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Departmental Reframing – pete rorabaugh

pete rorabaugh

father | atlantan | cyclist | educator | scholar | union member

Departmental Reframing

I joined the faculty of Southern Polytechnic State University under the former English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts Department, and within two months arriving learned that SPSU would be merging with Kennesaw State University, a much larger liberal arts institution ten miles north of us. Now, I belong to the Digital Writing and Media Arts Department of KSU which is nearing completion of its reframed degree programs. For the last sixteen months, my department has been undergone a complete revision.

It has not been an easy process. We learned last fall that our department was “ground zero” of the consolidation process because, as ETCMA, we were one of the only departments at SPSU that a) contained elements also held on the Kennesaw campus but b) would remain intact rather than being folded into those departments. The majority of departments on our campus (Computer and Software Engineering, Architecture, Mechanical Engineering, etc.) didn’t have corresponding counterparts in Kennesaw, so they would remain. Other SPSU departments like Social and International Studies (including professors in History, Sociology, and Political Science) would be dissolved and their faculty members would return to their new “home departments” in Kennesaw, geographically and/or administratively. Only ETCMA was selected to undergo a reframing and “disentangling” process in order to distinguish it from similar entities (English, Communications, and Art & Design) at KSU.

In a Spring 2014 department meeting, our department chose to rename itself Digital Writing and Media Arts after more than two months of discussion and debate.

From last April:

The new name didn’t make everyone happy, but we were encouraged by the recent news that top administrative units had decided to keep us together as a unit on the basis of what had become a central argument for many of us — that our department offered an innovative, interdisciplinary academic approach to communication, content creation, new media, and design for “the digital age.” The former ETCMA faculty held degrees in Rhetoric, Instructional Design, Technical Communications, Media Studies, English, Visual Arts, and Creative Writing, but many of us had studied and published in a variety of new fields related to digital environments. We were hybrid scholars, we argued, and the intersections of our various degrees, research agendas, and pedagogies would allow for inventive new directions if we remained together.

Nearly a year since the decision to keep our department intact, we’re still putting the final touches on our three undergraduate and two graduate programs. Our three former Bachelor’s programs — English and Professional Communications (B.A.), New Media Arts (B.A.), and Technical Communications (B.S.) — have been reframed as Writing and New Media (B.A.), Interactive Design (B.A.), and Technical Communications (B.S.). Many of us have worked on both external and internal committees for the last year to complete the work of consolidation in addition to carrying our 4/4 teaching schedules. We’ve shed the GenEd component of our former curriculum (Composition and Literature courses) and, in the process, seen several of our full-time TT and NTT faculty migrate into other departments (English and Communications). As we head into the three important administrative “checkpoints” for our new degree programs, we are a leaner faculty with a narrow academic focus on digital content creation and design. Those meetings, happening over the next several weeks, will conclude our reframed direction and enable us to begin enrolling students in degrees that have not existed on either campus before.

I expect to be writing about the final stages of this process over the next couple of months in hopes that it might be valuable to faculty members and departments elsewhere who are contemplating some of the same directions and that it might inspire a collaborative conversation around how humanities disciplines choose to engage with an evolving digital landscape. I’m excited to reveal the programs and vision that that our DWMA curriculum committees have composed (the nuts of bolts of that work will be coming in another post), and I look forward to deeper conversations about digital scholarship with many of the peers in my professional learning network.

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