The below text served as my opening statement for the teaching section of my promotion dossier. I was awarded promotion to Associate Professor in May 2013 and am happily continuing to teach with Digital Humanities and Digital Pedagogy, which means that my students get to do things like read Frankenstein and play Diablo III all in a single semester.
What follows is unusually formal in tone for me, but it represents a reflection on 7 years of teaching at my university and provides a roadmap demonstrating that all of my research, scholarship, Digital Humanities, and pedagogical innovations are specifically geared towards improving my students’ education. If you’re looking for more of a teaching philosophy, you’ll find it in my article for Polymath. Or, check out my talk about DH, pedagogy, and feminism from the Scripps Colloquium or my NITLE webinar with Jentery Sayers. If you’re looking for assignments, see the posts about pedagogy.
Statement on Teaching Effectiveness (Sept 2012)
As a tenured Assistant Professor of English Literature, I am privileged to teach not only literature, but also all types of cultural texts that will prepare our students for their professional lives. Keeping this in mind as well as the goals and missions of San José State University, I always look for methods to better my teaching, including improving lectures, incorporating interesting assignments, providing historical and cultural background, inviting other faculty for guest lectures, proposing new courses or implementing new and varied types of technology. I consistently teach in Smart rooms using websites, PowerPoint presentations, movies and more to bring literature to life. I have paid attention to peer reviewers’ comments, students’ informal and formal evaluations and colleagues’ suggestions – the end result is that my courses have improved both for my students and myself.
In recent conversations with other Digital Humanities faculty, I have been most insistent that this emerging field consider students as viable collaborators, especially in our classrooms. This perspective, one from a public comprehensive university with a teaching mission, has been excluded from Digital Humanities discussions for the most part. In January 2011, I represented this perspective on a Roundtable at the Modern Language Association annual convention, along with six other venerable Digital Humanists primarily from research-intensive universities. In Spring 2010, I participated in a technology working group, headed by Professor Peter Beyersdorf and attended by other faculty teaching in the Incubator Classroom. We kept track of our assignments and suggestions over a wiki which remains open for continued contributions and public viewing even now. See our June 9, 2010 report, “Technology and the Classroom.”
My teaching influences my service and research at the same time that my research provides the structure and content for my courses. For instance, my graduate course on Madness & Romanticism is a direct result of research I conducted for my article, “A. Bristow and The Maniac: A Bio-Critical Essay.” My work on Romantic-era periodicals was the reason I was invited to attend the NEH Summer Seminar for College Teaches in June 2010 where we discussed strategies for teaching Romanticism with all types of media and in many different variations. My research on literary annuals and gothic fiction inspired the inclusion of Mary Shelley’s short fiction in the English 113 Gothic Novel & Horror Fiction course. My work on nineteenth-century literary annuals, serials, periodicals, and history of the book were the impetus for the serials assignment in English 153B Nineteenth-Century British Novel. This same research and access to the actual magazines became part of the discussion and lecture on New Historicism in English 101 Introduction to Literary Criticism. In English 201 Methods & Materials of Research and English 149 TechnoRomanticism, students benefited from my experience as a scholarly editor and project manager of a digital archive by creating their own digital editions of literary texts. And, my work in Digital Humanities influences all aspects of every class session from incorporating digital tools into daily teaching to theorizing the impact of technology and the digital in our modern-day world, as I did with English 10 Great Works of Literature: TechnoLiterature. In Fall 2010, my work in Digital Humanities in general informed English 190 Honors Colloquium: Digital Literature and the Death of Print Culture. Indeed, students were engaging in conversations about growing this emerging field, conversations that were also then being debated at international conferences and forums.
Because we are a teaching institution, I have had the opportunity to create and implement a variety of courses, with many of those repeated. With such a diverse number of preparations, I have been able to test various teaching methodologies both in a technology-rich classroom as well as in non-technology-dependent classrooms. Unfortunately, some courses that I have designed were cancelled due to low enrollments, the graduate course on William Wordsworth for example, and are therefore waiting in the wings to be taught at another time. When a course is cancelled, I often teach Composition; last year, I was assigned an English 10 Great Works of Literature at the last minute and decided to focus this general education course on great literary works involving technology – from Frankenstein (1818) to electronic literature (2005). Three weeks prior to the semester’s start, I amassed a reading list and a set of activities that turned out to be incredibly engaging for non-majors. Indeed, the final projects not only critiqued references and uses of technology in literature, but they also employed technology to convey an argument. For instance, one student created a video mash-up version of “Prometheus,” a poem by Lord Byron (1816); one other created a video essay mash-up about cybertechnology. Yet another student used PowerPoint to create a dynamic poem. For this course, we spent the semester in a smart room but never set foot in a computer lab or worked on digital assignments. These students used the tools they are accustomed to and created digital projects without any prompting.
