My primary aim as a course instructor is for students to act autonomously, and to articulate demands for knowledge and practical experience as opposed to simply meeting expectations. Classrooms ought to be places to foster skills for self-governance, collaboration, and collegiality. But they can also be unpredictable, psychically charged, and unsafe. In response to this range of possibilities, I believe my first task as an instructor is to initiate dialogue as an end-in-itself. Lecturing as a genre of storytelling that aims to foster engaged listening is one part of this equation. Another, however, is inviting students to participate in conversations and to experiment by drawing from their own knowledge. To carry out both tasks simultaneously, my teaching style involves frequently asking questions and staging provocations with the aim of giving students an opportunity to engage. Providing this opportunity is my goal whether the class includes 12 students or 200. Verbal contributions allow me to rephrase the student’s thought by connecting to a larger discursive field. If I achieve this goal with any degree of success, the student will leave the session feeling empowered.
I have devised numerous strategies for teaching lectures, seminars, and tutorials. To challenge the perception that lectures are impersonal, for instance, I tend to devote a large portion of them to conversationally extrapolating from selected information offered on slides. By including sparse but pertinent information on the screen, and by using the screen as a projection of my own thoughts, I can make the necessary connections while affording myself the time to offer useful illustrations, interventions, additions, and anecdotes. I also consistently use visual media to invite a deeper analysis or historical touch point. In seminars, I generally opt to foreground discussion and debate using textual and visual resources. I leave students to debate amongst themselves, and re-direct to core themes and problems whenever appropriate. In tutorials, my aim is to facilitate collaboration and problem solving. I rely mainly on group work or informal discussions to get a sense of where the material has landed. I also encourage weekly tutorial self-evaluation, and opportunities for commentary and peer review, which has been tremendously helpful when it comes to reading the room.
Working with students in a collaborative, media-lab environment in my workshop on Computational Arts has strongly aligned my teaching with fields of research-creation. Providing students freedom to explore various intersections between critical theory and creative practical work requires a professorial skill akin to graduate supervision, in that it requires one to be attuned to a different tempo of progress. Checking in with the students periodically over several weeks is a dialogical process as opposed to a directly evaluative one. Workshopping creative work further provides an opportunity for students with specific skills to make connections. Once such a supportive environment has been achieved, I gently introduce the perennial question of whether artistic research produces knowledge.
In undergraduate teaching, my assignment scheme varies to meet the level of the course. For example, in working with senior undergraduates in fourth year seminars, I find it extremely helpful to assign a research proposal several weeks beforehand as a way of establishing a dialogue with students about their work. Assessments in lower-level core classes, on the other hand, require less focus on self-directed research and more on structured writing assignments, tests, and group participation. Across the board, I have experimented with roundtable discussions, debate teams, ethnographic projects, and research-creation exercises, and I have also experimented with alternative evaluation methods such as peer assessment, professional development (publishing and conference organizing), and technology-enhanced experiential learning.
As someone aligned with LGBTQ2+, I feel it is my personal responsibility to foster inclusiveness for students who belong to any minoritized group. I aim to make my classroom a safe space built on egalitarian principles, support, and solidarity. In my explanation of participation grades, for example, I emphasize the need to balance the student’s contributions with those who feel more entitled to speak than others. I also regularly connect course themes to topics and stories that acknowledge the existence of gender diversity and discrimination, historical and social causes of mental illness, and those who suffer under racism and ethnocentrism. I continually aim to decolonize my syllabus, namely putting Western traditions and canons into sharp critical perspectives, and to counter the ableism, sexism, and racism that has too often been perpetuated in the name of canonical literatures. I regard decolonizing learning as an urgent necessity, not just an obligation. My approach to teaching is informed by self-positioning and acknowledging my own privilege as a white settler. I admit when I’m wrong. I stand for justice for minoritized students both in the classroom and institutionally. I stay politically informed, and I make myself available as an ally and support for students who may be struggling.
I have been privileged by opportunities to take on mentorship roles with graduate students, whether as supervisor, committee member, or examiner. Graduate supervision in general requires a different skill set than undergraduate teaching that I am eager to learn more about. I have taken on substantial mentorship roles with many Teaching Assistants over the years. I work closely with my teaching staff to ensure consistency in evaluation, and I encourage them to pursue their research. In the classroom, I have had the pleasure of working with undergraduate students both in conference organizing and academic publishing initiatives. In 2017, for example, I initiated a project with Mediapolis: Journal of Cities and Culture, publishing peer-reviewed versions of student term papers from a capstone coursein the journal’s inaugural Student Voices section. In general, I find that mentorship and supervision is often left unspoken for and deserves more critical attention.