Logging On

Cheryl Ball, Editor

Last year, John Schilb invited me to present on an MLA roundtable with several esteemed rhetoric and composition scholars, to speak on "How I Have Changed My Mind as a Scholar-Teacher of Writing" (#s684). This roundtable drew inspiration from Schilb's eponymous symposium in College English the previous year, and I spent the subsequent summer, fall, and early winter trying to figure out how, or whether, I have actually changed my mind about anything that would be significant to this MLA audience.

The small stuff, I change my mind about daily. Folks who know me personally know that I'm strong in my convictions, but willing to listen and, indeed, change my mind, if they can get past my stubbornness, which is no easy task. And it's the big stuff—the ideals and practices and theoretical foundations that I felt were worthy of being taken up during one of the half-dozen (if that) writing panels among the 900 literature and foreign language panels at MLA—that I have pretty strong, and longstanding convictions about. The first publication of my academic career was in Kairos in early 1999 when I was still an MFA student studying electronic literature and before I even appreciated what the field of rhetoric and composition was. (I wasn't hired on staff until 2001.) I often forget that that e-poetry webtext was my "first", not even listing it on my CV for years and instead wrongly opting to designate my 2004 Computers and Composition article, "Show, Not Tell," as first. (A designation that will become clear momentarily.) My point is that I have always been into open-access (OA), digital media (DM) publishing, before I even knew what OA was. So I didn't need to change my mind about these issues (OA or DM), because they were the assumptions that I brought with me into the field of rhetoric and composition.

Which left me wondering aloud on Facebook, the night before I presented as part of #s684, what the heck I was going to say that would make any difference, have any meaning, to this crowd of writing studies scholars at 8:30am on a Sunday morning. (And, surprisingly, there was a crowd; thanks, in large part I'm sure, to the rest of the esteemed panel seated to my right that morning: Doug Hesse, Deb Holdstein, Jane Danielwicz, and Kurt Spellmeyer.) I dutily and comfortably played the role of whippersnapper in that group, noting with retrospective irony that at Computers and Writing, I'd not hold quite the same position. Thus, I started the roundtable with the following brief remarks:

In the 2011 College English symposium, "How I Have Changed My Mind," Joseph Harris wrote, "Of course I was wrong" about his early dismissiveness of integrating community into his writing classrooms. If this panel were about How I Was Wrong, I could keep you occupied all day. And, of course, I've changed my mind thousands of times, so deciding what to say at this panel came down to deciding what this MLA audience would want, expect, and need to hear.

When I started my MFA program in 1997, I had no idea what rhetoric was. I took the requisite composition theory class, had no idea who any of the scholars whom we read were, but I liked two pieces, one about a "So What" approach to teaching writing and the other about closing one's eyes while speaking, by some guy named Elbow. I took hypertext theory classes and learned what electronic literature was—and that I hated it and thought I could do better. I learned to build instead of write seminar papers, and I attended my first CCCC in 1999. By the time I finished my MFA, I was president of the Professional Writing club and headed to a PhD in rhetoric and technical communication.

In the intervening years, I've changed my mind about
  • writing grants (love it now)
  • tenure (it's a stupid and inhumane process)
  • student mentoring (I owe it to students to help them be professionals, no matter how much redirecting and mentoring that might take)
  • rhetoric (aaah, I get it now!)
  • pedagogy (I understand what it means to be a reflective teacher-scholar and study my own and others' teaching practices, not just Here's What I Did in my Classroom one-off scenarios, which were the stuff of my first few conference presentations)
  • attending CCCC (see: rhetoric, pedagogy)
  • attending MLA (Yay for digital humanities. Sometimes).

Each of these changes have been influenced by my working-class desires for praxis. I want to learn things that I can use, and I want to teach others things that are useful for their lives. This is why, for instance, I have changed my mind about grading. When I taught my first (and last, as it turned out) traditional first-year composition course in Fall 1998, I expected students to write New Yorker essays using process, and I graded them as if they could ever live up to that professional level of writing (and editing). It's no wonder new teachers are often angry and lack confidence. As I gained confidence as a teacher (and scholar and, particularly, as an editor), I have changed my grading scale to be about job-like expectations and 100% class participation.

While one of the multiple hearts of CCCC is pedagogy, I rarely find sessions that spark my praxis-filled brain, particularly with my focus on digital media. So I'm not attending CCCC this year for the first time in 15 years. And I'm enjoying MLA—although not the pedagogy sessions (Jentery Sayers's excepted)—more and more. Jim Kalmbach says I need to stand in front of the mirror and say: I am a digital humanist, but I don't believe I want to be one if that means not researching techno-pedagogy. So while my academic identity and academic home keeps changing as I grow and change as a scholar-teacher, I'm at MLA this year to help DHers learn about rhet/comp's traditions and innovations in pedagogy.

Quickly, the panel moved on to more meaty topics, such as rhetorical genre studies and teaching literature and/or politics in the composition classroom, among other polemics, and this was neither surprising nor disappointing for me: I was preaching to the pedagogical crowd, which is nice when it comes to folks' coming to the table knowing, generally, what your assumptions are. But it's also, um, boring. As are most digital pedagogy sessions at CCCC and MLA (and THATCamp and HASTAC and...) with their Here's What I Did in my Classroom approach.

