These words can anchor and focus this image.

These words can anchor and focus  the reading of this image.

I’m teaching a class this term called Writing for New Media.  As I prepped for class today, I read about anchorage, a new media composition technique drawn from the work of Roland Barthes, where a composer anchors a visual with written text, directing the viewer’s attention and changing the reading of the image based on the words, the anchor.  Thinking of anchoring images in this way reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog for a while about transitions, change, and the “anchors” that sustain.

Crystal VanKooten in PhD robes

Walking at the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School Graduation Ceremony

So much has happened in my life over the past months, both academically and personally.  Last year, I defended my dissertation and finished my PhD in English and Education at the University of Michigan, I was on the academic job market from September through February, and I got a job at the end of it all as an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  This past summer, I walked in graduation, my partner and I sold our house in Toledo, Ohio, and we moved ourselves to Rochester Hills, thirty miles north of Detroit.

Amid so much change, I feel anchored – personally, by my partner and family, but I also feel professionally anchored through my graduate training, the mentoring I received from my dissertation advisors, my experiences in the field of composition studies, and in particular, through what I’ve learned as a new media teacher and composer and a member of the computers and writing community.  Let me offer a few examples.

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

The Concept in 90 Viewing Screen

In May, I worked as a Senior Instructor at the Digital Media and Composition Institute at Ohio State.  I met and got to know wonderful teachers and friends there, led sessions on audio-visual composition and copyright, and watched as many participants composed their first audio and video compositions.  At the end of the institute, everyone gathered at Cindy and Dickie Selfe’s home to watch the participants’ “Concept in 90” video compositions.  We drank margaritas, ate desserts, sat outside in the yard as the evening turned dusky, and viewed and listened to each other’s compositions projected on a large sheet.  The videos played consecutively in a row with no stopping.  As I watched, insects were biting incessantly at my ankles.  But I couldn’t move, riveted by the images flitting by and the sounds and silences filling my ears.  I had observed and talked with participants as they conceptualized their Concept in 90 videos, looked at drafts, and tried to help trouble-shoot many technical problems.  Watching the results of our efforts together in person was special, and magical, and meaningful.  Teaching, and encouraging and helping as best I could, and then watching others use new media to communicate and to move an audience – this anchors me.

After DMAC, later in June, I attended the Computers and Writing Conference at Washington State University.  C&W has always been an anchor for me – a welcoming, smaller conference, filled with friends and teachers grappling with how to best use technologies in the writing classroom and generous senior scholars willing to mentor and guide (and buy beers for) us junior folks.  A few highlights from this year’s conference:

  • speaking at the GRN (Graduate Research Network) and seeing all the bright, excited faces anticipating the job market – oh, if you only knew what lay ahead, the joy and the sorrow!  (I presented this video on how to win the job market.)
  • listening to Kyle Stedman, Jon Stone, Harley Ferris, and Steven Hammer present on sonic rhetorics, play weird sounds, and even sing!! (You can access my review of their session on the Sweetland DRC.)
  • bowling with other video composition specialists!
  • watching Sarah Arroyo’s, Bahareh Alaei’s, and Corey Leis’s video compositions at their panel – I cried!
  • hearing UM colleague Aubrey Schiavone present on her research about multimodal composition and textbooks: smart.
  • learning about Mike DePalma’s and Kara Poe Alexander’s research on new media and transfer
  • cheering for my advisor Bump Halbritter as he won the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award for Mics, Cameras, Symbolic Action
  • walking and talking with UM colleague Liz Homan and celebrating my birthday with wine, cheese, and HGTV
  • presenting on using audio-visual composition in FYC (drawing on my dissertation research) to a room full of interested and engaged scholars

As always, C&W was supportive, stimulating, fun, and I learned a ton.  In other words, the folks in the C&W community, their openness and generosity, the cutting edge scholarship, and the opportunity to join in and to learn – this anchors me.

