Approaching the job market: some considerations

Note: I was asked to co-present at a job-seekers colloquium tomorrow within my PhD program at Syracuse, so I gathered some thoughts on the market which you can find below. Looking forward to hearing my colleagues’ thoughts on this as well since everyone experiences this process differently.

I turned 40 right before I accepted my job at Rowan last January — my only offer after a long, difficult search. I’ve worked in high schools, administered a writing center, designed community literacy programming, and despite my scholarly focus on amateurs and DIY publishing, I’ve taught professional writing more than any other college course. Moreover, my wife and I have owned a house in Syracuse since 2007, had 3 kids here, and enjoy a vast network of family and friends all over Upstate. I mention all of this because these things — for better and worse — factored into the emotional and logistical way I experienced the market.

I think factors like these — work/experience, friends and family, geographic preferences, career ambitions and allegiances — lead to significant differences in how we approach the process. There is no one way to summarize how anyone could process it. However, one central, practical manifestation — and one that you might begin thinking about right now if you are about to enter the market — comes through the question of how widely you apply. I opted to go wide (about 65 applications) and although it was a lot of work, I’m mostly glad that I did. I applied for English ed jobs, digital writing jobs, civic/professional writing jobs, writing center jobs, and jobs that were mostly tenure track, but not always.

Although I split childcare duties with my wife this year, I was unemployed and so you should take that into account as you read on. But one of the ways I looked at this decision (thanks in part to a mentor’s advice), is that there’s a strange emotional rhythm to the successes and failures of the market. For me, the game went a little like this: as long as I had other lines cast into the sea, a rejection was never as heavy as it would have felt had I limited my search to, say, 20 jobs. And even if I did, I was just too damn busy to linger on those failures. Aside from these psycho elements, ~65 applications gained me a lot of experience interviewing for different jobs, in different formats, and with committees/institutions that had very different dynamics. And it was a little fun.

On the other hand, had I been a bit more selective, I might have been able to write more institutionally-specific letters and prepared stronger materials. I often felt like my teaching letter was really a thinly-veiled research letter, for example, and it didn’t get me many interviews with teaching-oriented positions. The apply-widely approach also led to a very chaotic November/December where I was preparing for multiple campus visits, interviewing with schools on phone/Skype, and still applying for jobs all at the same time. This was very hard on my family. And in the end, I got a job I would have applied for no matter what criteria I used (in fact, a majority of my campus visit invitations were for positions I would have applied to had I been more selective). And Rowan was my first campus visit. 

But I guess what I’m really saying is this: Do you want to run a writing program? Can you handle living in an area where home ownership is virtually impossible for the professoriate? Do you have actual passion for teaching technical writing day in, day out? What are your loved ones willing to sacrifice for your career? Have you talked about it? How do you feel about it? And how conscious are you about your answers to these questions heading into the market? When I sought advice last year, time and time again folks encouraged me to consider both my professional and personal goals, even in the midst of a process where you seem to have very little control.

If you opt for an apply-widely approach (or maybe even if you don’t), the rumors are true: your first academic job search is a full-time job. It’s not that I did not believe this maxim when my mentors shared it with me over and over again, but it’s a different thing when you actually table your dissertation for 3-4 months and live with that decision. As a result, I thought it might help to spell out how this actually worked for me month-to-month and embed some advice within that arc.

Summer before: Based on the wonderful CCR job-seeker meetings organized by Eileen, I used some of my summer to redesign my professional website and draft app documents: 3 different cover letters (teaching/research/WPA), CV drafts, various philosophies, portfolios, etc. But really, I tried to make the most of my summer by getting as far ahead on my dissertation as possible. Ideally you want to have 80% of your diss (~4 chapters) drafted before Sept 1. I only managed 3 of 5 chapters and now it’s April and I’m scrambling to finish before I leave town in August. It’s not fun. Plus, the more you write, the better you understand your project and that’ll be essential when you give your job talk or discuss your work in interviews. (Although I got the job at Rowan, my job talks got better with practice, too.)

