A Q&A with Rich Rice & Kirk St.Amant, Part 1

October 09, 2018

Join us today as we talk with Rice Rich and Kirk St.Amant about their research on online education.

University Press of Colorado Blog Q&As share the perspectives of scholars working within their disciplines, bringing readers closer to their knowledge, research, and voices. Join us today as we talk with Rich Rice, an associate professor of English at Texas Tech University, and Kirk St.Amant, the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University. They are coeditors of Thinking Globally, Composing Locally: Rethinking Online Writing in the Age of the Global Internet.

This is the first of three posts. The second will be online on October 16, 2018.

What outcomes do you hope will come from Thinking Globally, Composing Locally?

Kirk: I hope our work will encourage others to engage in various types of research in the globalization of online education. It is a huge topic—something far too big for any one person to examine with the depth and breadth needed to truly review and understand this area, identify patterns, and propose strategies and practices for effective international online engagement.

Ideally, such research will be done by scholars representing a wide range of cultures, languages, and nations so that the work done is more representative of the cultures participating in today’s international online context. If this book can lead to such international research, that would be outstanding.

Hopefully, follow-up research based on this work will focus on collaborative teams in which members representing different cultures work together to examine a common area of interest from different perspectives. Ideally, it would also lead to more collected works (e.g., edited volumes) that seek to bring together scholars, projects, ideas, and opinions that represent a broad range of cultures commenting on, examining, or contributing to knowledge making around a common theme of interest to all.

It would be great if Rich and I could be a part of such future initiatives, for I’d love the chance to expand the collaborative work we’ve done.

Rich: We see it in our classes every day: our student demographics are shifting. They’re becoming more international, they’re becoming filled with classes of students who will eventually seek jobs in multinational companies, and the impact of globalization through technological affordances is changing every dynamic. Our project is one that says, hey look, this is the tip of the iceberg. And it’s one that recognizes that culture is forever shifting. What our project does is give us a framework for categorizing the shifts we’re seeing in our classrooms, in our research, and in our service projects, such as study abroad. But it’s just that—a framework for seeing. So many examples need to be shared to help us see what we don’t see. Hopefully this project will help people see something new, in a unique context, share views and perspectives about how to learn from it, and inspire others to see what they previously didn’t see. As Kirk says, we’d love to continue as part of that dialogue in different contexts.

What prospective directions for your discipline most excite you?

Kirk: The scope and scale of the work we can do and what it can mean. Before the internet, access to individuals from other nations and cultures was very limited. These limitations affected the work we could do in terms of understanding communication and composing practices and preferences in other cultures. Online media have forever changed that by allowing us direct access to large numbers of individuals from a wide range of nations and cultures. This direct access allows us to do work—be it researching online behavior or developing distance education practices—directly with larger numbers of individuals around the world.

This degree of access allows us to collect richer data on international online contexts—data that can help us better understand various nuances of writing online—than ever before possible. This situation also allows us to interact with international collaborators and try international approaches to research and teaching to a degree never possible in the pre-web world. In fact, it means approaches to doing research and developing pedagogy in international communication are no longer governed by aspects of convenience/pragmatics (i.e., who is available to work with and what does that availability mean for what we can do). Now, with the ability to connect and interact directly with individuals all over the world, we can seek out collaborators with similar interests, and shape our research and teaching practices accordingly. That’s a pretty revolutionary shift when you think about it—from pragmatics (what you can study) to ideas (what you would like to or want to study).

All of these factors mean the trailblazing and new discoveries and developments in this area are many and meaningful. Moreover, they can occur to a degree not before possible—certainly not in relation to studying culture and communication. And the ability to try replicating research and testing teaching practices across different cultures and using different individuals is staggering. This situation is the most exciting aspect of this area of research and pedagogy—not only for my discipline but for all other communication-related fields.

Rich: I study intersections between composing, culture, and new media, broadly speaking. I’m excited about new technological affordances like Google Translate. Imagine the cultural impact of being able to wear a hearing aid that listens to what’s being spoken and automatically syncs with a database online that translates it near simultaneously into your ear. Or imagine creating interactive documentation that is GPS- or otherwise “smart”- located that displays through purposeful layering through your glasses, recognizing where your eyes move as well as what you’re looking at. Think about the cross-cultural implications. Or digital humanities projects (something I’m working on) that crowdsource digital stills and video from cameras and drones to make sense of place and purpose in graffiti or social art. My discipline finds new applications of technology and works toward making communication technologies affordable or ubiquitous. To me, that’s very exciting, in part because we learn to see what we haven’t been able to see before. That idea of seeing is something that helps us move toward cultural understanding and solving complex problems.

Rich Rice is an associate professor of English at Texas Tech University, where he teaches courses in new media, intercultural communication, rhetoric, and composition in the Technical Communication and Rhetoric program. He is a US Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, and his teaching and research extend to India and China, where he has served as a Visiting Research Professor.

Kirk St.Amant is the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University and an adjunct professor of international health and medical communication with the University of Limerick.

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