My approach to teaching was built in the most inspiring and challenging of situations. I began my teaching career at an adult literacy center in inner city Baltimore, where most of my students were returning to school, often coming back after having facing failure or fear due to disability, economics, or the distractions of complex lives. We worked on basic skills, with a shared understanding that all progress marked a victory. The indomitable motivation these students possessed inspired me to pursue my passion for teaching, despite the obstacles in my way. This experience led me to obtain a “teaching in the two-year college” certificate in my master’s program by teaching at Harold Washington Community College, and then to request my doctoral teaching fellowship post at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), CUNY. In both urban community college systems, students were coming from disenfranchised school districts, most learning English as a second (third, or fourth) language, and many commuting from neighborhoods plagued by violence and poverty. The diversity of experience each student brought to the classroom taught me to adapt my strategies to meet the needs of each individual, and led me to encourage my students to learn from one another. I continue to apply this philosophy of student-centered learning in my teaching career, while developing innovative methods to bolster digital literacy skills and media fluency.
As I progress through my teaching career the spaces and tools of composition change, opening the walls of the classroom and expanding the possibilities for public engagement. As my understanding of new media deepens in complexity, my teaching methods develop in sophistication. The icebreaker in my “Thinking and Writing Through New Media” course demonstrates students write publicly in digital spaces extensively before entering college; the prompt asks students to first introduce me via results from a Google search, then write introductions of a classmate on our course blog using what they discover online. The resulting posts are media rich, artfully researched, and thoughtfully presented stories, which serve to build community and spark their critical engagement as digital citizens. This line of inquiry extends into discussions of privacy, surveillance, and filter bubbles, supported by close readings of critical theory and new media scholarship. Students crowdsource their annotations of these texts, and create public bibliographies on our blog to share their work. Each student must also turn their inquiry inward, creating “digital literacy narratives” using interactive timeline creators they contextualize and reflect upon through oral and written presentations. Next, they choose one tool from their narrative to investigate in-depth by researching issues of labor, environmental impact, copyright, and planned obsolescence. Finally, fictional depictions of technology in novels, short stories, plays, and film to inspire students to engage in the work of “design fiction” by developing, pitching, and collaboratively designing a writing technology of their own creation. Students move from consuming technology, to creating it; reading literature, to writing it; considering criticism, to engaging in it, and emerge with a meta-awareness of their own process.
I extend my focus on process through my assessment strategy by scaffolding course projects through low-stakes assignments and by grading students on their participation and effort portfolio-style. Assessing work that is collaborative, multimodal, and experimental, while encouraging students to “fail forward,” remains a challenge. Although intimidating to students, and difficult to assess, I integrate group work and introduce new tools into assignments because I believe that this will prepare them to succeed both within and outside the academy. I know this to be effective from feedback on student evaluations: for example, students feel “better prepared for the rest of my college career” and that “she helped me a lot in my journey of writing,” and “she made it easy to learn.” Which is reinforced by faculty observations, which reiterate, “I believe she wants all of her students to succeed,” and that “Amanda cared about the students both as learners and as people with lives outside of the classroom.”
A participatory learning environment thrives on a difference in perspective created by diverse student backgrounds and varying levels of experience. This means breaking down the novice-expert roles, and learning from our students and peers. My syllabi are a collection of ideas I adapted from conference presentations, workshops, our graduate student composition and rhetoric group, and through the community of educators I follow on social media. I reciprocate this access to knowledge by sharing my materials through my blog, in pedagogical workshops, and through discussions with fellow instructors both online and off. My research will continue to be propelled by the experiences I have working with students in the classroom, and by helping my colleagues across the disciplines integrate technology into their pedagogy.