A view on OU's campus that includes a road, the baseball fields, and a campus building

The view on my walk

Now, in the fall term, I’m teaching three writing classes and finding out what it’s like to be a prof.  I spend much of my time planning for teaching – oh, the planning!  I have also mapped out a research agenda for the fall, and I’m drafting several articles and a video project.  I go to meetings, and I’m starting to serve on committees.  But amid all this, the planning and the mapping of my own agendas and the getting-through-the-day, I see my students, and I get to witness and encourage their writing and learning.  I met with one student today, for example, who is grappling with developing specific inquiry questions for what will become a video project and a research essay on music therapy.  I can’t wait to see, hear, and read what she’ll compose.  I also gave feedback on essays, blog posts, and one collage made with Polyvore – some were creative, fun, and fantastic.  And then, as I finished my work day and walked from my office to my car, I looked around, and the campus was suddenly beautiful.  The sun was shining, and tinges of fall colors were edging their way onto the leaves of trees.  Cicadas chirped, the baseball team was practicing on the field below, and it was beautiful.   This – the students, the creativity, the beauty – this anchors me.



Listening through Cs 2014

I started Cs 2014 with a pre-conference workshop “Sonic Pedagogies for the Composition Classroom.”  The workshop focused on using sound in the writing classroom, but it also emphasized for me, right away, the importance of listening, of taking time to hear, think, pay close attention, and take in, all of this in preparation for composing, producing, teaching.  My Cs experience as a whole can be usefully framed by such a listening experience, I think – listening to sound and its rhetoric, but also to words, visuals, and to the diverse community of scholars and teachers at the conference.

I first was given the opportunity to listen in the Wednesday workshop led by Kati Fargo Ahern, Steph Ceraso, Jordan Frith, and Jonathan Stone.  We had a small but interested group, and the small size made it easy to participate and to really listen to each other.  What I appreciated from the presenters was that they had us do activities like those we might ask our students to do when focusing on sound in the writing classroom, and then we talked about what we did, we reflected.  We listened to music and described it, in our own words, and then shared, working toward developing terminologies to discuss sound together.  We remediated a newspaper article into a plan for a sonic essay, considering what we might highlight or omit using sound as the medium.  We designed a sonic product in pairs – Kati and I came up with a “sound palette” for essay grading that would prompt the instructor with comforting and encouraging noises.  We looked at some social sound-mapping websites, and we talked about how and why we might ask students to develop rhetorical soundscapes.  I walked away with ideas upon ideas for the new media classroom.  More of Kati’s, Steph’s, Jordan’s, and Jon’s work can be accessed online in the Sonic Rhetorics issue of Harlot.


Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford

Wednesday night, one of my mentors, Lisa Ede, along with her writing partner Andrea Lunsford, was honored for her retirement at the Norton party.  It was special for me to be there and hear about the power and reach of Lisa’s work.  Lisa introduced me to Rhetoric and Composition as a field back when I was a Masters student at Oregon State in 2002.  Of all the scholars I know, Lisa is so good at listening, and at responding – to her students, to her collaborators, to the field.


My Thursday was filled with panels of different sorts where I listened, took it all in, mulled it all over.  Notable was session C10: “Opening Up: How Information Technologies Alter Composition Research Methodologies” with Timothy Laquintano, Quinn Warnick, Benjamin Miller, Amanda Licastro, and Brian McNely.  The presenters discussed how different technologies and online spaces altered their methods for research, whether that be use of pseudonyms (or not), data collection in online forums, obtaining permissions, or publication of data.  My big takeaway from the panel was that technologies in research highlight the complexity and context-specific nature of methodological decisions.  As digital writing researchers, we can’t afford to adhere to blanket, one-size-fits-all methodological approaches that will always work in every research situation.  We must be flexible, careful, and ethical, and this may require more work – and again, more listening to participants and to the research contexts we are in.

My sparkle pony!

My sparkle pony!

I started Friday morning by earning my sparkle pony and some trading cards for Cs the Day, the conference game – wahoo!  And then it was on to F24, “Mindfulness and Contemplation: Open Minds/Bodies/Writing in Classrooms” where I heard another mentor, Vicki Tolar Burton, along with Kurt Stavenhagen, talk about using mindfulness practices, meditation, and contemplative strategies to teach distracted students.  Kurt led us through a few minutes of meditation, as well – what a calm, embodied, and collaborative start to the day.  I was also making connections between Vicki and Kurt’s work with mindfulness and asking students to reflect more specifically in the classroom.  Next, I attended G14, where the panelists presented revisions to the WPA Outcomes Statement (OS) to better include multimodal work.  The revisions are extensive, and they involve language in the OS that is now more “verby,” less “nouny.”  That is, it seemed to me that the revisions were concerned with how students learn to enact and talk about their writing and composition.  In previous iterations, the OS focused more on product.  The desire to include multimodal composition and digital writing throughout the OS, it seems, has taken some of the emphasis off of product for all kinds of writing, a change that I see as a great improvement.

