I value a writing pedagogy that is meaningful for students, that challenges them intellectually while accommodating their learning needs and interests. Whether I am teaching first-year writing or an upper-division information design course, I try to enact this in three ways: situating writing within meaningful contexts, encouraging students to be ethical producers of texts, and creating an accessible pedagogical space.
Creating Meaningful Contexts
Writing lacks meaning if it lacks context. I value a writing pedagogy that gets students writing in real-world contexts in order to develop critical rhetorical awareness and that encourages students to draw on their own experiences as resources for meaning making. For example, when students create multimodal projects in my first-year writing classes, I ask them to choose topics that matter to them and to compose in genres that allow them to construct well-balanced, researched arguments for specific audiences. In WRTG 3305: Writing as Information Design, students write and design résumés, submitting an audience analysis that assesses the values and expectations of an organization in order to compare those values to their own. I encourage them to choose an internship or graduate program that interests them and to submit those job materials. In Spring 2017, one of my WRTG 3310: Technical Writing students wrote in their course evaluations, “The assignments were very realistic. In fact, when I applied for an internship, I provided some of my memos as work samples. I got the internship, so the memos must have been professional. All of our assignments could potentially go into our portfolios.” Of course, there’s no clear correlation, but what matters to me is that my students recognize the value of the work we do in class and that they produce professional work that allows them to represent themselves as competent writers.
Another way I try to contextualize writing is by using familiar genres. For example, I’ve used Twitter as a tool for students to practice writing concise summaries and as an alternative mode of participation. Because many students are familiar with Twitter or similar social media, it can be a comfortable space for students to ask questions, engage with their peers, and approach new ideas while reinforcing different elements of academic writing.
Considering Cultural and Digital Rhetorical Concerns
I value a writing pedagogy that encourages students to be ethical producers of texts. I want students to be able to responsibly source information, to define and redefine their own ethos as they encounter new information and address new audiences, and to think carefully about how they represent the voices of others. I am strongly influenced by feminist rhetoricians like Gesa Kirsch and Jacqueline Jones Royster who articulate the need to thoughtfully include the voices of those we study, to pay attention to how we position ourselves in our writing, and to be responsible about how we engage with values and worldviews that differ from our own. I teach WRTG 1320: Academic Writing and Research with a disability theme, and the final essay requires students to incorporate the voices of people with disabilities who have stake in these issues and to ground their discussion in a specific community: “Community may be tied to a place (e.g., UCA, Arkansas, higher education, etc.), an organization (e.g., Veteran Affairs, the NFL), or identity (e.g., veterans, African Americans, the LGBTQ community). You will write an argument essay that explores how issues of disability are discussed or challenged within this community—incorporating multiple perspectives and not just the ones you agree with.” This assignment encourages students’ to think critically about different social and cultural values and to develop their ethos as knowledgeable and ethical rhetors. I frequently observe students grappling with complex issues in their own communities, like a student who interviewed her priest and priests in the central Arkansas area about mental health in the Episcopal church.
I extend this attention to the ethical dimensions of writing to digital research and design, too. In WRTG 3306: Usability and Accessibility, for example, we discuss how technical and professional writing, design, and information architecture welcome and exclude particular audiences. For the final project in that course, students must produce a promotional text for the university that meets the needs of their client both in terms of content and in usable, accessible design: “Your text should be technically accessible, i.e., videos should have captions, podcasts should have transcripts, infographics should have image descriptions. There is a difference between designing for technical accessibility and designing for a pleasant user experience (Horton & Quesenbery pp. 175-6), though, and we will discuss the rhetorical considerations of creating accessible media in class.” I emphasize the accessibility of digital texts and the real, diverse audiences who could benefit or be excluded from their texts—not just in this course but in the many classes I teach that have a digital writing component.
Designing Accessible Environments and Content
I value a writing pedagogy that is inclusive—that expands our notions of writing and our ideas about the “standard” student body. Inspired by multimodal scholars like Jody Shipka and disability rhetoricians like Jay Dolmage, Melanie Yergeau, and Margaret Price, I try to create learning spaces that are inclusive of students’ varying abilities, literacies, and composing practices. I try to address the needs of a wide range of students through universally designed assignments and in-class activities that value different ways of learning and participating. For example, a small but impactful activity I incorporate in my classes is collaborative note-taking. Note-taking is a basic accommodation in writing classes, and collaborative note-taking is an opportunity to make class content accessible for everyone: students with disabilities, international or second-language learners, visual learners—even students who are absent.
Accessible practices benefit all students, and I foreground accessibility at the beginning of each semester with an accessibility statement in my syllabus: “This is a course designed to welcome different learning and composing styles as well as create an inclusive space. If we can do something to make the classroom more accessible, please let me know immediately.” I try to instill an ethic of accessibility by using multimodal practices and assignments that have specific learning goals but are flexible to students’ needs and projects. For example, I often assign a project in WRTG 1320 that requires students to translate the ideas from their final research essays to a new medium for a new audience, such as a newsletter, infographic, brief video, poster, or meme series. I try to meet students’ needs by creating multiple access points for them to engage and make sense of the course material.
