The Remix of Professional Development and Classroom Experiences

The following is an excerpt from my promotion packet “Education and Growth Statement”:

The beauty of working in the community college environment is the breadth of exploration one can do within a discipline rather than working within a niche. In the course of a year, my various roles and teaching interests led to me a journalism conference, a developmental education conference, and a conference for writing program administrators (WPA). Instead of working within an academic silo, I am able to approach the same concerns and topics from multiple angles. For example, the Fake News era was addressed at both the journalism and WPA conference in different ways – one through the professional lens and one through the academic lens. Taken together I was able to develop a more holistic lesson in content curation and media literacy.

In the particular academic niche I explored for my dissertation, digital rhetoric and writing in new media environments, remix is an important concept. A simple example would be a meme, which adds a particular message with a previously unassociated image, such as feminist theory and Ryan Gosling movie clips. Separately, there are both great, but together they create a memorable message. As those of us who have studied composition know, everything we create is a remix of our past influences and experiences. What I like about this concept in relation to new media writing is that to be successful, it requires a degree of openness – an openness to let new ideas and influences reshape our perspectives and creations, an openness to let go of authorial intent and let our messages take on new paths with new collaborators.

The value of my doctoral studies is not simply contained within the pages of my dissertation. The value is all the unexpected ways the knowledge I have gained has reshaped the way I teach. One line of inquiry I explored was how the work of John Dewey can relate to new media writing. One of his concepts I focused heavily on was experiential learning. For those of us looking to help students move beyond limiting mindsets, experiences are much more persuasive than verbal arguments when it comes to expanding one’s viewpoint. This strand of my dissertation helped me reinvent a common Composition I essay, the I-Search Essay. My students now use research to design a plan of action for themselves and then go through the experience of enacting that plan. It also informed the way I teach the problem-solution essay to my Composition II students, which is in conjunction with online activism.

My goal when I design my classes is to create educative experiences. An experience is educative if it “arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes that are sufficiently intense to carry a person over dead places in the future” (Dewey). To create such an experience, I must be open to changing my plans in order to suit my students and whatever current events may arise. Again, the concept of remix come to mind, as my expertise and course outcomes and objectives come into contact with a new audience. At the beginning of the semester and prior to every class, I make a plan. However, when I walk into the classroom, I am always prepared to have it be modified by my students. Whenever possible, I offer choices and collaborate with students about the direction we would like to take, whether it be for the day or for the next major assignment.

The added bonus is that when students have choices when it comes to the presentation of their assignment, the class can have a meaningful discussion about genres. In my Winter 2018 section of Composition I, I let my students choose between a traditional thesis-driven essay or a presentation for their final reflection. This allowed us to have a discussion of presentation slides versus paragraphs, which also gave us a new way to explore the concept of outlining.

After the semester ends, I get to reconceive my courses again – this time in light of the student feedback I have received. The journey to bring together my doctoral studies and my Delta classes has been a long one. What works conceptually does not always work practically. Also, what our online students can achieve at home with older computers and spotty Wi-fi is much different than what face-to-face university students can achieve in high-tech media labs. Finding the right level of technological difficulty and the right way to sell students on non-traditional assignments took some trial and error. In my Composition II sections, I found students have had the greatest level of buy-in when I tied the assignments to the Kiva Program. Twice I have been able to acquire a grant from Kiva U so that my students have been able to give $25 microloans. Having our online efforts tied to an established organization and being able to tangibly contribute to this organization increased my students’ level of engagement.

One of the key lessons I try to impart to my students is that all learning and all experiences are of value. We are building a network of connections in our mind, which enable us to better grasp and relate to a variety of people and materials. I am a better teacher for having read research essays on cross training, on artificial wombs, on the Palestinian conflict, on feminine products and third-world countries, etc. It is why it is hard to consider a time when I am not working and not growing as an educator, as everything has the potential to impact my class: pop culture, parenting, travel, etc.

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Last Post of the #CCCWrite Reflective Writing Club

Today is the last required post for the Online Network Reflective Writing Club:

  • Take some time to reflect back to the start of our Reflective Writing Club.
  • What were your objectives for this experience? Do you feel that you have achieved them?
  • Discuss any unexpected outcomes you have had as a result of the Reflective Writing Club.
  • Discuss any new or improved skills you’ve acquired through this blogging club and share how they will contribute to your work.

Is it strange that my favorite part of the Reflective Writing Club was the weekly deadline and expectations? I often say that I wish I were one of my own students, required to read, write, and reflect in a communal setting every week. For the past few weeks, I have gotten to be a writing student – brainstorming assigned prompts, reading examples for inspiration, and enjoying feedback. And like many a student, I often do not complete my work until I am under the pressure of a deadline.

My main objective was to write more and connect with more educators on Twitter, which I achieved. I really enjoyed how this club was facilitated, as it was structured and engaging enough to keep me motivated, yet it did not require an overwhelming commitment. It gave me a purposeful assignment each week and led me to follow some new inspiring instructors.

Going forward, I hope to use this activity as an example of an emerging form of professional development. As a community college faculty member, I do not have a large allowance for conferences, workshops, classes, and books. When I was finishing my dissertation, all my PDA went towards my doctoral credits. During this time, I could not travel to national and international conferences, but I could connect with educators around the world through Facebook and Twitter. Since then, I have become an advocate for these non-traditional means of professional development.

If anyone reading has suggestions for other writing or creative online education groups, please comment or message me on Twitter.

 

#CCCWrite on the Value of Conferences

This is my second blog post for the Reflective Writing Club sponsored by the Online Network of Educators. The writing prompt asks us to reflect on our experiences attending conferences.

Conferences, for me, have always been the ultimate niche experience for whatever professional role or academic interest I am embracing at the moment. The first conferences I attended were specifically designed for alumni magazine editors, set in glamorous hotels in cities such as New Orleans and Montreal. One of my favorite keynote addresses was at one of these conferences when Susan Orlean shared her immersive approach to storytelling. This was shortly after the release of movie Adaptation, which was based on her book The Orchid Thief. Since that moment, I have been sold on conferences.

Now, as a community college professor, conferences are not just for inspiration, but opportunities to be a scholar and have the types of conversations I had in graduate school. With a 30-credit contract and a promotion process that values service and teaching, academic research is not a priority. We live in the world of practical application, caught in an endless cycle of grading, meetings, and emails, and do not get much space for ideas and theories. It’s difficult to find the time to blog, let alone write full research articles. The closest I am able to get with the demands of work and parenthood is conferences.

When I was five months pregnant, I presented at my first big conference, Computers and Writing. The presentation was based on one of my graduate seminar papers, “Ubuntu and the Open Source Movement: Decolonizing Interfaces.” I achieved my peak of academic coolness at this moment. Nowadays, I try to blend the high theory of my doctoral studies with what is happening in my classrooms, creating presentations on online service learning and supporting multiple literacies in writing centers. As an attendee, I gravitate towards sessions that offer both sources to explore and assignments/lessons to try.

While I enjoy the traditional conference setting, I also enjoy the conference-like experiences I am getting online through MOOCs, such CLMOOC, Twitter Chats, and this networked blogging experience. In many ways this feels like an open panel at a conference, where each of us takes turns speaking about our particular experience on a topic, and viewers who choose to “walk in the room” can listen and chime in when they have something to add to the conversation. I look forward to any comments you would like to share on this topic.