Current Project Background

"Techno-Ecologies and Professional Development: Profiles from CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence Awardees"

As detailed on the "Project History" page, our prior research helped us to understand the affordances and limitations of what we can learn about techno-pedagogical training and support via survey data and textual analysis: short surveys can tell us a bit about techno-pedagogy graduate preparation in many PhD granting institutions in Comp/Rhet; long surveys can tell us very much about very few institutions; and professional position statements can show us the technologies, terminologies, and best practices the field has named, required, and recommended over time. Perhaps mostly importantly, as researchers and as people “in the field,” we also realized it is as unlikely that one individual can report on all of the techno-pedagogy opportunities available across campus via multiple choice and short answer responses as it is that a professional position statement can capture the nuance of what best practice pedagogic preparation looks like when interpreted in local contexts. We knew that in order to really study techno-pedagogy, we would need to have a view and understanding of localized techno-ecologies on particular college and university campuses. 

Thus, we applied for and were awarded a $10,000 CCCC Emergent Researcher Award in 2018 to conduct a site-visit-based ecological study with the goal of enriching understandings of how first-year writing (FYW) programs and the various institutions within which they are situated prepare and provide ongoing support for instructors in writing programs that require students to produce digital artifacts. We wanted these situated, immersive visits to give us a better understanding of the training and professional development within programs and across universities that support the various educators (e.g., lecturers, instructors, graduate students, tenure-track faculty) who will always be learning how to design, implement, and assess digital writing assignments. 

There is ample scholarship in our field on composition ecologies, including Dobrin (2012), Latour (2005), and Cooper (1986). Most helpful to our project has been Mary Jo Reiff, Anis Bawarshi, Michelle Ballif, and Christian Weisser’s 2015 Ecologies of Writing Programs: Program Profiles in Context, which provides a methodological invitation for researchers to study and profile writing programs “as complex ecological networks” (4), “shift[ing] the emphasis away from the individual unit, node, or entity, focusing instead on the network itself as the locus of meaning” (6). In our work, we were interested in (1) scanning in on the teacher training and ongoing development and support that enables teachers to implement digital writing initiatives in classrooms and (2) scanning out to understand how groups and individuals teaching in the writing program interact with the broader institution, leveraging existing resources, creating new resources (and thus becoming resources themselves), and providing an exigency for expansions, shifts, and redirects. 

Five primary research questions guided our inquiry: 

  1. What are the techno-ecologies and -commitments on particular college and university campuses that support the teaching of digital writing and thus preparation of current and future instructors of digital writing?
  2. Initial/Required Training: Within the program and broader institution, how are instructors who teach digital writing being trained (via formal opportunities such as classes, orientations, required trainings) to do so? 
  3. Ongoing/Optional Professional Development: Within the program and broader institution, what ongoing training and professional development opportunities do they have? 
  4. Access to Instructional Support: What kind of instructional support is available to teachers, including pedagogy and instructional design consultations, course-embedded workshops, peer-based support labs, etc.?
  5. What are the challenges of training and providing ongoing PD for instructors who teach digital writing?
Participant Identification and Selection

We used two criteria for institution selection: (1) the institution had a FYW writing program that has received the CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence (WPCE) from 2004 to 2018, and (2) their FYW program website explicitly indicated that students were either required or strongly encouraged to produce at least one digital text. The WPCE served as a primary selection category for our project because programs had to demonstrate that they offered “exemplary ongoing professional development for faculty of all ranks, including adjunct/contingent faculty” (WPCE criteria) in order to be awarded the Certificate of Excellence. While we recognize there are many exemplary writing programs with digital writing assignments and innovative professional development models that do not hold the WPCE, using the WPCE as a criterion gave us a valid and reliable way to identify a manageable group of programs to work with. In essence, we adopted Thomas Newkirk’s philosophy: “[t]he case that works is the one that fits the dramatic requirements” (135). 

For each writing program that received the award after 2004 (the first year the award was given), we visited the program website to determine if digital writing was a part of the curriculum. After multiple rounds of searching websites to seek programs engaging students with digital writing, we contacted a total of 13 institutions, making contact with 9 WPAs, and in consultation with these WPAs, ultimately identified 6 institutions for the study: 1 community college; 1 private university; and 4 public universities, including 1 that is primarily Hispanic serving. Additionally, these 6 institutions represented 3 different Carnegie classifications. As demonstrated in the map below, our participants were located in 5 different regions of the United States (see Figure 1 below).

