Technological Ecologies and Sustainability

Sustaining Scholarly Efforts

Cynthia L. Selfe, Gail E. Hawisher, and Patrick W. Berry



The profession of English can retain its traditional value on scholarship that is original, innovative, intellectual and sustained, peer reviewed, and published, while acknowledging that scholarly fields, forms, and values change.

Change, we are convinced, produces less anxiety and less resistance when individuals and groups—both those who support change and those who are resistant to change—can focus on shared values. It is within the context of this middle, and more sustainable ground, that much of our work as journal and book series editors has proceeded over the past decades. For us, this understanding does not imply a reluctance to support and embrace change, especially of the kind inflected by feminist theory and practice. It has, however, allowed us to pursue change in ways that our colleagues and departments have accepted and supported, even in institutions often dominated by historically informed values on scholarly forms and productivity standards, and in a rapidly changing technological field that is also occasionally influenced by such values.

When we first began work in this field in the early 1980s, for example, few journals or presses specializing in English studies were willing to publish work on technology and fewer were willing to do so on a frequent basis. In the minds of many colleagues, this emerging field seemed antithetical to humanist values and scholarly traditions that focused primarily on historical and print-based texts. At the same time, English departments placed value on scholarship that was intellectually innovative and sustained, on refereed print publications, and on rising standards of productivity for scholarly projects. Our challenge, then, in response to such an environment, was to acknowledge the continuing value of published scholarship in print-based environments, while identifying peer review processes and social networks that could help us make such scholarly projects better, and more sustainable than relying on our own efforts alone. Four kinds of approaches grew out of these related realizations. The first approach we found to be of value—despite the prevailing academic value on single-authored scholarship in many departments of English—was a commitment to scholarly projects that involved collaboration and social networks. In part, this approach was made possible in the early 1980s by personal computers and the exchange of floppy disks, then later by digital networks and the exchange of email messages, and even later by the exchange and electronic editing of files (Hawisher & Selfe, 1998).

Using these particular technological tactics, we worked with colleagues across the country to edit an early set of anthologies that focused on issues of importance to the increasing numbers of teacher/scholars who were beginning to use and study information technologies in English composition classrooms (see Hawisher & LeBlanc, 1992; Hawisher & Selfe, 1991; Holdstein & Selfe, 1990; Selfe & Hilligoss, 1994). Authors in these anthologies focused on the best ways of integrating computer technology into humanist classrooms; the effects that such technology seemed to be having on the literacy practices and products of teachers and students; the need for professional development and departmental support; and our call to develop critical perspectives on technology. In completing these early co-edited book projects, we followed a commitment to collaborative scholarship that drew on the talents of multiple authors, but that were also refereed through the conventional peer review processes valued within English departments at that time. Importantly, for us, this work also involved building intensional networks (Brown & Duguid, 1996) of colleagues around the country who helped extend our personal interests in computers and writing more broadly and extensively, and who could be counted on to understand, appreciate, and formulate critical perspectives on our work. These intensional networks—that is, networks that grew out of intense and productive communication among individuals across boundaries—eventually took an international turn, with colleagues in Australia, Greece, Egypt, and Norway participating and extending the reach of emerging communities of practice (Wenger, 1998).

In a second social and scholarly effort, we began and edited a new print journal, Computers and Composition[2], which focused on the needs of teachers experimenting with technology in English composition classrooms. This journal, too, was made possible, in part, by the support of far-sighted departmental chairs and, in part, by a changing technological environment that put the power of design, layout, and production within our reach as scholars. Early issues of the journal were created on an IBM Selectric and duplicated; later editions were produced on a personal computer using word-processing and page-layout software. As the journal developed, communication with authors and reviewers was conducted by email as well. As a scholarly project, Computers and Composition was both conventional and revolutionary. The print form of the journal and, as it developed, its reliance on accepted peer review processes and its eventual association with established scholarly presses (e.g., Ablex and Elsevier) acknowledged existing scholarly values in departments of English. At the same time, the journal’s emphasis on computer use in composition studies, technological experimentation, and emerging forms of scholarship helped push the boundaries of the field in ways prized by colleagues who placed value on technological innovation. The journal further extended the intensional networks we had established around our scholarly efforts, drawing on the many talents of colleagues at other institutions who reviewed contributions, wrote articles, recruited authors, and read the journal’s contents.

