Our return to the group classroom discussion was a return to the familiar. We are all graduate students and the monochromatic classroom walls and functional furniture feels homey in its own sad way. At the tail end of our workshops, interviews, and hours of transcription, we were ready to settle into theory, something easier to understand sometimes than our own dispositions as novice researchers.
The thing is, we were not the same students who occupied these chairs at the start of the course or even weeks ago. The distance between us and the research theories we study from books had diminished. In our initial discussion we returned to an early conversation about digital technology and the ethical implications of using public discourse in research. The conversation was now less abstract and more personal.
One classmate reminded us of the Internal Review Board’s (IRB) somewhat lenient position on public discourse while we discussed Aaron Hess’ chapter titled “Rhetoric, Ethnography, and the Machine” in Field Rhetoric: Ethnography, Ecology, and Engagement in the Places of Persuasion. We then pondered our own positions on analyzing public technology:
One of our lively discussions was sparked by “Rhetorical Cartographies,” a chapter describing three geographical areas of Omaha and the associative discourse and impressions of each. The authors’ assert that places “are dynamic places-in-process, wherein embodied and emplaced performances select, reflect, and deflect place through the experiences of those who interact with the place” (Senda-Cook, et al 98). This resonated with us in our examination of UWM graduate students and how they contribute to and shape our dynamic campus.
One classmate mused about linguistic boundaries and how certain spaces impose language or linguistic boundaries. We had initially discussed place and even gentrification of places as physical, but she prompted us to think about gentrification of language, asking, “when we try to ‘clean up’ places physically, are we also ‘cleaning up’ language, and If so, at what cost?”
This colonization of language is something we even recognize in some of our interviewees’ contributions. It’s something that we as teachers, professional writers, and graduate scholars have sometimes experienced in our own self-censoring. One classmate stated, “I didn’t have the best education. I went into the military and then to college where I tried to shape my linguistic and community identity. Sometimes I think about what was lost in that process.”
Perhaps it is our own experiences that we see reflected back at us more clearly now. We talked about feeling attached to our participants when we transcribed the interviews. One classmate described her feelings of empathy as she slowed down the voices during the transcription process and heard inflection. “I heard insecurity and struggle in places,” she said. That connectedness made it hard to not jump in and share our own stories of triumph and struggle while interviewing participants. It made us grateful that we were privy to stories and cognizant of our own positionality as researchers. Our initial project idea elicited skepticism, confusion, frustration, and enthusiasm. Now, however messy and imperfect, it finally feels like our own. --WP
On April 8th, our research team held its first workshop focus group to gather visual data about the unique ways in which UWM grad students use language to communicate. We asked participants to come to the event prepared to craft visual pieces representing the ways in which they use language in the different settings and contexts of their lives. As you might imagine, this prompt and flexibility allowed for incredible creativity! Several members of our research team participated in the event and we welcomed two additional graduate students as well. Though this turnout might be on the smaller end, the event played out wonderfully in terms of the environment and creative data we collected.
During this first event, my primary role was as observer of behavior and the stages of the workshop activities. I’d like to share some of those details here to let you in on this component of our team’s research and as a means of hopefully encouraging other researchers to consider integrating this type of composing event into your own research endeavors.
Prior to the evening of our event, members of the team reached out to fellow graduate students via a standardized email invitation and through one-on-one personal contacts. We also created flyers and posted them around campus.
When the time for the workshop was approaching, the research team set up craft materials at our advertised location for participants to use in the construction of their visuals.
Once our start time rolled around, Rachel welcomed the participants and explain a bit about our purposes and what we expected – essentially, create a visual artifact using any materials available that represents your unique language use across various contexts. I observed most participants approach the table of crafts shortly after Rachel’s announcement and some start their work by taking notes on their own paper. Some grabbed scissors and construction paper to start, while others went for the printed maps of the campus, Milwaukee, or the United States.
What the participants were constructing ended up ranging from conceptual maps of things like foundational language use to geographical maps illustrating the differences in language use depending on the individual’s location. In their visuals, some distinguished between “internal” language versus language used to communicate with others and in different contexts. One participant used the visual metaphor of a “machine” that sorts and enhances language choices.
