John Monberg wins CAL Alumni Award for Innovation and Leadership in Teaching and Learning

John Monberg

Photo by G.L. Kohuth from MSU Today

We would like to formally congratulate WRAC’s very own, John Monberg, for winning the College of Arts & Letters Alumni Award for Innovation and Leadership in Teaching and Learning! Monberg is an Assistant Professor in the WRAC Department who has shown tremendous innovation inside and outside the classroom.

“I’ve worked hard to identify activities that both enrich the educational experiences for students and help to create enduring resources for communities,” Monberg says. “When the complex details of a real community are brought together with the wide variety of skills that students bring in terms of visual design, user experience, video production and writing for specialized audiences, wonderful things happen.”

Jeff Grabill, Chair of the WRAC Department and Professor of Rhetoric and Professional Writing, expresses the challenges of rhetorical education, “How [do we] provide students with compelling ways to learn how to participate as public citizens?” However, Grabill says that Monberg has tackled this question quite well. “He thinks carefully and deeply about the new resources and infrastructures needed for us all to meet the challenges of participating as citizens in a complex, global world.”

Monberg is enthusiastic about the department’s commitment to joining together teaching, technology, and community. “This commitment allows us to understand some of most significant questions our society faces as our world is transformed by changes in technology and culture.”

In regards to Monberg’s leadership in the education world, Grabill says, “I have never seen a colleague engage in such a sustained project of innovative teaching and learning, and it has pleased me a great deal to see the attention his work has received from the larger university community in addition to the accolades from the greater Lansing community.”

Jeff Grabill at TEDxLansingED: Texting Is Good For Us

“I do know that if I put something like ‘Texting is good for us’ in the title of a talk, I am guaranteed an audience.”

The quote above is Jeff Grabill’s explanation for the title of his recent Ted Talk – and spoiler alert – he doesn’t actually say if texting is good for us. He does, however, offer an insightful look at the power of networks and writing education.

Speaking engagingly and intelligently for almost 12 minutes is a uniquely difficult (and anxiety ridden) task. “[T]he situation was challenging. [...] I had to try to be interesting, engaging, and absolutely on time in a speech situation that was basically live TV … and without my typical memory aids.” explains Grabill.

As a rhetorician, however, Grabill was uniquely prepared:

“To prepare, then, I relied on my rhetorical training (Ta da!). Specifically, I created a memory palace, a very old technique for recalling a speech. It isn’t memorizing the speech, but in a classic memory palace, you imagine rooms of a house/palace and what you will say in each room. During the talk, one simply “walks through the palace.” Another take on the memory palace can be found in this season’s Sherlock.

Jeff’s recommended TED Talks:

Professional Writing Study Abroad: London & Paris

If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, this study abroad is for you. Professors Jeff Grabill and Liza Potts are heading two programs in London and Paris next summer and the study abroad sounds like a truly unforgettable trip.

Explore the streets of London and take a stroll through the museums of Paris. Work with professionals at esteemed companies and produce writing for the public. Express your condolences at the tunnel where Princess Diana died and visit the resting places of James Morrison and Oscar Wilde. Search for the infamous TARDIS from Doctor Who and take your turn at Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. Attach your love lock to the bridge at Pont de l’Archevêché or check out the Sherlock Holmes museum. Delve into the heart and culture of London and Paris and discover yourself.

Sounds good, right? Now, the programs will overlap for two weeks in London, but don’t panic, students can go on either trip or both without complication.

urban // rhetoric // cosmopolitan // learning



London: Designing Communication Experiences is the program led by Grabill (with one course team-taught with Liza Potts). The program will be a total of 5 weeks starting June 9 and ending July 11 of summer 2014. The focus of this program centers around “designing communication experiences” and it ties in really well with Potts’ program of participation in terms of communication experiences. Students will be asked to think about Professional Writing as “the creation of experiences for people.” To create an experience requires creativity, design thinking, and rhetorical theory and can be applied to writing practices such as computer interfaces, document and book design, and storytelling. Students will be enrolled in WRA 308: Invention in Writing (3 credits) where they will think about creativity, experience, and design. The other course is WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities (3 credits, this is where Potts’ program overlaps), which involves learning how to research how writing works in public spaces.

“I worry students have an overly narrow understanding of what they can do with our degree,” Grabill said. Through this program, he hopes to expand the career possibilities for students and really challenge them academically and personally. The students are going to be doing a lot of identity work, asking the big questions like “Who am I?”, “What can I do?”, “What is my place in this world?”, and “How can this major and this university help me get to where I want to be in the future?” Grabill wants to use this study abroad to help students achieve and experience things that they can’t on MSU’s campus.

