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Meet New Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Scott Warnock

By Gina Myers


August 4, 2021

Like many people during the past year, Scott Warnock, PhD, is finding himself pivoting. In both his community involvement and his professional life, he is changing roles, shedding some activities and taking on new responsibilities. Perhaps the biggest change begins on September 1, when he takes over as the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences, following the retirement of current Associate Dean Sandy Friedlander, PhD.

Warnock joined the faculty at Drexel University in 2004, when he was brought on board to convert the Drexel First-Year Writing courses into online and hybrid formats. Since then, the professor of English has served in numerous administrative roles, including as Director of the University Writing Program for the past 10 years.

Warnock attended Rutgers University-Camden, where he graduated with both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English. He worked as a press officer, did medical writing, and became a freelance health care journalist before pursuing his PhD in English at Temple University. Before coming to Drexel, Warnock worked at Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley (as the campuses were formerly known as), which is where he first became interested in reading and writing technology, particularly in how learning technologies can help student writers and facilitate better methods for faculty to respond to student work.

Scott Warnock

As associate dean, Warnock will be involved with designing a core curriculum and working on other curricular planning. Additionally, he will work closely with Director of Advising Brad Petitfils, PhD, on academic advising and student success. He will also be involved with recruitment events and serve on numerous committees that examine how the undergraduate experience is covering international education and experiential education, as well as looking at the faculty experience and instruction evaluation, among other areas.

After being spread across the University as the Writing Program director, Warnock sees this new role as a homecoming of sorts since he gets to return his focus to the College of Arts and Sciences. He’s excited by the challenges and opportunities that come with the position.

“I think we're at an interesting time, not just for liberal arts, but for universities in general. It's a time of a lot of stress and a lot of uncertainty,” he explains. “I'm a strong believer in the liberal arts mission and the mission of a college like ours. This role is going to allow me to focus more and think about the educational experience of our students, particularly in the College of Arts and Science.”

Warnock recently took the time to answer some questions about his research interests, how remote learning will affect in-person classes going forward, antiracist pedagogy and his favorite food truck on campus, among other things.

What made you interested in using technology in writing instruction?

I've always been interested in technology. At Temple University, I did my dissertation on techno myths, which I defined through American fiction and how they manifest in the way people communicate using digital technologies. Then, when I was teaching at Penn State, I got more interested in using technology in the classroom and then into moving writing courses online. In 2004, a lot of people thought of content courses for online, but there were not a lot of resources out there on writing and skills-based courses online, so I ended up writing a book called Teaching Writing Online. I always joke if I sell 8 million more copies, I’ll be giving Stephen King a run. But for an academic book, it has done really well. If you look up “teaching writing online,” that book comes up.

I most recently wrote a sort of follow-up to Teaching Writing Online called Writing Together: Ten Weeks Teaching and Studenting in an Online Writing Course, with former Drexel student Diana Gasiewski. Diana took a first-year writing course of mine. In the book, I describe specifically how to teach, and then Diana provides the student voice and shares how she experienced the course.

I also had a software company called Subjective Metrics that we sold in 2009. Basically, I’ve had my hands in a lot of technology initiatives.

How does teaching writing relate to information literacy?

I was the co-chair for a national committee on writing instruction with a really smart colleague named Beth Hewett who I've collaborated with for many years. She had this idea that we should really broaden the “W” of online writing instruction to be an “L” for literacy. It should include reading, not just writing, and also information literacy and digital literacy. These things become parts of courses in a lot of places, but they’re not really focused on, so we’re trying to focus on the idea of information literacy.

People shy away from the idea of literacy because they think of it as developmental or remedial, but I do workshops with graduate students, postdocs and faculty on writing from sources and writing about data. People at all levels are interested in how to make more sense of the information they encounter.

This summer I’ve facilitated a workshop for master’s students about writing objectively. The conversation inevitably turns to consumption of media, fundamentals of journalism and how to manage journalistic biases, which is fundamental information literacy. How people navigate, consume and synthesize information is becoming such a big part of what we do as writing instructors.

How was your teaching affected during the pandemic?

