Making Space title

"Making Space to Theorize and Situate Space Making:
An Introduction"

James P. Purdy and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss


Over the past ten years or so, the infrastructures of writing have captured the attention of writing studies scholars, researchers, and teachers. This is not particularly surprising given the spaces in which most writing happens today: on screens, within interfaces, under proprietary (and, more and more, local and/or open-source) programs, and across networks. This increased attention has manifested itself in two primary ways: First, both professional conferences and academic journals have attended to issues of space design, both physical and virtual. In particular, the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference focused on architextures—the ways in which the architecture and architecting of spaces shape textual consumption and production.

As for published work, in the 1980s scholars including Steve Bernhardt (1989); Bruce Britton and Shawn Glynn (1989); and John Dinan, Rebecca Gagnon, and Jennifer Taylor (1986) wrote extensively and specifically about the shape of computer labs for writing. Journals such as Computers and Composition included articles posing questions and considerations for space design—a territory into which few humanities scholars had ventured. In the introduction to one of these early articles, Cynthia L. Selfe (1987) wrote:

Often, because these computer-supported writing “spaces” provide the opportunity for teachers and students to gather together in one physical [place] where they can share information about writing and writing problems, the rooms soon develop into focal points for collaborative composing activities, that involve new and productive kinds of writers' communities. (44)
Such work on new manifestations of the writing “space,” particularly the computer lab, opened the door for larger disciplinary conversations about the relationship between space and writing.

These conversations are not limited to writing studies, of course; attention to space necessarily requires a rich, multidisciplinary approach. For instance, Educause—a national organization focused on instructional and institutional technology initiatives, policy, advocacy, and more—has launched a range of space-related projects, including a Learning Space Rating System (; see also Brown & Long, 2006). Likewise, work in urban planning and architecture, not surprisingly, has investigated the influence of space on teaching and learning (e.g., Shepard 2011). A pertinent example for the purposes of this collection is Malcolm McCullough’s (2004) Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, which discussed pervasive and ubiquitous computing to outline “a theory of place for interaction design” (xv). McCullough argued that “when information technology becomes a part of the social infrastructure, it demands design consideration from a broad range of disciplines” (3). Although he did not mention writing studies specifically in this call, some scholars in the field have heeded this directive.

Second, disciplinary conversations have turned more broadly toward the ways in which space affects and shapes compositional acts. Writing studies scholarship has attended to a broad range of issues related to, but not necessarily always running parallel to, space design: issues of physical, material objects in space (such as tables, computers, etc.) and the institutional policies and pedagogical values that inform the practices within that space (e.g., DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill 2005; Gere 1994; Reynolds 2004; Starr and Ruhleder 1996; Walls, Schopieray, and DeVoss 2009). Scholars have also attended to the role design thinking might play in theorizing and understanding complex multimodal texts and new spaces of composing (Marback 2009; Purdy 2014). A number of scholars, including those in this collection (see, especially, Sheridan and also Walls and Wolcott), have drawn on actor network theory, symbolic–analytic work, or cultural-historical activity theory to frame their space-analysis and place-building work (e.g., Johnson-Eilola 2005; Prior et al. 2007; Shipka 2011).

Writing center scholars in particular have long explored the role of computers in writing center work, from early work on online writing labs (OWLs; e.g., Blythe 1996, 1997; Coogan 1999; Hobson 1998; Inman and Sewell 2000) to more recent work on audio–visual enhanced digital consulting and new online consulting spaces (e.g., Carter, Adkins, and Dunbar-Odom 2010–2011; Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg 2008). These scholars have considered what it means to move writing center consulting sessions and instruction into a range of digital spaces, from blogs (Baer 2006) to podcasts (Vee et al. 2009) to virtual realms like Second Life (Carpenter and Griffin 2010) to digital video-/phone-conferencing spaces like Skype (Summer 2013). These scholars have also explored ways in which writing centers can (and should) use computers to support multimodal and multimedia composition (McKinney 2010; Sheridan 2006; Sheridan and Inman 2010). Other writing studies scholars have pointed to writing centers as examples of how physical space affects writing pedagogy, often arguing that the layout of writing centers results in improved student learning. For instance, Kathleen Blake Yancey (2006) noted that the writing center “creates a different kind of learning than does the classroom [. . . because] peers tutor peers side by side” (11; see also Taylor 2006).