I found it interesting that participants did not appear to notice me observing them or to pay attention to much outside of the object they were creating, and I think this demonstrates that everyone was comfortable in the space and with the task. As the first participants began to finish up their projects, after about 35 minutes, they approached the indicated interviewers and I watched as the pairs comfortably settled in at the furthest back table in the room, speaking at a normal level.
Our two interviewers prompted with a basic question asking each participant to explain their piece, then listened and audio-recorded that explanation. During these explanations, most participants used some form of physical gesturing toward the visual pieces they created, which has some on the research team to consider video recording future interviews in order to capture these meaning-making gestures.
After the event, our team also discussed some of the barriers that may prevent more UWM graduate students from participating, most about logistics of location and convenience of scheduling. I also continue to ponder ways we might better entice graduate students who are unfamiliar with fields such as composition, translanguaging, and literacy studies; how might we word our recruitment materials to help them readily see the value of what we’re seeking? But, this is one of those important, ongoing questions about our field more generally!
Overall, the mood of the event and the fascinating creative pieces, no two alike, we collected are already exciting indicators of the data we will continue to gather and give people the space to create. If you’re a graduate student at UWM, we hope to see you at one of our future composing events!
The Legacy of Virginia Burke
Virginia Burke taught writing and rhetoric courses at UWM for 31 years. She cared deeply about undergraduate students and worked tirelessly to improve access to and through college for all people. In her work, she validated the voices of Black Americans and argued against the enforcement of racist writing traditions. Virginia Burke’s career was also shaped largely by her commitment to support students and writers who speak and write in different dialects of English. She vigorously upheld the position statement from the professional Conference on College Composition and Communication on “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and she wrote extensively on linguistic variation and its cultural values.
A New Kind of Ceremony
The Virginia Burke Awards honor the memory of this remarkable teacher by recognizing excellence in First Year Writing by students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In past years, the awards ceremony included a formal reading by students of their papers.
This year, winners were chosen by the UWM English 102 Digital Commons Editorial Board, which includes Ann Hanlon, Head of UWM’s Digital Humanities Lab, and UWM English graduate students and teachers Storm Pilloff, Katherine Dixon, Ryan House, Julie Kaiser, and Jenni Moody.
Winners worked closely with English 102 Coordinator Storm Pilloff to transform their papers into formal presentation posters. These posters will form a gallery space for attendees to peruse and to interact with writers.
In organizing the Virginia Burke Awards this year, we also wanted to highlight the writing opportunities for undergraduates in our Creative Writing department and important campus resources like the Writing Center. In addition to the gallery space, publications like cream city review and Furrow will have tables where undergraduates can learn about internship opportunities, publishing courses, and professional careers in writing.
Rethinking Award Categories
Led by UWM’s Director of Composition, Shevaun Watson’s new approach to the English 102: College Writing and Research curriculum that focuses on information literacy, the Virginia Burke committee this year worked to incorporate these values into the awards through creating new categories. Instead of awarding a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each of the three First Year Writing classes, we collaborated on forming categories that would showcase the variety of skills students need to succeed in their writing and research in the twenty-first century.
