I recently made an inspiring trip to Washington DC where I was able to advocate for education, for teachers, and writing in our nation’s schools. I was honored to be asked to introduce Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey to my colleagues of the National Writing Project, as we gathered together at the Capitol building for our annual Spring Meeting. When I was asked to introduce Congressman Holt, the first thing that came to my mind was “Fantastic….a top rate scientist who has consistently supported the Humanities”. As a digital humanist myself, I am always seeking colleagues who see the common threads in the overall pursuit of knowledge, rather than those who prefer to remain in their silos.
Congressman Rush D. Holt Jr. of New Jersey is well known as a research physicist who became Congress’s chief advocate for scientific research over his past eight terms. He has held positions as a teacher, a Congressional Science Fellow, and an arms control expert at the U.S. State Department (where he monitored the nuclear programs of countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union). Back in the 90s, Professor Holt was “brainiac-ing” along as the Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory – the largest research facility of Princeton University and the largest center for research in alternative energy in New Jersey. Many asked him: “Why, at that point in his career, did he decide to run for Congress?” His answer was simple and direct: “It was too important not too.” The funny thing is, that with all of his numerous accomplishments and legislative victories on the Hill, the thing that most people remain impressed by is Rep Holt’s five-time win on the game show “Jeopardy”. In February 2011, our Congressman beat “Watson” – IBM’s computer system – in a simulated round of Jeopardy at an event to promote innovation.
So when I thought about what I wanted to say in DC to my own National Writing Project colleagues (the very colleagues who lead the way in the effort to teach America how to write effectively), I realized I wanted to emphasize this idea of innovation. As a teacher, as a scientist, as a Representative, Congressman Holt has lead the way, casting the light on the importance of innovation – it’s transformative power in the context of our shared society. And I also believe this is idea of innovation is the distinct nexus where our collective work collides.
For we at the National Writing Project are dedicated to the proposition that educators themselves —whether in schools, libraries, museums, or community organizations— are central to the task of reimagining education in an era of Connected and Open Learning. We are all innovative educators, creating new learning environments and shaping new practices that respond to learners’ interests and take advantage of the affordances of a digital age.
As the Director of the Kean University Writing Project in New Jersey, I can attest to how exciting our work is these days. At the KUWP we often ask ourselves, what does it mean to be an innovator today? What might the role of writing play in inspiring today’s and tomorrow’s innovators? In response to this key question, our work is more diverse than ever. It is about “making” and DIY (Do-It-Yourself), it is about STEM learning and citizen science, it is an embrace of STEAM (add the essence of the artistic impulse to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Our work at the Kean University Writing Project is about writing and media-making, arts and creative expression, civic engagement and positive career development.
We are innovators, and we share a common passion for igniting the creative and engaged learner in all of us. And the role that writing plays in innovation cannot be underestimated. Writing in its many forms is certainly the signature means of communication in the 21st century. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand our changing world. Writing is indeed a bridge to our future. These days, the effective teaching of writing requires a more expansive approach than ever. Writing has always been a creative process-driven engagement. But in the 21st century, we have more tools than ever to articulate our ideas, our understanding, our meaning.
With an open embrace to the collective spirit of innovation, I am pleased to announce that the Kean University Writing Project will be launching a #MAKERSPACE this Spring – an outreach center for project driven, peer-inspired, passionate, and playful writing. ….Writing in all its forms, writing as making.
My upcoming courses that will be supported by the KUWP #Makerspace:
ENG 5031: Writing As Making (Summer 2014)
ENG 4081/5081: Electronic Literature (Fall 2014)