"The Struggle Is Real": Eric D. Brown engages students by identifying with them as writers

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Eric D. BrownEric D. BrownEric D. Brown (recommended by Kyle Jensen), Bedford New Scholar 2021, is pursuing his PhD in Arizona State University’s Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies PhD program, where he studies writing technologies, writing pedagogy, and writing program administration. He has taught First-Year Composition, Persuasive Writing and Public Issues, Writing for the Professions, and Business Writing. Eric is also Assistant Director (AD) of Writing Programs, where he aids the director in growing the scope of Writing Programs and creating professional development for faculty. As Assistant Director, he also co-runs the National Day on Writing, ASU’s annual Composition Conference, and is an editor of Writing Programs’ bi-annual newsletter, Writing Notes.


How do you engage students in your course?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to engage students in my courses is to show them that the writing process doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor and that writing is hard, even for those of us who are “good” at it. I enact this approach by positioning myself as an expert on writing (what it is and how it works) but one that fails and stumbles through the writing process, just like they do. And I’ve found that students are particularly engaged with this idea when I write “live” for/with them. For example, I’ll write an email or an assignment sheet with them, talking through my thinking/rhetorical strategies and asking for advice and ideas from them. Regardless of what writing task I take on for/with them, they see me struggle to get started, stumble with wording, sidestep through typos/spelling mistakes, and go back and rework the text. In sum, they can see that “the struggle is real” when it comes to writing, showing students (who are often fearful of college writing) that even experts struggle with writing, that writing is collaborative, and that revision is essential to any writing situation. 

What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?

In sum, it’s pretty awesome. As a Bedford New Scholar, I get opportunities to work with Bedford/St. Martin’s on a variety of projects: feedback on textbooks, input about developing technologies, and opinions on readings for students, to name a few. It’s really great to not only get some insight into the higher ed publishing world but to contribute to that world. Meeting and interacting with the other Bedford New Scholars is also a notable highlight of the program. The virtual summit this summer gave me the chance to not only meet and interact with other new scholars, but I was able to work on projects with them and talk about what is most important to me with them: teaching. Sharing my work and sitting in on presentations for the Assignments that Work part of the summer summit was generative, as well as fun. I got a ton of great ideas for assignments to try out, and I was able to see my fellow New Scholars’ unique approaches to teaching and writing.

What do you think instructors don’t know about higher ed publishing but should?

I don’t think instructors know how willing and excited publishers like Bedford/St. Martin’s are to work with them, and I think this “not knowing” can lead to a view of higher ed publishing as “The Man.” While this was certainly a perception I  held in my early days as a graduate student (and before that as an adjunct), I have become persuaded otherwise. I have found higher ed publishers like Bedford/St.Martin’s to be highly invested in instructor input, experience, and in the workings/makeup of the writing programs instructors teach in. Before working with Bedford/St. Martin’s, I would not have imagined that my ideas, feedback, and support would be important to higher ed publishers, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Furthermore, I have found that higher ed publishers like Bedford/St. Martin’s are more often than not pedagogically focused--they want to know what research is influencing our teaching, what we are doing in the classroom, why we are doing things the way we are, and how they can support that work. 

What projects or course materials from Bedford/St. Martin's most pique your interest, and why?

My writing program just shifted to using a common textbook (which we created with Bedford/St. Martin’s), and Achieve is offered with the textbook. I’m excited to learn more about Achieve and use it with my students. I was able to use some of Achieve’s peer review functions this summer during the virtual summit, and I really liked many of its affordances. My institution’s current LMS has a very clunky peer review system, and I’m particularly looking forward to switching to one that allows me to shape and tweak peer review goals and that has an interface I think will be intuitive for my students. I also know that Achieve has some annotation functions, and I’m excited to use them with my students, as well.


Eric's Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Eric’s assignment. For the full activity, see Remediation.

One of the goals of my 101 courses is to expand for students what writing is and how it works. My “Remediation” assignment works toward this goal, as it asks students to reshape their writing for new audiences and to funnel their ideas through a new medium or genre. In sum, students are asked to take an already completed written project (usually the first major project, which asks them to explore a literacy) and funnel its ideas through another medium/“translate” it into another genre.

For example, students might take their project and (re)shape it into a podcast or blog post. Remediation gets students thinking about the ever-shifting relationship among writer, audience, and text (i.e., the rhetorical situation), but also asks them to focus on how the mediums/genres in which we communicate our ideas to others consist of different kinds of media that very much are “writing.” Students are excited to expand their notions of what “counts” as writing, and one of the assignment’s selling points is in how it asks students to not only consider how certain mediums/genres appeal to certain audiences, and not others, but to consider how their writing does so as well.

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About the Author
This is the shared account for the Bedford New Scholars TA Advisory Board.