Community and/as Professional Development (+ A New Article Publication)

The recent publication of an article I co-authored, “State of the Field: Teaching with Digital Tools in the Writing and Communication Classroom” marks the end (or at least a possible end) to a long and fruitful project. The project began in postdoctoral seminars in technical communication pedagogy (Fall 2013) and in research methodologies (Spring 2014), then developed into a successful CCCC grant proposal (2015), research project, and, finally, the published article.

My collaborators—Drs. Joy Robinson (University of Alabama-Huntsville), Lisa Dusenberry (Georgia Southern University), Liz Hutter (University of Dayton), Halcyon Lawrence (Towson University), and Rebecca Burnett (Georgia Tech)—and I worked on the article for close to four years, through rejection, a revise-and-resubmit, and a major top-to-bottom revision of the article. We met on Google Docs and Skype, sometimes several times a week, for two or three hours a session. We needed to develop, often on the fly, ways to work together—ways to honor each co-author’s ideas, concerns, and contributions while ensuring that the article was ultimately coherent and persuasive. That we did so, I think, is nothing short of a miracle, and those hours and months and years will remain special to me, even as the whole thing seemed crazy at the time.

The collaboration, ultimately, only developed, only worked, through the development of a friendship of four of us (Joy, Lisa, Liz, and Halcyon), all of whom began as Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellows in the Writing and Communication Program at Georgia Tech (where Rebecca serves as Director and I serve as Associate Director). The cohesion, collegiality, and friendship that began (sans Halcyon, who arrived in the program a year after the other three) in the two seminars and developed over the years, even as each of the four moved on to tenure-track positions at four different universities, is nothing short of astonishing.

While a writing program, postdoctoral program, or other academic program can’t take credit for the development of such a friendship (of course), I do wonder about the role of community as a mode of professional development—here, a community of postdoctoral fellows teaching technical communication, all with their very real concerns about the horrific (and unjust) state of the academic labor market—a community forged through things like the postdoctoral seminars themselves, through a programmatic culture that values collaboration and experimentation, and through administrative support (and, indeed, collegiality).

The friendship of these four colleagues is something special and certainly may have happened even without the specific community-forming strategies—the seminars, the culture of collaboration and experimentation, and the administrative support—that writing program administrators can put in place. But the role of those community-forming strategies as ways of supporting faculty professional development efforts is really something to consider. What are the best ways to develop those strategies? How can writing program and other higher ed administrators support the development of collegial collaborations?

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