The questions that guide my scholarly work are guided by my observations and experiences as a digital teacher, researcher, learner, and citizen. With a master’s thesis born from repeated debates that I read in undergraduate gender studies classes between feminist theorists about sexual media , and a dissertation project that emerged from watching my grandmother and her friends grapple with the design of new technology, my research is a testament to the value of investigating everyday practices and conversations. The user research and advocacy that ensue can improve these experiences for individuals and their communities. This stance leads to three strands of research that connect the design of communication and technology, learner experience, and methodological critique.
Improving Technology Experiences for Underserved Populations
At its core, my research centers on user experience (UX) by attending to contact zones where the digital and cultural converge. This line of inquiry asks, “How do intersectional facets of our identities (like race, class, gender, age, sexuality, religion, and location) shape our experiences with technology? How, in turn, do those user experiences affect how we write and communicate?” My dissertation, Digital Age: A Study of Older Adults’ User Experiences with Technology, asserts the importance of considering age and aging when designing digital devices and apps. Since 2016, I have worked with members of a central Florida retirement community to collect data on older adults’ (age 70+) experiences with computers, conducting interview and observational studies to better understand the motivations and user behaviors of this age cohort. Older adults face unique challenges with technology in their everyday lives—not only challenges linked to the physical and cognitive changes of age, but also challenges stemming from generational and cultural assumptions surrounding technology literacy and usage. Perceptions of elders as “slow learners” or “technologically deficient,” paired with fears of technological dependency and invasions of privacy, hinder their full participation in digital life and culture. In addition to providing best practices for designing for this age cohort, my dissertation breaks stereotypes of what older adult technology users look like.
Tracing Learner Experiences to Reimagine Program Design and Pedagogy
Everyday life now requires sophisticated communication and technology skills—to work, to play, and to participate in civic and cultural affairs. I am passionate about cultivating these skills in learners from all walks of life. I initially pursued graduate school because of my experiences in an undergraduate professional writing major: I wanted to shape a similar writing program to develop students’ digital writing expertise, and study their experiences as they discern their career paths within the growing field of technical and professional communication. Learning experience design (LxD), an emerging area of research that applies UX frameworks to both online and offline educational experiences, represents a growing area of my work that brings together my commitments as a teacher-researcher. I deeply value classroom and programmatic research to tailor learning experiences to the unique needs of local student populations, as well as to ground classroom practice in the shifting landscapes of both pedagogical theory and industry innovation.
Innovating Feminist Methodologies for a Participatory Digital Age
As a researcher, I was trained in feminist methods before I even began studying rhetoric, writing, and technical communication. By applying feminist frameworks such as intersectionality and standpoint theory, I have called for revisions to methodologies like Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory (ANT) to account for intangible, non-material actors like culture, ideology, and difference. This critique, which earned the top prize in the 2017 ACM-SIGDOC Student Research Competition (sponsored by Microsoft), joins scholars who call for intensification of Latour’s methodology through the acknowledgement and integration of cultural elements. Employing methodologies that account for both materiality and culture (which has very real, material manifestations and effects) paints a more complete picture of users’ experiences—especially those users who have traditionally been under-served or ignored by academia.