Centers for Teaching & Institutional Change

This morning, I attended a session at the American Association of Colleges & Universities annual meeting. The session was titled “How Centers for Teaching and Learning Can Influence Campus Culture on Emerging Educational Trends” run by Annie Soisson of Tufts and Stacy Grooters and Cristina Mirshekari, both of Boston College.

The three grounded their session in Connie Schroeder’s 2010 book Coming in From the Margins, which offers a five-point strategic change framework.

  • Understand your center
  • Align with institutional priorities
  • Build relationships and reputation
  • Build capacity
  • Evaluate

A pause:

I’m at an odd place in my career. My tenure begins next AY though I received an early promotion. I have one foot—probably one and a half feet—in my home department where I teach classes, direct our first-year composition program, offer department only faculty development opportunities. At this point in my career, all my publications—including my two books—are within my discipline and land squarely in my home department. But I have one foot—more like 4 toes—in our university’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership where I am a faculty fellow and offer university-wide professional development opportunities, represent the university at conferences like AAC&U, bring in guest speakers for our annual university-wide celebration of faculty research and talk one-on-one with our chief research officer about future administrative opportunities.


As I watched and listened to this session, I thought about change that may come to my university and how I might leverage my work with CTLL to be a part of helping my departmental colleagues adapt to this change. In short, the session leaders asked us to think about how our Centers might push change via this framework. I thought about how our Center might respond to change via this framework.

Here’s some change I know is coming. The University System of Georgia hired a nice Vice Chancellor, Dr. Tristan Deaney, a PhD in math dude from Cambridge. Dr. Denley is bringing an initiative called Gateways to Completion (G2C), offered by the Gardner Institute. Really, really briefly, G2C aim to improve student learning in high-failure rate classes; UNG, like all System schools, will adopt G2C and probably overhaul our first-year composition courses. Maybe not. But probably.

So, change is coming. How might CTLL help faculty in the English Department adopt to this change? What might my role be, as a department member and director of this potentially soon-to-be overhauled classes, as a CTLL faculty fellow?

With Schroeder’s framework, I start with understanding the history of CTLL: when was it started, by whom, and why? Does the CTLL director have a “seat at the table?” To whom does she report? What does CTLL do really well? Struggle with? What’s their budget? What’s mine (course release? stipend?)

The next step—aligning with institutional priorities—can be glossed over. This change is coming to us. CTLL doesn’t have to sell it.

CTLL and I then work the relationships we have already established. I talk with my department colleagues about these changes and rely on the relationships I have built up with this over 3 years directing first-year composition and publishing books and articles on the topic of writing instruction.

We would also need to build capacity. Would CTLL need to ask for additional revenue streams to be used hiring additional staff or supporting new faculty fellows? Would I need to work closely with my chair and dean to secure a budget for directing first-year composition, a budget that would allow us to bring in experts from other schools who have woven G2C into their first-year composition courses? Would I need to connect more closely with InstitutionalEffectiveness and rely on their partnership with National Survey of Student Engagement to track student learning and data-points such as DWF rates across campuses, differentiating between associates degree-seeking students and bachelor degree-seeking students?

I don’t know. But I do know I would need to build capacity to help faculty adopt to these changes, to help faculty help students adapt to these changes.

And the evaluate. Schroeder doesn’t use the word assess, curiously. But we would need to know, quite simply, if it works. Does G2C improve student writing? And how can we—my department, CTLL—communicate these findings all the way up the chain of command to the System level?

The session got me thinking.

It got me ready for the change that is coming.





Civic Engagement at AAC&U Meeting

American Association of Colleges and Universities annual meeting. The pre-meeting symposium “The Power of Civic Engagement: Across Campus, Within Communities, Beyond Borders.” Lynn Pasquerella, President of AAC&U, opening remarks. Pushing us to transition from an expert model of higher education, bolster reputation of higher education in a democratic society. Pasquerella pushes us to acknowledge bilateral relationships between school and town, relationships that respect local epistemologies. She pushes us to infuse civic learning outcomes into our curricula.

Pasquerella introduces Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark.

Cantor starts with John Dewey. Dewey tells us democracy needs to be enacted anew in every generation. Cantor starts with the tough, starts with the macabre, starts with the zero-sum evil permeating our society and coming to fore in evil marches, chants, social media posts. This zero-sum believes if you get yours, I can’t get mine; if you got something, anything, it means I get less, I get nothing.

