Giving a talk at Progress Energy

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Today my colleague Ashley R. Kelly and I were invited to Progress Energy headquarters in downtown Raleigh to talk with their corporate communication employees about our ongoing research into their merger with Duke Energy. We’ve been studying this merger ever since they announced it last January, and thus far have published a conference proceedings paper and a forthcoming journal article, with another one in the works. We’ve also presented various aspects of the project – the merger’s connection to the nuclear disaster in Japan, the public hearings, Twitter data and online newspaper reporting – in several academic venues, but this is our first foray into bringing our research to a group within the public sphere. It shows that our work – as with the work that many other academics do – has real world implications that are important and should be heard beyond the walls (or paywalls) of academic venues.

We had a great time today talking with the communication folks at Progress Energy. We spoke with employees in Raleigh (in person) but also had employees from their Florida locations calling in to LiveMeeting to hear us and see our presentation. We really enjoyed having a large chunk of time to talk about our work – no 12-15 minute conference limitations there! – and easily filled the time with our talk and their questions. They were an engaged and inquisitive group; they do their own research and had some of their own hypotheses about their social media use and public conceptions about the merger, but they learned a few things from our research and gained an alternate perspective hearing about public discourse from a pair of objective academic researchers. Their merger with Duke Energy is a messy, complicated, and enormous undertaking – and our research reflects that and speaks to the range of issues that the public is concerned with and the ways in which they have brought their ideas and concerns to the table (or have attempted to).

As a young academic, I feel the need to see the connection that my work has to the world around me and to find ways that I can better connect with the groups that we have worked so hard to study over the last year and a half with respect to this merger. Today we gave a group of people a glimpse into the work that academic researchers do, which I think is important to do such that more people might better understand what we do (and not make wild claims about only working 9 hours a week, like this crazy guy did).

Today was a great way to connect the work that we do to the broader community in which we live and to see the value of our work for others. I look forward to having more opportunities like this in the future. Our invitation today also shows that a little self-promotion (such as tweeting about events we are at or what we are studying) can help us to make important connections to the community. We were invited based on tweeting about our work for the better part of a year and the head of communications one day replying to a tweet to say, “Would you come and talk to us?” So we also very encouraged about reaching out to broader communities through social media. Overall, it was a great day!

My Techno-Teaching Philosophy

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This week, for my CRD 704 core class, Technology and Pedagogy in Communication Arts, I created a techno-teaching philosophy to present to the class. Our guidelines were basically to create a teaching philosophy using some kind of technology. I ended up using several different software programs, online freeware, and hyperlinks in my finished product: Adobe Indesign, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Fireworks, Adobe Acrobat, Glogster, WordPress, and Apple’s Pages to create my techno-teaching philosophy infographic.

I’ll include a small image of the file here, with a link to my online portfolio where the infographic is actually posted. I encourage you to check out the full-size view, complete with all of the embedded links that help to explain many of the graphics. What follows is the brief written description of the infographic that I’ve included as an accompaniment to the visual representation of my teaching philosophy. I welcome any feedback that you have. Hope you enjoy!

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For a full size view, click here
Teaching is a major part of my identity as a scholar; indeed, it is a major part of the reason why I have chosen this profession. The same commitment that I have to the scholarship of rhetoric propels my teaching. This infographic represents key points of my teaching in the academy. 
Medium

I have chosen to present my techno-teaching philosophy in an infographic format to reflect some key components of my scholarly and teaching identity: to feature my interests in new media, design, and visual rhetoric; to visually represent myself as a cheerful, upbeat person; and to demonstrate that I stay informed of current trends (one of which is currently the use of an infographic to represent data and other information). Infographics feature carefully selected research and data, presented in a highly-organized but visually-pleasing format, in order for the audience to draw a larger conclusion about the featured topic. My argument with this presentation is that it echoes my teaching style: thoughtfully constructed lesson plans, presented in a way that is provoking and fun for students by relating to their interests, which allow them to draw larger conclusions about the topic as a whole that we are discussing. 

