The WIC Faculty Seminar for the 2020-2021 school year will be held in fall term.
Faculty interested in participating should ask their unit heads to email a nomination to interim WIC Director Anita Helle at firstname.lastname@example.org (if before June 15th) and to incoming WIC Director Sarah Perrault at email@example.com (after June 15th).
The seminar is designed for faculty teaching WIC courses and faculty using writing in non-WIC courses, as it focuses on learning best practices for teaching writing across the disciplines. Upon completing the five-session seminar, participating faculty receive a modest honorarium.
The seminar is held on five consecutive Thursday afternoons, 3-5pm, on the following dates:
Depending on the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, the seminar may be held in Milam 215, via zoom, or through some combination of the two.
Registration is now open and will continue throughout the summer.
As my term as Interim WIC Director comes to a close, I have been thinking about the meanings of resilience for WIC and the teaching of writing.
Resilience, and the reconceptualization of resilience, has been at the center of scholarly discussion as world-changing events call us to re-examine our commitments and to reflect on how to become more active, thoughtful, and resilient practitioners.
Resilience; fr Latin, resilience, “to rebound, recoil” and re-salire, “to jump, to leap.” Syn: Refers to “elasticity” of persons or substances from 1824.
Oxford English Dictionary
Resilience should not be glamourized where historical burdens of injustice have been too long endured.
But one gathering of scholars in a recent special issue of the cross-disciplinary journal Pedagogy 19:2 (2019), has advanced an idea of “rhetorical resilience” based on hope—and change. Building on the re-conceptualization of resilience by Elizabeth Flynn et al (2012), rhetorical resilience refers to a “dynamic creativity, reshaping possibilities, opportunities, meanings, and subjects” through acts of writing. Flynn argues that when we help students advance their capabilities as writers in the disciplines, we are calling them to resilience rooted in “agency and relationality,” driven by “empathy and empowerment” as future worlds are re-imagined. I can think of no more powerful motive for renewing the commitment to WIC teaching and learning in uncertain times. Here is a link to the special issue of Pedagogy for your summer reading.
The values that underpin WIC have proved institutionally resilient during this transitional year:
Spring term alone, 112 WIC courses were taught online, 77 of which migrated from hybrid or lecture formats to accommodate COVID remote teaching.
Over 20 WIC Bacc Core course changes and new courses were reviewed and approved winter and spring terms.
25 Culture of Writing Awards were given across the university at the end of AY 2019-20.
3 WIC Spring Term Lunches were conducted by Zoom, with presentations and participation from faculty across six colleges at OSU Corvallis and OSU Cascades.
Highlights of this issue of Teaching with Writing include an interview with incoming WIC Director Dr. Sarah Perrault, a reflection on our final lunch session for the year on WIC and Multimodality, and a call for nominations for the Fall 2020 WIC Faculty Seminar.
Sincere thanks to faculty, to Alix Gitelman, members of the WIC team (Caryn Stoess, Marisa Yerace, Matt Fuller, and Alex Werndli), and the WIC Advisory Board for the many pleasures of working alongside you this year.
by Marisa Yerace, WIC GTA, and Matt Fuller and Alex Werndli, WIC Interns
Sarah Perrault received her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Perrault comes to OSU from the University of California at Davis, where she was an Associate Professor of Writing. Her writing and research focuses on writing pedagogy and scientific writing. Her book, Communicating Popular Science: From Deficit to Democracy (Springer, 2013), has been taught in classes at OSU. Her appointment at OSU will be half time in WIC (.50 FTE University Academic Programs) and half time in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, where she will be teaching courses in her areas of expertise at the undergraduate and graduate level.
When did you start teaching writing, and what kinds of writing have you taught?
I started teaching writing in 2001 when I started a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing at Northern Michigan University. I actually had never taken a composition class, I hadn’t seen a composition textbook until I got them in the mail a month before I started teaching. I still remember looking at one and thinking “Aha, this would have been really helpful when I was an undergrad.” I taught there, and then at University of Nevada, Reno where I was a grad student, and then for the years I’ve been here in Davis. I’ve taught comp at all levels from basic writing to advanced comp. I’ve taught a number of writing in the disciplines classes; writing in the sciences, engineering, technical writing, writing for business. I had actually worked as a technical writer between my bachelor’s and my MFA, so that one came pretty naturally to me. Here at Davis I’ve taught a couple of sophomore-level electives that have been really fun. One is called Style in the Essay. I’ve taught that with a focus on blog writing because I think blogs actually fill some of the rhetorical genre function of essays today. And I’ve taught a sophomore-level elective on research papers. I’ve taught Popular Science and Technology Writing, Rhetorical Approaches to Scientific and Technological Issues, and History of Scientific Writing; those three are classes I created here. And I’ve taught a Dissertation Writing class.
