Making Future Matters (2018) is a deeply collaborative digital text — and it also served as the theme for the 2018 Watson Conference. The conference theme asked attendees to consider what matters in our scholarly pursuits and to whom such work matters, and to think about “how our work materializes (in) the world.” In this interview, editors Rick Wysocki and Mary P. Sheridan discuss their goals for the conference and the text, their commitment to amplifying new ideas and new voices in the field, and how Making Future Matters helped shape the Watson Conference.
Much like the conference, Making Future Matters emphasizes discussion and collaboration. Through the main essays and the response essays, Sheridan and Wysocki created a model for open access, digitally supported, collaborative conversation. In reflecting on how the text reflects and offers new perspectives on the field, they write:
One focal point of the collection was attending to who and what are rendered legible in our field. What issues have been our historical matters of concern, and what has been left out? Whose voices are privileged, and how can we become more inclusive in embodied and epistemological ways? These questions were answered in a variety of ways, as illustrated by the cross-talk between the main essays and the response essays. The main essays obviously pushed for new directions in the field, and the response essays gave a sort of meta-commentary to consider what other concerns and conversations might be included. So while there were different specific topics and issues across all of the collection’s pieces, we saw a larger commitment to amplifying and circulating new voices and directions in our work. Across these essays, there was a shared attention to collaborative, responsive, and engaged knowledge-making that we viewed as one of the highlights of the collection.
That responsive knowledge-making also extended to considerations of accessibility that informed the creation and development of the final product. Wysocki and Sheridan write:
A central concern we had was balancing the exploratory nature of a digital collection with an ethical attention to accessibility. So often, the exciting “newness” of working digitally can lead people to forget the need to be inclusive of diverse audiences with different needs. So, from the beginning, we were committed to materializing a webtext that was experimental and exciting but that didn’t go so far as to lose readers. On the technical side, this meant using HTML5’s semantic markup in meaningful, accessible, and rhetorical ways. Of course, we had many conversations with each other and with authors about multimodal affordances and design as well. So we hope readers see this webtext as one that explores and experiments, but that it first of all is committed to making new knowledge in accessible and inclusive ways.
The editors also emphasize that this collection represents the development of the field in multiple ways, not only as a digital text that centers accessibility but also as one that provides space for new voices and new ideas. Sheridan and Wysocki regard Making Future Matters as a starting point rather than a finished product:
The work of amplifying voices and responding consequentially to pressing issues and concerns is not a “one-off,” so it’s important to view this collection not as a finished project but rather as an indication of a number of necessary and important undertakings. We hope that people take up some of these directions and run with them. Additionally, we were thrilled to see the collaborative activity among senior and emerging scholars, often in different subdisciplines, that materialized throughout this project. Again, it’s this commitment to shared knowledge-making that we would love to see taken up and pushed further.
Sheridan, as the Conference Director, was able to extend the goals of Making Future Matters to the Watson Conference. The theme of the conference created space for ongoing amplification of conversations that started in the text, and helped shape the event from the CFP onward:
A perk of running a conference is the ability to amplify conversations that we think are important. For this conference, I (Mary P) paired my long-time interest in how writing studies teacher-scholars foster responsive work with my more recent interest in how feminist new materialists are pursuing similar projects. In particular, I appreciate these theorists’ overt ethical commitments to making work materialize with consequentiality and to theorizing methodological possibilities for doing that. Consequently, I invited writing studies scholars across disciplinary subfields and ranks, from diverse institutions and parts of the country, to explore the matters of what futures we in writing studies would like to promote, whether we adopt new materialist lenses or not. From the call-for-proposals to the edited collection to the conference itself, we hoped to provide multiple low-barrier opportunities for people to explore these ideas and to learn from and partner with others who are investigating similar questions. We’re pleased people at and beyond the conference have continued these conversations, sometimes highlighting new ideas, sometimes challenging existing ones.Such work is not easy, but we encourage people (ourselves included) to productively engage in the issues that matter to our field, perhaps especially when that engagement encourages deliberation upon overlooked or ignored issues or when that engagement amplifies voices too seldom foregrounded in our disciplinary conversations.
Sheridan and the conference team looked for ways to bring the conference, attendees, text, and ideas together. The team built multiple entry points for discussion and engagement, including offering the collection as an open access document before the conference and creating “‘structured serendipity’ through shared meals and social time where people find themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with others who may share their interests.” As a key portion of the conference theme, Making Future Matters garnered new attention and helped direct conference conversation. Wysocki and Sheridan shared some of their reflections about the relationship between the text and the conference:
We were so pleased to learn that the collection received over 12,000 hits in September and October (prior to the end of the conference), which speaks to both the collection’s timeliness and CCDP’s wide readership. We loved hearing how others were thinking through and across these essays in their own conference presentations, in the Q&A, and in hallway conversations.
