CANDIDATE STATEMENT OF JAMES SCHIRMER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN-FLINT
30 MARCH 2012
(.pdf available upon request.)
My approach to teaching acknowledges writing as a form of action, as a communicative, critical, political, recursive, and social practice. As such, I believe the possibility of change to be a constant. My pedagogy must account for this possibility and I do so in part by way of the proper implementation of technology across all courses I teach. Online communicative technologies offer myriad methods of interaction and have a collective capacity for greater consistency, accountability, and connectedness among and between students and teachers. My courses at the University of Michigan-Flint are emblematic of these ideas.
In my first four years at UM-Flint, I guided students through the following:
- ENG 111 College Rhetoric (4 sections)
- ENG 112 Critical Writing and Reading (5 sections)
- ENG 252 Advanced Composition (3 sections)
- ENG 298 Analysis and Criticism of Videogames (became ENG 342 in Winter 2012)
- ENG 342 Videogame Studies
- ENG 345 Technical Writing (5 sections)
- ENG 513 Digital Rhetoric (2 sections)
- ENG 560 Topics in Rhetoric & Writing Booksprint
- ENG 567 Composition Theory
- UNV 100 Media Mix (2 sections)
Six of the above courses were newly developed at the time of their offering. UNV 100 Media Mix was a First Year Experience course I developed in collaboration with Dr. Michael Lewis of the Journalism Program. ENG 298 Analysis and Criticism of Videogames was a successful pilot course that became ENG 342 Videogame Studies. The origins of ENG 513, 560, and 567 lay within my respective research interests of digital rhetoric, collaborative writing, and composition pedagogy/theory.
Of the above more common and standard courses, ENG 111 and ENG 112 continue to be my pedagogical foundation. These courses keep me attuned to the needs and wants of the next generation of college students, who in turn provide me with an excellent sounding board for new and revised approaches to teaching college-level writing. Many of the assignments appearing in various iterations of my 200- and 300-level courses were first tried and tested in my 100-level courses. The similar aspects of certain assignments across my undergraduate offerings should be seen as evidence of sustained success. In other words, I stick with what works, with what challenges and engages students.
Among the course aspects that remain challenging and/or engaging for students are requirements for online writing, namely the use of blogs and Twitter. Requiring such tools came from a desire to see more various and sundry forms of writing from students. The amount of reading and writing opportunities we encounter on a daily basis is staggering and I think that the more reading and writing practice students can get in my courses, they better off they will be. So, among my teaching responsibilities are modeling thoughtful, engaged reading and writing, motivating students to push themselves as not only readers and writers but also as thinkers and citizens. Material proof lies in the wide variety of compositions students create in the courses I guide, again including blogs and Twitter as well as PowerPoint presentations and more traditional academic essays.
My course evaluations contain evidence of certain students’ persistent resistance, though. I ask students to begin writing in various ways in Week 1 and explain that my course might not be for them if they have significant reservations about doing such work. I do realize that some students' schedule may not allow them to drop a particular course, so I'm working toward being more explicit about the different things students will need to do. More and more, this includes not just content mastery but technology mastery as well as understanding the relationships of both within an unfamiliar grading structure. I emphasize to students the importance of keeping me in the loop, making myself available to them in a variety of online formats (email, betajames.net, Twitter) in addition to face-to-face conference opportunities. I also provide contextual understanding throughout the semester for how and why the use of a blog and/or Twitter can be beneficial to more standard, academic work. However, also present in my course evaluations is evidence of students coming around and seeing the value of writing in online formats. This may be most pronounced in ENG 111, ENG 112, and ENG 345, undergraduate courses asking students to write about their majors and intended professions.
Framing students’ work within the context of a major and/or intended profession tends to make for a more consistent and beneficial learning experience for students and for me. We get to learn together about the kinds of writing they will be doing in the field. Students also have the opportunity to experiment with writing in an academic setting that might be more comfortable than a workplace environment. From first-year to graduate-level, students continue to appreciate such opportunities to read and write about what they want to learn.
Given the courses I teach, students with similar interests continue to seek me out as an adviser for independent study projects. In the last year alone, I oversaw independent studies on the place and purpose of the author in the digital realm, the development of children’s games for mobile devices, and the sociological characteristics of World of Warcraft. I remain indebted to the students who undertook these projects as they challenged and helped me to think further about authority, identity, writing, and videogames. Future iterations of the courses listed above will continue to reflect their influence.
