My teaching philosophy is undergirded by the belief that all knowledge is constructed. As such, my responsibility as a teacher is to merely facilitate the learning process. With each course, my primary goal is to create a pedagogical environment that balances information delivery (e.g., via topical lectures) with open discussion, deliberation and reflection. It’s one thing to test students’ ability to explain the power and influence of media and technology over society and culture; it’s quite another to have them critically analyse media’s influence over their own lives, particularly as it relates to the processes by which they come to make sense of the world. So rather than assess knowledge by asking students to recite back what they’ve learned, I instead regularly ask them to assess how course concepts manifest, apply to and/or contradict their own lived experiences.
Engaging students in the task and recognition of knowledge construction requires honing the critical faculties necessary to at first make these practices recognisable. I find this works best when students are presented with a space in which they can reflect on, discuss and weigh what they hold to be true against the competing ideas and experiences of others (e.g., theorists, scholars, instructors, popular discourse, their peers). As this level of engagement requires a great deal of trust, students must be confident they can speak up without repercussion or fear of judgment; they must be reassured that the task of knowledge construction is processual but also iterative – that their beliefs may be valid but at the same time subject to change.
I aim to facilitate trust by establishing an open environment where students feel comfortable, respected and unafraid to use their voice. Primarily I approach this by bringing consistent energy, enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter I teach. As I’ve found, if I’m excited, they’re excited; and the more excited students are, the more engaged they become. I also aim to be relatable, keeping current on political and popular culture issues, media events, technologies and other artefacts. I do this by regularly asking students to apply course concepts/theories to relevant issues and events of contemporary interest. Not only do such assignments keep course material fresh and relevant, it brings theoretical concepts to the level of lived experience in a way that also commands a higher order of thinking (critical application).
Building trust also occurs by meeting students where they already are, usually via digital technologies and/or social media platforms. Engaging students via social media introduces new skill sets and literacies they’ll be expected to have as future information workers, yet also facilitates student engagement. Social tools can be more inclusive than the traditional classroom; for example, in the past I’ve used Twitter, Facebook and/or live blogging as participatory backchannels during class lectures or media screenings, or alternative means of earning participation credit outside the physical classroom. As a result, even some of the most seemingly uninvolved students regularly contribute to course discussions – they tweet, upload relevant links or hold asynchronous discussions about course-related material in the off-hours which are in turn, then absorbed back into the physical classroom as a means of facilitating discussion.
Importantly, social media can also extend learning outside the classroom and into publicly accessible spaces. If knowledge is indeed (co)constructed, then digital media provide educators with an exceptional opportunity to create, contribute to, or challenge existing knowledge regimes. By inserting ourselves within popular discourses, students potentially become co-producers of information through collaborative team projects, regular blog postings, media critiques and other creative efforts that we make publicly accessible online. Moreover, these spaces embody the diverse skills, literacies, experiences, goals and knowledge sets that students bring to both the web and classroom environments alike.