She turns to the stories of hope, of the actual, concrete actions undertaken to topple this nasty narrative.

Cantor starts with the arts (how cool is that; a university chancellor preaching the arts!). The arts as a public square of democratic exchange (how cool is that; yes, from a Eurocentric point here, the ancient Greeks and the agora and the polis as a nexus of the arts [for wealthy, free, males of course]).


my own photo. The acropolis–not an agora but kinda close…

Cantor flashes a slide with Rupert Nacoste’s book Taking on Diversity. Nacoste is a psychologist at NC State. His book comes out of his work counseling undergrads. He offers techniques for handling the challenges that come from encountering diversity.

Cantor then gets specific. Flashes a slide of a beautiful old building in downtown Newark. The building was empty for many years. Now re-purposed. Whole Foods moved in. But more importantly, Cantor notes with a smile, Express Newark moved in—an amazing amalgamation of the community and university arts, an indoor agora of the arts fusing the university and the town. A screen printing room, a photography studio.


Photo by Anthony Alvarez; found at

This bilateral agora as a vehicle for arriving at empathetic citizenship.

Cantor gives a shout-out to Newest Americans, a multimedia collaborative showing how Newark is shaped by migration. Here’s how they describe themselves on their site:

We are a multimedia collaboratory of journalists, media-makers, artists, faculty and students telling the stories that radiate from the most diverse university in the nation. Based in Newark, NJ, a city shaped by migration, our project affords a glimpse into the world of the newest Americans and a vision of our demographic future.

Cantor flashes a slide with a quote from Danielle Allen, who directs the ethics center at Harvard: we are a ‘community of communities.’

And then a slide from Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a holocaust survivor, close friend of MLK. Prinz spoke before MLK delivering the Dream speech in DC. Prinz: “neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”


found via Wikimedia Commons

A riveting hour in my morning. A moment in a ballroom on a cold morning in DC where I was emboldened by the work of others. And thought of how I can take this locally engaged work and bring it back to my community in northeast Georgia and at the University of North Georgia.





Pitching an editor

My book, The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes, is coming out in April with Utah State University Press.

The Embodied Playbook

My first step toward publication–beside writing the darn thing–was pitching an acquisitions editor at an academic conference. This annual academic conference happens in late Spring–often March.

On February 2nd, 2015, I sent the following email to Michael Spooner, the acquisitions editor at Utah State University Press:


If possible, would you be open to meeting briefly at CCCC so I can ask specific questions about my proposal I am writing for Utah State?

I am emailing you directly because Michele Eodice introduced us in Las Vegas (I had just been offered a job and had been asking for advice from those at the table) and Barry Kroll has written to me about how helpful you were in the publication of his recent book.

In brief I am working on a book-length manuscript on the literacy practices of big-time college sports, a topic informed by my work within athletics departments, particularly writing centers, at two Division I schools and now at a Division II school.

I am free any time before 6pm on Thursday and after 2pm on Friday.

I would be glad to email you a brief query letter and truncated CV prior to our meeting.

Hope to hear from you,

Michael Rifenburg

I tried to emphasize

  • who I am
  • why I am emailing you
  • What I want
  • What I am writing
  • When I am free

Michael emailed back 2 hours later with a time for us to meet.

On March 12–a few weeks before the annual conference–I emailed him a 1.5 page document that outlined my project. I’ll post that soon.

As academic conference season churns along, reach out to an editor, reach out to a scholar you wanna chat with. Make use of your time at the conference.

Academic Writing Video, Part II–THE DRAFT

In this second video in the Academic Writing series, I briefly use screen capture software to talk through and show my drafting process.

I’m trying to get after the process here, peel back that curtain and show the behind-the-scenes chaos that supports a published piece of scholarship.

I’m fascinating by this process. When I browse through finished journals, book, edited collections, I am looking at polished, finished pieces. Just like the folk who fill the pews on Sunday morning–smiles, make-up, shined shoes, ironed shirts–these publications look the part of refined, lofty scholarship. Ain’t nothing challenging about writing–they seem to scream. Look at how effortless and easy-to-read my introduction is, look at how adroitly I move through this literature review and make this nod to Zizek’s thoughts on the violence of globalization. 

