop in this moment that would be worthwhile.
This could be felt most clearly, perhaps, after the election when the concerns of digital rhetoric were gaining more mainstream coverage. For example, one of the problems was that the more “fake news” became a buzzword, the less it appeared to mean.
For myself personally, all of the reading and writing I was doing on ethics, communication, and technology felt impossibly distanced and unachieveable within the political context I was witnessing when I logged into Facebook and Twitter. Yet, the distress and anxiety felt during this time was tempered by working on various projects for the DRC.
Considering all this, the projects directly related to the election—such as the “Teaching Digital Rhetoric After the Election” blog carnival and the interview and review of Mike Caulfield’s E-book “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers”—were ways of addressing issues that were on a lot of writing instructors’ minds at the time (and of course still are). These posts provided a way of answering the question many of us were asking ourselves: “What can we do now, in this moment.”
During this time, I also felt drawn to the work of organizing and writing conference reviews that archive the more in-process work of the field (for example, the 2016 Watson conferences and the last C&W conference). These reviews always reminded me that I/we are not helpless, and that through developing language, perspectives, and ideas that move us toward becoming more critical of the world around us, we may actively resist the structures and institutions that are asking us to do the opposite.
Of course, working for the DRC was not only about building content for the site. In fact, some of the things that are most important to me now that this year has ended have come in moments or glimpses into the behind the scenes relationships we have developed with one another. For example:
- I remember everyone’s patience with my finicky Macbook camera during our meetings, which at times would decide to not work.
- I remember Brandy Dieterle being my go-to person for any questions I had about the DRC and posting. And for the good conversation we had while exploring Findlay, OH.
- I remember the time Sara West and I covered a shift at our nearly-vacant DRC table, and for our discussion on S-Town and the challenges that come with collaborative writing projects.
- I remember the many chats I had with everyone outside of our regular meetings, and for how generous everyone always was with publishing and career advice.
- I remember meeting up for dinner after our C&W presentation, and how easy the conversations came among us even though it was one of the only times we were all in the same physical space.
In my short experience then, the ethos of the DRC has always centered on thoughtfulness, kindness, and collaboration. There is no doubt to me that more good things will come from our conversations in the future, and that we will need these continued reminders of the good especially in times of fear and helplessness.
It’s hard to believe that two years have now passed as a DRC Fellow. As the only returning fellow for my second year (in addition to diving headfirst into dissertation work and the job search), I found myself taking a step back and being a little less hands-on with projects than the previous year. Instead, I felt that I served a bit more as a mentor to support the new fellows who were diving headfirst into their time as a DRC Fellow. By nature, I tend to be a quiet person who tends to let others guide the conversation, particularly around folks that I am not yet very familiar or comfortable with. But due to my experience as a fellow last year, I found that I had a tendency to be more assertive and outspoken than previously, as I felt that the other fellows could benefit from my having gone through these steps previously. This is not to say the fellows necessarily needed my input or even took my suggestions, but it was a new experience for me to have the confidence in myself to express my position and/or experience when I would otherwise have been quiet and deferred to someone with more authority.
One example where I felt I took on more of a position as a mentor was while working with a manuscript of a book that will be a part of the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative Book Series. This author was turning her dissertation into a book while I myself was writing my dissertation and getting feedback from my committee. Myself, another DRC Fellow, and a faculty member at University of Michigan read through her chapters and provided feedback to keep the author moving forward with her project. From my own experience working on my dissertation, I would often hear my committee ask me to do things that are typical for the genre of the dissertation (or they would point out the things that I was unknowingly doing already). For example, I would finally figure out my argument at the end of my chapter and place it there. While reading the manuscript, I would find these snippets of writing that read, to me, like a dissertation given what my own committee has brought to my attention. These experiences being so fresh for me, I believe, helped me to identify those moments for the author that she was struggling to get through as a part of her own revision processes. It’s weird to think about me, a doctoral candidate, providing feedback on a manuscript to someone who has a job as an assistant professor, but I hope and I think it was helpful for her. Furthermore, it was helpful for me to see what the process of revising a dissertation into a book looks like, as this may be a path I find myself down in the near future.
Even more interesting to me is the way I’ve seen this mentoring role, of sorts, taken shape in other professional ventures. Perhaps much of this has come from ending my fourth year as a PhD student, from having tried out the job market, from getting published, from writing my dissertation, and so on. As a feminist, my uplift and value the narratives and experiences of others, but this past year I’ve found that I’ve uplifted my own voice in ways I hadn’t done previously. At conferences, I’ve introduced newer scholars to prominent scholars I had an existing relationship with. I’ve shared my job search materials with folks looking for as many samples as they could get their hands on (admittedly, my materials have room for improvement and I shared as much). I’ve learned to talk about my research more concretely and firmly than ever before. I know there is more room for me to grow as an individual and as a scholar, but this year more than any other I’ve begun to see positive cracks in my exterior to allow room for my inner-self to shine through more brightly.