Among the participating institutions, at the time of our visit, 4 offered a BA degree in English with a concentration in writing, rhetoric, literacy or some combination; 1 offered a BA in Professional Writing; and 2 programs offered minors that included rhetoric, writing, digital studies, or professional writing. At the graduate level, 5 of the programs offered MA degrees with a concentration/emphasis in Rhetoric and Writing/Composition and 4 offered PhD degrees in English with emphasis in Rhetoric and Writing/Composition.

The writing program at 1 participating institution was independent (UNCC) while the rest were housed within English Departments. 

While each of the 6 writing programs required students to compose with digital tools (beyond word processing), the kinds of digital writing assignments varied: 3 programs required some kind of e-portfolio (UNCC, SLCC, UTEP), 2 programs required some kind of remix or remediation project (Marquette and Purdue), 1 program required a digital poster (Marquette), 1 program required a multimedia symposium project in Adobe Spark (OSU), and 2 programs required multiple digital projects and offered students choice in how to complete their digital projects—UTEP required either an infographic or a PSA in their first course and either a mini-documentary or an Open Educational Resource (OER) in their second course, and SLCC allowed for a wide range of digital products for 1 of the assignments in the first course and 3 of the assignments in the second course.

Figure 1: Map identifies participating institutions, from left to right: Salt Lake Community College (Utah), University of Texas-El Paso, Marquette University (Minnesota), Purdue University (Indiana), The Ohio State University, and North Carolina University at Charlotte. 

The Study

With institutions selected, we prepared all of our research instruments and our IRB application (see Research Materials Exhibit) so that we could embark on our site visits. We wanted this phase of our study to give us a precise and full picture of how each of these six institutions had plugged into and helped to create a larger institutional techno-ecology that allowed them to prepare and support educators to teach digital writing in an institutionally mandated course. To research this happening, we employed 4 primary methods of data collection, (1) scans of institutional websites and organizational documents (like org charts, strategic plans, student learning outcomes, course descriptions), (2) campus site visits, (3) face-to-face interviews with cross-campus stakeholders in their own spaces, and (4) map-making focus groups with FYW educators (again, that includes lecturers, instructors, graduate students, tenure-track faculty).

For background and reference, non-primary methods, we also collected the artifacts that are featured on this site—a variety of print and digital artifacts including syllabi, assignment sheets, print and digital pedagogical resources available to instructors, and print and digital handouts/resources (like a Center for Teaching and Learning’s list of workshops) (see Table 1 below). Likewise, when possible, we observed, photographed, and took field notes of digital composing spaces (like maker spaces in the libraries), professional development meetings for writing program faculty, and student performances or celebrations of writing.

The table below provides a snapshot of the data we collected during this phase of our study.

Overview, Data Collection

Textual Data: Local Informants: Empirical Data:
  • Websites
  • Strategic Plans
  • Mission Statements
  • Org Charts
  • Undergraduate Educational Learning Outcomes
  • Program Learning Outcomes
  • Syllabi
  • Assignments
  • Professional Development Materials/Resources
  • Writing Program Administrators
  • Writing Program Educators (faculty, staff, TAs)
  • Writing Center Administrators
  • Librarians
  • Center for Teaching & Learning Staff
  • Instructional and Academic Technology Unit/s Staff
  • Distance Education Office Staff
  • Deans/Provosts (undergrad ed, faculty excellence, A&S)
  • Accessibility Office Staff
  • One-on-One Interviews
  • Unit/Group Interviews
  • Focus Groups: Ecological Mapping Interview Protocol (separated into 2 groups: full-time educators and graduate teaching assistants)
  • Observation (student work showcases, PD meetings, a grad class)

Table 1: Lists of textual data, local informants, and empirical data gathered or consulted on site visits.

Details: Site Visits

Newkirk advises that “To write a case study that works, the writer needs to see the data in terms of one of a variety of culturally grounded narratives” (135), and we were interested in designing site visits that would give us a polyphonic understanding of the writing program and techno-pedagogy professional development on campuses. 

