My goal as an instructor is a simple one, to create problem-solvers and system-thinkers who can adapt to and succeed in any communication situation. At the core of this philosophy is user-centricity. Students (as users) require a set of strategic tools, which can be used and reused as necessary across a variety of contexts that apply to a wide variety of situations and audiences. Accompanying this need for a rhetorically-based toolset, communicators need a foundation, or a framework, to inform specific actions. Scientists describe this foundation as a theory or a unifying idea that can be tested for truth. In the humanities, Porter (2013) sees this as a base, a starting point, “a kind [of] color filter… that you must use, in order to comprehend and analyze human behaviors, social events, or texts.” My teaching philosophy borrows from scholars Hart-Davidson (2001) and Selber, and Johnson-Eilola (2013) who advocate a maker philosophy to “aid thinking, discovery, deliberation, research, and design” (Porter, 2013).
To realize this philosophy, I utilize three broad phases: thinking (theoretical knowledge), discovery (practical knowledge), and design (productive knowledge) to shape my course design and classroom practice. These phases correspond to teaching practice in form of lecture/discussion, activities, and practice/simulation respectively.
In the thinking phase, we build mental models, plans, or roadmaps. This is the problem-solving phase where I have my students consider and discuss the audience, author, and context, while considering issues of privilege, accessibility, ethics, and bias.
The discovery phase starts with students, in small groups, articulating their ideas to each other and the class at large. Each project requires a short memo proposal to formalize their ideas and helping students to organize and structure their thoughts. Through the peer review process students are exposed to one another’s writing and ideas. Through oral debriefing sessions, we discuss what they learned about the project or the process helping to highlight and emphasize process in a reusable and meaningful way to students.
This last phase design integrates the previous phases. Here, students create artifacts that leverage the readings and discussions in the classroom. Artifacts are expected multimodal or WOVEN (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Non-verbal) and can take many forms including, oral presentations, usability tests, written reports, paper prototypes, social media campaigns, infographics, websites, board games, and instructional videos. This production phase helps improve transferability of information to other contexts.
To illustrate, consider the EH301 technical manual project. In the thinking phase, students brainstorm to come up with ideas for the manual; this classwide activity helps to identify common interests or concerns. Then, I form groups around their emergent ideas. In the discovery phase, students collaborate to formalize ideas for a manual (individually written instruction sets and technical descriptions will comprise its bulk). In the design phase, students create the manual that is printed and bound. These three phases are then repeated as students, plan, prepare, and conduct a formalized usability test on their manual.
In keeping with this philosophy, my class is hands on. Thus, my lectures/discussions are short, visual, and interactive, which lead to practice and creation activities. Each day I provide both daily agendas and slides for the lectures. As an example of how we ‘practice’ in class, in my Technical Editing class (EH302), I distribute a draft document, and we edit it together with the document viewed on the projector. The entire class contributes to the work, and I function as the recorder as well as help students to dig deeper into the hows and whys of their answers. These activities encourage student collaboration and promote student-to-student learning, which is sometimes missing in traditional classroom settings.
All of my materials are available electronically. In this way, students have easy access to information to construct their personal learning path. Additionally, mirroring professionalism, I create a time-based agenda for each class, which details what we cover and how long each activity takes. Students have access to all the agendas, which serve as notes for anyone who has missed a class.
I am concerned about my SIEs, and as such, I have increased the number of times I collect feedback from my students. For example, I survey my students at midterm and make every effort to respond to their concerns. At the end of each semester, the students and I have an extended debrief on what students felt worked and what could be improved. Using this information, I make changes as necessary to the next class. Below are some student concerns and how I have addressed them.
Too much ‘busy’ work
Students incorrectly anticipate that writing classes are relatively easier than other classes. But, practical courses like technical and professional writing courses require that students practice the skills they are learning. Knowing that too much work/writing is a valid concern for busy students, I seek ways to make these activities short and easy to manage. For example, this last semester only a few practice assignments counted for a grade, the rest were extra credit, which allowed students the opportunity to manage their workload to fit their schedules.
Using cloud repositories
I recognize that organizing teaching materials entirely online is somewhat unique. Some students are not used to folders or learning management systems to source class related information (a skill in itself). To help students adjust to this class style, we spend time talking about the location and necessity of online materials, as well as covering how to access them effectively. Additionally, I make myself available to student questions by both text and email should they need additional assistance. I respond within hours to requests and redistribute common answers to the rest of the class, so all can benefit from each others’ experiences.
Collaboration and teaming
Reflecting current work practices and UAH’s ongoing collaboration initiative, my teaching philosophy emphasizes working together so students can learn not just how to manage a project, but also learn how to manage a team. I ease students into this process through a series of lectures and activities to help them become knowledgeable about teaming and better understand their teammates. For example, student teams update/modify a team contract that allows them to establish, team norms, expectations, and grade distribution for group projects.
My teaching philosophy is rhetorically focused, multimodal, includes collaboration, and is digitally grounded – all reflections of a 21st-century workplace. As an engineer, I take a practical approach to communication; knowledge acquisition must consider previous frameworks, use appropriate processes, and includes a design component that grounds the theoretical. These aims must also include humanistic discussions about power, privilege, accessibility, ethics, credibility, etc. Ultimately, the workplace needs people who can think through a variety of situations and apply the best solutions given the available data; I make sure my classroom is reflective of that goal by assisting students to become adept and successful communicators.
Hart-Davidson, W. (2001). On Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology: the Core Competencies of Technical Communication. Technical Communication, 48(2), 145–155.
Johnson-Eilola, J. (2005). Datacloud. Hampton Press, Inc.
Johnson-Eilola, J., & Selber, S. (2013). Introduction. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber, Solving Problems in Technical Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Porter, I. E. (2013). How Can Rhetoric Theory Inform the Practice of Technical Communication? In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber, Solving Problems in Technical Communication (pp. 125–143). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.