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.
The hive mind that we are has an enormous creative potential but works slowly, and for weeks we had been negotiating interview questions, artifacts, and the idea of a focus group where participants would be part of an event where they could write/draw/create a visualization of the ways they navigate and communicate across spaces in their daily lives as UWM students. Before class, Rachel had synthesized our ideas, so we were ready for a strategic revision of the following documents to get them ready for IRB submission:
We were eager and buzzing but also, I sensed, anxious about getting the details right for the IRB review. It is interesting going from conceptualizing the project and understanding the broader goals well to trying to whip all the smaller pieces into place. Words – who knew they were so capricious? As a writing teacher who routinely discusses with students the importance of word choice and phrasing, I found it instructive to observe how we struggled to wield the words to represent our collective ideas. This was challenging because, with some of the work we were discussing, we were still conceiving those ideas, so each of us was simultaneously molding and assessing ideas as we negotiated them in the group.
One item that caused the most debate was the focus group protocol, particularly the prompts for the artifact and the artifact itself. We wanted some type of map to illustrate the spaces students move across on a daily basis and how they navigate rhetorically across the different contexts. We started discussing the artifact but rather quickly determined that the specifics regarding the artifact (will it be paper or computer? Will we provide paper and markers? etc.) could be decided on later. The prompts, on the other hand, sparked a lively discussion: should we cast a wider net with open-ended prompts that would lead to more exploratory responses, possibly combined with a set of follow-up interview questions for all participants at the end of the event? Or should we have more streamlined questions on the prompt to aim at more consistency which, some of us thought, would be more practical for analysis of the data. With lots of IRB balls way up in the air, we had to make a choice between following our class agenda and covering the readings, which really help ground and conceptualize the project, or if we wanted to push through and finish the IRB documents. We voted; we were all hot to trot to continue, and we slowly reached consensus on the materials.
There was some storming which, we learned, metaphorically describes the stage in group development when group members push against each other’s ideas and sometimes against each other, but as Rachel told us, “we are all too nice”, so the storming became no tempest but rather a refreshing wind with ideas that were floated, some of which took off and some of which stalled.
At the end, I think we were all exhausted but satisfied with the work we had produced in accordance with our goals and our collaboration contract, and also relieved we had sorted through a lot of “mess” and our IRB documents were largely reading for submission to the IRB board. As CL described in “We’re Climbing – and Getting Stronger Along the Way”, we are still climbing and still have to overcome obstacles of an intellectual or practical nature, but it felt like we had reached a comfortable plateau to rest at over Spring Break while the IRB board reviews our materials. Fingers crossed out there!
With mid-semester quickly approaching I would like to reflect on how I, as a grad student (and I think I speak for many of us in this course), feel about how this study has gone thus far. I commented a few weeks back in my notes on how the direction of this project seemed very vague at first, which, as you very well might know, is a graduate student's worst nightmare. We like structure. We like to know exactly what is expected of us. We love tackling challenges that are in front of us and knowing that what we are doing is the right thing.
Unsurprisingly, during the first few weeks of this course, I was experiencing frustrations in having to deal with the “What direction are we heading in?” and “What am I supposed to be doing?” questions. We’ve done a substantial amount of work since, and upon doing some reflection, I realized (as I’m sure many of my fellow students have) that those frustrations were nothing more than what I’m calling “growing pains,” or perhaps better put, “climbing pains” and are a sign of progress. I can’t help but liken our journey through this course together to that of climbing a mountain. We have our goal to reach the top and are figuring out – through painful trial and error at times – which route works and makes the most sense to take. As we climb this mountain, our research legs are getting stronger. We’re making better choices by studying and applying methods that other climbers (researchers) have done before us. We are progressing.
Qualitative research is hard work. It requires the courage to know that you might be heading in the wrong direction, and the humility to look at that possibility as a learning opportunity. Our prof knows this, and instead of explicitly telling us how this type of research goes, she let us figure some of this out on our own. Though painful, she knows that we’ll come out the other end as better, more informed and more diligent researchers. As is with most good things in life, the journey to getting to where you need and want to be can be tough and painful but is always worth it once you reach the top.
