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Shannon Carter, Guest Editor

SPECIAL ISSUE: (Re)mediating the Conversation: Undergraduate Scholars in Writing and Rhetoric

Undergraduate research is distingushed by four characteristics: mentorship, originality, acceptability (in terms of the relevant disciplinary research methods and techniques), and dissimination. (see Hakim, 1998, p. 190)

[U]ndergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate that makes an original, intellectual, or creative contribution to the field. (Council on Undergraduate Research, n.d.)

[It] involves students as apprentices, collaborators, or independent scholars in critical investigations using fieldwork and discipline-specific methodologies under the sponsorship of faculty mentors. (Grobman & Kinkead, 2010, p. ix)

It is with great pleasure and pride that we introduce you to (Re)mediating the Conversation: Undergraduate Scholars in Writing and Rhetoric, a Kairos special issue dedicated to undergraduate research in new media.


As teachers and scholars in new media, we've long craved a vehicle like this—a scholarly context building on the tradition of successful print-based journals dedicated to undergraduate scholarship and the Kairos tradition of publishing cutting-edge, multimodal scholarship.

We've said this for years—to ourselves, to one another, to anyone who would listen. At the Watson Conference in 2008, we got our chance. Let me clarify: a chance was thrust upon us.

Here's how it happened. At least here's how I remember what happened.

During an opening session that crisp fall morning in Louisville, Kentucky, Cheryl Ball pointed to a young man behind a camera near the rear of the auditorium. He was, we learned, one of several of her undergraduate students who would be collecting footage throughout our days together. The footage collected was, in fact, “fieldwork” for undergraduate research projects that would contribute vital student perspectives to the scholarly conversations emerging from the conference theme, “The New Work of Composing.”

I was intrigued. As a teacher, I wanted to know more about how to engage my own undergraduates in rich and authentic digital scholarship. What does undergraduate research in new media look like? How do we support it in the classroom? How do we support it beyond the classroom?

As a scholar, however, I wanted access to the digital scholarship emerging from this undergraduate research— not merely for its value as a model for my own students but, in fact, as a contribution to the disciplinary knowledge of our field—in this case, conversations about "The New Work of Composing."

In that moment, and in the conversations that followed, I kept coming back to my experiences with the peer-reviewed, print-based journal, Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric and what this might mean for undergraduate research in new media. Less than a year before, I'd joined YSW's Editorial Board and had become immediately immersed in and fascinated by the infrastructure developed to support rich, undergraduate scholarship beyond the classroom. Even more interesting to me, perhaps, was what I was learning about the many ways in which the very act of publishing undergraduate research as scholarship challenges our understanding of undergraduate research. From the very first issue in 2003, YSW emphasized the original contributions this undergraduate research makes to the larger scholarly conversation rather than the pedagogical context from which these conversations emerged. Amy E. Robillard's (2006) analysis of this framing suggests YSW “has created a new opportunity for students to contribute to the disciplinary knowledge of composition studies” by “shifting disciplinary focus from writing as a verb—as represented most clearly by the pedagogical imperative—to writing as noun—and object of study in its own right” (p. 254, emphasis in original).

I wondered, and later Bump Halbritter and I wondered together, whether a scholarly venue for undergraduate research in new media might productively treat writing as both a “verb” and a “noun” and, if so, what might that venue look like? And, perhaps more concretely, where might such a sustainable, productive venue exist?

At the end-of-conference reception, over wine and the warm din of conversations, I asked Cheryl about venues for digital scholarship by undergraduates.

She suggested Kairos could provide such a venue. In 2011. Now.

I tracked down Bump on the other side of the room. “Let's do it,” he smiled, setting down his beer. “Where's Cheryl?”


The complexity of negotiating new media and a productive research agenda for audiences beyond the classroom cannot be overstated.

Undergraduate research is challenging—to assign and support as teachers, but also, and perhaps more profoundly, to our disciplinary knowledge and the established vehicles through which we disseminate that knowledge. Referring to print-based, exclusively alphabetic modalities, Laurie Grobman (2009) described undergraduate research as “a potentially democratic learning site in which students write themselves into disciplinary conversations and challenge faculty/scholar-constructed representations of them” (p. W175). When that undergraduate research is in new media, that “potentially democratic learning site” is perhaps even more challenging to enact—in our classrooms and, indeed, in scholarly venues like this journal.

With this special issue, we bring together undergraduate research that (re)mediates “disciplinary conversations and challenge[s] faculty/scholar-constructed presentations of them.” Indeed, the scholarly webtexts presented here engage many of the “democratic learning sites” that now support and disseminate undergraduate research in writing and rhetoric: Young Scholars in Writing (see “Anatomy of an Article”), Xchanges, the classroom (see “Web Journal as the Writing Classroom”).

