By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
This is the second part of two posts about our new faculty members with the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at UWM: Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Maria Novotny. You can read Part 1 here.
What experience do you have with community-engaged teaching?
Maria: I have taught many professional writing and technical classes, which naturally lend themselves to community-engaged projects. For example, in my "Digital Rhetoric in Health and Medicine" course at UWO, students worked with the Women’s Center and Student Center on campus to create a series of multimedia, advocacy toolkits to support educating their college peers on the importance of data privacy. We reflected on the learning that occurred through these projects and shared our community-engaged projects on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s blog. Also, in my "Grant Writing Foundations" course, my students worked with five Oshkosh community non-profits organizations. While students gained experience researching and writing grant documents, this collaborative partnership also revealed the importance of reciprocity. As the course concluded, students remarked on the interpersonal and rhetorical negotiations they had to make in order to successfully partner with the organization.
Derek: My first year writing courses are focused on place and community. What I mean by that, is that the course focuses on issues directly affecting the local place where the students live. I have students conduct research not only in academic spaces such as the library, but also out in the community. They have to talk with people, organizations, and businesses to get a greater understanding of the various stakeholders' perspectives. For instance, when I taught in Western Pennsylvania, I developed a course around the environmental issue of Marcellus Shale fracking. Many of my students were directly connected to that industry through friends and family.
What do you envision for the future of our Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program?
Derek: I think it is important for us to develop a program that has a viable option for careers outside of academia. The academic job market is tight and there are other careers in which students should consider. To facilitate this idea, I think we should seek relationships with outside organizations and businesses and educate them on how students in our program can contribute to the goals of that organization. Perhaps we could set up summer internships for our students. The Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program serves as a perfect example of what some of our students should consider applying for after they complete their degree. The program places recent PhDs in government organizations and non-profit sectors for up two years.
Maria: I am very excited to work on the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program. My dissertation drew from my community-engaged work with the ART of Infertility. Engaged in that work, I recall moments of feeling overwhelmed not just by the doing of a dissertation but by the natural messiness of navigating and learning what it means to do community work. I hope to draw on these experiences, as well as the experiences of current graduate students, to think about how the program can be structurally organized and designed to offer mentorship and institutional support. I see my book project with John Gagnon as one scholarly trajectory that assists with this, but I’m also eager to think through the types of experiences and training we offer to our students via our curriculum. It’s an exciting program, and I think will resonate with folks across the field!
What is a graduate course you look forward to teaching?
Maria: I’m really looking forward to teaching Cultural Rhetorics in the spring. I’ve taught this for undergraduate students, but I’m eager to teach approaches to a cultural rhetorics methodology to graduate students. I am hopeful that students will also take interest, as I see cultural rhetorics offering methods useful for individuals who want to do ethical and reciprocal community work. Plus, I’m hoping that I can invite a couple of scholars who do cultural rhetorics work to join our class for some Q&A sessions.
Derek: I look forward to developing and teaching a topics course entitled African American Rhetoric and the Black Freedom Movement. The course is intended as an informed introduction to African American rhetoric, which is defined as the “communicative practices, and persuasive strategies rooted in freedom struggles by people of African ancestry in America” (Jackson and Richardson). The readings and discussions will familiarize students with various contemporary theorists whose ideas broaden contemporary conceptualization of African American Rhetoric. By the end of the course, students will have a richer understanding of how rhetoric is a tool of social change encompassing a variety of written, visual and verbal communication strategies. Readings in particular will include major thinkers like Cornel West, Keith Gilyard, Molefi Asante, and Geneva Smitherman.
What's something you like to do in your free time?
Derek: Exploring Wisconsin. My family and I are still new to the Midwest so we’re looking forward to taking some day-trips to go hiking, kayaking, and canoeing, especially when the leaves start to change colors. Also, we just adopted a 5 year-old Labrador Retriever named Obi, so we want to get him out of the city and get some strenuous exercise.
Maria: I’m a Wisconsin girl at heart. Raised here, in the summer I am an avid musky fisherwoman. I caught a 41 inch one this summer with my dad. In the spring, I help a family friend on their maple syrup farm. Taking walks in the woods, listening to storms roll through, and establishing a connection to the land has helped me stay grounded when the stress of academia can seem intense.
