My pedagogical axiom for learning is, “If we're not having fun, we're not doing it right.” This isn’t to say that my teaching style encourages a wanton free-for-all; rather, I mean to invoke what a former professor of mine called “serious fun.” If both students and instructor are engaged in a thoughtful mental exercise accompanied by the practice of reading, interacting with, and creating texts, the fun results from the nexus between these activities. I define text through a lens of semiotics as anything intended to communicate meaning, whether that text is written, visual, oral, or aural. It is in the interplay of intellect and praxis where I believe that the most effective and provocative learning occurs. Therefore, I am committed to scaffolding students’ critical thinking by designing curricula that combine theories and practices of rhetoric, writing, and technology to interrogate their existing notions of each.
As a teacher-scholar interested in the both technical communication and writing center studies, I value two shared pedagogies between these fields: collaboration and multiliteracies. First, a pedagogy of collaboration is based upon a theory of social cognition where humans learn by interacting, solving problems, and questioning what we know. Both the writing center and technical communication fields offer important contributions to how humans work together in ways mediated by texts. In writing centers, collaboration typically takes place between a writer and a tutor who negotiate meaning-making, but the writer ultimately retains ownership of the text. In technical communication, collaboration happens among many participants and authorship is often collective instead of individual. Exposing students to both kinds of collaboration prepares them to democratically produce texts, knowledge, and technologies. In my courses, students have worked collaboratively by conducting peer reviews on one another’s individual assignments and by collectively developing a website.
Second, I enact a pedagogy of multiliteracies by drawing upon a critical theory of technology. I understand multiliteracies to be predicated on the notion that technology is not merely a benign tool, but one imbued with human intentions and values that prompt rhetorical production. Accordingly, in my courses, students use technology to access texts, critique their own and others’ use of technologies and texts, and finally create texts with a rhetorical understanding of technology. For example, in my Science Writing course, students read science stories from online publications, examined the stories for written and visual rhetorical techniques, and then wrote their own stories with online publication in mind. Each student’s story is available on the website of the Virginia Tech Center for Communicating Science.
I treat writing as beginnings to knowledge-making. Enacting functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies is a beginning, a threshold event (Carter), which poises students to treat technology differently than they have previously. For instance, many of my students use the internet and social media, but when I assign an infographic or an instructional GIF project to exercise students’ knowledge of multiliteracies, I find that they are using various software or digital interfaces for the first time. Once they wrestle with technology to produce a digital text, they begin to understand how an interface’s affordances and drawbacks affect their digital design. That process of discovering how to use various software applications for textual construction and information design is generative for my students, and it encourages them to apply their newfound skills in other knowledge-making endeavors. After analyzing my syllabus infographic, students in my Professional Writing course then decided to employ the same genre for another assignment in which they needed to present a summary of the previous class period.
I view rhetoric as situational and accordingly challenge students to use what they learn from course readings and activities to determine the most appropriate medium for fashioning and delivering a text. In my Professional Writing course, one student chose to design a poster because her intended audience was elementary school children and she envisioned it hanging in their classroom. Through this practice, my students learn to regard rhetoric as situational: the medium that works for one audience does not work as well for another because their situations differ. Another student in the same class created a website intended to reach middle schoolers, who she reasoned were more likely to access the internet when looking for ways to counteract bullying. By pressing students to map out their exigence, audience, and constraints in assignments exercising multiliteracies, my goal is to equip them to respond critically and rhetorically in future situations where making texts is exigent.
ReferencesCarter, M. (2003). Where Writing Begins: A Postmodern Reconstruction. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Selber, S. A. (2004). Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Examples of My Students' Projects
- Science Writing students collaboratively created a website highlighting the concepts and skills they felt other science communicators should know. I recoded this website using Bootstrap and GitHub to eradicate advertisements and include more of the students' design requests that couldn't be accomplished with WordPress (such as an accordion feature on the Spotlight Interviews page).
- Science Writing students collaborated with Virginia Tech's Center for Communicating Science and the Fralin Life Science Institute to interview and write science stories about STEM graduate students who are female and/or people of color.