In this portion of the interview, Kristine L. Blair discusses when she first became involved in the field of computers and writing, her beginning as a teacher scholar, and how she sees changes in multimodal publishing.
I got started in computers and writing more toward the end of my doctoral work at Purdue University in the early '90s. My initial dissertation research dealt with cultural studies in composition classrooms. I was very interested in pop culture approaches, and even further, I was interested in the image of women in mass media, particularly advertising. My dissertation brought all those emphases together. As I began to work on my dissertation, it was the early '90's with the advent of listservs and Usenet groups; those types of communication modes both in social and academic contexts got me very interested in doing more with technology in my own classes. Therefore, I started integrating the electronic communication and having students communicate online mostly through listservs but using other types of communication software as well for synchronous and asynchronous dialogue. As part of that, I naturally came to know Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe, who would often make frequent trips to Purdue for professional development for various colloquia series. Gail had actually worked at Purdue for a time while I was there, but by the time I was close to graduating, she had moved on to the University of Illinois. Having role models in the field, Gail and Cindy, as well as Patricia Sullivan at Purdue, really helped me understand that there was this discipline of computers and composition. Purdue was a very technologically rich campus, even for those of us working in English studies, so we were able to teach in digital environments. I taught tech writing in a computer lab. I taught composition in a computer lab. Toward the end of my time at Purdue, I team-taught a desktop publishing course with Pam Takayoshi, and I also taught that course once on my own. Being able to integrate all of these technologies—some of which are non-existent, dated, or have morphed into other things, like HyperCard or PageMaker, etc.—I think I had a good grounding at Purdue. When I moved on after my Ph.D. to my first position at Texas A & M Corpus Christi, I was very, very fortunate. I wouldn't say that Texas A & M Corpus Christi was a technologically rich campus, but they did have technology. They had at least one Mac lab and a number of PC labs. I was actually able to teach all of my courses from the get–go—it was a 4–4 load—in a computer lab, first-year writing, as well as technical writing. This was in 1994, so it was very much the advent of the World Wide Web. I learned a lot about web design and HTML from a systems administrator at A & M Corpus Christi, a wonderful guy named Jack Padgett, who was excited that there was actually a faculty member who was interested in learning this stuff. As I learned more, I actually started migrating my assignments from print–based assignments to web–based assignments, regardless of the context. It could have been a literature class, a graduate-level course in the teaching of writing, a tech comm class, or another type of desktop publishing course that I taught at Corpus Christi. It was just an exciting time to be involved in all of that.
I think that one of the things that I did, early on, when I was at A & M Corpus Christi, was I just finished my dissertation. As you know, you're told you need to go back to your dissertation, and you have to see what pieces of it fit various venues whether in book form or article form. I was very fortunate in that I was able to get a lot of mileage from my dissertation in terms of conferences as well as journal articles. I took a particular piece of my dissertation and reworked it for Computers and Composition print. That first piece I published with them was a piece called, "Ethnography and the Internet" talking about how you could do certain types of audience analysis assignments in digital environments (Blair, 1996). I often had students do analyses of Usenet groups and do what Jim Porter (1991) has referred to in his work as a "forum analysis," looking at the discursive conventions, not just of face–to–face groups but online groups. So, I had a pedagogical model of that in my dissertation. What I did was rework that and published it in Computers and Composition in 1996. That was my first Computers and Composition publication; I was very excited. Another piece that I published early on with Computers and Composition was a piece that evolved out of my work at A & M Corpus Christi. When I was teaching there, given the region, there were a lot of Hispanic–American students enrolled, so it would be very interesting to see the differences of perspective between Hispanic–American students and Anglo students as they discussed cultural issues in the context of first–year writing. There would be some heated debates. I took advantage of that through my use of the Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE) for online chats, and I was able to talk about some of those conflicts that occurred. I published a piece that I think it was called "Literacy in the Contact Zone" in C&C print in 1998. By that time, I was already at Bowling Green. I was at Bowling Green in 1996. I left A & M in 1996 and came to Bowling Green at that time. So it was great to take what was going on in your classroom and theorize what was going on, not just in terms of the way technology was mediating the communication process but the way in which culture was mediating the communication process. I felt very fortunate to have those opportunities, and I got more involved with computers and writing as a discipline at the C & W conference, which I started attending regularly starting in 1995.