Thanks to Derek and Maria for their time and interest in contributing to Writing & Rhetoric MKE. I’m looking forward to building community with you in our program and around Milwaukee! -RBP
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Fall 2019 marks the official launch of our program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UWM. My colleagues and I are also excited to welcome two new faculty members to our program: Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Maria Novotny. To help everyone get to know them better, I asked Derek and Maria a series of questions about their experience and vision for the new program. In this post, we’ll learn a bit about Derek and Maria’s background with research and part 2 will focus on their teaching and goals for the future of the program.
What is your experience with community-engaged research?
Maria: I draw on my work with the ART of Infertility to inform my community-engaged scholarship. As a resource organization, I host multimodal art workshops for reproductive loss patients to depict their experiences with grief and the reproductive healthcare industry. Once patient pieces are created, I invite patient-participants to narrate their infertility experiences through their artwork. Today, the organization has over 200 pieces of narrative art, of which, I incorporate into art exhibitions around the U.S. I understand these exhibits as evidence of how art rhetorically translates technical, scientific, and medical experiences into accessible experiences for non-experts to grasp and ignite community-engaged action. My purpose is to act as an ally to remove the embedded cultural stigma of receiving an infertility diagnosis and create resources that educate healthcare providers, and the public at-large, on the sociocultural challenges faced by the reproductive loss community.
Derek: My research focuses on African American community rhetorical histories which means I have to do research in the archives and in the local neighborhoods. I conduct interviews with community members, walk the locations where historical events took place, and attend community events. I also like to take students on walking tours of these historic neighborhoods.
What are you currently working on?
Derek: I am currently working on my book project, “The Places We Knew So Well Are No More:” A Rhetorical History of Urban Renewal and the Black Freedom Movement. In particular, I’m focusing on the Milwaukee section of the book where rhetorical education played a significant role in helping residents understand the complexities of urban renewal. In addition, I’m working on a conference paper (National Communications Association) about St. Paul, Minnesota, which will also be featured in my book. My paper explores how race is implicated in the contested spaces and places of urban renewal policies. But more importantly, it will examine the rhetorical actions taken by residents in St. Paul in an effort to save their community from the wrecking balls of eminent domain during the 1950s and 60s.
Maria: I’m currently co-editing special issues for The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics on “Curation: A Multimodal Practice for Socially-Engaged Action”, Computers and Composition on “Rhetorics of Data: Collection, Consent, & Critical Digital Literacies”, and Reflections on “Rhetorics of Reproductive Justice in Public and Civic Contexts”. While on the surface those themes may appear distinct, the calls emphasize scholarly contributions that consider how curation may act as a response for social action.
Related, I’m working on a co-authored book project with Dr. John Gagnon (University of Hawaii-Manoa). We published “Research as Care: A Shared Ownership Approach to Rhetorical Research in Trauma Communities,” which offers a cultural rhetorical framework for collaborating with trauma participants for rhetorical research. Our book project tentatively titled, Care as a Practice: Reorienting Research in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, offers a cultural rhetorics infused methodological framework to inform the design and ethical enactment of community-engaged research projects. Our manuscript expands on and explains the idea of care as a research practice, demonstrates the efficacy of a care-centered research paradigm, and delivers concrete models for how to enact care methodologically.
By Claire Edwards & Madison Williams
What is rhetoric?
It’s a question anyone in our field has been faced with, be it by students, parents, or friends. It is the subject we have advanced degrees in, the term we spend hours discussing, the concept some of us spend our lives studying; so why is this question so hard to answer? Many of us have our go-to definitions prepared to answer this question, usually short and sweet, that seem to sum up the concept well enough. Rhetoric is “the study of effective argument, persuasion, and messaging” or “the art of successfully conveying a message for a specific audience within a specific context”. Duh. While this sort of answer might suffice in the moment, we know rhetoric is more than just a persuasive argument. But, how can we possibly encompass all that rhetoric means to us in a few short words?
The root of the difficulty defining rhetoric is complicated, much like the word itself. Rhetoric has often been associated with Aristotle, politicians, and a history of institutionalized oppression but has transformed and expanded, particularly in recent years, to embrace various new perspectives. The field has moved beyond traditional views of rhetoric in academia, to appear differently depending on context, resulting in this lack of a field-wide consensus as to its definition. The uncertainty surrounding how to define rhetoric has been continuously perplexing and, especially considering the word is featured in the title of this blog, it is a vexation we’ve frequently encountered. Thus, as dutiful rhetoricians and members of this editorial board, we thought we’d give it the old college try and attempt to adequately define rhetoric (at least for the purpose of this blog).
