INTERACTIVE MAP: Universities and Colleges as Economic Engines

A popular misconception is that universities cost states money. This leads to the belief that cutting investment dollars to state universities automatically saves the state and the taxpayer money. But, more detailed views reveal something else entirely. This geographic representation [see:] allows you to pick a university from the interactive map to link to economic reports that define how universities act as critical economic engines. This map helps demonstrate how universities don’t “cost” states nearly as much as they offer. As you will see, for example, for every $1 invested, states often get estimated returns on the $1 that are well over 10x that amount.

Interactive Map: Universities as Economic Engines

INTERACTIVE MAP: Universities and Colleges as Economic Engines:

So, find your local, or regional university. Study the numbers. And then tell everyone you know just how your local university is actually a regional economic engine that supports employment, offers significant returns on state investment, generates tax dollars for the state, and produces graduates that start regional businesses, etc. Because most “States Are Still Funding Higher Education Below Pre-Recession Levels”:

These impact reports represent estimates based on the complex roles that universities play across city, state, and regional levels. The levels of detail in these reports vary as does what each report measures. And there are some interesting current debates about how such impact measures should be made more uniform (*1, *2, *3). But, what is clear is that these reports and estimates show how universities play many more integrated, critical, and revenue generating roles than most of the public (and even academics) realize. For example:

Did you know that universities actually generate tax revenue?

Did you know that average returns on state investments typically yield 10x plus returns on that investment?

Did you know that universities often represent states and cities top nonfederal employers?

Did you know that universities regularly attract out-of-state dollars that wouldn’t exist without them?

Did you ever study how much revenue that universities generate based on their research activities and their collaborative ventures with private industries?

Did you ever consider how many businesses that university graduates start after they graduate?

These reports estimate numbers like this and more. Like a curated wiki, my hope is that I can build and update this interactive map with your help. If you have a suggestion, an updated link, etc. please send me that information at my non-work related email account:

Now, get out there and talk with friends and family about our universities in richer and more complex ways! Talk about not just the inputs and costs, but the outputs and revenues. Talk about all of this, in addition to the many other social contributions, such as helping students discover their passion and potential, etc.

Thank you! And enjoy!

*For more on the current debates surrounding economic impact studies of universities -see:

1. Duy, T. (2015). The Economic Impact of the University of Oregon A Comprehensive Revision. The University of Oregon Files, January 2015. Retrieved from:

2. Ambargis, Z., Mead, C., and Rzeznik. S (2014). University Contribution Studies Using Input-Output Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2014. Retrieved from:

3. Swenson, D. (2012). Measuring University Contributions to Regional Economies: A Discussion of Guidelines for Enhancing Credibility, June 2012. Retrieved from:


Workplace Literacy: A Short Questionnaire (Under Revision)

Workplace Literacy: A Short Questionnaire (Under Revision)

My question is, is it possible to create a “fun” and short set of questions that can also offer useful glimpses into a professional’s workplace literacy experiences? The goal is to create a short, approachable list of questions that professionals, across many different fields, wouldn’t mind answering.

That is my goal here with the following list of questions that I am currently working to improve and revise. Suggestions and revisions are welcomed in the comments section. See the current draft of the questionnaire below.

The “Turkel” questionnaire: Tell us a bit about you and your workplace

Studs Turkel is well known for offering glimpses into the lives, thoughts, and beliefs of working people. In even more playful formats, Vanity Fair has the “Proust questionnaire”. And “Inside Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton is well known for asking famous actors Bernard Pivot’s list of questions. This is a list of questions asked in a similar spirit –for fun, but also to give us some insight about you and your craft.

We are, of course, not as famous as actors on the “Actor’s Studio,” nor do we have a crowd of adoring fans as fascinated with our answers; still, we want to know: Who are you? What do you do? And what, briefly, is involved in the work that you do?

With this in mind, please take a few minutes and address the following prompts in as much detail as you want.


I. Tell us a bit about you:

Briefly, who are you?

What do you do for a living and where do you work?

Of your daily responsibilities, which are the most interesting, or most regularly annoying?

What are the prominent, or interesting features of your workspace(s)?

