Students as fan, or Reinvention and repurposing in first-year writing classrooms

Keshia Mcclantoc

University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, United States

[0.1] AbstractI performed a study of two first-year writing classrooms and their interactions that used a fan fiction–based pedagogy. Rather than using fan fiction as class texts, this pedagogy used the fan fiction practices of reinventing and repurposing to help students better understand themselves and their community. This was done to position the students as fans themselves. Students were challenged to act as a fan would as they moved through myriad overlapping fan fiction and composition studies practices. I include descriptions of major assignments, examples of student writing, and reflections on both the successes and struggles within this classroom.

[0.2] KeywordsBeta reading; College writing; Pedagogy

Mcclantoc, Keshia. 2021. "Students as Fan, or Reinvention and Repurposing in First-Year Writing Classrooms." In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Though many scholars view fan fiction as a transformative act, and this reading has merit in and of itself, there has always been a certain form of intention left behind by this terminology. Transformation feels too pretty, like a word only belonging to the final product that is a fan fiction work, not the grasping, identity-wrangling, participatory act of creation. Instead, I define the process of writing fan fiction as an intentional act of reinvention and repurposing, for these terms better settle me within a place where fan fiction and composition pedagogy meet. In composition studies, reinvention and repurposing offer ways to work with and against existing conditions to create something new. The fan fiction practices of borrowing, mixing, and inserting characters, narratives, and plot are forms of repurposing and reinvention because they are mediated through the existing conditions (the canon), creating a writing process where readers and writers alike can learn in a participatory way. While teachers may initiate a fan fiction pedagogy by bringing fan fiction, as text, into the class, or challenging students to write their own fan fiction, the fan fiction pedagogy featured in this paper is built on a foundation of reinvention and repurposing. However, it is unlikely that fan fiction writers would describe their writing process in terms akin with traditional academic learning. Rather, they are more likely to describe fan fiction writing as experiments in understanding self and finding community.

[1.2] The pedagogical potential of fan fiction comes from creating a classroom where students deliberately move through exercises of reinvention and repurposing to explore self and find community. First-year writing classrooms, in particular, offer space for students to address their own biases, identities, and motivations, as well as react to and through community difference. In "Lessons In Citizenship: Using Collaboration in the Classroom to Build Community, Foster Academic Integrity, and Model Civic Responsibility," Anne Biswas (2014) posits that by working "collaboratively to form an academic community inside the classroom, students can model what it means to participate as honest, responsible, and respectful members of a civic community" (10). A classroom that mimics fan fiction community challenges students to actively participate in generating and contributing to classroom knowledge, rather than allowing competitiveness or passive, bare-minimum work to spur their motivations. Positioning the teacher as a community member on par with students also fosters better participation as "communities are a natural fit in the conceptual transformation of pedagogy from the teacher-centered to learner-centered paradigm" (14). My fan fiction pedagogy does not suggest that a teacher step down from their teaching role, rather that they position themselves as a learner alongside their students. This mimics the autonomous learning of the fan fiction community, where all members, from those who amply participate to those who veer toward lurking, have means to contribute to and generate knowledge. Using overlapping fan fiction and composition practices, like reinvention and repurposing, helps students in first-year writing classrooms gain the civic skills necessary to reflect on and understand self as well as create and negotiate through community.

[1.3] Of course, bringing fan fiction into classrooms is not new. Since Henry Jenkins first popularized the term, acafans have created pedagogies and scholarship that signal their dual allegiance to both academia and fandom (note 1). While fandom pedagogies as a whole can be applied across a variety of different disciplines, fan fiction is particularly potent for first-year writing classrooms because the foci of both spaces is writing. In "Shared Passions, Shared Compositions: Online Fandom Communities and Affinity Groups as Sites for Public Writing Pedagogy," Katherine DeLuca (2018) argues that fan fiction is well-suited to work alongside composition because it "enable[s] instructors to build a pedagogy that begins where the students already are" (78). In "Looking to Fandom in Times of Change," Shannon Sauro (2017) explains that fan fiction is important in the first-year writing classroom because "we live in a time of change that requires flexible and creative approaches to the socio-political mandates and constraints imposed upon our teaching and scholarship." Paul Booth (2017) echoes these sentiments in addressing change in "Fandom in The Classroom," by saying "fandom presents a bastion of critical thinking in a world of conformity." "Fanfiction in the Composition Classroom," by Kimberly Karaluis (2012), posits that fan fiction can help composition students build the "narrative muscles" necessary to move through higher education." These scholars are only a few of many who are now looking to the ways that fan fiction and composition classrooms may overlap. Each scholar has their own unique approach to pedagogy. DeLuca has students look to works of fan fiction as means to understand public writing, Sauro has her students address fan fiction as text for analysis, Booth makes his students study the history and cultural relationships within fandom, and Karaluis challenges her students to write their own fan fiction works. While these approaches all proved fruitful, I approached my fan fiction pedagogy by looking at fan fiction as practice, rather than subject. It is through the practices of the fan fiction community, not the content, that I found the pedagogical potential of self-exploration and community building.