I presented in H37, “Remixing Scholarship, Remixing the Classroom: Opening New Spaces for Teaching and Learning through Video.”  With me was Ben Gunsberg, who talked about asking his students to make instructional videos to teach sentence writing, “remixing” the sentence.  He showed some student work that used voice, gesture, and facial expressions in effective and hilarious ways.  Steve Engel then presented a digital literacy narrative on plagiarism, the story of finding out a student copied from Wikipedia.  Our audience was engaged with discussing what we might do in such a situation.  Then I presented my video “Singer, Writer: A Remix Exploration of Sound and Writing.”  Making the video was an experiment, as its title implies.  In an effort to make a multimodal literature review, I put together footage from Mary Hocks and Jody Shipka’s 2013 Computers and Writing panel with my own footage of writing and singing.  The video became a poetic comparison of choral singing and writing more broadly, and making it was very generative for my own learning about sound, remix, and process vs. product.  Having students do a similar comparative exercise seems to me a good idea!  It was also really fun to put sounds and images together in new ways and explore juxtaposition and repetition as compositional strategies.

On Saturday, I attended M22, “Videocy in the Age of Open Access: The Challenges for Scholarship.”  Geoffrey Carter, Robert Leston, Sarah Arroyo, and Bahareh Alaei made arguments for “doing more” with video, for composing as a listener, for moving beyond the voice over – issuing calls to attend to sounds and juxtapositions.  The presenters also gave us in the audience ample opportunity to see and listen right there: they showed some pretty dynamite videos, filled with magnificent visual juxtapositions.  More of their work can be found in the Kairos piece MoMLA: From Gallery to Webtext.  


N36 Never Mind Geoffrey Sirc: A Tribute Panel

The last panel I attended was perhaps the most memorable: Cynthia Haynes, Victor Vitanza, Jenny Rice, Byron Hawk, Thomas Rickert, and Jeff Rice razzing and celebrating the work of Geoffrey Sirc in N36: “Never Mind Geoffrey Sirc: A Tribute Panel.”  Surprisingly (for me, knowing the names of the presenters but not knowing them personally), the panel was emotional.  I’ve heard others describe it as loving and beautiful.  One of the coolest aspects was experiencing the presentations in a room full of excited, interested, and emotionally invested scholars.  There was laughter, murmuring, constant tweeting, shared photos, video recording, even tears.  Some people knew Sirc; some people knew other people who knew Sirc.  Some people knew Sirc’s work; others knew of it and jotted down notes to go home and read some of it.  The presentations were lyrical, metaphoric, juxtaposed, associational, hilarious.  Geoff Sirc’s work was lauded and his theories of box logic and serial composition were simultaneously enacted.  When Sirc finished his response, the audience sat in stunned silence, almost reluctant to break the spell of the panel with a question.  It was 1:55 on Saturday afternoon.  The conference was over, but no one was leaving.  We were still listening.


Check out the 2013 C&W Reviews!

I was part of the organizing and editing team for the 2013 Computers & Writing Reviews, and I’d like to highlight some of them here.  I also welcome any feedback on my review or others!

I composed a review of Katie King’s keynote address, “Living in Enough Worlds at the Same Time: Speculative Feminisms and Boundary Objects.”  Writing the review was challenging and fun for me, as I had little background knowledge before the talk on feminist transdisciplinary post-humanities theory or research.  However, I was excited to weave my own conference and writing experiences with quotations from King into an assemblage that, I hope, demonstrates and enacts some of her arguments.

My E&E colleagues Liz Homan and Merideth Garcia also wrote reviews, and I’d like to highlight their work here as well.  Liz’s review connected Gee’s talk on making with her research on teachers and how they learn.  Merideth’s review summarized Stolley’s arguments while intermixing live tweets from the conference and highlighting the importance of rethinking code as a writing skill, even if it’s not one that everyone in the field is an expert in.

