My teaching is guided by an assurance of knowledge as a critically hopeful process. This takes shape in my commitment to deepening understanding of canonical works, and importantly, collaborating with students to challenge and open new fields of inquiry in the field of race and digital media. Ultimately, my philosophy in teaching can be captured around three major themes: (i) justice and responsibility in the classroom; (ii) a focus on the holistic student; and, (iii) learning with our community. Across these themes, I assess evidence of student learning through the learning outcomes of each course and the stated goals of the department and college.
Equity and Responsibility in the Classroom
One of my primary goals in the classroom is to foster equity for students and give them agency toward maintaining concrete goals throughout the semester. For example, in the last remote-learning year, I introduced an anonymous Qualtrics survey to my students at the beginning of the semester to garner information about students’ access to and comfortability with, among other things, technology. I use the information from these surveys to tailor my approach to each class: for example, bringing a librarian to class to present on how to use different technology modalities or pairing students up in order to share the course textbook.
I am also attentive to the ways that students feel a sense of responsibility toward equity by consistently asking them to reflect and consider the ways that they maintain and challenge certain power dynamics in their ‘spheres of influence.’ Specific to the classroom, as part of their grade I ask students to acknowledge and challenge potential discriminations in their own group projects, stemming from research that shows that gender, class, and race-based discrimination often occurs within teams. This approach comes, in part, from my participation at a 2019 Project-Based Learning Conference in Boston where I picked up assignment ideas such as having students outline their individual and team ‘assets.’ Doing so pushes students to understand what they each bring to the project in order to disrupt dominant understandings of being an ‘asset’, which often privileges those with the most resources and experience. For example, I stress that skills garnered from working while in school or being bilingual are essential to teams well beyond the classroom. Activities such as this allow me to intentionally foster an inclusive classroom whereby students are aware of and can correct common power imbalances. In doing so, students and I are constantly trying new tactics toward justice and equity in the classroom while I also steer them to approach the content seriously and with purpose.
The Holistic Student
So many students grapple with issues outside of the classroom. My approach to teaching honors who students are and what they bring to the course content. For me, a commitment to the holistic student looks like encouraging students to bring their whole selves into the classroom. For example, this past year I have done a ‘song of the day’ for the first minute of class where I invite students to sign up for a specific day where we will play and listen to their pick. Some days, students share quite personally what a song means to them. Most days, we share something that is uplifting and allows us to stand (if we’re willing and able), stretch, and simply avert our gaze from our screens for one minute at the beginning of each class.
Additionally, I intentionally vary my assignments and assessments so as to allow students to tap into and stretch their own ideas of what they thought was possible in the process of learning. For instance, in my Digital Culture course this semester, I utilize the online platform Padlet, which resembles popular social network sites and has proven quite easy for students to navigate. Each week, I post prompts and ask students to answer in the form of GIFs, memes, or sometimes a traditional discussion forum post. I have included two examples of prompts that have garnered some really creative responses from students this semester:
After reading chapters 1-3 of Coates’ The Water Dancer, choose one character and either sketch how you imagine them (and upload your image on padlet) or find an image on the Internet (maybe a famous person) and upload. Add one sentence on why you imagine the character the way you do. (Week 2 Discussion Prompt, Spring 2021).
One of danah boyd’s main arguments in this article is that digital architectures shape online practices and publics. One example of this is ‘context collapse.’ Based on your understanding of the concept, how would you visualize context collapse? This might be a hand drawing that you upload, a meme/GIF that you find, or even some sort of data visualization. Have fun with it! (Week 5 Discussion Prompt, Spring 2021).
Ultimately, I invite students to bring their whole selves to the learning process because I think it makes for richer knowledge production and relationships even between the students themselves. Student evaluations have consistently shown me that this kind of approach encourages students to feel confident with the material. And, I have found that the students’ work is usually higher quality because of a focus on multi-dimensional learning. The goal, regardless of assignment specifics, is to acknowledge where the student is coming from while maintaining a standard of rigor and hopefulness to the process of education.
Learning with Our Community
Lastly, I center community in our learning as part of my approach to teaching. Particularly given that so many universities are located within larger, socio-politically rich environments, it is important to me for students to understand their learning in context of those around them. My approach here is not a ‘service-learning’ one whereby students act as interlopers to local traditions and attempt to change existing practices and behaviors.
Rather, I pull from the strengths of Critical Race Theory in order to inspire students to draw explicit connections between the past, present, and future around them. For example, in the spring of 2019 I asked students in my Power in Culture class to work with a local organization, spend weeks researching the makeup of the chosen group, and create specific ways that the organization might better use digital media to serve their constituents based on course understandings of power (im)balances. It is my hope that by centering community-engaged learning, students are not only able to see their own learning in action, but they can collaborate with community members to have lasting impacts with those around them.