Research


Faculty and students in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures study writing and rhetoric in a number of domains, focusing in particular on how people learn to write and develop a rhetoric as well as the ways that rhetoric and writing are used to make a difference in the world.

Our approaches are often interdisciplinary and draw on historiographic, empirical, philosophical, and narrative ways of knowing. Our faculty has developed a reputation for expertise in the following areas:

  • Writing and learning to write

  • Cultural rhetoric

  • Professional and technical writing

  • Digital rhetoric

  • Video composing, film, and new media

  • User experience design

In addition, faculty have developed and participate in two long-standing research groups, Writing in Digital Environments Research and Matrix, The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences.

Our department has an active and innovative research clusters program, smaller, more flexible research groups that form around specific interests to develop new lines of inquiry. Emerging topics include Writing, Other Languages and Globalization, Transfer Study Group, Community-Based Pedagogy Group, Participatory Memory, and others.

Our most well-developed clusters include the following:

 

Computational Rhetorics

Participants: Ryan Omizo, Bill Hart-Davidson, Liza Potts, Dean Rehberger, and Jeff Grabill

Contact: Bill Hart-Davidson – hartdav2@msu.edu

Members of the computational rhetoric research group experiment with using computational means to perform analytic and inventional work to advance rhetorical theory and knowledge. The field of computational linguistics has long held that machines can be programmed to process language data, and scholars in that field have developed algorithms to code and analyze a wide range of text corpora, from online message boards to corporate annual reports. Researchers of rhetoric, however, have been much slower to embrace computational models for studying texts, chiefly because of the prevalent view that the key topics studied in rhetoric — persuasion, argumentation, identification — can only be analyzed by humans with specialized training. Our team employs computational methods to perform tasks such as the classification of common rhetorical moves, or topoi. We see development of these methods as a means to augment human understanding, to create complementary means of rhetorical inquiry, and to explore rhetorical issues at a scale that is impossible by humans working in more conventional ways.

The Cultural Rhetorics Theory Lab

Participants: Malea Powell, Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Jennifer Fisch-Ferguson, Maria Novotny, Doug Schraufnagle, Daisy Levy (Southern Vermont College), Andrea Riley-Mukavetz (Bowling Green State University)

Contact: Malea Powell – powell37@msu.edu

With two years of research cluster work under our belt in the form of a collectively written article, “Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics Practices,” (currently under review with enculturation), we’re ready to move forward with three major initiatives: a Cultural Rhetorics conference to be held at MSU October 30-November 2, 2014; the formation of the Cultural Rhetorics Consortium, an inter/national professional organization for the 21st century where scholarship and teaching in cultural rhetorics can flourish; and, continuation of new collaborative publishing projects in teaching, community engagement, theory and methodology by members of the Lab.

MOOC Research Project

Participants: Julie Lindquist, Jennifer Royston, Kate Fedewa, Kristen Heine, and Jeff Grabill

Contact: Jeff Grabill – grabill@msu.edu

The MOOC Research Project has driven WRAC’s experiments with MOOCs as learning platforms. A primary rationale for developing MOOCs has been to research learning in writing as well as issues specific to MOOCs. The Project is exploring questions related to peer learning in writing, issues of social and cognitive presence, and issues related to teacher and student experience. Early publications will appear in 2014 with more in the pipeline.

Queer Theory Playground

Participants: Becca Hayes, Katie Livingston, Casey Miles, Trixie Smith, and Jon Wargo

Contact: Trixie Smith – smit1254@msu.edu

Queer Theory Playground (QTP)  is a practice space for queer-identified queer rhetorics and composition scholars at Michigan State. A place to address the messiness and ruptures in the field and issues of inclusion and exclusion in rhetoric and composition. QTP considers questions such as: How does queer rhetoric and composition scholarship open new possibilities and alternatives for rhetoric and composition as a field? How do we open up space for various folks to self-identify as queer? How can queer academics work with allies to investigate how to use queer methodologies and theories without appropriating them from a place of privilege and colonialism?

QTP uses play as methodology to experiment with and examine queer identities, bodies, and practices in communities. Research questions for us include: How can we queer gender performances in academic/digital/community spaces? How can we use play as it’s theorized/practiced in terms of sex and gender identity/expression as a methodology for doing queer work? How do you share the results of play with wider audiences? The QTP has conducted a variety of workshops, created a website, established a Twitter presence (@QueerTheoryPlay) presented at conferences, and will sponsor Queer Conversations on April 10, 2014.

Social Media Use During Times of Disaster

Participants: Liza Potts, Joyce Seitzinger (Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia), Angela Harrison (Old Dominion University)

Contact: Liza Potts – lpotts@msu.edu

This research group examines how everyday people use social web tools to communicate during times of disaster. This research focuses on the way social web applications are transformed by participants into a critical information infrastructure during disasters and seeks to provide researchers with methods, tools, and examples for researching and analyzing these communication systems while providing practitioners with design methods and information about these participatory spaces to assist them in influencing the design and structure of these systems.

Teaching Diverse Learners

Participants: Ellen Cushman, Joyce Meier, Deb Carmichael, Cheryl Caesar, Kristen Heine, Julia Kiernan, Joyce Meier, Yunjeong Choi & Sonia Wang

Contact: Ellen Cushman – cushmane@msu.edu

As with many institutions, the academic success of its diverse student population and the training of faculty and future teachers to teach diverse learners has been a subject of keen interest at MSU. This research project traces the results of curricular and pedagogical changes in the preparation for college writing classroom that annually serves approximately 900 first generation, heritage language, and English language learners. To assess whether or not we have been effective in these curricular and pedagogical reforms, this team designed a mixed method, three-year study. Our goal is to demonstrate the near-term impacts such a teacher apprenticeship model  and translingual, asset based curriculum might provide first generation and international student writers as well as preservice teachers and faculty members. This research recently appeared in LAJM: Language Arts Journal of Michigan with book chapters and articles submitted and was awarded a $45,000 Creating Inclusive Excellence Award from MSU.