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  Research Agenda

I continue to have an active research agenda. Listed below is a sample of my works that are either recently completed and under review or are in progress.

The Ecology of a Writing Environment: The Connections between Microsoft Word, the Work of Writing, and Computer Literacy (Book Manuscript Under Review)

Using a methodology for discussing digital composing spaces as environments with ecologies (Romberger, 2007) this manuscript uses the case study of the ubiquitous Microsoft Word to argue for the importance of rhetorical examination of interfaces to critical digital literacy and to understanding how composing is viewed in Western, particularly American, culture. The rhetorical, historical evolution of Word and its impact upon other composing interfaces I argue has created a required literacy necessary to operate in our current networked society. As my case study demonstrates, the history of Microsoft Word embeds it with ideologies, particularly regarding how writing is conceptualized and how efficiency is valued. For example, spell check was introduced to eliminate the need for documents to be evaluated by a separate copy editor (Dale, 1990). Visual, textual, and interactive rhetorical articulations of the composing space make assumptions about writing practices and user subjectivity that are apparent in the choices of terminology and metaphors. These assumptions become clear when the originating discourse communities for the terminology and metaphors are identified, such as the myriad of terms from graphic design like drop cap and line weight. The historical and rhetorical evidence reveals a product- oriented set of expectations about the work of writing. There are also assumptions regarding the discursive knowledge concerning the process of textual production for those who do this work. The example of Microsoft Word underscores the importance of developing a range of critical digital literacy pedagogical approaches for students. The concluding chapters have recommendations for the development of composition application interfaces that would reflect an understanding of composing better grounded in writing studies research, particularly the work of feminist scholars. These alternative ways of thinking about textual production appear in the interfaces of such applications as Google Docs, wikis, iMovie, DreamWeaver, and Scrivener. The final chapter contains suggestions for teaching students about the rhetorical environment of digital interfaces and the process of producing digital and textual interfaces. Collin Brooke (2009) has argued that writing studies must expand its conceptualization of interface and use it as a guiding theoretical construct in considering traditional and digital texts. This project is intended as a way of more thoroughly understanding the rhetorical nature of the digital composing spaces we use so that we might better articulate a complex understanding of interface.

Memoria and Authority: Social Memory Web 2.0 Style (Article in progress)


Conceptualizing memoria as a social construct is not new, despite the lack of explicit modern use of the term collective memory prior to Halbwachs and Bloch in 1925 (Olick 2006). Classical and medieval notions of rhetorical memory were demonstrably communal and accessible through education, meant to complete the informed individual's experience. Shared meaning was important to engagement in civic discourse (Carruthers 1990). Memory in Web. 2.0 spaces is socially constructed by invested individuals with varying power and authority. There are different social arrangements in place for arbitration of what text is included. As Foucault (1977) observed, control of what does and does not count for memory is a power struggle within a community. I report on a study of two graduate classes that examines how authority and ethos developed in various classroom settings (f2f and online) impacted the classes’ social memory constructed through the class wiki. Implications for assessment and for assisting student research in Web 2.0 media will be discussed.

The Rhetoric of Efficiency & Efficient Rhetoric (book prospectus)


Efficiency, as a value, has powerful currency at most US academic institutions. Arguably efficiency drives the decision-making processes for many institutional policies and pedagogical practices. Understandably, these institutions, especially in the current economic climate, have the desirable goal of producing the greatest outcomes from their limited resources—mostly money, labor, technology, and time.

The decisions that we make about efficiency, however, are never neutral (Berlin, 1988); instead, the policies and practices that academies develop to achieve the efficient outcomes that they value often privileges certain stakeholders and places others at a disadvantage. These decisions are particularly relevant in the context of writing studies (i.e., those disciplines that are meant to prepare students for academic and/or workplace literacy). To study the decisions made in the academy, we propose using the concepts Efficient Rhetoric and the Rhetoric of Efficiency as lenses for understanding the commonplaces that support the chosen and enforced values that deliberately promote certain ideologies over others.

Efficient rhetoric describes ideal communication as the transfer of ideas from one individual’s mind to another’s with the least expenditure of energy or resources. US academic institutions and/or their writing programs commonly articulate literacy outcomes that privilege the standard edited linguistic dialect. As the commonplace tells us, the product of this instruction, an efficient rhetoric, helps to guarantee that the writer, or speaker, can articulate a message and transfer it to an audience, often the instructor, who knows exactly what the original interlocutor meant without any confusion. Consequently, linguistic texts with non-standard features (Canagarajah, 2006; Matsuda 1999, 2006;), as well as primarily audio (Selfe 2009) and/or visual texts (Hocks, 2003) are often perceived to have less value, even if their unique features demonstrate evidence of the writer’s preparation to communicate in professional and global spheres. Clear communication is desirable, yet in US academic institutions, the fetishization of efficient rhetoric ignores the potential curricular benefits of students composing with global dialects of English and/or producing multimodal texts (The New London Group, 2000).

Efficient rhetoric’s prominent position within writing studies’ infrastructure can be attributed to the rhetoric of efficiency or the commonplace argument that efficient outcomes are always desirable. In writing studies, the rhetoric of efficiency is often evident in the decisions about such issues as course sizes, who gets hired to teach which writing courses, how these faculty will be compensated, how these faculty will be prepared for specific courses, which textbooks will be adopted, how the class can and will be mediated, what resources students will be offered to supplement their writing instruction, what the students’ texts are expected to look like, and how instructors will be expected to assess students’ work. An examination of decisions to produce efficiencies becomes critically more relevant as computer technologies play a greater role in literacy instruction—from being the media of the message to being the media of instruction as in distance education. To create one efficient outcome, administrators and instructors often have to contend with consequences that generate inefficiencies or, at the very least, other, less favorable efficiencies that affect other stakeholders. As a field, writing studies must acknowledge that decisions we make favor certain ideologies for efficiency’s sake.