What do you wish more people knew about teaching writing?
I wish people knew that faculty in every field have something to offer when teaching writing. Faculty in all areas have something to bring to bear. I wish people understood that writing varies from one context to another–and this means everything from usage, to how to cite things correctly, to more abstract things like what even counts as evidence. What counts as “good evidence” is so incredibly disciplinary. I’d like people to know that, and know that what seems obvious to us is only obvious to us within our fields because we’ve gotten used to it.There’s so much variability in what counts as “good writing,” and we should recognize our own expertise but recognize that much of that expertise is tacit knowledge. Our job is to bring that to the surface and articulate that to our students.
Why teach writing?
Selfishly speaking, I love language and I love written communication. Teaching writing is the dream, I mean, I get to talk to people about writing, and language choices they made, and why they made those choices–I get paid to do this incredibly fun thing! I also really love helping people solve problems, and learning to write is basically learning a set of problem-solving strategies and meta-strategies: how people solve problems they’re having now and gather and practice skills that are going to help them in what they do next.
In terms of other people teaching writing, if I may tell an anecdote here: I came to college as a horribly underprepared student. I went to a small liberal arts college, I was a scholarship student, and there was a required humanities course we all had to take. I kind of floundered my way through my first semester, and in our second semester we had a new teacher named Edwin Gerow. He got my first paper that semester, and he brought me into office hours and he looked at me and said, “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”
I still remember the combined feeling of, “Oh my god I’ve been found out,” and “Oh thank god, someone has finally noticed and maybe can help!” And he did. He brought me into his office for the next paper and had me come in three times a week. He would say “Where are you now with your thinking? With your writing?” and I would say, “Well, I’m thinking A and B and C,” and he would say, “Okay, well, A is good but not really relevant, forget about C, that won’t take you anywhere useful, come back in two days.” And we did this for a month. And at the end of it, I had actually written a paper and he had walked me through that process. This was not a professor of writing, this was not a professor of rhetoric: this was a professor who saw that a student was struggling with what it meant to write in college, what it meant to analyze and synthesize and so on. And it was absolutely transformative. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know if I would have survived my undergraduate career and gotten my degree.
I think any professor who wants students to succeed needs writing to be part of that.
What drew you to WAC/WID studies?
I think it’s the interdisciplinarity of it. Like a lot of people in rhet/comp, I sort of am in love with… everything! I mean, I started out with a Bachelors in Anthropology because I wanted to understand cultures and communication and how people from different worlds get along. I did a lot of other work that involved communicating and sharing knowledge and understanding what people needed. I worked at a bike shop for a few years: I was really bad at sales, but I was really good at educating the customers. I was a technical writer for about 10 years. In my nonfiction MFA, I focused on natural history writing. So that bridge between worlds.
When I was doing my MFA, I asked my advisor, “Do you think I have what it takes to make it in this world?” And he thought about it, and then he said very tactfully, “I could see you running a writing program someday.” I found that when I was doing my MFA, and I felt down, I would just start doing research about writing: what writing does and how it does it.
And then I found WAC/WID, where you get to learn what writing does and how it does it everywhere! You don’t have to box yourself into a little niche.
What are the qualities of a successful teacher of writing? Are these qualities the same as those of an effective writing program administrator?