But like those beautiful good folk in the Sunday morning pews, we only see the final product. Scroll back the wheel of time and you see Mom running frantically around the house gathering kids and making sure the iron is turned off, the oven is turned off, the kid is wearing matching shoes. Scroll back the wheel of time and you see the author muttering curse words, hunched over a keyboard, staring dejectedly at yet another cryptic note from reviewer 2.

I talk with my colleagues at conferences. Great article in the recent issue of Journal of Lofty Things, I tell them. Ha, they invariably answer back, I got so tired of revising that thing. Ha, they invariably answer back, I still hate that conclusion.

These are real-time videos. I am not reading from a transcript nor am I reflecting back on something that is already published. I have a target journal in mind for this piece, but I am not sure if the journal will pick it up.

Here’s my process. Here’s my messy room of writing. Step in but, please, don’t touch anything.



Academic writing videos–getting started

In my role with the University of North Georgia’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, I spent a lot of time sitting down with faculty and talking writing.

UNG is a teaching-intensive school; most of us are on 4/4 loads. So, when we get together for faculty development work, the majority of our energy is directed to teaching–not scholarly productivity.

To get conversations going across campus on writing and research, I’ve lead faculty writing groups and offered a variety of workshops. In these spaces, I’ve drawn from my own experiences with writing and publishing and shared documents I’ve written such as revision memos, book proposals, and email exchanges I’ve had with editors.

I share my writing, my struggles, my successes with my colleagues to make the Academic Publishing game look more manageable.

As I’ve written elsewhere, many of the documents surrounding the publishing process were documents not taught in grad school. I certainly was never taught to write a cover letter, a revision memo. I was certainly never taught how to correspond with an editor or write a book proposal. (Or construct a tenure portfolio, for that matter).

Below is the first in a series of videos that offer a glimpse into how I author an academic article, submit it, and then, ideally, respond to reader feedback and usher the piece to publication.

These videos are unique because

  • they are real-time. I am not reflecting back on an already  publishing piece. I am starting these videos now, as I have a rough draft of my article.
  • they are raw. I don’t have training with video editing. I’m using Open Broadcaster and showing video of my screen. My voice over is not scripted. I’m just talking in the moment.
  • they are short.
  • they are mine. I’m not making grand pronouncements on navigating academic publishing. William Germano has that covered. I’m just showing what steps I work through, what my screen looks like, what my rough writing looks like.

I’m here because of others. I working on and with examples of book proposals, cover letters, revision memos, others shared with me. As graduate students move through their program, I hope these videos will be of use. As NTT and TT and even T faculty continue getting words on the screen, I hope these videos will be of use.

Book Revisions

It’s on the website. My book, The Embodied Playbook, is hanging out on UP Colorado’s website. If it was a movie, this would be the trailer endlessly streamed on YouTube by eager fans.

Looks like it is dropping in April. Page proofs should drop on my desk this month.

I’ve written before about the proposal process, sharing my cover letter and shared my annotated TOC.

Below I share my revision memo I drafted in September 2016. The book went through two rounds of revision. I think this memo is for the first round of revisions.

My revision memos look the same for articles. I follow a template Kevin Roozen gave me back when I was an MA student at Auburn. The first paragraph and final two or three paragraph largely stay the same. I just do some updating with them.

This semester, I led some faculty writing groups and passed out copies of my revision memos. Like tenure documents and book proposals, these are genres not often taught in grad school. I learned from example. I share my example.

And finally a thanks to my reviewers, Barry Kroll and Rita Malenczyk. My book is better because they read and thought carefully about it.

View this document on Scribd

Preparing a Tenure Portfolio

At the University of North Georgia, faculty apply for tenure after year four. The faculty handbook outlines the specific documents needed and these documents are uploaded to UNG’s course management platform (D2L) by the second Monday of September. Committees form, committees review, committees make recommendations, and an email arrives, then a letter, signed by the provost announcing the decision.

Faculty apply for tenure at the beginning of their fifth year. That date doesn’t budge—though it can be extended, if needed.  But promotion, at UNG, can be uncoupled from tenure. Faculty can apply early for promotion. Much thanks to my colleague in the College of Business who noticed the single-sentence paragraph in the Faculty Handbook stating such. With the endorsement of my chair and my dean, I applied for early promotion last AY; I received it and the increase in pay as stipulated, again, in the Faculty Handbook.

Since I applied for early promotion, I have all the documents needed for tenure. The same documents are needed. I have spent the summer updating.