When I first taught English 56B British Literature Late 1800 to the Present, I moved beyond incorporating technology and included the last twenty-five years’ work on digital literature, including assigning Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, role playing games, projects from the Electronic Literature Vol. I and YouTube videos. After reading the student evaluation narrative comments from the first iteration of this course about too much reading, I revised the schedule to ensure that we have enough time to discuss and completely understand each literary period. Professor Robert Cullen (a senior colleague) reviewed the revised course and commented favorably on the interactive pedagogy employed for this required course.
The same is true for English 101, Introduction to Literary Criticism. I have been teaching this difficult English major’s requirement since my first semester at SJSU and almost every semester since. In subsequent semesters, I amended the reading list, revised the assignments, and added further literary models that have only recently become prominent in the field (such as White Masculinity Studies or Digital Humanities). After hearing from students and reading feedback on student evaluations, I moved a major assignment from mid-semester to the conclusion of the semester. In Spring 2010, the narrative comments on the evaluations suggest that moving this major assignment back to mid-semester or dividing it up over the semester is perhaps a better option. Professor Krishnaswamy attend the last iteration of this course and reflected upon the value of this difficult course for our English majors. Professor Krishnaswamy also remarked, after reviewing a set of essays, that the grading for this course was rigorous but fair.
Because our student body’s use of technology has shifted in the last five years, I have begun to ask them to become more than consumers of technology. In most of my courses, I encourage them to use technology to understand and critique all periods of literature. For some students, this means constructing a simple PowerPoint. For other students, this means incorporating YouTube into the presentations to demonstrate the multi-media aspects of even Romantic-Era literature. For instance, a student presentation in English 113 Gothic Novel & Horror Fiction used an opera performance to demonstrate musicality and eroticism in Vernon Lee’s fiction. Professor Samuel Maio attended one of the sessions for the Fall 2011 version of this course – with favorable comments about a lecture delivered towards the conclusion of the semester.
In courses such as these, we often spend some time discussing the parameters for critiquing visual culture as well as literary texts because it’s relevant to the literature. It is because of this perspective that my students often feel comfortable in representing their arguments in other forms than writing, though they must also write a significant Rationale to accompany these projects. These and other digital student projects can be seen online.
Over these last seven years, I have increasingly incorporated technology into my courses, whether it’s using PowerPoints to aid lectures in a low-tech room or creating a collaborative environment with blogs and wikis outside of the traditional classroom setting. Modeling relevant and innovative uses of technology for my students has often led to students using technology in their own work, as is noted above. PBWorks supplies the wiki for my English 1B courses, which was significantly revised from a traditional composition classroom setting in which students are restricted by print-only versions of their essays. With a wiki and blogs, students can comment on each others’ drafts as well as those nascent ideas before the writing even begins. And, with a blog, they do this all in writing to explore the various requirements of tone and writing. For instance, blogging, text messaging, and emailing often invites students to truncate their language. However, using blogs provides my English 1B class with a moment to discuss and recognize different audiences and tone.
As with any use of technology, it sometimes doesn’t work as well as we plan: In my Fall 2011 English 1B course, I experimented not only with wikis and blogs for delivery of student writing, but also with the content. The course became thematically centered around Food & You to allow students to explore the politics of all types of food, including locally-sourced California produce. In this course, I struggled with grading procedures for both the blogging and the formal writing. By the conclusion of the semester, I created a rubric that could be employed for the next iteration of the course.
Recently, I have begun using Google Docs spreadsheet and MIT’s open-source SIMILE script to create a collaborative and dynamic timeline in HTML, one that students across courses can continue to use even after the conclusion of the semester. See here for one version of this assignment. Quite simply, students enter data into the Google Docs spreadsheet and the MIT script converts it into HTML. Because we were in the Incubator Classroom at the time, I conducted a single tutorial on inputting data for this assignment, after which students were able to help each other or query me for continued aid. During the first iteration of this assignment in a previous semester, students used Google Docs to amass a simple linear list of events and dates. This version of the assignment, while just as a relevant, was cumbersome due to the limitations of Google Docs and the necessary visual representation of any timeline. The current timeline iteration allows users to move the timeline and see the visual relationships among various types of historical documents. In addition, the next time I teach any of the courses that used this assignment, instead of having students create an entirely new timeline, I will ask them to simply add onto the current timeline information. Students will be participating in an ongoing and perpetual assignment that becomes more valuable over and across semesters.
In the courses that I have taught in the Incubator Classroom, Clark 111 (Madness & Romanticism, Methods & Materials of Research, TechnoRomanticism, Gothic Novel, and 19th Century British Novel) students have benefited from using Moodle, an open-source course management system that incorporates tag clouds, glossaries, discussion fora, blogs and resource management into a single interface (log in as a guest). In the Incubator Classroom, we take advantage of the portable furniture, document camera, two Smart Boards, walls of white boards, laptops, and collaborative software. See my article for Journal of Victorian Culture about using the high-tech classroom for a literature course – an article that was invited by editor James Mussell after I described this course over a professional listserv (Victoria-L).