Content

My teaching philosophy infographic is divided into three main sections: who and what I teach, my scholarly grounding in teaching, and evidence of teaching excellence. This presentation shows a trajectory of planning, implementation, and results, a reflection of how I approach assessment of my teaching. 

I begin with the audience for my instruction, “digital natives,” who while they may have grown up using a computer cannot be assumed to understand technology as those in my graduate program understand it. Here I can bring to my students a level of critical thinking and technological competence that will benefit their own use in years to come. I also use technology, social media, and digital media as a konoi topoi, or common topic, to spark discussion or use as an example. 

Knowing my audience also means recognizing not only what they want to learn, but how they want to learn. I teach both face-to-face and hybrid classes, knowing the growing trend in higher education of students take at least one of their courses in blended format. I’ve also linked this statistic to my web resource, The WPA’s Guide to the Hybrid Writing Classroom, to demonstrate my work in the scholarship of teaching and learning. 

The central portion of my infographic represents my scholarly grounding for teaching. As a rhetorically-trained scholar, I build my courses around principles of rhetoric that will most benefit students both while in school and once they begin their careers. I emphasize the rhetorical canons – invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery – and the rhetorical triangle, incorporating related topics of genre and the rhetorical appeals as we explore a wide range of texts, including written, visual, oral, digital, and multi-modal. This approach demonstrates a valuing of the foundational scholarship in the field while at the same time letting students realize that these key concepts can still be applied to the work and the technology they have today. 

I end with a demonstration of my teaching excellence. While in graduate school, I have endeavored to acquire many skills and listen to many excellent teachers to improve my own instruction. I’ve completed the Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching, and next fall, will be doing the Preparing the Professoriate program. My commitment to teaching is recognized by both my students and my department, as evidenced by my evaluations and TA of the Year award. 

Conclusion

From this infographic, it should be clear that my teaching is dynamic, disciplinarily cutting edge, and demanding, all while being grounded in scholarship and principles of effective pedagogy. This multi-modal infographic has allowed me to expand my understanding of what a teaching philosophy can be and to better represent my personal approach to teaching.

A moment to top all teaching moments

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Today, the most bizarre thing happened to me in class that I think has ever happened since I began teaching. Which granted is not that long, compared to my colleagues and my own instructors, but still a milestone that I’d like to discuss… mostly for its weirdness.

Right before class officially started today, one of my students (who is openly gay) began inviting his fellow classmates to NC State’s next LGBTQ events, a drag parade at the nightclub Flex here in Raleigh. After canvassing the class on an individual basis, he turned to me and yelled, “Ms. Kittle Autry! You have to come to the drag parade at Flex. YOU inspired MY costume!” . . . Awkward. So was the silence in our class. He quickly filled in with, “In the way that, you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The laughter in the classroom was uncomfortable, as was I, and I quickly said, “Well, I think I’ll take that as a compliment,” and launched into taking attendance. I did not – and still do not – take offense to the student’s comment. I’m flattered that he has considered me in trying to find a fun costume for an event that he is passionate about.

I hope now that I did not come across as “blowing off” the student’s interest. Although I’ve never had a student ask before, if one of them invited me to attend a sporting event, theater production, drag parade, whatever – I would seriously consider going to support the student and show my genuine interest as his or her teacher. And quite honestly, I’m more than mildly curious about this student’s interpretation of me (as a teacher) for various reasons. At this point I’m undecided: after looking at Flex’s website, the show doesn’t start until 12:30 Thursday night (aka Friday morning)! What party starts that late? I’m feeling older and older than my students all the time. But what matters is that I would like to support this student, who is actively pursuing his interests on campus.

My reflections on this incident have me thinking that – no matter how much TA training and faculty development workshops you attend, how many books you read, or how many other teachers you talk to – you will always encounter situations that you are utterly unprepared to deal with. People are vibrant, unpredictable, and full of new things you don’t know. That’s what makes life fascinating but also what makes teaching a roller-coaster ride. In one sense, it’s the challenge that draws you to teaching – no semester is ever the same! – but it’s the challenge that causes us to snark on Twitter or on other Internet fora. Maybe the more I teach, the faster I’ll be on my feet to think of what to say in that kind of situation.