In general, here are the requirements for tenure, which I’ve cut and pasted:

The criteria to be used when considering a faculty member for tenure or promotion are as follows: 

  • Superior teaching; Demonstrating excellence in instruction
  • Professional Growth & Development / Scholarship / Academic Achievement
  • Outstanding service to the institution, profession, or community

Faculty provide evidence of these three bullet points by uploading a lot of documents:

  • A cover sheet
  • A “full professional CV”
  • A teaching CV
  • A service CV
  • A scholarship CV

 These three additional CVs, of course, echo the full professional CV. But there are additional items requested on these specific CVs that I don’t have on my full professional CV, such as how many advises I work with.

  • A summary statement of 6 single-space pages
  • And a bunch of supporting documents to “prove” scholarship, teaching, service. I include pdfs of all my articles and syllabi.
  • All annual performance evaluations
  • All student evaluations
  • Letter from chair
  • Letter from at least 2 colleagues, one of whom needs to have tenure

If the Department Promotion and Tenure Committee approve the portfolio, then they write a letter. If the College Promotion and Tenure Committee approve the portfolio, then they write a letter. Then the dean writes, then the University Wide Promotion and Tenure Committee writes.

What I have below is my 6 page single-spaced summary statement. In this summary statement, I connect my work with the UNG’s Strategic Plan, with AAC&U best practices, and with material from the Faculty Handbook for defining service and scholarship.

This document, then, is grounded in the language my university speaks, as I seek to show my value to UNG—not my value to another university, another college.

Finally, as I am at a teaching school, teaching is foregrounded in this summary statement. 60% of my contract is based off my work in the classroom. I’m a teacher at heart who does some writing/research.

Like book proposals, I don’t think grad students get much, if any training, in writing tenure documents. But this is a critical genre, and I am thankful for the examples I have looked over and the wonderful workshops our Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership offer on preparing for tenure and promotion.

Start preparing week 1, day 1. Start compiling documents. Start reading the Faculty Handbook, the QEP, the Strategic Plan. Learn the language of your school.

And then write.

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Thankfulness: I’m Here Because of Others

I’m here because of others.

Question: What is here?

Answer: a tenure-track position landed out of graduate school at a four year university located 45 minutes from my two parents and 4.5 hours from the Wife’s two parents. A stable job where the Chair is supportive, the Dean is supportive, the colleagues are supportive. A position where I received early promotion and am confident in landing tenure next AY. A teaching career with flexibility in my class schedule and students engaged. A service career where I lead faculty development workshops, oversee the FYC program, sit on the honors program advisory council. A research career where I have two book contracts, multiple articles, inside access to the athletics department, to the Corps of Cadets.

Question: where else is here?

Answer: this house; a new house in a new neighborhood with room in the house for our family of five; this city with strong public libraries, park and rec association, easy access to interstate and state parks; this state where I was raised, where my wife was raised, where both sets of parents still live; this time, where my kids don’t have to work in factories at a young age, where my wife can safely give birth, where I and my family have easy access to vaccinations and health care, where my wife and I and my kids can vote for whoever we want and then safely voice our support or displeasure.

I’m here because of others.

With none of my involvement or skill or intelligence, I was born to two middle class white people who also have two sets of supportive parents and who had the money to raise a child. I was born to a dad with a college degree who wanted to be in my life and who worked a steady federal gov’t job. I was born to a mom who went back to receive her college degree when I was in elementary school and who could rely on the dad to watch the kids; she didn’t have to pay a babysitter, leave us home alone. I was raised by two white—now upper middleclass—people both with a college degree. I got a head start.

I was raised in a house my parents owned. When they sold that house, they moved into another house they owned. In a neighborhood where the only cause of concern was the length of the grass—gotta cut your grass per HOA rules.

When the local high school didn’t work out, I went to a private school because that was possible. Not because I did anything to earn it.

I went to college. I graduated with $7000 in debt and paid it off within three years.

I got engaged and paid cash for a engagement ring and then wedding ring. I used the money from my summer job, which was a construction gig because my uncle owned a construction company. Where did I live during the summer? At my grandma’s place. For free. Because she was alive and interested in me.

With support from parents, my wife and I bought our first house and I landed a job teaching high school because the principle knew where I went to college and wanted to send her son there. That’s all. She recognized my alma mater.

During graduate school, I never took out a loan because my wife worked. We lived off her teaching salary. I graduated in four years with my PhD. I graduated without any debt because of my wife’s job.

