Critical Pedagogy

I really enjoyed this week’s readings, as they got to the heart of why we should be teachers in the first place. In particular, I was drawn to Freire’s Teaching as a human act article. Something I have always believed is that teachers should be able to communicate their passion for the subject they are teaching to their students. For example, I have had teachers who were clearly qualified through their background and degrees to teach the class, but they failed to communicate any passion for being there. Likewise, I have had classes which maybe were not the most interesting of classes coming in but the teacher through their passion was able to make it more enjoyable and fun to come to. If we as teachers can communicate the love of the subject and of learning to our classes, then that will foster a great classroom environment.

I also appreciated the clarity that Darder’s Teaching as an act of love article provides. We do not have to become completely invested in our students’ personal lives, although there may be moments where that might be appropriate. But we should treat students with respect and view them as a whole person when they come into the classroom, and as teachers we should not be afraid to showcase who we are as people at times when it is appropriate. I mentioned this before but I always play music before my class starts to communicate my musical tastes to my students in the hopes of getting them to be relaxed when they log into the classroom. We have impromptu speeches in our class where we can discuss any subjects from favorite musical tastes to places we would like to travel to the best places to eat in Blacksburg. Again, this does not mean that I open up my whole life to them, but any moments where we can show that we’re more than someone who teaches them material goes a long way to creating a respectful relationship.

Bottom line, I advise to lean on the side of empathy during these unparalleled times. People have a lot on their plate including many things that we probably do not know about. This does not mean that we have to acquiesce to every demand that our students ask, but we should also remember that we are all going through these turbulent times together. That story that Homero shared about not getting mad at a student for watching soccer has stuck with me, and I hope we can all respond with kindness even in the worst of times.


Digital Pedagogy

I really enjoyed this week’s topics and readings, as they are incredibility relevant to the online learning situation we have going on right now at Virginia Tech and around the world. We have all had to adjust to online learning with the coronavirus pandemic. I have also had to adjust with teaching as well now teaching public speaking online.

I would have to say that this semester has actually gone pretty well in an online format. First of all, we are in a much better situation than we were in March. We knew relatively early that we were going to have an online semester, instead of in March when we had to transition on the fly. For the class, I think it has become much easier to collect and keep track of all materials. When our class was in person, we had students buy a course guide and rip pages out of it to fill it out and turn in. For recording speeches, I would have to carry a camera and tripod to class to film speeches and then upload them onto my computer. Online, everything is much easier. All I have to do is press a button on Zoom to record. All of the materials I collect from students is submitted on Canvas. Instead of handwriting feedback, I am typing everything up, which is especially good for me because I do not get spot evals about how bad my handwriting is. I hope in a post-covid world we can find a way to keep the efficiency of an online class without going back to more archaic means in some aspects of in-person teaching.

From a student perspective, I think the class is a bit easier for them. In terms of delivering their speech, they have less to worry about. While we were in person they would have to remember thing such as making eye contact with the whole room and projecting so everyone can hear them. Now in Zoom, they only have to look at their webcam to fulfill eye contact requirements and be in a quiet enough room so that they are heard.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think there are drawbacks. There is more room for distractions because we cannot really control what students are doing on their technological devices. On a personal level, I miss the face to face connection we get in a classroom. On a broad note, I am not sure if I was someone who was paying a lot to be at college whether it was a private school, out of state school, or through loans that I would want to enroll if I was not getting the experience of being in person. Some students do not have access to certain technological devices, which makes it hard to be inclusive of everyone.

Overall, the reality is digital pedagogy is here to stay. Even after covid, I imagine many things will stay virtual to maintain that efficiency of work that I mentioned. How we adjust to it when it becomes the normal will be critical to meet the ever changing needs of pedagogy.

Case-Based Pedagogy

I love the idea of case-based pedagogy as a style of learning. Too often have I sat in a college class and wondered the relevancy of the material to the real world. Case studies allow students to connect what’s going on in their lives to their education, and ultimately get the most out of the class.