II. Tell us a bit about your workplace:

1. What is your favorite word in your workplace (or profession)?

2. What is your least favorite word in your workplace (or profession)?

3. Are there an unusual phrases, or terms that you are likely to hear only at your workplace?

4. What are some common mistakes that others make?

5. What technology is most important for your work?

6. What does this technology help you do?

7. What are the most important sources of information at your job?

8. Do you have any “tricks” for finding, or managing information at your job?

9. What from your past prepared you most for the job you have?

10. If you had a minute to advise someone just entering your workplace, what do they need to know about writing, or the process of writing to succeed?

Thank you!

Composition Forum (Fall 2012): Threshold Concepts, Learning, and Movement

Check out my recent co-authored publication:

(Fall, 2012). Threshold Concepts, Learning, and Movement: A Case Study in Two General Education Courses. Composition Forum (special issue on transfer). (26).


“This article ultimately suggests that threshold concepts might prove a productive frame through which to consider questions related to writing and transfer, and also to general education more broadly.”

Following the lead of Bass (2009) and Robertson (2011), Linda Adler-Kassner, John Majewski and I have worked, with a recent CCCC presentation (2012) and a Composition Forum (2012) article, to help introduce and advance threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2006) as a flexible conceptual and research heuristic through which to study and describe the nature of transfer in writing.

We also presented our findings at: “Complicating “transfer” articulating thresholds for writing and learning across disciplines.” College Composition and Communication Conference (CCCC). St. Louis, Missouri, March 21st-24th, 2012.

In follow up research, I am currently using the threshold concept literature on liminality to identify and describe the tacit and discursive schemas-for-writing that graduate students, who also self-identify as working professionals, “carry” between their academic and workplace settings.

Bass, Randy. A Hitchiker’s Guide to Threshold Concepts, Student Learning, and the Teaching of Writing Within the Disciplines. 2009. TS.

Meyer, Jan H. F., and Ray Land. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Meyer, Jan H. F., and Ray Land. Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: An Introduction. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding. Ed. Jan H. F. Meyer and Ray Land. London: Routledge, 2006. 3-18. Print.

—–. Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Issues of Liminality. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding. Ed. Jan H. F. Meyer and Ray Land. London: Routledge, 2006. 19-32. Print

Robertson, Liane. The Significance of Course Content in the Transfer of Writing Knowledge from First-Year Composition to Other Academic Writing Contexts. Diss. Florida State U, 2011. Print.

But what is a threshold concept?

A good place to start is -“Threshold Concepts: Undergraduate Teaching, Postgraduate Training and Professional Development”:

“The threshold concept framework focuses on the identification of what is fundamental to the grasp of a subject and is essentially a transactional curriculum enquiry requiring a partnership between the relevant subject experts, educational researchers and learners.” Cousin, G. (2009), Transactional Curriculum Inquiry: Researching Threshold Concepts, In: Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches, Routledge, Abingdon & NY, Chapter 13, pp 201-212.

Under Construction, Writing Classrooms …

Photo: My brilliant niece Tallulah, writing, drawing, thinking


I recently discovered a bit of autocognographic writing (2001) by Lad Tobin. He traced the evolution of his personal beliefs and practices about teaching writing alongside, and at times against, the major trends and theorists in composition studies. It was at once both a personal narrative, but also a broader vision of the field. He split composition studies into a familiar series of –pre-process, process, and post-process. At the conclusion of this essay, for example, he was willing to appreciate the value of post-process trends in composition studies, but he wasn’t ready to believe them, nor incorporate them in meaningful ways into his practice.

This essay inspired me to start my own autocognography as a teacher and researcher in the field –one that is both personally oriented, but also critically embedded within my own expanding knowledge of practice and theory in composition (writing) studies and rhetoric. What follows is an excerpt of this larger project.


Under Construction, Writing Classrooms …

During my first graduate school and university-level teaching experience, while earning an M.A. in Teaching English Writing at Humboldt State University, I believed in a critical liberation pedagogy. That is not all that I believed in, but it was a critical part of the way I addressed my first year composition students. During my first two semesters teaching composition, I would start each quarter with a direct question to the class, “Why are you here?” They would often chorus, “Because this is a required class.” But I would ask again and demand a broader, more thoughtful answer during class discussion. Although I was interested in their answers, I was primarily interested in helping them to appreciate that this was a legitimate question. I wanted them to be able to ask it as first year students in college. I was a writing instructor who had read and believed in Paulo Freire. I wanted my students to recognize the political, the cultural, the historical, the economic, and the other myriad of forces that shaped their lives, and I wanted them to resist those forces in their thinking and their writing. My pedagogy, and the writing assignments that I gave reflected these goals.

The general liberation (or liberatory) frame that I was utilizing to define the subject in a course on writing proved ultimately dissatisfying. I eventually realized that my interest as an instructor was not in fostering resistance necessarily, but in helping students to pick their head up from the page, and to recognize the forces that compelled them to write, the motivations that both obscured and defined the topics that they chose. My interest was in helping students appreciate those (personal, historical, institutional, cultural, etc.) forces not just so that they might resist them, but also so that they might recognize the value and their ongoing stake in those forces (whatever they happened to be).


Even more now than at the time, I have since come to realize that a writing pedagogy designed around resistance and liberation foregrounds the assumption that the individual can –and even more so should– escape, or become liberated from the forces that he/she decided to resist. But resistance should be just one response amongst a wide array of other options. A liberatory, or a critical pedagogy (at least in the forms in which us first year TA’s were adapting at Humboldt State it for the first year composition classroom) often devalues the role of institutions and cultures unnecessarily. And I recognize now, even more than I did then, that this kind of frame can also dramatically over-simplify the integrated nature of the individual as an entity within a wide array of socio-cultural, historical, etc. forces that cannot be easily shed. And, in fact, helping students recognize and work amongst, and within, as opposed to unnecessarily against those shaping forces creates opportunities for a more balanced, open, and varied writing pedagogy. I believe that allowing them to be both appreciative and critical is what will help them evolve into more adaptable and proficient writers. A good writer must contribute, of which critique is but one option.

In the interim years, my interests and opportunities in the academic setting have steadily shifted my focus beyond the first year composition classroom, to work in professional writing at many levels and in many different institutional settings. But, in part, the kernels of this early teaching experience resonate and even drive my focus in these expanding realms. As Charles Bazerman (1994) put it, “The teacher’s role in defining the dynamic of the classroom is realized not just through intellectual commitments and conscious choices but also through the personal history that shapes the personality and competences and attitudes of the person who walks in front of the classroom” (p. 61). Over the last two years, my personal history in the academic setting has shifted from an adjunct instructor’s role who appreciated theories in rhetoric and composition, to a full-time instructor, a professional writing consultant, and an active researcher in the field. These changing personal roles in the academic setting, over time, have had a significant impact on the way that I think about identity and participation. As I write this reflection, I am in the midst of a long process, a shift, from a history of knowledge consumption, to a strengthening identity as a scholar who has dedicated himself to mastering the research and publication skills involved in knowledge creation.


At first, I underestimated the degree of change, and the difference between being an academic who was largely bound to a role in the academic setting based on the consumption of the theory of others in the field, as opposed to taking an active role in the creation and eventual publication of findings, and knowledge. Sure, I taught in the classroom and applied theory to pedagogy (and vica versa), but my interests were largely bound either by personal gain, or by my efforts to succeed within the bounds of “my” classroom. Many of these changes between a consumer of knowledge in the field and my work to become a creator of knowledge are difficult, at this point anyway, to identify and name. There are however two ongoing, but distinct projects that have brought many unique things to my attention recently. But there is one particular aspect with which I want to focus for the remainder of this reflection. This point of interest corresponds to the succinct recognition by Dr. Bazerman when he noted:

we are always better off to be aware of the materials out of which it [the classroom] is constructed and the spaces for communication created in the design. Then we can know our options, possibilities and responsibilities, as well as the compelling forces we may be foolish to resist. (p. 59)


