I preface this brief treatise by situating myself as a sympathizer of pragmatist John Dewey, specifically as a writing teacher whose practice is driven by the notion that rhetorical experiences are informed by, not contained within, classroom spaces. And since my methods are continually adjusted and refined as I accumulate and synthesize experiences in a variety of institutional and technological contexts, thereby resisting a static, blanketed approach, I thus illustrate below three guiding principles that consistently manifest and productively intersect in my pedagogical praxis.
Metaphor, not as a literary trope but as a meta-cognitive tool, frames each writing project in my courses, particularly in first-year writing. I believe that metaphor provides an accessible entry-point to discuss how discourse shapes thought, and thus drives action (G. Lakoff and M. Johnson, 1980). Not merely casting paragraphs as sandwiches and revision as sewing (D. Bowden, 1999), I use metaphor as a mode of rhetorical critique, as a way to discuss expected roles, actions, and communicative practices by individuals in a given social context. The embedded table you see here was collaboratively built during a first-year writing course I taught at the University of South Florida and was the result of a larger conversation about how institutional discourse shaped their view of education. Their tasks were to write about what the expected roles of teachers and students were in a university context that, according to its mission statement, strove for excellence (B. Readings, 1997) and then argue for ways that students could either resist or promote extant or new metaphors for postsecondary educational practice.
Technology, itself ripe with metaphors for rhetorical practice, is not in my view a sexy theme of writing — it is writing. Students in my courses are asked engage with a variety of writing technologies, from writing first drafts in pencil to creating research-based infographics disseminated through social media, and are consistently required to reflect upon the affordances and limitations of each technology for a given rhetorical end. Writing technologies are not used in a vacuum, however; they are public artifacts that circulate within and through communities. In my upper-level face-to-face and online professional writing courses at USF, I have students create blogs that serve as the primary webspace for local non-profit organizations of their choice in Tampa. In engaging in a writing technology typically associated in composition scholarship with self-centered exigences (S. Downes, 2004; G. Middlebrook, 2011), and having them build and connect these material, rhetorical artifacts within larger online and physical publics (Dewey, 1909; J. Aber, 1991), students not only become more critical but also more responsible users of writing technologies.
If, then, students alter their metaphors for education and become critical users of technology, the door is opened for the overarching objective of all my classes: citizenship. I believe that educators have the ethical responsibility to build bridges between the classroom and the very community that supports the local university. Broadly defined, efforts by teachers to develop the skills necessary for students to become productive and responsible citizens are both prevalent and well-trodden (not the least of these theorists is Dewey himself). Despite its strides, what service-based learning is lacking is an adequate vision of how to attune to citizenship in online modes of education. Last semester, I made my best effort to carve out this theoretical space by having all three sections of my professional writing class (two online, one face-to-face) contribute to a blog called PWs at USF. The purpose of this collaborative blog was to provide tutorials and web-based instructions for a variety of tools and topics related to the work professional writers do in the workplace. In this way, it was the students who were providing a service for active professional writers, not only in the Tampa Bay area but in the variety of publics their WordPress blog posts reached. By being responsible producers of knowledge, both face-to-face and online students co-created a citizen-centered space that not only revealed their grasp of common topics relevant to professional writers but also practically served those currently in the workforce.