We went about identifying and selecting on-site participants in 3 rounds. First, we designed our interview scripts. Once we knew the questions we needed to answer, informed by the approach of the National Census of Writing, we grouped them based on generic positions in common units on campus that would most likely be able to address those questions and sketched who we could talk to within the bounds of a 2-day visit. Our generic schedule for site visits included meeting with (1) the Directors, Associate and Assistant Directors, and Graduate Assistants charged with the administration of writing programs, (2) the people teaching in the writing programs (a variety of faculty, instructors, lecturers, MA and PhD students), (3) the people in Centers and units across campus whose missions it is to support student writing, digital research and composing, and/or teaching and learning excellence generally, and (4) the upper-level administrators critical to the success of the writing program or key in influencing the technological infrastructure for the campus.

In the second round of identifying and selecting on-site participants, once we had a working generic schedule (see Table 2 below), we talked with WPAs and conducted web-based institutional scans, looking at strategic plans, org charts, and program websites to update generic titles and units. Because every campus is different; because everything is always changing and shifting within institutions, sometimes faster than websites; and because we could not often “see” relationships—the person-based, relational infrastructures and collision—based on looking at institutional texts (like org charts and faculty/staff webpages), WPAs helped us to identify appropriate individuals and groups to talk with on their campuses in pre-site visit video or phone conferences, emails, and document exchanges.

To allow for the third round of identification and selection of participants, we designed site visits with as much flexibility as possible given our brief window of time on campus to allow for additional meetings with individuals we learned would be important research informants once we were on campus. 

All individuals who participated in site visits are identified in the Program Profiles for each institution's exhibit 

Sample Schedule, Day One of Site Visit

8:00 - 8:50 Introductory Interview with the WPA
9:00 - 9:50 Class Observation
10:00 - 10:50 One-on-One or Small Group Interviews with Associate, Assistant, and Graduate WPAs
11:00 - 11:50 Director and/or Instructional Design Consultants in Center for Teaching and Learning
12:00 - 1:30 Director and/or Instructional Design Consultants in Academic Technology Unit (Faculty and/or Student Facing)
2:00 - 2:50 Map-Making Focus Groups with Non-GTA First-Year Writing Faculty
3:00 - 3:50 Director/s of the Writing Center
4:00-4:50 One-on-One Interview with First-Year Writing Faculty (GTAs or Instructors/Lecturers)

Sample Schedule, Day Two of Site Visit

8:00 - 8:50 Slot of open time to meet with a unit/individual/group of individuals we had not included
9:00 - 9:50 One-on-One or Small Group Interviews with Librarians
10:00 - 10:50 Director and/or Consultants in Accessibility Office
11:00 - 11:50 One-on-One Interview with Dean/Provost
12:00 - 1:30 Map-Making Focus Groups with GTA First-Year Writing Faculty
2:00 - 2:50 One-on-One Interview with Technology Unit (Infrastructure)
3:00 - 3:50 One-on-One Interview with First-Year Writing Faculty (GTAs or Instructors/Lecturers)
4:00 - 4:50 Exit Debrief Meeting with WPA

Table 2: Sample agenda for 2-day campus visit.

Details: A Matrix-Based Tool for Techno-Ecological Institutional Analyses

In order to investigate how FYW programs were situated within larger techno-ecologies at institutions as well as to consistently make meaning from the over 2,500 minutes of interviews we recorded across our six site visits, we developed a matrix-based tool with 6 core sections. 

Our goal in developing our profiling framework was, like the authors of Ecologies of Writing Programs, to make transparent and visible “interconnections, networks, and relationships” (5); “constant flux and continual transformation” (6); complexity, “the intricate interweaving of discrete aspects in apparently chaotic systems” (8); and “the ways in which unique and coherent structures, patterns, and properties evolve during the process of self-organization in complex systems” (9). Similarly, like the editors of Writing Program Architecture: Thirty Cases for Reference and Research, “we liked the idea of compiling elements common to writing programs [and the institutions within which they are situated]...that would offer WPA/scholars models to consider, a template to inspire, and case studies to refer to when undertaking their own projects” (8-9). 

