Hello, English Students. I don't need to tell you these are turbulent times. With all physical gatherings being cancelled at Texas Tech, our weekly spotlights might be a bit different. However, we will still strive to show you amazing ways students and faculty are helping make this situation easier for themselves and others as well as ways they continue to engage with each other from a distance. We hope you are staying safe and healthy.
This week we'll be taking a look at Zoom Assist. Zoom Assist was a several week long service where Michael Brooks, Erica Baumle, Kimberly Phillips, Sara Ryan, and Shannon Samson. With everything transitioning to online meetings a need for on-demand technical support arose, especially for students and instructors that had little to no experience with Zoom. I was able to talk with Erica Baumle who told me about the service, what it offered, and typical problems students and instructors encountered:
“My students are reporting back about their experiences. It's great stuff – real user stories that a Tech Comm researcher like myself really craves! So: teachers not having practiced; not seeming to understand how to change what was into what is; not having a back-up plan for connecting like emails or another technology; teachers not knowing how all the bells and whistles work like raising hands for attention in Zoom; simple fixes like warning students to mute mics and cameras."
Zoom Assist helped dozens of students and instructors struggling with the online transition. Hopefully now everyone is settling into a routine allowing their classes to run smoothly, but if not Erica offers some advice: “Talk with someone about how this all works, the real nuts and bolts. Then practice!”
Beyond this though, there are many online resources to help us all learn Zoom. There are also your fellow students and faculty. There is always someone around you can ask for help if needed, as Erica expresses: “What all of us, every single one of us, teachers, faculty, staff are doing is hard; it is complex and involves a lot of moving parts. ASK FOR HELP!” Above all else, this is something that affects everyone. Everyone will have a different level of digital literacy, don't be afraid to ask for help, and don't be afraid to offer help if you see someone struggling. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay optimistic, and good luck Red Raiders!
This week's spotlight features Jason Tham and Rob Grace in the UX Lab. In Dr. Tham's words: “The UX Lab is a collaborative research, design, and learning space for students, faculty, and those who are interested in UX applications. The UX Lab has undergone a few iterations following the leadership of its previous directors. Today, we are setting up the UX Lab as a ‘collaboratory' to cultivate a student-focused learning and experimentation environment where everyone is welcomed to participate.”
The UX Lab, or the User Experience Lab, is place designed for what's called usability testing; a key component of Technical Communication. As well as other user experience related experiments. User experience research generally focuses on finding ways to streamline a user's interaction with a document or website so that the user avoids frustration or confusion. If you've ever been frustrated by a website's poor or difficult design, this is what usability testing hopes to fix. As Dr. Tham describes: “Usability testing allows designers to observe people interacting with a product to assess its functionality and ease of use. Usability testing is one part of user-experience design, which also includes user research to understand people's activities and needs before building a prototype for testing.”
As Dr. Tham says, user experience research usually involves directly observing a user to identify where, if any, confusion or disruption lies in the design of a given document or website. Or, more generally, to understand how users interpret a given design to stockpile knowledge on how humans engage with design.
The UX Lab has many potential purposes, but Dr. Tham and Dr. Grace both a very specific vision for it: “We took over the directorship of the UX Lab in 2020 and have been working to rebrand it for teaching and learning today. While we both have taught and conducted research projects using the facility, we have not produced any public-facing projects we could share at this time. Stay tuned!”
This week's spotlight is featuring Associate Professor Michael Faris and his class ENGL 4365 Crises in Digital Democracy: Fake News, Conspiracy Theories, Demagoguery, and Hate Speech Online. The class focuses on the seemingly recent social phenomenon of falsehoods being passed around as fact, otherwise known as fake news. As well as other obfuscations of truth such as conspiracy theories and hate speech. The class seeks to examine how these forces interact with society and the consequences thereof. However, the class is billed as a technical communication class and that may prompt some to ask: how is fake news related to technical communication? Dr. Faris answers:
“I think technical communicators have a role to play in tackling the problem of fake news. For example, many technical communicators work on the infrastructure of websites and apps. They can play a role in helping to shape public discourse through how they contribute to how social media sites develop policies, structure information, and perhaps even flag or mark fake news for users...Technical communicators can also help in the construction of and user testing of algorithms that detect fake news, or in the design of educational/informational material for citizens about fake news. These are just a few possibilities. What's important is that we need technical communicators who also see their job as contributing to a better society, and one way to do that is to design information and user experiences to help make a better society possible.”
