I began my teaching career as a graduate assistant in 1988, just a few months after I completed my bachelor’s degree. I think back on that first semester of teaching every once in a while. I’ve learned a lot about pedagogy and the craft of teaching over the years, and I know that I am a much better teacher now. At the same time, I do remember that thrilling and impossible to repeat feeling of it all being new. After finishing a unit or exercise during that first section of first year writing, students asked me what we were doing next. “I don’t know,” I answered– and that was an honest and exciting response.
My approach to teaching is based on the orthodoxy of my field: the classroom should be a “student-centered” space focused on the process of learning because that process is as important to the content being studied. My main job is to foster interaction between students and to facilitate the opportunity to learn. To do this, I emphasize collaboration, short writing activities, and small group discussions to encourage student interests. At the same time, I think there are limits to these orthodoxies. Fostering a student-centered space means acknowledging for both myself and my students the realities of the teacher’s role as leader, facilitator, and ultimately authority both in terms of expertise and evaluation. It can be difficult to manage the tensions between the “student-centered” ideals and the “professor-present” realities, and I think the first step is to acknowledge that this tension exists.
Most of my teaching has explored the relationships between writing and technology. Technology can’t replace good teaching nor can it solve the problems of bad teaching. But effective instructional technology both facilitates and questions the student-centered classroom in ways that I think helps students learn and helps me grow as a teacher.
I’ve been teaching online courses as a part of my regular teaching load since 2005. There isn’t much point in comparing online courses with face to face ones in order to argue which one is “better;” rather, I think it’s all about recognizing and maximizing the affordances of the different formats. Increasingly and before Covid, I have found myself actually preferring the online format. Part of the reason for that is similar to why many of my students like to take courses online: it fits well into my lifestyle and allows me a lot of freedom to schedule other things. Part of the reason though is I am increasingly convinced that when it comes to teaching writing, the online format might actually be more effective.