Undergraduate research is unpredictable. We did not expect the webtexts presented here to coalesce around these recurring themes. Taken together, the challenges we present to you through this undergraduate research provide all of us with yet another “democratic learning site” through which to extend our disciplinary knowledge. Undergraduate research, like any good and productive research, should be unpredictable. In its form, subject matter, and approach, the undergraduate research appearing in this issue embodies a key lesson I try to take away from any research project, regardless of modality—expect the unexpected, embrace the unexpected.

Undergraduate research in new media is challenging, unpredictable, and impossibly complex. It is also rich, engaging, and vital. As teachers and scholars, we've known that for years. We undertook this special issue knowing that undergraduates composing with new media were producing work worth sharing. We'd seen it—at campus-wide celebrations, at area conferences, in our classrooms, in your classrooms. We'd found it in in-house publishing venues resulting in local circulation and even nationally, published alongside some of the most established scholars in our field.

Also, we knew that the inquiry-based, digital writing that we were seeing and hearing looked and sounded different from what had preceded it. We believed circulation like this was important. It is how such work gets started, celebrated, mined, and seeded into new classrooms, programs, and approaches to composition. It is also how models for this work can begin to enter the collective imaginations of the students and teachers that comprise our field.

Together we proposed this special issue. Together we struggled to understand what digital scholarship produced by undergraduates might look like, how to support it beyond the classroom, how to review it, and how to frame it. Like YSW's founding editors Laurie Grobman and the late Candace Spigelman (2003) said, “[w]e came to recognize and celebrate the special challenges in publishing undergraduate work” (p. 2). In creating a section of YSW dedicated to research produced by first-year students, Doug Downs and I grappled with many of the same questions Bump and I would raise in developing this Kairos special issue. “Our question before launching” this now recurring YSW feature was, as Doug and I explained in that first issue (2008), “would any of this research truly extend beyond writing-to-learn to offer meaningful contributions to the field? Could first-year writers really have anything of value to say to writing scholars?” (p. 120).

Of course they did, just as the undergraduate researchers published here have much to say to writing scholars. We have no doubt you'll agree.


Publishing undergraduate research is itself challenging. Distances between the original research context and publication are vast—both in terms of form and timeline. For those webtexts published in this special issue, the distance between the original proposal submission and publication was two years. A lot can happen in that time between the end of the course in which the research may have originated and the publication of that research. A lot did.

In October 2009, researchers submitted proposals describing the digital scholarship they wished to undertake. Many described projects that emerged from courses in which students were currently enrolled. Reviewers recommended that about 50% of those proposals advance to the next phase. Bump and I invited these undergraduate researchers and their collaborators to submit complete webtexts of their proposed projects the following spring. Those complete webtexts were subjected to more extensive review, and the remaining months were spent negotiating revisions.

Not everyone invited to submit complete webtexts was able to do so. Not every webtext submitted was what the authors originally proposed. Not every webtext submitted made it into this publication.

Often our work with undergraduate researchers foregrounds the material conditions in which scholars labor, especially when preparing a digital project for publication. In two cases, for example, particularly promising video projects dropped from the current issue many months after they were accepted. Life simply intervened. One potential contributor graduated, had a new baby, and took a job. Another lost access to both his subject matter and the equipment necessary for completing the necessary revisions when (1) the documentary's key research participant renewed his membership in the organization that was the focus of the documentary's core criticisms and (2) the author himself was incarcerated. Neither event is unique to undergraduate researchers, but new media's tools and visual manifestation complicated issues in ways print simply wouldn't. Were the project presented as alphabetic text, for example, the participant may have been more apt to allow this researcher to continue his study of this man's (often negative) experiences with the national organization he'd rejoined. On video, however, anonymity is quite difficult to enact, especially in those later phases of the production process. Name changes alone would hardly do the trick.

The author's incarceration may not have ended the publication opportunity for him had the deliverables been print-based rather than multimodal. As I learned through my field research in area prison literacy programs, most prison systems allow pencils (rarely pens) and some even provide access to rickety computer systems for keyboarding practice, letters home, and prepping materials for upcoming hearings. Rare, however, is inmate access to the tools necessary for writing with new media. Online access of any sort is forbidden, almost without exception. Tools like computers robust enough to handle the most rudimentary of video-editing programs are highly unlikely. Funding for such things is a pipedream and, if made available, most of these tools would often be labeled as contraband.

The experiences described above are not typical among undergraduate researchers composing with new media. Neither are undergraduate researchers more likely to encounter such complexities than might any other student population. These situations are simply complicated, and they are experiences we witnessed in putting together this special issue, so they seem worth sharing. And, yet, these experiences are typical. Writing teachers and scholars teach and study not only writing but writers: the complicated, exciting, dynamic individuals who populate our classrooms and our field.The works that we were able to consider for this special issue, both those that made their way into the issue you are reading and those that did not, are the products of their authors' adventurous spirits, curious minds, creative imaginations, and very, very busy lives.


More interesting than what didn't make it into this Special Issue is what did. See for yourself. We think you'll agree.

