About

Erin Schaefer

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I am a third year doctoral student in the department of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures. I consider myself an interdisciplinary scholar, studying interpersonal communication, narratives, emotion, and prejudice. I explore how pedagogies about rhetoric and writing can be brought into fruitful conversations with neuroscience, cultural neuroscience, social psychology, and social-cognition scholarship.

I have explored these areas in my teaching by integrating discussions of the brain’s plasticity along and mindfulness practices as a way of shifting students’ understanding of their own agency as writers, learners, and citizens. In addition to examining questions of agency, I am interested in exploring what these interdisciplinary conversations might mean in terms of prejudice. I believe that digital tools can be used to support students in self-aware, critical learning.

Recently, I have examined connections between neurofeedback and listening pedagogies. Neurofeedback is a wearable technology that allows users to examine their brain wave activity, which is indicative of the type of attention/awareness they are in. While neurofeedback is often used in service of neoliberal goals, such as the pursuit of happiness or to obtain the “ideal” brain, I believe this technology can be useful when brought into conversation with listening pedagogies. Neurofeedback, I argue, can actually help us understand both the embodied and the social dimensions of listening. A type of training known as alpha-theta, in particular, can help us understand how to work with our narratives – our own and others. Alpha-theta, a therapeutic process that can occur with or without the aid of neurofeedback training, involves the transformation of “state-stamped” memories (White & Richards, 2009, p. 149), memories that become fixed with a single emotional context. Through a more mindful state of awareness, the narratives associated with these memories can transform, including the associated emotional context. While this process is often highlighted for its therapeutic benefits in neurofeedback clinical settings, neurofeedback discourses about alpha-theta have implications for listening and learning.

Last year, I taught WRA 202: Introduction to Professional Writing. My favorite project for this course was “Creating a Deliverable for a Client: The Michigan Environmental Council.” Students created Facebook posts calling the general public’s attention to rather complex environmental issues. These students took a variety of forms, including infographics and a video. In their individual reflections on these projects, many students commented on the challenge of trying to convey a lot of information within the constraints of social media. They also reflected on the sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding task of receiving and responding to feedback: from the instructor, from a guest reviewer, from peers, and from the client.

This year, I am teaching ENGL 232: Writing as Exploration. This course asks students to explore self and society using a variety of creative non-fiction genres. I love teaching this class! I think I am most fascinated by the genre of literary journalism, in which students can switch perspectives/standpoints, moving between their own stories and others’ stories, and zooming in and out. In looking at the environment, for instance, one student moves between their own experience in nature and current events depicting environmental harm. Weaving together these perspectives is challenging, but it adds dimension and fosters connection not possible in other genres. Students then have the opportunity to create multimodal projects on the topic of their choice.

This year, I also led facilitated a reading seminar, MC 399: Having Difficult Conversations. Read the abstract below:

  • Most educators would probably agree that an important aspect of students’ education – in addition to gaining knowledge of the multitude of social issues that exist – is for those students to learn how to listen deeply to the marginalized voices that face these social issues. The ability to listen, however, requires an understanding of social contexts and embodied contexts. This collaborative study will use an interdisciplinary approach to teach both. Students will learn about the complex social contexts that exist during listening, including the difficulties that some marginalized voices have in being heard. They will also learn about the embodied contexts involved in listening, including how one’s brainwave activity, physiological, and psychological states act as additional mediators during listening. Students will be encouraged to adopt a responsible, reciprocal, self-aware, and empathetic stance in relationship to both sets of contexts, culminating in a multimedia project informed by listening. They will also teach and work with younger students (either high school or junior high school students), in creating a similar, smaller project. In the process, they will apply and model this deep listening for these younger students.

Read more about my academic and professional background by visiting my CV.

For fun, I love being in nature, playing/listening to music, doing improv, taking too many pictures of my cats, watching movies, rollerblading, playing sports (e.g., volleyball, tennis, bowling, softball, and ping-pong), and playing games (board and “classic” nintendo systems).

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