Our matrix-based tool also relied on Richard Selfe’s “Establishing a Culture of Support within which Teachers Come First, Pedagogy Second, and Technology Third,” from his 2005 Sustainable Computer Environments: Cultures of Support in English Studies and Language Arts. Selfe’s criteria come in the form of 6 bullet points offered to aid the field in understanding the characteristics of healthy and sustainable cultures of support for digital writing within English and language arts programs and departments (though Selfe used the term “computer environments” as opposed to digital writing) (41): 

  • A team of interested stakeholders to meet on a regular basis 
  • A team of teacher/leaders who are supported in their efforts and involved in shaping the culture of support 
  • Robust and flexible digital environments that support the day-to-day activities of teachers
  • A Student Technology Assistant (STA) Program in which students support teachers in technology-rich projects
  • Workshops led by teachers of English and language arts that contextualize technology use specifically within the scope of English and language arts instruction
  • Robust and flexible computer-supported environments designed specifically to support English and language arts classes

Though the criteria Selfe puts forth in this chapter were explicitly intended for English and language arts programs and departments, we found they easily lent themselves to broader investigations in sister institutional spaces such as Centers for Teaching and Learning, for example. Furthermore, Selfe attends to the infrastructural demands of techno-pedagogy, which was likewise well-suited to our institution-wide investigations. 

While a blank template of our matrix-based tool can be viewed in our Research Materials Exhibition, the 6 sections we developed are:

  1. Participant Information. This section allowed us to list the name, title, and institutional location for each person we interviewed (or hoped to interview) during our campus visits.  
  2. The Institutional Picture: The Requirement, The Program, The Course/s, The Assignment/s. This section provides details about the institution, the FYW requirement, and the FYW program, including when it began including a digital component.
  3. The Programmatic Picture: People and Curriculum. This section provides details about the structure and staffing of the FYW program and its curriculum, including the digital component/s. 
  4. Scanning In: Programmatic Education, Training, and Professional Development. This section provides details about how PD is integrated (or not) into FYW contracts and what in-program PD is required or offered for FYW educators.
  5. Scanning Out: Institutional Techno-Ecology. This section provides details about how the institution supports teaching with technology, focusing on infrastructure (both people and physical) as well as explicit support and training for faculty and graduate students. 
  6. Program Model: This part of the profile was created after we had reviewed our interview transcripts, maps created in map-making focus groups, and artifacts gathered from each campus visit. Drawing on Condon and Rutz’s WAC taxonomy (2012), we categorized institutions into 3 groups—programs where the digital future is uncertain, programs influenced and supported by broader campus commitments and initiatives, and programs influencing broader campus commitments and initiatives—which we discuss in more detail in our chapter “An Ecological Perspective: Investigating the Role of Institutional Partners in Supporting Technological Professional Development for Teachers in Six First-Year Writing Programs with Digital Writing Assignments.”

The completed matrices for each site that we visited allowed us to systematically analyze the mass amount of data we collected and also provided structure for this particular web resource, including especially the design of each institution's Exhibit on this website. For example, each exhibit includes 4 pages: a Program Profile, a Curriculum page, a Program Training and Professional Development page, and an Experiential Learning page. The program profile that appears on each institution’s exhibit’s main page combines selected information from sections 1, 2, and 3 of our matrix-based tool. The details on the Curriculum page are taken from sections 2 and 3 of our matrix-based tool as well as from interview transcripts and artifacts collected. The details on the Program Training and Professional Development page are taken from sections 4 and 5 of the matrix-based tool as well as from interview transcripts and artifacts collected.

Details: Interviews 

Our approach to interviews was to engage in a dialogic exchange about techno-pedagogy with as many of the key players from across campus that we could connect with in 2 days. We were mindful that we had fairly detailed institutional profiles to complete for each site, so our interview scripts (included in our Research Materials Exhibit) were built to help us complete those profiles. We identified who we needed to talk to based on the questions we had and what we had already been able to recognize as important people, initiatives, places, etc. based on the web-based institutional scans we had done.

Approximately 50% of the 50-60 minutes we spent in interviews was dedicated to pre-formed questions and discussion prompts covering 4 key areas: (1) background of the individual or groups of individuals we were speaking to, (2) overview of the unit (areas of responsibility, services offered, institutional positioning and reporting lines), (3) unit’s relationship and interactions with the FYW program, particularly writing educators within the program, and (4) what techno-pedagogy professional development opportunities the individual or individuals we were speaking with were taking advantage of themselves.

Then, the other 50% of our interviews were designed to follow narratives our participants were sharing that took us off-script because we also wanted to learn about interactions, dependencies, and reciprocal collaborations and to be able to describe the relational nature of people, places, and policies that we suspected characterized writing programs active within fully integrated institutional techno-ecologies. 

The majority of interviews were conducted by 2 out of 3 researchers, 1 researcher guiding the discussion and a second researcher taking field notes and recording the conversation. At times, the research team did split in order to conduct multiple interviews simultaneously and maximize our time on campus and expand the breadth of the narrative we collected across campus. 