The definition of rhetoric has evolved over time, from its earliest explanation as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” by Aristotle, to its interpretation as "the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" by Burke, to the description as “the art, practice, and study of human communication” by Lunsford, and everything in between. In Becoming Rhetorical, Jodie Nicotra writes that “Rhetoric… refers to the wide array of communicative devices humans have at their disposal to create effects on each other” and “While it was originally developed to help people make persuasive speeches, rhetoric is still studied for its supreme practicality and adaptability” (“Introduction” 2018).
Some of these definitions might initially seem straightforward and simple enough. However, defining rhetoric becomes more complicated when one considers that intentional or not, anything with a decision made about it is rhetorical; the decision itself makes it rhetorical, and if there is thought behind it, it’s in the realm of rhetoric (Watson). For example, a protest poster decrying the negative effects of a zoning bill is certainly rhetorical. But, the following things are also rhetorical: the placement of a homeless shelter adjacent to luxury condos, the design of that shelter, the community outreach efforts to gain funds for the shelter, and the ongoing discourse surrounding the shelter and its efficacy.
These examples illustrate just how difficult rhetoric can be to define and that it means potentially very different things in different contexts. It has evolved over time in not only its definition but also its scope and application. While some might define rhetoric as the study of effective argument, persuasion, and messaging, our program and the current larger study of rhetoric asks us to return to the drawing board as the field has broadened to include matters not easily classified as argumentative or persuasive (or even intentional). What is clear though, is that rhetoric is bigger than just something we study in our program; it surrounds us in our daily lives.
So, what is rhetoric to us?
For our purposes in this blog, we see rhetoric as a way to examine and communicate about the various power dynamics inherent to our city. We will use rhetoric to better understand communication across contexts, as something that exists in and, perhaps more significantly, outside of the academy. Rhetoric has power; it helps us to understand power dynamics, our roles in the world, and how we might interact with and respond to the environment around us. In these attempts, we hope to support the practice and study of rhetoric as vital activities that offer insights into the languages and communities of our city.
Danielle: I’ve lived in the greater Milwaukee area since I was young. I graduated from Marquette University in 2013 with a degree in Writing Intensive English. For my Rhetoric and Composition MA project, I rhetorically analyzed how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez utilizes Instagram in order to build community with her followers. I hope to do more research about the ways in which people make rhetorical choices in digital spaces. As a mom of two energetic daughters, I don’t have much “spare time,” but I love drinking coffee and finding pockets of time to read.
Chloe: I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life. As a first generation college student, I got my bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2017. I finished my masters in Rhetoric and Composition at UWM this past spring. My MA project focused on the history of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and supporting teachers in furthering linguistic equality in their classrooms. In my free time, I enjoy cross stitching, listening to true crime podcasts, and supporting the Chicago Cubs.
As two students about to begin working toward their PhDs in UWM’s brand new Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program, we see this blog as an opportunity to spotlight important work, events, and people in our community. While Milwaukee is known for its beer and cheese, we hope to explore more deeply what is happening in and around this city, and how people are engaging with rhetoric.
We’ve both been with the blog since the beginning, in Rachel Bloom-Pojar’s Latinx Rhetorics course in Spring 2019. We’ve seen the blog in all of its uses: as a tool to recap class discussions and readings, as a highlight of community events, and as a way to connect with other academics over the woes and triumphs of qualitative research. As contributors to this blog, we’ve written pieces that connected to theories and practices in the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and we’ve workshopped with our peers to create content that both a local and extended audience would be interested in reading.
Slowly but surely, we’ve seen the connections between our program and the community being built with this blog, and we’re looking forward to keeping that momentum. Writing for the blog was sometimes challenging as part of our class assignments, as it could be difficult to write good content within the confines of the guidelines. We hope that going forward, this blog can be not only a source of information but also a conversation starter with both our local community as well as with our larger academic community.
Both UWM and the Milwaukee community as a whole has an exciting year ahead: here on campus, the English department will be officially launching our new PhD program: Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement. Through this program, students will be challenged on their notions of rhetoric and stretched to engage with the diverse communities that surround UWM. We hope to utilize this blog as a platform to highlight other writers on campus and off. People are doing rhetoric in Milwaukee in a myriad of ways and we want to celebrate and share it!
