Research & Teaching

We had all the information, really. It was all there. We just didn't understand.

— Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, 1997

Research Overview

I'm a PhD candidate in Information Studies at Drexel University. I am working toward a future where people can live more conscientiously with digital technology. I do qualitative and humanistic research that focuses on the question of building understanding with information and documents, and how the process of understanding is changing. I am attracted to studying information experiences that are deeply meaningful: engaging with sacred texts, running ultramarathons and making art. In what ways are these practices informative, and how are they changing in today's technological milieu?

Digital technologies are changing virtually every aspect of human life: work and leisure, social structures, our sense of time... even who we consider ourselves to be, and the role of humans in the universe. This is what I want to help us understand. Within this, I want to show how information can move us emotionally or contribute to tacit or pathic knowledge. With this in mind, my work highlights the human experience of encountering and interacting with information and documents—especially when it's nonverbal.

N.B.: I'm more interested in questions than answers. Some researchers like to furnish the ballroom; I spend most of my time plumbing the basement.

My research is rooted in information studies, but with an eye toward bringing its traditions into the future. I draw from research in information behavior, neo-documentation studies and other corners of library and information science, as well as philosophy—particularly hermeneutic phenomenology and philosophy of information. Moreover, I am interested in bringing together the work in these storied fields with conversations unfolding in newer, digital technology–centric fields such as social informatics and human—computer interaction.

As you can tell, my research spans and seeks to bring into conversation a number of traditional academic fields. Beyond those mentioned above, my work also plays with:

  • History and philosophy of science
  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Science and technology studies
  • Philosophy of sport
  • Digital humanities
  • Writing systems

Before I came to Drexel, I earned a BA in Advertising and Spanish from Marquette University; a graduate certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; and an MA in Hispanic Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Studies from New York University.

I blog about written language and documents at ScratchTap.

Research Projects

Conceptualizing Self-Documentation
A characteristic of modern life is our reliance on documents in virtually all sectors of society, and the nature of these documents influences the way we understand reality and ourselves. Among these documents are ones we create about ourselves, as evidence of some aspect of the self, a phenomenon I refer to as self-documentation. We are compelled to write resumes and CVs, we build personal websites and online profiles for socializing, commerce, dating and education, and we snap selfies with abandon. How does the concept of the document lend coherence to all these different forms of information creation? How do we construct and understand the self through documents? What dynamics are at play? This is some of the conceptual groundwork I am doing in my dissertation. Based on my dissertation poroposal, I was honored to receive the 2017 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research.

Self-Portraiture as Self-Documentation
Once done only by fine artists, today self-portraiture seems nearly universal. Art historians call the self-portrait the defining genre of modernity, and it is taking new forms in today's technological climate. Self-portraiture is an important site for research because art-making, and self-portraiture in particular, exemplifies the human faculty for meaning-making and understanding. My dissertation explores how self-portraiture can be conceptualized as a form of documentation, asking questions like: What is the difference between a selfie and a self-portrait? What is the value of self-portraiture? If we can approach these questions, we can better understand how to truly democratize the nourishing aspects of self-portraiture through technology—something the selfie seems to gesture toward without completing.

Document Phenomenology
What is a document? When is a document? How is a document? Since Michael Buckland's famous 1991 article "Information As Thing," research in the neo-documentalist tradition has flourished. I situate myself in this current, and I contribute to the theoretical aspects of documents through phenomenological exploration. That is, the study of how documents reveal themselves to us. I have written on how documents are part-human, how documents come to be authoritative by their fixity, and how documents unfold as time. My paper co-authored with K. F. Latham proposes a framework for discussing the phenomenological aspects of documental being and becoming.

Running as Information
Ultrarunning is a hobby of mine, and it's also become a research object. During ultramarathons, athletes confront many potential problems. As such, participation in such events can put athletes in states of high stress, which may be sustained for many hours. My first paper, "Information on the run: Experiencing information during an ultramarathon" explored some of the information processes at play in endurance running. I am currently conducting further studies on how ultrarunners make sense of the sport, such as in my forthcoming paper "There's no shortcut: Building understanding from information in ultrarunning." In this vein, I also published a philosophical paper exploring the different motivations of runners of different distances.

The Religious Information Experience
It could be said that technology and religion are two of the most important things that make us human. Through technology, we interface with the material world; and through religion, we interface with the spiritual world. Thus technology and religion have always been intertwined, but perhaps they haven't always been friendly neighbors. In an early paper, I explored the co-evolution of technology and religion from a historical perspective, introducing the notion of religious information landscapes as conditioned, in part, by each religion's value system. In another paper, I explored how believers experience their sacred text as conveyed through a panoply of different technologies. In future research, I will continue to investigate these questions in diverse specific cases.

Teaching

For me, teaching is working with a student to build a bridge that we will both cross together, even as we’re building it. I find the process rewarding and exhilarating. My philosophy of teaching has three aspects—meeting the student where they are, asking and sparking questions, and inspiring confidence—which involves patience, active learning, questioning, respect and critical writing. I hope to contribute to my students' whole-person education (in the spirit of the Jesuit maxim cura personalis).

In the 2017–18 academic year, I am teaching the following courses:

  • Winter 2018: Info679 Information Ethics
  • Winter 2018: Info651 Academic Library Service
  • Spring 2018: Info215 Social Aspects of Information Systems

Beyond information science, my teaching experience includes English-as-a-second-language instruction in classrooms and one-on-one.

For a sample of my teaching materials, see the following: