Archive | classroom RSS feed for this section

Teaching Philosophy: A Work in Progress

My philosophy of teaching opens with the premise that I teach students, not professional or academic communication. Students enter the classroom with years of writing and communication experience, and among the first goals of any course I teach is to guide students to recognize their existing practices as experiences on which to build. This approach helps me better understand the strengths and challenges each student brings into the classroom, and develops an ethos of care and understanding by valuing the composing activities in which students already engage. When students report they regularly compose social media posts and text messages, we’re immediately able to examine the generic expectations emerging around different kinds of posts and messages and to identity the audience, purpose, content, and style of message genres. This rhetorical approach to communication practices both values students as writers and demonstrates the rhetorical approach to composing that I bring to any composition-intensive course.

My teaching philosophy is refined by demonstrating that I join students in a community of learners. I seek to facilitate the advancement of students’ composing practices through instruction, practice, feedback, and iteration. While I represent the class subject matter expert on composing theory and practices, I willingly share my own learning experiences, including my writing challenges and successes, to demonstrate my approach to composing as continually working toward, but not quite achieving, mastery. Rather than focusing on lecture as a primary instructional strategy, I seek to engage students in Socratic dialogues on composing strategies writ broadly. Dialogue content ranges widely, but I encourage students to make claims, recognize warrants, provide evidence, and generate counter claims about specific strategies like document design, the ethics of data visualizations, and using un-gendered language and imagery. Facilitating such dialogues provides opportunities for students to engage in community learning experiences all — students and teachers — work and learn together.

Nurturing a community of learners reflects my approach to composing as a collaborative activity, practiced in social contexts. As a result, my classroom is not only orally collaborative through Socratic dialogue, but also textually and technologically collaborative through hardware and software. I prefer to teach composition-intensive classes in a computer lab, where the technologically mediated experience of composing is obvious and clearly displayed. I require students to compose in collaborative settings through group composing activities, collaborative synchronous composing using Google Docs, and peer review sessions using Google Docs. I understand teaching as a collaboration among students and teachers, and I tend to use the classroom environment, packed with technological affordances for collaboration, to model this understanding. Like my students, I also engage in collaboration through reviewing drafts in Google Docs and providing feedback that can be seen not only by the writer, but also by the student’s composing partners. I do this not to shame students, but to demonstrate that composing happens in social environments and to provide feedback that other students may be able to apply to their own work.

I focus attention on the collaborative, social context of composing because I seek to prepare students to compose in workplace contexts where collaboration is the norm, not the exception. Nearly two decades of experience working in higher education marketing and communication inform this collaborative approach. Workplace composing necessarily happens in social contexts, often imbued with undertones of workplace politics, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Workplace contexts regularly require joint authorship and the sharing of rhetorical agency while navigating these undertones. I seek to create a classroom environment where collaboration among weaker and stronger composers, among native and non-native English speakers, and among speakers of multiple Englishes, is practiced, valued, and honed. I trust such activities prepare students to compose in workplace environments, even when their composition assignments are academic in nature.

I operationalize my philosophy of teaching by assigning compositions that seek to address a specific problem in society. In a classroom focused on academic composing, assignments focus on solving a public problem. In a classroom focused on business and professional communication, assignments focus on professional and workplace problems that need to be solved. In both contexts, I seek to create assignments that students have agency to shape to problems and situations in their field, major, discipline, profession, or area of interest. I also encourage open conversations about social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to make and support their own claims about contemporary issues and policies and to challenge claims made around these issues by others, either in our beyond the classroom walls. These conversations are planned around assignments toward scaffolding composing experiences from the conceptual to the practical. I facilitate classroom and online conversations; given my preference for technology-mediated classrooms, I include online discussion expectations in classroom-based, in-class/online hybrid, and online learning environments.

 I seek to improve instruction with every class I teach. Beyond formal course evaluations, I provide time and space for students to share what worked and didn’t work in each class I teach. While power differentials between teacher and students necessarily color feedback, I am pleasantly and regularly pleased that students willingly provide honest critical feedback when asked. I trust and believe this comes as a result of facilitating a community of learners in which all voices, including dissenting opinions, are not hushed, but heard and valued. I reflect on feedback I receive and combine it with personal reflections on students’ progress to adjust learning activities, instructional design, assessment rubrics, teaching style and mode, and the syllabus to ensure improvement. I seek improved pedagogies with each passing semester, and I actively seek them out when they are not immediately forthcoming from feedback or reflection. I seek out teachable moments, whether they come from campus lectures or events, blog posts or news items, emerging scholarship, conferences sessions, colleagues and students themselves, and look to incorporate them into classroom discussions, readings, and assignments when possible. I seek to adapt to student needs, to adapt to the teaching environment, and to adapt to the contexts in which instruction occurs — political, economic, social, emotional, and intellectual — in each class I teach.

Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Technology as a Classroom Distraction for Students

Essay in Inside Higher Education by Mary Flanagan, distinguished professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth College and a fellow of The OpEd Project.

Flanagan concludes with this plea:

We need a culture change to manage our use of technology, to connect when we want to and not because we psychologically depend on it. Enough is enough. We need strategies for unplugging when appropriate to create a culture of listening and of dialogue. Otherwise, $20,000 to $60,000 a year is a hefty entrance fee to an arcade.

While this conclusion resonates with me, as a technophile and college composition teacher I’d like a more nuanced approach to the encroachment of technology on the classroom environment. Sometimes students don’t recognize their reliance on the technology to alleviate boredom, to stay connected and “in the know,” or simply to distract themselves.

