My chief teaching goal is to prepare students not only to understand the world but to act within it — to claim their own place, contribute, and affect positive change. One of my boilerplate speeches intoned on the first day of most of my classes advises students to “be mindful of the wide and wonderful world in which we live, particularly how the university education you’ve signed up for offers a microcosm of it for you to sample safely.” This is delivered in the context of my insistence that everyone respect the diversity of their fellow classmates, but it points to significant responsibilities on either side of the symbiotic relationship. For their part, students must seize the opportunities available to them in order to determine what their unique contributions might look like and how to maximize them — to see the change they want to be. I, meanwhile, must usher them toward those opportunities, possibly crafting or even hacking them into existence — managing that microcosm in order that each and every student might not be mere spectators but make those moves from seeing their place in the world to seizing it.
My pedagogy has evolved over the course of nearly 25 years of experience as an associate instructor, a TA, and an adjunct (during my professional career). I have taught in a variety of institutions — community college, private liberal-arts, major research university — both contributing to existing curricula (from literary criticism to communication theory) and designing my own courses (a popular history of American protest music called Music as Social Action, plus themes within a writing program called “Ghosts in the Machines” and “Media and Materiality,” based on my own research). With the benefit of my own trial-by-fire experiences — as well as some welcome evidence-based training in learning methods, which I took advantage of at UCSD (a 2017 certificate in Teaching & Learning at the College Level) — I have fashioned an outlook on teaching based on inclusive methods and considerable social responsibility. To maintain this outlook, I endeavor to foster teaching experiences that focus on three specific methods: a metacognitive approach, student-centered design, and an inclusive environment for all.
A metacognitive approach to teaching is a fancy way to say that I’m being reflexive about the learning process. My classes are designed to include consistent opportunities not only to learn the required concepts but to stop and think about the learning itself. It’s a tactic I learned in both my UCSD training as well as through actual practice. The Muir College Writing Program, where I’ve taught academic writing skills since 2016, features several built-in exercises that encourage reflexive thinking. After each writing assignment, for instance, students complete a short worksheet, in which they reflect on and express what about the freshly completed assignment worked or fell short, what veered from the plan (if there was a plan) or went off like a hitch, what challenged them the most, and what they’ll do differently next time. The resulting document is mildly useful to me — providing a between-the-lines reading of student performance, as well as a good way for me to catch any discrepancies between my own evaluations and how they think they’re doing — but massively useful to them (despite what they may express) in terms of concretizing thinking and cementing conscious awareness of skill levels and goals. Reflections like this also have proven to be valuable punctuations in the course schedule, offering closure to assignments that feels more self-satisfying than merely awaiting the external pronouncement of my grade. It’s been a crucial extra layer to the classroom experience that I’ve incorporated into other courses in different ways, including what I call shorter “Stop, Reflect, & Write” breaks in my Communication courses and the MediaWatch assignment I’ve added to my argumentative-writing courses (in which students take the same tools they apply to academic texts and transpose them to arguments they locate within news media).
This is related to another focus of mine: student-centered teaching. In the superlative How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, the authors observe that “if [students’] initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts” and simply focus on the final exam or project, returning to their preconceptions after the class is finished. One method I’ve found useful in addressing, integrating, and challenging such preconceptions is to structure classes and learning modules to allow students early control and consistent responsibility for outcomes — their own and those of others — whenever this is feasible for the type of class. This means a lot of student-led presentations and discussions, peer-review work, even some say or flexibility in overall course design. (I’ve even taken a few cues from a philosopher central to my own media-studies research, Vilém Flusser, whose rascally Socratic dialogues expound about the differences between discursive and dialogic social experiences, and how to design more for the latter.) One simple exercise that’s proven useful in a variety of course contexts is what I call the Q&A of the Day: students are assigned one day during the term in which they must initiate class discussion by posing a single question related to the day’s topics and proffering their own argumentative answer. Also, the first time I taught my protest-song survey course some students expressed interest in writing their own song as a focus for their final paper; I altered the assignment to assist them and others to do so, and I now feature this “creative” option each time I teach the course, as it’s become one of the richest ways to seal the learning by integrating discourse and practice. Student-led instruction must be stringently and subtly monitored (and I’m not claiming to have mastered it thus far), but its rewards can be superlative.
Students can only take the lead, though, if they are comfortable and confident about participating. This is why I’ve taken several measures — theoretical, practical, and technical — in order to maintain access to the learning experience as openly as possible. Many easy tasks make the learning experience more welcoming for all students. In preparing course material, I consistently update my content with culturally diverse examples, images, and exam questions. In calling on students during classes, I randomize the roll sheet. (Once, I used dice in order to make this performative, which had positive effects for diversity of experience and provided significant inducement to stay alert and current with reading assignments.) Wherever possible, I provide multiple channels through which students might “participate,” so that the sociable, talkative ones can speak up in class while others might be more comfortable and contributory by posting on a course blog. More recently, during the pandemic, like many of us, I became frustrated by how much the remote-learning technologies quashed the lively class discussions I was used to. In my small academic writing course, I bucked the usual technical advice and occasionally required students to remain unmuted throughout certain sessions. The lack of that additional barrier to participation — to speaking out, piping up, chiming in — refreshed our conversations tenfold and resulted in significantly positive evaluations.
These three drivers of my teaching — reflexivity, responsibility, and diversity — fuel my own efforts to contribute to society by leading and guiding students to go forth into it and actively engage. This merely continues the initial philosophy that inspired my original two-decades professional career as a journalist. Inspired by privileged secondary and undergraduate classroom experiences, I studied mass-communication after being inspired by a maxim from Hunter S. Thompson: “That’s the main thing about journalism: it allows you to keep learning and get paid for it.” Steering that career into features journalism and arts criticism, I reveled in culture’s highly accessible opportunities to initiate public dialogues about social discourses — dialogues often richer than those sparked in the news columns. When teaching communication and media, I find similar common ground on which to engage dialogue, particularly once students realize how much they already know about communicating and using media. Once they recognize that they already have a considerable stake in the world around them, as well as formidable skills in navigating it that are surfaced through the coursework, their view of that world tends to open — as does a desire to write their own name on it.
 National Research Council, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000), 14.
 See Vilém Flusser, Post-History, trans. Rodrigo Maltez Novaes (Minneapolis: Univocal, 1983/2013).
 O’Rourke, P.J, “Interview with Hunter S. Thompson,” Rolling Stone (Nov. 5-Dec. 10, 1987), 230-232.
Experience & syllabi
— University of California-San Diego, 2018-present
Designed these courses in the Communication department.
— University of California-San Diego, 2016 to 2017, 2019-present
Teaching introductory writing and argument courses in the Muir College Writing Program.
— University of California-San Diego, 2014 to 2016
Teaching sections of undergraduate communication lecture courses:
— University of Illinois-Chicago, 2008 to 2009
Teaching interviewing skills in the communication program.
— The Collegian, at the University of Tulsa, 2004 to 2005
Advising the annual staff of this student newspaper.
— University of Tulsa, 2000 to 2005
Teaching features reporting and writing in the communication program.
— Tulsa Community College, 1995 to 2000
Teaching honors sections of freshman-level English literature and composition.