As an instructor of a writing course, the options, possibilities and responsibilities are almost always greater than the student participants. The shape and the nature of a class must, to a certain extent, be determined before the first day of class. This typically involves the identification of reading materials, or guest speakers, of resources such as computers, and sourcebooks. This also involves, of course, the identification of assignments that can and must be graded. The materials utilized, the manner in which the course is taught, the fore-grounded pedagogy and the background theoretical foundations generally emerge through the contingencies, and the personality of the instructor. Of course, it would be a mistake to overplay this hand, to disregard the way in which each student brings a history and personality of their own that almost always changes the tone, the shape, the sequencing, the pace, and the purpose(s) for enacting specific activities, or assignments within a given course. Nevertheless, there is an inescapable responsibility that falls upon an instructor to be informed, anticipatory, and responsive. All of this is to say that a course built upon resistance represents an artificial range, it is an unnecessarily restrictive approach. And during my first years of teaching a general first year composition course, I justified this limited “range” by conflating it with critical thinking skills. As an instructor now, I am interested in –how does a writing instructor create, or enact a course in writing across the most responsive and dynamic range possible, and perhaps most importantly, one that actively reflects environments (social, academic, professional) with which students are currently, or will one day work?  Any answer to this question is highly dependent, full of an amazing variety of variables. What, for example, is the title of the course? What are the goals? What is the ideal result? And what can we possibly use to reach that ideal result for the most students possible? To answer these questions, the more the instructor is (to return to Bazerman), “aware of the materials out of which it [the classroom] is constructed and the spaces for communication created in the design” the more materials, sources, and techniques can be utilized that will be acceptable to the participants.

This constant weighing of what is and what can, or should be part of the writing classroom, of also how and why, is what makes our work so damn interesting.

finished product, on display “Pinwheel Bakery” Ferndale, Detroit
for 45 minutes, March 23rd 2010


Bazerman, Charles. “What Written Knowledge Does: Three Examples of Academic Discourse.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 11 (1981): 361-387.

“Process Pedagogy,” A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Eds. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. New York: Oxford UP, 2001: 1-18.

On teaching writing, the brilliant and renewing varieties of experience

By Damian C. Koshnick

Many years ago in a junior high civics course, I remember being introduced to the idea of a democrat and a republican. In the requisite textbook there was a short, bulleted list of the respective platforms. Not long after, I was frustrated. The textbook offered no connective tissue, no explanation from one statement of belief to the next; neither did my teacher who clearly valued his role as a hockey coach more than that of our civics teacher. At that time, of course, I was not familiar with the divisions, the belief systems, or the issues that defined one party from another, but I had to memorize those short lists of what was a democrat and what was a republican for a test at the end of the week. My mind raced, “But why this and not that? Why that, and not this?”

The same thing happened to me twelve years ago during my first weeks of graduate school. I was introduced to the history of composition studies in a class on theory. In those first weeks and certainly through that first year, I remember feeling what Bartholomae (1985) described. When introduced to the university, we mimic, we take on roles to gain entry. I was a ventriloquist, taking on the voices and beliefs of nearly every assigned reading. Everything, in bits and pieces made perfect sense. Everything was an equally viable contribution toward a greater understanding of an imposing discipline. Our professor, an excellent teacher, was not prone to handing out slogans, or given to simplifying matters. Looking back, I assume that he did not want to impose his perspective, or to short-circuit our messy journey of discovery between theories and their surreal authors whose names became, themselves, something to hold on to. Although I have gained critical distance in the more than decade since, my sense of the formidable nature of composition studies as a field has lessened, but not dissipated.

In those earliest, inchoate days I was only interested in the relatively carefree association of attending classes, enjoying the company of my small cohort, and occasionally demonstrating my knowledge in end of the quarter in essays written to my professors. At that time, I was primarily interested in the aesthetic gain of reading and talking about ideas-as-ideas. I wanted to make composition studies as a field “hang together” because it seemed to me a challenging, complex intellectual puzzle.

