Teaching

Teaching is one of the most important and enjoyable things that I do. I believe in having students make their work public (see more about this below in my Statement of Teaching Philosophy). If that’s the case, however, I feel that I must similarly make my own work public, including how my students view my teaching.

Course Websites

The websites for these courses include not only syllabi, reading calendars, and assignments but also student work. All of my syllabi and assignments are licensed CC-BY

Course Syllabi

Syllabi for my older courses are available as PDFs.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

During the summer of 2011 as the United States faced its debt-ceiling crisis, a congressman from Georgia—the state where I teach—proposed a funding cut of almost 10% to the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). While consideration of this measure has at present been postponed, its introduction suggests that more than a few people suspect that the study of the humanities is an irrelevant luxury, an outmoded and insular recycling of ideas. As a teacher of literature and writing, my most ambitious aim is to counter such sentiments and show students that what they do in a humanities classroom can shift real-world conversations about a subject. Two core principles guide how I translate this philosophy into classroom practice: creating opportunities for original, student-driven research and providing public platforms for students to publish and share their work.

When students encounter an important book of poetry, it can be easy for them to assume that they could have nothing new to say about the text and that their work is consequently a rote exercise. Creating assignments that clearly give students a chance to conduct original research helps them recognize that the humanities remains a developing field of inquiry. When I taught an introductory poetry course in 2009, for example, the final assignment sent groups of students into the Emory University archives to examine manuscript materials from Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Langston Hughes, and more. As the students encountered materials that almost no one had previously seen, they developed new understandings of North, The World’s Wife, and The Weary Blues, presenting in groups and writing individual papers. Student reflections about the project collectively expressed excitement for original work, with some suggesting that every undergraduate student at Emory be required to do something with the archives’ materials. But it is not only students with access to archives who can conduct new humanities research; introducing digital humanities tools into the classroom presents other approaches for original research. In my current “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” students applied such an approach to another well-read book: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Working in groups, the students used Google Earth to map the paths traveled and places mentioned by four major characters. This endeavor highlighted the contrasts between the novel’s precise geography and its stream of consciousness narrative style. Even students who had read the book in three previous courses reported that their research led them to completely new understandings of the text.

Even when conducting new and exciting research, students in literature classes may feel their work is ultimately insignificant when only the professor reads it. I expand the audience—and thereby the relevance—of my students’ writing as they both publish their work openly and are assigned to read one another’s prose. The effect of sharing with each other was plain in how easily it altered the classroom dynamic in my Fall 2009 critical writing class. Students wrote weekly blog posts analyzing poetry or short stories, and daily discussions began with one student’s or another’s writing and questions from their fellows. While I still led the class the students clearly understood that their perspectives shaped the direction we took as a whole. My current class is profiting similarly from reading each other, with the added benefit that their mini essays on the digital humanities have frequently received unsolicited comments from the scholars whose work they are writing about. To further emphasize that the classroom is a space that opens out onto the wider world, I frequently invite other essayists whom the students are reading into our class via videoconferencing. The students prepare questions ahead of time, which allows them to determine the direction of the conversation. Students have been thrilled to have their written and spoken efforts considered seriously by scholars who are not required or paid to read their work. In another example of opening the walls of the classroom, I am currently orchestrating the concurrent reading and discussion of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves among my class and four others at a total of five different universities. As the students collectively work together to untangle the codes and mysteries of the text, they gain a sense of what it means to engage with the humanities in the wider world. I strive for a similar openness in my pedagogy, writing frequently about my teaching and sharing assignments with others via my own website and The Chronicle of Higher Education’s group blog ProfHacker.

While I may not have the chance to teach a certain congressional representative from Georgia, I look forward to working with your students. As I help them find new avenues of exploration within a novel or a poem and then share their discoveries with an increasingly networked public, I hope to help them develop passion for the humanities and the role that they play in their intellectual development as well as the “real world.” And as a result of what we do in the classroom, my students will also have the means to share their enthusiasm with their elected representatives.