[1.4] My fan fiction pedagogy doubly prepares students to understand self and others, through intentional writing practices like repurposing and reinvention, as well as collaborative, community-building practices like beta reading. In Spring 2019, I performed a case study of this fan fiction pedagogy across two sections of English 151: Writing and Argument, the first-year writing course at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Each section of this course had between twenty and twenty-five students, mostly freshmen and sophomores. The English department at UNL allows graduate teaching assistants, like myself, ample freedom in designing their own syllabi, loosely formed around the following agendas: "engaging [students] in the composing process (immersing students in drafting and revising, providing strategies for revision, proofreading, responding to texts-in-process, etc.)" and "helping [students] become more rhetorically aware (experienced at identifying significant contexts for writing, developing and following through on real purposes for their own writing, engaging questions of audience, etc…)."Additionally, UNL requires that students produce at least twenty pages of graded writing by the end of the semester (split among major assignments), participate in some form of peer review and revision, and do significant research for at least one major project. With these agendas as the foci of my syllabus, I used a combination of composition and fan fiction scholarship to design a course with these three key characteristics:

  1. Knowledge is produced by participatory and autonomous learning.
  2. Classroom assignments encourage students to explore and express their own identities while regarding the identities of others.
  3. Peer review is based on transparent, collaborative efforts around subjects of students' own interests.

[1.5] The following is a reflective case study of how this design played out within these two different sections of first-year writing. First, I give a brief literature review of the theories that serve as the foundation for this fan fiction pedagogy—invention, reinvention, and repurposing. I include an explanation of how these theories are ascribed in composition scholarship and their connections with the fan fiction community. Additionally, each explanation of theory is paired with a correlating assignment description, as well as exemplary excerpts from student papers. I weave the case study alongside the theory to concretely demonstrate the praxis of this fan fiction pedagogy. The next section describes how beta reading was used in lieu of the traditional peer review and shares student feedback on the beta reading process. After an explanation of these assignments, I provide a reflection and examination of the positive results and limitations of this study before concluding. Overall, I argue that this case study demonstrates the way that fan fiction practices are uniquely situated for suitable adaptation to the first-year writing classroom. In implementing this fan fiction pedagogy, we may better prepare students in understanding self, community, and how to be a fan.

2. Theories and writing assignments

[2.1] Although it may not seem like it, almost all fan fiction works begin with the compositional tool of invention. In his article, "A Plan for Teaching Rhetorical Invention," Richard Larson (1999) poses a series of wh-questions that invite writers to "invent" within their writing process. These "who, what, when, where, why, and how" (139) questions are rhetorical inquiries that allow writers to invent their own interpretations, arguments, and analyses. In the classroom, these questions are asked to stimulate discussion and help students write via dissemination of a text. However, when a fan fiction writer questions an existing text (the canon), they are working with reinvention, a transformation of the traditional invention. In "Re-Inventing Invention: A Performance in Three Acts," Jason Palmeri, Bre Garrett, and Denise Landrum (2012) argue for reinvention as the making of something new out of chaos, saying "writers need to resist narrowing focus and coming to closure too quickly; rather, writers who learn the 'uses of chaos' come to value the process of gathering and juxtaposing disparate materials in order to generate a 'new' idea." (Palmeri, Garrett, and Landrum 2012). Reinvention is not the traditional generation of new ideas about a text, but rather a remixing of the preexisting, disparate chaos from within and around a text. Although reinvention is used in this context for composition studies, both invention and reinvention feel very similar to what happens within the fan fic community. Therefore, the first major assignment of my fan fiction pedagogy class was grounded in invention and reinvention.