Grabill contacted several companies and organizations in London to provide students on this study abroad with various learning and internship opportunities. He mentioned Avanade, “a joint-venture of Accenture and Microsoft”, which provides business technology services, and Tobias & Tobias, a user experience company that design various multimedia software and applications for organizations. Among many other groups, he talked briefly about Guerilla Science, a group that performs pop-up science events all over London with the goal to educate and engage the general public in basic chemistry and physics. Students are encouraged to get involved, as these learning opportunities are an integral part of the study abroad experience as a whole.

Grabill also explained that not only is this study abroad the least expensive London-based Study Abroad offered next year, but it will provide a sneak preview of what faculty are imagining future courses will look like for Professional Writing.

digital // memory // participation // fans

Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris

Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris

Creativity and Innovation for Participatory Memory Across London and Paris is Potts’ program, a 4-week trip next summer starting in London on June 25 and ending in Paris on July 25. This program will focus primarily on Potts’ research in Participatory Memory: how do people participate in everyday memory making? How do they turn public spaces into memory making stations? How do we help the memories live on even after they’re torn down?

Students will delve into these questions by exploring physical memory spaces such as the previously mentioned tunnel where Princess Diana died, cemeteries where literary and musical icons are buried, and fan favorite spots for the Potterheads, Whovians, and Sherlockians. Since Potts has many strong contacts and connections to museums in London, there will also be evaluations of museum experiences such as how they incorporate participation and communication into a visit. By being in these places, students can discuss methods to save and digitize those moments and participate in memory capture.

Potts will be teaching WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities and Cultures (3 credits) at this point in the study abroad and it will address rhetorical and creativity theory as well as design thinking. The second course will be WRA 499: Participatory Memory Research, which will aim to digitally publicize the participation of memory.

Professional Writing majors possess a broad range of important skill sets that will help them thrive on this study abroad. In this regard, Potts’ said, “Our foundation in rhetoric as writers, we have an understanding of persuasion and audience and appropriateness and delivery. We have sort of this obsession with the context in which you write and create experiences, the content you create and the form that it takes.” This will be especially important on this study abroad with the combination of technology and public writing in the documentation of participatory memory.

It’s never too early to think about your plans for summer 2014!

Why Digital Writing Matters in Education

Writing teachers (like me and perhaps like you) have been caught in a tight spot for some time now. On the one hand, computing technologies have radically transformed the meaning of “writing.” On the other hand, high stakes assessments and their impact on teaching have limited what counts as writing in school.

As a teacher, I feel pulled in different directions. Thankfully, there are some good educational resources available. The National Writing Project recently published Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments by Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks. In the spirit of their book, I am going to take up the issue of why digital writing matters, focusing on two issues:

  1. Digital writing challenges what counts as writing and reveals the gap between how writing works in the world and how we teach it in schools
  2. Digital writing platforms and services are ways to innovate instruction and learning (more…)

Welcome to Our Experiment

Our new website continues our experimentation with regard to the communication practices of an academic department. When we started this experiment a number of years ago, we focused on social media and on listening as much as talking.

We will continue much of what has worked in the past. We still have our undergraduate interns (@brooklynrose217, @dakinmsu, @jennshelden) and their fearless leader (@soulsmiles). Their job is to help us leverage a platform such as a departmental website to do some good in the world.

But what is new about this website? It looks different, yes, and there are some enhancements in functionality. However, the big shifts are rhetorical. With this new website, we are trying to pivot to meet the needs of an external audience. To be sure, we will provide basic departmental content that will help students, faculty, and others at Michigan State to work with us as an academic unit. In fact, we hope that content is more useful than what we provided previously.

The big change is the content feed on the main page. Here we hope to provide content that is useful, interesting, fun, and engaging for those interested in “writing.” Our interns will listen and share what they learn, and I will do the same. But we have also invited faculty to share ideas that they think matter. We have invited alumni to write with us. We have also invited friends from other universities and organizations to write as well. We want to become a resource on rhetoric and writing and to be useful to our audience.

As we continue this experiment, we don’t know what will happen. Nearly everyone I have consulted about this strategy thinks it will fail. It might. But maybe not. Maybe we can facilitate something special. The beauty of a university is that it concentrates talent in time and space. Such concentration facilitates magic. We are some 50 faculty and over 200 students, all bouncing into one another, and I am counting on a little of that magic to help this experiment succeed.

Incoming WRAC Chair Announced

WRAC is pleased to announce Dr. Jeff Grabill as the new incoming WRAC department chair, appointed by the dean of College of Arts & Letters, Karin A. Wurst. Grabill is a professor of rhetoric and professional writing and the co-director of the Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at Michigan State University. He will be stepping into the role starting the fall 2012 semester, as current chair Dr. Kathleen Geissler  steps down.We thank Dr. Geissler for her leadership and congratulate Dr. Grabill on his new position.