September & October: Jobs come in batches starting as early as August, but because of how I approached them, they seemed to constantly flow from postings on the Rhet/Comp Jobs Wiki, Rhetmap, and the WPA list (I rarely looked at the MLA JIL, to be honest). I used a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the ones I wanted to apply for (noting deadlines, links to job descriptions, teaching loads, specializations, and any other details) and color coded them as the market progressed. As these positions were posted I also found myself writing additional required statements on diversity and ESL, and formatting specific teaching portfolios based on the parameters of the application. Speaking of which, the application interfaces are far from uniform and here you find yourself in the belly of the managed university. Interfolio applications were relatively painless but not common enough, and in the more chaotic moments of the search this actually factored into whether or not I applied. Also: from my experience, hardly any schools held initial interviews at MLA this January. As a result, the market schedule shifted and had earlier deadlines. My phone/Skype interviews started in mid-October, for example — well ahead of the MLA-centered schedule.

Late November & Early December: Because I applied widely, this was the time of the process when my life got pretty crazy. At one point, I had multiple campus visits in a 10-day period and a few interviews with schools in between, so all at once I was trying to research schools, write job talks, plan teaching demos, shop for cheap-but-fancy clothes, and continue to apply for jobs that had later deadlines. Nothing I did felt quite adequate and I had a least one emotional breakdown. Still, I’m not sure this was avoidable— just a symptom of an apply-widely approach.

Winter Break: I had a few more interviews in the middle of December and then things suddenly went quiet. This was the hardest part. I wanted to know how those visits went and I wanted to have more scheduled in case they did not go as well as I hoped. I did not have a holiday filled with cheer and I couldn’t help but think that the more time passed, the worse the news would be. At many of the visits I went on in Nov/Dec search chairs told me that they wanted to make a decision before the break. And yet it was important to remember that the timeline for each institution was different. Some were waiting on deans to authorize an offer, and some places brought 2, 3, or even 4 candidates to campus — all people who might have gotten an offer before me. I thought committees would keep me posted throughout this process but it turned out that I only heard from them once someone else accepted and the search was over. That said, in multiple cases I was encouraged by committees to get in touch if I got another offer. That’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself in the fortunate (rare?) position of getting multiple offers at once.

In hindsight, I can say that it would have been emotionally helpful to talk with people other than my wife and my dissertation advisor about what this whole process felt like. Perhaps it would have been good, like in support groups, to have a “sponsor” to talk with — someone who went through this before and would be willing to listen to my anxieties about real estate costs, the material realities of the job, and my innermost insecurities, such as why in the hell did I choose to do a PhD in the first place?

There’s much more to talk about, of course, but I wanted to end this post with just a few practical resources I returned to time and time again:

Rhet/comp academic jobs wiki. Most of the jobs I found were initially posted on this site. I used an RSS-reader Chrome app and subscribed to the RECENT ACTIVITY link on that site, which helped me manage it all. You can also use this site to get backchannel updates on jobs that have posted, but this info can be unreliable, quickly render you obsessive, and ultimately be counterproductive to your progress.

Rhetmap. This site, run by Jim Ridolfo at Kentucky, is useful not only because it geo-plots MLA JIL data, but includes a number of extras. When things were not looking good, for example, I reminded myself that this was the worst market statistically speaking in at least the last 5 years. I knew that because of tools like this market comparison visualization created by Chris Lindgren:

The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky. Not everyone is a fan of this book or Kelsky’s approach, but if you can get past the first few chapters where she reminds you of the terribly depressing club you are trying to enter, then there are some helpful pieces of advice. Plus the book is organized chronologically in terms of how most candidates experience the market, making it a manageable read on top of all your other responsibilities. She’s also often funny, direct, and includes memorable stories.

Google Analytics. If you have a professional webpage and want to see when and where users are reading it from, install Google Analytics. Although I’m sure it didn’t help my mental health (see academic jobs wiki above), this feature predicted some of the interviews I got ahead of the call.

Hotdogz issue #2

I took a break from dissertating last week to make a zine for Syracuse in Print‘s first-ever event: Zine Swap! It’s issue #2 of my dad-zine Hotdogz (which is much lighter than the content from #1). Here’s the pdf, which aside from being hastily screen-shot-stitched in a garbage resolution, is boring as hell. If you want a proper print copy, which is a lot more fun, hit me up.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.43.49 AM

Arise Therefore

I’m celebrating May Day by injecting some sorely needed labor back into this blog. If you are somehow reading this and don’t know me or why I’ve been in abstentia, the short version of this academic year is as follows:

  • July: passed my exams
  • October: Witnessed the birth of our third child, Christian,
  • January: Lost my mom suddenly to a pulmonary embolism
  • April: Passed my prospectus; now ABD

Frankly, it’s been a hard year, full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Aside from the emotional strain of loosing one of the most important people in my life, trying to make progress on the diss with three small kids feels impossible. When I’m home, I’m not working. When I’m teaching or consulting in the Writing Center, I’m not working. And when I am working, I’m not at home — and I’m trying not to grade, consult, or otherwise respond to students.  And yet here I am. While I’ll be working a few hours a week this summer, I do have the time and space to write. And that work begins today.