I try to meet students’ needs by valuing a writing pedagogy that creates meaningful contexts for student writing, that encourages students to think critically about the cultural and digital concerns involved with producing texts, and that creates an inclusive space that allows students to foster rhetorical awareness.
For courses that I taught at the University of Central Arkansas and Syracuse University, I have included a brief course description and a PDF of the syllabus. In many cases, you can also access PDFs of the major assignments.
Ball State University (2019–present)
ENG 103: Rhetoric & Writing
- Syllabus: Spring 2022
- ENG 103 is a required first-year composition course that introduces students to academic writing with a focus on rhetoric.
ENG 213: Introduction to Digital Literacies
- Syllabus: Fall 2019
- ENG 213 is one of the first core classes in the Professional Writing major that introduces students to ways of reading, analyzing, researching, and composing in emerging media.
ENG 231: Introduction to Professional Writing
- Syllabus: Fall 2021
- Along with ENG 213, ENG 231 serves as an introduction to the Professional Writing major, familiarizing students with the genres, technologies, and practices of professional writing in everyday and workplace contexts.
ENG 329: Editing & Style
- Syllabus: Spring 2022
- ENG 329 teaches approaches to editing, style, and writing conventions; intensive practice in editing, collaborative writing, and critique appropriate for students in professional writing or other writing-intensive majors or careers.
ENG 430: Document Design & Visual Rhetoric
- Syllabus: Spring 2021
- Assignments (various years): App Prototype, Social Issue Zine
- ENG 430 explores visual rhetoric, particularly focused on theories, best practices, and technologies for producing and refining professional document designs.
ENG 431: Research, Writing, and Emerging Media
- Syllabus: Fall 2020
- Assignment: Accessible User Experience
- ENG 431 is the capstone to the Professional Writing major (and is now named Writing in Digital Environments).
University of Central Arkansas (2015-19)
WRTG 1310: Introduction to College Writing
- Syllabus: Spring 2018
- Assignments: Narrative Essay, Local Issue Argument
- WRTG 1310 is a required first-year composition course that introduces students to academic writing.
WRTG 1320: Academic Writing & Research
- Syllabus: Fall 2015, Spring 2016
- Assignments: Synthesis Essay, Credible Source Analysis, Argument Essay, Op Ed Translation
- WRTG 1320 is a required second-year composition course that introduces students to academic argument based on substantiating, evaluating, and proposing claims.
WRTG 1374: First-Year Seminar
- Syllabus: Fall 2016, Spring 2018
- Assignments: Social Media Profile, Digital Media Narrative, Meme Critique, Emoji Analysis, Infographic
- WRTG 1374 is a first-year seminar focused on diversity in creative works. I drafted and submitted the course proposal for this class, which was approved as part of the WRTG curriculum. I designed the course around the theme “emojis, memes, & digital media.”
WRTG 3305: Writing as Information Design i
- Syllabus: Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2017
- Assignments: Visual Rhetorical Analysis, Presidential Logo Rebrand, Resume Remix, Infographic
- WRTG 3305 is a core upper-division course for writing majors designed to introduce students to the role of design in the composing process and gain some familiarity with design software.
WRTG 3306: Writing as Information Design II
- Syllabus: Spring 2016, Spring 2017
- Assignments: (Disability) Persona, Usability & Accessibility Protocols, Group Usability Testing, Promotional Text
- WRTG 3306 is an elective upper-division course for writing majors designed to build on students’ knowledge of design through a focus on usability and accessibility.
WRTG 3310: Technical Writing
- Syllabus: Fall 2015, Fall 2017
- Assignments: What Is Technical Communication?, Instructions Design, Recommendation Report
- WRTG 3310 is a core upper-division course that introduces professional and technical communication to writing majors and students across campus.
Syracuse University (2012-14)
WRT 307: Professional Writing
- Syllabus: Spring 2014
- Assignments: Onboarding Portfolio, Instructions Project, Feasibility Study, Tech Briefings
- WRT 307 is an upper-division course that focuses on professional communication through the study of audience, purpose, and ethics.
WRT 301: Civic Writing
- Syllabus: Fall 2013
- Assignments: Definition Essay, Access Analysis, Advocacy Portfolio
- WRT 301 is an upper-division course that focuses on the rhetorical skills necessary for effective civic or advocacy writing. The course inquiry was “Accessing Civic Spaces for (Self-)Advocacy.”
WRT 205: Critical Research & Inquiry
- Syllabi: Spring 2013, Summer 2013
- Spring 2013 Assignments: Flashpoints Portfolio, Source Analysis, Research Argument, Translation
- Summer 2013 Assignments: Synthesis Essay, Source Analysis, Multimodal Project
- WRT 205 is a required second-year comp course designed to build off the analytical and research skills of WRT 105, specifically focusing on rhetorical strategies, practices, and methods of research. The course inquiry was “Everyday Representations of Dis/Ability.”