Honestly, when I reflect upon my experience as a DRC Fellow, my feelings quickly turn toward regret. As most people reading this post know, our site runs deep with content and opportunity; whether it’s the wiki, blog carnivals, our webtext of the month, or conference reviews, there are always updates to be excited about. Getting to know the people behind those updates make this an even more impressive experience. And so thinking about our meetings and online discussions, where new ideas poured from the collective, I’ve felt remorseful for not getting involved in the DRC sooner in my career.
Part of the reason is that I became a Fellow later in my graduate experience. As a sixth-year PhD student this year who has just (like, last Tuesday) successfully defended a dissertation on DIY print culture in the age of the web, I sometimes felt both late to the computers and composition scene and a tad shy on enthusiasm for the prospects of digital media as a platform for public voice. However, while I will always wish I had gotten involved in the DRC earlier, much of the work we’ve produced as a cohort this year has been powerfully critical. Of course, I learned much from helping bring together our Digital Publishing Blog Carnival with David Coad (which itself considers the limits of digital platforms), it was really our carnival on Teaching Digital Rhetoric after the Election (curated by Brandee Easter and Sara West) that was the most timely, important set of content contributed this year. As Brandee mentioned in her reflection, this carnival brought instructors together to talk about how the election was affecting our teaching, and at a time when we all really needed it. And relatedly, Kristin Ravel’s review of Mike Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers e-book is a resource I’ll return to as I begin to teach courses on digital writing as an assistant professor next year.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest gift I’ve received as a Fellow is that it doesn’t really have to end. Moving forward with my career, I now know that the DRC provides a number of opportunities to use it in the classroom, a move we have talked about extensively at each Computers and Writing. Further, we have partnered with two composition classes this year at different universities, where undergraduates contributed extensively to the wiki. So in an effort to temper such regret, I look forward to being involved in the DRC again, but next as an instructor of writing to see what can develop. What makes the DRC an enduring presence in the field, I’ve learned, is both its robust, evolving content, but also the number of diverse stakeholders involved in its evolution: tenured faculty, graduate students, WPAs, and undergrads alike. I look forward to continuing to be a part of its evolution and history in the years ahead.
In my intro post to the DRC, I talked about how my interest and participation in Internet fandom had really snowballed into my scholarly interest in social media. In particular, I mentioned how communities in different corners of the Internet had taught me so much: from Photoshop skills to an appreciation for European chocolates (chocolate is just better over there!). And as I moved from fandom to the academy (jk—I haven’t moved from fandom at all), I still use social media to reach out to others in my field. Through social media, I’ve expanded my professional network beyond the small group of rhetoric and composition students and professors at my institution. Colleagues at other institutions have helped me revise my work, have coached me on the job market, have joined me on conference panels, and have become my friends.
The DRC is another place through which similar connections can be made and can be strengthened. I had met only one of my DRC colleagues before this year, but now I feel like I’ve collected a great group of friends with similar interests. It has been great to work with them, across time zones and weather patterns, on all of our projects this year. And I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and hang out with all of them IRL now, whether at CCCC or Computers and Writing. Perhaps I’ve talked their ears off, but they’ve all been very gracious about listening.
I’m happy with all my work at the DRC this year, but I’m particularly proud of our Teaching Rhetoric after the Election blog carnival, which I co-led with Brandee. Though I’d helped a bit with the blog carnival before this one, that had only been in a support capacity—I hadn’t worked directly with authors about their work. But in the Election Blog Carnival, I could work with blog contributors, giving feedback and helping them shape their work into a digestible blog entry. The results were terrific, and I was blown away by the quality of contributions. And it was the collaboration that really did this—not just between the blog carnival leaders and the authors, but through conversations in other places, peer review with colleagues, comments from other DRC fellows, etc.
Collaboration is at the core of the DRC, and it’s at the core of being a DRC fellow. You never have to do anything alone, and it’s never like pulling teeth to get someone to help you out. It’s very rare that a fellow takes on anything by themselves; even if you serve as the point-person for a project, you’ll still be receiving feedback from other fellows. If you ever feel overwhelmed by a project, all you need to do is send out an email and you’ll get backup in no time. I love this about the DRC.
When I first became a fellow, I had a hard time determining where to jump in and participate. The answer is everywhere. You don’t have to be a fellow to participate here—just reach out and you’ll be able to jump right in!