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Jared Johns: Case #1

A newly minted Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition, Jared Johns, is hired by University X

because of his specialization—and interest—in new media.  Coming into the job search, Johns has two publications in print (one review essay in Computers and Composition and one article in the same journal). Computers and Composition is a journal that operates under a blind-review system and accepts approximately 1/3 of the articles sent its way.  Johns also has an online publication in Kairos, a journal that operates on two-tiered review system.  All submissions for this journal are reviewed first by the Editorial Review Board and, if they pass muster, are assigned developmental editors who work with the author to develop the piece for publication.

 

Johns joins the faculty in the Department of English and is asked to administer the department's computer facility (for which he gets one course of release-time each semester, sit on the university's computer-fee committee, and teach two courses a semester.  During his first year, Johns struggles a bit with his teaching.  It is not clear whether the low student evaluations are due to his use of unfamiliar technologies in a school that has not heretofore used technology in first year-English courses or whether students in his classes are struggling with the online tasks he asks them to do, or whether his teaching skills are problematic.

 

As a matter of department procedure, a senior faculty member—an Elizabethan specialist, and a self-professed technology buff—visited Johns' class and observed his teaching, but only remarked that he got lost early in the hour because of the technical terms Johns was using.  He reported that students worked in teams on an assignment involving computer-based, visual arguments in the form of an enthymeme, but noted that he didn't see any connection with the regular argumentation assignment that the first-year teachers were supposed to be working with and was worried that the students in this class would come out of ENGL101 without a full understanding of persuasive argumentation.

 

Johns' graduate course—on the relationship between humans and computers—went much better and yielded high course evaluations.  Lots of graduate students decided they wanted to work with Johns, and he found himself serving on 14 committees.  No graduate student asked him to Chair a committee because they recognized him as a new faculty member without a reputation, but they all wanted him to serve and help them think about the implications of using technology.

 

The department chair—as self-professed fan of technology use and a Blake scholar—called Johns in for a conference after his first term and encouraged him to take it slow with technology in his courses, develop some self-paced tutorials for students who need extra help with technology, and have the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence visit his classes.  He also noted that Johns was responsible for making sure that students in his first-year composition class got the same kind of instruction in his section as in all other sections so that they would be properly prepared for the second-semester composition course.

 

During the second term, Johns focused on the administration of the departmental computer-facility.  He recruited and organized a cadre of volunteer students to staff the place given that he did not have a consistent source of departmental funding (the department had voted to allocate money to library purchases rather than to salary for the computer facility).  He was a bit wary of approaching the Chair for additional funds given his teaching difficulties.  Organizing the cadre of technical consultants (30 in all) took more of Johns' time than he had anticipated, and he found himself spending weekends at the computer lab with them—trouble shooting machines, installing new software, training the new consultants.  And the ordinary kinds of problems arose:  early in the second semester, one of the student consultants caused a row with a faculty member because he refused to give up his machine when the faculty member came into the lab with a project to do—Johns had to mediate.  Another time, two faculty members asked Johns to purchase an expensive piece of software for the lab, a complete set of grammar tutorials, but Johns refused on the basis that such tutorials were not pedagogically sound and the software purchase would keep him from buying other packages that the lab really needed.  Finally, Johns tried to get together a technology advisory committee for the department, but only the graduate students were willing to serve.

 

During this year and the next year, a number of faculty members asked Johns to talk to their classes and to help them with technology plans and problems in their courses.  And even though the Chair noted that he did not have to honor such requests, Johns was no dummy—he knew that some of these colleagues would be evaluating his tenure and promotion case at the end of his fourth year, and so he was generous with his time.  Johns also served on the university computer-fee committee and was elected Chair of that committee because none of the other faculty were willing to take on that job.

 

Johns' publication efforts went slowly.  He had volunteered to moderate a very active listserv—entitled Technology and Pedagogy—(hoping that it would give him some understanding of his own teaching challenges), and he gave papers at 3-4 major conferences each year.  Conference-review teams loved Johns' work—it was cool and interesting, and he gave a great oral presentation.  He always attracted a crowd.  By the end of his third year, Johns had three papers accepted and published in conference proceedings, and two poems published in an online poetry journal The Thin Silver Line, a refereed collection, but with an 89% acceptance rate. He also had a chapter published in an edited collection of work on teaching with technology—in which he described some of the projects he had students doing in his classes in response to a linked series of assignments on Neo-Nazi web sites.   He was working on a project to turn his dissertation (on the nature of cybercollaboration in a particular online community of faith healers) into a book, but he had a difficult time finding a publisher who would give him a contract.  He was loath to let the effort go, however, after sinking many hours into the 200 pages he had written for the prospectus.  Finally, a new, experimental online publishing concern said they would publish the manuscript if he would maintain a web site in connection with it—and if he would answer readers' questions and respond to their comments on the text as they arose.

