Instant Impact

News from Baylor School of Education

SOE Faculty Present Literacy Research [01/11/2019]


School of Education faculty members presented research at the 68th annual conference of the Literacy Research Association, a prominent national conference on literacy studies. The conference was held Nov. 8 – Dec. 1.

Dr. Kelly Johnston and Dr. Phil Nichols, both assistant professors in the Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction, presented several research sessions and served in other leadership roles.

Johnston served as chair of the paper session “The Power of Writing Places and Spaces.” Nichols served as organizer for two of the symposia that he presented papers in.

Nichols was also discussant for a session about integrating arts education, critical literacy and “making.” All of those session presentations were based on research from a specific arts-based workshop for teachers, and all participants were asked to read a research article that Nichols had written on the topic.

Research Presentations:

Phil Nichols

“Ways with Worlds: ‘Innovation’ and Cosmopolitics in the Literacy Classroom”
Phil Nichols

This paper examines the history of “innovation” in Philadelphia school reform — drawing from archival research as far back as 1967 as well as present-day data — and maps how the pedagogical “worlds” it produced continue to “sponsor” (Brandt, 1998) present-day literacy practices in a new “Innovation” high school. The study untangles “innovation’s” competing ideologies and highlights the “cosmopolitical” (Stengers, 2010) work of teachers and students as they collectively shape classroom-worlds to reconcile these conflicting pressures with their own purposes for literacy learning.

Findings show how “innovative” reforms are implicated in Philadelphia’s ugly histories of community displacement, catchment gerrymandering, and uneven resource distribution. However, they also elucidate creative modes of resistance, as students and teachers leverage the ambiguities of “innovation” to carve out classroom-worlds that engage these histories through activist-oriented literacies. As such, the study situates present-day classroom practice as a tenuous negotiation of historical worlds — which adds to the growing literature on worldmaking and literacy (Discussant, 2016).

“Innovation from Below: Making Space for Activism in the High School Literacy Classroom”
Phil Nichols

This paper examines the concept of “innovation” and the material and discursive work that it does as it is spatialized and negotiated by teachers, students, and other on-the-ground actors in the literacy classroom of a “maker-oriented” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014) urban public high school. The study uses posthuman perspectives (cf. Kuby & Rowsell, 2017; Author 2 & Colleague, 2017) to map the competing uses of “innovation,” the ways these were manifested materially in the literacy environment, and the ways students worked to reconcile these contradictory pressures with their own purposes for literacy learning.

Findings illustrate how students leveraged the ambiguities of “innovation” and “making” to link formal literacy assignments with personally meaningful, activism-oriented subjects (gentrification, police brutality). However, others found those same ambiguities to be inhibiting — and many reported feeling lost in the flows of the classroom makerspace. Such findings highlight both the promises and the frictions that surface as the literacy environment is materially reconfigured to accommodate such practices.

“Learning Analytics as Assemblage: Critical Literacies in Online Education”
Phil Nichols

with John Scott, University of California Berkeley

Applying data science to online education, “learning analytics” (Siemens, 2013) has provided instructors with computational methods for personalizing, tracking, and representing students’ digital learning. However, some scholars express concern that this “datafication” of learning feeds into schools’ existing tendencies toward measuring, ranking, and sorting students (Author 2 & Colleague, 2017; Campano, Ghiso, & Sanchez, 2013). This paper explores how these tensions might be reconciled. Using a framework for “critical learning analytics” (Authors, 2017) to examine students multimodal, collaborative composing over two online courses, it parses the possibilities and limitations of data science for understanding literacy practices in online spaces.

Drawing on a range of data sources (click-data, user-generated artifacts, interviews) collected in two online postsecondary courses, we consider how students, instructors, and software worked with, for, and against one another over a semester of digital composing. Findings show how students’ literacy practices shifted in response to changes in the technical system and representations of their user-generated data.

Kelly Johnston

“Affectively Charged Literacy Practices in the Classroom and Students’ Unsanctioned Engagement:
Kelly Johnston

The paper session titled “Disrupting Classroom Talk” invited attendees to consider alternative approaches to understanding literacy teaching and learning in the classroom. Dr. Johnston’s presentation, “Affectively Charged Literacy Practices in the Classroom,” highlighted affect as inherent to students’ real-time literacy engagement, thus suggesting unsanctioned forms of engagement as an important factor for equitable approaches to literacy learning in classroom spaces.

“Post-Qualitative Research: Examining a Rhizomatic Approach”
Kelly Johnston

In the paper “Post-Qualitative Research: Examining a Rhizomatic Approach,“ in the session titled “What Counts as Literacy and What Counts as Research? Design and Critique in Qualitative Literacy Research,” Dr. Johnston presents her experience crafting a post-qualitative methodological approach based on her most current research, which examines students’ affective engagement with literacy in one English Language Arts classroom.

For more news from Baylor School of Education, visit the Instant Impact home page.
For media inquiries, please contact / (254) 710-6435.


Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.