This is the first semester the class has been offered and turn out is good. With two dozen or so online and onsite students taking the hybrid course every Tuesday. Students who, in Dr. Faris' words, are his favorite part of teaching the class: “The students are my favorite part, for sure. They're curious, they ask interesting questions, and they bring a wealth of experience and examples to class. They're also willing to explore the complexity of these issues, which makes for very rewarding conversations about the problems and potential solutions to fake news.”
This week's spotlight will focus on undergraduate English student Jay Hitt who is
currently studying abroad in Seville, Spain. He is taking part in a Spanish language
study abroad program in Seville offered by Texas Tech every semester. A fact that
might not be well known is that Texas Tech has their very own campus in Seville. Here,
with the help of Texas Tech educators and classmates, students are able to learn the
Spanish language while fully immersed in a Spanish speaking environment.
Jay, being an English student, has been given a unique perspective on language and how learning new languages can expand one's literary horizons: “I think my studies as an English major have only helped my Spanish studies. My love for literature and wanting so badly to dive into Spanish literature has been an extra incentive to learn and also a great platform for language acquisition.”
More generally though, Jay has thoroughly enjoyed his trip to Spain: “Spain is a country that I keep appreciating more as I learn more about its history and people. The people are generally nice and understanding and want to help with my Spanish.”
Jay plans to return from his trip to Spain after the conclusion of this semester.
If you frequent the English building regularly you may have noticed little red or blue fliers posted around the halls advertising a Video Game Workshop. This week's spotlight focuses on just that!
Every Monday from 5 to 6 PM in English Building Room 362, undergraduate students Colton Craft and Sean Cain lead a short lesson on how to create a text based game using the simple but versatile game engine Twine. Twine is open source and completely free to use so students can attend the workshop completely free of charge. “We recommend that people bring their own laptops if they have one” said Sean Cain “but we also have 4 computers and laptops available in the lab if they're needed.”
Sean and Colton are both involved in creative writing. Sean is a double major in English Creative Writing and Technical Communication. Where Colton is also an English Creative Writing major and a Film Studies minor. “I feel like this workshop combines all of our skills” Sean said. “There is the storycrafting and creative writing aspect of it which we're both excited about, but there's also the more technical and procedural aspect to it; it's a hybrid form of expression.”
The workshop hopes to give students access to the full range of Twine's capability, starting out with the basics necessary to use Twine and progressing up to more advanced coding and incorporating complex gaming mechanics. They also hope to use Twine to provide a new and unique venue for students to engage in creative writing as Colton expressed:
“I'm incredibly excited to see what stories people have brewing in their minds. So often people have these amazing stories and worlds in their heads but never find a chance to express their ideas to anyone. This workshop will be an amazing opportunity for students to share their ideas and put everything down in a unique and creative way.”
For more information about the Twine workshops email Sean Cain at Sean.Cain@ttu.edu.
This week's spotlight is honoring Dr. Megan Condis and this year's upcoming Lubbock Con. Lubbock Con is an annual event meant to bring a much-needed pop culture event in Lubbock. Dr. Condis herself describes the event as “a weekend event that brings comic book artists, actors, authors, and pop culture experts to Lubbock, TX to share their work with the community.”
Of all the events planned for Lubbock Con, one in particular involves Texas Tech faculty and students. A panel titled “Rhetoric and Videogames” will feature our own Dr. Condis, Dr. Gerdes, Dr. Holmes, and undergraduate student Sean Cain. This is the first year that this panel will be present at Lubbock Con and its official description is as follows:
“Are videogames a test of skill—technical challenges to be mastered? Or are videogames an art form, more akin to literature or film? This panel will turn these questions on their heads by exploring how videogames can be the site of public arguments about shared values. From games' procedures to gamer culture, this panel takes an expert look at the rhetoric of videogames.”
