I believe that students must not only learn about their respective fields from within the academy but that they must also participate in co-developing the future of their disciplines by engaging with individuals currently embedded in their chosen careers. While some may refer to students as entering “the real world” upon graduating and leaving the ivory tower, I conceptualize of the classroom as expanding far beyond the walls of any institution, integrating both members of our shared communities and the world at large via the use of new and emerging media platforms. I thus ask that my students not only critically examine the intermedial texts they are assigned but that they also consider what they can contribute to ongoing debates in their fields.
As a cultural studies theorist and activist, I additionally employ a broader understanding of the word “text” in my pedagogy, incorporating popular culture texts and debates into our classroom discussions. I find that students best thrive as scholars when they feel connected to the topics they study. Thus, I strive to foster this engagement through my instruction by bringing in materials that my students find more accessible in order to contextualize historical texts within a contemporary setting, often in relation to current discussions or controversies. For example, in an early U.S. literature course that I taught, we read The Federalist Papers, but I also included excerpts from the recent musical, Hamilton, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s explanation of his decision to cast actors of color as historically White persons. This pedagogical approach enabled me to demonstrate the long-term effects of social issues and debates in a way that resonated with my students. Moreover, by incorporating less canonical texts into my syllabi, I am able to better represent historically-marginalized populations so that students identifying with these groups see their positionalities reflected within these literary contexts. Because marginalized groups, particularly women, persons of color, and scholars from the Global South, remain underrepresented across course syllabi as a whole, I pay particular attention to ensuring that these voices are given precedence in the majority of my materials.
In order to present ideas coherently in the digital era, students must act as effective rhetors both on and offline, representing themselves and their philosophies utilizing traditional and new media alike. To support my students’ increasingly technology-driven needs, I have thus become adept at integrating digital techniques and media in my pedagogical practice, drawing upon the skills developed at the UCSD’s Digital Humanities brownbag series and the UW’s Digital Summer Research Initiative to engage with my classes on a multisensory level. I have found that an instructional practice that embraces digital tools like Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and Skype concretely benefits busy students who are often unable to attend traditional office hours.
Moreover, to help facilitate my students’ intellectual growth, I utilize web-based platforms such as those offered by Blackboard as central pedagogical tools in my curricula. For example, I generally include mini “factoid” assignments as part of course homework, requiring students to learn what conceptions and misconceptions about certain, seemingly straightforward, topics appear through a brief Google search. I instruct them to post brief overviews of their search findings on the course discussion board and to then post responses to others’ summaries to engage their peers. In this way, students become familiar with the discussion board format as a technology while also coming to understand how multifaceted interpretations of seemingly bias-free events occur in the post-truth era.
Yet, critical thinking as a practice requires more than just the proper equipment and carefully-designed pedagogical exercises. Thus, in my teaching practice, I have consciously worked to build communities in which students are comfortable critiquing not only the texts they are assigned but also the very reasons they were assigned in the first place. As an educator trained in the critical pedagogical practices of Paulo Freire, I view teaching as a process that occurs as a simultaneous creation of both my students and myself. Understanding knowledge as inherently political and subjective, I strive to train my students in critical consciousness such that they are aware of and prepared to work against systems of oppression within and beyond the academy. I thus challenge my students to engage in critical thinking by questioning master narratives and delving deeper in dominant discourses and ideologies to discover the marginalized groups that are often erased from histories and texts.
I have also grown to understand that the greatest of teachers can make seemingly mundane topics fascinating, often by engaging with conversations and communities off campus. As a firm proponent of the importance of community-based learning (CBL), I work to partner with organizations off campus to tie readings with ongoing activism and intellectual endeavors. Per education and communication scholar Mike Kendell’s theories regarding CBL, I argue that such learning not only bridges the increasingly blurry divide between academia and the community surrounding an institution, but also more naturally derives from traditional modes of learning, such as the skills of facial recognition, walking, and talking mastered in our earliest years.
As I continue to grow as a scholar-activist-teacher, I work to meld my academic, artistic, and social justice practices. Through my work at the Eaton Collection at UC Riverside and the Archive for New Poetry at UC San Diego, for example, I strive to reconsider which texts become canon. Building upon this commitment, I urge my pupils to question metanarratives and consider which groups are often erased from such histories and course materials. Rather than utilizing common introductory texts to critical gender studies such as Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw or Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I thus offer critiques of such works for their erasure of issues such as race, class, and ability, including María Lugones’ “Toward a Decolonial Feminism” and Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.” I am committed to encouraging greater diversity of thought in the classroom and on the college campus as a whole, thus furthering my participation in events particularly dedicated to serving the needs of persons of color, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ-identified students, and other traditionally underrepresented groups.
I continuously work to better support my students’ individualized and diverse learning styles. Therefore, I consistently participate in pedagogical development on and off campus. However, more importantly, I strive to facilitate student success by ensuring that my pupils are active co-creators of my course content, engaged with new media and ideas, integrated with the extended community beyond our classrooms, and recognizing their own stories, identities, and values reflected in course materials. By ensuring that there are not only multiple platforms from which students can voice their critique of our courses, but also integrating such thought work into the class itself, I hope to continue being challenged by my students indefinitely.