While I haven’t really written here since June, I’ve been busy on the back end, revising my exam article, passing my exams (hooray), falling into various research rabbit holes about anarchism, talking with faculty about directions for my diss, and on the home front, working on our house to prepare for our 5th family member (due in October). I’ve also been meeting with folks about planning Syracuse In Print, a small print festival to be held in late February as part of my fellowship for NY Council for the Humanities. In August I’ll be flying down to NYC for a 2-day orientation with folks there. 

My type squeezed into a chase using quoins & furniture.

But one of things I wanted to do over this summer was experiment with other methods of bookmaking, to experience more sophisticated methods  so that I would have a better understanding of what that process is like, especially how it might be different from publishing on a computer, something I’ve done since I started making zines almost 25 years ago. But in order to do that, I needed access to tools I don’t have. So I took a letterpress workshop at the amazing Western New York Book Arts Center the last two Wednesday evenings. There I learned about tools like composition sticks and quoins, terms like pica and points, and how to set moveable type — a totally different design process than I’ve ever experienced.

The studio in the basement of the WNYBAC

Probably the most interesting thing about setting type had to do with how the space — not a screen — served as the primary means for composition. Not only does the WNYBA studio embody the materiality of writing, but combing through shelves, drawers, and cases looking for lead or wood fonts, wingdings, and symbols, required me to bricolage my way to something. So as I produced mockups with my composition stick, I never really knew how it would turn out. Unlike digital layout, where everything is WYSIWYG, as a newb to typesetting, I just wasn’t really sure how my project would come out. But after several gaffes (i.e. using layers of slugs instead of spacers, which would have been the same point as the type), I squeezed the type in a chase using furniture and quoins, hopped on an Excelsior platen press, and went to town, making 100 or so business cards. There’s lots more to say and reflect on about this, but for now, I’m thankful to have a reference point as I continue to explore questions of printmaking in the 21st century. 

One of my business cards
One of the business cards made on a platen press

During my visit I was also able to chat with Christopher Fritton, Studio Director and the founder of the Buffalo Small Press Festival (BSPF) about some of the things he’s learned in running that festival for eight (!) years. While Syracuse in Print won’t come close to the scale Chris has achieved with the BSPF, he had a lot of smart, practical ideas for carrying out such an event.

Gone fishin’

After working intensely on an article, drafting a paper for RSA, and trying to scuttle the family from Syracuse –> Texas –> Syracuse –> Canada these last three weeks, I’m back. The fam and I had a great time. Personal highlights include eating 100 lbs of heart-stopping Texmex, touring the Alamo in a downpour, taking some time to read for pleasure (Erik Larson’s history The Devil in the White City is so brilliant), and catching this walleye on our last night in Canada:


But alas, I’m ready to refocus and stay home for the rest of this summer to start the diss process. In the meantime, I’ll post a review of chapter 2 of danah boyd’s It’s Complicated (part of a HASTAC scholars collaborative book review),  and my RSA paper, which assesses the rhetorical currency of print through zines.

Suarez on materiality & “the coalescence of human intention”

Suarez commenting on the 1785 promissory note from the French

As part of their Critical Connections series, the Special Collections at Syracuse sponsored a pretty amazing lecture last Thursday by book scholar and Rare Book School director Michael Suarez called “‘Industry Need Not Wish’: Benjamin Franklin’s ‘The Way to Wealth’ As a Publishing Phenomenon.” This was followed up with a 2-hour discussion on Friday with Prof Suarez that allowed about 12 of us talk with him more intimately about the lecture and get a close look at some other important texts associated with Franklin in the late 18th century that the SCRC has in its collection.