I have been lucky in my pursuit of a masters degree in communication that I have been able to have an education where there is a good focus on case-based learning both in my own graduate classes and in my sections of public speaking that I teach.

Many of the theories that we learn in communication can be discussed on a case study basis. For example, theories such as framing theory and agenda-setting theory talk about the impact of the media on what we think and our daily lives. The media ends up influencing us on what the most important issues of the day are. Uses and gratifications is another great theory that can be applied to case based learning, and the idea that we as a society consume the media and news for a variety of reasons, whether that be for entertainment, to be knowledgable with our family and friends, etc. I am currently in a class called mass media and public opinion where we take our weekly readings of theories and have a discussion on them every week to apply them to our lives and current events. Communication can be heavily densed in terms of the reading, so case based learning is definitely a much needed feature to our program.

I would also argue that CBL can be applied to our public speaking class. If anything, we encourage our students through our speeches to apply our content to their personal lives. The 4 main speeches in the class are a narrative speech, concept speech, personal project report, and issue analysis. Often times for these speeches students pick topics related to their personal lives or studies, such as a concept they learned in their major, a summer internship they did, or a controversial topic that affects their community. In many ways we give a lot of control to our students to essentially make case studies with our content and tailor this class to their style.

Does anyone else have any examples of case-base learning in their programs? I would love to hear what you have to say.

Inclusive Pedagogy

I really enjoyed this week’s readings on inclusive pedagogy because I think it is something that we all have to consider as teachers, especially when it comes to implicit biases. We all have grown up with unique experiences, and those views without a doubt shape the way we teach. Understanding how we can be self-aware of it when we go into the classroom will ultimately make us more successful teachers in the long run.

The Georgetown article had some good strategies that I’ve tried to incorporate into my teaching style. For example, the idea that diversity will be present in the classroom is true, and it does not just mean in terms of racially. I teach a public speaking class where I have students from all sorts of majors at Virginia Tech. That’s why we have speeches in the class where they can talk about concepts they have learned about in their major. I think that in turn gets them comfortable talking about something they have a baseline understanding about and as a result makes my class more enjoyable.

In addition, I love getting to know my students on an individual basis. Before classes start, I always play music- mostly older music such as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder and “Move on Up” by Curtis Mayfield. My goal is that hopefully that will get them relaxed heading into class. Also, we do these informal assignments called “impromptu speeches” where I will ask students to share their thoughts on a random topic. For example, last week I ask my students to share their favorite place to eat off campus in Blacksburg and I ended up getting all but one student to participate! Asking our students questions to get to know them personally helps foster a  good classroom culture and hopefully brings forth active listeners and engagement.

What do other folks do to promote an inclusive learning style? I would love to be able to take some of your feedback back to my students.

Discovering My Authentic Teaching Self

I did not know how to feel when I found out that I would be a graduate teaching assistant teaching a public speaking class comprising of approximately 80 students. I had never imagined that I would teach in any setting. However I come from a family of teachers, so maybe it was something that I would have tried out eventually.

I do not usually consider myself someone who gets overwhelmed, but the week leading up to the first day of classes I was close. We had a weeklong orientation the week prior to get ready for teaching, and while I did not doubt that it would prepare me, it was still an immense amount of information to take in. While other TAs gave advice on the best way to approach teaching, ultimately I knew that I would not really find the answer until I went into the classroom myself.

I have always liked teachers who were passionate about what they were teaching and approachable, yet serious enough to command control of the classroom. I decided that I would take what I could from them, in the end I would have to forge my own identity. I decided to be myself as best I could, corny jokes included.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not just totally act like myself unfiltered in the classroom. There is still a level of professionalism I try to bring to my students. But after I took a deep breath that first day, I was more at ease with trying to do my job. Also, I think students are more understanding than we give them credit for. Most understand when you try to do your best, and displaying the passion you have for your class is a plus.

I have no plans to enter teaching after I finish my masters, but there are many skills that we all gain from working in this profession. In particular, working with others and watching our students grow and develop in their skills. Ultimately however, we find out about ourselves in the way we teach skills to others. I hope to have gotten better at that by the end of this year.