Again, I view writing as a form of public action. I see the teaching of writing as much the same. Online communicative technologies illuminate and support these ideas. The implementation of particular forms of action through services like Posterous and Twitter can facilitate and coordinate greater attention, encourage meaningful interaction and participation, promote better collaboration, and help students develop narratives of their own learning as well as hone the critical consumption and crafting of academic (and nonacademic) work. Involved throughout is a challenge to students’ notions of what qualifies as writing, an interrogation of their prior knowledge and experience but also an encouragement toward new kinds of writing in first-year and upper-level courses. I therefore see each course I guide as a digital rhetoric, making an inherent case for not only the informed, responsible use of technology in college-level courses but also working as an example of what is possible when this happens. In the next section, I explain how online communicative technologies play as much a part in my research as they do in my teaching.
I aspire to produce scholarship of cultural and pedagogical importance that acknowledges and encourages further connections between society and technology. Such aspiration remains important because greater understanding of how technology manifests in society can lead to more successful classroom integration. It is through sustained investigation of past and present practices and theories of writing that I am better able to reflect on and revise my pedagogy. My recent scholarship is indicative of this reciprocal relationship.
Under review by editors Christine Denecker and Christine Tulley for the book collection Preparing Writing Teachers for the Multimodal Age: Professional Development Models is “Ride Out The Avalanche: On Teaching My First Graduate-Level Course,” a chapter in which I interrogate the failures and successes of ENG 513. I do so through sharing and reflecting on texts created by and for students, including anonymous feedback, blog posts, and course materials, many of which I provide in the chapter itself. With the book collection to be published by Computers and Composition Digital Press, an imprint of Utah State University Press, my chapter will be one among many providing a dynamic online space through which to understand what works and what doesn’t when teaching a graduate-level course for the first time.
Under review by publisher Palgrave for the book collection Rhetoric/Composition/Play, edited by Matthew S.S. Johnson, Richard Colby, and Rebekah Shultz Colby, is “Techne As/Is Play: Three Interstices,” a chapter in which I argue for understanding techne (the word-root of technology) as play. I do so through an acknowledgement of videogames as comprising important instances of how techne, play, and techne as play can be understood and offer an exploratory analysis of three distinct interstices of gaming. I thereby show techne/play as a series of layered, ubiquitous moments, with each new gaming encounter giving further shape to present and future performance. I conclude the chapter with an assignment indicative of techne-as-play aspects.
Furthermore, two chapters that were under review for edited collections at the time of my 2-year review have since been published. “Fostering Meaning and Community in Writing Courses via Social Media,” which drew as much from my teaching as research in the field, can be found in Teaching Arts and Science with the New Social Media, a book collection edited by Charles Wankel and published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited in 2011. “‘We All Stray From Our Paths Sometimes’: Morality and Survival in Fallout 3,” which focuses on the ethical considerations in a post-apocalyptic videogame, can be found in Network Apocalypse: Visions of the End in an Age of Internet Media, a book collection edited by Robert G. Howard and published by Sheffield Phoenix Press in 2011.
An additional example of my professional development and creative work lies within the May 2009 issue of UM-Flint’s The Scholarship of Teaching, which reprinted my chapter, "The Personal As Public," from The Computer Culture Reader, a book-length collection of essays edited by Joseph Chaney, Judd Ruggill and Ken McAllister and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in January 2009. A consideration of how identity becomes manifest online through the act of blogging, this chapter was direct inspiration for the construction of ENG 513, thereby further revealing the connections between my research and my teaching.
Each of these chapters underwent a thorough, double-blind peer-review process established by the respective editors. The amount of correspondence between me, my reviewers, and the editors for each of the above publications is voluminous as I had at least two sets of reviewer feedback in addition to editors' comments to better guide my revision process. Having to account for and address such feedback was both a welcome challenge and reward as I think my contributions to these edited collections turned out as well as chapters written by others.
I also think such work as rather representative of the interdisciplinary possibilities afforded by working in the digital humanities. While perceived as a young area of study, there is an intellectual rigor within this field comparable to cultural, literary, and rhetorical studies. Much the same can be observed of videogame studies, another pervasive field of academic inquiry. There are not only discipline-specific, peer-reviewed journals like Game Studies, Eludamos, and Games and Culture, but evidence of videogame studies and social media analysis can also be found in the rhetoric and composition journals CCC and Computers & Composition as well as at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Modern Language Association conference.
