thinking forward

It's been about 18 months since my book came out. I've been writing articles and of course writing here, but at the end of the year my mind is turning toward my next book length project. I've been thinking about the following things.

Audience: I'm happy with my first book. It is, at least at time, a difficult, theoretical text. I worked hard, with my editors' support, to make the text accessible. There were many other dimensions that could have gone into that book, but I think there was more than enough to deal with as it was. As I think about my next book, I think about trying to write for a larger audience. While I would hardly say that I have a large audience on my blog, I do think I have a fairly diverse audience, more diverse than one would find in the readership of an academic journal for sure. I've been reading and teaching books by folks like Howard Rheingold, Clay Shirky, David Weinberger, and so on; these are smart texts by smart people and yet quite accessible. I'm not necessarily aspiring to write a book like those. I think I still want to speak primarily to a professional-disciplinary audience.

2012: for some reason, this year comes up in my posts, but today it comes up because I think it's an optimistic, but reasonable goal for a publication year. I'm not setting a deadline for myself so much as trying to think my book forward into that year, to anticipate as much as possible. At some point, the idea of a "computers and composition" specialist will make as much sense as a print specialist does now. That doesn't mean that everyone will be doing what I am doing! It means that all of our intellectual work will be digitally mediated and networked. It means that it will be increasingly multimodal and collaborative… increasingly to the point where it will be obvious that every grad student in English Studies will need to know how to do these things, both for research and teaching. It also means that our work will be undertaken in environments largely alien to our professional work now: mobile networks, virtual worlds, smart environments, etc. Just take a look at the Horizon Report, for example.

I am thinking about a book that will speak to that audience and to the techno-social condition. As a WPA or technical-professional writing faculty or really any faculty in a digital English or Writing/Rhetoric department, what will you need to know? How might I anticipate and speak to the exigencies of that situation? Obviously in many ways that's impossible. The particulars of the technologies keep changing. Local conditions are certainly too varied. However, I do think that there can be a conversation about methods for addressing the challenges of emerging technologies.

Institutions/departments/research: currently I've been thinking about examining three different spaces. The first, which I've shorthanded "institutions," concerns how the "big boys" deal with these issues. How do conglomerates of universities, governments, and education/technology corporations shape classroom experiences? Think Blackboard as the obvious example, but there are many others. How does something like the aforementioned Horizon Report shape institutional practice? If you are a WPA, for example, how does one intercede in this space to shape a writing curriculum in relation to technologies? We can't just accept institutional technology policy as some techno version of the weather! (not that I'm suggesting anyone does that, btw).

Departments have related problems. They clearly work within the "institutional" context. They deal with the expectations of accrediting and profesisonal bodies. English departments do not typically concern themselves with technologies beyond books and chalk, though increasingly faculty want smart classrooms. But if an English major (variously defined) is going to become a place where the subject of "digital literacy" is addressed, then the shape and practices of the department will need to change. I don't presume to know the answer for how they should change (of course I have some ideas, but the point is that we should all have ideas).

Oddly, I think the most talk about this subject has been in the area of research, of faculty using emerging technologies in their scholarly work. However I see this as a crucial aspect of this whole process as I believe that as academics we won't really figure out how to teach and use emerging technologies in our curriculum until we make use of them for our own intellectual work. So part of me thinks that this is a project which ought to take some new media form, but then I wonder if that will contravene my efforts to reach a broader audience.

I suppose that if I have confidence in my own arguments I should anticipate that my audience will meet me where I am going… maybe.