My research has an overarching theme: I am interested in how "outsiders" become members of and contribute to new communities by exploring how they acquire the rhetorical acuity to engage these communities. My work primarily examines "outsiders" in non-academic contexts, but part of my research seeks to examine ways to connect the strategies "outsiders" develop in academic and non-academic contexts.
Literacy and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
I continue to be closely focused on work I started in research my dissertation on the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU). my research analyzes the material issues regarding the economics of literacy in the English language complicate many aspects of public policy, not to mention in the University. While English is the seeming lingua franca of civic, industrial and educational life, changing demographics complicate English’s primacy and our conceptions of “literacy” in English. Changing definitions of “literacy” in English creates a confusing context for English language learners who seek to learn English as a gateway to access and economic stability both in the United States and abroad.
This research examines the literacy practices and training of a group of mostly immigrant women in an early 20th century labor union that sponsored English language training for its members. Much of my research examines how literacy was instantiated for these outsiders, and how their training in literacy was also a rhetorical training as well; their training in English was geard more toward becoming advocates for the union, even though it is not clear if their training allowed them to engage material challenges they faced every day in various legal, social, and economic circumstances.
Moreover, by looking at how the immigrant literacy experience operated during the manufacturing economy, we may come to understand how today’s service economy and its dependence on immigrants shapes our definitions of literacy. The research presents how speaking and reading English in the service economy no longer seems to be enough to qualify as “literate,” but skills in highly specialized literate practices such as genre-specific writing and computer fluency establish baseline “literacy.”
Usability and User-Centered Design in Composition Classrooms
Tiffany Bourelle, Julianne Newmark, and I have undertaken a study exploring the role of usability and user-centered design in classroom management systems (CMSs). The research springs from an interest in how instructors work to design online class spaces through CMSs, which often have a fixed design structure that makes the teacher's ability to design the site for their local users difficult. Our guiding research question was, to what extent can teachers using CMSs design course sites for local usability, and how does this design impact students?
Our research is yielding interesting results, and has compelled us to design and edit a special issue in Computers & Composition on usability and user- centered Design in the composition classroom. You can see the CFP for the special issue here.
As websites such as Youtube, Instructables, Mashables, eHow, and more create spaces for users to generate their own instruction sets, we are starting to see a shift in the way individuals access information from "unofficial" technical documenters. Rather than relying on instructions that come from manufacturers, increasingly people seem to turn to Web 2.0 platforms to troubleshoot, look for new ideas, and re-envision objects. I am interested in how the technical documentarians who are "outsiders" from an object's manufacturing and sales apparatus gains influence as a writer about those objects, and how these "amateur writers" (meaning that they are not necessarily writing for a "profesional" context) develop fluency in technical writing skill and rhetorical strategies that makes readers trust and use their works.
I am performing research on online Open-Source communities in concert with Joshua Welsh at Central Washington University, and Andrew Virtue at Western Carolina University. This research explore the ways in which end-user documentation becomes constructed in open-source communities, with particular attention to how documentation is accepted by a broader community working on the documentation project, as well as how volunteer technical writers can gain currency in writing in these contexts.
This work is particularly exciting as we believe we are tapping into an emerging space for both professional and pedagogical development in technical and professional writing that has so far been under-explored. We have already developed classroom exercises that make use of our research, and we have presented at several conferences about our findings. We are working on articles that balance both theoretical and practical considerations of online open-source documentation, as well as a monograph that will offer an in-depth look at how knowledge becomes constructed and reified in open-source programming and documenting communities.