The thing is—the thing I've been trying to convey through multiple Facebook conversations and attempts to integrate myself into the DH landscape—readers of this journal know that there's a scholarly history to techno-pedagogy that we draw on every day to inform our teaching of writing. The symposium usage of "scholar-teachers" isn't just a fancy term; it's the embodiment of rhetoric and composition: We are scholars of teaching. While writing studies scholars are generous in allowing graduate students to give Here's What I Did in my Classroom presentations at conferences, encouraging them to "Have you read X?" and "You might explore Y's work on ABC as you move forward with this project," the digital humanities—unawares of itself as mostly comprised of literary-critical scholars whose discovery of teaching with digital technology is relatively new—is paradoxically uncritical of its teaching practices.

Yes, I'm painting with a large brush. I inhabit that polemical role all too well, you've probably guessed. And I've been repeated asked (as I'm sure others in similarly public and vocal positions have been) to create a bibliography of relevant digital writing-related pedagogical scholarship for digital humanists. I have incredibly mixed feelings about this task: Half of me would like to do it just to shove it in faces and say, "See? Here's a long history of scholarly, reflective techno-pedagogy!", and then demand that level of scholarship from their pedagogical musings. The other half of me says, http://lmgtfy.com/, or put in a more mentoring way: Where is your literature review? Where is your peer-reviewed scholarship? Where are you publishing scholarship about techno-pedagogy?

In many respects, both of these halves, these questions, produce the same answer—see "tenure" above—in that a literary-critical scholar will rarely be able to pass off the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) as countable scholarship in their field. Heck, some rhet/comp scholar-teachers still have trouble getting their pedagogical scholarship to count. And, unlike rhet/comp, which boasts dozens of journals that will accept techno-pedagogical work, there are certainly *not* enough journals that accept literary-critical, techno-pedagogical, peer-reviewed scholarship in which DHers can publish. I keep asking where they are, but I get blank stares in the form of empty comment boxes on Facebook. I am genuinely sorry that DHers don't have anywhere in which (they feel) they can publish peer-reviewed techno-pedagogical work. So, I'll cut them some slack for the time being, although I will reiterate that while Kairos's focus is not solely on pedagogy, we would be happy to publish some DH-based pedagogical work that falls outside of rhetoric and composition studies. But don't be surprised when our reviewers comes back at you with "Have you read X?" and "You might explore Y's work on ABC as you move forward with this project," and http://lmgtfy.com/. (What in less generous terms might be said as RTFM.)

To clarify, when I use the term scholarship, I admit to defining it fairly narrowly as peer-reviewed scholarship. We have plenty of storifys and Vimeos and (god help me) blessays about teaching practice. Others have collated these efforts into nice blog posts (thank you, Roger Whitson). But what I'm talking about is research-based, scholarly writing about techno-pedagogical theories and practices. As a reader invested in scholarly pedagogical practice, I want to know that YOU know what you're talking about and have situated your research within a larger field of scholarship about techno-pedagogical theories and practices (omg, I'm turning 800 years old as I write this!) and that your work has been vetted by an editorial board, made all the better for it. I want to read 25-page articles and intellectually hefty webtexts about your theories on teaching as well as those blog posts about your daily practice. We all need the latter in order to get to the former, but it is the former that I want to see listed in round-ups of DH pedagogy articles. I don't much care whether your article or webtext is closed peer-reviewed or open peer-reviewed, but I do want it to appear in a scholarly journal once in a while. Because I value this type of—omg, I'm saying this—long-form pedagogical work since it, unlike Here's What I Did blog posts, actually teaches me something about pedagogy. I think scholarly article-length (as well as book-length) pedagogical work is an academic goal worth pursuing in DH circles, if you're serious about embracing teaching with technology. I'm not saying "Be a writing scholar. We know what we're doing." I'm saying this: I teach classes on pedagogy as part of my job, which includes teaching literature and creative writing and linguistics and education graduate students how to teach. (This situation is true for most any rhet/comp scholar who teaches at a graduate institution.) But I don't teach literature or creative writing and so on, so I need you to teach me how to teach them better. I want to learn from you, from literary-critical scholars who teach with technology, how you do it in your classrooms and how you teach others to teach with technology in a literary context. I can't learn much from blog posts and Storifys and how-tos.

In the spirit of changing my mind, and extending the olive branch, I had asked Senior Editor Douglas Eyman to create us a wiki to post bibliographic citations on techno-pedagogy, which readers could add to and mold and steal from and use as they see fit. And then we realized there is already such a source, there has been a source, for this amazing and rich and deep collection of work: Comppile. Comppile is "an inventory of publications in writing studies, including post-secondary composition, rhetoric, technical writing, ESL, and discourse analysis," which Rich Haswell and Glenn Blalock have worked tirelessly to compile (ha, get it?) into a searchable database of over 100,000 (as of January 2013) annotated citations, many of which are about pedagogy and techno-pedagogy. So, there's no sense recreating the wheel, when you can go to Comppile, perform a quick search for "Facebook" and yield 10 results including dissertations, white papers, and (mostly) scholarly articles/webtexts from Computers and Composition, Kairos, JAC, and C&C Online. Or, more broadly, "social networking," which yields 30 results, or "games," yielding 99 results. "Discussion forums" only yields 3 results, but "forums" offers 33 and "listserv" has 73 entries. "Literature" produces 2,320 entries. (Remember, not too long ago, compositionists were all literary critics.) There are over 300 journals, book series, and edited collections entered into this amazing database. Not all entries are annotated, but users can contribute their own reviews of the entries and can contact Rich and Glenn to volunteer your services in this wide-scale, community-drive resource.

So, the next time someone in DH asks me to create a bibliography of appropriate pedagogy resources, instead of snearing, or saying http://lmgtfy.com, I'll just ask, "What are your search terms? Let's go to Comppile!" And then I'll ask them to send me their webtext submission for consideration in Kairos.