[2.2] In the first five weeks of class, which comprised Unit #1, students did readings and held discussions on fandom, fan fiction, and community. Although we would like to imagine fandom as a term both recognizable and ingrained in culture, I knew that many students would still need guidance in understanding and recognizing fandom. Additionally, students were introduced to the concepts of invention, reinvention, and voice. This was done in preparation for the first major assignment, which came in the form of a personal narrative. In this assignment, students were asked to explore a fandom they belonged to. Here, fandom was a rather loose construction, as it could mean both the traditional fannish behavior surrounding a form of media as well as any type of participatory community-centered hobby. Part of the instructions included answering this prompt:

[2.3] In a narrative, tell me a story about a fandom you are part of, including the answers to the following questions: How did you come to join this fandom? What types of people join this fandom—do they have defining characteristics, beliefs, or arguments they want to make? What type of hierarchies exist in this fandom? What practices do you and other members of this fandom engage in? In what ways do you think your fandom interacts with the larger world, whether positive of negative? What misconceptions do others have about your fandom? What does it mean for you, both personally and socially, to participate in this fandom?

[2.4] This prompt asked that students do what fan fic writers do—engage with a fandom they are passionate about, demonstrate what this fandom says about their own identity, and comment on how that fandom interacts with the larger world through the answering of Larson's wh-questions. Use of invention questions here allowed students to better understand self, as well as set them up within the early steps of reinvention.

[2.5] In most cases, allowing students to engage with their chosen fandoms within their personal narratives produced the same type of fannish enthusiasm for this assignment that fans have in writing fan fiction. For example, Nick, in writing about hunting (which, for him, was both hobby and fandom), demonstrated a good understanding of self as he explained how hunting was both an individual sport and communal activity (note 2). Nick wrote: "I was brought up on hunting and it has truly shaped part of who I am. It has made me respectful, caring, willing to learn valuable lessons, and always staying humble." Here, he outlines the ways he individually participates in his fandom, all the while narratively answering several of the questions from the prompt. He also alludes to hunting as a participatory practice shared by his whole family, which he went into in further detail throughout the paper. Additionally, Nick was able to examine the ways that his fandom interacts with the larger world outside of himself and family, commenting on how the larger fandom exists through shared hashtags and dedicated spaces on social media. "Scrolling through social media, it is mainly pictures of ducks, geese, deer, and other species I have hunted. A majority of the pictures have thousands of likes and comments, showing the hunting community is bigger than most think." Although he was writing on a traditional activity through the lens of fandom, Nick still moved through the early steps of reinvention with ease, as did many other students. Through the answering of wh-questions, students were able to explore and understand self in an assignment situated around subjects of their own interest.

[2.6] This personal narrative was designed to ground students in invention, an early and necessary step of reinvention. When composing work of fan fiction, a writer is piecing together preexisting narratives both through their own ideas and identities, but also accounting for the identities of others within the fan fic community. Kat Heiden (2016) argues that "fanfiction writing is a powerful tool in discovering, shaping, and strengthening these multifaceted identities. It provides a creative outlet through which participants are free to explore and co-create identity through narrative" (25). This co-creation via ideas and identities exemplifies the "uses of chaos" that Palmeri, Garrett, and Landrum argue for in their conception of reinvention. This form of reinvention is a powerful tool in the first-year writing classroom because it allows students to compose through the questioning and acknowledging of the multiple ideas, biases, and practices. Reinvention is a practice that gets students thinking not only of their own answers to Larson's wh-questions but also to the answers of those around the them, giving them the ability think deeply about the multiplicity of the texts and people they encounter.

[2.7] In the second major assignment of this class, students pushed reinvention to its fullest potential. In the second five weeks of class, which comprised Unit #2, students continued to do readings and hold discussions on reinvention. Additionally, they also read on empathy, collaboration, and the importance of talking across differences. This was done in service to their second major assignment, the outsider narrative. Here, students were asked to engage in a fandom they were not part of. The directions for this assignment were quite literally the same as the personal narrative, except that students would now answer the wh-questions based on another fandom. The goal was to make them see outside of themselves, valuing extrospection as much as introspection was valued in the first assignment. Additionally, students were required to do research on their outside fandom, finding disparate materials to fulfill the latter steps of reinvention. This helped students see through differences in a creative way as they "benefit[ed] greatly by gathering a wide array of disparate materials and then taking the time to experiment with combining and re-arranging these materials in novel ways" (Palmeri, Garrett, and Landrum 2012). In some ways, this outsider narrative was quite literally a fan fic itself, because students were seeking to understand a group they did not belong to so they could compose a narrative as if they were members of that group.

