That means I spend my days immersed in language, playing with symbol systems. I like text–from etymology to typography–and I like image, and I’m pretty comfortable with both. But the really interesting things happen, for me, when modes combine: when we witness the alchemy of image and text (and sound, and gesture, and materiality), and something exciting and new emerges.
My interests are mainly in multimodality, technology, genre, templates, writing assessment and technology. My background in professional communication bends me toward the practical. I also tend to think about issues of ethics in my scholarship. For instance: How do we ethically assess template-driven multimodal portfolios? And this question, by the way, is the basis of my dissertation.
My life is good. I get to mess around with new technologies, and think about how they apply to our everyday writing tasks. I get to talk to students about how writing is more than the Great Books (though I certainly think they should read them)—it is all around them, and it shapes their world. I get to help them be generous readers, interested in people, but critical of ideas and arguments, and resistant to manipulation. I get to teach them Aristotelian rhetoric while looking at internet memes. I get to help them see how language structures reality, and their agency as rhetors is one of the most powerful tools they have.
I also value the real work that rhetoric and writing do in the world. I didn’t always value it. In college, I majored in English because I could read interesting books and write papers about the existential dilemma. I was blind to the privilege that allowed me to see writing as a diversion rather than a powerful tool.
When my wife and I went to seminary in St. Louis in 2001, we moved to an urban neighborhood and lived there for two years. I led a homeless shelter for women one night a week, and I began to perceive the realities of poverty.
After graduating from seminary and finishing my master’s at Clemson, I began teaching in upstate South Carolina. The first time I taught a composition class at Southern Wesleyan University, I learned that one of my students, who was about my age, was a full-time custodian who also found the energy to attend college. He desperately wanted to learn. Good writing was not a novelty or a diversion to him, but a pathway to a better life for himself and his family.
A sense of responsibility has grown in me as I have taught courses in composition and professional communication to undergraduates, and also to adults with jobs, mortgages, families, and dreams of something bigger. I stopped trying to teach them my language, and started trying to teach them tools to refine their own. I take for granted that clear writing is analogous to clear thinking, and the increased ability to think clearly and critically is one of the main benefits of education. My job, as I see it now, is not only to challenge their preconceptions, but to give them the tools to make arguments that can change their circumstances. My task is to help them see all of life as bounded by power interests, but shaped by argument.
I’ve been teaching college, now, for about nine years, and I’ve helped shape core curricula, designed and redesigned courses, advised students, overseen a campus newspaper, taught a range of classes, chaired a digital media program and as a placeholder, a small department. I’ve enjoyed all of it. But now I’m on to a bigger adventure: learning to not just be a teacher, but a teacher/scholar.