Teaching Narrative

  • Posted on: 24 September 2014
  • By: Will Burdette

What follows is kind of a narrative of my teaching experience. You can also download a pdf of my Statement of Teaching and Learning, which is slightly different.

Technological agility is essential to my pedagogy. I do not teach students to use technology for its own sake, but because I believe it helps, literally, to change their minds. I believe it is this mental dexterity that makes them cogent. Richard Lanham writes that oscillation is encoded in “rhetoric’s central decorum.” My students learn how to be persuasive by exercising technological flexibility, which allows them to select their tools carefully and adapt their language to their tools.

My teaching philosophy grows out of personal experiences (and experiments) with technology in the classroom. When I taught American Literature discussion sections, I lugged a laptop, a projector, and portable speakers across campus to a drab room in which the desks were bolted to the ground. I wanted to illuminate the windowless room with something other than the glow of overhead fluorescent bulbs. I also wanted to illuminate the texts we were reading with multimedia. So I showed students animated versions of poems like Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” and William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” My teaching philosophy began simply by exposing students to new media.

The next year, my classroom was upgraded to include a teaching console with a computer, a projector, and speakers. I didn’t have to schlep gear to class. Now teaching Rhetoric and Writing, I encouraged students to learn to use, attribute, and format multimedia sources for their rhetorical analysis projects. I expanded my teaching philosophy to help students to choose modalities that bolstered their arguments.

During this same time, I designed a syllabus for a class called Remixing Rhetoric, which I taught the following year in the Digital Writing & Research Lab. Drawing inspiration from boxes of discarded rhetoric books, we reimagined how rhetorical training might be better distributed in the digital age. Students chose a topic to track and made videos, images, multimedia presentations, blog posts, mash-ups, and remixes to present their arguments. I used an evaluation method called “The Learning Record,” which required students track their progress across five dimensions of learning using work samples and observations. I adapted my teaching philosophy to account for multimedia assessment.

Remixing Rhetoric was a formative moment for me. So I decided I would focus specifically on audio technologies for Literature and Popular Music. Students would embed podcasts in their writing, which would be posted on the course wiki. That was the plan. On the first day of class, I discovered I had a deaf student. Fortunately, Remixing Rhetoric taught me to conceptualize remixing in broad strokes. I had video remixing software installed on the lab’s computers and broadened podcast assignments to include images and video. We learned about assistive technologies and discussed music and literature in synesthetic terms. I benefitted greatly from the DWRL’s experience in accessibility. My teaching philosophy was challenged by contingencies and supported by my environment.

In recent years, I’ve turned my attention to teaching instructors in the DWRL. With a team of assistant directors, I have developed a digital writing and research certificate program that helps instructors acquire, document, and articulate digital skills for pedagogy and research. In the program we have skills modules that introduce instructors to digital audio and video, code, publishing software, games and immersive environments, presentations, productivity and digital workflow, social networking, visualization and web presences. We also have “Digital Dialog” modules that help instructors contextualize their work amid conversations about things like “posthuman and transhuman subjects,” “accessibility issues,” "digital annotation," and “fair use, creative commons, copyright and copyleft." I add my experiences in the DWRL to experiences in two more traditional writing centers, the William L. Adams Center for Writing at TCU and the University Writing Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Together, these experiences round out my classroom pedagogy with pedagogies involving digital workshops and one-on-one consultations on both traditional and multimedia writing.

We all enter the classroom at different stages and we exit in many directions. I try to adapt and adopt classroom technologies to meet students' needs, help them hone their skills, challenge their assumptions, and enlarge their understandings of writing.