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Hesse, Douglas. R/C Journals since 1984. CE, Mar. 2019. Posted 05/22/2019.

Hesse, Douglas. “Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After.” College English 81.4 (2019): 367-96. Print.

Douglas Hesse surveys journals in rhetoric and composition as of summer 2018. Among his goals is to examine changes in the field as evidenced in the journals based on a comparison with a similar list compiled by Robert J. Connors in 1984.

Connors’s original list contained fifteen journals; Hesse’s considers forty-five “identified presently or historically with composition studies,” using as a “foundation” the journals on Connors’s list (369). Hesse recounts locating lists of journals from such sources as recommendations for graduate students; he examines publication histories and tables of contents for listed journals and selects journals for his survey based on criteria of “centrality,” such as being included on multiple lists, and “diverse directions and interests,” which leads to the inclusion of more specialized journals dealing with ongoing interests and trends in the changing field (369).

Among the challenges of Hesse’s project was determining which journals “count” as belonging in rhetoric and composition (370). For example, he states, not all “rhetorical criticism” addresses issues related to the teaching of writing, even though scholars within the field may cite journals with this focus. Hesse excludes journals focusing on visual communication, as well as those more attuned to business and technical communication and to creative writing because, in his view, “these fields increasingly have become . . . distinct from composition studies” (370). Connors excluded Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Hesse follows this lead (370).

For a “subset” of articles examined more closely, Hesse counted articles and pages in articles, a task requiring him to decide how to define “article.” Ultimately, inclusions like book reviews and editors’ introductions were not counted as articles (371).

At the outset, Hesse notes “the increased density of citation,” which he attributes to the increased availability of information within the maturing field (371). He argues as well that electronic access means that the accumulation of a full set of hard copies of prestigious journals no longer indicates “a symbolic means of identification, even consubstantiation, with disciplinary conversations” or an indication of authority (368).

A first section addresses what Hesse calls the “[e]stablished [n]eighborhood,” which includes the twelve journals from Connors’s list that are still extant and still relevant to composition (376). These include major NCTE offerings such as College English, College Composition and Communication (CCC), and Research in the Teaching of English. Hesse also analyzes “established neighborhood” selections like Composition Studies (378) and Teaching English in the Two-Year College (379), as well as WPA: Writing Program Administration, which had just assumed journal status as of Connors’s study and indicated a shift toward professionalization of WPA work (380-81). Two journals on the foundation list address writing-center issues (379-80).

In the process, Hesse notes reductions in membership rates for NCTE, as well as the institution of a small fee for journal subscriptions, which he speculates may mean that composition scholars now choose specific journals more in keeping with their interests (376). He also notes a shift in several cases from a focus on classroom practices to writing as an object of study in itself, for example in CCC and similarly in Composition Studies, which was once Freshman English News but has since dropped that subtitle (377-78).

Hesse’s evidence also suggests that edited books have taken over some of the roles of journals and that emerging journals covering more diverse interests are less likely to be published by professional organizations like NCTE (381).

For Hesse, journals that have come, and in some cases gone, since Connors’s study constitute “new writing studies neighborhoods” (381). The publications examined suggest that as composition became a more distinct discipline, interests ranged beyond first-year writing and “canonical texts and genres” to more diverse and broader areas (381). Hesse examines journals addressing writing across the curriculum and a number of offerings that deal with technology and writing (382). Computers and Composition and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy both request submissions that are not bound to print traditions (383). In the 1990s, Hesse reports, these journals invited the question of the value of online publication for tenure and promotion committees. That so much publication now does occur online means, for Hesse, that “the question has obviously been settled,” although, in his view, print as “embodied in the pdf” remains a “default design” (384).

He examines recent journals with an empirical bent like The Journal of Writing Research and Assessing Writing, opening in the process the issue of competing methodologies in writing studies: journals that feature empirical studies, he writes, rely on a social-sciences model, while others choose more qualitative, “humantistic” models emphasizing textual analysis or interpretation (384). Hesse reports that the more empirically oriented journals tend to have an international focus (385, 392). A wider range of methodologies as well as an international approach characterizes the “leading empirical research journal in composition studies for years,” Written Communication (385). Hesse determines that empirical research “is not very sexy to the field’s mainstream” (392).

Other new neighborhoods explored by Hesse include publications dealing with narrower areas like “community-engaged writing” and responding to writing (386). Writing on the Edge sponsors creative non-fiction and interviews with prominent writers (387). Hesse notes a trend toward “narrative and the personal essay” in several mainstream journals and suggests that these inclusions may become more common (387).

Noting that he could discuss many more examples given enough space, Hesse concludes that the “fragmentation” Connors predicted (388) has occurred, with a resulting “erosion of an informational commons” (389). Of concern for both is the possibility that the “fraternity and consubstantiality” once extant in the field might no longer pertain (Connors, qtd. in Hesse 393). Hesse posits that the wish for a more unified field might be an elitist sentiment, with the proliferation of areas a sign of a mature discipline (393).

Hesse proposes other trends, including a rift between attention to classroom practice and rhetorical scholarship (392-93), and a turn to the politics both of power versus literacy and of composition itself, although he argues that on the whole, publications are “mostly talking about writers and writing” despite their differing bents (391).

A discussion of strategies for sustainability as new journals emerge (390-91) dovetails with concerns about the future of academia in general and Hesse’s sense that the traditional gatekeeping function of journals is valuable (389-90). As a product of care and attention to quality, Hesse contends, a peer-reviewed journal with its longer production times and enhanced scrutiny

demonstrates faith in continuity, an ongoing act of passing the present forward, confident this issue’s articles will bend the field for better, however scantly—and so will the next. (393)

 


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Serviss and Voss. Researching WPA Expertise in 21st-Century Paradigms. CCC, Feb. 2019. Posted 03/13/2109.