Details: Map-Making Focus Groups 

Borrowing from work in the spatial humanities, we employed map-making focus groups because “space offers a way to understand fundamentally how we order our world” and because space is “a platform for multiplicity, a realm where all perspectives are particular and dependent upon experiences unique to an individual, a community, or a period of time” (Bodenhamer 14).

We wanted to be able to see maps of how the people tasked with teaching digital writing moved through and accessed various components of the techno-ecology, particularly professional development opportunities, because we “recognize our representations of space as value laden guides to a world as we perceive it, and we understand how they exist in constant tension with other representations from different places, at different times, and even at the same time” (Bodenhamer 14).

Map-Making Focus Groups were 90 minutes long, and we provided lunch for participants. At each institution, if applicable, we separated our focus groups into 2 categories: 1 made up of full-time educators and another made up of graduate students because we hoped to create a space where graduate students would not feel that something they shared might complicate their standing within the FYW program or institution. 

The first 10 minutes of each focus group were devoted to introductions and shuffling, and then we structured our remaining time into 3 distinct activities: 

  1. A Semi-Structured Group Interview protocol (30 minutes) where we talked with participants about digital writing and professional development
  2. A Map-Making protocol (30 minutes) where participants first created a list of the experiences they felt had best prepared them to teach digital writing and then followed instructions to map out their understanding of the techno-ecology on their campus
  3. A Debriefing Dialogue (20-30 minutes) where participants talked about their maps and how their maps did or did not align with the experiences they identified as having prepared them to teach digital writing

We chose mapping because it gave us space to triangulate against the data we were collecting in interviews, observations, and from university and program websites about what resources were available, who they were available to, and how they could be accessed. This mapping protocol (available in the Research Materials Exhibit) gave participants the opportunity to reflect on and share their experiences teaching writing and the ways in which the environments in which they were teaching shaped the ways they approached writing instruction. And the 3-part protocol intentionally made space for the existence of multiple and conflicting (and sometimes co-constructed) narratives about what matters in the preparation and support of teaching digital writing, even between an individual participant’s list and map, for instance. On this site, we have essentially left the maps to speak for themselves. We have provided an overview of similarities and differences for each institution’s collection of maps on each exhibit’s Experiential Learning page, but there is much more that could be gleaned from this rich data.

Arriving at 

All of the research detailed above, then, led directly to the creation of this website/database/research site. Because each of us occupies a different type of institutional role and positioning—none of which come with much, if any, time for research—we decided early that our major output from this portion of our research would not be a book or a series of articles. And because we wanted to make the extraordinary administrative and pedagogical work of folks in our field visible and accessible to others so that it might be used to impact practices and curricular design in other contexts, we also knew we wanted to create something that synthesized artifacts and information and made them open access. Therefore, we were thrilled to be able to partner with the WAC Clearinghouse, which has been collecting, promoting, and making accessible so many resources about writing and speaking across the curriculum and for writing studies more generally.

Additionally, despite how it may appear, curricular and institutional change is happening more quickly than we often recognize. Of the WPAs we initially worked with, none are currently in that role. Three of the programs (Marquette, OSU, and Purdue) have seen General Education revisions substantially impact the curriculum, staffing, and sustainability of their programs. So, we wanted to create something that provided in-depth snapshots of the artifacts, systems, and people who composed these programs at a particular moment in time while also allowing others to remix shared materials, ideas, and approaches. We determined that Omeka, as an archival tool, allowed us to accomplish these goals and ultimately addressed a disturbing finding of this project: programs doing innovative things need to be publicly archived; otherwise, good work disappears.

Works Cited

Bodenhamer, David. “The Potential of the Spatial Humanities.” The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship, edited by David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, Indiana U P, 2010, pp. 14-30.

Condon, William and Carol Rutz. “A Taxonomy of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs: Evolving to Serve Broader Agendas.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 64, no. 2, Dec. 2012, pp. 357-82.

Reiff, Mary Jo, Anis Bawarshi, Michelle Ballif, and Christian Weisser. Ecologies of Writing Programs: Program Profiles in Context. Parlor P, 2015.

Selfe, Richard. Sustainable Computer Environments: Cultures of Support in English Studies and Language Arts. Hampton P, 2005.

Sieged Finer, Bryna and Jamie White-Farnham, editors. Writing Program Architecture: Thirty Cases for Reference and Research. U P of Colorado, 2017.