NeMLA 2021 Roundtable: "Project-based Writing in the Time of Coronavirus"

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)

As Aisha Ahmad boldly states in her recent Chronicle piece on academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the world is our work.” An accurate way to contextualize the current moment among professional academics, this statement is equally at the core of how we have articulated the mission of our writing courses for the better part of two decades. As both of our institutions (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Indiana University of Pennsylvania) abruptly transitioned to remote teaching during the pandemic of spring, 2020, we noticed something remarkable: our students, who were working on a variety of social media projects, organically pivoted their attention to address the pandemic, without losing sight of their original topics, which ranged from issues as diverse as addressing the opioid crisis, dealing with sinkholes, and facilitating better communication between communities and their police departments.

In fact, the nature of their projects compelled them to make this move. Students taking a collaborative writing course at Rutgers, in their development of social media proposals concerning New Jersey’s regional mass transit, Boeing’s public relations strategy, YouTube’s monetization of users, Microsoft’s level of cybersecurity, or Burger King’s marketing of the “Impossible Burger,” could not ignore the larger context influencing their projects in real-time. Likewise, in English 101 at IUP, students working on projects involving volunteering, increasing the ranks of volunteer firefighters, or providing student-athletes with academic resources, began organically posting about adapting to the “pandemic world” without being prompted by the instructor. In our minds, this pivot provides validation for an approach for which we have been advocating since the advent of publicly available social media: that social-media projects are a credible teaching tool that provides possibilities for professional creation and a unique educational opportunity for all involved.

At Rutgers, in direct response to the Coronavirus pandemic, students in a collaborative writing course were compelled to modify their comprehensive social-media proposals addressing real-world problems, whether it be assuaging consumer confidence in Boeing or updating YouTube’s monetization policy. Likewise, in a first-year composition course at IUP, students’ public social-media pages supporting projects dealing with such issues as the student-athlete experience, travel, and nutrition were afforded opportunities that could not have been possible earlier.We are excited to hear about educational adaptation due to COVID-19, and how it has impacted ideas about teaching when things return to “normal.”

Please submit abstracts of 250-300 words directly to the NeMLA portal: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/Login