I wasn’t familiar with Suarez and since I didn’t have time to read his most renown work — the 1,400+-page tome, the Oxford Companion to the Book — I opted instead to read the 30+-page  “Historiographical Problems and Possibilities in Book History and National Histories of the Book,” which is a surprisingly accessible article for outsiders (like me) who are not familiar with the field of bibliography. And when you read this, everything about Suarez’s approach makes sense. As he puts it, book history doesn’t really belong to any one discipline, but “as a multidisciplinary practice that is necessarily collaborative” (170). Not only did he touch upon this throughout his lecture and workshop but he showed it, walking us through the transnational life of Franklin’s most popular book, The Way to Wealth (TWTW) with grace, style, and joy. Dare I say it was one of the best lectures I’ve attended at Syracuse. Maybe ever. No wonder dude is also a preacher.

The extent of my knowledge about books from this period is limited to a phenomenal social history of Christmas I read last December so I can’t really put much of the lecture in a larger context. But put simply The Way to Wealth was a wildly popular anthology of aphorisms collected from Franklin’s 25 years of Poor Richard’s almanacs. Between 1758-1800 it went through 144 editions — that we know of. Of course it was popular because of the textual accretion from a quarter century of publishing Poor Richard’s, but also, according to Suarez, because it was cheap print. At the time, books like TWTW were printed through a jobbing press, which was quick and easy for the printer to make. (What surprised me is that in the 18th century colonies, most books were imported from England. Publishers in the states would take about 12-18 months to print a book because it took longer to make a profit from them; jobbing printing took priority.)

By contrast, in France, where Franklin became a celebrity, his works were printed on vellum, treated as an Enlightenment text (incidentally, I had many flashbacks to the HBO miniseries John Adams during this lecture).

What they had in common, however, was that Franklin’s book was a fashionable commodity. Back in the states, it became bundled with other important texts and sold to former agrarian workers who were urbanizing, becoming literate, and seeking (or rather, were told they should be seeking) civilizing texts. Sometimes these books had advertisements right in them (Suarez gave an example of a list of patented medicines to be sold at the end of one edition of TWTW). The most fascinating aspect of the lecture for me was the tension between what these books said and what they actually did. That is, it seemed to me from the lecture that the materiality of book in commodified form contradicted Franklin’s aphorisms about thrift, meritocracy, and savings:

  • Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise
  • If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for, he that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing
  • Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright

Suarez closed the lecture with what he later described as a “pivot,” showing  a series of statistics on illiteracy in the US, making the case that we should fight, among other things, to fulfill the promise of making literate the 32 million adults who can’t read. As a member of the LOC’s Literacy Advisory Board he said the issue was near and dear to his heart.

But having started the lecture with the overwhelming figures for student debt and having walked us through the ways literacy was literally fashioned in both America and France, it indeed felt like a pivot.  Literacy, of course, is more desirable than illiteracy (as Suarez pointed out in the discussion), but I found myself wanting to reach for Elspeth Stuckey’s 1991 book The Violence of Literacy once I heard this. Essentially, Stuckey does not see literacy as necessarily liberatory since  ideologies and contexts cannot be separated from words, including when literate people use them: “the society that fixes the worth of speakers fixes the worth of their words also” (92). Thus, the violence of literacy is found in the processes that seek to mark and dehumanize subjects, through such discursive practices as academic research and the systematic collection of data used for surveillance. Both are targets for Stuckey because both “regulate relationships” through literacy.  For me, this is exactly what TWTW did for the newly urbanized working class of the 18th century. The increased privatization of the University is perhaps the 21st century manifestation of this tension. Rather than provide money to the colleges to support programs like we did in the 60s with open-admissions, the neoliberal reality is that students take out loans to support their own literacy, taking on a sizable debt that never leaves them.

During the 2-hour discussion we considered Franklin’s own wealth, especially in contrast to Jefferson, who was born privileged but died in poverty (the opposite of Franklin). Although it seems there were several complicated reasons for Jefferson’s poverty the discussion implied he spent too much money on books and wine. You could do worse than squander a fortune on those two goods, but it was a helpful analogue to larger class tensions that have existed since the rise of capitalism. And as we looked at some amazing pieces from the SCRC having to do with Franklin — a 1775 sermon from the same press as the Declaration of Independence and a 1785 promissory note from the French that bankrolled the war — I wondered that without this larger historical context we were unintentionally perpetuating the myth of exceptional individual.

That said, I was felt privileged myself with the opportunity to take an evening and morning to learn more about Franklin, 18th century print culture, and the materiality of ephemera, which Suarez described as the “coalescence of human intention.” In terms of my own interests, Suarez reminded me that such coalescence — when it comes to literacy at least — might be best understood to take place through the commodified form of books, zines, laptops or ipads.

