Composition scholar Peter Elbow says “College is short; life is long.” I hope to create a learning environment that recognizes this reality in multiple ways.
My teaching is driven currently by three intersecting interests:
1) The explosion of information access on the internet in the late 20th century has thrown us—or at least me—into a time of epistemological confusion. Ways of creating, managing, and distributing knowledge are changing rapidly and radically from those developed over the last 500 years of print culture. Knowledge is being created in new ways and with new immediacy. The Internet provides everyday, fast-forwarded examples of the social construction of knowledge. Individuals can create their own networks of information pulling from scholars, bloggers, traditional news sources, and whoever happens to be on their Twitter or IM accounts. And mobile technology allows this knowledge to flow from almost anywhere to almost everywhere. In education, this means we have to alter our approaches. The relatively static repositories for knowledge, such as the library and professor, are now merely nodes in expansive networks of information and ideas. We are content experts still, but we are also cruise directors in a swirling ocean of content.
2) For writing courses, this means new forms and genres of writing, a whole new physical place of writing, the screen rather than the page. The classic academic essay, with its now arbitrary print conventions and limited reach, grows less and less engaging in this context. The academic research paper begins to look like a stiffening corpse in a world of dynamic linking, podcasting, and embedded video. The activities of analysis and research are still vital and learning to deal with polyvocal texts (which are exploding at the moment) has become even more important, but at the same time the forms and genres in which these classic academic writing skills are practiced will be new. Somehow I must try to prepare students to compose in this new environment—and to expand the very notion of composition (see Geoff Sirc’s English Composition as a Happening for examples).
3) At the same time, I remain wedded to many of the goals of critical literacy for democratic citizenship as informed by Ira Shor’s translation of Paulo Freire for the US educational setting. These goals can be updated and combined with the multimodality and multiliteracy concerns of the New London Group given this new technology context. Technology literacy is critical literacy now. While helping students develop skills to communicate, manage, and critically engage in this new context, I also want to help students follow their interests, or “follow the fun” as my colleague Michael Kuhne has said. Following the fun enlivens the learning, enlivens the composing, and ultimately empowers students in their lives as students and as active citizens in the world and in the future.
If I can begin to respond to these concerns and accomplish these tasks, I will consider my teaching successful-- if not for college, at least for life.