Composition teachers—some of the same scholars who wrote early on about space configuration and considerations—invested in computer-mediated spaces have likewise interrogated the influence of space design on writing pedagogy (e.g., Hawisher & C. Selfe 1991; C. Selfe 1989). Geoffrey Sirc (2002), for instance, asserted in English Composition as a Happening that the architectural design of the space in which composition classes were commonly held significantly affected how composition was taught. In Sustainable Computer Environments, Richard J. Selfe, who authored the afterword to this collection, provided “practical advice for teachers and other stakeholders” interested in supporting “technology-rich” writing environments in English instruction from kindergarten through college (2005, xx), drawing attention to the complex configuration of infrastructural elements necessary to support and sustain writing instruction in computer-mediated spaces.

This scholarly attention has led to a crucial moment in the field. Mary Jo Reiff (2011) characterized this moment as the “spatial turn” in the subfield of genre studies. Moreover, in a 2012 special issue of Kairos, Spatial Praxes: Theories of Space, Place, and Pedagogy, editors Jennifer Haley-Brown, Ashley J. Holmes, and Amy C. Kimme Hea, declared that

our discipline has reached a critical stage in the development of pedagogical praxes as a result of the rapidly increasing media in which we teach and research. As active participants in this “becoming moment” of spatial pedagogies on composition and rhetoric, we must reflect on the ways in which spatial rhetorics are imbricated in nearly every aspect of teaching and learning.

We concur and believe this attention to space should include the practical, logistical, theoretical, and institutional aspects of proposing, designing, adapting, and assessing these spaces and the “media in which we teach and research.”

Although space has received increasing attention by writing studies scholars, no specific, curated body of work addresses issues of space design for consideration by instructors, writing center directors, administrators, and others who are key stakeholders in space design and writing instruction. That is where this collection seeks to intervene.


This collection situates space design and digital technologies as deliberate, infrastructural practice. The chapters call attention to a range of theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches, and tools for shaping space-design decisions. Chapters address how architectural and technological needs (i.e., architexture) are met and how they are rationalized within specific institutional contexts. The chapters offer considerations of space design and writing instruction both from a wide range of perspectives and from the various actors at play in any one specific instance of space design and infrastructure. Authors represent a range of voices, including writing program administrators, writing center directors, writing center staff members, writing teachers, and graduate student instructors, involved in and concerned with writing spaces in high schools, community college contexts, and in research-extensive institutions.

Chapters explore ways in which new and existing spaces are renovated and/or designed to make best use of digital tools and physical spaces for multimodal, digitally mediated instruction and research-related work. Contributors attend to processes, practices, challenges, and conversations, as well as the pedagogical and programmatic implications of infrastructural needs and implementations.

The collection consists of three parts: framing space, modeling and making space, and crossing spaces. Contributors to the first part offer a variety of lenses—cyberfeminist, design philosophy, teacher–research, and disability studies—for understanding different kinds of spaces for writing and teaching writing: learning/course management systems; a brick-and-mortar multimedia production classroom; brick-and-mortar BYOT (bring your own technology) classrooms; and virtual writing classrooms. Taken together, the chapters in part 1 offer perspectives that readers can apply to their own work using, proposing, designing, and adapting spaces for teaching writing.

Contributors in the second part, on modeling and making space, offer specific examples of writing spaces they have proposed, designed, created, and/or used at their respective institutions, including writing and multimedia composing centers, writing classrooms, online writing courses, and computer labs. These rich descriptions of specific cases provide details of the authors’ experiences that can help readers better understand the processes and challenges involved in similar space-related pursuits; further, these chapters offer models for those addressing space concerns, exploring space design issues, and/or advocating for space-related change on their campuses.

The final part, on crossing spaces, includes contributions that discuss writing spaces that cross spaces physically, virtually, institutionally, and/or theoretically: a writing center, buildings for an undergraduate writing and communication program, a primarily Hispanic high school and two federally designated Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education, and two digital classroom resources. The chapters in part 3 offer discussions of the challenges involved in working in writing spaces that cross borders and provide advice and calls to action that readers can heed in addressing the complexities of border-crossing spaces.

