Helping Faculty, Helping Students through Research

This statement provides my vision for scholarship and research. It illustrates research I have conducted at many institutional levels (administration, faculty, students) and upon many facets of teaching and learning that are important. Also, it indicates a comprehensive trajectory for researching programmatic approaches to technology, faculty means for teaching digital communication design, and interest in helping students by providing them the opportunity to influence their classrooms and reshape communication. Thus, this document’s purpose is to share my research vision and agenda.

Research Overview
To begin, a brief word on my pedagogy scholarship and research. As a scholar, I am fascinated by how people learn to communicate. Works by Peter Elbow, Donald Murray, Kenneth Bruffee, Karen Burke LeFevre, David Bleich, Pierre Levy and others nurtured my interest. As a researcher, I am Citi Program certified and have been IRB approved for many human-studies projects using qualitative and rhetorical methods. During these projects, I tested new media and design instruction, examined approaches of writing program administrators to technology, and analyzed student perceptions of classroom writing performance and diversity. Across these studies, I used interviews, surveys, and corpora for grounded, thematic, and phenomenological analyses. I created and tested teaching tools, developed theoretical frameworks, and piloted units across multiple classrooms and sections. Through my scholarship and empirical research, I have collected findings addressing several pedagogy problems which respond to my three central research questions.

  1. Administratively, how should technology figure into writing intensive programs?
  2. Pedagogically, how do we meet faculty needs for multimodal, digital communication?
  3. Academically, how do we help students get the most out of courses, while empowering them as active, responsible, respectable, and just members of a diverse society?

Answering these three questions is a tall order for any department, let alone a single pedagogue. So, in this research statement, I elucidate my current research that has begun to provide answers to these questions. Then I illuminate a future research plan to undergird my answers and meet these needs of our discipline. Last, I close with my mission statement for continued scholarship and research at my next institution.

Current Research
At Iowa State University I have taken the opportunity to conduct several research projects addressing my three questions and interests. Beginning with work on writing program administration and technology, I am currently examining how First-year Writing (FYW) administrators navigate the role, integration, and motivation of4C18 pres posed technology in their programs. Preparing to take-up the torch of Anderson, Atkins, Ball, Miller, Selfe, and Selfe’s (2006) survey of multimodality in the Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, my study examines administrative treatment of technology in FYW programs over a decade later. After analyzing the webpages and documents for seven programs at large public universities and interviewing administrators, I made the discovery that technology is still largely just a tool for producing texts or distributing content. Further, the platforms and software in today’s programs are largely second to traditional materials. And, there exists a lack of motivation to use more technology at the programmatic level in all these programs but one. These findings raised concern at both the 2018 Conference on College Communication and Composition and the Conference of Writing Program Administrators. As such, work continues on the project and I have plans for an article in the Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators and to solicit collaborators to pursue a grant to recreate Anderson et al.’s survey.

Moving to my second question on pedagogical needs of faculty for multimodal, digital communication, my dissertation research examines the development of design pedagogy for technical communication. I have analyzed design and design thinking articles from Richard Buchanan, Nigel Cross, Tim Brown, Richard Marback, Carrie Laverenze, James Purdy, and my chair, Charles Kostelnick, among others to shape a new pedagogy. I have a theoretical framework that sees technical communication-as-design according to three tenets drawn from previous scholarship. I posit that today’s technical designs are a multisensory experience, based on networks of perception, and embody responsivity. Treating communication by my tenets has begun to help faculty reach students who struggle with academic writing. It helps students see communication in new ways and frees them from self-prejudices. Also for my dissertation research, I have redesigned the IDEO design thinking process for technical design and I am collecting data on the practice in faculty classrooms. The results of this work are already encouraging. Chapter 1 of my dissertation on the change of communication toward design is forthcoming in the International Visual Literacy Association’s Book of Selected Readings, 2018/19, and part of Chapter 3 on revising audience for design in technical communication is forthcoming in ACM’s SIGDOC ’19: ACM Special Interest Group in Document Design Conference Proceedings. Further, I have plans for revisiting these works and my upcoming chapters for publication in Communication Design Quarterly, Technical Communication Quarterly, and in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication.

Addressing my final question and my duty to help students get the most out of their courses, I currently have two lines of inquiry responding to this problem—one looking at classroom writing performance using phenomenology and the other examining student 4C19 panelistsperceptions of diversity. Regarding classroom writing performance, I am participating in an on-going study with Dr. David R. Russell. For this project we have conducted classroom writing performance testing using a digital writing assessment tool called CyTrack. The system collects biometric data while users compose and it uses real-time metrics and playback to stimulate evaluation. After 18 participants used the tool, we conducted phenomenological interviewing based on Petitmengin’s techniques to discover the lived-experiences of writers composing with the tool and in the environment. So far, our results indicate that classroom writing may cause heightened anxiety that effects writing performance. Further, we found that writing with unfamiliar tools and interface limitations evoke bodily manifestations of negative emotions. From our findings and comparison to on-going tool and experience-based research in the field (e.g. Ching, 2018; Khost, 2016; Sargent, 2003; etc.), we are writing the first article for the Journal for the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning and submitting it this winter.

Turning to the second line of inquiry for helping students, I am collaborating with Dr. Stacy Tye-Williams, Mariah Kemp, and Amanda Arp to examine student perceptions of diversity and inclusion on college campuses and the effect on instruction. During thisCSCA top paper panel project, we have interviewed 36 undergraduate students from across all composition and communications courses about their perceptions of diversity. Using qualitative practices, our applied communication research has discovered that students see diversity as central to their learning and civic lives. We presented these results as part of the Top Paper Panel at the 2018 Central State Communication Association conference where we (and our students) received recognition for efforts to address the tough conversations on diversity and inclusion. Together, we are taking on the subject directly in our classes and program to improve learning through equity and justice for every voice. Currently, we are finishing up an article for the Journal of Intercultural Communication Research which brings these findings to wider attention for the benefits we and our students seek. 

Future Research
For the continued benefit of administrators, faculty, and students in our field, I have a number of projects close to completion and several more studies in various stages of development. During the next phase of my career, I will continue my design research by looking at the potential for a design-centric curriculum. I want to explore how technology and design come together for administrators to meet the needs of the post-information era in response to recent observations in JBTC’s special issue on design. Next, continuing my work with Dr. Russell, we have plans to write a direct response to Ching’s tool-based research, deepening understanding of student performance when writing for our courses with digital tools. We believe this may help faculty reason and plan for nurturing strong writing performances for their students. We are targeting Written Communication with this second article. Last, to continue aiding students, I plan to develop and study new learning practices involving new media, design, and distributed audience networks for future communications of the post-information era where students become the real stakeholders of communication.

To conclude, I would like to share my mission statement for continued scholarship and research. It is my mission to collaborate on new programmatic approaches to technology for writing programs. I seek to find innovative ways to make technology more than a tool, to make it an environment supporting the future of communication and learning. As part of that mission, I have made it a priority to work alongside my faculty colleagues and share what I have learned studying multimodal pedagogy as design to support their efforts. And, I want to help my students achieve better performance in the classroom and empower their college and civic experiences by fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment. Thus, I pledge my vested interest in research and service to improve both my department and institution whenever and wherever I am given the opportunity.