Cara Gonzalez also contributed to this story.

WRAC Faculty Co-Found Technology Company

WRAC faculty members Jeff Grabill, Bill Hart-Davidson, and Mike McLeod helped launch a new educational technology company in September. The company, called Drawbridge, will commercialize ideas developed at the Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center as well as invent new technologies.The first product is called Eli, a web service that improves writing by helping teachers and students quickly conduct reviews, see and assess feedback, and learn from the revision process.  Eli is designed for use in K-12 schools, colleges and in professional or continuing adult education.”Like any good company, Drawbridge is built on a societal need, such as the need to improve writing skills,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “Writing is identified in most every employment circumstance as one of the biggest challenges, particularly as students are becoming more oriented toward the language of hand-held devices.”A powerful and interactive web service built to streamline the revision process for students and teachers, Eli has a simple yet highly relevant goal: to help students become better writers.

A little over a year ago, we showcased Eli and its newly-minted documentation. Eli has recently passed another milestone. Eli is now available commercially and is being used locally at Michigan State University and Okemos High School and at a number of other sites around the country.

The creation of Eli has been a long and challenging process. “It was a discovery but it was also an intense collaboration; each of us brought unique contributions to the table and we all have traces of our identity in the product,” said McLeod. Commercialization was necessary, says Hart-Davidson, “to ensure that a stream of resources will exist to support it as the user base grows.”

Beyond helping writing instructors teach and students write, Andrew Henry, CEO of Red Cedar Solutions and Drawbridge, says that Eli’s commercialization shows MSU’s commitment to growing Michigan’s economy. The software is getting excellent reviews from new customers. But perhaps more importantly, this innovation is a coup for the WRAC department. Grabill said,”Outcomes such as this can happen more often: the arts and humanities are sources of creativity and innovation that are valuable.”

First-Year Writing Welcomes New Director

Photo by Julie Lindquist

This semester the First-Year Writing program (FYW) welcomed a new director, Dr. Julie Lindquist, who has a promising and unique vision for the program’s future.

At the center of Lindquist’s vision is the idea that good instruction in writing is enabled by teachers who continue to learn about what it means to teach, and who work in a dynamic professional community. Lindquist strives to create a viable community of teachers that offers support and nourishes conversation about teaching. “People who teach writing are doing important work, and we should make sure they have the resources they need to do this work,” she says. “These resources should include other teachers.”

Lindquist’s first priority is to create a dynamic pedagogical culture within WRAC, but she ultimately envisions a writing program that is nationally known for its approach to professional development.

Lindquist is assisted in program development and operations by Matt Novak, a third-year PHD student in Rhetoric and Writing. Novak, who has been appointed as Lindquist’s research assistant, is currently working on exploring possibilities for an online resource repository for teachers in WRAC. As part of this effort, Novak is researching models for such a repository by speaking to teachers and administrators across the country as well as to MSU faculty associated with the Writing in Digital Environments Center (WIDE). “For now, we’re looking at how we can make ANGEL–the course management system we’re currently working with– better serve the needs of teachers in WRAC.” says Lindquist. “But we hope to develop something more flexible, something with a capacity for discussion and networking as well as document storage.”

Lindquist is also working alongside Dr. Joyce Meier, who has recently been named assistant director of First-Year Writing. “Joyce brings a good deal of experience and vision to the position,” Lindquist said. “I’m very lucky to have her working with me.” This year, Meier has been busy organizing a series of workshops and conversation groups for writing faculty and meeting regularly with her colleagues to learn about the concerns of faculty charged with teaching first-year writing, and to advise teachers new to MSU on matters of curriculum and course delivery.

Lindquist, Novak, and Meier meet weekly to brainstorm ideas for program development, to identify areas for improvement, and to assess progress. The three of them also meet regularly with Jeff Grabill and Leonora Smith, faculty currently serving as mentors for graduate students teaching first-year writing, for the purposes of coordinating the mentoring experience for TAs.

More than anything, Lindquist thinks of her administrative position as pedagogical, and discovering what first-year writing faculty and students need is at the top of her priority list. “I want there to be a real investment in first-year writing by everyone involved in the program, and for there to be wide participation in decision-making,” Lindquist said.

While Lindquist says she has had to exchange her regular teaching load for administrative work, she still feels she is teaching–just in a different role. She continues, for example, to mentor teaching assistants. She also helps faculty and students teaching writing to solve problems related to teaching and learning writing, and to educate others at MSU and elsewhere about the mission and goals of the writing program.

For more information regarding the FYW program, visit the program’s website.