As a writing teacher, I am committed to helping students see composition as a craft that has the potential to positively transform writers and their audiences. My passion for this vocation is largely attributable to the long line of English instructors in my life who presented stimulating opportunities for me to practice writing and offered thoughtful feedback that pushed my thinking in generative directions. I am indebted to teachers such as Raúl Sánchez and Terry Harpold, who encouraged me to adopt courageous stances in my writing that engender new understandings of the world for myself and readers of my work. I am grateful to Eli Goldblatt and Beverly Moss, who showed me the radical service and learning possibilities inspired by community-engaged writing projects. And I hold deep gratitude for my mentors Scott Lloyd DeWitt and Cynthia L. Selfe, who challenged me to explore the teaching and learning opportunities accessible through audio and video composition. Put simply, these instructors taught me that composition can help students better understand the world and build connections with the people in it.
Inspired by the example of remarkable teachers in my life, I have developed a teaching philosophy that emphasizes writing as a tool for civic engagement. I believe that writing courses are most effective when instructors encourage students to build personal connections with the ideas they weave in their written work and put that work into public action. I have enacted these civic engagement principles in a variety of ways during my nine years as a writing instructor.
One way that my courses foster civic engagement is by facilitating connections between students and community members. In addition to understanding how their written work can shape other people’s thinking, I want my students to remain open to changing their own ideas based on the feedback they receive from others. I built my “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” second-year writing course with this commitment to public exchange in mind. This course asked students to consider issues related to the literacy practices of black community members in Columbus, Ohio – how these community members define literacy and use literacy in their day-to-day lives. Class discussions and assignments depended on students going out into the community to gather stories and insights from black community members through interviews. Students then posted the interviews they collected to a public archive known as the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives for students in future writing courses to browse and study. Unlike more traditional writing courses, where students are often asked to examine and apply “academic sources,” this course foregrounded the expertise of community members to make room for conceptions of literacy that transcend university boundaries and attend to regional literacy practices.
Moreover, my “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” course asked students to apply their own areas of expertise to guide research topics and interview questions. Black military veterans in my course constructed multimodal presentations about the literacy practices of other military veterans. STEM students interviewed black engineering students about how literacy shapes knowledge-making in their field. A group of artists expanded their understanding of how literacy functions in the creation of black visual art. Finally, students interested in social work learned about the role literacy plays in community outreach by interviewing black workers at Saint Stephen’s Community House. Throughout the process of collecting and analyzing interviews, students learned about the communal basis of knowledge making. I believe that student research should not happen in isolation; it should be the product of collaboration among many participants. My central goals in this course were for students to see themselves as part of this collaboration and to facilitate future research and inquiry by posting the interviews they collect to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.
In addition to promoting connections between students and community members, my courses also create opportunities for students to experiment with multiple composing technologies. I believe that composition can take many forms besides the traditional research essay, and thus composition instructors should help students understand how different technologies can be used to craft rhetorically powerful messages that resonate with audiences. My pedagogy follows the philosophy of my mentors Scott Lloyd DeWitt and Cynthia L. Selfe, dedicated instructors who see the teaching of digital media technologies as essential to giving students a wider set of tools to communicate with people in the world. Perhaps the best representation of my digital media instruction was my “Digital Media Composing” course. This course also asked students to explore the educational potential of literacy narratives. But whereas my “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” course primarily focused on literacy narratives as a tool for research, my “Digital Media Composing” course considered literacy narratives as occasions to practice digital media production. The first major assignment in my digital media course asked students to discover the rhetorical power of audio by combining voiceover narration with sound and music to create an immersive and engaging story for listeners. My second major assignment asked students to record someone else’s literacy narrative and then explore the rhetorical possibilities of combining sound, moving images, and still images in an iMovie production to illustrate and embellish key moments in the narrative. In these assignments, I asked students to explore the rhetorical and communicative potential offered by technologies such as Audacity, iMovie, and Photoshop. Many of my students entered the class without experience using these technologies, but by the end they were successful in using the software that I taught to create compelling digital literacy narratives.
If my “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” course represents my commitment to facilitating connections between students and community members and my “Digital Media Composing” course represents my commitment to the instruction of digital media technologies, then my “Business and Professional Writing” course is a synthesis of these two pedagogical commitments. In this course, my students partnered with Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping “the Olentangy River and its tributaries clean and safe for all to enjoy, through public education, volunteer activities, and coordination with local decision-makers.” Specifically, I asked students to work in groups to construct a robust marketing proposal for “Grow with the FLOW,” an initiative aimed at improving the tree canopy percentage in the Columbus area. Towards the goal of encouraging Columbus residents to plant free trees provided by FLOW, students used digital tools to construct social media campaigns, online infographics, and video public service announcements. To effectively compose these assets, I believe it is crucial for students to carefully consider their target audience as well as the rhetorical and design choices they should make to best reach this audience. By the end of the semester, students produced marketing plans that showcased a wide range of rhetorical skills and an ability to compose using a variety of digital technologies. Testifying to the excellent work students produce in this course, one group of students won first place in the competitive Kitty O. Locker Undergraduate Professional Writing Contest for their FLOW marketing proposal.
I have been fortunate to work with caring teachers who inspired me to pursue a career as a writing instructor. The generosity, empathy, and patience demonstrated by these exceptional teachers has honed me into the writing instructor I am today. For close to a decade, I have followed the example of outstanding teachers in my life to help students see the communicative power of writing. Teachers taught me that writing can engage people and transform lives. I am now in the privileged position to share this lesson with others, a responsibility that I embrace purposefully and enthusiastically.