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Connecting Students Between Japan and Stanford: An Interview with John Peterson

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PWR Newsletter: We understand that you’re doing work in Japan this year.

John Peterson: Ha! That’s funny. Because I’ve never even been to Japan! I’ve been doing all this work through virtual exchange. But I will go to Japan the second week in February.

PWRN: We’ll get to that in a moment. But tell us about what led up to your plans to travel to Japan.

JP: Academic year 2016-2017 offered some super exciting chances for me to collaborate.  Last year in February, Paul Wadden and I published an editorial in The Japan News that questioned how the education minister was threatening to cut funding for liberal arts education.  Paul teaches at International Christian University in Tokyo. We later that summer wrote two articles on best practices for teaching writing in English for MLL students. In fall, we designed a series of exchanges between my PWR 1 class and his class in Tokyo, and then we wrote an article about that. I’m also learning a lot about international collaboration. I’m building on what I learned from the Cross Cultural Rhetoric Project that Christine Alfano and Alyssa O’Brien started at Stanford in 2005.

PWRN: How did the Cross Cultural Rhetoric Project prepare you for this work?

JP: The classroom exchanges we did this fall, at least in my mind, grew straight from the CCR model. Many years ago, Alyssa and Christine and CCR crafted really efficient, exciting modules for making the most of every minute classes spend working together online in a globally distributed session. I’m so glad I had a chance to work with CCR. That was pre-Skype, so the technology was different, and, uh, a little clunky. In those days, just setting up the exchange was more involved and required a bunch of people working together. For the exchange this year, I could host my end with just one laptop. I didn’t have to coordinate with any tech people. I did have ENORMOUS help in scheduling rooms at the Hume Center – thank you, Hume Team! Space is still the biggie, because you have to break out groups into separate rooms so they can gather around laptops and hear the folks in Japan. But I didn’t have to have any other teachers or technologists there to help. Paul had one technologist helping him on the Tokyo side. Of course, the students all know how to use Skype, and we used Google Chat as a back-up.

PWRN: So what will you be doing when you go to Japan in February?

JP: I’ll be there a week. First, I will get a chance to actually hang out with Paul Wadden, my collaborator there. We spend a lot of time sending drafts to each other and talking on Skype, but we’ve only had a chance to meet in person for very short visits when he’s been in the U.S. In Tokyo, at International Christian University where he works, I’m going to give a workshop on advanced ways to use Google Docs. This is a workshop that Jenae Cohn, Norah Fahim, and I designed. Later in the week, I’ll be giving the opening talk at the International Symposium on Academic Writing and Critical Thinking, at Nagoya University [in Nagoya, 2 hours south of Tokyo]. My title is “Students Connecting with Research: Reading Rhetorically to Support Writing Instruction.” I’ll be talking about the textbook work of John Bean and Alice Horning’s work with the psychology of reading and writing, and, importantly, with Kurt Spellmeyer (shout out to Marvin for pointing me in that direction) who helps us theorize writing and reading. I will also talk about how PWR’s own Texts-in-Conversation assignment really invests in how reading rhetorically can connect students with the conversation that extends from their reading.

PWRN: While we'd hate to ask you to oversimplify what we're sure is an extremely complex presentation, would you mind maybe explaining to us what you hope three big "take-aways" from your presentation will be?

JP: Okay, here goes: 1) By putting writing within a rhetorical framework we can disrupt two tendencies: to instrumentalize writing and treat writing for school as ceremonial rather than persuasive; 2) reading rhetorically is active reading that engages with research as if it is a dialogue between reader and writer, with both aware of the performative qualities of writing; 3) this dialogue between reader and writer is taking place within a larger conversation around a topic, and to engage with this conversation rhetorically means to make it meaningful to you as a researcher and a person inspired by ideas, emotion, and credibility.