We’re excited to present these categories and winners:
2019 Virginia Burke Award Winners
Persistence: This award recognizes work that shows the writer’s persistence despite not finding answers, thereby achieving an expert researcher’s disposition. The willingness to resist easy answers and persevere through the frustrations and challenges of research helps writers develop new perspectives and insight. Winner: Gregory Kontny
Rhetorical dexterity: This award celebrates a student's remarkable ability to recognize a variety of means of persuasion. The ability to recognize different contexts for communication leads writers to use a variety of strategies to communicate effectively within these contexts. Winner: Emma Maude Knox
Creative thinking: This award recognizes work that stretches the writer’s creative capacity to meet specific writing needs and situations. This ability to push conventional boundaries and glean insight from divergent perspectives leads writers to effective problem solving. Winners: Brandan Naef, Terese Radke, Amanda Straszewski, Mai Chue Yang
Risk-taking: This award celebrates a student’s bravery and innovation in their composition and/or research practices. This willingness to take risks in practice and learn from potential failures helps writers and researchers imagine new ideas. Winner: Noah Steinhilber
Social Justice: This award recognizes work that focuses ethically on building a more just world for marginalized people. Using rhetoric for good is at the heart of education. Winner: Olivia Swanson
Community Engagement: This award celebrates a student’s investment and contribution to the community represented in their work. Recognizing the importance of the communities we are situated in diversifies academic spaces in realistic ways. Winner: Amanda John, Annika Noorlander
Multimodality: This award celebrates a student’s ability to compose effectively across a variety of modes. Delivering research in a variety of modes assures reaching a variety of audiences. Winners: Haley Steel, Luis Sanchez-Guevara
Research Practices: This award recognizes exemplary work that shows the researcher’s breadth and depth of source types used. Hearing from a variety of source types more ethically represents the range of voices “at the table.” Winners: Morgan Ellis, Erica Phillips
Please join us to celebrate work by these writers at the Virginia Burke Awards Ceremony this Friday, April 19th, from 2:30 – 4:00pm in the 4th Floor Conference Center of the Golda Meir Library on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.
-- Storm Pilloff, English 102 Coordinator
-- Jenni Moody, English 102 Mentor
Let’s start this off with the news you’ve all been waiting for: our research team has received IRB approval! Our study has been granted exempt status, and we’ll now move forward with interviews and focus groups.
This past week in class, we had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Liz Angeli. Dr. Angeli is an assistant professor in Marquette University and works in technical communication, rhetoric and composition, and the rhetoric of health and medicine.
Using the handout that I have attached to this post, Dr. Angeli led us through a great discussion on Fear and Uncertainty in Writing Research—and given that most of us on the research team have never conducted research, we had no shortage of either. We came to the conclusion that most of our fear and uncertainty was rooted in a fear of failure, judgment, or being wrong.
After a long semester of stumbling our way through readings, project design, and IRB approval, it was nice to bond over our concerns, and especially comforting that Rachel and Dr. Angeli echoed our feelings, citing their own doubts and struggles in their research.
One of our readings this week was Dr. Angeli’s “Assemblage Mapping: A Research Methodology for Rhetoricians of Health and Medicine” from Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. In the chapter, Dr. Angeli details the roadblocks and uncertainty that she faced in her efforts to get approval for research on the communication of EMTs.
In the course of our discussion, Dr. Angeli told us that it was not always clear whether or not she would receive approval to complete every aspect of the project she discusses in that chapter. In the midst of this doubt, she voiced her concerns to a colleague, who told her to keep every piece of communication between her and the various institutional boards with whom she had been interacting. These documents may have seemed like a means to an end, but in reality, they were part of the research itself.
Fresh off our IRB approval, this realization came at the perfect time.
For so long, it felt like we were simply ramping up to the “real” research. What I’ve realized now—and I’m sure some of my colleagues will agree with me—compiling all of these documents and working to get IRB approval was not just a precursor. We’ve been doing the “real” research all along.
Obviously, this is a class. At the end of the semester, we’ll be assigned grades, and many of us will step down from the project and go our separate ways. It would be easy to say that the work we’ve all put in was simply in the name of getting a good grade and picking up some new skills, but I see something more than that.
I see a group of people who came into this with very little experience and a whole lot of ideas, who, despite fear and uncertainty and a myriad of responsibilities outside of our classroom, dove in head first to unfamiliar and often overwhelming territory.
I think our efforts as a team have been so successful because there has been trust and support from the beginning—and this activity helped us to find even more common ground.
As Dr. Angeli said, we should have these discussions on fear and uncertainty more—in classrooms, at conferences, with colleagues. Fear of failure is something we all face, so why do we so often pretend it’s not? The confusion, the stress, the fear—they are all part of the process. It’s time to start appreciating that.