We are a smart group – very conscious about the choices that we are making, always considering the ethics of our study and always bearing in mind how we can create a sustainable framework for the future of this project.
We’re still climbing.
Now that we have our research questions in hand, our class has come to the part of the study design process where we need to seek Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Leah Stoiber, an administrator from UWM’s IRB, joined us for the first half of class last week to help us navigate the application process. While our small groups have already begun drafting materials for our IRB protocol form, Leah offered many helpful hints. She reminded us to keep our language simple and to submit all study materials for review.
As we’ve already discovered, human-subject research can be messy. While it’s the IRB’s ultimate goal to protect participants, we saw in this week’s reading and discussion that IRB approval is not always synonymous with ethical research practices. While IRB standards are an important place to begin, it is important to remember they are not the pinnacle of moral excellence (Edwell 166). To perform truly ethical research, researchers often need to exceed the expectations of the IRB.
Before our first official class meeting, we all completed mandatory IRB ethics and compliance training, so the Belmont Principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice are fresh in our minds. These principles are a great place to start when discussing ethical research practices.
Respect for Persons: One of the most important ways to show respect for persons is to show respect for personal decisions. This is why informed consent is imperative to any ethical study. As Leah pointed out, consent is more than just a form participants sign at the beginning; consent is a process that takes place throughout the entire study. As researchers, we need to be constantly re-evaluating our participants’ consent through rhetorical listening. One thing to be on the lookout for is what Kristin Marie Bivens calls microwithdrawals of consent. Bivens defines a microwithdrawal of consent as “the implied or partial halt of a person’s willingness to participate in one or more aspects of the research process and the researcher’s awareness of the withdrawal” (138-139). Microwithdrawals can often be subtle, such as a participant’s sudden lack of engagement. As researchers, we must honor our participants’ decisions to renegotiate their consent.
Beneficence: As we proceed, we need to design our study in a way that minimizes risk and protects our participants. We must also show our study to be beneficial, whether that be through immediate benefit to the students, potential for future benefit to the college, or simply the benefit of filling gaps of knowledge in our field. As Leah put it, the risks of a study must correlate with the benefits—high-risk studies need to exhibit greater benefits whereas low-risk studies, such as ours, can get by with fewer benefits. As researchers, we have a responsibility for making the risks and benefits clear to our participants. In this week’s reading, Laura Maria Pigozzi warned of the danger of therapeutic misconception, which occurs when a participant overestimates the benefits and misinterprets the degree to which the study will meet their individual needs. To combat this, we will need to be clear about the intent of our study.
Justice: When recruiting participants, individuals must receive fair treatment. We should not base recruitment only on factors of convenience; we must take care to allow fair access. We need to be aware of the multiple roles we hold as researchers, teachers, and students and recognize how these roles play into the power dynamic with our participants. It is also important for us not to impose unnecessary labels on participants and to avoid classifications that are irrelevant to the study. While our reading from Kelly E. Happe discussed this idea in regard to racial identity, I believe we can apply it more broadly to any kind of polarizing categorization. As we move forward in our research, we must ensure the selection and treatment of our participants is equitable.
While the goal of the IRB is to help us, as researchers, think through some of the ethical considerations of our study, our class agreed that it is also important to go beyond the minimum requirements. As Dawn S. Opel states, “IRB approval does not mean that a researcher has always acted ethically” (183). As we proceed, we must continually evaluate our research process to identify relevant ethical issues that might otherwise be overlooked. As one student put it, we must be ready to make ethical decisions “in the moment.”
Narrative. People who participate in research projects want their words and interactions to be seen as meaningful narratives that represent their experiences in the world. How can we create interviews that allow for authentic conversation, and through that conversation, mutual meaning-making? One classmate suggested focusing on less formal structure in our interview practices. We all agreed that we wanted to create interview environments that allowed for participants to genuinely share.
