A Q&A with Rich Rice & Kirk St.Amant, Part 2

October 16, 2018

Join us today as we continue our conversation 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 second of three posts. The first was posted on October 9 and the third will be available October 30, 2018.

Have you observed that your discipline has had an impact on current events, or vice versa? If so, how?

Kirk: I’d like to think yes to both. Certainly, current events affect how individuals around the world get online. Similarly, international approaches to online education have markedly shaped how individuals in different areas (e.g., technical communication and rhetoric and composition) can and do approach online education in global contexts.

After all, the decisions of a government in one nation to restrict or permit access to certain platforms—like social media technologies—can markedly affect the pedagogical approaches educators can use to teach communication and writing in international online contexts. So too can policy initiatives open a nation’s educational system to new kinds of instruction and encourage international partnerships to develop the online educational infrastructure of a nation. (We’re seeing these kinds of developments in places like India right now.)

At the same time, the expertise many of us have amassed through teaching online (heck, for decades for some of us) has made us valuable resources that educators in other nations can consult when developing their own online educational options. In this way, we’re affecting international online pedagogy by collaborating with teachers in different nations.

These two factors are interlocking components in a system. A national interest in developing online education leads to individuals in other nations wanting to partner with us and learn from us about online pedagogy. This leads to an increased interest in developing online education and prompting governments and institutions to focus more on developing such areas. The resulting changes or expansions can lead to increased interest in partnering with individuals in other nations to learn and develop new online pedagogical practices and so on. It’s one greater global system in which the parts exist in interconnected feedback loops.

What this all means is it’s a very exciting time to be in online education. We’re just on the cusp of really expanding our pedagogical practices into global cyberspace and truly building new things—new forms of pedagogy, new technologies, new online learning spaces—to facilitate teaching and learning in these new systems. We can all make major contributions—all of us—just by participating, collaborating, learning, and sharing. For these reasons, I strongly encourage educators across all areas of technical communication and rhetoric and composition to do so.

Rich: I teach a class called Global Technical Communication. I’ve come around to teaching it, basically, with two or three layers that work well together. And I’d say that I get this from thinking through current events. The outcome, which is basically a better understanding of the importance of intercultural communication competence, is something our field is helping the world understand better, too. There are heuristical ways of seeing cultural, such as Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension values, which can provide good insight. One culture might see something one way, whereas another culture might see it another way. But to stop there is to stereotype and to naively think culture isn’t constantly ebbing and flowing.

So understanding that culture is more like a moving seascape, such as Arjun Appadurai suggests, or a moving target of shifting values, is important. These two approaches—culture as heuristic, culture as flowing—can work together. Milton Bennett has a framework for it, encouraging people to move along a continuum from ethnocentric to ethnorelative perspectives of things. Doing so requires a level of empathy and patience, and more patience. We need to know something about other cultures, something about the culture we come from, and then see perspectives through others’ eyes without making judgments. Easier said than done, but what results is intercultural communication competence. Current events show us, daily, that we need more of it to make sense of what’s happening in our world. And the field of technical communication and rhetoric, in particular, works in every way it can to teach its importance.

In your opinion, what is the best book or article from your field from the last three years, and why?

Kirk: I wouldn’t say a book or article as much as I would say a publishing practice. The rise of open access online publishing—on a global scale—can contribute to such resources. This is because such practices allow us to compile the ideas of scholars and teachers from around the world into centralized, online sources all can use. Equally important, they are also open to updating to add contributors and revise opinions as we learn more about this area and as online access expands globally. As such, we have a mechanism for creating “living” documents that can be updated and expanded to reflect the current state of certain topics and to include new and culturally different opinions on or approaches to a topic.

By making such access open in terms of availability (online) and cost (ideally, free access), you also allow such works to have broader impacts by being able to read wider international audiences. These practices also, theoretically, allow for different kinds of ideas to be voiced, as publishing decisions ideally can be based on the merits or potential contributions of an idea versus how wide of a market an idea has to cover to justify the expenditure associated with publishing it. It will be exciting to see how such practices—and the technologies and approaches associated with them—evolve over time. It will also be interesting to see how such publishing practices affect the future of scholarly and pedagogical discussions based on who can have a voice in them.

So, in terms of best publication (book or article) in the area, I’d say it’s being written as we speak and will continue to be written (and rewritten) over time as societies and technologies change.  

Rich: That’s a difficult question, actually, as there really are some important ones. I think Milton Bennett’s work on intercultural sensitivity through the IDR Institute is particularly groundbreaking. His work has been picked up by the AACU and their values rubrics, for instance. But I’m going to take sort of an easy way out here and cite an award-winning book. Asao B. Inoue, who was the chair of CCCC last year, wrote an open source book called Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future (2017). It won the 2017 CCCC Outstanding Book Award, as well as the Best Book Award from the Council of Writing Program Administrators.

As my background is composition and rhetoric, I often go back to Peter Elbow’s notion of embracing contraries. When we teach we must inspire voice as well as be responsible to assessment measurements. That’s deceptively simple. And it can be expanded into thinking about teaching students core learning concepts while also teaching them how to apply those concepts in the community. Inoue does that. He talks about writing assessment as a complex system that is intricately connected to academic and community discourses. He identifies examples of unintended racism that help us see what we often don’t see. He asks us to pay attention to power, parts, purposes, people, process, products, and places in our teaching and research.

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.



St.Amant, Kirk, and Rich Rice. 2017. Thinking Globally, Composing Locally: Rethinking Online Writing in the Age of the Global Internet. Logan: Utah State University Press.

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