My teaching philosophy is organized around an all-caps mantra: EXPERIMENTATION IS THE GOAL—NOT PERFECTION. Addressing a cliché—perfection is the goal, excellence will be tolerated— my modified statement reflects my commitment to advocating for the unique space of the classroom. University classrooms provide teachers and students a space to share as learners, a space where we do not have to meet perfectionist demands of the market, a space where we are free to fail, invent, and experiment. Eschewing societal expectations of perfection, I aim to empower my students to learn and explore. With this in mind, I follow three steps to emphasize experimentation.
Embrace disagreement fostered by diversity. My syllabus models the diversity and disagreement that I hope students and I can co-create in the classroom. When I design courses, I focus on introducing students to course texts that represent and challenge them. In Digital Identities, Digital Politics, I introduced students to the diversity of thought about how to address racial inequality in debates around terms like anti-racism or white privilege. One student remarked that “Matthew provided us with lots of readings that contradicted, challenged, and built on each other. This showed us that groups of people (Black feminist scholars for example) are not monoliths, and it challenged us to find our own evidence-backed opinions in the tension between these arguments.” In class discussions, I invite students into participation by balancing seminar-style discussions with small-group activities so that everyone has a chance to participate in the testing of ideas. These conversations show students that they will be invited to serious discussions of ideas that can flow from lived experience, rather than being tokenized or burdened with representing their identities.
Practice serious experimentation. Experimentation in the classroom is methodological. I think of my theory-driven courses as an opportunity to create a rhetorical lab exploring the questions that take theory into practice. Why should we care about arguing with others? Students in Critical Thinking and Speaking intervened in digital publics by making blog posts and podcasts. Can the issues that divide us also unite us? Students in Deliberative Democracy tried it out in their weekly mini-public deliberations on controversial issues like abortion and cancel culture. Can Twitter bots contribute to democratic discourse? Students in Digital Culture and Civic Life built bots to find out. Students have reported in evaluations that experimenting like this offers “an appealing and understandable intersection between the exhaustive theories that Communications offers and how to physically apply these theories…within the modern digital communication landscape.” I further encourage this type of experimentation by crafting rubrics that emphasize inventiveness and respond to each student’s context, a process developed in tandem with my research group’s work on rubrics in an article published in Communication Teacher.
Pair reactions with reflections. Every communicative interaction we have and witness belies more complicated cultural processes. The most challenging—and arguably the most important—responsibility of the classroom is to facilitate the revelation of and reflection upon one’s presuppositions. My pedagogical mantra itself shows that our cultural commonplaces (e.g., about perfection) are worth investigating and turning on their heads to see what we can learn. In the classroom, I ask students to identify the formats that elicit such reactions and reflect on the rhetorical significance of these processes. My Digital Culture and Civic Life class focuses on how five basic emotions (happiness, pain, boredom, outrage, and hatred) were formatted by digital platforms like TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Similarly, in the study abroad program I directed, students explored formats of national museums and capital cities engaged in constitutive practices of national culture.
Here you can find course descriptions for previous and current courses that I’ve taught and developed.
I taught this course while leading Pacific Lutheran University’s International Honors Study Away program at the University of Oxford in Spring 2022. As an interdisciplinary liberal arts course, I was tasked with presenting my research interests using various disciplinary lenses to a group of students who studied humanities, social science, and natural and computer sciences. … Continue reading IHON257SA: Digital Identities, Digital Politics
I developed this course for the new “Digital communication and media” major at the University of Maryland’s Department of Communication. This course asks: what does it mean to participate in civic life in a digital age? Students explore their role as participants in digital culture by critically engaging contemporary case studies alongside learning digital production … Continue reading COMM398T: Digital Culture and Civic Life
I assisted Dr. Shawn Parry-Giles with the development of the UMD Honors College course Deliberative Democracy. This is an I-series course, which means it is guided by a central question: Can the political issues that most divide us also unite us? To explore this question, the course is inspired by theories of deliberative democracy and … Continue reading HNUH238A: Deliberative Democracy
I developed a version of this argumentation-focused public speaking course that focused on multimodal public speaking. Students created Twitter threads, blog posts, and podcasts alongside traditional extemporaneous speeches. This was a six-week summer course. Description This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. … Continue reading COMM200: Critical Thinking and Speaking