Greetings, Britts!

I’m thrilled to be joining a group of teachers and scholars from whom I can already tell I will be pilfering many valuable ideas and resources.  In fact, the pilfering has already begun.  Fellow Emory alums and current Britts Katy Crowther and Michelle Miles have been very generous with their advice and expertise.  I should probably confess before I go any further:  So far, my experience incorporating technology in the classroom has mostly been limited to course management software and student blogs.  I taught Technical Communication at UF, where I did my Masters from 2002 to 2004, but I became interested in and focused on comparative minority US literatures, cultures, mythologies, and rhetorics while working on my dissertation at Emory, where I received my degree in May 2010.  My dissertation, “Word of Myth: Critical Stories in Minority American Literature,” examines the role of mythic narratives in twentieth-century African American, Native American, Chicana/o, and Chinese American literatures and cultures—something, at least on the surface, a bit far afield from the concerns of digital humanists.  I’m looking forward to learning more about how I might bridge the gap, perhaps by thinking about the parallels between the way myths circulate as dehistoricized, often oral narratives, and the way digital information circulates in cyberspace.

This past year, I was a VAP at Agnes Scott College, a small liberal arts college for women here in Atlanta, where I taught a range of courses in composition and American literature.   One of the biggest challenges I faced while working at Agnes was trying to figure out how to tailor my pedagogy to reach students coming from a wide range of backgrounds and with varying abilities and interest levels.  While I imagine that Tech students are in some ways a more homogenous population (not in terms of their gender but) in terms of their ability and tech-savviness, I also imagine that there is a wide range of comfort level with SAE and academic writing in particular, as well as a wide range of interest in communication.  I know one of the hurdles I had to face at UF was convincing Engineering majors that what they were learning in Technical Communication (a required course for the major) was not only valuable but essential for their careers.  I’m excited to learn from my fellow Britts about how incorporating technology in the classroom encourages students who may think of themselves as “bad writers” to be self-reflective about the way they already are—mostly—accomplished communicators and rhetoricians and to apply that awareness to more formal modes of communication.

I’m excited about the course I’m designing for ENGL1101 this fall, “Race, Technology, and the Secrets of American Success.”  My hope is that by melding one of my interests—race in the US—and one of the students’ interests—technology—I will be able to meet them where they are while also pushing them further.  (I anticipate the pushing will go in the reverse direction as well.)  The course obviously plays off of the widely circulated mantra in American culture that anyone who works hard can achieve great success: the myths of the American Dream, rags to riches, the self-made man, etc.  Students will engage with a wide range of texts that get them thinking about the way that the American success story—especially in terms of its technological dominance—has come at the expense of an exploited minority labor class.  We’ll read Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Malcolm Gladwell and watch Avatar and a documentary about maquiladoras.  Ultimately, I want students to call into question the often unspoken assumption that technological superiority translates into cultural or national superiority.  All the while, we’ll be discussing our authors’, artists’, and filmmakers’ rhetorical strategies, looking to them as models to be emulated or revised.  My plan as of now is to assign both conventional academic writing assignments—eg. a mini-memoir modeled after Franklin and Douglass that explores the students’ ideas about success—as well as student-driven assignments in which they will be encouraged to revise those conventional forms into more explicitly multimodal forms and meditate on that process of revision.  I’m looking forward to being inspired by my students and by my colleagues as to how I might motivate my students to … well … succeed.

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Sarah Schiff

About Sarah Schiff

Sarah Eden Schiff is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received her PhD in American literature from Emory University in May 2010 and taught courses in American literature and composition at Agnes Scott College in the 2010-2011 school year as a Visiting Assistant Professor. Schiff is currently working on a book project that considers the way myth—a reputedly conservative narrative form—is put to use in radical ways by minority US writers in the 1960s-1980s. She has published on such authors as Philip Roth, Octavia Butler, and N. Scott Momaday and enjoys incorporating her interdisciplinary studies in religion, anthropology, and history into the literature and writing classrooms.
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