[2.8] Caleb, who struggled in the initial personal narrative, wrote quite prolifically in the outsider narrative. For his outsider narrative, he chose to feature the fandom that surrounds The Bachelor (2002–), which his "girlfriend and sisters are obsessed with but [he] never watched." Caleb immersed himself in this fandom through his own research and interviews with those in his life who watched the show. In an apt demonstration of the outside fandom's habits and beliefs, Caleb wrote:

[2.9] The fans of this show are not just watching the show, but they are falling in love with the contestants too. Being a fan of this show literally means becoming a version of the bachelor, allowing the fans to make their own assessments and fall in love with their favorite girl and pick out who they think would be the best match.

[2.10] Here, Caleb answers the wh-questions from the prompt in a way that is surprisingly empathetic for someone who claimed, at the start of their outsider narrative, that he would never "get" what the show was about. This was exactly the point of the outsider narrative, to make students think as deeply about others as they had thought about themselves in the former narrative. Paired together, both narrative assignments encouraged better understanding of self and community through addressing the wh-questions and uses of chaos found within reinvention.

[2.11] Although reinvention is a critical practice within the fan fiction community, repurposing holds even more potential for the first-year writing classroom, particularly in reflecting fanfic practices. In Shari Stenberg's Repurposing Composition: Feminist Intervention for a Neoliberal Age (2015), she defines repurposing as the "practice of locating and enacting imaginative possibilities for change and agency within—and often out of—prohibitive, and even damaging cultural conditions" (2). While Palmeri, Garrett, and Landrum's notions of reinvention have some similarities in that the practice is in making something new out of existing, often disparate, conditions, repurposing, in Stenberg's conception, is about specifically responding to damaging ideas and narratives. Writers do this first by highlighting existing conditions, then analyzing social contexts in which possibilities for change exist, and finally, repurposing what has been damaged for newer purposes (Stenberg 2015, 10). While reinvention and repurposing could be synonymous, reinvention is about exploration while repurposing is about intentional disruption. Fan fic writers who work with reinvention may undo damaging conditions by playing with their own identities, inserting a myriad of unconventional characters or conditions into a canon work, and/or collaboratively answering Larson's wh-questions to disseminate canon narratives. Fan fic writers who work with repurposing do the same, but with the intention of disrupting conditions within canon works that trouble them, making repurposing a more potent example of critical thinking and writing.

[2.12] As such, repurposing was the central theme of the final assignment. In the final five weeks of class, which comprised Unit #3, students read on repurposing and rhetorical/cultural analysis. Additionally, students also read a few notable examples of repurposing in fan fiction, like the popular reconception of Hermione Granger as black to make intentional parallels between muggle-born prejudice and white supremacy, or the genderbending of superheroes in MCU to fight sexist conventions (note 3). I included specific examples within this final unit because I wanted to give students a good idea of all the imaginative possibilities they could enact within their final assignment—the repurposing assignment. This third assignment functioned first as a space for analysis and then as a space for students to push themselves to creatively repurpose an aspect of their personal fandom that they found damaging. Basic instructions included:

[2.13] In this assignment, you will return to your personal fandom and choose a cultural artifact from within it. First, in a rhetorical analysis, identify the rhetors, situations, audiences, and messages that define this artifact. Also, identity any sociocultural connections (race, gender, sexuality, class, dis/abilities) and what these connections say about the fandom it was pulled from. Second, using repurposing, suggest ways to improve or make new any of the potentially damaging conditions found within the various aspects of the artifact.

[2.14] By giving students a space to deeply analyze an artifact within the first half of the assignment, they worked with the first steps of repurposing through investigating and disseminating existing conditions. When they suggested improvements in the second half, they worked with the latter steps of repurposing by moving away from damaging conditions and proposing news ways that they could resist within institutions (in this case, the fandom that the artifact was pulled from).

