Stuart Selber | College of Information Sciences and Technology
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Stuart Selber

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  • Affiliate Associate Professsor of Information Sciences and Technology

  • Associate Professor of English, The College of The Liberal Arts

  • Faculty Fellow, Education Technology Services

113 Burrowes Building
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 863-8032

Stuart A. Selber, Associate Professor of English, directs The Penn State Digital English Studio. He also works as a Faculty Fellow in Education Technology Services. Selber’s work has followed a research trajectory that aims to develop heuristics for thinking through and enacting literate activity in technological contexts. These heuristics, for example, organize genres of software documentation using time-space frames and other rhetorical dimensions; offer a holistic understanding of usability that scaffolds common approaches according to their social complexities; conceptualize what computer literate students should know and be able to do; conceptualize the ways in which institutions shape academic computing practices; map developments in the shape of electronic instruction sets; and provide invention tools for thinking through the adoption of e-book platforms. On the whole, this work recasts a variety of functional tasks in social terms, offering suggestive frameworks for human-computer interaction that facilitate both productive action and critical reflection.

Selber began his career in the information sciences as a technical writer and designer of online help systems. His earliest professional experiences involved documenting a toxicology database for DuPont and organizing data in mainframe computer files for analytical economists at the United States Department of Agriculture. Selber moved to Boston in 1988 to begin graduate studies at Northeastern University in an English program with unusually strong ties to a high-tech community. While attending Northeastern, Selber deepened his training in writing for the computer industry by working on projects for Lotus (documenting banking software), Transition Systems (documenting hospital administration software), and Beyond Incorporated (documenting email software). His academic work focused on developing a rhetoric of hypertext for technical writing and advancing hypertext interface design, especially for educational applications.

In 1990, Selber continued his graduate studies in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University, enrolling in an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in rhetoric and technical communication. His research at Michigan Tech evolved to encompass the social and pedagogical dimensions of academic computing. His dissertation, a multimodal study with both qualitative and interpretive dimensions, explored the ways in which an emergent discipline (technical communication) appropriated an emergent information technology (pre-Internet hypertext). Results of this study were published in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, and Technical Communication. In this period, Selber consulted with Enstrom Helicopter, to help prepare a multimillion dollar proposal for the development of simulation interfaces for United States Army pilots; with Micron Technology, to re-envision the organizational roles of technical writers and editors; and with West One Bankcorp, to prepare workers for the challenges of creating online documentation.

Selber joined the Department of English at Penn State in 1998 as an assistant professor and member of the graduate faculty. He was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2004. As an assistant professor here and elsewhere, Selber published in a variety of venues related to the information sciences, including The Journal of Computer Documentation, ACM Computing Surveys, The Computer Science and Engineering Handbook, Electronic Literacies in the Workplace: Technologies of Writing, and Nonacademic Writing: Social Theory and Technology. This early work won publication awards for the Best Collection of Essays in Technical or Scientific Communication (National Council of Teachers of English), Best Article in Computers and Composition (Computers and Composition: An International Journal), and Best Article on Methods of Teaching Technical or Scientific Communication (also NCTE). The book that earned him tenure, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (Southern Illinois University Press), won two publication awards in 2005: Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication (NCTE); and Distinguished Book Award for Best Book in Computers and Composition (Computers and Composition). Selber also co-edited Central Works in Technical Communication (Oxford University Press), which in 2005 was named Best Collection of Essays in Technical or Scientific Communication (NCTE). In 2010, his article “A Rhetoric of Electronic Instruction Sets” won the Nell Ann Pickett Award for Best Article in Technical Communication Quarterly. And in 2014, his co-edited volume Solving Problems in Technical Communication (University of Chicago Press) won the award for Best Original Collection of Essays in Technical or Scientific Communication (Conference on College Composition and Communication). In some fashion or another, all of this work addresses social aspects of human-computer interaction.

Selber has held numerous professional leadership positions: President, Association of Teachers of Technical Writing; Program Committee, ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems; Program Committee, ACM Conference on Computer Documentation; President, Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication; Chair, CCCC Committee on Technical Communication; Conference and Program Co-Chair, ACM Conference on Computer Documentation; Book Review Editor, Technical Communication Quarterly; Associate Editor for Communication Technologies, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, and more. As chair of the CCCC Committee on Technical Communication, he was instrumental in helping to establish the CCCC Outstanding Dissertation Award in Technical Communication. Selber serves on the editorial boards of numerous peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, and Computers and Composition.

In 2018, Selber received the Ken Rainey Award for Excellence in Research from the Society for Technical Communication. The award was for a "lifetime of quality research that has made significant contributions to the field of technical communication." He also received The Ronald S. Blicq Award for Distinction in Technical Communication Education from the IEEE Professional Communication Society.