The embodied search and zine materiality

Every so few weeks Pitchfork runs a funky little feature called 5-10-15-20 that asks artists — folks like Neko Case, Nas, Erykah Badu — to talk about the music they listened to at different points in their lives. I always love these features not only because the artists talk about records I’ve never heard of and/or expected they to list (Badu apparently listened to Nirvana a ton in her 20s), but they show that such eclecticism is arguably necessary to one’s artistry. Anyway, on its most recent feature, Kathleen Hanna talks about taping reggae from the radio, explains how she jogged to Public Enemy, and reminisces about fellow riot grrrl band Bratmobile.

When it comes to her talking about her most recent age — 45 — she shares her adoration for Montreal electro-pop artist Grimes (AKA Claire Boucher), loving that’s although Boucher is 20 years younger than her, she embodies some of the feminist ideals the riot grrrl movement energized in the 90s. And yet, Hanna quickly notes her disgust with how women artists like Grimes are taken up on popular music blogs:

“I read some of the worst shit I’ve ever read in my life about Vivian Girls on BrooklynVegan. I clicked on a link because I wanted to see a show, and I made the mistake of reading the comments, and it made me want to cry. It was like the 90s all over again. But people in the 90s had to take out a piece of paper and write you a letter. It’s taken me a long time to not take that stuff seriously. I feel like people who are younger than me understand better. When Le Tigre started, people felt like they had to respond if someone said something negative about you online. As a political musician you felt obligated to have a dialogue. Now I realize.”

Grimes, ‘Oblivion’ from Somesuch & Co. on Vimeo.

Hanna’s observation about “that stuff” — the negative discourses of the web, specifically the comments section — resonated with me for two reasons. First, with hesitation, I reactivated my Facebook account a few weeks ago. Second, I’ve focused nearly all of my reading time on three recent books on zines. For sure, my decision to come back to Facebook is the result of a variety of forces, but I think my primary reason is one articulated in these books; it’s the same response as Hanna’s in understanding of how certain online spaces work. It’s a kind of letting go — a way of limiting my time on those spaces, but also filtering discourses and refusing certain kinds of dialogue. This is something, it seems, certain makers of zines understand quite well.

In Girl Zines (2009), Alison Piepmeier borrows from Mimi Nguyen’s work in arguing that the Internet is generally still a pretty hostile place for women, a place that “replicates many of the structural inequalities of the nondigital world” (15). In a more recent piece, for example, “Google Search: Hyper-visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible,”  Safiya Umoja Noble shows subtler ways this hostility is perpetuated by critiquing the neoliberal logic undergirding a search engine like Google:

“Commercial search implodes when it comes to providing reliable, credible, and historically contextualized information about women and people of color, especially Black women and girls, which serves as a means of silencing Black women and girls as social and political agents.”

As a result, the materiality of zines — as paper that mediates one body to another — allows them to circulate differently in what Piepmeier calls embodied communities — collectives that activate bodily experiences through paper, string, and the otherwise tactile pleasures of zine making which serve to humanize discourse in ways that are difficult to sustain and control digitally (63).

This isn’t to say, of course, that vibrant feminist spaces don’t exist on the web. Feministing, to give one example, has been going strong for years. However, recent scholarship on zines make a compelling case for the affordances of embodied analogue media. Farmer (mentioned in my last post), for example, argues that the affective qualities of zines create important alternative spaces for dissent that are directly linked to their materiality through bricolage — ““the artful ‘making do’ of the ‘handyman’ who, using only those materials and tools readily available to him, constructs new objects out of worn ones, who imagines new uses for what has been cast aside, discarded” (31). Because zines appropriate literal scraps, often relying on the unpredictability of embodied search — collecting said scraps at thrift shops, garage sales, etc. — they differ from deliberative public discourses that often take place in commercial online spaces using the tools of the commercial search (i.e. Google). In short — “that stuff” Hanna found repulsive on BrooklynVegan.

What Hanna “realizes,” I think, is that when it comes to the political work of the artist, it’s the art itself that makes a difference. In Zines and Third Space, Adela Licona takes this up by examining how zines build coalitions and a coalitional consciousness in their makers — “a practiced articulation or deliberate bringing and coming together around social change that can be witnessed in zines” (3). The difference between coalitional and critical consciousness is that the former implies action. For Farmer and other scholars of zines, it’s the zine’s capacity for “poetic world-making,” its rhetorical goal to inspire making itself, that differentiates it from other forms of public discourse.