I think the answer is there’s an overlap, and there are obvious differences. The qualities of a successful teacher of writing, to a great extent they’re the qualities of a successful teacher of anything. You’ve gotta care about students, meet students where they are, learn where their strengths are and how to help them build from those strengths. I think good teachers don’t take a deficit mindset. They take a sort of, “Wow, these amazing people are here to learn and they’ve already brought so much!” mindset, having respect for students as people who want to learn as well as for their reasons for wanting to learn. Maybe they’re intrinsically motivated, maybe they’re here because it’s a requirement and because it’ll help in some other endeavor, and that’s something to respect too. Another overlap is that both a good teacher and administrator are always interested in changing understandings of pedagogy. Helping students learn how to identify their own challenges and equipping them with ways to overcome those is in some ways very similar to a WIC/WAC leader working with faculty. Obviously, WPA work and teaching both require being very organized. They both require keeping track of details while keeping track of the big picture; don’t be so visionary that you forget to pay the bills and keep the electricity turned on!
I think the larger goals are where the differences come into play. A teacher has to know how a course fits into a degree or a series of requirements, but a teacher is ultimately focused on each individual student’s success, whereas a WPA is focused on how a program fits into the educational infrastructure of the university. They’re focused on success at the program level, not the individual level: how well the program is doing its part in strengthening the educational aims of the university. Students and student learning are definitely the end goal for both, but for a WPA, there’s a degree of removal: you’re affecting student learning by affecting the things that affect student learning. It’s kind of like working with an ecosystem, and of course I think of forestry because OSU emphasizes sustainable practices and forestry is big in Oregon. Good forestry practices aren’t about an individual plant or animal species – they’re about fostering a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem where all the plants and animals can thrive. You’re looking holistically and trying to keep the system healthy so that everything within it can be healthy and grow.
How does your research in scientific communication inform your approach as a WAC administrator?
WAC/WID is really about understanding how writing works in a specific context. As a humanities/social science person, studying scientific writing has really driven home to me how deeply disciplinary writing practices are – because, man, they are really different from one area to another! What they do, how they do it, why they do it… I mean, obviously, there are things that carry over, but studying science writing really drives home that writing is part of a disciplinary epistemology, disciplinary norms, and disciplinary values. It’s also given me a lot of chances to work on interdisciplinary teams and learn about how people in other fields make knowledge and communicate knowledge, as well as what their values are in their teaching. Ultimately, that’s most important because it has helped me shift my mindset into different contexts. WAC is about faculty empowerment; it’s about going into other peoples’ contexts, learning how things work there, working in those contexts to help them make changes. Even having that awareness of how different a world another discipline might be, even if it’s only in the next building over, really helps me walk in with that “Okay, I’m not gonna assume things” mindset while at the same time having an understanding of the range of things that I might encounter.
What else should people know about you?
I would like to say what an incredible honor it is to have been chosen for this job. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, it’s basically a dream come true. It’s not even a dream I knew was a possibility until I saw the ad back in October. I am incredibly excited and deeply grateful for this opportunity, and really, really looking forward to it.
More information on Sarah Perrault can be found on her website.
Above picture description: Sarah Perrault (left) with WIC Director of 25 years, Vicki Tolar Burton(right), at an annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
WIC and participating units strive to foster a commitment to excellence in undergraduate student writing and recognize the value of writing across the disciplines with the annual WIC Culture of Writing Awards in the disciplines.
Participation in the Culture of Writing Awards has thrived since 2006 as students earn recognition and cash awards through either individual or team writing projects. This year, participation continued to be strong, even with the obstacles of the present quarter. WIC would like to thank all participating units for their continued desire to recognize and reward outstanding student writing.
Congratulations to this year’s awardees!
College | Unit | Nominating Professor
Alternative Approach for Soil Sterilization in Strawberry Rootstock and Fruit Productions
I am passing along an additional resource for OSU WIC faculty as you migrate to teaching WIC courses online in response to OSU directives on COVID-19. The information below is posted on the Writing Across the Curriculum National Clearinghouse (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On March 8th, the leadership of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE—www.glosole.org) met to discuss how GSOLE might help faculty who teach writing and are faced with emergency migration to online writing instruction at many universities. While OSU’s Canvas IT offers excellent support and guidance for migration to online instruction, you may find yourself with emerging questions that require quick responses in a pinch. (For example, I just found an answer at the “Just Ask GSOLE” link on how to toggle between Canvas display of instructional slides and Zoom-based lectures).
Scott Warnock, President of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators has posted the following links targeted to teachers of writing across disciplines. I have previewed these links. I offer these with the caveat that, as Warnock reminds us, transition to any new instructional modality compels thoughtful planning. The project is ongoing and evolving, and is likely to morph in coming weeks. The intention of these resources is to provide our WIC faculty an additional resource in a pinch.
