Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Transnational Writing Program Administration

If you've been in any class with me since Jackie's Feminism and Composition class then you've probably heard this spiel before. After doing a lot of reading on the internationalization of composition and now transnational writing program administration, I'm pretty convinced that we as a field have to develop some new frameworks to incorporate international contributions better. The framework work we have now has created a an isolated community of composition scholars that work toward internationalization by exporting their ideas to the rest of the writing community. We already have this practice of basing most of our work on a local to global ideology. The problem is that what we are doing is not truly global. The framework we have developed for writing programs and writing studies has allowed us to create an isolationist  narrative that keeps our research and our scholarship focused on and circulated within the United States. Instead we need to look outside of United States to help us gain a more diverse perspective on writing studies, research, and pedagogy. 

My solution to this has been to borrow some of the frameworks that transnational feminism has already developed. In his book, Don't Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff discusses the length of time it takes to create new frameworks within a culture. I figured that instead of building a new framework from the ground up, we can speed up the process by borrowing a framework from transnational feminism, which has already had some success in developing a global network. Feminism and composition have grown up alongside one another and have had similar paths during the development of their respective fields. This makes transnational feminism a great place to look for a new framework.

What do you guys think? What could be some frameworks that we could use to change up our perspective on global writing studies?

Cs Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers and the Presidential Primaries

As I read through the Cs position statement on "Second Language Writing and Writers" I couldn't help but think of the ongoing Presidential Primaries. Of course, my immediate thoughts were centered on the hate speech used towards immigrants and refugees. By now I'm sure you've heard Trump's catch phrase "I'll build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it." I don't want to use this space to just bash Trump, so let me get to the point-- I have been hearing all this racist rhetoric, but what I haven't been hearing is a response.

To be more specific, the Cs position statement asks writing instructors and writing program administrators to "Recognize and take responsibility for the regular presence of second language writers in writing classes, to understand their characteristics, and to develop instructional and administrative practices that are sensitive to their linguistic and cultural needs." How can we do this if we, as a program, remain silent or stand-offish about what is occurring in our political system? Students will come in to our classrooms feeling unwanted and maybe having experienced some form of racism, which may negatively impact their learning experience.

In our previous classes, we discussed that there are institutional silences. Lately, I have felt like this has been one of them. I have found it very strange that out of three classes that I am taking this semester that politics rarely gets brought up.

Basically what I want to emphasize is if we want students to think that we value them and their language(s), we have to address the elephant in the room.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


My song to represent WC Administration: https://youtu.be/R80JG-n2Bzs 

Beth Boquet, at times, has me buying in to her noise metaphor. For example, when she discusses the disgruntled email from PC, I bought into her analogy regarding the effects the letter had on her understanding of writing center work—effects of distortion, of reverb, of disruption. Too, I thought the Jimi Hendrix analogy was effective for representing the idea of risk, play, and noise. In these examples, I thought the metaphor was clear and strong. In other parts, however, I wanted her to explain and analyze more fully the application of the noise metaphor. After talking with Morgan about the book (she was able to read Noise in its entirety), I learned that Boquet repeats this in other sections of the book: under analyzed, underexplored assertions and reflections. I would be interested in seeing how the rest of the book plays out: what are her overall arguments about this metaphor? Does she address the limitations of this metaphor?

What do you all think about the metaphor?

Questions Posed

I have a few questions for us to consider embedded in my slideshow document for class discussion today, but here are some more to get us thinking about writing center issues in the context of this WPA class.

  • Is it appropriate to say that a "trickster" or "noisy" ideology influences your approach to administrative work when you're on the job market, or is that something you keep to yourself until after you've been hired? If it is acceptable in the field, is it still subversive to the institution? 
  • What responsibility does a writing center have to a WAC program, and vice versa? 
  • What does Boquet's writing style and research methods suggest about how the field of writing center studies has changed since 2002? What are your thoughts on that progression of the scholarship? 
  • What is your response to Boquet's argument that directors should encourage writing center tutors to be exceptional, even if it means failing at times, rather than "institutionally competent"? Is it reasonable for WPAs to ask the same of TAs? Of TAs to ask the same of student writers?
  • What's your stance about the way in which assessment aiming to justify the writing center to upper administration should be crafted? (Boquet and Harris have very different opinions on this.) 
Looking forward to responses and discussion! 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Trickster Envy

