Rhetoric and Composition Faculty

Rhetoric and Composition faculty at Appalachian State are a dynamic community of scholars and teachers who have been recognized nationally and at App State for our pedagogy. We're excited to share the research, creative work, and service that make us innovative and effective writing teachers.

RC Faculty Named "Most Helpful" at App State

Katy Abrams

Aaron Ballance

Kate Birgel

Heather Custer

Ben Good

Peaches Hash

Bethany Mannon

Ruth Ann Marotta

Suzanne Samples

Kevin Young

"Growth Mindset Grading" by Katy Abrams

App State Faculty Presenting at CCCC Annual Convention

Jessie Blackburn and Bethany Mannon will present their WPA research at the Conference on College Composition & Communication

Jessie Blackburn: "Administering Writing Programs in a Post-COVID New Normal"

Abstract: The global pandemic has presented and continues to present significant challenges to higher education. Many instructors have been called upon to innovate courses for online and hybrid delivery while many others have taught in-person classes at great personal risk to their and their students’ health. At the moment we write this proposal, the CDC COVID Data Tracker reveals that 37.5% of eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated, and while many more will continue receiving vaccinations in the near future, we can infer that as many instructors return to classrooms in the coming academic year, there will still be significant risk of exposure to COVID-19.

This presentation explores how writing program administrators (WPAs) are preparing for the shift back to something resembling normal life of pre-2020 higher education. The presenters conducted a study of WPAs consisting of a survey and follow-up interviews in which we asked participants a range of questions intended to learn more about how WPAs and writing teachers plan to move forward. We frame our study to explore how WPAs navigate their own and others’ emotional labor (Micciche 2002; Davies 2017; Adams Wooten et al. 2020) and how they have made and continue making adjustments to their short-term and long-term programmatic agendas (Micciche 2011; Moore 2018; Bastian 2019; Teaching/Writing special issue 2020).

The survey questions seek to determine concrete ways in which WPAs’ programmatic work has changed throughout the pandemic, in both positive and negative ways as well as how participants’ professional development, research plans, and well-being have been affected. We necessarily blur the lines between professional and personal experiences because the pandemic forced academics to blur distinctions between work lives and home lives and professional time and private time. More than 50 WPAs have responded, providing a data set sufficient to provide us with a good view of the ways in which WPAs are thinking about programmatic issues as we move into the new normal.

Although the study is still in progress, an early examination of the data suggests that WPAs are highly interested in finding ways to streamline work and to prioritize where their time and labor is best spent as many institutions begin to return to in-person instruction. Streamlining work includes limiting the number of meetings within programs and, in many cases, continuing to hold those meetings virtually. Setting priorities includes making more professional development opportunities available for writing instructors, with several respondents indicating a need for more training opportunities in antiracist pedagogy. Follow-up interviews with respondents focus on providing additional depth to these responses and to further develop a sense of the emotional labor involved in leading a writing program at this time.


Bethany Mannon: Title: Assessing Online Writing Instruction to Move from Crisis to Sustainability

Abstract: This presentation shares the findings of a study funded by a 2021 CCCC Emergent Researcher Award. This place-based, mixed-methods project studied NTT faculty who launched online writing courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid shift online interrupted normal approaches to FYW but created an opportunity to research effective, inclusive teaching. As Jackson and Weaver argue, “the online environment calls into question the ‘givens’ of the traditional classroom and opens them up for interrogation and analysis” (xviii). Our faculty and WPAs are mindful of unequal access to technology at our rural, regional campus (Harris and Blackburn) and therefore our program had never taught FYW online. Moreover, online classes present obstacles to connection, interaction, collaboration, and feedback (Chick and Hassel; Boyd; Rendahl and Breuch). However, teaching online during the pandemic required that we explore possibilities for connecting with students, facilitating a community of learners, and offering instruction. 

Our research draws from this experience to map an intentional, sustainable approach to OFYW that will serve our faculty and students in the future. Whereas much OWI research focuses on student perspectives and best practices, we sought out faculty experiences and insights. Two research questions guided our investigation: “Where do faculty encounter successes and obstacles in online first-year writing? How can faculty perceptions of student growth and achievement inform a sustainable approach to OWI?”  Or, to paraphrase the CCCC Call for Papers: given that we are now teaching online, where do we see possibilities for equitable, effective, resilient teaching?In Spring 2021, interviews gathered faculty insights into student learning online; a team of undergraduate researchers began to code and analyze transcripts. With this data, the PI (a WPA) created training modules for future OWI. In Fall 2022, a faculty committee will score course artifacts to assess these courses and further refine that training. 

This individual presentation will argue two points. First, I share one finding from our interviews: faculty teaching OFYW discovered opportunities to engage students’ diverse backgrounds and complex lives. Interviewees reported that students in online courses gained autonomy and control over their writing and participated in thoughtful discussions of rhetorical ethics. Second, faculty repeatedly described resilience--their “process of rhetorically engaging with material circumstances and situational exigencies” (Flynn et. al 7). Our team realized that our research itself  fostered program resilience; we created space for this rhetorical engagement and cultivated connections among faculty. We thereby grounded our program assessment and professional development in a “close web of relationships” and similar goals (Stenberg and Minter). By sharing this study, I hope to provide insight into the pedagogical growth and rhetorical resilience that characterized pandemic teaching and can lead to effective OWI going forward.