I landed a book contract with Utah State University Press, partly because I met the acquisitions editor, Michael Spooner, through one of my mentors, Michele Eodice. Michele and Michael are good friends who share a love of whiskey and cigars. I met Michael through Michele in Las Vegas at a conference. When it came time for my to pitch my book, I already had a connection. And that connection worked.

On and on. I can now start tracing the head start my kids are receiving. Hard work is needed, sure. But so much depends on the celestial roll of the dice. I wouldn’t be upper middle class if I was born in England in the 14th century. I would be a farmer, live a farmer, die a farmer. Hard work wouldn’t move me up the ladder. So much depends on the roll, the bounce, the spin, looking over the edge of the table with hopeful eyes and seeing the black dots on the stark white of the die.

It’s so much luck, this life game we play. But we also gotta give people a chance to play. We gotta let them sidle up to the table, finger the die, blow on them, toss them down on the hard felt, watch the roll, the bounce, the spin, and see what the black dots say. The Celestial Casinos need to invite all. Not just those who have won in the past.

But also those who have lost in the past.

I’m here because my parents and their parents entered the Celestial Casinos and rolled well. I, then, got entry and rolled, too.

I’m here because of others.

Annotated Table of Contents

Somewhere in Colorado, my book is undergoing production. I just got an email from Laura Furney, the assistant director and managing editor with the University of Colorado Press. She wrote to tell me that they are prepping my manuscript for copyediting and adding XML coding for the ebook edition. Around October, copyedited files will fall on my desk for review. The book should come out in April.

The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes will soon be born.

I posted a few weeks back about the book proposal process. Book proposals are unique genres, ones we don’t get much—if any—training on in graduate school. Unlike article or books, they aren’t published; they are a hidden genre that gives rise to a public genre. Kinda odd, right?

I’ll glad some found that helpful.

Below, I’m posting my annotated table of contents. Per the submission guidelines for my press, I needed to send along a proposal, two sample chapters, a cv, and an annotated TOC. I modeled my proposal after Chris Carter’s; I modeled my annotated TOC after Chris’s, too. I even kept the same font and fully justified the text—just like Chris.

I struggle mightily with abstracts, and annotated TOCs are just a bunch of abstracts. This was nasty hard for me. But just like an IRB application, the process helped me better understand my project. It helped me see the throughline of my book, how the sections fit together; the process helped me feel where I was spinning bullsh*t, and where I really knew my plan for the chapter.

Below is the finished doc. Through reader feedback, the chapters changed a bit—especially the title of my book. But this is the original demo (to borrow some music lingo). Final note: my book has five chapters and always has. I’m not sure where the chapter 5 blurb went. Hmm.. Musta been there at some point.

View this document on Scribd




I’ll glad many found that helpfu

Rhetoric & Comics

For the second time, I am teaching a rhetoric and comics class. It’s officially titled “Rhetoric and the Graphic Novel” to lend some gravitas to our Important Scholarly Work.

It’s not really my area. I got the visual rhetoric theory, which I also bring to bear on my work with scripted sports’ plays and how athletes make sense of the kaleidoscope of images swirling in a play. My first publication, a Composition Forum piece, made work of some of this theory and so do portions of my forthcoming book–The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes.

But comics? Never published here. But I do read a lot of em.

I got into comics as a grad student when I made my way into Atomik Pop on Main Street one  day. I’m not sure what pulled me into that space; I don’t know what I was looking for. But I had a great talk with the dude behind the counter (it’s always a dude behind the counter at our LCS). I think I walked out with an issue of Daredevil, a series I purchased consistently for 15 months or so.

I’m now full-on with DC. I reread Geoff Johns’s wonderful Infinite Crisis over the past two days.

No Marvel for me, please.

But the texts that stay with me the most are the graphic novels, not the serialized paperbacks or the one-shots.

Alan Moore’s From Hell–possibly the most unsettling text I’ve read; and I’ve read Stephen King entire oeuvre.

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County–I teared up when the hockey team tapped their sticks to the ground in a sign of respect.

Grant Morrison’s We3–another one that caused my tear ducts to get to work.

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan–one I keep finding new areas of exploration in the narrative.

Craig Thompson’s Blankets–evidence that all graphic novels don’t need to be negative, dark, weighty, angsty.

I’ve brought my love of the narratives, the images, the lines, the lettering, the inking to my class this summer. Below is what we are doing–my full syllabus.

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