[2.15] Although I was worried that students would resist repurposing aspects of a fandom they had strong affections for, many of them really embraced this assignment. For instance, Erin had much to say when repurposing her favorite TV show, Friends (1994–2004). She analyzed and repurposed an episode with a transgender character who was mocked and belittled by the lead characters in the show, delivering a succinct analysis of the cultural harm this does to marginalized LGBT+ people. For repurposing, Erin suggested three things: that the transgender character should be "incorporated more frequently in the show," that she should not "be described as a woman wearing man's clothing," and finally, that the show should "candidly talk about the difference between drag and being transgender." Erin's suggestions were solid, and demonstrated that she truly grasped the theme of repurposing in this assignment—to undo any potentially damaging conditions that an artifact had done. Erin was one of many who happily embraced this assignment and seemed enthusiastic when it came to repurposing an aspect of their personal fandoms.

[2.16] The repurposing assignment pushed many students both creatively and critically. For instance, in writing on the song "The Weekend," by her favorite singer, SZA, Megan analyzed the way the song promotes competition between women that is "detrimental to the young girls listening." To repurpose this, Megan quite literally rewrote the lyrics of the song, changing them to a message that was "less competitive and more empowering." Megan was one of many students who made creative repurposing choices. Like Erin, many offered suggestions or rewrote episodes of their favorite television shows or scenes from their favorite movies. Others, like Megan, reworked song lyrics or music videos by their favorite singers/bands. Others had even more creative solutions, making tangible suggestions for how their own communities could be more inclusive, offering ways that sports controversies could have been handled better, or questioning the ways favorite actors/actresses acted in interviews. In allowing them to choose their own fandoms, students were able to produce a wide array of repurposing solutions, building their own archive of fic-like materials. Scaffolding these three assignments allowed students to work with reinvention and repurposing through ongoing inquiries into subjects of interest. It also allowed students to better understand self, talk through differences and build community between converging fandoms, and intentionally produce something new on a subject they were passionate about.

3. Beta reading over peer review

[3.1] While the larger practices of repurposing and reinvention are thematic of the fan fiction pedagogy used in this case study, this class also reflected the fan fiction community with use of beta reading. A beta reader is someone who reads through chapters of a writer's stories and gives feedback before they are published. The relationship between a writer and their beta reader is one that is collaborative and recursive, affording more reciprocity than any other relationship in the fan fiction community. In "I Write. You Write. They Write: The Literary Works of Fandom as a Factor of Integrating the Community," Agnieszka Oberc (2016) outlines the typical process of the beta reader–writer relationship, saying:

[3.2] The relationship between the author and their beta-reader is that of cooperation. The beta-reader's task is to point out potential mistakes and problems, and to suggest solutions. The author attempts to take those into consideration, then the story is discussed again. The whole process bears resemblance to negotiations, and ideally, it should lead to creating a text both the author and the beta-reader deem good. (68)

[3.3] Through the sharing and collaboration on a work, writers make themselves vulnerable by offering up a piece of reckless, often messy writing to which beta readers offer critical, yet caring, feedback. This method of collaboration is usually transparent, as both writer and beta reader are equally invested in the outcome of the fic. The beta reader is not a cold editor; they are an active participant in making a work of fan fiction possible.

[3.4] Beta readers and writers are not randomly assigned, as peer review partners in first-year writing classrooms typically are; instead, they come together over a shared project of interest. While peer review typically comes in the form of assigned writing pairs or groups who give feedback on projects students may or may not be interested in, beta reading is about mutual interest and shared passion. In "The Role of Feedback in Two Fanfiction Writing Groups," Chad Littleton (2011) says that "fanfiction communities are, in essence, self-sponsored writing groups…they are autonomous, unlike the nonautonomous groups found in a classroom setting" (8). The autonomous nature of the fan fiction community demands that feedback must be consistently reciprocal, as "writers [are] motivated by forces besides grades and tangible rewards"; instead, they "are built on trust" (8). In many ways, this communal trust fosters a more authentic, enthusiastic response than feedback delivered in a nonautonomous community, because participants only deliver such feedback when and how they want to do so (note 4). I refer to this type of authentic, enthusiastic, mutually passionate feedback as a form of pedagogical intimacy. I used this term because it "offers a different approach to the review itself, recommending a more holistic, social view than what we often assign in class" (Clemons 2015). Rarely would a beta reader or writer work with a fic that is not within a fandom they are both interested in. This shared interest and knowledge of the canon cultivates a sense of intimacy because it drives equal investment in the work. Because the work that a beta reader and writer do is often more comprehensive than the typical feedback received in peer review, they partake in a pedagogically intimate relationship.