Everyday Literacies. We decided to include in our research the everyday literacies of UWM students. Haas, Takayoshi, and Carr (Ch. 4) argue for the importance of this in our readings for this week. They write that “understanding everyday literacy practices can, in turn, suggest ways that academic practices and writing instruction could be modified in order to better teach students the composition and communicative skills needed in an increasingly digital world” (p.53). Sheridan (Ch. 6) echoes this when she writes that “writing mediates the lives of everyday people” (p.75).
Ethics. McKnee and Porter (Ch. 19) give a heuristic for staying ethical in internet research by reflexively reviewing the rhetorical situation of the research, especially where the participants are considered. This should include the participants’ perspectives, expectations, and assumptions.
We discussed how this ethical guide translates to our own research. There is no one clear process (online or offline), but we can strive to have clear guidelines to maintain our ethical integrity, which is one of our group goals.
One ethical question that came up was if we could include ourselves as participants. There were hesitations about how objective we could be in analyzing ourselves. Triangulating data gathering and analysis is one way to complicate our findings and gain a fuller perspective of the people we will be trying to represent, especially if some of us will also be participants.
I think we all felt relieved to narrow down our research questions:
1. What experiences and literacies do UWM students utilize for communicating across contexts?
2. How might mapping the landscape of students’ linguistic, rhetorical, and composing practices inform and shape community engagement at UWM?
3. How do UWM students rhetorically navigate academic and nonacademic spaces?
Check in next week for new questions, considerations, and complexities as we learn what it means to do collaborative research and to engage with the community here at UWM!
One of my first experiences in academic writing happened during the first week of my freshmen English 102 course. My professor, a slight woman wearing a cardigan with an affinity for English literature, stood at the front of the classroom and spoke to us about a short writing assignment due by the next class. At the time, I was 20 years old, and scared. I was paying for college myself, had signed up for classes on my own, and felt truly alone in my goal to earn an Associate’s degree since that goal was not supported by my parents or siblings who hinted routinely that they thought my place was on the family dairy farm, building my parent’s business. Compounding that fear, it had been over two years since high school, and I was worried I would not remember how to write for a school assignment, or worse, that I had never really learned to begin with. Would I embarrass myself? What was my writing supposed to look and sound like?
It’s an amusing story to look back on now, because that writing class ended up being one of the most challenging and reassuring classes for me as I learned how to write academic papers. I have not thought about that moment of slight panic and being alone for years, but the memory came back to me during our first face-to-face class this semester when we talked about linguistic diversity, and how presumed mistakes in student writing are traditionally seen as errors, when in fact, they can reveal strengths in student communication, strengths that can be called out, and celebrated. Not every student in that first class finished English 102 with me. I wonder if their experience would have been different had our professor been more aware of the language diversity in her students, and called out our strengths in communication, instead of our deficits.
For our team of researchers in English 713, that is the goal of our qualitative research project: to gain a sense of the linguistic diversity of UW-Milwaukee students and how that diversity can be viewed as not something to change to write well, but something that can be valued outside of academics. Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Strommel write in their article, Teaching the Students We have, Not the Students We Wish We Had, “the work of higher education — as with all of education — has to begin with a deep respect for students. They are not mere data points, not just rows in an online grade book. Students are human first.” Appreciating where students are linguistically is one step in the direction of deep respect for where students are, not for where we wish they were in their writing journey.
The first step of beginning our research project was completed on Monday night, February 11th to answer the question of how we would hold each other and ourselves accountable for learning and growth. Over the past week we added information to a “Collaboration Contract” document to share what our personal and professional needs were. In class, we coded the data from patterns we found across our responses, and working in small groups, synthesized the feedback into four categories of expectations: Communication, Workload, Accountability, and Respect. To complete the process, we each signed the contract and then turned our attention towards writing a research question. Multiple ideas for a potential research question were shared, with no clear plan reached before the end of class.
