2014 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Director of the First-year Writing Program
Professor of English
College of Arts and Sciences
English professor Susan Lang has been guided by an appreciation for words and technology on her unique journey as an Integrated Scholar. Originally a student of British literature, Lang was in graduate school when she took advantage of an opportunity to work with computer networks. The experience spurred her interest in computers and writing, and led her to merge those subjects in her scholarship. Her research centers on data mining, hypertext theory and instructional design. Such emerging topics have helped to shape curriculum and policies for Texas Tech's First-Year Writing Program, which she has directed since 2006. The program delivers hybrid courses (both online and in the classroom) to first-year students. Lang takes a lead role in the courses' production, from curriculum development to instructor training to the creation of assessment models. Aside from managing the writing program, Lang has channeled her skills in administration to service roles on university committees, including the Core Curriculum Committee, the Quality Enhancement Plan Development Committee, and the Writing Advisory Committee. Outside of Texas Tech's environs, Lang has worked with the theater group The Drama League of New York for about 20 years, eventually rising from volunteer website designer to the board of directors.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar Susan Lang in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
Since composition, technical communication and technology are constantly changing, so have been interests over the years. Currently, I'd describe them as the following: first-year writing program development, assessment, data and text mining (including “big data”), Web 2.0/hypertext theory, instructional design, faculty engagement.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
My tendency has always been to look at projects with a larger scope; the downside of doing so is that projects with a potentially large impact demand longer-term investments of time and intellect. The benefit is that more individuals will find something of use in what is brought to the table. A lot of the questions I deal with are those that many individuals in comparable positions have—questions of how do we more effectively help students learn to communicate in writing? How do they most effectively learn to make the decisions required to produce successful communication artifacts? How do they become critical and informed consumers of data and information? And how can we leverage technology to help us study both the instructional process and the products produced?
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
Internally, working on any number of things that impact students—Core Curriculum Committee, the current QEP Development Committee, Writing Advisory Committee—those service issues impact students and faculty directly. They also provide different views of how higher education and, by extension, our society, continues to change. It's critical for any of us who work in higher education to be mindful of the relationship of education and society—that's something that can be easy to let slip into the background when we immerse in the daily affairs of our departments alone…
Externally, my long-term commitment has been to a theater service organization, The Drama League of New York. It began when I answered a call for volunteers to help them establish basic (for 1995) Internet services, has extended through multiple technologically related projects and morphed into my being asked to join the board of directors about seven years ago. Since then, my work has expanded to participate in an international cultural exchange with Bulgarian directors and other theater artists. This, like other, short-term service, has come as a result of having a variety of knowledge, both humanities and technically based.
What are you currently working on?
A variety of projects involving text and data mining—for example, we're finishing a two-year study of how students and instructors use e-handbooks—an almost completely quantitatively driven study.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Students—both first-year and graduate students who are part of our first-year writing program; colleagues—I'm fortunate to work with several individuals who are committed to both research and teaching…
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research and service—in their careers?
Re-evaluate research agendas regularly and ensure that you've set aside the time to complete projects; while many departments try to minimize university service for new faculty for a year or more, start looking at possible service areas that, if at all possible, dovetail with your research or teaching interests. There's a growing body of scholarship on faculty engagement—some of these articles should be required reading for new faculty to understand what the range of possibilities are.
Consider balancing quality and quantity in service as you would in research—one or two significant service projects may mean more than several lesser projects. Consider the larger picture in determining how you enable service to complement and extend what you do in research and teaching.
I'd decided to attend graduate school directly after my undergraduate degree, although at the time, I thought I'd be working in the areas of British romanticism and/or critical theory. As it turned out, toward the end of my second year of coursework (having done quite a bit with the above two areas, as well as film studies, the English department at Emory received a computer classroom from Apple. I'd “played” with computers a bit as an undergraduate and jumped at the opportunity to work in this classroom. As I read more, I realized the need for individuals who could bridge gaps between emerging technologies and the humanities. I gradually turned my energies toward research in the area of computers and writing. I also began learning the emerging coding needed to design pages for the (then) text-only World Wide Web (we're talking 1990-1992 here…)
In a strange twist, I also had the opportunity to work part time at Spelman College in Atlanta as the assistant director of the Comprehensive Writing Program for a year… and found that I enjoyed aspects of administration… so the pieces started coming together, and I finished my doctorate looking at a very different track from where I began…
B.A., English (summa cum laude with distinction), The Ohio State University (1987);
M.A., English, Emory University (1989);
Ph.D., English, Emory University (1992)