The Just In Time Hub is a gateway to various resources, including those below as well as excellent written materials to help you think through course conversion/migration; we’ll be updating with other materials on the fly: www.glosole.org/justintime.html
Just Ask GSOLE provides a direct link to discussion forums moderated by GSOLE online writing/literacy instruction experts who can answer your specific questions: www.glosole.org/justaskgsole.html
Walk-In Webinars is a direct link to live Zoom sessions hosted by GSOLE members; the schedule of facilitators is listed there along with specific topics: www.glosole.org/walkinwebinars.html
If you have questions, please direct them to JustAskGSOLE@glosole.org. You can also follow GSOLE on twitter @gsoleducators for updates on GSOLE’s efforts to assist university response to COVID-19 and visit the general website at www.glosole.org for other material and information.
In addition to these resources, any questions about moving WIC-specific writing assignments online can be directed to the WIC Team through WIC GTA, Marisa Yerace, at email@example.com. We are always happy to collaborate with you on your WIC Courses.
With this issue of “Teaching with Writing,” we launch our spring series of WIC speakers, lunches, and activities, on the theme of WIC in Transition—Continuity and Change.
Signs of change have also been on the horizon since I stepped into the Interim Director role in January. As I write, the search for a permanent WIC Director is nearing completion (look for a profile introducing the incoming WIC Director in the spring newsletter). OSU’s new curricular proposal system (CIM) offers faculty a newly streamlined digital space for submitting WIC course changes and new WIC courses.
In keeping with OSU COVID-19 protocols, we will be delivering the first WIC lunch on April 10 from 12-1 pm as a Webinar, drawing on Zoom functions such as screen share, chat, and document posting. We will evaluate our mode of delivery after the first two weeks of the term.
Updated information on digital delivery systems for planned events outlined below will be posted in advance on the WIC website and announced by e-mail a week in advance for all WIC faculty at OSU-Corvallis and OSU-Cascades.
My highest priority for spring term is to maintain our WIC activities and events as a vital (if virtual) gathering space for the day-to-day interests of faculty teaching writing in the disciplines. I will provide ongoing support and review for WIC faculty developing new courses or making course changes. The Baccalaureate Core Committee will continue to review WIC proposals through spring term.
Read on for detail on upcoming sessions:
Our WIC sessions on April 10 ”Teaching Peer Review Online: Tools, Resources, and Strategies,” and April 17, “Assessing Peer Review” respond to the future of WIC teaching in the context of “next-generation learning environments.” With apologies for the buzzword, “next generation learning environments” require fluid and flexible movement between online and face-to-face learning and deeper integration of our familiar cultures of writing with new literacies.
On May 1, the WIC Lunch Series is pleased to host a speaker, Mike Caulfield, Director of Networked and Blended Learning at Washington State University Vancouver. His research responds to the urgent challenge of teaching information literacy across writing disciplines and genres in an era when misinformation, disinformation, and accusations of “fake news” abound. As an introduction to the currency and impact of Caulfield’s work in higher ed, I highly recommend The Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent feature, “How to Teach Information Literacy in an Era of Lies.”
Our final lunch for the year on May 15 will focus on reinvigoration and renewal of writing pedagogies through examples of WIC faculty innovations including multimedia/multimodal. Special thanks to WIC faculty who responded to our recent questionnaire on this topic.
Even as we make room for change, I am convinced that the writing lessons developed and taught through WIC seminars remain enduring and resilient. You, the WIC faculty, are the backbone of this program. The ideas that have shaped the Spring program have come from you. Thank you for your ongoing participation and your dedication to WIC teaching.
Anita Helle Interim WIC Director, Winter and Spring 2020 Professor of English/School of Writing, Literature, and Film firstname.lastname@example.org Pronouns: she, her, hers
We are happy to announce our Spring Lunch Series schedule for 2020. We look forward to the stimulating conversations that will occur.
Spring Term WIC lunches have formerly been held on Fridays in Milam 215 from 12 to 1 pm, with delicious American Dream pizza and beverages provided.
Here is what you NOW need to know about how the WIC Program is modifying its modes of delivery of scheduled lunches Spring Term in response to OSU COVD-19 policy on keeping safe and keeping teaching. Our intention is to provide ongoing WIC-specific support to faculty.