Serviss, Tricia, and Julia Voss. “Researching Writing Program Administration Expertise in Action: A Case Study of Collaborative Problem Solving as Transdisciplinary Practice.” College Composition and Communication 70.3 (2019): 446-75. Print.

Tricia Serviss and Julia Voss urge writing studies to recognize that “twentieth-century disciplinary paradigms” (448) have been replaced by twenty-first-century approaches to research that offer opportunities for rhetoric and composition/writing studies (RCWS) to assert the field’s disciplinarity in ways that highlight its particular expertise.

The authors draw on long-standing scholarship in RCWS to argue that the twentieth-century approach, in which “research” primarily involves building “agreed-upon content knowledge” (450), has “historically pitted RCWS’s teaching, research, and administrative mandates against one another” (446). They document efforts to develop recognition of writing studies as an academic field with intellectual weight that have led scholars to define administrative work as research or, in some cases, to suggest that RCWS practitioners engaged in cross-disciplinary work should consider “strategically downplaying” the field’s shared content (449).

In the authors’ view, conflicted views of what constitutes research in RCWS have further led writing professionals to focus on local, small-scale actions as sources for knowledge claims and to rely on “experiential narratives of WPA work” (448), strategies that the authors feel limit awareness of the transferability of WPA expertise.

Serviss and Voss cite Karen Bishop in designating the divide between research and administrative activity as a “false binary” (448). They argue that the shift in research paradigms specifically aligns with what they consider the expertise that RCWS is especially positioned to offer (449-50). They contend that new paradigms focus on activity and collaboration, the hallmarks of WPA work:

[T]wenty-first-century disciplinarity [is] characterized by a focus on wicked problems that demand the expertise of multiple disciplines, an emphasis on practical and applied research addressing real-world needs, and accountability of researchers to stakeholders. (450)

The authors cite Michael Gibbons, who claims that new research approaches must shift from benefitting only a specific discipline in order to address “the needs of society, government, or industry” and must circumvent “hyperspecialization” to allow experts from different disciplines to pool their abilities and “produce work that is greater than the sum of its parts” (471n4).

Among the concepts examined by Serviss and Voss is “new disciplinarity” in which disciplines become “communities of practice”; in such approaches, activity becomes central to a discipline’s identity (450-51). The authors further apply the precepts of “transdisciplinarity” in which the focus shifts to “how” disciplines deploy their expertise (451; emphasis original). They analyze the transdisciplinary approach of Justin K. Rademaekers, who proposes that in working together on a problem, disciplinary contributors “transcending” their disciplinary identities can create a narrow area of consensus that will enable collaboration for the problem at hand (451-52).

The example the authors present of RCWS specialists working across disciplines in problem-solving, in their view, demonstrates that disciplinarity need not be transcended and prior consensus is not necessary. They argue that their example illustrates how RCWS specialists can participate as experts in a transdisciplinary project, asserting their legitimacy in twenty-first-century research (452-53).

Serviss and Voss were two of the seven members of an interdisciplinary group with a shared concern about student writing, critical thinking, and information literacy. In addition to the two RCWS specialists, the group included faculty at different levels and professional staff expert in cross-campus learning initiatives, assessment, and quantitative measurement. One member specialized in comparative politics, another in communication, and a third in civil engineering.

This group, based at Santa Clara University, a “midsized private liberal arts university in northern California,” attended the four-day 2016 Teaching and Learning National Institute at Evergreen State College’s Washington Center for Undergraduate Education (454). During the Institute, the group developed “a three-year plan that became the SWIRL (Success in Writing, Information, and Research Literacy) Initiative.” This initiative addressed issues with student writing across campus, focusing on upper-level writing (455).

The authors report on SWIRL to highlight the “rarely documented methods of writing-program building in real time” (455), emphasizing how “activities rooted in rhetorical practices of RCWS” were integral to the team’s efforts (456).

The article recounts the roles of different disciplinary approaches in the first step of defining the problem, as members drew on different kinds of evidence, such as large-scale assessment data versus direct assessment research advanced by the RCWS faculty (457). The authors present the emphasis on problem development and an understanding of the social nature of problem “invention” as integral to the RCWS expertise contributing to the group (456). Team members had to “persuade” their colleagues of the validity and relevance of their data in order to “incrementally” arrive at a “shared understanding” from which to proceed (458).

The writers’ intent is to provide a thorough, concrete analysis of how “WPA program-building heuristics” functioned in a transdisciplinary context in which the diversity of disciplinary expertise enabled the development of a cross-campus initiative (460). A central feature of such twenty-first-century processes, the authors contend, is the way in which disciplinary difference brought a wide range of expert views into the collaborative effort without requiring team members to downplay their expertise (468).

Among the features of the collaboration drawn from WPA expertise are the use of “backward design,” that is, beginning with outcomes and working backward to determine how they can be met (472n9). WPA practices like “collaborative visual invention” (for example, the use of chalkboards to capture ideas and processes) (464), and “collaborative programmatic scaffolding and planning” (WPAs were among those recommending the use of a GANTT chart) (461, 466) were central to this effort. The authors emphasize that the choice of these tactics did not emerge from prior discussion but rather from the diverse expertise brought to bear as the team defined and worked toward its goal (461). The focus was on “a common problem” rather than “common knowledge, vocabulary, and methods” (469; emphasis original).

The authors urge more explicit research on the WPA practices that align with the twenty-first-century paradigm. Such research, they argue, can make more visible “the value of the complicated work we do” (467).

Like all research traditions, WPA scholarship needs to account not only for our work as deliverable products . . . but also the expert methods that we develop, refine, adopt, adapt, and master as we work with others on these deliverable products. (467)