[3.5] In this class, beta reading was not defined by a solidified assignment; instead, it was more of an ongoing collaborative process between two students throughout the semester. Early in the class, students were assigned a beta reader—another student whose drafts they read and vice versa. I paired students through an in-class activity where they shared lists of both conventional and unconventional fandoms they were part of. Students with multiple, overlapping fandoms were paired together. I did this to best mimic the passion that both writers and beta readers put into projects in the fan fiction community, working under the assumption that students with shared fandoms will work together better. Just as beta readers do, these students collaborated throughout a period of time (the semester), during which they shared feedback, dissected each other's work, and reflected on their relationships throughout the process. Beta reader pairs were required to meet six times during the semester, for three in-class workshops (one per major assignment) and three times outside of class (also once per major assignment). Each time they met outside of class, students took a selfie with each other and wrote a brief report about what they did during the meeting. Though students were guided as to how to act as a beta reader early in the semester via readings and practice activities, what they did during their meetings was entirely up to them (note 5). This relationship mimicked the typical relationship between a beta reader and a writer because pairs came together through similar interests, and feedback was adjusted to the needs of each student, varied from assignment to assignment, and was freely determined by those within the relationship.

[3.6] At the end of the semester, each student wrote a reflection on their beta reader relationship. It included commentary of their own progress in the feedback they gave as well as commentary on feedback given to them by their partner. Students were encouraged to thank their partners for the efforts they made or critique partners who they did not feel put adequate effort into building a collaborative relationship. The grade for these final reflections was determined half by what the student said about themselves and half by what their partner said of them. Although this form of grading seems manipulative, it was done to help invest students in this relationship. Knowing that what their partner said about them determined half their grade, while reflection of their own efforts served as the other half, seemed a proper motivation for students to take this assignment seriously. For the most part, these reflections produced positive results. Very few pairings seemed to have problems working together. In their reflections, many students responded positively to the beta reader relationship, noting the different ways they bonded with and tried to help their partners as the semester went on.

[3.7] For instance, in her beta reader reflection, Maggie commented on the ways that she and her partner, Simone, were able to strike a balance in their partnership. "It was a very equal situation back and forth. It was never just telling each other mistakes, it was a conversation on how things were going, it all came very natural because we worked well as a team." Maggie also added that "Working with Simone was a great learning experience because I got to see a different editing and writing style. We were able to learn from each other and I think I grew from it." Meanwhile, when writing about Maggie, Simone reflected on the ways they bonded. "My beta reader and I have a close bond now because we see the similarities that we have to one another, that weren't so obvious in the beginning of the semester. These similarities have helped us a lot in the semester to better our writing and better ourselves." Here, both Maggie and Simone described what I had hoped this ongoing beta reader assignment would produce: that two students could build a reciprocal relationship based on the foundations of similar interests and motivations to do well in the class, and that ultimately, that relationship could lead to a pedagogical intimacy like that within the fan fiction community.

4. Resistance and reflections

[4.1] However, even though there were a multitude of positive results within this class, my study still had its limitations. In both classes, a handful of students resisted the notion of being a fan of anything. During the first few weeks of class, it was a struggle to convince some students they were fans themselves. I would ask them about their favorite television shows, video games, sports teams, or hobbies; even in answering all those questions, they still resisted my insistence that liking a subject made them a fan of that subject. Perhaps this resistance came from cultural connotations of fans. While fandom and fannish behaviors have become increasingly mainstream over the last two decades, fans themselves are still largely thought of as antisocial outcasts. I also wonder about the way cultural conceptions of gender and fandom played out in my classroom. Though I had a higher ratio of female students in both sections, it was a handful of male students that were most resistant to thinking of themselves as fans. While there were several exceptions, this dynamic of male resistance and female embrace was present within both sections of this class. Historically, the fan fiction community is statistically more female than male, and more teenage than adult; that association often paints a gendered picture of fandom as silly or childish (note 6). Perhaps the resistance came from this gendered misconception. Regardless, the point here is that I did indeed encounter resistance to notion of being a fan, and that seemed to be at the core of the troubles I faced in this fan fiction pedagogy.