It's going to be a big year for rhetoric and writing in Milwaukee. Next March, the city will be host to the 2020 CCCC Annual Convention; in July, the 2020 Democratic National Convention. We look forward to being a place of learning, connection, and community for those in the city, those visiting, and those keeping tabs from afar.
We hope to continue adding intriguing rhetorical writing to this blog, and welcome submissions from fellow writers who are engaging with community events, organizations, individuals, or anything else that highlights writing and rhetoric in our city.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
“Wherever we end up in May is exactly where we should be at that point.”
These are the words I repeated to the graduate students in my research methods class throughout the spring 2019 semester. We set out in January to design, implement, and conduct a preliminary analysis of a qualitative research project on the linguistic resources of students at UW-Milwaukee (UWM). We took an asset-approach to exploring what innovative ways UWM students write and speak in their daily lives. The course included assigned readings about research methods and methodologies about qualitative research in communication and rhetorical studies. They learned about collaboration, developing research questions, ethical considerations, and more. If you want to read more about how the course was set up, you can read about that here.
So, now that the month of May has come and gone, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what happened throughout our research process. There is so much I could say about the amazing things that this class wrote, worked through, analyzed, and developed in our time together. Since much of my course design was centered on “learning by doing,” I thought I’d reflect on a few major takeaways that we could only learn by doing.
1) Qualitative research is messy
I said this a number of times, but the experiences the team had this semester confirmed that qualitative research is messy, nonlinear, and spectacularly human in all of its challenges and triumphs. Although I made several revisions to the course schedule and we didn’t have as much time to discuss readings as I would have liked, the group still moved across the stages of project design, IRB proposal and acceptance, data collection, and preliminary analysis at an impressive pace. That may have been helped, in part, by the ways that I facilitated the process. I placed limits on how long we would spend with any one activity, synthesized ideas for moving more quickly toward consensus, and encouraged specific ways of dividing up tasks.
It didn’t feel like an impressive pace to most of the team members, though. Many shared anxieties in their field notes and comments after class about how long everything was taking, how "unstructured" the process was, and how they didn’t think we would ever get to the data collection stage. As much as I wanted to ease their discomfort, I knew this was a natural part of qualitative research and the unpredictability that comes with collaborative work. Through navigating this process, the researchers had to figure out how to handle ambiguity, change, and the nuances of qualitative research.
2) You have to rely on other people for qualitative research
Whether you are conducting interviews, focus groups, surveys, or another form of data collection in qualitative research, the data are not just data...they are words, thoughts, experiences, and contributions from people. From working with research participants to co-researchers to IRB reviewers and more, the process of qualitative research is never a solo act. Traditionally, graduate courses in English studies are structured in similar ways that emphasize collective learning through discussion and peer review, but ultimately place the highest value (through grades) on individual performances and products. So, students become accustomed to that structure and way of evaluating how “well” they are doing in class. That structure does not reflect qualitative research nor does it emphasize the ways we need to rely on others to “do well” with community-engaged work.
At the start of the course, I quoted a phrase from a community group that Professor Steven Alvarez writes about in Brokering Tareas: “Muchos manos hacen ligero el trabajo. Many hands make light work.” That was our motto for the semester--to work together so that it would make the work lighter. And it did. With engagement from all team members, we were able to accomplish a lot more than any individual could have in the same amount of time. The group conducted and transcribed 14 interviews and 10 artifact descriptions with corresponding artifacts that were created by participants in our collaborative composing workshop. That is a great start for any qualitative study.
3) Qualitative research will challenge your notions of objectivity and the “truth”
At its heart, the reason why qualitative research challenges notions of objectivity and the “truth” are not, as many assume, because it is “less rigorous” than quantitative research. Conducting rigorous qualitative research takes hard work, care, and patience as you navigate the messiness of working with people, interpreting their words and experiences, and constantly checking your own biases and assumptions in the process. Coming to terms with how our perspectives, biases, and interpretations impact research--any kind of research--is something I hoped the students would take away from this course. Once we start to challenge notions of a single “truth” that we’re searching for, and instead we welcome and wade through the complexity of literacy, rhetoric, and communication...well, that’s where we might discover innovative approaches to advancing knowledge, theory, and practice together.