So now I’m curious – what situations have you had teaching that render you helpless/speechless/unsure of how to deal? (You know, so in case it ever happens to me… I’ll have some knowledge upon which to draw!) Do share. And if I go to Flex tomorrow night – I’ll be sure to update you on that as well.

Uncertainty about the academy

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A concise, poignant post the other day sparked a snowballing conversation across the Internet about life as an academic, specifically in the humanities. An excerpt:

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively…
Because I want to continue to love it…
Because sometimes I consider how my light is spent…
Because there are other places where that training and preparation will be rewarded, respected, and used…
Because I am capable of more than I can do here…
Because leaving the system is a reclamation of the dignity and agency it has attempted to take from me…
I am leaving the academy.

The “doom and gloom” articles about job prospects in the humanities abound (so do the satirical videos about graduate school, too), and now, we’re hearing from someone (albeit anonymously) that she is quitting (yes, I’ll call it that). 

Today, a response to the post piqued my interest: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ to Lose, Motherf*cker.

The reason “because” had to be written is, well, …
because we have colleagues who would rather beg for scraps than be ethical
because T Th classes are more important to us than pointing out flawed curricula. Because if we do point that out, we might have to teach on Fridays.
because no matter how much we bemoan the loss of tenure, we do so out of self-interest. Because we believe we are owed something for years of grad school and poverty.  Because we are entitled.
because we are afraid of rocking boats when others are begging for our jobs.
 

Quite frankly, this dialogue is downright frightening for a current PhD student. What am I getting into? What kind of job future/security am I going to have? It’s very romantic to think that I’m going to learn for the rest of my life, help others learn, and make the world a better place, but I’ve got to be practical too – I need to make a living. (Allan has a great job, but – I was not raised to rely on men for my living!) So how can “my generation” of academics (ie. those up and coming/just starting out) approach these issues? Should we get used to the idea of tenure falling by the wayside and participate in conversations to develop a new system for promotion/job security that rewards us for hard work and benefits the university at the same time? Can I really live with having “a job” because others do not, even if the conditions are far less than ideal?

At a more personal level, this also has me wondering how to position myself as a scholar in an interdisciplinary PhD program. If more traditional English scholars (literature, composition) have a hard time finding jobs and working within the system of their department, where does this leave an interdisciplinary scholar? In terms of identity: Am I a rhetorical scholar with the ability to also teach communication courses? Am I an English/Communication interdisciplinary scholar? Am I a media scholar that specializes in rhetoric? What will allow me to be more marketable and/or find the right fit of an institution for my career? This is a struggle I see for some of us in this new, up-and-coming CRDM program. I love it – what’s not to love about learning more than one discipline? – but at the same time, I am concerned about the “working conditions” and job potential that lie ahead.

Goals for 2011

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Happy New Year! This is my first post from my new laptop – the Macbook Pro that I’d asked for for Christmas – and to follow the theme that the blogs in my Reader have done this week, I’m writing a “kick-off” post for the new year. I am not one who makes resolutions: instead of constantly trying to do something better, I identify goals that I am working toward. I’ve also read other bloggers who say that a public proclamation of goals motivates them to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Without further ado, here’s what I’d like to do academically in 2011 (and how I might do it):

  1. Join the conversation more. Starting to blog and activating a Twitter account were two ways in 2010 that I entered the conversation as an academic, but thus far I don’t think I’ve used either very effectively to dialogue with others in the field. My conversations have been pretty one-sided, so my goal is to begin legitimate conversations with other digital rhetoric and environmental communication scholars online. To start, I will not only continue with my blog, but I will more actively seek out those of others, read, and comment when I have a question or something to say. I’ll keep “listening” on Twitter, but will plan to jump in when I have a question or something to say. In short, I’ll converse less in my corner and more out in the open with others. I’ll need a bit of help with this: the best way to find great blogs, I think, is through others. Please feel free to share your blog or someone else’s that you follow so that I can, too.
     
