Research overview

From technology classrooms to civic collaborations to sensory ethnographies, I employ rhetoric and design research as a lens to examine how audiences make meaning through their experience with new media. Placing emphasis on sensory modes of knowledge production allows me to bridge important gaps between 1) technical aspects of digital media production and 2) rhetorical aspects of how designed communication engages users, connects people and builds stronger communities. I’m especially invested in employing research-based design practices to bring about positive social change.

My forthcoming book on community writing and the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative will be published by WAC Clearinghouse. My published work also appears in Computers and Composition, Routledge,  the  University of Michigan Press/Sweetland, Computers and Composition Online, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, and Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion.


 Research on Media Design

Aimée Knight (2019). “Where Data Meets Design: Visualization in the Digital Humanities” in Doing More Digital Humanities: Open Approaches to Creation, Growth, and Development by Routledge, edited by Richard J. Lane, Raymond Siemens, and Constance Crompton

Participant making a data sculpture at DHSIWe’ve probably all experienced data-driven design at some point (it’s what happens when our data has to fit inside precise boundaries, when we insert the data to fit specific tools or software that we are using). Here we are going to  shift the focus entirely to design-driven data and discover what happens when questions of design become central to the research itself.

This print chapter represents a walk-through of a week-long data visualization workshop at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) where participants explore ways to visualize data, rendering information more useful, engaging and accessible. Participants adopt a human-centered, design-thinking methodology to examine each stage of the design process, as they learn to ideate, create content and execute creative design solutions.

Aimée Knight and Austin Starin, (2015). “Designs of Meaning: Tools for Digital Storytellers.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. No. 14.

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We tell digital stories all the time. Designs of Meaning is a toolkit to help tell them better. It asks both the how to and why questions. It’s for makers and doers. It’s for storytellers, craftspeople, and designers alike.

Designs of Meaning seeks to better understand and communicate how digital stories rhetorically “work.” We focus on how stories are shared through multimodal platforms.  A digital storytelling experience involves the central idea or story arc and how it engages the senses and creates meaning through the combination of its form and content. Here we draw across disciplinary borders – from rhetoricians, philosophers, aestheticians, social theorists, technologists, artists and interaction designers to offer storytellers a heuristic to compose and evaluate multimodal works. The editors (Kate Comer and Tim Jensen) believe that this article “has the potential to do exactly what Harlot aims to accomplish: to bridge the gap between academic and public conversations, to connect rhetorical theory and real-world practice.”

Steven Hammer and Aimée Knight, (2015). “Crafting Malfunction: Rhetoric and Circuit-bending.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. No. 15.

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Inviting practices like circuit-bending in the classroom privilege invention (acts of discovery) over convention (the ways things are usually done).  Entering the composing process from this place students are freed from the usual small, structured set of conventional forms. Circuit-bending de-canonizes the process of making. There is no fear of doing something the right way.  It helps students think about the nature of conventions and rhetorical situations while it also fosters students’ aptitude for creativity and invention.

Circuit-bending, an art practice developed in the 1960’s, involves the creative short-circuiting of battery-powered toys and instruments. Like many of its avant-garde precursors, circuit-bending is a composition practice that values access, chance, and indeterminacy. For this special issue of Harlot, we document our own circuit-bending process and make connections between the work of Qubais Reed Ghazala, the pioneer of circuit-bending, and rhetoric and writing. Specifically, we discuss the importance of access and creativity, invention and discovery, and the ways that composition is a collaborative performance between humans and nonhumans.

Aimée Knight (2013). “Reclaiming Experience: the Aesthetic and Multimodal Composition.” Computers and Composition: an International Journal, 30(2): 146-155.

Computers&Composition

The empirical approach I construct adds to an understanding of aesthetic experience with media in order to render more transparent the ways in which an audience creates knowledge—or takes and makes meaning—via the senses. Significantly, this approach to meaning making supports learning in digital environments where students are increasingly asked to both produce and consume media convergent texts that combine multiple modalities including sound, image, and user interaction.

