I consider my teaching a service that helps students become wiser and more autonomous researchers and writers who can enrich their professional and civic communities. To this end of elevating members of their communities, I believe students should learn and demonstrate important characteristics of effective and ethical communication: vulnerability, responsibility, risk-taking, and co-authority. I teach and model these mindsets through a variety of methods in my classroom teaching.
I Teach Students to Be Vulnerable Communicators
I encourage students to embrace gaps in their knowledge. Basking in moments of uncertainty, I believe, can help writers find new generative ideas for their research and writing. In peer review sessions and writing workshops, for example, students become vulnerable to critique when they test out their arguments and the designs of their digital media projects. In my directions, I remind students to use tensions that arises out of that vulnerability to ask one another questions that help them strengthen their work. Thus, students have a conversation on what arguments seems convincing, what arguments can expand, and what observations may move in a different direction. These conversations have led to stronger, more developed arguments and better designed digital media. Students are able to grasp that the most meaningful breakthroughs stem from stepping what they know, from pressing on questions that may rile up their emotions. By engaging in the importance of vulnerable communication, students find a model for helping themselves and others reach their highest potential as professionals and citizens.
I Teach Students to Be Responsible Community Members
In the first unit of my intermediate writing course called Writing and Algorithmic Rhetorics, I designed an opening sequence that focuses on digital literacy and its consequences. The combination of digital autoethnographies and readings on the ideologies that guide the design of social media help students tease out the subtle impact digital writing technologies can have on everyday life. For practical application, students produce a video remix or mash-up that redirects conversations on current issues. Throughout this unit, they show awareness of what it means to publish and circulate their ideas to the public. One student in my class did a project on how being vegan supports environmental sustainability. The student gathered documentary clips from a variety of sources and narrated his own argument over the remix. He saw that his video would at least ask his audience to consider how their food consumption supported deforestation and prompt them to make better food choices. Thus, students come to learn how their literacies and social positions award them some power and privilege over others. Not all students are in a context where they reflect on their positionality. In my teaching, I bring students to thoughtfully reflect on their relationships with difference. Designing assignments in this way allow students learn to how to be socially conscious communicators responsible for the impact their ideas can have on others’ lives.
I Teach Students to Be Experimental Risk-Takers
In my classroom, the writing process requires that students never settle for the first idea they think of; instead, they use divergent thinking to discover and try other possible ideas. In my Arguing in Digital Spaces course assign three major writing projects that invite them to switch rhetorical strategies for each new assignment. Thus, students can argue about a topic in a digital platform of their own choosing for each project. To maximize that freedom, I write on the board a list of media platforms they might create: remix videos, podcasts, photo essays, online publication, or a Twine game, among others. Students will comment on how unfamiliar they are with some genres; this discomfort, I assure them, can lead to exploring the affordances and constraints of the technology, testing out the possible ways they can express an argument. However, I also offer to help students access and learn these technologies. This process of experimenting and risk-taking continues even as they revise their media projects after the initial final grade. Students learn how to learn, a skill more valuable than memorizing concepts, and that learning to learn means to take risks after careful study and reflection. Taking risks may lead to novel approaches that generate new ideas; this habit can make them independent, self-motivated learners that leads to successful writing and research.
I Teach Students to Share Their Authority
As a teacher, I’m interested in working with my students to develop knowledge. Thus, central to my teaching is having students build their own theories on digital literacy and writing and then put them alongside established scholarship to deepen their own learning. In my introduction to college writing course, for example, I ask my students to reflect on their writing process for each project and develop their takeaways on writing in general. Meanwhile, in an intermediate course on argumentation in digital spaces, students complete an assignment at the end of the semester in which they offer guidelines to future students how to argue effectively using digital media. I ask my students to resist ideas when appropriate, to adopt what best fits their thinking and learning and helps them see the directions they can take their research and writing. The “theory-building” students commit in my classes emphasizes that knowledge is a social construction and thus malleable. Co-designing knowledge identifies what students value, develop shared vocabulary, negotiate area differences, and provide students with a sense of agency over their own learning.
Vulnerability, responsibility, creativity, and co-authority—these mindsets are not exhaustive of being an effective communicator. But they overlap into a pedagogy that I hope enriches my students and helps them reach their full human potential across their lifespan and across multiple contexts.