As the editor of TECHstyle this year, I’ve exhorted my colleagues on a regular basis to “bang out a post – it only takes 15 minutes”! Yet here I sit, mulling on this “end-of-the-year” reflection post and I find I have nowhere to start and no idea how to write it. Do I reflect on the successes and failures of my class this semester? The bigger picture of how teaching a class on disability and access has transformed my pedagogy? (No, I think that deserves its own post). Do I look back over the past four years and examine how my teaching and research have evolved under the influence of the Brittain Fellowship and my wonderful cohort of fellow Fellows? It’s all just too huge to contemplate. Instead, I’m going to emulate my students and go bullet-point style:
Top Five Things I’ve Learned This Year
- Get out of the classroom: This semester I taught a class on disability and access and much of the class depended on research and outreach that stretched outside of the classroom to the greater environment of Georgia Tech and metro Atlanta. For their final projects, students had to examine the campus and critique issues of access; in doing so, they conducted field research and surveys, explored campus in wheelchairs, interviewed university administrators, and designed websites to highlight the problems they found. Not only did their work outside the classroom give them opportunities to practice their communication skills and give them a real-world audience, but it showed them that their contributions to solving the problem of access that our course presented could be authentic and tangible.
- Reach out to your colleagues across the university: I had two opportunities to do this during the fall and spring semesters. In the fall I participated in the Class of 1969 Teaching Scholars seminar which brought together professors from a wide-range of disciplines to discuss the topic of “Engaging Students.” While I learned a lot about pedagogical strategies, the most interesting part of the seminar was hearing about the various approaches to teaching and learning employed by colleagues from disciplines so different from my own. Secondly, I used my class in the spring on disability and access to contact the many units across the university that engage with those issues and forged fruitful relationships with academic and administrative departments that were excited to work with me and my students. I learned that there are so many people and resources available for collaboration, if we only know how to find them. Indeed, I am sad that it took me so long to realize this, that I only really explored these resources during my final semester.
- Collaborate! Unlike other disciplines, English and the Humanities are generally non-collaborative when it comes to teaching and research – we work alone, present alone, and publish alone. The Brittain Fellows, however, believe in collaboration – many of us have developed conference proposals, written articles, and taught classes together, sharing our ideas and learning from each other. And building on #2, collaborating with colleagues from other departments can also yield fruitful interdisciplinary projects. It is certainly something I will continue to do in the future.
- Take risks with your teaching: As fellow Britt Melanie Kohnen pointed out at a farewell gathering last week, one of the most valuable parts of our program is that, as teachers, we are encouraged to be innovative, inventive, and to push the boundaries of our own comfort zones. As a result, many of us design courses around topics we want to explore, rather than ones we are already familiar with, and we create assignments that engage with texts broadly interpreted as film, music, tweets, urban art, and video games (to name a few). I have learned more from this freedom to explore in my course design and my pedagogy than anything else.
- Learn from your colleagues: One of the greatest parts of being a Brittain Fellow has been working with and learning from my colleagues. As a cohort, the Britts are a close bunch and they collaborate, share, and inspire each other on a daily basis. I have learned so much from my peers as well as making wonderful friendships. This is the element of the Fellowship that I will miss the most.