My teaching philosophy is grounded in my own identity as an interdisciplinary scholar and commitment to the value of a liberal arts education. Courses that provide students with the opportunity to acquire, develop, and demonstrate advanced literacy and communication skills are useful for students’ academic endeavors and their ongoing professional and personal development. In the face of higher education’s increased corporatization and fraught political debates, core literacy and communication skills as the backbone of a liberal arts education remain central to the development of an informed, engaged, and articulate citizenry.
In design and implementation, courses I teach engage students in building these critical skills based on their existing experience and knowledge, allowing participation from classrooms that present a diverse range of skills, interests, and prior educational experience. As an example, I designed a Rhetoric of Sport curriculum (part of the University of Iowa’s general education curriculum) that used issues, events, and conversations within American sport as an entry point for broader conversations about identity, power, meaning, and representation. Since students self-select to participate in the thematic curriculum, student engagement and the classroom environment benefit from the common denominator of an interest in sport, bringing together NCAA student athletes, students from outside the United States, and students in sport and recreation-related majors, as well as students from a range of majors who have a particular interest in sport. As higher-order thinking skills are introduced based on a foundation of lower-order thinking skills, students develop and hone their ability to engage critically with a wide range of information sources, from complex scholarly content to multimodal rhetoric from popular culture. As an American Studies scholar, I believe both rigorous scholarly research and mainstream popular culture provide valuable insights, and I convey that significance to my students through presenting a wide range of materials for observation, analysis, and reflection, equipping students with skills to think critically about the discourses they encounter both within and beyond their academic experience.
Through presenting popular culture as a rich site for analysis, research, and interpretation, I challenge students to think about underlying cultural, economic, and political structures, and over the course of the semester equip students to think critically about the relationships between power, identity, and representation. Assignments like analyzing sport-related advertisements, mapping how sport-related topics or events are shared through social media, and arguing for a particular interpretation of a sport film are all experiences that hone students’ literacy and communication skills, while also using sport to elevate their level of investment and engagement.
Additionally, I draw on my own expertise in digital humanities, digital pedagogy, and multimodal composition to build these skills into various aspects of my teaching practice. Through redesigned standard writing and speaking projects, students become familiar with blogging, web publishing, social media research, and other digital content presentation forms. As an example, while I was teaching the self-designed Rhetoric of Sport curriculum, I initiated a multi-year collaboration with the University of Iowa’s University Archive, the Digital Studio for Scholarship and Publishing, and Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning Library’s Special Collections and University Archives that gave students the opportunity to do primary source research on sport-related topics from the University of Iowa’s own history. Students’ final project in the course was a narrated video they created based on their primary source research, a project that gave students the opportunity to learn more about their own institution’s history while also gaining facility with primary sources, digital media, and multi-modal rhetoric.
As students further develop the ability to communicate their own observations and opinions with clarity and complexity, I challenge students to see diverse ways of reading a particular cultural text in relation to the place of civility and mutual respect in an engaged classroom setting. While students may be initially skeptical about devoting class time to addressing a topic like class discussions, I use that foundation to navigate differences of opinion or interpretation that arise in future conversations and prompt students to increase their degree of critical reflexivity about their own cognitive processes to consider the often arbitrary and constructed nature of cultural and textual authority.
Rather than guide students toward a singular interpretation of a particular text, I equip students to critically engage with readings and evaluate larger themes and issues through synthesizing relevant source information. Students draw on their own experiences, on their own terms, using the analytical frameworks presented in the course to think critically and reflexively about those discourses. By giving students that level of responsibility and agency, I am able to increase their level of investment and engagement in their own learning experience. In choosing learning objectives and designing learning activities, I am aware that not all students possess identical cultural, social, religions, and economic experiences or frameworks. Having that diversity in the classroom creates a unique space for students to learn and explore, and I strategically include assignments and projects that require students to work collaboratively in order to challenge students to recognize and navigate those differences. I have students work collaboratively to analyze pieces of rhetoric like advertisements, films, and music videos, and also task students to work in small groups designing and facilitating a reading discussion so all students have the opportunity to lead, direct, and manage the classroom over the course of the semester.