ITP II: Access Hacks for First-Year Writing Teachers

Note: I’ve updated this post.

This project is a resource guide aimed at novice writing teachers. 

First-year writing is a crucial course for CUNY students. A tenth of college students are registered with their campus disability office. Yet, maddeningly, access is still often framed as a compliance issue rather than as a site for pedagogy. If that tenth of our student body is to have a fair shot at success at their public college, first-year writing is an area where this thinking must shift.

In a project that takes the form of a public site on CUNY Academic Commons and a more-private CUNY Academic Commons group, I aim to demonstrate:

  • the rhetorical potential of alt-text writing assignments
  • the uses of social reading plug-ins like on the transcripts of long-form audio journalism (Floodlines, Lost Notes: 1980, season 3 of Serial)
  • the application of accessible document design principles for word processing to organizing student essays
  • that smartphone access features such as screenreaders can make literacy practices multimodal
  • the importance of open lesson plans—for ASL-English interpreters, their students, and everybody else 
  • syllabi language that aligns accessibility with other student-centered and equity-minded, care-centered policies (ie: translanguaging, OER, contracts)

This project is guided by thinking on disability studies, open access pedagogies, feminist ethics of care, trauma-informed pedagogy, and cellphone scholarship. It’s also marked by my own experiences in the classroom—teaching as a disabled instructor for 15 years, learning as a disabled student for 25.

As CUNY transitions back to aging and often inaccessible physical campuses, it’s my hope that the conversation about digital access that COVID-19 has forced will continue in this group + site. Ultimately, its goal is to help CUNY produce writing teachers capable of doing what a doctoral student named Margaret Price did for me at my public college: to use reflective, student-centered writing pedagogy to make equitable the student experience of a disabled writer.

6 thoughts on “ITP II: Access Hacks for First-Year Writing Teachers”

  1. Tim, you know I think this project is really interesting, but that my experience has been that working on collaborative, cross-disciplinary projects is often much more difficult that it feels like it should be. I don’t say this to deter you, but to emphasize that thinking about the recruitment approach and timeline needs to be part of the project. Besides what assignments might fit into classes, what knowledge will the instructors need to acquire? Since we have so many disciplines represented in our class, perhaps you can start by surveying us about what would help us say yes to getting involved in a project like this.

  2. Thanks, Tim. I skimmed the earlier version of this, and was preparing (though got pulled away) to write recommendations that urged you towards concision, directness, and to emphasize utility. In short, I was going to urge you to think about producing something that looks almost precisely like this.

    I completely agree with Lisa that you have a terrific opportunity to use the collected wisdom of our group to imagine a potentially more expansive list of hacks. I like that the hacks are platform-agnostic, but you will need to acknowledge platform affordances when presenting them.

    I also think you will need to clarify what you mean by “novice writing instructors.” This resource will have utility for more than that narrow subset of faculty, but expanding the audience will have rhetorical implications for the resources. I don’t want to blow up the scope, but I also think there’s a broader need for this resource.

    As you know, there’s lots of folks at CUNY thinking about access, and producing support documentation and resources (I can connect you to some of the TLC folks, but there’s also CUNY CATS and others). Do you have an environmental scan or plans to complete one?

    Looking forward to helping you develop this however I can.

    1. Sure, I can get in touch with CUNY CATS. They’re great. I don’t really know what an environmental scan is, but based on a skim of its Wikipedia entry it seems like the sort of thing to complete soon.

      The kind of “novice” I have in mind is a writing instructor between stage 2 and stage 3 of Broadwell’s hierarchy of competence.

      I’m not especially interested in designing this resource for instructors outside of first-year writing, which includes two semesters of fairly different material. If an expanded scope is something you think is useful, I can think of including ways to adapt the resources for use with developmental writers and in co-req courses. Framed the right way, the materials could be deployed in a WAC context, which also broadens its audience. But this is a resource to help teachers make writing and digital literacy accessible.

      1. this is a resource to help teachers make writing and digital literacy accessible.

        Certainly this is something that interests faculty beyond those who teach FYW (in fact, that’s that would make the project “WACy”). What about the resource as you imagine it is particular to FYW curricula?

        1. I see your point about broad interest. I agree with you about WAC. This project is no longer WAC-focused. What makes this resource FYW-focused is its curation and discussion of a corpus of accessibly-designed learning activities that develop digital literacies in the service of achieving FYW learning objectives both in and beyond that course. Instructors outside of FYW can adapt these as needed, in coordination with WAC Fellows and Coordinators. At Lehman, for example, I plan to talk with Austin Bailey, Vani Kannan, and Alyshia Galcez about the WAC angles of accessibly-designed learning activities and the ways FYW activities are most useful to the college. That’s also what the groups aspect of the site + group would do. The point of the resource is: as we transition back to campus eventually, to keep the parts of remote learning and digital pedagogy that expand access. Equally, though, it aims to prevent a return, in the excitement of getting back to what seems “normal,” to a reinstated “normal” that didn’t universally work.

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