Anne Ruggles Gere is Arthur F Thurnau Professor and Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor of English and Education at The University of Michigan. She also directs the Joint Program in English and Education and the Sweetland Center for Writing.
A shift in angle of vision can lead to small gestures that carry larger significance. For me, being appointed as director of the Sweetland Center for Writing in 2008 led me to start looking at writing instruction campus-wide instead of focusing on the English Department where I had spent the two previous decades immersed in various aspects of composition studies.
From this angle I looked at how students all over campus approached writing and realized that few of them could take courses where they were asked to write with digital technologies. So I quickly worked with Sweetland faculty to develop several courses under the general title of Writing in New Media.
Courses took up a variety of genres and media, ranging from photo essays to presentation software to podcasts. In every case the emphasis was not on the technology itself but on how the texts produced could be rhetorically effective. I was fortunate to have Sweetland colleagues who knew much more about digital technologies than I, and the Writing in New Media courses quickly took hold in the curriculum.
My growing understanding of the role of digital technologies in writing coincided with the development of a digital humanities initiative on my campus, and this, in turn, led me to think it would be a good idea for Sweetland to host the annual meeting of Computers and Writing in 2011, the same year that the University of Michigan hosted HASTAC.
Learning from colleagues at C&W as well as from my own Sweetland colleagues, I became convinced that students needed an opportunity for more than a single course focused on writing in new media. So we created a Minor in Writing in which students create and maintain an electronic portfolio throughout their two years in the Minor.
Another consequence of hosting C&W was the realization that this community could benefit from a digital space to reflect, share ideas, and record its own history. This realization combined with strong interest from the University of Michigan Press in creating a digital publication series, led to the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative. Thanks to our fabulous DRC Fellows the DRC website is becoming a lively gathering place, and our first publication is on its way.
I don’t know where it will all end, but I do know that the initial shift in my angle of vision has led me to enact a re-imagining of the role of digital technologies in composition and rhetoric.