Last semester, the Ball State English Department began a short series to celebrate and profile our newest faculty members. This week, the department continues the series of new faculty profiles by featuring Dr. Jennifer Grouling. Continue reading below to see Dr. Grouling’s interview conducted by English intern Tyler Fields and don’t forget to see past profiles featuring Dr. Jason Gladstone, Dr. Susanna Benko, Dr. Miranda Nesler, Dr. Maria Windell, Prof. Liz Whiteacre, Prof. John King, and Dr. Andrea Wolfe.
Tyler Fields: Can you talk about what sparked your interest in Rhetoric & Composition?
Jennifer Grouling: I always wanted to teach writing, but I didn’t really realize that was a field. I was an undergraduate English education major, and I did teach high school for a little bit. But I really didn’t want to teach literature; I didn’t want to teach Romeo and Juliet for an entire quarter, which is what I was required to do. So when I went back to school for my M.A., I wasn’t exactly sure exactly where I wanted to take my interest in teaching. Once I realized that Rhetoric & Composition was an option, I thought, “that’s what I want to do. I want to teach writing.”
Did you always know that you wanted a Master’s in Rhetoric and Composition or did that come later?
I got pretty lucky when I went into my Master’s program. I went to NC State, which has a wonderful faculty in the Rhetoric & Composition program. I was really introduced to it by the faculty, and they helped guide me.
Have you always had a specific interest in composition/writing?
I’ve always felt like I was a writer, and I’ve always been interested in writing. For a while my interest was in creative writing. But there came a moment when I realized that I was really better at academic writing than creative writing. I really enjoyed the process involved in academic writing that is often missing from creative writing.
You’re the director of the Writing Center here at Ball State. Can you describe that position a little bit for me including your interest in writing centers?
An administrative background is important to me, and I got that experience in my doctoral program. I was the assistant to the Writing Program. On top of being interested in that, I was interested in curriculum development, and how to structure a program, and things of that nature. Additionally, I’ve always been interested in writing in the disciplines, which includes how to communicate with instructors who are teaching writing in biology or whatever the field might be. At NC State, writing in the disciplines was incorporated into the first year program. We did a unit on writing in the sciences, writing in the social sciences, writing in the humanities, etc. That was what we concentrated on in first-year composition. And since I’ve come to the Writing Center, I’ve realized that I could be afforded a similar opportunity to make the connections with writing in the disciplines through Writing Center work. I want to reach out to writing intensive instructors and try to offer more workshops done by tutors in writing intensive classes. I didn’t originally have as much background or training in Writing Centers, but since coming here, I’ve really come to like it.
As the director of the Writing Center, I hire new undergraduate tutors, train them, hold meetings twice a month in which we talk about our pedagogy, theory, etc. I’m doing things now like looking into how to expand our online tutoring services. One thing I really like about Ball State’s Writing Center director position is that we’re expected to create a “culture of writing.” I really like the idea of the Center not just being a place for tutorials, but rather somewhere where we can provide outreach to instructors and faculty that are teaching writing. For instance, we can have a National Day on Writing or generally just promote writing as a thing that people do for various reasons.
It sounds like the Center is a community based around writing development, not just editing and revising like some might think.
It’s a challenge that we face. There’s the stereotype that the Writing Center is the “fix-it shop” or that we’ll simply correct the papers of those whose native language is not English. And even though we offer a variety of feedback on all types of pieces, there’s a perception that the Center only caters to those students who are, say, having trouble with grammar.
When you hire undergraduate students for a tutoring position, do you take into account the various types of writing they might encounter?
I try to hire students from different disciplines. Also, during an interview process, we talk about the Writing Center philosophy or theory of writing. This way, I try to get people who really want to interact with others and provide feedback instead of someone who just wants to edit grammar and spelling.
I think that’s great. I’ve had minimal experience with tutoring, but I know that, personally, tackling the theories of tutoring is just as relevant as the hands-on experience.
I know that here, at least, aspects like philosophy and theory are built into the training for the tutors of the Writing Center. In some places, they make it a separate course outside of tutoring.
Are there overlapping elements between your position as director for the Center, and your role as instructor in the classroom? How can the two positions inform one another?
I think the two absolutely overlap. For instance, in the Fall, we’ll have the new GTAs who are going to teach their own ENG 103 or 104 classes in the Spring. There’s a lot that they can learn about conferencing with students or how to not appropriate the student’s writing; how to help them articulate their own ideas. So they can learn in practice what we talk about theoretically, which they use in their own instruction, either as a teaching assistant or a Writing Center tutor.
I understand from your CV that one of your interests is tabletop role-playing games and that you have published a book on this topic, The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. Can you talk a little bit about this? Especially, how do you integrate this interest into your instruction?
My interests in the topic started in my Master’s program: I took a narrative analysis class, which was more linguistic-based. In fact, it was a linguistics class. I knew I’d have to do an narrative analysis of something linguistic in nature so I thought I’d record one of my Dungeons and Dragons sessions and analyze that because it’s a form of story-telling. And my professor told me that it didn’t meet the traditional linguistic aspects of a story. In fact, there’s a huge and ongoing debate over whether or not games are narrative. And this is where my analysis started: I examined this debate over gaming narrative. Part of this is disciplinary posturing: people involved in game study view it as its own field. So they might think it can’t be clumped with English in the same way you analyze other narrative texts. However, my problem with this group is that they more often than not are concentrating on video games. And I feel like there are so many other types of games out there: role-playing, tabletop, board games, card games, etc. One of the things I argue in my book, too, is that tabletop games challenge our notion of authorship and narrative way before digital technologies ever did.
You are currently teaching a senior seminar on gaming and gaming narrative. Can you talk about this class?
We’re exploring where games fall into English Studies. We’re thinking about what we can take from our own backgrounds in order to study games. For instance, some education majors in the class developed a lesson plan which incorporates gaming into the classroom, while creative writing majors might have written a story to be told via gaming. The class has three units. The first was on game genres in which we talked about some of the problems associated with defining genres. For instance, do you categorize a game by the gaming system or by narrative? The second unit was on narrative in gaming. We talked about how to define narrative within gaming and discussed how to study narrative. And the last unit was on literacy in gaming. So we talked about gaming as a means to develop literacy or as a literacy.
Your book and a substantial amount of your recent research has been on table top role-playing games. Is this an area you hope to continue developing research on?
I began with gaming research because it was a personal interest of mine and fun to do, but I’ve recently gotten much more into the Writing Program Administrator/Writing Center mindset. Because of this, I want my new research to be practical and have influence in changing the way a program is developed or run. Lately, I’ve been interested in personal identity and looking into ways in which TAs develop into instructors and other similar aspects.
-Interview conducted by Tyler Fields