I am so grateful to this group of students for trusting me and trusting the process of this class. Reading their final reports, field notes, and evaluations confirmed that they learned a lot about themselves, qualitative research, and collaboration. While I took a huge risk designing the course this way, I’m glad that I did. It wasn’t always easy, comfortable, or fun, but we all (myself included) learned a lot along the way.
I want to end by sharing some recommended readings since the team requested it. These are only a few suggestions, and I welcome others in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #writingmke. Stay tuned for more information about new developments at Writing & Rhetoric MKE this summer, and as always, thanks for reading!
The books we read this semester included:
Writing Studies Research in Practice edited by Lee Nickoson & Mary P. Sheridan
Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine edited by Lisa Meloncon & J. Blake Scott
Field Rhetoric: Ethnography, Ecology, and Engagement in Places of Persuasion edited by Candice Rai & Caroline Gottschalk Druschke
Qualitative Communication Research Methods (3rd ed) by Thomas R. Lindlof & Bryan C. Taylor
Other books the research team and other readers might be interested in include:
Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetoric Methods and Methodologies edited by Eileen E. Schell & K.J. Rawson
Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities edited by Django Paris & Maisha T. Winn
Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches by John W. Creswell & Cheryl N. Poth
Lots of great books available online at WAC Clearinghouse: https://wac.colostate.edu/books/
On the 15th week, we started our class with reading the different interview transcriptions that were printed out previously for us to read. This was the first time we looked at the transcribed data and began our initial identifying themes and coding data. At first, we took about first 40-50 minutes of in-class time to read the transcripts. We were reading and also taking notes while marking up places in the transcripts that give rise to intriguing ideas that can eventually lead up to a theme or something. In other words, we were potentially looking for themes in the data for coding and categorizations.
After we read the transcripts, we were paired with the person next to us to share our findings if you will. Most of us had not been able to get beyond the first two transcripts we laid out hands on. From the transcripts we read, we all marked interesting information that were indicative of participants’ communication style, preference and methods. For example, my group-mate and I discussed the theme of “switch”, more like “rhetorical switch” that happens for interview participants in academic and non-academic setting in terms of communication styles. By “style”, I mean the stylistic choices that they make in terms of diction. For example, we both noticed that the participants choose to use simpler words in communicating with their inner-circle people such as friends and family. However, when it comes to communicating with outer-circle people, such as colleagues they tend to use more formal English. Switching of stylistic choice is then a conscious rhetorical decision they make depending on the places and spaces of communication.
Image 1: our reading notes on the board.
The rhetorical switch also happens on a conceptual level too as we both pointed out. For example, one of the participants mentioned he can talk about Foucault with his professional colleagues but not with family members. Other groups also shared their observations with the class. For example, one group mentioned the theme of self-monitoring that is part of language practices especially for the people with multilingual background. Another group mentioned the point about language-based persona—something our participants indicated to. Both these resonated with my personal languaging experiences being one with multilingual background. Other trends that we discussed were “self-perceptions” of language users and also labeling identity. Another trend in the data was “authenticity” of communication depending on people our participants interact with. For example, with inner circle people like family the communication tend to be more authentic whereas, with outer circle people, it may lack authenticity in some contexts. A few examples that we examined reminded me of Geisler's point on “context-appropriate vernacular or code”. To determine the integrity of interpretation, “Not all language data need to be analyzed as language. There are times when we need only concern ourselves with what language says rather than what it does.” (240).
After the discussion part, we all wrote some keywords that came up through our discussion. It was followed by class discussion of the trends we are noticing in our accumulated data. After that we took break for few minutes. When we came back, we went back to reading more transcripts to find out trends in the data. We looked the three main research questions to see how our current findings align with those questions for our project. At this stage we talked about coding and categorization of data—both of which are significant parts of research process. We also talked about data triangulation. Rachel, our professor made a nice visualization of data triangle on the white board:
Image 2: Visualization of Data Triangulation
She pointed out that we need to think about these three sources of data that we have in order to triangulate our findings. We all agreed that this is just the beginning of “data-surfing”—we did not use this exact term in particular. But I think that’s where we are at the moment. We also briefly discussed our to-dos for next week—writing rough analysis of the data. In next couple of weeks, one letter out of English alphabet is going to be important for our research methods class—"S”—with a lot of surfing (also scanning), sifting (of data) and solidifying our findings.
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!