Contemporary students are positioned at the intersection of a vertiginous network of information media and interpretive contexts. They are consistently asked to participate in live and online classroom communities, ingest and interpret texts of all kinds from print to digital sources, build and use digital tools, and transition between bodies of information that are continually being mediated and remediated. My role as a teacher is to provide students with strategies for orienting themselves within these contexts and with the confidence to engage as citizens sensitive to the complexity of the lives they and others lead. From my basic writing to my literature classes, I seek to equip students with these skills by emphasizing argumentation. I begin by introducing students to the explicit and implicit arguments that inform each of the social, material, and cultural artifacts with which they come in contact. For students interacting with massive amounts of information, developing the skills to identify and evaluate the positions of others provides the informed orientation necessary to navigate the many interpretive situations in which they may find themselves.
Beyond the skills and techniques I seek to impart, I am an advocate for the special set of questions, techniques, and ethical concerns that accompanies traditional humanities inquiry. My most effective and rewarding experiences as a teacher happen when I establish connections between the interpretive strategies associated with literary studies and those necessary for students living and working in contemporary communities. My research is defined by the study of transatlantic modernism, contemporary American literature, digital humanities, and comparative media studies, but I welcome the opportunity to teach texts outside my specializations, as well; the enterprise of interpreting literature from all periods and genres helps students to internalize modes of inquiry that are crucial for interacting with media and information of all kinds. In order to instill these critical approaches, I mix class discussion with group work, engaging students in the process of interpreting and responding to texts as part of a discursive community that extends from the literature classroom into their daily lives. In my upper level undergraduate course, Modernist Information Media, I introduce literary texts as media objects produced within the material and social conditions of their time. For instance, an assignment I call “Reverse Engineering Ulysses” asks students to identify intertextual elements in the “Aeolus” episode of Ulysses and then trace those elements from the final text back to the many sources from which Joyce drew them. Using these textual and media studies techniques, students learn that Joyce’s modernist masterpiece extends beyond the text we read into a series of notesheets he used to gather and organize the information he integrated into the text. These different levels of composition, the systems through which Joyce winnowed these elements and the text of Ulysses in which they appear together resemble the operations of digital media such as databases. This approach to literary texts poses questions of authorship and aesthetics by foregrounding the material and technical factors that contribute to each of the texts the students encounter and illustrates the genealogy of digital information management tactics.
My approach to student assessment is in some ways old-fashioned. I believe that when learning to write and develop an argument, there is no substitute for producing drafts, receiving detailed feedback, and revising. Not only does this method provide students with more writing practice, but it also instills in them the importance of process in producing college-level work. My assignments feature detailed rubrics that make each assignment’s learning outcomes clear, and I am as transparent as possible about my grading process. I am also a proponent of frequent small-scale writing projects for literature courses in which students identify quotations, ideas, or other aspects of each text they find important or interesting. By requiring students to generate substantive reactions to class material, I shift the practice of reading from passive absorption of information to active interaction with ideas and the formation of evidence based positions. Each of my assignments relates to the complex social, ethical, and cultural questions confronting students in a contemporary university setting.