Further, they hope that the text continues to shape potential collaborations and other forms of work in the field:
In addition to the topics, we also wanted folks to think about the materializations of these arguments through digital scholarship, both because of the ways digital scholarship circulates and because of how digital materializations entangle ways of knowing. We particularly valued collaborating with senior scholars who may not have had the same composing opportunities in their graduate education. We all have an obligation to understand diverse materializations of our scholarly work—especially those of us sitting on hiring or tenure committees—and since there’s nothing like learning by doing, we were happy to use the composing for this collection both to support that learning as well as to make the work of materializing digital scholarship visible, as evident in Rick’s response essay.
The discussions generated by Making Future Matters ideally will not stop now that Watson has ended, however. Wysocki and Sheridan note that one of their goals “was to contribute to conversations regarding how our disciplinary knowledge circulates and enters into consequential relationships with world. Or, simply, what is our knowledge doing, how do we assess the effects of that doing, and how can we materialize our knowledge in even more effective ways.” Collaboration, they note, is a central element of that materialization in both the conference and Making Future Matters itself: “At this point it might not need to be said, but you would be hard-pressed to find an indication of even the possibility of the lone-scholar ideology of knowledge-making in this conference and collection. At every level, collaboration and responsiveness to others was a central phenomenon.”
Wysocki and Sheridan also reflected on the conference itself, noting two highlights from the event, including the format of the keynote sessions and the affective dimension of conference discussions. They write:
First, on a programmatic level, we continue to value how the keynote sessions encourage structured opportunities to connect. The current format (10 minute recap/extension of the keynote essays, 30 minutes Q&A, 5 minute respondent comment) provides people extended opportunities to talk with each other, to find their way into disciplinary conversations, and to support others as they do the same. Second, on an affective level, we were struck at how the keynote essays highlighted entrenched concerns and asked us to leave the well-worn grooves of how things too often go. Despite the challenging topics, these keynote essays also offered hope; even in face of trenchant concerns, we can work together toward more inspiring possible futures.
Do you have questions that you’d like to ask the authors of Soundwriting Pedagogies? Now’s your chance! Two of our graduate fellows are working on a podcast that puts reader questions and author responses into conversation with one another, and our fellows would (literally) like to hear from you. We invite our readers to submit audio-recorded questions for the authors regarding the arguments, methods, tools, findings, and/or implications presented in their respective chapters. Here are the details:
Call for Questions
The Computers and Composition Digital Press invites readers of Soundwriting Pedagogies to participate in a dynamic podcast that puts the voices of readers and authors into conversation.
We are calling for readers to submit audio recorded questions aimed at creating a deeper understanding of the arguments, methods, tools, findings, and implications presented in the individual chapters of Soundwriting Pedagogies.
To echo the value of sound in making meaning and understanding, all questions should be submitted as audio or video files. Chapter authors will then listen and record their responses to selected questions, which will later be put into conversation in each chapter’s podcast.
All questions for chapter authors should be submitted individually as audio (WAV, MP3, etc.) or video (MOV, AVI, WMV, etc.) files. Please include the chapter number and your last name in the file title for all submitted questions. We are also happy to receive questions as recorded phone interviews with a CCDP graduate fellow.
We encourage readers to submit any and all questions they have.
Email submissions to Brian Gaines at firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, December 9, 2018.
Please email general questions or requests for phone interviews to either
Lacy Hope (email@example.com) or Brian Gaines (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I had the opportunity to talk with Cruz Medina, co-editor (with Octavio Pimentel) of Racial Shorthand: Coded Discrimination Contested in Social Media this past fall. Below is a selection of a 40-minute interview where we discussed everything from the process in creating this book, to the affordances and constraints in its production, to its relevance in the larger conversation of people of color and rhetoric. We also talked about to how this book ties to his own practices and life and even spent a bit of time talking about his family. Rather than give you all of our conversation that wove in and out of topics and circled back again, I chose to give you the highlights, which means I left out my sometimes inarticulate thoughts connected to his work as well as stories of his adorable family. Those omissions leave you something to chat with him about when you see him next.
Part of collaborating on a project is finding the right people to work with, but sometimes those people in the world of academia are miles apart. Such was the case with our editors for Soundwriting Pedagogies, Courtney S. Danforth, Kyle D. Stedman, and Michael J. Faris, who offer us a glimpse into how a notion of collaboration turned into a phenomenal book project that performs the very act it argues for within its figurative covers. Stedman writes when reflecting on this project, “I know of no other collection of webtexts that can also be subscribed to in your favorite podcast app. Yes, some chapters make more sense than others in the audio-only context, but that’s part of the fun and excitement. I think we broke new ground there.” The editors of Soundwriting Pedagogies allow us to see parts of their own creative process and the affordances and constraints they faced when taking on a project of this caliber. Our glimpse into the project from start to finish provides future authors of digital books some considerations as they think about taking an idea from start to digital finish.
