Laura McGrath

Laura McGrath

Laura McGrath, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Professional Writing

Current Research

Through interviews and content analysis, I'm studying communication strategies used by conservation professionals and science communicators. I'm also researching youth environmental activism.

Selected Publications

See ORCID for full list.

Environmental Humanities & Science Communication 

McGrath, Laura. 2022. "'Their Little Brethren of the Air': Rhetoric of Youth Birding in the United States, 1890s-Present." In Avian Aesthetics in Literature and Culture: Birds and Humans in the Popular Imagination, edited by Danette Dimarco and Timothy Ruppert. Lanham: Lexington Books.

In this chapter, I focus on the rhetoric of youth birding in the United States between the 1890s and the present, a discourse colored by the values, preoccupations, and prejudices of various time periods but remarkably consistent in its aims and arguments. My analysis examines children’s fiction and nonfiction, field guides, periodicals, material for families and educators, and digital resources. Within this literature, bird study is presented as a wholesome, accessible, fun, and life-enhancing pastime for young people, an activity with aesthetic, moral, and practical benefits. Bird study is promoted as an activity that strengthens bonds between children and nature, engages their minds and bodies, and enlists them in protecting America’s wildlife and natural resources. 

McGrath, Laura. 2021. “‘That’s the Wonder of It’: Affective Dimensions of Visual Rhetoric for Biodiversity Conservation.” Res Rhetorica 8 (2): 82-96.

In environmental communication, audience engagement is an essential prerequisite for achieving persuasive aims. This article responds to recent interest in visual storytelling and emotionalization—purposeful display and elicitation of emotions—as engagement techniques. A case study of the 2020 Global Biodiversity Festival—part online science festival, part fundraising event—provides evidence of how these techniques are employed in environmental communication for biodiversity conservation. Informed by scholarship on affect, emotion, visual rhetoric, and environmental communication, the case study analysis shows how visual representations of nature, mediated experiences of nature, and accompanying narration orient festival audiences toward specific ways of seeing and feeling that foreground emotional commitments and draw audiences into potentially transformative encounters. The visual rhetoric and affective dimensions of the festival’s website, virtual field trips, and multimodal presentations focus attention, create moments of connection, and call audiences to action. The case study analysis also reveals how the festival, planned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, treats this crisis as a kairotic moment for encouraging awareness, care, and pro-environmental behaviors. 

Digital Media, Communication, and Culture

McGrath, Laura. 2018. "Achieving Visibility: Midlife and Older Women’s Literate Practices on Instagram and Blogs." Literacy in Composition Studies 6 (2).

In order to contribute new knowledge about the digital literacies of midlife and older adults on social media, this study examines the literate practices of a subpopulation of Instagram users: female lifestyle Instagrammers and bloggers who self-identify as being over fifty. Survey results reveal why these women use blogs and Instagram, how they developed digital literacies, and who or what influences their practices. Case studies provide examples of the unique ways three women use Instagram to achieve visibility. Whereas most existing scholarship on visual depictions of age focuses on images that are controlled by other people (e.g., advertisers, community groups), I show how women use digital literacies and the affordances of Instagram and blog platforms to control their self-representations. Through their multimodal performances of identity, the women participate in discourses on aging and gender and pursue their goals of self-expression, inspiration, connection, and promotion.

McGrath, Laura, and Letizia Guglielmo. 2015. "Communities of Practice and Makerspaces: DMAC's Influence on Technological Professional Development and Teaching Multimodal Composing." Computers and Composition 36: 44-53.

This article examines how the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) influences participants’ approaches to facilitating technological professional development and to teaching multimodal composing. The authors, alumnae of the 2006 DMAC institute, explain how they identified and adapted effective practices from DMAC “in support of their own educational and professional goals, in light of the specific context at their home institutions and within their varied personal experiences” (DMAC, 2014). The authors trace the influence of DMAC, first, on their approaches to facilitating professional technological development in their department, describing lessons learned about framing, hands-on learning, and community building. Second, the authors discuss DMAC's influence on their approaches to teaching an upper-level Writing in Digital Environments course that emphasizes the digital writing course as a makerspace and community of practice in which enactive learning is encouraged as a method of promoting self-efficacy.

McGrath, Laura, ed. 2011. Collaborative Approaches to the Digital in English Studies. Louisville: Computers and Composition Digital Press/University Press of Colorado & Utah State University Press.

This edited collection presents diverse examples of how researchers and teachers in English studies are working together and with other disciplines and stakeholders to examine digital tools, texts, and user practices, locally and globally, within and beyond the academy. These examples reveal practitioners using collaborative approaches to pool expertise and resources, challenge boundaries, develop nuanced perspectives, experiment and discover, and shape the future of the profession, accomplishing through these interactions what could not be achieved as productively alone.

McGrath, Laura. 2010. "Negotiating Access to New Media: A Framework for Faculty and Other Stakeholders." In Reading and Writing New Media, edited by Cheryl Ball and James Kalmbach. New York: Hampton.

This chapter addresses the ways in which faculty, administrators, program directors, those involved in faculty development, and other stakeholders might evaluate access to new media and approach barriers to access within their unique institutional contexts. Acknowledging the issues that can stall or subvert efforts to update the writing curriculum and offer students the multimodal composing experiences advocated by experts, McGrath presents an action-oriented framework for individuals who are negotiating access within low-support situations or systems in which efforts to create a facilitative infrastructure have been stalled. The chapter features concrete examples of a negotiation process that begins with developing relationships with change agents and building critical mass, and leads to the establishment of an appropriate foundation on which to build a digital media program.