Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What My Work Is

I study and teach about teaching and learning. Often with an emphasis on helping faculty and programs transition to using digital tools, but too I do workshops on using older technologies creatively -- textbooks, whiteboards, seat arrangements in brick and mortar rooms, assignment ideas, and reasons to shift a teaching emphasis here or there.

Fourteen years ago, Bedford/St. Martin's (B/SM) hired me as a New Media Editor. Over that time, my title and responsibilities changed. I became Director of New Media, and then Director of Digital Teaching and Learning, a title I still hold for the moment.

I joined B/SM June 16, 2000, coming from Colorado State University (CSU) where I had been the Director of the Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator, a tenure track position I was offered, and accepted, despite not having finished my dissertation. And because I managed not to finish within a year of the hire, I forced CSU into the awkward and unwanted by them task of having to fire me.

I began teaching in 1986, as an MA student at Boston College, and did some adjunct teaching at Lyndon State College before joining the PhD program at UMass, Amherst, where I lucked into teaching first year writing in 1991 in a computer networked classroom, a rare opportunity back then. So I came of intellectual age, really vested in teaching writing and learning and pedagogy in a digital setting. UMass is where I got to work with Charlie Moran, Anne Herrington, Peter Elbow, Marcia Curtis and others, reading and writing about composition theory and practice, experimenting with teaching, being mentored and introduced into the field, all with people who really care, very deeply, about students learning to become writers -- people self-aware of their learning and writing processes -- as a way of learning to write. Computers and writing and teaching writing in a way that helps students find their way as writers all have been what I've focused on since, including since coming into college textbook publishing.

So back to my job. I am in editorial. I don't write code or supervise those who do. I don't work in sales or report to marketing. I work in editorial, though since Macmillan reorganized its companies a bit, my .sig file is a bit more complicated than it used to be, with Bedford/St. Martin's no longer a company but instead an imprint, a colophon on a book spine:
Nick Carbone
Director of Digital Teaching and Learning
Humanities Editorial Department        
U.S. Higher Education Division
Macmillan Education
ncarbone AT macmillan DOT GOES HERE com
But my work, by and large, is what it's always been. I focus my time on faculty professional development, technology for teaching writing/for teaching online, course development and curriculum design, writing and program assessment, QEP planning, and the like when I'm in the field.

Back in the office I offer advice to colleagues on what would be a good idea to develop in our technology, usually recommending things we lack the bandwidth or resources to do on the one hand or that not enough professors would ask students to buy on the other. But that's o.k.. An idea doesn't need to be enacted to be good, to do good work in developing what can be done. Things that cannot be done stretch the understanding of what's possible, and lay ground work for down the road, getting people to look at where things are going, what may emerge as necessary later. And in the meantime, someone somewhere else, whether a competing publishing company, an open education resource project, a new educational venture, will build something that executes the idea either proves its value, or demonstrates why it wasn't quite the right idea after all.

And when that happens, when a technology is available that looks interesting, I get to play with it. So I dance in and out of e-portfolio programs, swim in multimodal composing software, explore new ideas for online writing tools and communities. Sometimes I work these non-Macmillan tools  into workshops, encouraging faculty and students to experiment, especially if the tool looks like something teachers and students can come to know and use beyond one course, one college, in a way that will have more lasting value and purpose.

I also work offline a bit, looking at chapters of print books from time to time for editors and authors to help them address the presence of computer-based technologies in research, reading, thinking, and writing that faculty and students do. I keep up with reading the literature and attending conferences in the fields of composition and rhetoric, computers and writing, developmental reading and writing, and first year experience (all courses and fields I taught in over the years), dabbling in history and communications too once in a while.

I also get to travel -- to visit more colleges and campuses than I could ever imagine doing as a full-time professor. I see more variety of teachers and students, more variety of the physical classrooms, buildings, and locations of campuses. Teaching and learning are bound by material reality -- the shape of rooms, the location of windows, the nature of offices, the degree to which students commute or reside, what people are paid to teach, pay to learn, and more. When considering how best to help people teach and learn, there's nothing like being there. One of the great joys of the job is being on campus, talking to a faculty member in his or her office, and being interrupted by a student. It's great when students seek out teachers; it reveals more about a place, a professor, and a pedagogy than just about anything else. And witnessing these interactions is a privilege.

So the work I do is scholarly and academic, but without the pressure to publish for tenure. I still write articles for collections, give conference presentations and lead workshops, serve on an editorial board for the WAC Clearinghouse, teach as an adjunct on occasion, and do other service work in the field. So I live an academic life, but instead of being paid by a university, I'm paid by a textbook publisher.

My work then is not about publishing, though I work in publishing. It's not about profit, though I care that the company earns a profit. It's not about developing books or directly developing software, though I work with folks who do that and chip in my thoughts. It's about teaching and learning writ large and teaching and learning writing most of the time.

So it's a fun job because teaching writing is fun. It's an important job because teaching writing is important. And it's a job that involves lots of revision, adaptation, and change because how writing is taught and learned is revised and rethought over and again. So it's also an adventurous job, not settled, not fixed, offering something new at regular, if not all, turns.

No comments: