My teaching and research focus on the writing of ordinary people and how it functions in their lives. Writing is ubiquitous as part of the foundation of our modern institutions, laws, and economy, to the extent that it’s infrastructural. And when something is always around you, it can be difficult to understand what it does.
I primarily teach academic writing classes, which prepare students to write research papers. I have also taught courses on digital media, science writing, and authorship and publishing, and I am currently teaching my first course on professional writing, which, to me, is extraordinarily interesting and fun because it requires a very different approach to teaching. The fact of the matter is that no matter what profession students may go into, they’re going to be writing for hours a day. And professional writing puts very different demands on your writing than academic writing does. Once you’re in the professional sphere, you have to consider things like copyright, different audiences, accessibility, and the possibility that your writing can be manipulated and recirculated in malicious ways. In some cases, you might even have to ghostwrite for people who may be a different age, gender, or ethnicity. I aim to provide my students with not only lots of practice in writing, but also tools that will help grease their learning process and help them adapt their writing to different situations.
Additionally, in the classroom, I try to create authentic student engagement with the problems I give them to solve. Given that students are enrolled in four or five demanding classes at a time—and their attention is simultaneously spread across other things like extracurricular activities, their social lives, sports, and their online lives—I like to think about how I can best design assignments that will get them to think about the material and engage with it for as long as possible. I like to present them with a problem they’ll think about long after they leave the classroom and they’ll talk about with friends.
My Research Interests
Over the last 15 years, my research has focused on how writers adapt to new digital technologies. To me, it’s fascinating to see what ordinary people are capable of doing when it comes to manipulating and engaging with digital technologies to achieve whatever ends they’re aiming for.
I’m currently working on two research projects: One of them is an edited collection of resources that will help faculty effectively use large language models in the classroom. Large language models are basically like fancy autocomplete machines to which you can give a sentence and a prompt, and they produce three to six paragraphs of writing. The most popular one that students know is ChatGPT. They work kind of in the same way that your phone tries to predict the next word when you’re typing a text, but they run on enormous amounts of computational power. The keyboard on your phone might be able to remember a couple of words and predict one or two, but large language models can remember 1,500 words and predict hundreds. Most of the writing they produce is decent—but the problem is, given the way they work, they don’t actually know what they’re saying. But large language models can have an enormous amount of positive real-world implications for workplaces, higher education, and second language writers in English.
Large language models also are surrounded by incredible amounts of hype. The other research project I’m working on looks at the effects that large language models can potentially have when used in real-world settings, versus the effects Silicon Valley and the industry is telling us they’re going to have.
One of the things I love about teaching at Lafayette and is very helpful to me is, unlike many of my friends at other research institutions, I have very frequent contact with faculty across disciplines. When you’re doing research, it’s easy to get in your own little silo and not communicate much with others outside of your field. But on a daily basis, I collaborate with people from departments like philosophy, religion, mathematics, or women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. And when you talk to people who teach in other disciplines and have completely different perspectives, that can be really influential on your own research.
Awards and Honors
Computers and Writing Distinguished Book Award for the book Mass Authorship and the Rise of Self-Publishing, University of Iowa Press (2016)
“Online Book Reviews and Emerging Generic Conventions: A Study of Authorship, Publishing, and Peer Review.” New Directions in Writing Research. Charles Bazerman et al. Eds. Parlor Press (print version). Colorado State Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse (PDF version). 2012. 521-38.
“Sustained Authorship: Ebooks, Value, and Participatory Culture.” Written Communication 27.4 (Fall 2010): 469-93. Print.