As I was reading “Trickster at Your Table,” I was particularly interested in the tension that seems to exist between two epistemological theories — one that encourages the “trickster” moments that are unpredictable and nonlinear and one that adheres to traditional, structured forms of instruction. I realize the article wasn’t polarizing these two perspectives as mutually exclusive, but it did make me think about whether upper administrators – who seem to value efficiency, cost-effectiveness, clear data, etc. – would support the trickster approach.
I’m actually extremely interested in the idea of “play” and how low-stakes games and opportunities for students to truly experiment can generate new ideas, connections, and a renewed sense of curiosity. I just went to a writing conference this past weekend in which one of the speakers was talking about angles of a story and the importance of learning to write about age-old topics in new and fresh ways. She said that studies have been done that indicate how much more receptive people are when they are presented with information in new and different ways and that they are more likely to remember the content because of it. The logic goes like this: We are more likely to remember information when dopamine is released in response to certain stimuli, and our brains are more likely to release dopamine when we are presented with information that extends beyond familiar concepts and methods of delivery. However, when information seems too familiar, then we are less likely to engage with or remember the content.
I think that this relates to the “trickster” moments that are described in this chapter and the idea of helping students explore familiar concepts in new ways to enhance learning and forge new connections. It makes a lot of sense to me that this process isn’t linear, clear-cut, or predictable, which I think is more in line with how learning actually happens, but I also think there is an underlying premise within the university that learning should be controlled, organized, and predictable. We always have to name our course objectives and make clear steps toward those objectives, and as much as professors might try to cater to different learning styles, it often isn’t possible in large class settings, particularly considering the constraints of time and space. And the students themselves are often too caught up in concerns of their course grades and overall GPAs to engage with more chaotic, nontraditional activities that might (or might not) enhance learning.
I was actually just talking with some of my students the other day who are feeling stressed out about the projects that they have coming due in the next few weeks, and why they are feelings so stressed. Even though some of the projects they are working on seem interesting and certainly have the potential for exploration and creative application, my students don’t see it that way. There are too many things to do in too little time, and they are worried about getting the best grade possible. So, they don’t explore or engage in the process of trial and error.
My overall point is that although I am very interested in finding ways that will really make learning engaging and new by engaging students in the chaos and unpredictability that accompanies true learning, I’m questioning the practicality within the built-in structures of the university. What are some ways that a writing center can meaningfully and intentionally engage in “trickster” teaching methods alongside more traditional approaches? What are the challenges that they might face in terms of resistance from administrators (who value order, cost-effectiveness, and hard data) and the students themselves (who value GPAs and efficiency)?
Geller, et al. say this about the value of trickster approaches: “It is learning to unlearn, learning to be flexible in the face of newness, and learning deep listening that is hard. At those moments, we come to see that staff education practices that welcome a Trickster state of mind are even more important than we thought” (21). I completely agree, though I’m not sure that students, upper-administrators, and other various constituents hold these same values.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

WP Budgets and Sisyphus

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.--Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Professional Issues: Can I haz tenure, please?

In addition to these texts we’ve read this week, I’ve run across other scholarship about administration (for both writing centers and writing programs) discussing the issue of administrative work and how to couch that admin work as scholarly (in terms of P&T). In K. B. Yancey and M. Morgan’s “Reflective Essays, Curriculum, and the Scholarship of Administration: Notes Toward Administrative Scholarly Work”, I saw an excellent example of how an administrator can situate their admin work as evidence of scholarly work. Their chapter argues that because scholarship is the production of new knowledge, inquiry about curricular design that leads to curricular redesign can be considered new knowledge, hence a kind of scholarship. 

Similarly, J. Gunner discusses “Professional Advancement of the WPA: Rhetoric and Politics in Tenure and Promotion,” and she highlights, too, the difficulty WPAs face during P&T when they have to present evidence of teaching and research. In distinguishing between Yancey and Morgan’s and Gunner’s pieces, Gunner presents concrete, specific advice for pre-junior faculty while Yancey and Morgan justify theoretically why admin work is scholarly. While I thought Yancey and Morgan’s thorough example of their curricular redesign was concrete and I could see how they would be able to represent their work as scholarly, I appreciated more so Gunner’s advice that the “tenure process really begins at the point of hire” (p. 317), as well as her numbered list of ten actions to take as a new WPA. I can imagine that new PhDs applying for jobs are grateful that anyone even hired them and that salary numbers are exponentially higher than GA stipends, thus making it awkward or difficult to negotiate or sort out the details such as P&T expectations. 

Along those same lines of concrete and specific advice, the CWPA’s statement on evaluating the work of writing program administration is useful for WPAs in terms of providing a framework for representing their work. I thought, however, that the document could have been clearer in distinguishing among their points: 1) the work of a WPA, 2) the guidelines for knowing that the work is intellectual, and 3) the criteria for evaluating that work. Sometimes the authors’ discussion of these things overlapped to the point of confusion. 

One point/question I have for you all is this:
In my research about writing center assessment, I have read and heard from WCPs about the challenge of making their assessment work public (among many other challenges). I found Yancey and Morgan’s chapter as an excellent example of assessment: their primary goal was to improve the first-year composition curriculum, and as Huot argues, assessment’s primary concern is improving teaching and learning. So, how does assessment translate into scholarly/intellectual work?