[4.2] This resistance was most present within the first assignment, the personal narrative. Early in the course, many students were still grappling with the ideas of fandom itself; so for them, it probably felt premature to examine self in relation to a personal fandom. However, many of the same students who struggled with the personal narrative did quite well in the outsider narrative. Students like Caleb, who provided mere surface-level analysis in their personal narrative, suddenly provided in-depth looks to fandoms they were not part of (note 7). While I believe the five weeks between the due date of the personal narrative and the outsider narrative gave them a much more grounded understanding of fandom, I also think it is more than that—it is easier to analyze and unpack something you are not part of because there is no risk there. The outsider narrative was easier for the students who struggled to consider themselves fans because they did not have to grapple with issues of self, only with that of others. To me, the transition from personal narrative to outsider narrative made sense because it moved from invention to reinvention, but I worry about the type of vulnerability I was asking of students so early in the semester with the personal narrative. Perhaps these two assignments would be better-suited if they were swapped, using examination of other as an example to later lead to examination of self, moving through reinvention first from its chaos and then to its simpler form of invention.

[4.3] The beauty of fan fiction pedagogy is that like fan fiction and fan studies itself, it has the ability to adapt as time goes on. Rearrangement of the first two assignments is not the only consideration within this pedagogy. Perhaps, to combat resistance that may be situated in cultural constructions of fan and gender, early lessons plans could include readings and activities dedicated to undoing those constructions. Additionally, in both the beta reader reflections and final class evaluations, many students commented on how much they valued the outside class meetings with their beta partners. While I initially feared that students would resist having to meet outside of class, I learned that many of them actually met up more times than was minimally required. As such, a revision of this aspect of fan fiction pedagogy could include more suggested meeting times for beta partners, or incentives for students who go above and beyond to building that pedagogical intimacy in their relationship. I was also surprised at the sheer enthusiasm students showed in their final repurposing assignment. Many students produced repurposing suggestions that were thoughtfully crafted and intelligently formed. As such, the repurposing assignment could be restructured to act as a multimodal project, in which students present their repurposing ideas to the classroom rather than merely writing them as papers for me to read. In this way, their ideas could be shared, heard, and amplified in the same way that repurposed fan fiction is shared, heard, and amplified in fan fiction communities. Although these are only a few ideas, I happily embrace the many ways I can transform this pedagogy.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Overall, both sections of this class felt like productive spaces that made use of the best aspects of the fan fiction community. I would also like to note that there were many more fan fiction practices that we used within this classroom, but as with many pedagogy case studies, a single paper cannot capture all the readings, discussions, and day-by-day minutia of what went into creating this fan fiction pedagogy. Instead, what I have attempted here is to highlight the overarching themes that defined my fan fiction pedagogy and give examples of the students who best succeeded within it. While most fan fiction pedagogies are defined either by having students write their own fan fiction or use fan fiction as texts for analysis, I chose to create a pedagogy based on the practices of the fan fiction community, not on the subjects of it. I did this in part because of my own history with fandom. As someone who has long been part of both fandom and academia, the fan fiction community served as my secondary learning space outside of the classroom. In my teenage years, fan fiction helped me to both grow and know myself. It also helped me better understand the meaning of community and what it takes to be an active member in one. Finally, it taught me the many different imaginative possibilities that I had the power to make true when writing on a fandom I love. I wanted, perhaps selfishly, to bring these same things that fandom taught me into a classroom where I could teach others.

[5.2] Of course, I wanted to do this in a way that felt new and connected to my academic home place of composition and rhetoric. I landed on the terms of invention, reinvention, and repurposing not only because they are important to composition and rhetoric, but also because they feel like the best expressions of the hands-on grappling of self and community that fan fiction is always doing—the work that many like to call transformative. Additionally, I landed here because while I delight in being a fan myself, not every student shares the same fandoms as me and I cannot assume that materials from even the most popular fandoms would be eagerly consumed by first-year writing students. In some ways, fan fiction pedagogy can be risky. If you're forcing your own fandoms into the classroom, you leave very little space for students to find their own voices, understand themselves, or participate in the communities they are part of. A fan fiction pedagogy where the teacher's own fannish passions are the only subjects of study feels antithetical to the democratic, autonomous nature of the fan fiction community itself. In finding the bridge where fan studies and composition studies meet, I was avoiding a classroom that might deliver such a limited understanding of fandom. In short, I wanted a fan fiction pedagogy that allowed students to be fans within their own rights, not the type of fans I expected them to be.

