The anecdote that opened this chapter demonstrates how TPD has the potential to spark strong reactions and resistance from participants. The first three findings of this study give clues as to why this is the case. Instructors can feel anxious or resentful when they are being asked to take on work they see as beyond their established expertise, when their personal goals clash with those of the TPD program, when they are forced to inhabit roles they are not willing to, or when change threatens already fragile institutional positions. In addition, the some of the same factors that incentivized participation in the institute (a curricular mandate) also heightened the stakes and may have made some participants feel they “had to” be there. It may also be, as Dryer (2012) has suggested, that the practice of trying out unfamiliar genres necessitates a shift in identity (to that of “digital writer”), a genuine willingness to try to be someone else, which may force teachers to confront their ambivalence toward writing.
I feel like there's a lot of fear. You know, people have worked really, really hard to get their PhDs and build their professional careers in very particular ways, you know, through the decades, some of them. And it's like—and then everybody's saying, "Well no: You need to do it this way." And I can understand like not wanting to let go of what they've already mastered, because it feels like you have to let go of everything. You have to like do something new, like all the rules have changed. And I think—and it's also... we know the older you get, the more you realize how much energy it takes to learn something new. Right? Even if you like learning things, you know it's like a fricking commitment, like a marriage, you know?
(Vivian, part-time instructor)
Certain parts of the WAT Institute’s design served to alternately encourage acceptance/alignment (e.g., participants mentioned creating things and collaborating with others caused them to see technology in a different light) or amplify feelings of frustration/resistance (e.g., when they perceived a “top-down” style of facilitation). These reactions have been observed in WAC contexts for some time, and some of the same strategies WAC facilitators have developed may prove helpful for TPD work. Mays and McBride (2020) identify rhetorical deliberation—inviting participants to collaboratively define (and sometimes argue about) what constitutes effective multimodal praxis—as a productive process for establishing consensus. While the WAT Institute didn’t ask participants to engage with Computers and Writing scholarship as part of the program, doing so may have allowed participants to voice their concerns and “argue” with the scholars whose works they were reading in a way that built community without causing unneeded frustration or alienation. A needs assessment (see above) or early journaling may give TPD facilitators insight into participants’ technology philosophies and avoid “assuming too much about audience attitudes and failing to build in time for consensus building” (McGrath & Guglielmo, 2014).
Designing activities and spaces for consensus–building, however, may not mitigate the ways certain institutional and demographic factors create conflicts for participants. Scheduling, physical space, and modality of delivery (e.g., flipped, in-person) are practical factors that can have a substantial impact on outcomes—all were mentioned by participants in this study even though these factors were mostly excluded from this analysis due to their site-specific nature. In addition, Vivian (an adjunct instructor), Emir (a tenured faculty member), and Grace (a graduate student) all provide examples in this chapter of how institutional positions and the incentive structures of higher education constrained, to some extent, their ability to “buy in” to multimodal composition. Although individual WPAs may not have control over the levers of power (e.g., budgets, departmental decision-making) needed to change them, institutional incentives and deterrents represent ongoing concerns for professionalizing multimodal composition on a larger scale.
© Gabriel Morrison, 2021