Taken together, these three parts offer a range of theoretical perspectives—feminist pedagogy, actor network theory, disability studies, kairotic design, learning ecologies, emergence, and more. They also offer practical approaches: granting students administrator access in course and learning management systems (C/LMSs); crafting a design philosophy; creating an online classroom that is fully inclusive to students of diverse needs; working with upper administration, information technology support, and architects to design learning and teaching spaces; designing writing assignments that compel students to use digital writing spaces outside the brick-and-mortar classroom; and more. These perspectives and approaches assist readers in planning, using, changing, defending, and judging the writing spaces where we conduct our pedagogical and scholarly work.

Because the collection presents a variety of case studies of writing spaces, chapters use a variety of designs rather than following a single web-page template. These individual chapter designs are important to the argument of each chapter and to the collection’s larger argument that writing instruction and research now happen in a range of spaces that require our careful attention. Thus, rather than normalize and make less visible design considerations by standardizing the visual and navigational features across chapters, we want readers to attend consciously to the design of the individual chapters that comprise the volume. To assist in this process, we provide notes in each chapter abstract regarding how to navigate that chapter’s webtext.


Part 1 on framing space provides literature reviews, theoretical grounding, and analyses that prepare readers for more critical awareness of writing spaces. In chapter 1, “Subverting Virtual Hierarchies:  A Cyberfeminist Critique of Course Management Spaces,” Estee Beck, Mariana Grohowski, and Kristine Blair consider ways in which popular C/LMSs, such as Blackboard, Coursera, and Canvas remediate physical space rather than considering the new instructional possibilities afforded by digital space. Through a robust literature review of scholarship on cyberfeminism and C/LMSs and analysis of C/LMS interfaces through the lens of cyberfeminism, they argue that this approach can confine the virtual space and reinforce unequal power dynamics at the expense of student learning.

Chapter 2 moves its focus from a digital writing space to a brick-and-mortar writing space. In “A Design Philosophy for a Multimodal Composition Classroom,” Aimée Knight shares the process of building a multimedia production classroom at St. John’s University. She chronicles the creation of this space from its initial proposal through its completion. Through recounting this example, Knight not only argues that the design philosophy plays a crucial role in discussions surrounding the design of writing classrooms, but also demonstrates how a design philosophy can be used to negotiate for and shape classroom infrastructural demands.

In chapter 3, “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Understanding Expectations and Mapping Preferences for Writing Classroom Design,” Dana Gierdowski and Susan Miller-Cochran continue to focus on brick-and-mortar writing spaces, giving voice to the students who use these spaces by sharing results of a survey of their expectations for writing classrooms—including student drawings of ideal writing classroom spaces. Their chapter situates and explains a pilot program of bring-your-own-technology classrooms at North Carolina State University and provides insight into student expectations and hopes for collaboration, mobility, autonomy, and instructional technology in writing classrooms.

The final chapter of part 1, chapter 4, is Christopher Scott Wyatt’s “Accessible Writing Spaces: A Framework for Inclusive Design of Virtual Composition Classrooms.” Wyatt argues that teachers must consider difference and disabilities when designing virtual writing and teaching spaces. Wyatt offers a framework for accessible design that actively includes students with physical and cognitive differences in virtual writing classes, reviews legal mandates that support inclusive space design, and offers links to validation tools for testing virtual space compliance with best practices.

To open part 2, on modeling and making space, chapter 5, by David M. Sheridan, analyzes the Language and Media Center (LMC) at Michigan State University, a technology-rich learning space located in an interdisciplinary living–learning program, the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH). “Digital Composing as a Distributed, Emergent Process: Technology-Rich Spaces and Learning Ecologies” focuses on two cases of composing that involve the LMC. Sheridan explains how the LMC participates in and nurtures complex ecological networks of heterogeneous elements, including people, technologies, compositions, and curricular structures. He argues that such spaces play a crucial role in facilitating ecological networks that bring together disparate infrastructural elements.

The next chapter in part two, chapter 6, “A Space to Play, A Space to Compose: A Model for Creative Collaborations and Composition Practices,” moves the discussion to the writing center and rethinks the kinds of composing and tutoring environments writing centers should be. Through providing video interviews with students, time-lapse videos of space construction, design plans, and photos, Russell G. Carpenter and Shawn Apostel explain how the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity at Eastern Kentucky University departs from the traditional writing center model to integrate other multimodal composition practices, offering a unique composing and tutoring space through its architecture and technological offerings. Carpenter and Apostel argue that space plays possibly the most important infrastructural role in the teaching of writing and that a space like the Noel Studio fosters creative compositional practice.