[5.3] Which brings me to my final conclusion, that an essential factor to a fan fiction pedagogy that suits the needs of a first-year writing classroom is a pedagogy that must be willing to continually transform. I developed this pedagogy to uniquely fit the needs of institution and participants, one that aligned with UNL's requirements for first-year writing classrooms as well as accounted for students' own subjects of interest. While the fan fiction community, and its many autonomous, democratic practices, felt like a good place to begin, the pedagogy still needed to move through a filter of composition scholarship. This case study was a good starting place to gain some insight into what happens when you ask students to address themselves as fans and then grapple with self, community, and each other. In other words, you could say that my interest in fan fiction pedagogy is an ongoing WIP, centered around my own love of fandom and my initiative to help students better understand self and their larger part in the world outside of the classroom. There are still a few chapters left to write, but it will get there, one transformation at a time.

6. Notes

1. Not all scholars who implement fan pedagogy regard themselves as acafans, and the terms itself has carried different connotations from it creation to current times. More about it can be read on Henry Jenkins's blog (

2. Students signed permission forms early in the semester for their writing to be shared; however, all student names featured in this paper are pseudonyms.

3. The racebending Hermione fan fiction I gave students to read can be found here: The genderbending MCU fan fiction they read can be found here:

4. The overlap between peer review and beta reading has been tackled by many fan scholars across a variety of platforms. I would like to note that my explanation of the beta reading relationship cannot encompass all of that scholarship, and instead, I am seeking to highlight what most served my creation of this fan fiction pedagogy.

5. I really wanted to model the way beta reader relationships worked in the fan fiction community, so the students were given no specific set of directions/assignments/instructions for how to be a beta reader. Instead, we read about and discussed roles of beta readers early in the semester. Students were directed to refer to their reading list ( to guide their beta reader relationship.

6. As a whole, the fan fiction community is so disparate that to perform a complete census of demographics would be impossible. This sentence about being majority female and teenager refers to a 2013 census of Archive of Our Own (AO3) users via Tumblr ( In total, the census yielded over 10,000 responses. These numbers reflect only a portion of the fan fiction community; but since AO3 is one of the largest archives of fan fiction online, these limited numbers work as a sample size of the typical fan fiction community's populace.

7. Caleb is the same student whose outsider narrative on The Bachelor was featured above.

7. References

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Clemons, Amy. 2015. "Fandom in the Classroom: Fanfic As/Is Pedagogy." MediaCommons, April 14, 2015.

DeLuca, Katherine. 2018. "Shared Passions, Shared Compositions: Online Fandom Communities and Affinity Groups as Sites for Public Writing Pedagogy." Computers and Composition 47:75–92.

Heiden, Kat. 2016. "The Value of Fanfiction: Female Empowerment, Identity Building, and Resistance." PhD diss., Gonzaga University.

Karalius, Kimberly. 2012. "Fanfiction in the Composition Classroom." WritingCommons, May 16, 2012.

Larson, Richard L. 1999. "A Plan for Teaching Rhetorical Invention." In Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, edited by Edward Corbett and Robert Conners, 137–43. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Littleton, Chad Eric. 2011. "The Role of Feedback in Two Fanfiction Writing Groups." PhD diss., Indiana University.

Oberc, Agnieszka. 2016. "I Write. You Write. They Write: The Literary Works of Fandom as a Factor in Integrating the Community." In On-Line/Off-Line: Between Text and Experience: Writing as a Lifestyle, edited by Peter Gärdenfors, et al., 63–74. Łódź-Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press.

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Sauro, Shannon. 2017. "Bringing Fanfiction to the English Classroom." Shannon Sauro (blog), February 6, 2017.

Stenberg, Shari. 2015. Repurposing Composition: Feminist Interventions for a Neoliberal Age. Logan: Utah State University Press.