Teaching Philosophy Statement
Over the last 10+ years as a college level instructor, I have come to approach teaching as an act of collective engagement, in which students and I collaborate in serious, yet lively critical dialogue, knowledge production, and civic action. While rhetorical and analytical approaches have always grounded my pedagogy, invention-based approaches emphasizing relational thinking, visual play, and public engagement increasingly play a productive role in fostering student learning. Whether teaching an introductory or advanced course in rhetoric and writing, in traditional or on-line communities, these approaches reliably offer students opportunities to grow as writers, researchers, thinkers, and rhetors engaged in civic participation.
Relational thinking recognizes and produces connectivity between and among seemingly disparate ideas, events, artifacts, and peoples. In my pedagogy, relational thinking ranges from making interpersonal connections to identifying patterns to synthesizing information to recognizing interdependence. As a means of both interpretation and invention, relational thinking helps students move away from binary modes of thinking toward finding and creating meaningful solutions. It encourages, in other words, students to invent fresh ideas and generate new possibilities out of divergent thought, synthesis, and insights. In my classroom, relational thinking also encourages suspended judgment, looking at a situation from multiple perspectives, practicing empathy, and drawing on diverse sources to generate productive research questions. In essence, when grappling with complex issues, relational thinking promotes an approach to research and writing that says “perhaps, and” rather than “yes, but.”
As an example of how my pedagogy fosters relational thinking, I ask students in my Geopolitics of Writing, Knowledge, and Resistance course to explore the links between rhetoric, colonization, and modernity. Throughout the semester, students: identify verbal and visual connections across a wide collection of historical and contemporary artifacts; put archival sources into conversation with contemporary post-colonial, subaltern, and rhetorical theories; and recognize interrelated issues of exigence across culture and time. In their formal seminar papers, students craft multi-media arguments about relations between historical and contemporary rhetorics of empire and imperialism. Yet students also take an active approach to create rhetorics of resistance that relate to problems identified throughout their research. So, for instance, if students investigate problems of representation with women from "the East," students may generate alternative representations that work to create new ways of seeing and understanding. Such relations between research and resistance helps students put their knowledge into productive action so they can better understand their own potential to intervene with the problems around them.
I also encourage visual play in my courses. This praxis is influenced by an acute awareness that visual rhetoric and digital technologies play an active role in shaping how we perceive, interpret, understand and interact with the world around us. Visual thinking, at its most simple level, can be defined as using images in the abstract and concrete sense to help solve problems, think through complex issues, and communicate effectively. I encourage visual thinking, or what I like to call visual play, throughout rhetorical production in physical and online spaces.
As evidence, in my courses, I teach visual analysis as a research method for generating rich, complex inquiries that have exigence on both a local and global scale. Yet, I also teach visual production as a means to enact meaningful change. In my course Discourses in Place, for instance, students draw on qualitative methods of geosemiotics to explore visual signs functioning in public space. In this course, students adopt a civic ethos to observe how signs in their own communities attempt to shape public action and warrant further investigation. In my Writing, Public Culture and (Viral) Circulation course, on the other hand, students design and implement their own social campaigns in which they produce a variety of visual rhetorics (blogs, videos, posters, websites, etc.) and image events to attract and sustain a public. Such work helps students realize that their writing and visual designs can actually matter to the communities of which they are a part.
Visual play also helps students share their ideas and their attempts to rhetorically engage in civic action. In TEDTalks and Pecha Kucha presentations, for example, students draw on Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen principles to design and deliver multi-media presentations in public spaces. Whether sharing their work with friends in a local gallery or with community members in a popular coffee shop, students take ownership of their ideas as they enhance their public speaking skills. Yet visual play as delivery is also a means for students to think through their topics of inquiry. As I have written about in "An Inconvenient Tool," when students showcase and discuss their work during the production process, students testify that such visual play helps to revise their ideas and generate new directions for their current projects.
As I have come to learn through my teaching experiences, such examples of public engagement, when coupled with relational thinking and visual play, especially prove constructive to student learning. In all my courses, public engagement, like my own pedagogy, manifests in problem solving, serious play, risk taking, and meaningful interactions. Whether students in my Advanced Exposition course choose to produce their own feminist empowerment blogs or generate a new ethics of cellphone behavior in their social campaigns, students are encouraged to stretch beyond a quotidian purpose to generate inquiries and solutions that have exigence for themselves and their communities. I have been delighted over the past few years to watch such civic efforts result in meaningful protests that attract media attention, new alliances with campus organizations, and ongoing student services. Such experiences, I am especially proud to say, have helped students land jobs as social media liaisons, public relations directors, and campaign organizers.
In sum, I just want to say that in weaving together these inventive threads, my pedagogy aims to foster well-rounded thinkers and creative risk-takers who can participate effectively and meaningfully in civic life. Whether faced with the need to find creative solutions to community problems or to design digital spaces to fulfill personal goals, my pedagogy emphasizes the role of rhetoric and writing in productive action. While approaches promoting relational thinking, visual play, and public engagement are certainly not the only ways to foster strong communicative habits, these approaches seem particularly useful in preparing students to engage and compose productively in the 21st century.