As we gained experience with various kinds of collaborative scholarly projects, accumulated the required cultural capital of published work, and extended the professional networks on which our work depended, we noted that other scholars in the emerging field of computers and writing had similar needs. To meet these needs, and to accommodate longer-sustained scholarly projects, we began a third major scholarly effort involving the editing of three different book series—the first with the National Council of Teachers of English, and the second and third with Ablex and Hampton Press, respectively. Like many of our projects, these series have incorporated both conventional and unconventional features. They have all recognized, for instance, existing and historical values on excellent, peer-reviewed scholarship in the form of printed books, and, importantly we believe, the role of the single-authored scholarly monograph. Several of the volumes published in the series, however, have also made room for the collaborative scholarship and edited collections that scholars entering the profession have used to establish their own scholarly identities and social networks (titles in print as of our writing of this chapter include Alexander, 2005; Alexander & Dickson, 2006; Allen, 2002; Blair & Takayoshi, 1999; Coogan, 1999; Crow, 2006; Grabill, 2007; Gruber, 2007; Hawisher, LeBlanc, Moran, & Selfe, 1996; Howard, 1997; Johnson-Eilola, 1999, 2005; Kalmbach, 1996; McKee & DeVoss, 2007; Palmquist, Keifer, Hartvigsen, & Goodlew, 1998; Porter, 1998; Rouzie, 2005; Samuels, 2006; C. Selfe, 2007; R. Selfe, 2005; Sloane, 2000; Snyder & Beavis, 2004; Sullivan & Porter, 1997; Takayoshi & Sullivan, 2007).

Click on media box to play.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

These series, too, have increasingly taken advantage of digital networks and electronic forms of exchanging information. Most of the authors involved, for example, wrote in digital environments, corresponded with us as editors and their colleagues via these networks, and focused their scholarship on the literacy practices characterizing such networks. A recent book in the Hampton series, moreover, includes a DVD that features student-made examples of digital video and audio compositions, and makes room for digital media formats within the conventional form of the book (Selfe, 2007).

A fourth project that we undertook to accommodate conventional academic valuesand to, at the same time, pursue a commitment to the changing forms of knowledge production in digital environmentsinvolved identifying a series of national awards for print and, more recently, digital publications. These awards had, and still have, multiple goals. On one level, they are designed to acknowledge the academy’s historical focus on scholarship characterized by innovation, reach, and intellectual excellence. On the other hand, they are designed to recognize the work of scholars struggling to publish in an emerging area within English studies. We began in 1990 with the annual Ellen Nold Award for the best article in computers and writing, along with the Hugh Burns Award for the best dissertation. In 1998, we introduced the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award, suggested by Johndan Johnson-Eilola, to recognize the book-length contributions that sustain scholarly projects within the field. In 2005, we added the Charles Moran Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field, to recognize significant pioneering work that often goes unrecognized. Most recently, we have begun awarding the Michelle Kendrick Prize for Digital Production/Scholarship. With this award, we are seeking to honor and call attention to new forms of scholarship, and new forms of digital production and exchange that graduate students and faculty members in digital media studies are finding of increasing interest.

Although these awards carry relatively modest prizes, their effect has been magnified by their national competitiveness, the involvement of respected scholars serving as judges, and the recognition of their import by members both within and outside the computers and writing community. As a result, these awards have added considerable weight to the profiles of ground-breaking individuals and their outstanding work. These awards have convinced us that when a community of knowledgeable scholars pays positive attention to outstanding work, others colleagues are prompted to do so as well.

Click on media box to play.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player




[2] The original founders and editors of Computers and Composition were Kathleen Kiefer, Colorado State University, and Cynthia L. Selfe, Michigan Tech University. In 1988, Gail Hawisher, University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, became co-editor of the journal with Cynthia Selfe. This collaborative continues to edit the journal at present, although the editorship is aided on a continual basis by talented graduate student associate editors at their respective institutions and a series of innovative guest editors who propose special issues, which are published regularly.

--->>>>link to next section > Principle #2 --->>>