Starting April 10, 12-1 pm, our scheduled lunch sessions will be offered at noon on Fridays but will be moved online to the videoconferencing software Zoom, with its document-posting and chat functions. Zoom is available to you through your Oregon State account.
Moving forward, we will make every effort to deliver intended content of the planned WIC lunches remotely, where possible.
We will provide regular updates on scheduled activities by e-mail and the WIC website as conditions evolve.
If you have any questions regarding the noon hour remote sessions, please contact Marisa Yerace, WIC GTA, at email@example.com. Please register for each lunch you plan to attend by clicking here or copying and pasting this link: https://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1NBfRL1l1hb9k2h .
Even for lunches occurring on campus, Zoom links will be provided to enable our OSU Cascades Faculty to participate.
“Teaching Peer Review Online: Tools, Resources, and Strategies”(for teaching WIC on campus and Ecampus) – April 10
This has been changed to a Zoom meeting. Please register if you plan to attend and you will receive the meeting link closer to the event.
This lunch will introduce current digital interface tools and resources for effective peer review assignments online (Canvas, Eli Review, and the OSU Writing Studio).
“Information Literacy in an Age of Lies” – May 1
WIC guest speaker: Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning, Academic Affairs, Washington State University, Vancouver.
Information literacy—identifying, critically analyzing and evaluating sources—is not new. The topic has taken on greater urgency in an era when accusations of fake news and disinformation are common. Mike Caulfield is a nationally recognized authority on thinking through 21st century generation digital learning and the special challenges of online sourcing for college teachers and students. Read a short preview of his research profile and presentation here.
“Showcasing Innovations: WIC in Multi-modal/Multimedia Forms” – May 15
Join us for an invigorating roundtable conversation with short presentations on innovative approaches to supplementing WIC writing assignments with multimedia/multimodal forms (sound, speech, visual texts).
In conversations with colleagues who teach writing and my own students, I’ve repeatedly heard worries about discerning what information is truthful or reliable when researching. In response to that, I found multiple articles leading to the work of Mike Caulfield, a digital information literacy expert working at Washington State University Vancouver. He has worked with various organizations on digital literacy initiatives to combat misinformation, including AASCU’s American Democracy Project, the National Writing Project, and CIVIX Canada.
His approach to digital critical consumption, often referred to as the “four moves”, is popular among those teaching first-year college students how to evaluate and contextualize information sources. Here are some uses or examples of his work:
On May 1st, Mike Caulfield will be our invited guest for a WIC Spring Lunch. We hope you can attend and, if at all possible, have a look through some of his ideas so we can engage in a rich conversation.
As of the start of Winter Term, 2020, the Interim Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum will be Dr. Anita Helle, Professor of English.
Dr. Helle’s research and teaching focuses on modern and postmodern American literature, gender and feminist theory, and rhetorical pedagogies. In the past, she has served as Director of the College of Liberal Arts Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, and as Director of the School of Writing, Literature, and Film. She has a new book of essays on American poet Sylvia Plath coming out in 2021 from Bloomsbury Academic. Also, Dr. Helle has taught a WIC course on the histories of literacy for over 25 years.
Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum, retires after 29 years at Oregon State University at the end of 2019. WIC Interns Matt Fuller, Alex Werndli, and Regan Breeden, and WIC GTA Marisa Yerace, sat down with Vicki to discuss her work, experiences, and legacy as a writing teacher, rhetoric scholar, and Writing Program Administrator.
On the Writing Intensive Curriculum at OSU
What drew you to WAC/WID studies?
I think I have an interdisciplinary mind, and I’ve always looked at things from multiple directions. I’ve had jobs where I was working in different environments, from labor law administration to the National Institutes of Health. I saw different kinds of discourse, and they all interested me. So Writing Across the Curriculum felt like a good fit for me from the start. This job requires rhetorical sensitivity, specifically an understanding of audience and context and an ability to persuade people to do the right thing for their students, which I also enjoy.
How have you articulated the value of the WIC program to the university community and beyond?
