An Editorial Pedagogy

My philosophy—an editorial pedagogy—is fundamentally linked to my academic identity and performance as an editor, scholar, teacher, mentor, and administrator in digital writing studies, digital publishing, and digital humanities. In the 21st century, scholars in “writing” study textual practices much broader than the linguistic communicative modes that phrase might have previously suggested. Multiple modes—such as those that the New London Group (1996) laid out, including visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes—and media are also at work in the meaning-making process. Multimodal theories suggest that texts should be designed, not ‘just’ written, within situated social and cultural contexts (see Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Kress, 2010), and rhetorical genre studies provides an analytical and pedagogical framework to understand how those contexts, and their genres, constantly shift (see, e.g., Bawarshi & Reiff, 2010; Wardle, 2009). Both theoretical frameworks help authors learn how to produce better, more useful texts across modes, media, genres, audiences, contexts, etc. Applying multimodal and rhetorical genre theories to the texts I’m most interested in teaching and studying—web-based texts, or webtexts—also means drawing on my experience teaching and researching workplace writing, web design, print design, and information studies in technical and professional communication; aesthetics, poetics, and hypertext theories in literature and creative writing (particularly as those intersect in electronic literature); histories of print- and screen-based text production and delivery in media studies and textual studies; digital media practices in art and design; and other disciplinary areas and research. All available means. This conglomeration is where I find myself: focusing inwards, toward a ‘home’ field of digital writing studies while simultaneously focusing outwards, toward digital publishing studies as a specialty that embraces the collaborative, open-access, and professional values of the digital humanities.

An editorial pedagogy builds on the recursive and reciprocal nature of professionalization through editing, writing, mentoring, and teaching. In undergraduate and graduate courses on multimodal composition, technical communication, digital publishing, and pedagogy, I bring my particular expertise editing the peer-reviewed journal Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, in which webtexts are exclusively published. (Webtexts are screen-based scholarly articles that use digital media to enact the authors’ argument.) Kairos editors mentors authors through multiple revisions of their webtexts (usually through multiple “Revise & Resubmits”) because many of the journal’s authors are composing these mixed-genre, mixed-media, and multi-technological texts for the first time: They are developmental authors who need to revise multiple times before their submissions can be accepted for publication. Just like students who author new genres in our classes for the first time.

The recursive nature of an editorial pedagogy comes through these multiple layers of revision and feedback, but it was the reciprocal nature that prompted my theorizing this approach: In an undergraduate Multimodal Composition course, I was teaching new authors to compose webtexts for scholarly multimedia journals when I realized that the webtexts they produced in a 15-week semester were on par with many Kairos submissions. The students’ peer reviews were also on par with (if not better, in some cases) the editorial board’s reviews. This was a duh-piphany during which I realized that I had provided students with explicit instructions and assignments detailing the genre conventions and disciplinary expectations of peer reviews and webtexts, but had not provided that same level of detail for the journal’s board or its authors. Board members don’t typically receive such explicit training in reading/evaluating webtexts in their graduate programs, and I assumed that authors learn to compose webtexts from analyzing current ones, something I start the semester with in this undergraduate class where I knew not to assume such knowledge of the field. I quickly made my review expectations explicit for the editorial board, which changed their overall participation for the better, and began to explicitly mentor authors more closely. Teaching undergraduates taught me to be a better editor.

An editorial pedagogy is reflective and recursive, combining rhetorical, genre-based writing instruction—analysis of textual production in its current environment; author mentoring and developmental feedback; room for risks, errors, and improvement in the composition process; real-life writing situations with assessment strategies specific to the genres in their contexts; and a flexibility to change methods of instruction to suit individual learning processes—with (in my case) the specifics of an academic, multimodal genre (webtexts). Whether the students are undergraduates or graduates, I help them analyze and learn what the professional contexts are in which they will work during (and often after) the semester. For instance, I’ve learned with graduate students in classes such as Multimodal Theory and Pedagogy and Teaching Composition that they also need explicit training in writing for publication. When I’ve assumed that they can intuit some steps in the process on their own (e.g., when I’ve skipped early assignments on genre and publication venue analysis), grad students perform poorly. So I include explicit instructions and weekly feedback in those classes (as well as the job-mentoring workshops I run), just as in the undergraduate ones. After I implemented this editorial pedagogy in 2008, I am pleased to say that more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students in my writing classes (and perhaps others I am not aware of) have been published in peer-reviewed journals!

This pedagogical approach is just as productive in professional writing classes I teach at ISU: Professional Publishing, Technical Editing, Proposal Writing, and Visible Rhetoric (and others at previous schools). I call these publishing classes because publishing majors primarily enroll, and coursework is about design and production in professional venues. After this professional degree, students become editors and publication designers who are expected to produce professional-level work. Students apply a broad range of theories into the situated praxis of service-learning projects, a crucial component in my editorial pedagogy. Every assignment includes rhetorical and conceptual discussions such as, in a recent Technical Editing course, what it means to “be” an editor, how editors serve readers through their editorial work, and how to build relationships with authors as well as more fine-pointed discussions such as how to create a style guide.

In this class, students edited—from large-scale developmental editing to galley proofs—the writing program’s new, print journal that functions as the textbook for the first-year writing classes. Grassroots publishes short, peer-reviewed articles on genre studies, sometimes in experimental genres themselves. Students learned about scholarly journals within an academic ecology (through primary and secondary readings), Grassroots’ scope and mission (through reading the journal itself), and its editorial values (through interviews with the WPA/editor and her production assistant). We discussed how different genres of publications might require more or less developmental work from authors whereas experimental journals like Grassroots (and Kairos) allow for capacious developmental editing. Among other assignments, students had to developmentally edit an article—really take it apart and re-arrange it—as a practical way to address theoretical questions such as how an editor works closely with an author while acknowledging the mission, values, and/or time constraints of the publication. Student-editors had difficulty making substantive edits at first; instead, they made surface-level edits akin to late-stage copy-editing, with which they were more comfortable. This wasn’t a moment of failure, but a moment ripe for editorial pedagogy: We discussed how they might honor the author’s voice (the concern that kept them from working more substantially with the text) while also fulfilling their responsibility to the venue, its readers, its design constraints, deadlines, and budgets. The students learned that each editorial decision is a delicate rhetorical act within a larger ecology, not just a-contextual line-by-line correction of comma splices, which is what most editing students assume is their task before taking this class. As one student wrote in her (successful) application for a prestigious campus scholarship: “This class’s atmosphere mirrors a job’s, so the responsibility and expectations required of us are exhilarating.”

It is this kind of apprenticeship-based, professionalizing work—borne out of Kairos and implemented daily in my publishing and writing classes; the job-market and IRB proposal workshops I hold for graduate students; and my service to the profession through professional development workshops and national advisory boards—that informs my research. And vice versa. This reciprocal and recursive editorial pedagogy is at the heart of my professional life.