Meet Liza Potts
Liza Potts joined MSU’s WRAC program in 2011 and has been busy ever since. She is the co-founder of the Experience Architecture (XA) program, director of WIDE Research, caretaker of Sherlockian.net, author of three books, and instructor of over seven WRA, DH, and XA courses. She also runs a study abroad program which will travel to Ireland this summer to study cultures and storytelling in the land of a thousand welcomes.
As a professional in the field, Liza has countless opportunities and insights for the students in her courses. In her WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric course, Liza loves to cover topics that don’t come up in other classes. “It’s more theory-based,” she says. “We get to talk about identity, networks, privacy, security, social network movements, and activism.”
She also teaches in the XA program, which she co-developed to help prepare Humanities students to join the user experience field. “It’s an absolutely booming field right now. It’s a just a fantastic time--the industry finally recognizes that maybe the way we’ve created technology has not worked for people, and what if we thought about people instead of just gadgets and features?”
XA is a program based around people driving technology instead of technology driving people, so one of the main focuses in its creation was diversity among students. “We’re very open and welcoming to first gen students and students of diverse backgrounds,” she says. “We want their thoughts and ideas in our classrooms to help, essentially, an entire industry rethink how they’re developing tech and creating policies. We want to change who gets to make technology, who’s empowered to make it, and who has the opportunity to make it.”
This attitude of inclusion extends to all of Liza’s work. Her research has covered a wide array of topics from disaster studies to participatory memory, but at their core, all of Liza’s favorite topics are about people and their experiences. While studying social media use in disaster response, she looked at how everyday people react on systems like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Wikipedia, and more. She wanted to understand how people used these platforms to react through activism, support, and participation.
“It’s always about experience,” she says. “How are people welcomed in these spaces? Are they welcomed or do leaders only want official stories in those spaces? Or do they want to encourage people to participate? It’s interesting because we want to connect. We want to engage. So how do we create experiences around that engagement, experiences that can be positive?” She uses her research and knowledge on user experience to build platforms and communities online.
Liza considers her Sherlockian.net project, a resource and portal for the Sherlock Holmes community, a cultural heritage site. The project serves as a great hands-on experience for students interested in content strategy and web development--they get the opportunity to work on a live website with hundreds of pages and thousands of links. It is also a home to trace complex historical conversations about issues of culture, genders, race, and more in one of the oldest fandoms.
“There’s some really fascinating dynamics in this fandom about issues of gender, when women were ‘allowed’ into certain parts of the community. But all the way up to now there’s sort of this rise of fan participation and fan fiction and how that also leads to different issues generationally. And race is huge in this too. So there’s a lot of cultural studies aspects that you wouldn’t think of when you look at it...there’s so much contested material that’s in here.”
Outside of work, Liza loves spending time with her family, puzzling over the latest BBC mystery, and traveling all over. She feels fortunate that the WRAC program lends itself so well to studying and teaching what she loves: “Just living life is enjoyable and interesting to me.”
Written by Paula Minnebo