graduate school

Graduate School

Many of us committed to digital pedagogy attended graduate programs that offered us the opportunity to teach in classrooms that contained high-end software and hardware. In my graduate program at Miami University, I taught in a laptop-designated section or hardwired classroom every semester though the Digital Writing Collaborative (DWC). I honed my abilities in teaching first year writing in a particular environment, never thinking about how that pedagogy might adapt to other environments.

Aside from first year writing, I also had the opportunity to teach composition theory to pre-service teachers, a class that contained no specific expectations about the use or discussion of technologies. This class, taught in my fourth year, represented the first time I faced a room full of students without laptops in front of them. Because only half the class owned a laptop, I could not incorporate classroom activities that relied on computer use. Regardless, I still had students keep blogs to respond to the reading, brainstorm ideas about writing projects, and ask each other (and me) questions; we talked about how the internet highlights the rhetorical principle of audience (particularly an online space such as Facebook); students generated internet-based projects that they might incorporate in their own classrooms; I provided them with the option of incorporating a digital multimodal project into their final assignment (a unit plan), an option that many of them chose.

In order to become more flexible practitioners of digital pedagogy, we should seek out opportunities to teach in a variety of classroom environments as graduate students. Even one semester in an environment that differs from what we are used to can go a long way toward making our pedagogy more supple. I think of the many times I or a colleague encouraged a fellow instructor who had never taught in a hard-wired or laptop classroom to give it a try. But I rarely directed that spirit of pedagogical experimentation back toward myself. I am not advocating that instructors seek out the most unfriendly classroom on campus, or forsake the material components that are most deeply embedded in our teaching practices (for me, an LCD projector); rather, I am arguing that graduate school represents an ideal time for experimenting with different pedagogical approaches. In fact, many programs offer ongoing discussion groups and workshops that could serve as a platform for talking about adapting pedagogical approaches to different technological environments. Conversations about how digital pedagogies look in a variety of settings could be useful to graduate students as they begin to imagine a life of teaching beyond their present institutions.

In addition, considering that many of us do our graduate work at places where a solid technological infrastructure is already in place, it makes sense for graduate students to become acquainted with the stories of how that infrastructure developed. The field does a great job of preparing technorhetoricians to undertake their scholastic and pedagogical responsibilities as future faculty members. We do not do as great a job teaching graduate students about infrastructure and its implications. DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill (2005) reminded the field of the importance of having a secure understanding of local infrastructural arrangements:

To understand the contexts that make possible and limit, shape and constrain, and facilitate and prevent new-media composing, new-media teachers and students need to be able to account for the complex interrelationships of material, technical, discursive, institutional, and cultural systems. An infrastructural approach reveals the layers and patterns behind the products of new-media composing—patterns that directly affect contemporary writing, writing pedagogy, and writing classrooms. Our claim is that to teach and understand new media composing, some understanding of new media infrastructure is necessary. (pp. 36-37)

For many of us, graduate school was a time when we were so focused on the "products of new-media composing," that the "layers and patterns behind the products" remained largely invisible. Ultimately, the willingness to engage in an infrastructural approach rests with graduate students. I also, however, urge our graduate programs in digital rhetoric to devote more attention to this aspect of teaching with technology. Graduate students should call upon the expertise of faculty members to help them learn about the development of their program as it relates to technology—how did these labs, machines, video cameras get here in the first place?—and also become more familiar with the various areas of their particular technological ecology. In doing so, graduate students will be better equipped to know what to look for, who to talk to, and what to ask when they reach their faculty jobs.