I’m interested in the zine’s ability to perform these gestures through their materiality, but I’m equality interested in the ways other pockets of zine activity make use of both embodied material and commercial digital channels to effect change, especially when it comes to their circulation. One example of this is how coalitions build (or fail to build) depending on the type of search one engages. An embodied search — garage sale/sailing for ephemera, for example — is going to yield very different results than Googling a phrase, both materially but also epistemologically. Posting a zine on Etsy is different from selling it at a zine fest. It’s different in terms of how its found, its encounter between the maker and consumer, and how the event itself is figured into future circulations.

Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Stuart Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (2004) develops a tripartite approach for teaching computer literacy, drawing from: (1) the functional approaches that treat students as users of tools, (2) critical approaches that treat students as questioners of cultural artifacts, and (3) rhetorical approaches that treat students as producers of hypertextual media (25). A key problem for Selber is reinserting a humanist, or what he calls “post critical” (3), edge into the more positivist orientations of digital work — stances that too often “consider technology to be a self-determining agent” (8). This instrumental view of technology (a term borrowed from Haas and Neuwirth) views technology as neutral and leads two problematic perspectives in English departments (and other depts imbued with liberal humanism): they either jettison everything tech because hermeneutics and close reading is their business, or embrace it but only as a handmaiden to the larger agenda of textual study.

MFDA is broken into five chapters: Chapter 1 outlines the recurring problems with computer literacy as currently articulated and deployed at universities; the middle three chapters sketch functional/critical/rhetorical approaches to literacy; the last chapter, Chapter 5, addresses the implementation of said approaches both across a program (i.e. one class per approach) and within individual courses (i.e. one assignment/unit per approach). Within each of the middle chapters, Selber provides helpful parameters for each approach. For example in Chapter 4, on rhetorical literacy, he considers how persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action all might play a role in teaching students how to design interfaces using a “thoughtful integration of functional and critical abilities” (145). In general, this is a praxis-oriented book and a text I’ll go back to when it comes to rethinking and/or developing curricula on digital writing.

I won’t dedicate too much space to my personal connections to the book, but there is one I want to mention. Selber begins Chapter 4 by introducing Johnson-Eiola’s discussion of production/connection from his article “Negative Spaces: From Production to Connection in Composition.” By emphasizing connection in our classes, J-E informs us, writers might “write with fragments,” focusing on “reorganizing and representing existing (and equally intertextualized) texts — their own included — in ways that are meaningful to specific audiences” (135). This reminds me of the difficulty in focusing on both — production and connection, or composition and circulation (see George & Matheiu) — and how important it is to consider shorter forms in curricula that want to do both. For example, in my DIY Publishing course last spring, asking students to produce a zine in 5-6 weeks privileged form(s) and arrangement, but it didn’t leave much time for content and the sort of inventive work that might help with it (actually, the same can be said for other aspects of the course, including our work with new media). Thus, it is important to be open to short forms and visualization, and other ideas of connection and curation so teachers have time to support students who have trouble making objects and texts.

In terms of how this book aligns with others I’ve read from the list, Selber, while critical, is interested in working from within institutions, offering a different approach than someone like Sharon Crowley, for whom the entire institutionalization of universal requirement of FYC is the essence of the discipline’s problem. That said, while Crowley critiques the entire structure, she is also clearly writing from within it. And what I appreciate about MLDA is its ability to use theory to richly qualify the recommendation it makes about practice. This seems necessary since Selber’s audience is broader than the traditional comp/rhet crowd — a strength and a weakness of the book. A strength because it is able to articulate a broad rhetorical vision for computer literacy to a wide camp of folks (English profs, deans, even students); however, at times his “heuristics,” although always carefully qualified, still feel too prescriptive. Certainly someone like Byron Hawk, who argues for a more ontological, vitalist approach to composition would take issue with both the structure and the tone of some of Selber’s recommendations.

Finally, MLDA would be a useful book for approaching exam questions about critical pedagogy/literacy, humanistic approaches to technology, discussions on the role of heuristics in the field, the purpose and function of composition, local v global curricula, self-reflexive methodologies and praxis, or conversations about the view of tech as tools.