It's hard to say, because I don't have the job description in front of me to know what they wanted. I think originally the Rhetoric and Writing doctoral program wanted someone who could teach research methodology, and I certainly could do that, though that wasn't my expertise. I think they wanted more of a generalist, and I fit that bill. I was very fortunate to get the job. I brought a technological perspective to the job. Rick Gebhardt was chair at the time of my hire, and I found Bowling Green very flexible in allowing you to schedule classes in computer labs. I was always able to get a computer lab. Any time you move to a new institution you have to work out, "Who do I contact for what?" I think that's very true for computer space. Therefore, you figure out: What scheduling people do you work with? What department secretary you talk to? How supportive is your chair in that respect? I always felt pretty fortunate about it because I was able from the get-go to schedule any course I wanted in a computer lab. I did that with the earliest course I taught at Bowling Green which was English 381: Grammar and Writing. I was teaching a grammar class in a computer lab where I had students developing online units for sentence combining. It is just sort of interesting how your work evolves; I always thought of myself as a computer person and never thought of myself as a grammar person. By combining the two, I was able to develop that expertise and ultimately ended up writing a grammar textbook with two of my colleagues. People love grammar; the royalties are great.
That's really interesting. Pam Takayoshi and I do have a digital text. In 1997, we published an early version of our introduction to the collection Feminist Cyberscapes in Kairos. Jim Kalmbach (2006) from Illinois State University has a historical piece that he published in Kairos several years ago where he refers to that piece as one of the first menued hypertexts that was published in our field. I'm sort of amused by that, because if you go look at the piece it's very, very basic. It's black text on a white background with links on the side. There is a navigation structure. So, I think on one level that it is great, and sort of an honor, to have that text be thought of in that way. That was the first digital piece I published. I think overall when you look at my body of work, I'm less of a person who publishes in multimodal form than I am a person who writes about the politics of acquiring the literacies for students and faculty to publish in multimodal form, even though I do have some digital publications that I have worked on with colleagues and with graduate students.
I don't know that I particularly had to, to be quite honest; I think part of it was a matter of balance. If I had only web-based publications, I don't know that I would have been tenured. I don't know that anyone would have been tenured at Bowling Green or elsewhere. I think it's a matter of showing, as I do now with folks going up for tenure promotion, that it's "What are the intellectual questions that your work addressed? What's the larger umbrella issue or set of issues? And how did various things that you do—from an edited collection to a web–based version of an introduction that went through a review process, a chapter or an article you published in Computers and Composition print—how do all of those elements fit together to make you seem the well rounded teacher–scholar?" That was the kind of case I think I made, and I think that's the kind of case we should all continue to make. Even for digital scholars. We have to talk in the language of the oppressor. *laughs* I think that Cixous (1976) talks about it in those terms, in her discussion of "Écriture Féminine," in this idea that if we really want to enable change, then we have to talk in these new venues, but we also have to publish in traditional print venues as well to show our colleagues what's happening, what's over here, and what's over here become closer together, and there's not that kind of gap.
Well, I think the advantage for the field of computers and writing is that we have a recursive relationship between theory and practice. We write about things that happen in our classroom spaces. However, we don't write about them in what some might refer to as anecdotal ways: "here's what I did in my classroom, and here's why it was so great." Initially in the discipline, there might have been that trend toward the utopic, and Gail and Cindy have talked about that in their earlier work. Clearly, as we started evolving the pedagogy, we started noticing problems in how students were communicating with some of the cultural conflicts that can occur with some of the race, gender, and class issues involving the politics of access. As we did more and more of that, wanting to document the digital things we were actually doing, we clearly came to understand that print was an insufficient medium. How could we have our students develop websites? How could we ourselves be developing syllawebs, and other sorts of online curricular materials, and not have a way to showcase them? This very much ties into tenure and promotion, because in so many institutions tenure and promotion is currently a print-based process. When I went up for tenure, I was literally printing out copies of online syllabi, and I thought, "This is ridiculous. This is just ridiculous." I would include URLs and things like that. I think many institutions, including Bowling Green, have gotten much more progressive about that, that you can include CD-ROMs and maybe include a print component. It's clear that some of our work is hybrid in nature. A great deal of it for computers and writing specialists will in fact be online. So, I think that's part of that shift, the clear exigency from moving from the print to the digital. At the same time with the exception of Kairos, there are fewer spaces in which to publish your work. Mike Palmquist at Colorado State has done some wonderful work with the WAC Clearinghouse, and the Writing Across the Disciplines just created another space. I think that to some extent Computers and Composition Online has created that space as well. Faculty and graduate students are looking for spaces where they can not only publish a text online, but truly use that process to experiment with digital video, digital audio, to have a truly multimodal composition that's published in a peer-reviewed journal. I think we've come a long way; however, I think we have a long way to go in a lot of that, but we're getting there as a discipline.