The WIC requirement’s purpose is to help OSU undergraduates become effective writers in their discipline. The WIC program’s purpose is to support faculty who teach WIC courses, to help them employ best practices for teaching writing in their discipline, and to help with the assessment and certification of WIC courses. The best argument for the WIC program’s value is the success of WIC faculty who feel their teaching has been improved and even transformed by taking the WIC seminar or gaining support from another aspect of WIC. These confident teachers of writing in the disciplines become the face of the program and the best argument for the program.
WIC gains value in the university through collaborations between the WIC director and staff and WIC faculty and academic units, as well as with other writing entities like the Writing Studio (formerly the Writing Center) and the Writing I and Writing II courses.
On Teaching Writing
When did you begin teaching writing? What kinds of writing have you taught?
I started teaching writing the day after I turned 22. I was in a master’s program at Duke University. Duke arranged with different school systems to employ their grad students as regular salaried high school teachers. So, I went to a really interesting high school in Westport, Connecticut, which is a bedroom community to New York—very artsy, and a lot of brilliant people live there, and their kids go to the public high school. The faculty were among the most interesting faculties I have ever taught with, because many of them had other careers in the arts and business, finance and publishing—all different fields—then they decided to be high school teachers as a second career. It was an amazing education for me. That was my start, I was teaching 10th grade English. When I got married, my then-spouse was in the Air Force, so we moved around and I was always able to get a job. If I couldn’t get a teaching job, I did something else, like labor law administration. I’ve taught 6th grade through PhD students, including community college. I’ve taught at a historically black university in Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University. So, I’ve had a quite varied career—all this before I got my PhD at Auburn and then came to OSU.
What do you wish more people knew about teaching writing?
One thing is the value of robust revision in response to feedback. Also, I wish more teachers and students knew how to give feedback that is both specific and encouraging, that helps writers prioritize revising tasks and say, ‘Hey, I can do that. I can fix that.’ I would like to free faculty from the urge to line edit all student writing. We need to help students get the big things right first—audience, purpose, organization, accurate content—and leave correctness for a much later stage.
What do you think people struggle with most with when teaching writing?
One of the big challenges is helping students identify, understand, and practice the particular kind of writing that is valued in their field. Faculty often assume students understand this by osmosis, just because they are majors, but many don’t. Teachers need to articulate these characteristics to students. The other biggest challenge is probably giving effective feedback that leads to robust revision.
What are the qualities of a successful teacher of writing? Are these qualities the same as those of an effective writing program administrator?
don’t think they’re necessarily the same. I think you can be a great teacher of
writing and know that you’re not suited to direct a program. And, that’s
good—you have other gifts. Successful writing teachers are student-centered.
They’re not just delivering information under the banking model—making deposits
of information in students’ heads. They have clear standards, so the students
know what’s expected. They design writing assignments that require critical
thinking and push students out of their default position. Successful teachers
of writing are committed to the success of all levels of students, not
dismissing struggling students, not overlooking middling students, not leaving
the best writer on their own. Every writer can improve with the right feedback
A successful WPA has to have a larger vision of the program’s purpose and be able to keep all the parts moving in the right direction. After my grandson, 4, visited my WIC office, he told me he has an office with a big round table like mine and two computer screens. “What kind of work do you do in your office?” I asked. “I sit in a big black chair, and I spin,” he replied. So there is that part, too.
Why teach writing?
I teach writing because I believe it’s something that is important in people’s lives. Writing is a skill that people need, and I think it helps people become who they are—find themselves, find their best selves, share what they know, discover new knowledge. And if they can improve as writers and gain confidence as writers, then they can make choices in their lives and not be held back by lack of communications skills. I love teaching writing; I’ve always loved it. I like reading what students write, I like giving them feedback, I like talking to them as writers.
“Rhetoric and Composition” wasn’t always as clearly defined of a field as it is now. What led you to become a rhetoric scholar?
There were very few places, when I was getting my PhD, that had a Rhetoric and Composition PhD. I had rhetoric and composition coursework in my English doctoral studies.
Rhetoric and Composition was a clear choice. When I was teaching in Charlotte, North Carolina, I participated in faculty development based on the National Writing Project. It brought together teachers from many disciplines around teaching writing, especially as a process. I remember thinking, ‘That’s brilliant! I want to do that.’