To date, the most successful course held in the Incubator Classroom was during Fall 2010, English 190 Honors Colloquium: Digital Literature and Death of Print Culture. Because I had been engaged with the Incubator Classroom’s hardware and software over the previous four years, I had become extremely comfortable orchestrating the room during a single day’s discussion. During the second week of class, our discussion veered towards cuneiform writing and then into typography. I used the document camera to project images of a cuneiform and then quickly searched YouTube for a video of a printing press and a linotype machine. We also discussed versions of printing presses based on my personal online collection of images (via Picassa) taken while I was on a tour of the Bodleian Library’s collection of printing presses. Students quickly brought other instances of typography (both practical and theoretical) into the discussion by displaying and sharing their findings using Teamspot, software that allows anyone in the room to take over the front two SmartBoards.
Because the Incubator Classroom is an experimental space and because sometimes uses of technology can go terribly wrong, I typically don’t use student evaluations as an evaluative form in these courses. Instead, students write about the room and our uses of technology throughout the semester in their Moodle blogs or a forum. By taking the temperature of the class throughout the semester, I can adjust the use of technology both for class meetings and assignments. Student evaluations are not useful in this respect because they are returned too late to revise the course for the following semester or even for the next class session.
Each time that I teach a course, I not only improve upon the previous semester’s curriculum, but also its online representation. In the future, I would like to update the coding in these pages to implement a streamlined (non-frames) design, incorporate a blog, allow user-organized links (perhaps using Delicious), allow an RSS feed, update for ADA compliance, and more – to reflect recent technology innovations. Last year, I updated the opening page of my website to include my Google calendar, which allows students to see all of my SJSU meetings, class meetings, conference presentations/meetings, and office hours at a glance on this single calendar. I began and continue to use Twitter (@triproftri) to communicate with students, faculty across the world, and innovative technologists, as is evidenced by my Twitter stream available on the front page of my SJSU website.
Over the thirteen semesters while at this University, I have followed guidelines to perform student evaluations in at least two of my courses each year. Of the courses evaluated, only a few offer poor evaluations but the remaining offer good evaluations. Of the SOTES in question, one course (1A) was taught early in my SJSU career, one course (1B) was experimental in the use of technology, and the other two (both 100Ws) were courses that draw both majors and non-majors, where stricter grading standards are likely to occasion lower evaluations.
Patterns have evolved from all of the SOTEs, patterns that I have and continue to address. There are four SOTEs with #7 below the norm. I took note of this pattern and worked towards integrating more diversity into my courses. Since Spring 2008, the results have not fallen below the norm. I took corrective action and it worked. There are four SOTEs that exhibit a pattern below the norm for question #6 on approachability. Two of the evaluations are from SOTES for bad classes, 100W. Dean Toepfer notes in his 5th-Year Review that I should not be assigned 100W but not that I have failed in my teaching assignment based purely on these student evaluations. As happened with addressing question #7, I altered practices to improve performance in this particular area, namely allowing students variant forms of access to me. Included in the dossier teaching materials are email conversations, electronic responses to essays, and transcripts of Google Chats with two students who had difficult questions but could not attend my office hours. Instead, we resolved their complex literary questions via a form of text messaging conducted over the Internet – the transcript of the chats provide evidence that I am working to accommodate and encourage a wide range of student comfort levels with approaching me. The chat is evidence that these strategies, employed last year, are working.
Most recently, I have begun meeting with students over Skype, Google Talk, and Google Chat. I still hold normal office hours in my building, but adding optional meetings using virtual meeting spaces has proved very useful. In addition, I also continue to conduct email “conversations” with students, conversations that are more than simply answering logistical questions. By extending access to me virtually, students can reach me more readily, especially those who can’t come to campus during my office hours. I invite them to visit me during office hours, make an appointment, or set up a phone call if we need to have an extensive conversation. With all of this use of technology for meetings, my virtual contact with students breaks down as such: 2 hours per week on Google Chat; 8 hrs per week responding to emails; 30mins per week on Skype or iChat on average per semester.
I developed and maintain extensive (HTML) Websites for each course with the intention that students can find all handouts, policies, assignments, PowerPoint presentations and relevant websites, including student suggestions made during class session. In addition, each course schedule is updated weekly to record/archive course activities, including student presentations, as well as direct students to other online resources. Also included for each course are a variety of handouts, including assignment instructions, major project instructions, exams, study guides, informational handouts and in some cases, student writing with my comments. These course materials document various formal and informational classroom activities as well as emphasizing my use of writing as a learning tool.
Because reviewing my greensheets and the printed course materials included in this dossier is inadequate to understand the extent to which my students experience their classes, I invite committee members to review my general list of courses and websites available here.
Please note that development of web pages is the sole responsibility of individual faculty; neither IT Services nor the Center for Faculty Development offer development services. Since my course materials are so extensive, I do not use the Web Wizard or Desire2Learn and instead design each page (more than 100 course web pages exist on my website).