Local users, global takeaways:
Methodological considerations for audience advocacy in communication design research

Allegra Smith, Nupoor Ranade, and Sweta Baniya (2021)

Seeking to understand user populations is a key aim of communication design research and practice. User-centered technical communicators seek to amplify the experiences of technology users to transform their experiences into practical knowledge for engineers, designers, and strategists. How do we grant primacy to the user’s experience in this type of work? How do we act upon our accountability to users, through selecting and architecting methods that foreground their narratives of navigating varied technologies, journeys, and expertise? This research article, published in the Proceedings of the 2021 Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Design of Communication (ACM-SIGDOC) Conference, highlights the methodological practices used by myself and two other communication design scholars in our doctoral dissertations to advocate for users’ local as well as the global users’ needs in differing social, cultural, and technological contexts. The experiential insights from these projects can inform user research practice by grounding inquiry in socially just relations with participants.

Proceedings paper available through the ACM Digital Library here.

People, programs, and practices:
A grid-based approach to designing and supporting online writing curriculum

Allegra Smith, Libby Chernouski, Bianca Batti, Alisha Karabinus, and Bradley Dilger (2021)

Negotiating instructor autonomy, course consistency in student experiences and programmatic outcomes, and best practices for both instructional design and writing pedagogy can prove challenging in face-to-face classes—and these challenges are compounded in online writing instruction environments. In this chapter of the open-access WAC Clearinghouse collection PARS in Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors (2021, eds. Borgman and McArdle), colleagues from Purdue University’s Introductory Composition program and I describe our strategic approach to balancing people, programs, and practices: a grid-based approach to scaffolding and customizing assignment sequences for online writing instruction at a large state research university. We share a 3 × 3 grid for structuring the learning progression in a 16-week online first-year writing course. We conclude by suggesting how writing program administrators could modify the grid approach to fit their own curricula—in two-course sequences or themed syllabus approaches, for example—affording transfer of these practices across institutional and programmatic contexts.

Chapter available here; the full text of PARS in Practice: More Resources and Strategies for Online Writing Instructors is available here.

An image of the learning progression for the 8-week introductory composition course described in Allegra's book chapter with Chernouski Batti, Karabinus, and Dilger. The progression moves through the units of the course by beginning with students observing and reflecting on themselves, before researching and analyzing an issue or phenomenon, and then concluding with remixing and presenting their research in another, multimodal form. See the chapter for a more complete description of this progression and its assignments.

Language and access:
World Englishes, Universal Design for Learning, and writing pedagogy

Helping a student storyboard a digital comic at a university outreach event in 2016. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.Teaching frameworks that highlight diversity of language and expression enable students from all backgrounds to succeed and thrive in the writing classroom. This article places two such frameworks into conversation: World Englishes (WE) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). World Englishes examines the use of different varieties of English in their respective socio-cultural contexts, advocating for understanding varieties based on their own local standards, rather than a constructed hegemonic norm. Universal Design for Learning provides flexible learning environments to enable all students to demonstrate competency in different ways, creating accessible classrooms through multiple modes of expression and means of engagement. This article, published in the October 2020 issue of the Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies (JOGLTEP), illustrates the power of a combined UDL/WE philosophy through applications across writing pedagogy, including first-year composition and doctoral comprehensive exams.

PDF of article available here.

User experience design for older adults:
Experience architecture and methodology for users aged 60+

Security questions for account creation on a website, asking "What was the name of your first pet?" "What is your dream job?" and "In what city did your parents meet?"

This paper describes a study that combined interview and observation methods to explore the user experiences of 23 users aged 70+. Interviews involved questions about how and when users learned to use computers and the internet, as well as their usual online activities and difficulties completing those activities. Observations involved two sessions for each user: first, a naturalistic observation where the researcher recorded the participant interacting with the computer(s) in their home, demonstrating their typical internet use; second, a structured task analysis where participants completed a series of increasingly complex operations online, including searching for information on a specific topic, using web mapping tools, and interacting with a government website. Participants followed a think-aloud protocol during both observations, explaining the steps that they were taking and sharing their thought process and feelings with the researcher. The rich qualitative data from this work provides insights into the needs of this population in four specific areas—physical, cognitive, educational, and cultural—as well as design strategies for addressing those needs.

Available for download from the ACM Digital Library.

“Can you hear me now?”:
Revaluing listening’s role in user research practice

Winning the Microsoft-sponsored Student Research Competition award at 2017’s ACM-SIGDOC conference, this project identifies listening as a component of user experience research that has been under-explored in both scholarly and practitioner literature. By combining rhetorical frameworks with existing UX best practices, I called for the revaluation of listening’s role in the data-gathering and analysis process, particularly when the researcher and participants operate from different cultural standpoints. I presented the poster alongside 12 other graduate students at the SIGDOC 2017 Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, before advancing to the final round of oral presentations in front of an audience of faculty, students, and industry professionals in the field of communication design.

Full poster available here; paper available here.

Participatory porn culture:
Feminist positions and oppositions in the internet pornosphere

This chapter in Sex in the Digital Age (eds. Nixon & Düsterhöft, 2018, Routledge) describes the results of a study examining the rhetorical differences between pornography consumed by male audiences versus female audiences. Reviews of the collection highlight this work:

The cover image of the 2018 Sex in the Digital Age edited collection, which shows a condom wrapper atop a keyboard“Smith provides an insightful analysis of the democratising effect
of participatory porn culture, accounting for how an historically marginalised female audience negotiates erotic agency as porn consumers and producers through the sharing and curating of sexual content exceeding the boundaries of the male gaze” — Scott Kerpen in Information, Communication & Society (2019, 22.13, 2024-2029)

David Rosen in the New York Journal of Books writes: “Each individual study runs a tightly-packed 10 pages or so… and share a common academic rigor, grounded in detailed analyses and innumerable references to prior studies. Most informative, many of the articles include materials from the author’s primary research. Allegra Smith takes up the ‘porn wars’ that divided feminists during the 1980s and remains a contentious issue. As an alternative, she proposes ‘participatory porn culture,’ an online zone where ‘women’s fantasies are articulated and then depicted on screen . . .’ She stresses, ‘pornography sits tenuously one the contested boundary of public rhetoric and private practice.’ And adds, ‘Internet pornography uniquely demonstrates the symbols and manifestations of an erotic culture that is simultaneously public and private.’

Preprint available here.