I teach online, so that didn’t change, but I am involved in a lot of other things. I recently was the president of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE), an organization I helped found in 2016 and was the president of from 2018 to 2020. It’s dedicated to helping people who teach literacy/writing courses online do it more effectively. When the pandemic caused people to teach online suddenly, GSOLE had some really hardworking volunteers who suggested producing a suite of resources to share with our colleagues around the world. It turned out to be a really good and positive thing. A lot of people use our materials, so it really raised the profile of our organization. We’re still pretty small, but the membership has tripled since last year.

In addition to GSOLE, I also do a lot of faculty development work, both at Drexel and elsewhere. So this kind of landed directly in my wheelhouse as an academic because I was doing all these things, and I ended up volunteering at Drexel, letting people know that I was here and to please use me as a resource since I've done all this teaching of writing online. I was involved with certain taskforces and committees, including a college-level committee about remote instruction. I was very busy with support at both local and international levels. It was a bit of an exhausting year.

How do you see the experience of remote teaching this past year affecting professors going forward as they return to in-person classes?

We're never going to go back. This isn’t just me speaking; this is pretty much everyone I've talked to about this at any webinars I've attended and things I've been reading. People are going to continue to use the things that they learned over the past year. I think there’s just no way that people are going to fully go back to what they did before.

Technology sometimes gets conflated with online, but just because you use technology in the classroom doesn’t mean you’re teaching online. But when you teach online, obviously, you're using digital technology, so it leads you to discover things that can make your teaching more efficient and maybe better. For example, I'm a big fan of using audio feedback on student writing. To me, it just makes sense, particularly when you are teaching upwards of 80 students. There are built-in technologies in Blackboard where you can read a student paper, make some comments and then give them an audio comment. When you’re talking 80 papers, carpal tunnel is a real thing. If you discovered that tool in the past year, I can't imagine you would go back.

I know the Writing Program is committed to antiracist pedagogy. Can you tell me what that looks like to you?

I feel like the Writing Program, thanks to Associate Director Janel McCloskey, has been out in front with doing antiracist work around Drexel. For the past three years in the Writing Center, led by Janel, we have been working with our tutors, focusing on antiracist tutoring, antiracist language and antiracist pedagogy. We’ve been talking about this through various complex readings and conversations to help the students who come into the center think about the way they use language. So many of the things about structural racism manifest themselves in the language of the institution. We interact with languages that we say are acceptable, and we don't really interrogate those things.

I think that ultimately this commitment comes from my belief in equity in language because of my positioning as a person who teaches language and thinks about language in my classes. We have a great statement for the Writing Center that Janel and the tutors created. It involves saying to our students that languages are not better than one another, and one vernacular is not better than another. [Read the Writing Center’s Statement of Antiracist Pedagogy.]

With GSOLE, we have a series of principles to grow online teaching, and these principles have been about access and inclusivity since the organization’s founding, which I am very proud of. During the social unrest of the past year, we put out a statement, but this movement is about more than making statements. We need to put things into practice. We are working to be more diverse and recruit a more diverse board. You can’t just hope that things will happen by chance. I think a lot of places want to do the right thing and diversify and be more inclusive and accessible, but there are a lot of structural barriers to work against.

What do you like most about working at Drexel?

That's a tough question! My kids—two are at Drexel right now!—sometimes ask, when are you going to retire? I don't even think about that. I always tell students your goal should not be working for the weekend, waiting until vacation, and going through life waiting for retirement. I really enjoy my job, and Drexel has given me the opportunity to be involved with a lot of different things and to have a fulfilling career.

I’ve been very fortunate and lucky working at home, but I'm looking forward to getting back on campus. I like taking the train in, and I like being in West Philly. We have a great group of people, and I've made some really good friends and colleagues at Drexel, especially Dan [Driscoll], Lisa [DiMaio] and Janel, who I’ve worked with for the past 10 years in the Writing Program.

Other than seeing colleagues again, what are you most looking forward to you when we are able to return to campus?

The food trucks.

Do you have a favorite food truck?

I do! With apologies to the other great ones, my favorite is Cucina Zapata. The Cap n Crunch breaded tilapia burrito can't be beat. It is a great food truck.

Finally, are there any books you're looking forward to reading this summer?

For an antiracist task force that is part of the Department of English and Philosophy, we have chosen to collectively read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and I’m well into that. I also read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which we are using for summer training for DWC students. I also finished Coming Into the Country by John McPhee, which is a great book about Alaska. I'm hoping to go to Alaska one day because I've never been there.