I was drawn to more study of rhetoric because of a project that I happened into. When I was first working on my PhD, an elderly family member gave me an old book that was published in 1834. It was the spiritual journal of an 18th-century British Methodist woman who had the same name as my mother’s family. And this elderly relative said, ‘Somebody gave me this book and said this woman might be kin to us. Maybe you’d like to have the book.’ That night I looked at the first ten pages, I realized the author, Hester Rogers, was from England and I hadn’t been able to pin anybody in our family to one place in England, so I put the book away.
Then, a few months later, I had a dream. About the book. That I hadn’t read. And the dream was the book was important. And that I should read it! I sometimes have really strong dreams, so I got up in the night and–we had moved, everything was still in boxes and I had to go through boxes to find this book–but I found it. It wasn’t very long, so I just stayed up the rest of the night and read it. I didn’t say, This is the best thing I’ve ever read, but her writing style was very Jane Austen, even though she was writing pre-Jane Austen. That was kind of intriguing to me; she was obviously educated. I started trying to find out who Hester Rogers was. But this was pre-internet search, pre-Google, so I was just looking in the library at Auburn.
The first place I found her was an engraving of John Wesley’s (the founder of Methodism) deathbed scene, and she was in the room with John Wesley when he died. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting!’ Not only was she in the room, she was kneeling next to his bed, she was physically the closest person to him, and she had her hands up on the bedclothes while he was dying. I thought, ‘There’s definitely rhetoric in that picture.’ So I started looking for her, just for my own satisfaction. And I started thinking of the whole project rhetorically – and historically – so I started applying my rhetorical knowledge to something I was personally interested in, and I ended up writing my dissertation as a rhetorical study of Hester Rogers’s journal and her place in early Methodism. My argument was that she was used as the model of the ‘good woman.’ There were other early Methodist women leaders who preached, but Hester Rogers did not preach, and I think they – the men – picked her because she was ‘the good woman in the pew.’ In the 19th century, the preaching women were silenced but Hester’s journal went into more than 40 American editions. The women preachers were protected by John Wesley until he died, and then the men said, ‘Ladies, you can go home now, we have plenty of men to preach.’ So the ‘Good woman’ became the woman who was teaching Sunday School, leading the women but not running the church. It took more than a century, almost two, for Methodist women to get back in the pulpit.
That’s how I got into rhetoric: because I wanted to know something, and I wanted to have a frame for looking at it, and rhetoric worked for me.
On Her Legacy and Future Plans
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave at OSU?
The WIC teachers I’ve trained
and supported and the OSU students across the university who have learned to
write in their majors: they are my legacy.
The wonderful WIC GTAs and
interns who have learned about writing program administration from working with
WIC and taken that knowledge forward: they are my legacy.
A sustained and sustainable
WIC program that contributes of OSU’s excellence in the land grant mission:
this is my legacy.
And the undergraduates and graduate students I have taught in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, and especially the graduate students from across the university who have completed their degrees at least in part because they found my course, WR 599, Writing Workshop for Thesis and Dissertation Writers Across the University: these writers are my legacy.
I hope part of my legacy will be a contemplative one. I introduced the thesis and dissertation writers to contemplative practices that could help them with stress, focus, with balance—and with writing. Once in the airport in Portland, one of my former dissertation writers came running over and said, “I’m on my way to Sweden to give a paper. I’ve been wanting to tell you that Amy (someone also in WR 599) and I taught our whole lab how to meditate.” I love the image of an OSU lab of grad students learning to meditate together.
That’s the beauty of cross disciplinary learning. That the lab is good for more than just measuring things, it’s good for mutual support. So part of my WIC legacy of writing in the disciplines is that WIC led to teach WR599 and to all of the graduate students who have finished and defended and gone out in the world, some of whom have taught their labs to meditate.
What is next for VTB?
I plan to spend more time with my Oregon grandkids and with my East Coast grandkids. I’m going to do lots of hiking, some traveling, and, I hope, lots of writing.
Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton will be presenting at two upcoming conferences: the 71st Conference on College Composition and Communication (March 25-28, 2020, in Milwaukee, WI), and the 19th Biennial Meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America (May 21-24, 2020, in Portland, OR). She also has a chapter, “Ethical Writing in the Disciplines,” forthcoming in After Plato: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing, and an article, “Mapping Dual Credit for College Writing: Notes from the Oregon Trail,” forthcoming in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, written with Jordan Terriere-Dobrioglo.