As a medieval literary scholar, I have spent much of my career exploring the diverse ways in which audiences across periods engaged with, interpreted, and composed different forms of literature. As a digital humanist, I aim to find new, inclusive modes of disseminating my research to new generations of students who otherwise would not have access to archival and unpublished material. I came to find in my work on thirteenth-century hagiographical documents that literature is not only a catalyst for and response to cultural shifts but a space for critical engagement with the world around us. Literature is a lens into the zeitgeist.
I believe that curiosity is the catalyst for learning, and as a teacher-scholar, I aim to cultivate curiosity in my students by modelling learning through research. St. Augustine writes that interpretation depends upon two processes: “discovering what we need to learn, and the process of presenting what we have learnt.” As a teacher-scholar, I leverage my experiences as a researcher in my pedagogy. My approach to instruction is two-fold: to foster an inquisitive mind by asking challenging questions, and not only by asking questions but by teaching how to ask questions; and to present new knowledge through different mediums in a well-structured manner. Learning should be cultivated through systematic inquiry moving from the concrete to the abstract, from the simple to the complex. In my experience teaching first-year literature and composition courses, this process begins by having students describe their initial observations about a work of literature— what the text looks like, sounds like—before having the students ask questions about their observations—why does the text look like that, why does it sound like that. Through this process, I model the best practices in research and take every opportunity to present students with a wide array of disciplines and areas of research that might pique their interests, fostering in them a sense of curiosity about the world around them.
In addition to the vitality of individuality, I believe there is virtue in community. Learning is naturally collaborative, and knowledge is built through accretion. I encourage students to share their ideas through peer-to-peer interactions in my classroom through carefully designed exercises that cultivate collaborative learning.
One method I employ in the classroom as a teacher-scholar is through the practice of peer review. Because knowledge is collaborative, and I believe that literary studies is best understood as a dialogue, I employ the practices of professional literary scholars in my teaching. During the writing process, I divide students into peer-review groups and have them provide detailed, constructive feedback throughout the writing process and present critiques of each others’ work. Students initially resist providing thoughtful criticism because they are insecure, but I have found that the quality of the subsequent work following peer-review is improved significantly. When I begin this process, I provide students with a set of questions that they can answer about their peers’ work. However, I have found that many go above and beyond and provide incisive commentary. However, because students are learning, I believe it is essential that I moderate this process to ensure that it is inclusive and equitable; as such, I utilize digital platforms to facilitate the process through learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas. This way, I can ensure that the feedback my students provide to each other is on topic, critical, and ultimately helpful.
I take an interdisciplinary approach to my pedagogy, integrating diverse theoretical fields informed by my research program into my instruction. I am actively involved in the digital humanities community, currently sitting on the International Advisory Committee of TEI by Example (a pedagogical tool for DH instruction). I integrate new research into my instruction by participating in broader learning communities. Likewise, as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students alike, I draw on their lived experiences to further develop my engagement in their interests. I have since integrated ideas and concepts from sociology and psychology as well as mathematics and sciences to demonstrate the utility of the skills learned in an English classroom. This is because I know the majority of my students continue in other departments and programs.
I am a firm believer that instructors ought to be adaptable in their approach to instruction. Traditionally, this meant that instructors should not be bound to script, lesson plan, or the syllabus but navigate the course according to the needs of the student. In short, teach the student, not the syllabus. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I adapted my entire syllabus from a face-to-face, synchronous classroom setting to a remote, asynchronous digital setting. Because many of my traditional approaches to literary studies focus on conversations and dialogues, I had to re-evaluate how best to facilitate discussions in a digital asynchronous setting. By utilizing digital platforms like discussion boards, I maintain a high level of student participation through consistent encouragement and close monitoring of discussions by participating myself. My decision to rely on discussion boards was based on my student-first approach to learning. I seriously considered the needs of students who were, in times of crisis, not always able to meet through video conferences or did not have the resources to meet face-to-face digitally. My students have expressed to me following the Covid-19 pandemic that they valued the discussion boards as an outlet that encouraged active learning.
Evaluations cause anxiety for students, and they can have long-lasting impacts on a student’s academic trajectory. While it is essential to provide consistent and appropriate evaluations to students, I believe it is my responsibility as the instructor to consider a broader portrait of the student’s performance. I believe that performance should be rewarded in addition to product, as effort and growth are demonstrable signs of the learning process.
Given that I have high expectations of my students, I also acknowledge that learning is a lifelong journey and does not end after a final exam or submitting a term paper. Therefore, I give equal weight to my formative feedback as I do my summative feedback. I have found that comments and advice prove more effective than a numbered grade on assignments. Because of this, I provide students with substantial written comments on all assignments. This serves two purposes: first, it provides students with rationales for their grades; and second, it provides important details for areas of improvement. I have, after student feedback, begun to use carefully designed rubrics for different assignments to alleviate anxieties about the mysteries of grading. Not only have I found rubrics helpful to students, but they have become an essential tool for me to ensure that my grading is fair and consistent.
Throughout lessons, I provide oral feedback to student performance to encourage and challenge ideas presented in class discussions. By integrating feedback into lessons and course design, I provide different outlets for feedback so that each student receives the type of feedback they require in a timely fashion. However, it is not my sole responsibility to dispense feedback. Throughout the semester, I provide students with opportunities to evaluate themselves and myself in different formats. Through the “stop-start-continue” activity periodically throughout the semester, students can evaluate my instructional methods to improve the quality and effectiveness of my instructional practices. From my experience, students appreciate the opportunity to voice their needs.