Teaching: Technology, Collaboration, and Design
As a professional educator, I work every day to be on the cutting edge of communication technology, collaboration, and design. I foster an open, supportive, and safe environment for my students to learn in these areas alongside me. As an instructor of record, I mediate daily between the social communication my students use and the tasks and conventions expected by higher education and the professional world. This unique situation allows me to meet my students where they are at professionally by creating an atmosphere that values their knowledge and skills, while showing them that they know more than they think they do about successful communication. In class I reveal to my students that many of the multimedia skills they already have are also used professionally and this empowerment of their abilities is the beginning of successful teaching. In the sections that follow, I illustrate the influences, thoughts, and experiences that have led me to become the teacher I am. I explain my three teaching focuses and illustrate what I bring to my department and students. To accomplish these tasks, I first illuminate my treatment of technology, then my collaborative focus, and last my communication-as-design pedagogy.
To teach well with technology, I pay close attention to my students’ environment. The computer-integrated classroom must foster comfort while also challenging them to grow. Helping students grow intellectually requires a space where they are empowered to take risks with what they know and can do. For example, students choosing between traditional essays, a video essay, or podcast may be powerful, but finding a space where each is nurtured is difficult. By making a space for learning these communications, I have found that creating a computer-supported learning environment where student knowledge is addressed, enriched, and shared with the community is the best practice to achieve individual and whole class empowerment with modern communications. By continually offering my students what technology may bring to the classroom—whether in Composition, Business, or Technical Communication—I evoke a safe learning space for students to explore 21st century communication.
Informed by the practical application of Murray’s process theory, Elbow’s collaborative ideology, and Jenkins’s new media literacy, work in my physical and digital classrooms bring together student knowledge and skills with academic success. Using blogs on course topics, class Twitter-feeds for discussion, and open-source wiki software alongside our LMS, I bring knowledge management familiar to students into focus. These platforms are a valuable part of students coming-to-know how their knowledge is valuable. Also, it centralizes the places where they can create knowledge together and share it. These multimedia, multiauthor spaces make students’ classroom experiences relevant to their lived-experiences with technology. This makes student paths to success more familiar and approachable. Ultimately, my approach to technology and learning environment helps students recognize their potential and prepares them for collaborating as active members of multiple communities.
The social constructionist theory of knowledge and learning espoused by Rorty and LeFevre motivated me to make my classroom environment a collaborative space. In both physical and virtual classes each student contributes to the knowledge and success of each other class member. Within this community vision, the class functions as a self-contained, generative knowledge culture as imagined by Pierre Levy. That is, I promote students working together to help one another via peer review, groupwork, think tanks, and design team activities. In this classroom culture students are the primary stakeholders and shared learning and success are their key goals. Membership in this classroom culture gives every individual the space and right to create, contribute, and critique the collective knowledge of the whole for the betterment of communication and understanding. This approach to focusing on collaboration has increased student buy-in for their own and their class’s success. Hence, growing recognition of collaboration as valuable to everyone has pushed me to extend traditional group and peer work beyond written solo assignments toward multimodal, multiauthor work found in the workplace.
In my recent courses, I have integrated various workplace directed activities and assignments. These assignments focus on using common-on-the-job technologies and engage multiple communicators to get a bigger communication task done. For example, I have started building student teams to design solutions to communication problems that they identify. Recently I had a group of students create a set of technical instructions for an organization’s fundraising contest. The issue they identified was that the organization had not communicated clear rules for its fundraising or the contest parameters. By allowing student teams the space to identify and define communication problems, research them, brainstorm solutions, test feasible solutions, and offer recommendations, I brought work-place driven teamwork and collaboration into the classroom space. Further, the active learning supported by work of this order appeals to the development of responsible learners who are becoming prepared for the needs of the workplace. Therefore, my focus on collaboration for learning and communication design is important to me for the sake of my students.
Last, in terms of my approach to teaching is the power of communication-as-design pedagogy in my instruction. To support multimodal, multiauthor communication conventions, I have dedicated myself to teaching students that all forms of composition and communication are products and acts of design. I have taken-up leveraging design activities like those from the Stanford School of Design to develop students 21st century literacy and composing. For example, I created presentations and assignments that teach communication as the intermingling of words, images, audio, video, and hypermedia elements for rhetorical effect. Further, I have students plan for usability and user-experience through user-centered design analyses. These kinds of lessons, assignments, and activities require students to see beyond the traditional focus on the written or spoken word and to see and strive for the conventions of new medias.
My instruction in the treatment of communication as design has encouraged students to use multiple modes like an artist might work using mixed media to create and share their experiences. This approach has been especially powerful for students who struggle with writing but excel in other creative activities. For example, if students have a passion for making things—webpages, drawings, info-graphics, pictures, or any kind of art—then teaching them that communication is just another kind of design work has proven to be very effective and motivating. Further, seeing communication as a form of design helped many of my students get away from negative preconceptions of themselves as “weak writers” or “bad with words.” Thus, the introduction of communication-as-design into my pedagogy enabled me to reach more students and to enrich their work with modern rhetorical power. Both of these accomplishments contribute to our shared future success.
In closing, as my established approach to education continues to adapt and improve, I am pursuing new ways to use and strengthen technology, collaboration, and communication design in the classroom. I continually tailor my practices to provide more active and engaging forms of student collaboration across all the modes I teach. So, after instilling technological skills, collaborative learning, and design literacy in my pupils, I fully immerse them in a computer-integrated environment of responsible knowledge creation and curation geared toward their social, civic, and workplace needs beyond the academe. I hope that by the time they finish my course each student is better prepared for what events lie ahead. Thus, as an educator I am guided toward realizing these objectives through my established philosophy and the awesome potential of my current and evolving pedagogy.