Christina Santana, assistant professor of English and Writing Center director, was recently chosen to receive a 2018-2019 Emergent Researcher Award from the Conference on College Composition and Communication, National Council of Teachers of English.
Widely recognized as a flagship journal in rhetoric and composition studies, CCCC has a membership of over 6,000 college and university writing instructors in the United States and “supports college teachers in reflecting on and improving their practices in teaching writing and… the most current scholarship and theory in the field,” according to the organization’s website.
Santana’s proposal, written with Jenna Morton-Aiken of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, is titled, “Exploring Practice, Praxis, and Value in Professional Collaborative Writing in Rhetoric and Composition.” The Emergent Researcher Awards were announced at the CCCC annual convention in Pittsburgh. In winning, she and her co-author received $9,500 in research-related funds and the support of their colleagues in the form of national recognition and a yearlong, one-on-one mentorship with a well-established scholar in the field.
Santana provides context for the award and her research agenda below:
- What is innovative about your research?
Many writing faculty members across the country are teaching writing and collaborating with other writing-engaged colleagues to produce significant documents such as scholarly articles, grants, recommendation reports and memos of understanding. What we do not know is, what is the nature of this writing immersed experience, and what might we all learn from it about how to manage collaborative writing projects?
My co-author and I are just beginning a large-scale effort, through surveys and interviews, to collect and bring recognition to the value of the experiences of writing faculty who participate in professional collaborative writing. Right now, our voices are missing on the academic and popular press bookshelves. My co-author and I hope to shed some light on this space.
- How have you managed your collaboration?
My co-author and I have a successful long-distance research relationship. When we wrote over the first summer, we both drove an hour to meet halfway at a coffee shop somewhere in Rhode Island – oftentimes for upwards of five hours per visit. The second summer we didn’t drive. We Skyped and phoned and wrote over Google Docs.
- What’s a research problem you have faced? What did you learn?
When Jenna and I were writing up our proposal, we read everything we could get our hands on that had anything to do with high stakes collaborative writing by those who regularly teach writing. When we found very little, we were concerned that we had missed something; most small-scale studies and explorations were published before the turn of the 21st century. So, I emailed past mentors who are well-established in the field and who’d published on semi-related topics to confirm that we had actually stumbled onto an opportunity as opposed to replicating work that already existed but was buried somehow.
After gaining confirmation and encouragement from those communications, Jenna and I were still unsure that we had the credibility to accomplish a large-scale survey of the field. That’s when we decided to apply for the research grant we won. It ultimately gives us the backing of our colleagues as well as funds to support our work over the summer months. These experiences have confirmed the helpfulness of conversations with colleagues and the accessibility of grants that otherwise may feel out of reach. I’ve learned that boldness and effort pay off.
- What has been the most productive period in your research and why?
During 2018, I published two articles. The first was a long-awaited, co-authored book chapter (draft to publication took five years!), and the second was an article I wrote with my current co-author in WSU’s in-house journal, Currents in Teaching and Writing. Seeing the book chapter in print was a welcome end to a series of publication issues including a sort of musical chairs played by different publishing houses, for reasons out of our control, combined with changing reviewing bodies who had sometimes wildly different feedback for us to incorporate. It’s wonderful that it’s all in the past now and researchers can benefit from reading our work.
Second, around the same time, my newest article was published and the momentum from that pushed Jenna and I to sit down last summer and write a research proposal which won us the Emerging Researcher Award. We proposed that a few articles and a book would come out of this current research agenda. So, all in all, I’d say that last year was the most productive period in my research. During that time, I finished work and started on a new productive path.
- In one sentence, what is the most important question you want to address with your research?
We ask, “What can academics and the wider public learn from those who write collaboratively in high stakes environments and regularly teach college writing classes, remedial through advanced?”
- How does the work you propose follow on from what you are already doing?
Since graduate school, my research has broadly focused on oral and written collaboration. My early publications explore productive, speculative conversations and scholarly writing among both academic and community-based authors (see my dissertation project and articles in the Community Literacy Journal and the Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems). The work I’m doing now is both a continuation and a combination of these efforts.
I took my current position at Worcester State University in 2016 and decided to maintain my attention on collaborative writing. In spring 2017, I met my co-author, Jenna, when we presented on the same panel called “Navigating Collaborative Authorship: Tips, Tricks, and Tales from the Trenches” at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) Conference.
Our new project is an expansion on the article that we recently co-authored on collaborative authorship, published in our very own in-house journal, Currents in Teaching and Writing (Morton-Aiken & Santana, 2018). While that article developed a heuristic to support effective collaborative writing practices in classrooms, our current project will shift to focus on high stakes professional collaborative writing in academia.
- What is the overall importance of this project? How do you see this work impacting the field?
In the Classroom – Social media and other technological innovations have made collaboration technically easier than ever before but these tools don’t necessarily make collaborative composing itself any easier
They do, however, give the appearance of normalizing collaboration as an act as easy as typing together in a Google doc. An increasingly connected society seems to demand greater levels of access and literacy, and an increasingly competitive workforce seems to demand teamwork and collaboration across multiple skill sets.
While the regular incorporation of group writing assignments in composition classrooms indicates that “collaborative writing [indeed] is a complex activity and needs to be actively taught” (Gollin, 1999, p. 289), much of that scholarly conversation seems to ground itself specifically in pedagogy and/or in other disciplines such as business studies. We believe our survey data will engage scholars across our field in ethos-building conversations about the contemporary state of collaborative writing, especially in terms of how we model practices and what we emphasize in the classroom.
Outside of Academia – By collecting and reporting on our own practices, we as instructors and researchers better position ourselves to share our valued expert knowledge (the ways we understand, experience, work through common challenges) with the wider public.
In the field of Rhetoric and Composition– This effort stands alongside a recent germinal text composed by some of the most prominent and productive scholars in our field, Naming What We Know, which illustrates our collective knowing and, arguably, legitimates our sometimes taken for granted expertise as rhetoric and writing scholars. Our survey project will go further to gather voices and experiences from all corners of our field to help us name what we know and to examine how we enact what we know about writing in order to write together.
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