• On 13/01/2019
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Scholarly shifts

On Friday, I received my copy of Professional Development in Online Teaching and Learning in Technical Communication. It is a compilation of two special issues of Technical Communication Quarterly that focused on online writing. I was fortunate to be in both special issues so two of my articles are reprinted in this collection. (and yes, it is painfully expensive so if you have journal access, use that.)

It’s a bittersweet moment for me because even though I strongly believe in this area of research, this volume (and two things currently in review) are the end of my scholarly research career in online writing instruction (OWI).

Way back when I was still an early career faculty member, Beth Hewett** invited me to join the CCCC Committee on Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction Committee. She was chair at the time, and I joined in the second year of existence (2008). In the ensuing years, people came and went but there was a core group of us that have been scholarly friends for long time. I was part of the team that drafted the OWI Principles and Practices statement and even considering the fair (and not so fair) criticism of the statement, I am proud to have been part of its creation.

That committee was discontinued in 2015, but we have continued to work together through different auspices such as the CCCC Standing Group and in the formation and launch of GSOLE. The last two things in review (for me) are a report on a national student survey of their perceptions of OWI and a connected piece that calls for a (radical) reformation of how we approach teaching writing online.

But, it’s time for me to say goodbye to my OWI scholarly trajectory. When I took my current job at USF, my work life changed. The type of administration that I do now is more time consuming and online writing instruction was always, sort of, my side research project. It’s so vitally important and interesting that I just kept doing it. That, and I truly have been blessed to have gotten to work with such a great group of folks.^^ It was the people and the necessity that kept me doing it for so long.

It’s time though. It’s time for me to take that energy and creativity and put it into other areas, and more so, it’s time for others to step into these leadership roles in both scholarship and in service. It’s time to diversify the voices around OWI in TPC and particularly in areas where I have been a strong voice related to accessibility (though I am still working in this area as it relates to programmatic inclusion and in user experience). It’s time for others to come in with smart research and ideas that build on, extend, change, constructively criticize the growing body of work in OWI.

I felt I needed to talk about this shift and change because I am often asked about forming research agendas and prioritizing projects and how to make all of that work in relation to other parts of our jobs and other parts of lives. These are important and hard conversations because many of us were drawn to higher education and doing this job because of the love of ideas and research. It’s often hard to say no to things that we find are worthwhile and important.

But, we have to say no a lot if we want to keep a balance in our lives and more so, if we want to have the time and energy to give research the time and attention it needs. Working in OWI all of these years, we talked a lot about evidence and support and even what research is and what classifies as research. We also talked a lot about good research study design and asking answerable questions. We did a lot of the things that have shaped me as an academic researcher and helped me find a voice about what I thought academic research is and can be.

This decision was hard, and it was necessary. The work week only has so much time and over the last six months I really had to consider what I wanted my priorities to be, what was bringing me the most joy in the research part of my job. I created lists and charts and rankings and when all was said and done, I had a list of research priorities in an actual priority list based on what I wanted to do. Not necessarily what was fun or easy or a topic du jour of the moment, but what I felt would be the best benefit of my time and energy.

With that list in hand, I then looked at the time commitments and one by one by one, a new research trajectory and agenda came into view. This sort of exercise needs to be done every few years to make sure you’re focusing on the things that you want and those things that are valued by your institution (cause that’s how we keep our jobs).#

Over the next while, you’ll see some other scholarly and professional changes for me. I encourage you take this new year and new term to think through what your research and scholarly priorities are and chart a path that makes you happy.

Good luck and happy planning.

Wishing you peace, health, and joy!



**Beth remains one the best editors across writing studies, and she took a chance on me way back when I was still in grad school for that first TCQ piece. Cause back then I had no idea how to write academic prose or structure an argument. She was gracious and generous and kind and constructive. Tough love, she called it. She (and Amy Kimme Hea) taught me how to be an academic writer. So if folks wonder why I do some of things I do, some of it goes back to Beth (and Amy) and the idea that some debts can only be paid by paying it forward. M
aybe I stayed doing this work all those years because of my debt and gratitude to Beth cause that’s an important part of the story. 

^^ In addition to Beth, shout out to Heidi Harris, Diane Martinez, Scott Warnock, Kevin DePew, Mahli Mechenbier, Sushil Oswal and so many others. Thank you for putting up with me all those years.

#Sometimes these are in conflict. I understand that. The short way around this dilemma is try and find as much middle ground as possible. There’s much more to be said around this like how you go about getting the institution to shift and how to do that and when to do that. But that’s a post for another day.


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