In the Topoi section, we offer three webtexts, two of which were borne from Jane Greer's Women in Rhetoric class at the University of Missouri—Kansas City, and one of which arose from Cheryl Ball's Multimodal Composition class at Illinois State University. The teachers, however, take little credit in their students' work, knowing that fulfilling a webtext submission for an undergraduate special issue takes a majority of dedication from the student. In "Anatomy of an Article," Joseph Janangelo writes with graduate student designer, Sylwester Zabielski, about (and with) undergraduate student Jonathan Pearson about Jonathan's article revision for Young Scholars in Writing. This multi-voiced webtext examines how Jonathan's article started as an essay and a video in Jane Greer's rhetoric class and evolved into a polished, published essay. In another multimedia essay from that class, "Anna Wintour: The Truth Behind the Bob," Tara Kloeppel (with an intro by Greer) writes about the celebrity ethos that Wintour, editor of Vogue, cultivates in order to sustain and expand the magazine's hold on the fashion (and political) world. Finally, Viola Woolums' webtext, "Gendered Avatar Identity," interviews World of Warcraft players to discuss their race and gender choices and how their avatars affect their play in the online gaming environment.

In the Praxis section, we have three more webtexts, each of which focuses on classroom practice using and composing digital media with undergraduates. The first is authored by guest editor Bump Halbritter as an introduction to the Praxis section but also a webtext in and of itself. Called "Big Questions, Small Works, Lots of Layers: Documentary Video Production and the Teaching of Academic Research and Writing," Bump's webtext discusses two video projects produced by undergraduates in his video production class at Michigan State University. The second webtext, "The Facebook Papers," is a massively collaborative production by Deborah Balzhiser and nine co-authors, including colleagues, graduate students, and undergraduate students. They discuss the intricacies and obstacles of using Facebook to teach writing in a first-year composition course. Rounding out the Praxis section are Jacoby Boles and Julianne Newmark discussing how Julianne taught a class of undergraduate publications management students to redesign and implement an issue of Xchanges Journal, an undergraduate (and sometimes graduate) journal in rhetoric and technical communication. Their webtext is called "Xchanges Journal: Web Journal as the Writing Classroom" and includes voices of the six students who were enrolled.

Finally, in the Disputatio section, the editors of Kairos invited Justin Hodgson (editor of The Journal of Undergraduate Multimedia Projects, or TheJUMP), Scott Nelson, Andrew Rechnitz, and Cleve Wiese to discuss "The Importance of Undergraduate Multimedia Scholarship." Alongside Julianne and Jacoby's Praxis piece, this webtext echoes the importance of professional development opportunities that transcend the spectrum of rank between undergraduates, graduates, and faculty/staff. We are pleased that all of the undergraduate writing studies journals are represented in this special issue of Kairos.


In the years since we began this project, our field has become increasingly and more obviously invested in undergraduate research. In 2009, TheJUMP began publishing undergraduate research in new media. In 2010, the CCCC Task Force on Undergraduate Research formed to “explore ... how CCCC can ... increase its support for undergraduate research.” In March 2011, the Task Force reported its findings and recommended the formation of a Committee on Undergraduate Research at CCCC 2011, which would be “responsible for drafting a position statement on undergraduate research [UGR] and overseeing additional activities to ensure that CCCC plays a leading role in providing frameworks, incentives, resources, and recognition for exemplary undergraduate research” (personal communication). At the time of this writing, the CCCC Executive Committee had responded to the Task Force recommendations in the affirmative and, though still unofficial, members of the incoming Committee on Undergraduate Research eagerly awaited their charges.

The future of undergraduate research in writing and rhetoric is an exciting one, and new media's role in undergraduate research and scholarly publication has yet to be established. As they say, the future is now.

—Shannon Carter



Carter, Shannon, & Downs, Doug. (2008). Young scholars in writing feature: Young scholars in first-year writing. Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric, 5, 120-22.

Council on Undergraduate Research. (n.d.) About. Retrieved July 8, 2011, from http://www.cur.org/about.html

Grobman, Laurie. (2009). The student scholar: (Re)negotiating authorship and authority. College Composition and Communication 61(1), W175-W196.

Grobman, Laurie, & Kinkead, Joyce. (2010). Introduction: Illuminating undergraduate research in English. In Laurie Grobman & Joyce Kinkead (Eds.), Undergraduate research in English studies (pp. ix-xxxiii). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Grobman, Laurie, & Spigelman, Candace. (2003). Editor's introduction. Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric, 1, 1-6. Retrieved July 8, 2011, from http://cas.umkc.edu/english/publications/youngscholarsinwriting/volumeone.html

Hakim, Toufic. (1998). Soft assessment of undergraduate research: Reactions and student perspectives. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 18(4), 189-192.

Robillard, Amy E. (2006).Young Scholars affecting composition: A challenge to disciplinary citation practices. College English, 68(3), 253-270.