What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
I try to engage students by designing my courses around student interests and projects, so that we link research and theory to practice in ways that are directly meaningful to students as they work on their projects. So, while theory and research helps them see and shape their interests and projects in new ways, their projects also raise thought-provoking questions for research and theory and contribute much to class discussion and learning. And that also makes for a fun mutual learning experience.
I also like to start my courses with student questions. Then, throughout the semester, we go back to those questions and look at the ways in which different readings and discussions might help us address, reframe, or rethink those questions.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
Given the nature of my area of research (Rhetoric and Writing Studies), students put together their various responses to readings, drafts of their writing projects, peer reviews, and so on in a portfolio and then write a reflective essay about their learning as a writer in their given research culture. Students also often come with quite a bit of anxiety about writing, so it’s important to create a space for them to be able to take risks and experiment with their writing based on what they are learning about writing, and to say, “Well, I’ve tried this, and this is what I’ve learned.” The portfolio is a very important way for them to reflect on their learning experience, and what I look for in that portfolio is, among other things, what kinds of risks they have taken, what they have learned from taking those risks, and what they might do differently in the future. So, the reflection is really the heart of the course and what pulls all the research and theory together with their own learning experience.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
I think one of the things that students learn regardless of their discipline is that when we ask people to write a specific way, we ask them to think in a particular way, to be a particular way, and to do things in a particular way—ways that people may at times have good reason to resist. These ways are specific to a particular research culture, and they are tacit and normalized, so that they tend to escape reflection and dialogue. So, it’s important to me that students start to ask questions about what kinds of thinking and being we “discipline people into” when we ask them to write in particular ways. For example, I want them to ask: Why is a particular topic not appropriate in a certain genre? Why is an adversarial argument persuasive?
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
My area of research, Rhetoric and Writing Studies, is kind of interesting in this regard in that it is a relatively recent development, so that students are mostly familiar with the glut of non-research based advice on writing that is flooding the market. So, my course on writing, then, in itself becomes an interesting exercise in understanding the roles of research in everyday life as the students engage with the research on writing and shift their understanding of what writing is, does, and can be, and consequently how they think and go about writing in their everyday lives.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
Well, Teaching and Learning Services, that’s for sure! It’s been really helpful for me to have these conversations about teaching and learning with colleagues from across disciplines and people who have thought deeply about teaching and learning.
Another point is that we often tend to think that we have to integrate our research into our teaching, but teaching is also very important for research because it is a discursive act. When you teach, you have to talk through, think through, and write through the way your discipline understands something, and that leads to new ways of thinking, articulating, probing, and questioning that I think we don’t tap into enough. It’s not just that we need to integrate our research into our teaching, but it’s also that our teaching is an important discursive site for thinking about and engaging in our research.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
Well, a lot of times, I have found it is very helpful for students to reflect on what they’re interested in, why they’re interested in it, and what’s really important and meaningful to them. I think the more they can bring their own interests and questions into the class, the more they and everyone else learns. I think students have lots to offer.
Why do you teach?
The most beautiful part about teaching for me is that students come with amazing ideas for research and with wonderful questions that are so meaningful and important. Teaching for me is about taking that strong passion for inquiry in students and helping them shape it, and bring it out, and contribute that to the various communities in which they participate. Being able to guide them in realizing and shaping their passion for inquiry is a very rewarding part of teaching for me.