Recent scholarship points to the rhetorical role of the aesthetic in multimodal composition and new media contexts. In this print article, I examine the aesthetic as a rhetorical concept in writing studies and imagine the ways in which this concept can be useful to teachers of multimodal composition. My treatment of the concept begins with a return to the ancient Greek aisthetikos (relating to perception by the senses) in order to discuss the aesthetic as a meaningful mode of experience.

Aimée Knight, Martine Courant Rife, Phill Alexander, Les Loncharich, Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, (2009). “About Face: Mapping Our Institutional Presence.” Computers and Composition: an International Journal, 26(3): 190-202.

Computers&Composition

The field of technical communication has, historically, emphasized document design; however, “design” is often scripted in, we think, rather anemic ways. Here we provide a lens that allows us to see beyond the technical and functional aspects of design, to interrogate the ways in which various digital design features work to craft program identity.

As the lead author of this print article, I situated writing program websites as important institutional spaces that serve as interfaces to shared values, beliefs, and practices. In the writing of this article, I worked with my co-authors to develop a three-part framework to understand how websites of United States-based writing programs craft identity and anchor their programs.


Research on 21st Century Classroom Design

Aimée Knight, (2017).  Making Space: Writing Instruction, Infrastructure, and Multiliteracies. Danielle DeVoss & James Purdy. (Eds.) University of Michigan Press. Link to chapter online: Design Philosophy for a Multimodal Composition Classroom.”

Merion174Although individual teachers or collective departments might not see themselves as designers (or hackers for that matter), there are inevitably things we each want to change at our institutions. A design philosophy can set those changes in motion.

This chapter explores the necessary rhetoric (or “Design Philosophy”) to design and build a classroom on campus. I tell the story behind the building of a multimedia production classroom, my department’s second classroom renovation to date. I also discuss how a design philosophy might help others interested in making arguments for effective classroom spaces.

Jentery Sayers, Virgina Kuhn, Aimée Knight, Elizabeth Losh, Jim Brown, Victoria Callahan, Viola Lasmana, and Melanie Yergeau, (2014). “Hacking the Classroom: Eight Perspectives.” Computers and Composition Online.

hackingIn a collaborative learning space—everyone participates. Everyone works. There is no crowding around a single screen. There is no looking-on as someone else types and edits. There are no obstructed lines of sight. Students decide where, when, and how to use the technology, if at all. The technology does not dictate outcomes—it facilitates them.

Here, eight authors discuss the question: “Why does the Higher Ed classroom need to be hacked, and how might we hack it?” In this webtext/video,”We Need to Talk,” I show two technology classrooms that I designed to bring people together in productive ways. By increasing human contact and communication the focus is placed on active, social, experiential learning (as the actual technology/hardware moves into the background to support communication and collaboration). Kristine Blair, editor of Computers and Composition Online describes the article thusly: “Evolving from a panel at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference, contributors define hacking as a empowering, subversive process of “turning the critical gaze inward, rethinking institutional structures and practices, and revising them to foster new social relationships, pedagogies, and modes of inquiry.” Each of the perspectives offers localized practices for hacking similarly localized material, cultural, and ideological constraints upon more meaningful digital composing opportunities, calling for instructors to allow, as Elizabeth Losh puts, students to “steer the boat” in terms of allowing them to determine their own rhetorical exigencies. Inevitably, for these contributors, hacking is as much about transformation as it is critique and their suggested practices for both processes are models for the rest of us to follow.”


Book review on Teaching Visual Communication

Aimée Knight, (2014). “Book Review: Designing Texts: Teaching Visual Communication.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 28(2): 249-253.

_DSF8696Seen together, these approaches represent a pedagogical turn to design thinking, the act of applying a designer’s sensibility and methods to creative problem solving.

In this review, I discuss how the edited collection Designing Texts reflects the rich and varied state of the field of Visual Communication, by featuring theorists, pedagogies, and practices that are currently employed in visual communication classrooms. I emphasize a need to return to rhetorical theory in the teaching of visual communication in order to accommodate the needs of students who work within a variety of modes, media, and contexts.