Additionally, what do you think about the process of tenure and promotion? Is it outdated and irrelevant? What are other options? What about the issue of digital publications and tenure?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Coming to (Believe in) a Common Ground

I think a lot of the articles we have read for this class have been getting at a similar idea, in one way or another. Here's the gist of it: Writing program work is tricky, and sometimes frustrating, because of the competing agendas of all the players and stakeholders. Writing programs are situated in the middle of a big web, and they can't function without a recognition of the connections that have constructed that web. The field of writing studies, community business leaders, upper administration in various branches of the academic institution, composition instructors, and students all have an impact on the development of a writing program. A WPA needs to be able to see those pieces and act appropriately within the context, and--here's the important part--they need to be able to communicate effectively with this wide audience in mind in order to get good work done.

I have been somewhat resistant to the idea that WPAs would need to compromise what they know and value, professionally speaking, in order to appeal to an audience of upper administrators. Why do we need to prove that composition classes should be smaller when our entire field recognizes that as truth, for example? Why do we have to couch a request or a report in admin. lingo, when that lingo is, at times, counterproductive to the field's way of knowing? But Mirtz and Cullen's piece, "Beyond Postmodernism," gave me a new understanding of this reoccurring idea that, yes, sometimes we have to compromise, and, also, it might not be terrible.

Mirtz and Cullen promote a Rogerian style of leadership in WPA work. As a fan of Rogerian argument, this just makes sense to me. They explain, "Rogerian leadership focuses on leading by listening, learning, and finding common ground" and "leading is about persuading" (97). From this perspective, leadership is like a good rhetorical argument in that it necessitates an understanding of the bigger picture, it attends to competing perspectives, and it sets forth a plan that values the ecology of the situation and privileges the whole rather than just a piece of the whole. Previously I've been able to understand this idea clearly on a small scale in that I value collaborative work within a writing program. Now, I see more clearly the reason for extending that sense of collaboration beyond the writing program into the community and institution so that all the strings of the web are working together, negotiating and compromising, to make things happen in/for the writing program.

So this post isn't about a new idea. It's just about me finally being able to come to terms (<3 that Roger) with an older idea that I had been stubbornly resisting. Where are you guys currently sitting in this debate of whose voice should be the loudest in the writing program? Has your perspective changed over time? Which readings have informed that perspective?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Postmodernist leadership

Thinking about WPA work in terms of postmodernism with this week's readings brought a mix of skepticism and hopefulness to me. Tim Peeples writes, "The postmodern, flattened organization (even if still but an imagined or partial organizational form) attempts to 'address' and even take advantages of the richness of competing interests by, for instance, organizing diverse groups around interdisciplinary problems and projects" (120). This notion of flattening organizational structures is an important one for postmodernism. Relatedly, Sharon James McGee and Carolyn Handa note that postmodernism's tendency to question hierarchy and reject "grand narratives" has not been thoroughly explored in WPA work (2). 

In challenging hierarchy and attempting flattened organizational structures, however, the fact remains that academia is inherently hierarchical in its current structure. English departments are hierarchical as well in terms of salaries paid to instructors and the ranking systems involved in tenure and promotion. In thinking about postmodernism in Writing Programs, it would be naive to overlook the fact that there are major differences in pay within departments; a TA will inevitably make far less than a tenured professor; a full-time contract faculty member will also earn considerably less than a tenured professor. The amount of pay that an instructor toward the bottom of the pay structure receives can influence how he or she conceptualizes his or her value and influence in the department, regardless of the efforts a WPA makes to "flatten" hierarchies socially or otherwise. 
As many authors have suggested in WPA research, and as we have discussed in class, it is absolutely crucial in writing programs to fight for fair wages for TAs and adjunct/contract faculty. McGee and Handa write, "Fostering participation among faculty, administration, and graduate students keeps the WPA from being an administrator in the modernist sense--a hierarchical dogmatist--instead of becoming a postmodern facilitator who clears space for and values the input of others" (9). In order to foster participation, fostering fair wages is necessary, too, because instructors are less likely to feel their input is of real value if they are not adequately compensated monetarily. 

 In thinking about the WPA position specifically, it is a leadership role that involves holding power in an English department, and this holding of power is unavoidable. The question is not whether a WPA should or should not exercise power because he or she inevitably will need to. The question is what the WPA does with the power he or she holds. McGee and Handa note that postmodern WPAs can feel tension in administrative positions that are typically at the top of hierarchies while they also work to create collaboration in their programs (7). The paradoxical benefit of being at the top of a hierarchy is being able to use it to afford others power as well. The reality of holding power in the first place as a WPA should not be ignored, but I do see the potential for WPAs fostering more postmodern programs if they make an effort to share power and wield the power they do have fairly.