I assigned an in-class collaborative writing activity in a networked computer classroom with a student population of working professionals. We used a shared Google Doc as our creative canvas, but I encouraged students in the written and oral instructions to use all affordances offered by the classroom.

The result was absolute silence, less the tapping of keyboard keys.

Rather than using the immediately-available affordance of face-to-face collaboration, students remained entirely engrossed in their technology-mediated collaborative space. I ended up reminding them that the classroom offered additional collaborative opportunities and tools, which prompted several of them to say a metaphorical Homer Simpson “Doh!” when they realized they could have simply talked to one another about the assignment.

While this reinforces Flanagan’s conclusion that students need to unplug from their technologies and they need to understand how and when to unplug, I think students probably also need to understand and recognize their reliance on technology as an issue. This kind of education — that eliminates the need to whisper in a student’s ear that his or her technology use is inappropriate in that context — is an important part of our responsibility as technophiles in the classroom.

Mapping the Ecology of My Classroom: Jepson G20

On Wednesday nights this semester I teach ENGL 201U, Critical Writing and Research, at the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. The class is offered face-to-face for 15 weeks, although there are online requirements. I teach the class in Jepson Hall G20, a collaborative computer lab originally designed for English writing classes (and recently redesigned for film studies) in consultation with our Writing Center director, Dr. Joe Essid. The classroom is rectangular, with two standard door entrances and a bank of windows facing an inner hallway. The classroom has no outside view; it’s an internal room in the basement of the building. One of the long walls holds the projection screen, which is served by a bright, relatively new, widescreen, high definition projector. The instructor station and computer, where the controls of the projection unit are housed, is in a corner opposite the projection screen, which means an instructor who uses the screen must navigate multimedia presentations and components from the “back” corner of the classroom. There is no wireless keyboard or wireless “clicker” for navigation.

Students in my class sit at a computer workstations situated around large round tables. There are 6 or 7 workstations per table, but my class has only 13 students, so space is never a problem. I expect them to log into their computer workstations and to open our course syllabus, a shared Google Document. Students engage in online activities via their workstation computers multiple times during every class session. They sometimes view additional material on the projection screen that may not be available on their own screens, although I’ve minimized instances when projection-screen-only material exists. I alternately sit or stand at the back of the room at the instructor computer, navigating various online resources, sit or stand at a portable highboy table that generally holds my text and notes, and walk around the classroom.

The first night of class, I walked the students through a rhetorical analysis of the classroom environment. This is something I’ve been doing with students since I taught high school English, and I’m always fascinated at the reaction to “reading” a room. In this case, our classroom is equipped with top-of-the-line technology (placement of the instructor console aside), painted attractively and professionally, not institutionally (dark-grained woodstain has that effect), brightly lit, and arranged for optimal online collaboration. Personal collaboration with those sitting within one or two seats of each other is also optimal, but the height of the iMac monitors makes cross-table collaboration (and, frankly, lecturing) almost impossible. Our analysis concluded that the room was designed with collaborative, computer-aided instructional experiences in mind. Its design and color match the other classrooms in the building, many of which are also computer classrooms or computer labs, and it fits into the small private liberal arts college oeuvre.

classroom ecology map

Affordance Map of the Ecology of my ENGL 201U classroom at the University of Richmond.

That’s our learning environment. Following Bateson’s (1972/1987) logic, the classroom environment is an ecological unit, a distributed intelligence, that works together toward learning. Individuals cannot and should not be separated from the collective in this environment; the environment itself affords distributed, collaborative learning (p. 470). The affordances of the environment can be mapped among students and their interactions with technology, instructor, text, and furnishings.

iMacs afford students “trace-making” abilities (Gibson, 1979/1986) that enable them to participate in instructional activities by writing answers in Google Drive. iMacs also enable them to collaborate in peer reading sessions and to provide meaningful written feedback to one another. These affordances are often combined with the affordances of clear instructions, models for writing, and learning activities found in their textbooks. Textbooks also afford homework and portfolio project assignments, significant aspects of the course.

Furnishings afford collaboration, vital to discursive formation. Whether the collaboration is formal (part of learning activity) or informal (sharing common experiences and the like), the result is strengthening of discursive ties among the members of the class. I join in such collaborations whenever appropriate and possible to continue building stronger ties. Round tables ensure students are able to talk with one another (although the iMac monitor heights removes the collaborative affordance across each table). The data projector and screen enable me as instructor to display instructions or resources that students can then use in their independent and collaborative work, affording additional trace-making without requiring students to have multiple monitors. And even the monitor size afford multiple windows to be open, enabling additional collaboration with the larger Internet through searching and copying data in one window and interacting with, revising, even sampling that collected data in another window.

Of course, the furnishing also afford plenty of distractions. Large monitor sizes and fast Internet connections also afford non-instructional resources to be viewed, downloaded, and manipulated. However, I consider this affordance to be part and parcel of a 21st century connected classroom, and I seek to engage the “non-instructional” materials in the instructional experience as texts to be read and analyzed. So when NCAA March Madness breaks out and games are streamed and watch, I will work to bring such material into the ecology of the classroom in a meaningful way. To me, this is the challenge and goal of 21st century instruction. The streaming game is part of the ecology of the class, too, and I can ignore it, attempt to ban it, or incorporate it into the instructional objectives of the class. After all, I am also part of the ecology and among the affordances into the classroom.

References

Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Gibson, J. J. (1979/1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[Classroom header photo: Jepson Hall G20. CC licensed image from Flickr user (and UR staff member and my master’s degree grad school classmate) Kevin Creamer]