Finding your People
Often when one meets people at a conference or event who are talking about the same things you are, there’s instant affinity. Later that affinity turns into an idea and an overture of collaboration. Danforth had always been interested in sound, but “started teaching soundwriting in a context of disability”;“that’s the direction my work is taking.” She saw a gap that she and her co-editors might be able to fill as “There was an exciting subfield of sonic rhetoric emerging but so much of the scholarship was intensely theoretical.” So…she reached out to Stedman in an email:
9 Dec 2014, Courtney to Kyle: I like working with you. Would you be interested in co-special-editing a journal issue on soundwriting pedagogy?
While a journal issue did not end up materializing, Danforth saw a possibility to look at teaching in different way and could see this being something larger like a book. She writes, “As faculty at teaching institutions, Kyle and I wanted to read more about how our colleagues were applying that theory in the classroom. Since that book didn’t exist yet, we decided to make one ourselves.” In an email to Danforth, Stedman began brainstorming:
25 March 2015, Kyle to Courtney: But I could see something like this happening: 1) CCDP publishes an edited collection on the theory and practice of sound from a rhetoric and composition perspective, writ large. I could write a chapter. So could you. We could all write chapters! But then: 2) Me and you work on something smaller, a collection of “case studies” as you said, or something else that really dives into the real, live practice of sound-teaching.
25 March 2015, Courtney to Kyle: I am on board for any/all of what you list. My motivations include: 1. I want to work on soundwriting pedagogy. 2. I want to write. 3. I want to find out what other people are doing with soundwriting. 4. I want to work on something with you. 5. My instinct was to do #3 before doing #1, but I suppose that isn’t really mandatory.
As the ideas cemented and grew into a full blown project, Danforth realized that she and Stedman could not do it alone. “We put out an audio CFP in the summer of 2015 and quickly became so overwhelmed by the response we begged Michael to help us. Luckily, he agreed.” Reaching out to Faris provided him an opportunity he had not explored thus far in his career as his “previous (and continued) scholarship focused on pedagogical problems related to new media, and I had been working as an editor at Kairos when Courtney and Kyle asked me to join the editorial team.” Faris’ email of interest in joining the team reflects his view that this venture would be beneficial within his classroom and beyond.
13 Jan 2016, Michael to Courtney and Kyle: “What an exciting project! It’s great to hear that you got so much interest from contributors and have expanded the project. I’m excited by the opportunity to help — a bit worried about how much time it might involve. I think it would be great experience, and might help me conceptualize a few graduate and undergraduate courses and assignments I’ll be working on for next year (undergraduate writing courses and graduate new media courses), so I’m definitely interested!”
Making Tough Decisions
With a successful CFP, our editors were faced with some tough decisions. Stedman recounts their first thoughts, “Of course, we needed a publisher that was on board with our vision. We went with CCDP because they’re well-known as supporting exciting born-digital work, but they also wanted to keep an edited collection at 10 chapters or fewer, while we were initially imagining something much larger.” With so many proposals submitted, that led to a tough series of decisions on who to accept, so Danforth and Stedman developed a 5-point rubric that judged each proposal on the following traits:
After determining which chapters they would include in their collection, the question then became one of how to produce a text digitally when skill levels for producing webtexts varied. This variety in skill created one of the biggest challenges Faris found in
“designing it and getting it to work. We asked chapter authors to design their chapters as webtexts, some didn’t have the ability to design html pages, and a few authors submitted chapters in formats that weren’t sustainable or easily transferable to a publisher. I offered to design the html for those chapters, each of which went through multiple iterations as we discussed with authors what would be the best design for their chapters.”
This time inclusive process sometimes involved re-coding or coding from scratch because the interface of the various coding platforms did not transfer in ways that matched up.
Putting it All Together
Part of creating a digital book is figuring out how it all fits together, and this may prove difficult when you have a variety of designs being used. Faris discusses how “The book’s landing page/TOC and introduction went through multiple design prototypes before we decided on the final version.” To facilitate better navigation and create consistency, Faris created a header and menu for the whole book.
Faris’s designs went far beyond the book as a whole’s landing page. For instance, here’s an example of an early design for the Introduction chapter:
Both the landing page for the book and the design of the Introduction chapter needed to reflect the spirit of the project not only in format but in content. This required the authors to meet remotely to discuss their goals. We are fortunate to be privy to one of their first conversations that gives us a peek into their framing and goals for the entire collection.