Lance Cummings, Renea Frey, Ryan Ireland, Caitlin Martin, Heidi McKee, Jason Palmeri, and James Porter turn their analysis of space to online writing courses in chapter 7, “Kairotic Design: Building Flexible Networks for Online Composition.” Cummings et al. report the results of a six-month study at Miami University of Ohio of their work together to design, offer, and study a fully online composition curriculum. Drawing on a rich range of qualitative data, including instructor narratives, student interviews, and curricular plans, the chapter offers recommendations for how to construct pedagogically effective virtual spaces for online composition classes. The authors argue that such spaces should be kairotically responsive and not aim to replicate traditional classrooms, but instead leverage the advantages of distributed, networked interaction of contemporary participatory culture.

Andréa D. Davis closes part two with chapter 8, in which she recounts the process of successfully arguing for computer lab updates at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. “Trading Spaces: The Rhetoric of Reconfiguration” offers practical advice for navigating and negotiating space needs in the context of programmatic, institutional, and philosophical constraints, including severe budget cuts. Through sharing her experience, Davis affirms the value of articulating space solutions that attend to financial considerations while also making the best use of existing physical spaces.

Part 3 turns to writing spaces that cross boundaries. In chapter 9, “Activist Mapping: (Re)framing Narratives About Writing Center Space,” Christine Hamel-Brown, Celeste Del Russo, and Amanda Fields recount how, in response to deep budget cuts, their writing center became part of a new student learning center that housed numerous campus support services. This chapter reports on the physical and intellectual journey of this move for their writing center, addressing issues of role confusion, training philosophy, and threatened identities. Ultimately, this chapter provides an example of how to fight the damaging narratives often told about writing center spaces and how writing centers can successfully cross (into) boundaries of student support.

Rebecca E. Burnett, Karen Head, Brandy Ball Blake, Andy Frazee, Diane Jakacki, Chris Ritter, Nirmal Trivedi, and Christopher Weedman move the discussion of writing spaces that cross borders to three dynamic brick-and-mortar spaces at Georgia Institute of Technology designed by members of the Writing and Communication Program. Chapter 10, “From the Ground Up: Shaping Community, Collaboration, and Multiliteracies at Georgia Tech,” explains how Writing and Communication Program representatives worked closely with designers, architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and IT experts throughout the planning and design stages to create physical spaces that match their philosophy, pedagogy, and research practices. This chapter offers philosophical approaches, best practices, and examples of actual use of digital writing spaces that readers at a range of institutional contexts can consider and apply. The authors contend that collaboration--crossing borders, even into unfamiliar disciplinary and knowledge territory--is crucial to successful writing space design.

In chapter 11, Todd Ruecker and Beth Brunk-Chavez turn their attention to three different educational institutions: an overwhelmingly Hispanic high school and two federally designated Hispanic-serving institutions (one a community college and the other a university). By analyzing how digital writing spaces differ across these three institutions and how those differences impact writing instruction and student work, “Digital Writing Spaces Across Institutions on the U.S.-Mexico Border” argues that educational spaces have not adapted to the recent population shifts regarding Hispanics in the United States.

The collection’s final webtext, chapter 12, “The Infrastructure of Space: Expanding Writing Classroom Activity into the Extracurriculum,” demonstrates how to apply actor network theory in assessing a where of writing that is now permeable across classroom borders. Douglas Walls and Leslie Wolcott analyze how two specific classroom objects--digital mapping tools and learning/classroom management systems--complicate ways we conceive of classroom spaces and public and private writing. Their attention to C/LMSs brings the collection full circle, as this chapter offers an approach to accomplishing chapter 1’s call for new approaches to L/CMSs that move beyond remediating physical space.


What we aim to offer with this collection is a contribution to ongoing conversations about space design and infrastructrual considerations—for those in writing studies and those in the humanities more generally. We hope this text speaks to instructors, writing program administrators, writing center directors, and also to undergraduate and graduate students whose work and professional development are so greatly influenced by writing spaces.

In an age when writing teacher–scholars at all levels are charged with working in—and, further, charged with imagining, developing, designing, and arguing for—a variety of writing spaces, we hope that this collection provides practical and applicable guidance and insight to assist them in this task.


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