My Digital Writing Roots
It's probably too much to say that the drive to explore the link between the written and the digital is in my blood, but it does seem to run in the family. My father credits his love affair with the classic text adventure Zork as having steered him towards his career in computer engineering. And despite being as different as two siblings could be while we were growing up, my brother and I have both found our way to careers focused on writing and the digital. (Ben, being both more practical-minded and more charismatic than I am, now works as Community Manager for Gamepedia.com, over at Curse Inc.) It seems, in some form or another, we’ve always been a Computers and Writing household.
I didn’t see these patterns at work until well into graduate school, after I had begun to focus on digital studies. Specifically, I found I wanted to focus on writing - to ask questions about what’s going on with writing as hyperlinks and images and programming languages surge in around it on the communicative landscape. I believe studying these other aspects of our changing communication is vital as well - and I want to support that work by examining how writing has adapted to function alongside them.
Past: "Casual Affinities" (Spring 2015)
My dissertation, "Casual Affinities," works to further that goal by examining the motivations and practices that characterize college students' daily digital literacy. Using data from interviews with current students about their online activity and experiences, my project looks at how students make decisions about what they read and where they write. Using James Gee’s concept of affinity as a point of departure, I argue that limited or occasional interests - the titular “casual affinities” – now have great power in shaping and motivating literacy activity, driving regular participation across a wide body of practices. My analysis, guided by grounded theory, supports findings from scholarship by Gee and others that affinity's role in literacy activity has been greatly increased by the affordances and opportunities of the digital landscape – but challenges its prevailing focus on strong or exceptional interest. Ultimately, I argue that the depth and breadth of casual affinity’s influence, combined with the proliferation of digital literacy opportunities, make it key to understanding the tectonic literacy evolution happening within and beyond the digital landscape. A revised version of my first chapter appeared in College English; you can read an open access copy here.
Present: A Case for Reading
The data from my dissertation study revealed strong links between reading and writing in students' online literacy routines. These findings strengthened my belief that reading needs a much stronger presence in the scholarly conversations about writing today. The article I'm working on now is my attempt to start that conversation. Building on my previous article's analysis of digital reading's unique literacy practices, this piece will demonstrate the ways in which new literacy practices empower readers as both consumers and producers of written language. Reading, I argue, can no longer be treated simply as an act of consuming; like writing, digital media has granted it new powers - the impact of which extends beyond the digital realm.
Future: The Benefits of (Writing) Boot Camps
This summer, I'll be designing (and hopefully starting) a longitudinal study of writing groups and retreats, specifically those aimed at PhD students and new faculty. As a longtime champion of writing groups (both as participant and facilitator), I know firsthand how effective these programs can be. But they are also resource-intensive, often requiring external funding to design and run effectively. What is the return on that investment - for the writers who participate, and for the institution that sponsors? This study is still in the earliest design stages, but I'm very excited to begin full-force this summer. If your institution offers writing groups, retreats, or boot camps - at any level - I'd love to hear about them. Hit me up!