"To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."
-John Coltrane on Uplifting Others

Friday, August 30, 2013

English 5060: Week One

   Am I sending my students mixed messages?
   If you were to scroll through this blog's archive, you would notice a few things. One, the layout is fantastic! I remember being being very proud of it.Two, I used this blog for two classes. Both were were during my undergraduate program, so you may notice a three year gap in posts. Finally, if you go through those posts, you will notice a singular thread. The two classes involved technology, either in the classroom or as a lens for understanding western civilization. Because of these teachers, I have become interested in the intersections of digital spaces with the classroom. This interest extended into a Theory and Practicum for Teaching Rhetoric and Composition (a course I took during my Master's program). My term project and paper both dealt with incorporating the ideas behind Twitter into the first-year writing program.
   That said, I find myself hesitant to go "all in" with technology in the sections I teach. There already is a substantial amount of technology in the Texas Tech First-Year Writing Program. The course is hybrid, so the student's only meet once a week. They submit all assignments into the Raider Writer. I set up a class blog for my students. There, they can access the week's presentations (made in Prezi, of course), a summary of the week's class, and suggested reading questions to prepare for next week. It provides another avenue for students to contact me if they have questions, or respond to one another through comments. There is also a "blogroll" filled with important links for the students.
  Yet, I discouraged students from using cellphones or computers during class. My condition is that if there is research to be done and I allow it, then they may use their electronic devices. I expect them to use "traditional" tools (pen? paper? a highlighter?) to annotate their textbook, although for their St. Martin's Handbook, I showed them how to annotate, set bookmarks, and add "sticky notes." So again I ask: Am I sending my students mixed messages?
  Perhaps the better questions were posed during the first class meeting for ENGL 5060: What is my responsibility? Is it to the institution or to the students? These are questions I must continually answer and redefine, not only during this course, but throughout my teaching/academic career. As it stands now, I don't think responsibility is mutually exclusive to one party or the other. I have studied the course work my students are taking. It allows for less distractions in the classroom (side note: I have been a student. I technically still am one, so I understand the temptation to get off track when using a computer in the classroom. I also know as a teacher how distracting one person's decision to check Facebook can have on the students around him or her.). I think the hybrid curriculum also allows students to see a correlation between online communication and academic writing.
   I may get in trouble with some sociolinguists, but I am going to appropriate the term "codeswitching" here. Traditionally, this term refers to a person's ability to switch from one language, with its system of syntax and grammar, to another language. "Language" is loosely defined. It could refer to two separate languages (say, Portuguese to Japanese), but it also could mean switching within a language. The way one speaks at home may not be appropriate for a work environment* (*I recognize there are issues with my reading there. Please, let us have a meaningful conversation in comments regarding this. Thank you.)  Here, language takes on a class positioning. Might I offer another place for codeswitching: online communication. Students need to recognize that what is appropriate for an online forum or comment section is not right an academic paper... Well, unless they're doing research into the discourse of the Internet, but even that exception is tempered by rhetorical terms. Rhetoric involves writers (or speakers) understanding their audience, and then finding the most useful persuasive devices to influence the audience. "You suck," pales in comparison for what some youTube users write in response to a disagreement.
  In learning rhetoric, students can recognize the rhetorical devices needed not only for a good academic paper, but (hopefully) to enable for less virulent communication online.