And there are many other awesome reviews to look through, too – even some with visuals and video!  So check them out!

Reflections on Computers & Writing 2013, or, Why C&W Rules

I am home after a busy weekend in Frostburg, MD for the Computers and Writing conference.  I come away energized by the work of others in the field, excited to continue to share my own research, and grateful for such a wonderful community of friendly and accepting scholars which I get to be a part of!  Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Thursday: Thanks to Shelley Rodrigo and Kyle Stedman who volunteered their time to facilitate my table’s discussion at the Graduate Research Network.  While 20ish minutes isn’t much to share your research or to explain your entire project to a table of (mostly) strangers, I always find it a useful and relatively low stakes space to ask questions and learn to talk about what you’re doing in a concise and understandable way.  In the afternoon, I enjoyed the job workshop and gleaned some information from bouncing from table to table and listening to faculty talk about various topics: campus visits, job talks, publishing, negotiating a job offer.  My favorite piece of advice from the afternoon was this:  if you get a question you don’t know in a Q & A session after a job talk, it’s ok to say “wow, that’s a great question.  I need to think some more about that,” and then you can talk about something that the question reminds you of – “that reminds me of so-and-so’s work on…”  Then you have bought yourself some time to think through a further answer, or the questioner can pick up from there and talk about their work, which apparently is what some questioners want to do when something in your talk reminds them of their work!  I will definitely be using this advice.  Thank you to Janice Walker, Angela Haas, Quinn Warnick, and Patrick Berry as well for helping to organize the GRN for all of us grad students.

Friday:  Gee’s keynote blew me away.  He used a metaphor that’s stayed with me for the typical work that we are asking students to do in schools: it’s like reading a videogame manual without actually playing the game.  We need to work toward getting students to “play the game”; that is, they need to write for purposes and audiences that are important to them and that have meaning.   I also had a great time presenting on Friday with Anne Ruggles Gere and Liz Homan about research methods.  For more on our pres, check out my conference presentations page.

Saturday:  Sessions, sessions, sessions!  I went to sessions all day!  The highlights included listening to Jody Shipka and Mary Hocks talk about sound and the ways they use it in their own scholarship and teaching, being persuaded (again) by Karl Stolley that I need to learn to build more things, and thinking about some topics that I don’t often consider in relation to computers and writing, such as e-waste and preservation or opening up questions of gender and the computer more explicitly in the classroom.  It was also my birthday on Saturday, so I celebrated in style with some friends that evening for dinner.

Sunday:  I attended the accessibility panel on Sunday morning before heading home.  The panelists pointed to the complexities of making texts accessible when we deal with the multimodal, and also how software and interfaces can screen attention away from accessibility if we’re not careful how we use them.  Good, important lessons and reminders.

All in all, I had a wonderful conference!  Fueled by all these ideas, I now return to diss writing.  As I spend mornings and afternoons typing away in my office, it sometimes seems like I’m writing in a vacuum, but conferences like C&W remind me that the work matters, and there are many others who think it matters too, and collectively, we are doing great things!

Composing with Playing Cards, Images, and Oxymoron

We’ve done 2 composing activities in my Computers and Writing class over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d post images of my compositions here.

The first composition is my image poem “Land of the Queens.”  I composed using postcards and playing cards that some of my classmates provided, using repetition and juxtaposition as compositional strategies.

Land of the Queens

Land of the Queens close up

Today, we composed with rhetorical terminologies that we picked from a list – mine was “oxymoron,” a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.  My composition is “Dark Light,” made from ripped construction paper and some crayons.

Oxymoron - "Dark Light"

Oxymoron – “Dark Light”

I’ve thought a bit about the element of play while composing both of these pieces.  For “Dark Light,” I ended up ripping the paper because someone else was using the scissors, but then I liked the ripped look and kept going.  For “Land of the Queens, ” I started using repetition because I saw 2 identical postcards and wondered what else I could find 2 of.  For both compositions, I ended up somewhere that I didn’t originally intend because of playing around with the available materials and making due with the resources I had.