This week, we will be conducting interviews and holding workshops with participants to gain insight on their communication habits. Check back next week to see how our first workshop goes!
During our last few classes, we focused heavily on designing portions of our research study for future IRB approval. However, after returning from a refreshing spring vacation, we put our project on hold to take a much-needed trip back in time, courtesy of an enlightening presentation by Dr. Shevaun Watson, Associate Professor of English at UWM.
Shevaun’s talk, supplemented by our other weekly readings, taught us how qualitative researchers can utilize historical archives, memories, and other artifacts to enrich their current understandings of past subjects or places. During America’s formational stages, Shevaun explained that many scholars in the 18th century were viewing rhetoric from an “enlightenment” perspective, prioritizing the elocution, taste, and correctness of language over historic archives and sources. Because of this focus on style, these scholars silenced many underrepresented groups from the time period by largely failing to examine their historical artifacts and accounts.
In her essay “Good Will Come of this Evil,” (published in the College Composition and Communication academic journal) Shevaun illuminates the plights of two African-American slaves turned schoolmasters in 18th century America, examining how a church organization used literacy as a tool to spread Christian ideologies to marginalized communities. Shevaun’s piece is powerful today because it challenges both the “heroic ideal” of literacy and American exceptionalism, digging up previously-silenced voices from the historical archive.
With Pen and Voice by Shirley Wilson Logan and Traces of a Stream by Jacqueline Jones Royster (both pictured above) were just some of the books that Shevaun mentioned during her talk with us. These works are valuable because they challenge traditional research values by giving needed representation to silenced voices from the past.
In the discussion following her talk, Shevaun focused on two main concepts: silences in the historical record and critical imagination. During her research for “Good Will Come,” Shevaun highlighted how difficult it was to find pre-19th century records of African-American literacy, as most historical artifacts of the time period were biased towards American colonialism and made little mention of other marginalized populations. Shevaun asserted that these factors helped form “historical silences”—a lack of personal accounts—from these obscured populations.
In order to give representation to those silenced within the historical record, Shevaun stated that she had to use critical imagination—a researcher’s interpretation of past events—in an attempt to “fill in” these historical gaps of silence. To ensure accuracy, Shevaun carefully grounded her assumptions in fact by recording details from the time period’s letters and diaries, historical archives previously unexamined by more traditional researchers. She even informed us of her plans to visit South Carolina this coming summer, seeking to closely examine modern retellings of colonial history while also immersing herself in the researched environment.
The takeaways from Shevaun’s presentation align with our modern-day qualitative research readings. For instance, the “silences” that Shevaun mentioned still exist in different forms, as evidenced by Susan Wells and Nathan Stormer’s piece in Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. In their article, the authors assert that both HIPAA and institutional hesitance regarding PHI access create artificial barriers for researchers attempting to study past medical records. In Writing Studies: Research in Practice, Liz Rohan discusses the importance of inclusive historical rhetoric and critical imagination, stating that “connections between lived lives and the lives of deceased subjects can…produce useful knowledge about the past, the present and culture generally, even in not written in the conventional voice of academic discourse” (30). Echoing Shevaun and a previous reading on the value of emplaced research by Jennifer Edwell, Rohan also states that physically going to historic locations can help a researcher connect on a deeper level with their past subjects. In Field Rhetoric, Heather Brook Adams notes how studying memories from her research participants caused her to change her data collection methods (switching from individual interviews to focus groups) and made her pay closer attention to her participants’ emotions during questioning.
Following Shevaun’s visit, we devoted the rest of class time to the organization of responsibilities for our study, which was recently IRB-approved with exempt status! With the overall structure of our study now in place, the class split into two preliminary groups--interview and recruitment—for further planning and collaboration. As we prepared to move into the “data collection” phase of our study, Shevaun reminded us to keep an open mind towards our research results, because what we find may be surprising. Thanks to our new historical knowledge, we will value non-traditional artifacts, further accommodate the needs of our interview subjects, and—above all—remain adaptable as our research process continues. There’s no doubt that these lessons from the past will positively influence our own practices moving forward.