Audio clip of Courtney and Kyle April 26, 2016 meeting about the introduction:
On top of creating a framework for the whole project, the editors also collaborated heavily on the preface to the collection, the set ups to the various chapters, and the introduction chapter, which was no small feat. Below is a screenshot of their first draft of preface of introduction chapter along with notes and edits.
Audio clip of the original beginning of the introduction:
While this process looks neat and tidy from the screenshot above, Stedman shares that this lengthy introduction took many months to create:
“The version we sent to reviewers along with our prospectus was actually completely revised and rerecorded for the final book; the original had been recorded over multiple sessions, with lots of edits spliced in that were obviously recorded in other spaces. We also had to address pacing issues, clarifications of some of our points, adjustments to our style (this was informal, but how informal should it be?), and other nagging things that were bugging us. (I, Kyle, listened to that original version a few times in the car, and if something bugged me too much I made a note.) Eventually, with revised script in hand, we sat down and rerecorded the whole thing in one sitting, which greatly helped the audio quality, and the coherence of our ideas.”
Revising audio can prove difficult, and our editors have allowed us to not only see their processing up above but in recording iterations of a later part of the introduction to the collection. Below is a screenshot of a later portion of the introduction.
The goal of the introduction was “to be casual and personal, but this is an example of when it perhaps went too far, meandering into stories that weren’t really connected to the topic at hand. Notice that this was back when we were calling Michael a ‘technical editor,’ before we realized that that he was oh so much more than that.”
Audio clip of the Madonna/Pink Floyd moment:
It wasn’t just the introduction text that took several iterations. Title pages for the chapters also needed to fit into the overall theme. This is an example of the iterations that one chapter title page went through as the final format moved toward something the authors felt meshed with the project as an overall concept.
Being able to edit easily in a document is something writers take for granted, but when html is involved, changes and revisions become complicated. Passing html files back and forth is not easy, so our editors “requested changes as lists in emails or using track changes in Google Docs, which led to dozens of emails with each author about their chapter and manually transferring changes from Google Docs to html files.” These exchanges resulted in a well over 1400 emails for this project alone in a 2.5 year period! Creating a workflow system and managing content becomes a must. Faris writes, “Numerous times, we had to ask ourselves, Is this the most recent version of the audio they sent? Or, where did we put that file? We worked through email, Google Drive, and Dropbox, which most of the time worked fairly well, but sometimes meant we forgot where something was stored or if we had communicated something with an author or not.”
Not only did their own audio frame the book, the authors had to lean on their contributors to perhaps move out of their comfort zones. Faris shares, “Because audio-design and audio-editing are fairly new for most scholars in rhetoric and composition, another challenge was deciding when to ask for revisions to audio: Audio recording and editing can be time-intensive, especially for scholars trained to communicate scholarly work in alphabetic text.” Because of the time intensive work of audio, the editors respected their contributors and made suggestions to edit if possible on the contributors’ end or took care of minor problems like audio shifts themselves. Some contributors really embraced their chapters in surprising and nuanced ways. Danforth describes:
“The first time I heard a draft of Jeremy and Shannon’s chapter and they just call up Cindy Selfe? It blew me away. That’s the power of an audio citation. And then in Milena and David’s chapter, they let us listen in on a dinner party they have with Hildegard Westerkamp. Where else in the history of scholarly writing does something like that happen? This collection could not exist without the work of both these tremendous scholars, but we don’t just have their words on a page, we’ve got their living, teaching, voices enacting their ideas for our ears.”
The Finished Product and Beyond
After completing this book, our editors have only just begun to explore what soundwriting pedagogy looks and sounds like. Where to go from here? Each editor weighs in on the next steps for his or her work or study.
Faris’ work with Soundwriting Pedagogies had opened up his teaching: “Working on this project has really gotten me engaged in soundwriting: I’ve started teaching soundwriting in graduate courses, started a podcast (though I’m far behind in getting new episodes), and now that I administer TTU’s First-Year Writing program, all of our undergraduates in ENGL 1301 are creating podcasts (an assignment I built off of Jeremy Cushman and Shannon Kelly’s chapter). That’s potentially 2700 podcast episodes this fall! I’m looking forward to continuing to write/create scholarship about and in audio.”
Stedman encourages other to take these ideas and run with them: “The next step beyond that is of course classroom practice: people using and remixing these ideas in their own classes, and then finding ways to share them. Most of the book is licensed with the very-open Creative Commons BY-NC license, which gives people the legal right to remix the words and audio files into their own contexts. So hopefully, the effect of the book will be a host of soundwriting assignments in the world throughout all sorts of distribution platforms.”
Danforth believes that they have only just begun in changing writing pedagogy, and “there is a sequel (of sorts) in progress! There has been so much interest already in pedagogical applications of soundwriting, we’re pretty far along now editing a second collection focused even more granularly on classroom activities and assignments that use sound to teach writing.”
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