Beyond this though, Lubbock Con has many other special events planned: guest stars, tabletop gaming events, presentations and panels ranging from being successful on YouTube to publishing your own comic book. Lubbock Con is a two day event held at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center starting on Febuary 29th and ending on March 1st. For more information visit Lubbock-Con Events site.
We'd love to see you there!
Sarah Huerta is the poetry editor for the Harbinger Student Journal of Art and Literature, an undergraduate publication created by and for Texas Tech undergraduate students. The 2019-2020 issue is set to release this semester and the entire editing team is excited for it. As Sarah expressed: “I'm excited for this year's issue! It was difficult but rewarding to select these works of art made by fellow Tech students. Look out for our 2019-2020 issue in the next couple of months!”
The Harbinger has a long history with Texas Tech, with the first issue being published in 1956. For 64 years, undiscovered writers, artists, poets, photographers, and playwrights at Texas Tech have gotten their start with the student publication, and their works have inspired the students who read them.
Before becoming an editor, Sarah was published in Harbinger three times. When the position opened, they went for an interview: “My junior year, I had three poems published in Harbinger so I was already familiar with the process. My goal has always been to be a writer, so when I saw the poetry editor position was open, I knew I had to interview. It has been a very rewarding process. If interested, students can follow us on Facebook or check our website for information about interviews this Spring.”
An exact release date of this year's issue has not been set yet, but when it does release, free copies can be picked up in the English Building atrium.
The Book History Club is a group of individuals who, as the name suggests, are interested in the history of books. Their passion stems not only from literature of the past but also the process by which books were created before the advent of printing and mass production. For example, the club dedicated a meeting to the creation of tools, like quills, and the use of antique equipment, such as the printing presses.
As Vice President Kaytee Jackson said, “You can go to a dozen places around town to paint an imitation Van Gogh, but how many can you go to make your own quill from a feather, or use an eighteenth century printing press, or marble your own paper? For lovers of books, we have a little slice of space to access the things we find cool and interesting when it comes to literature. My favorite aspect is the community of people and the way we're able to really explore things that the average reader wouldn't get to otherwise.”
The club aims to connect the rather laborious process of creating books with how precious literature of the past was and still is today. In 19th and 18th century, when someone picked up a book, they were often holding something that was carefully crafted for the purpose of being read. That craft is captured in some of the club's activities. For example, club members gathered to make quills. Jackson recounts how writing with a quill “takes me back to the very human, very instinctual roots of writing.” The Book History Club hopes to instill that feeling in their members and promote appreciation for the ease with which people can access literature today.
If this sparks your interest, get involved with Book History Club today!
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced its 2020 Creative Writing (Prose) Fellowship recipients. Two Texas Tech University English Department alumni, Toni Jensen (left) and Sarah Viren (right), are among the thirty-six grant recipients. Each fellowship is $25,000 and is meant to allow recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement. The NEA received nearly 1,700 eligible applications, which were reviewed anonymously by a panel who graded for artistic excellence of writing samples. These works varied from works of fiction and creative nonfiction, such as memoirs and personal essays. Both Jensen and Viren's nonfiction pieces were selected for their artistry, creativity, and dedication to expanding the literary landscape.
Toni Jensen is the author of Carry, a memoir-in-essays about gun violence, forthcoming from Ballantine. More information about her essays and stories are available on Jensen's website.
Sarah Viren's book Mine was named one of LitHub's Favorite Books of 2018 and earned the River Teeth Book Prize, along with several awards. Additional information about Viren's writings and translations is accessible on Viren's website.
The English Department is very proud of our exceptional alumni, Toni Jensen and Sarah Viren. Congratulations!
- English Minors Fair 2019
- Dr. Julie Nelson Couch and Sarah Sprouse Present at LSJE Luncheon
- TTU English Celebrates Banned Books Week
- Dr. John Poch featured on KTTZ
- English Grad Students Create Net Impact Chapter at TTU
- Kerry Manzo wins prestigious ACLS fellowship
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