  2. Go to more conferences. I’ve stuck mostly to regional conferences thus far, quite honestly due to a lack of confidence. I need to get over this and start branching out! So, I’m going to seriously consider the conference calls that come my way and send in abstracts to the larger, national conferences. This is the status quo for academia, so I really need to step it up here if I’m going to cut it in the field (or, that’s at least how graduate school makes it seems. Feel free to correct me here).
  3. Submit an article or two for publication. Originally my goal was to get something published, but that timeline might be too tight. So I’m setting the bar low (ha!) and going with just submission. Is it better to accomplish a lesser feat, but actually cross it off the list, than to aim high and not get there? I guess I’ll see.
  4. Continue to get involved in the CRDM department. I realize that service is an important part of any vitae, but I join committees, help with workshops, and offer leadership for a greater reason: I actually want to be an admin one day. Every aspect of the department and field that I can learn about, I think, can help me in the future as I begin to reach for leadership positions in a departments. I hope this isn’t too much of “putting the cart before the horse” (ie. planning to be a dean before I even get a teaching job!), but I hope that by making connections, I’ll be better prepared to jump into a position that fewer and fewer professors/academics are interested in pursuing.

I really should also include a goal for my teaching, but since I’ve talked about improving my role in the classroom previously, I’ve kept the focus here on my role as a student/academic.

What do you hope to do in 2011?

What I’ll do better next semester

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At the beginning of the semester, I talked about how I wanted to do a better job of encouraging my students to engage critically with ideas and to work with social issues that they are passionate about, inspired by Friedman’s discussion of creativity and ingenuity in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Last week I had my teaching observation, which led me to reflect on what we’ve accomplished thus far and what still remains. Overall, I feel as if I haven’t lived up to the expectations I set for myself in teaching the students critical thinking about real world situations. Sure, they learned to think critically about a speech, a couple of journal articles, some sample student papers, but – I didn’t bring opportunities to them to discuss much that’s happening outside of our classroom. And that disappoints me. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to make the hybrid class experience as effective as possible that I forgot about my other goals.

Now that I’ve gotten the first semester of hybrid teaching (nearly) under my belt, I’ve got plans to revamp the material. I’m teaching the same type of section in the spring, still the 100-minute class time, and I plan to use the first ten minutes of each class to talk to students about something that’s happening at that time in the news or at NCSU and have them engage in critical thinking about these issues every class. I know this isn’t a new or novel idea and that many other instructors incorporate something like this in their curriculum already.  I was inspired last week after re-reading some of Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps to tackle something along these lines. I thought going in to the reading that I was doing what he advocates for, but after finishing, I felt as if I fell short.

So, over break, I’ll re-work some of the syllabus to accommodate more time for class discussion about current issues and maybe come up with a system for having the students bring in articles and ideas that they want to discuss. If I start “exercising” that component of my students’ brains early on, I have a hunch that it might improve my students’ ability to think critically about the texts they analyze for homework or for their unit projects. I also hope it will teach them a little maturity, too, by exposing them to ideas that they are uncomfortable with initially or showing them alternative ideologies that they may not have considered before. Another benefit that might come out of these discussions is a greater connection to the students. This semester has been difficult for me, only seeing students one day per week. I don’t know the students as well, and overall, the vibe is just different from other semester (where I would teach them four days a week!).

Do any of you do some kind of critical thinking activity/discussion in your classes before you begin the lesson for the day? How do you introduce outside topics to the class for discussion? I’d love to hear suggestions about what works and what doesn’t.

Colbert’s take on my last post

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It happens fairly often that after I post something, I stumble upon an article or video touching on the same topic. After I posted “Why I love grad school,” I was reminded of this video that Jeff sent to me a while back. Colbert does such a great job at summing up the importance of challenging each other’s ideas and coming in contact with ideas that make you uncomfortable that I thought I’d let you hear it for yourself. (Apologies, but the code for embedding the video into the post is broken on the show’s site. Linking to The Colbert Report instead!)

The Word: Heated Debate 

Of course, my favorite line – and that which has become a driving force for a research project this semester – “Sure, there’s a vast consensus on global warming science, but doesn’t the opposing 5% deserve 50% of the time?”