But, our relationship to knowledge and our perspectives on that knowledge within a field noticeably shift when we act in different circumstances and take on different roles. I recognize this in my own history, and it is emphasized by the fact that over the last twelve years I have played significantly different roles in five very different academic institutions. When I think about my time in and between these settings, a mash-up of William James’ title comes to mind –on “the varieties of English experience”. The degree of variety, the utter plurality of experience is inspiring. There are many ways to measure this difference –in focus, in purpose, in action, or between individuals, colleagues, departments, the universities themselves etc. For example, many good teachers care about knowledge only in as much as it can be applied to some advantage in their classrooms. Others relish the role of debating theory and pedagogy with departmental colleagues. Some, want to contribute to theory and knowledge in the field itself, publishing in national journals and attending conferences, etc. My own interests have changed at every stop, generally enlarging in ambition and scope. But a great deal has been learned through observation, and the willing adoption of local interests, which without much haste I typically came to share; I value, it seems common action. Perfectly defensible teaching-of-writing happens in many contexts; takes on many forms; and calls many guiding principles by different names. This is how, in the end I have come to this present task. My understanding of composition studies has advanced as much through my own personal growth across contexts as it has through the discovery and application of our formal literature along the way. It is the unusual nature of mixing the two that presents new difficulties even when some discovery seemed to convey resolution.

As Phelps (1988) noted, theorizing is autobiographical. And what I have come to understand about the field of composition studies neatly parallels what I have come to understand about myself as a professional within it. Upon entering the profession, I assumed that there was a center, that there was a conceptual place that I would eventually discover by which the broadest structures of the field would reveal themselves. After a bewildering introduction, I came as many peers did to take comfort in the phrase “process-approach”. But more so, I came to value it for its yin-yang relationship to “current-traditionalism,” or more abstractly stated –product versus process. In our age, even now, this easy dichotomy should not be dismissed; it played a useful part in my own development. During my first quarters teaching writing, I emphasized time for revision, multiple drafts, peer review, etc. These were things that I absorbed from somewhere. But whatever the details of my use of “process” in the classroom, my adherence to it along with colleagues afforded us a collective “in-ness,” a cache. Or at least we believed it did; we knew the “secret language” of good writing instruction; we knew what writing teachers did. That confidence, albeit temporary, was vital. The certainty of “process” however shallowly defined and imperfectly applied, was buttressed by our belief that there were teachers who did not know what we knew –they only graded final products. It was our shorthand. It offered us a reprieve from an otherwise imposing task –teaching– in an otherwise imposing field. But fashionable belief can, and does, eventually stunt discovery and curiosity. Every night doorman grows tired of the password.

And it does not take long to realize that under that thin surface, the forms that instruction takes and the institutional structures in place to support those forms regularly lead to vastly differing pedagogies. At the five institutions in which I have taught –comparing only the first year writing classes between them– I adopted the general conditions at each: Humboldt State University, critical cultural studies; Minnesota State University, literary-oriented pedagogies with a sequence of first year courses in composition taught with titles like “literature and poetry 102,”; Concordia College, a program-wide service-learning pedagogy; University of California, Santa Barbara, a writing-across-the curriculum pedagogy with an associated writing-in-the-disciplines curricular tributary; Allan Hancock Community College, a developmenal English curriculum on an Air Force base. Given this background and my sensitivity to it, it is perhaps not surprising that I am fascinated by studies of the history of English which focus on the nature of its trajectory and development within smaller, local domains. After reading Donahue and Moons’ (2007) Local Histories I have come, recently, to believe that most of us are imbued with at least two disciplinary histories –the local one in which we act effectively if colloquially, and the “meta” one in which we theorize regionally and nationally. If there is cognitive dissonance, we regularly ignore it. If we are perceptive, we recognize potential in the symmetry and in the certain discontinuities; if we are diligent as individuals, we are not constrained by either.

For those that pay attention, this local-meta dynamic could be viewed as problematic (in some instances it is), but on the whole it is a vital source of friction that can replenish our desire to consume, and even produce new theory and research. For it is that –expanding move– the theories and theorizing as thinking heuristics, that often clarifies these sources of friction; or more formally, it is the research, as it accumulates, that acts as a potential corrective. However this mix of local and “meta,” of theory and research, of experience and intuition, of context shifting and role-taking plays out, we rely on both stability and uncertainty. The trick, of course, is to get the balance right.

The nature of “English” and how we attend to it depends upon a wide-range of shifting roles and interests in the individual who moves between contexts with different purposes and responsibilities. What we want for our discipline alternates between our ever-expanding and contracting allegiances to these different realms –our students, our classrooms, our specialized knowledge domains, our department, the university, national conferences, theoretical constructs of the discipline itself. Very often we work toward common gain in many areas at once; very often a quirk, or agitation in recognition of one will cause a ripple effect through the remainder.