University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Coronavirus (Additional Blog Post #5)

In these uncertain times, the depressing news can get to all of us. I actually believe we have to find a balance in all of it. Of course it is important to stay informed, but also find solace and peace in other things as well. It is good however to see that higher education is playing a role in helping to find the cure to this virus.

According to this article, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced last week that they had successful trials with a potential coronavirus vaccine when used on mice. The paper was published in a leading British medical journal called The Lancet. The leaders of the project are currently waiting on approval from the FDA on human clinical trials.

I want to stress that although these events are certainly good news, advancements will still take time. Normally, the process to develop a vaccine would take around two years, but as we all know we do not live in “normal” times. So while they will be able to expedite the process a bit, at minimum it will still take months.

However, this article is a good reminder on the impact that higher education can have on society. We have great research universities in the United States, and there is no doubt that they will be a source for trying to figure out how we can solve this crisis. Here’s to hoping they can find solutions sooner rather than later.

Life as a GTA (Additional Blog Post #4)

Most, if not all of us in this class have the luxury of being a GTA. Depending on your position, you will have varying responsibilities. I found an article online from the University of Nebraska that provides a generic sense of the responsibilities that TA’s have, and it pretty much applies to all universities in that sense.

As a public speaking GTA, I am in a unique position. We have a course director who designs the class content and schedule, but after that the TA’s are the only ones the students see in the classroom. We prepare our own powerpoints, meet with students in office hours, and grade work by ourselves. It has been an incredible experience being on “the other side” after having experienced being a student in undergrad.

This experience has made me appreciate my professors even more. It is not that I did not before, but now I see all the things they have on their plate on top of having to do research at a research 1 university like Virginia Tech. They have got to navigate students demands while doing another part of their job that does not even involve the students.

As TAs, we also have to navigate that line of understanding that we are the ones with authority in our classes but also realizing that on the surface we are not that much older than our students. I have definitely had a few students challenge me in a way that I do not think they would have challenged a professor much older than them. However, the overwhelming majority of students are great to work with and this TA experience has definitely been a rewarding one.


The Pressure to Publish (Additional Blog Post #3)

I never truly appreciated how much of a professor’s job research and publishing were until I became a graduate student. In undergrad they were simply my professors who I saw 2 or 3 times a week coupled with the occasional office hours visit. It was not until I met with graduate faculty to discuss their research that I learned about the other aspect of their job as well as the pressure to publish.

The article above has some astounding statistics. In 2013, out of approximately 12,000 manuscripts that were submitted to journals published by the American Psychological Association, over 76 percent were rejected, and some journals rejected as many as 90 percent of manuscripts. The article states this anxiety due to waiting can be tough on not just assistant professors but graduate and doctoral students as well.

I think this predicament shows the pressure that professors feel to publish, especially as they try to attain tenure. With Virginia Tech being a research 1 institution, I have no doubt that professors seeking tenure have to publish x amount of articles in order to get there. Waiting a long time and/or ultimately getting rejected can place much anxiety on them, especially as they juggle doing that with teaching their classes as well. We really need to rethink the pressure we put on professors, and also provide resources to help them deal with stress or other mental health issues that may come about as they embark on this arduous journey.


Tenure in Higher Education (Additional Blog #2)

I never really heard about the idea of tenure until I became a grad student and had discussions with faculty about the process. The AAUP website does a good job breaking down exactly what tenure is:

According to the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), tenure is defined as an indefinite academic appointment that can only end in extraordinary circumstances. It allows for academic freedom to live on, as professors don’t have to worry about losing their jobs because of what they decide to publish or their research findings.

It is interesting that this article gives a S/O to Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech. For those who don’t know he did much of the groundwork in discovering that there were high levels of lead in the water in Flint and created a website to share what he found with the public and call on the Government to be accountable to the situation. AAUP argues that if Edwards did not have tenure he would have risked being fired and silenced for having offended a powerful interest.

This is all interesting to read about especially since we talked about taking a stand in higher education last class. Here is one conclusions I had not thought of before: Tenure gives professors the ability to take a stand without fear.