 

Johns' teaching continued to be uneven—he did better in graduate classes than in undergraduate courses.  He always invited people in to see the projects that his students did—often inviting administrators outside the department to visit the web sites he had students build for class.  Both the Provost and the Director of the Academic Computing group thought that Johns' classes were innovative if unorthodox.  There were always a few student complaints from his courses, mostly about his insistence that the students use technology.  The university did not believe in marking technology-rich sections in the catalogue and students didn't know until they got into Johns' course what was involved.  In the Spring semester of his third year, a parent of one of the students in Johns' class wrote the President and complained that their son was taking first-year composition from Johns but not learning to use correct grammar.  The student had written an e-mail message home to a colleague of his father to apply for a summer job and had made such egregious errors that his dad was embarrassed.  The father wrote the President to complain, and the President wrote the Department Chair to complain.  And the department Chair asked Johns to write a letter to the parent (copying the president) explaining his approaches.

 

In his fourth year, Johns continued work on his manuscript to be published online, continued his work with the departmental computing facility, and continued teaching. He had served on a total of 16 Masters level committees and 8 Ph.D. committees, although he had chaired only one Ph.D. committee—after the original Chair had gone on extended leave in England—and that student had graduated but not gotten a job.  The department's Director of Graduate Studies had talked to Johns and told him to cut down on the graduate-student committees he served on, but Johns seemed incapable of saying "no" to graduate students. Johns also had gotten a Faculty Development grant for $13,000 to create a multimedia workstation in the departmental computer lab and approximately $11,000 of free software and hardware from outside venders.

 

At the end of his fourth year, the departmental Personnel Committee reviewed Johns' case and sent a mixed review to the Chair.  Teaching evaluations were gauged at a barely acceptable level (the rest of the department's were higher for the same courses).  The Committee remarked on the nature of the online assignments that Johns had submitted in an online teaching portfolio and the quality of the projects his students had done.  The committee members considered these assignments to be innovative, but not always appropriate for first-year students who needed to master the conventions of academic discourse before they went on to their majors courses. Two committee members were bothered by the lack of conventional argumentation work represented among the students' work and by the poor quality of the proofreading in the projects.  Another Committee member liked the visual argument assignment.  But two committee members were unable to review that assignment because their machines lacked the required Java plug-in. Service was judged to be good—lots of colleagues had remarked on the fine job Johns was doing; the departmental facility was doing fine.  Scholarly productivity was evaluated as marginal at best and did not look like the kind of case that would fly in a regular tenure review.  Members of the committee had difficulty with the electronic book idea, and did not think it would qualify as peer-reviewed.  They also noted that Johns had not been hired to publish poetry so his online poetry should not count.  They noted that this assessment left Johns with one book chapter (which really was not refereed in the traditional sense), one online article (not peer-reviewed in the traditional sense), an online book (which they had no idea if anyone had read), and three pieces in proceedings.  The typical departmental standard for publication output at tenure time was at least six, peer-refereed articles in first- or second-tier journals.  The department recognized electronic publication, but noted that such publication should be peer refereed.  Johns' letters from outside reviewers' (which the Personnel Committee asked for because they were relatively unfamiliar with electronic scholarship) were outstanding:  a full professor lauded his service on the Editorial Board of Computers and Composition and his leadership as the Technology and Pedagogy listserv moderator, as well as his book chapter and his online book, which he deemed  "groundbreaking."  Two Associate-level reviewers mentioned speaking with him at conferences and said that his papers in the conference proceedings were incisive and thoughtful.

 

The Committee voted 4-5 in favor of re-appointment, but said the Chair should give Johns a stern warning to publish only in refereed print journals until he finished his probationary period and received tenure.

Tenure and Promotion Cases for Composition Faculty Who Work with Technology

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