Also informing and influencing these publishing successes are online interactions. In keeping active accounts on Pinboard, Posterous, and Twitter, I not only make scholarly activities accessible and public, but I also follow those with similar interests and keep abreast of new developments and opportunities. Through these tools, I perform scholarly work on a daily basis, providing a model of public intellectualism as well as sound, academic research. Pinboard allows me to maintain a reverse-chronological record of my research interests. Posterous functions as a vehicle for working through ideas in a public format and recording the directions my research interests take. It is also in this space that I provide my 4-year review materials. Twitter provides a way to announce as well as brainstorm new work. There's an implicit encouragement to Twitter in finding community with others; it also functions as a launching pad to the online spaces already mentioned. Conversations via Twitter continue to have a direct influence on my research.
Because of my diverse academic interests, it is essential that I maintain memberships to MLA and NCTE and read their respective publications as well as subscribe to pertinent mailing lists, including WPA-L and TechRhet, while also attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Computers and Writing conference when able. However, my greatest research alignment and enlightenment often occurs through the online spaces mentioned earlier. It is also because of my research and my presence online that local media outlets looking to cover social media issues have sought my perspective. In early 2011, I gave on-camera and phone interviews to NBC 25 and the Flint Journal about the influences of social media. I also accepted the invitation of Alaina Wiens, UM-Flint’s own new media communication specialist, to debate Dr. Marcus Paroske of Communication about the use and value of social media in the classroom.
It is vital to remain informed of the latest research on topics of importance and interest; online communicative technologies help me do that. However, online activities are also important academic work because, like my chapters in Preparing Writing Teachers for the Multimodal Age: Professional Development Models, Rhetoric/Composition/Play, Teaching Arts and Science with the New Social Media, and Network Apocalypse, how I present myself and engage with others also reveals something about my employer. I'm an online representative of the English department at the University of Michigan-Flint. I remain mindful of this in every online action I take.
Now, with the total number of my contributions to edited collections at five and with significant elements of my dissertation revised and updated for the Rhetoric/Composition/Play collection, I am also rethinking my research agenda. I aim to produce scholarship where current, important conversations are happening, i.e., in journals and online. In addition to a more regular answering of calls for proposals from journals like CCC, Computers & Composition, and TCQ, I intend betajames.net to be another space for academic inquiry. Indications of my approach in this regard are available here, here (which received attention from Paste Magazine), and here (which received attention on the Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker blog). In other words, I endeavor to make future scholarship that is both influential to the field and available to the public. I plan to continue examining the myriad rhetorical situations that videogames provide, reviewing relevant articles and books via online spaces, and performing public work that others in rhetoric and composition might take as examples. I trust that having my 4-year review materials in an online, public format like this will be seen as one such example.
As mentioned above, I maintain a persistent presence online and this has significant connections to professional service. In keeping active accounts on Pinboard, Posterous, and Twitter, I not only make new contacts in my fields of interest but also have additional venues for sharing ideas and information. By posting online ideas and items about composition, literacy, pedagogy, rhetoric, technology, writing, and videogames, I support and encourage the work of others. I also remain engaged in learning on a level that is similar to yet different from conversing with colleagues in the halls UM-Flint. Again, such online engagement is a kind of worthwhile public intellectualism and it continues to have a direct impact on my pedagogical and publishing interests. My service to UM-Flint and the broader community and profession has so far had similar influence.
At the department level, I once again represented the English department at UM-Flint’s Academic Showcase in 2011. I also maintain regular attendance at department meetings and have taken a more active, participatory role in determining the future of its programs.
At the college level, I am on the CAS Academic Standards Committee, serving the first of my three years there. While scheduling conflicts have led to my frequent absence at CAS meetings, my regular ASC attendance continues to afford me an enlightening perspective on the inner workings of UM-Flint.
At the university level, I remain a faculty representative on the Bookstore Advisory Board, a position I’ve held since Winter 2010. I was also instrumental in reinstating Qua, UM-Flint’s student literary publication, having served in an advisory role for two years before passing duties to Dr. Stephanie Carpenter in 2011. In addition, I served on the Office of Extended Learning Advisory Board from Fall 2010 to Winter 2011. Furthermore, I was among the faculty contributing to the First Year Experience assessment measures as well as the General Education reforms, beginning in Summer 2010.
At the professional level, I am on the editorial review boards for Enculturation and Computers and Composition Online, two important, open-access journals that publish research in rhetoric and writing. I was also on the proposal review boards for the Games+Learning+Society and Computers & Writing conferences in 2011. I also led a technology workshop for the Greater Flint Educational K-16 Writing Committee in 2011.