But that is okay. Although an often-quoted self-help book encourages aspiring successful people to “begin with the end in mind,” our work on the collaboration contract helped provide a set of expectations for moving forward. We know how we will arrive at the end, even if we do not know yet what the end result of our research will be. While I felt alone during my first weeks of class in English 102, I did not have that feeling in English 713. Here, I am surrounded by a group committed to shared expectations and professional goals. We have a purpose to gather data to support a conclusion about the diverse languages, dialects, composition practices, and resources that UW-Milwaukee students use in their daily lives as they move across campus spaces. And, the results of our research has the potential to shape our own, and our campus’ view of student language and writing, from a deficit, to an understanding of linguistic diversity and complex communication navigation skills.
By Madison Williams
Despite Mother Nature's best efforts in keeping us apart, we finally kicked off the Spring 2019 semester in English 713 on Monday, February 4th with our first face-to-face meeting. Adjusting to life after the polar vortex was difficult; we were faced with untangling the confusing mess our weekly schedule had become and catching up to where we hoped to be at this point in the course. Although we had all communicated in the preceding weeks, this would be the true inaugural class, thus, it began with an abridged introduction to the course.
This seminar, a.k.a. English 713: Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement, will be centered on the practice of methodological approaches to qualitative research, specifically in relation to the field of rhetoric, writing, and literacy studies. In order to achieve a practice-driven approach to studying research, we have the opportunity to collaboratively design, implement, and conduct a preliminary analysis of our own qualitative research project. The overarching goal of our research project will (hopefully) be to get a sense of the diverse languages, dialects, composing practices, and resources UWM students use in their daily lives and as they move across different academic and/or non-academic spaces.
Our objective for this class period was to discuss the readings we had completed over the past week and, more importantly, embark on the first steps of designing our Linguistic Landscape Project. We began by diving headfirst into a brainstorming session in an effort to come up with potential research questions we can spend this semester studying. Not only were we tasked with deciding on a research question, we also had to consider how we would conduct our study, what methods we would use, what population we would focus on as participants, and a number of other potential variables. Most importantly, we had to keep in mind, what would be realistic to complete within our class constraints?
This initial brainstorming session was supplemented by the week's readings in Qualitative Communication Research Methods (Lindolf and Taylor), which included Chapters 4-6 and focused on implementing research projects, studying social action, and qualitative interviewing. We considered how we would incorporate purposeful sampling, balancing research demands, and preparing for different variables or unknowns. Our discussion revolved around how to approach the basic questions that would serve as the foundation for our research project, such as what methods from our readings appeared the most useful and realistic for our data collection. The result of our time spent generating ideas and conceptualizing potential research questions was a labyrinth of interconnected and conflicting thoughts (pictured below). Although there was no clear focus in sight, we had an abundance of promising and creative material to work with as we forge ahead.
We also spent time exploring Kim Tallbear's article "Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry", which introduced us to a new framework for thinking about Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) that advocated for "standing with" and opposed to "giving back". Tallbear proposed researchers think of the community they engage with as "colleagues" and not "subjects", focus on creating reciprocal relationships, study "the colonizers rather than the colonized", and demonstrate "objectivity in action" (Tallbear).
This article produced a lively discussion, but our class was left wondering about certain aspects of the "standing with" concept: who exactly was the author's intended audience? Is it possible for communities to really benefit from studies as much as researchers? How can we keep this critical lens in mind when conducting our own research? Ultimately, Tallbear offered a number of considerations our class found useful as we move forward, such as democratic knowledge production, negotiating risks and benefits, and opening own minds to working in non-standard ways.
In the end, after discussing all of the factors we must take into consideration, potential research questions, and our personal research interests, the class concluded without any clear answers. The monumental undertaking of creating an agreement on a singular research question between 11 headstrong graduate students proved to be too much for one day's work. Undeterred, we decided to spend the next week narrowing in on potential research questions and working on our class Collaboration Contract to come back together to negotiate a consensus during the following class period.
Join us this semester as we ride the roller coaster of conducting qualitative research on our fellow UWM students. What will our research project be? Will we ever agree on a research question? Will the stress of this massive endeavor tear us apart? Stay tuned to find out the answer to this sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, or at the very least, what our class comes up with next week - same place, same time.