My teaching is driven by a desire to see students in the moment of their own “ah-ha!” discovery of knowledge and often this is deeply connected to their ability to see course material as relevant to their own lives. Even though the courses I teach focus on the theoretical and conceptual foundations of everyday phenomenon, I find that I must continually struggle to disabuse students of the notion that classroom learning has no real relevance for them. As a consequence, students in discussions early in the course often express doubt in their own ability for “sensemaking,” to use Karl Weick’s term and their discussions remain abstract and too often unfocused. When students analyze communication theory through the lens of their own experiences, they generate fresh ideas, connect concepts to things they see, and trust in their own powers of observation. By the end of one of my courses, they link phenomena that they already knew to concepts that they have just learned.
I use an interactive lecturing style in writing-intensive courses to actively engage students in learning. My undergraduate courses, such as the large lecture class “Cultural Impact of New Communications Technology,” emphasize developing students’ writing and critical thinking skills through short concept papers that are due throughout the quarter, utilizing the latest thinking in Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogy. I prefer this structure because it allows more time in a short quarter to identify and correct learning gaps, to integrate learning across themes, and to establish intellectual rapport with and among the students in the class. By reading their writing, I can have a sustained intellectual conversation with them throughout the 10 short weeks of a quarter. This making large lecture courses seem a bit more intimate and my students tell me that they feel like the come to know me and other students better through these written conversations and classroom dialogues. I also utilize team-based learning projects to build the social and intellectual capital among students, having them learn from each others’ experiences.