what follows is a working version of my teaching narrative, a part of my USF tenure packet that is due september 15th. comments and feedback - especially from past, present, and future students - are encouraged and appreciated.
Working Draft: August 25, 2008
My earliest experience with college teaching was as a toddler, accompanying my Dad to Cal Poly, where he was a professor of physics. I enjoyed hanging out in the office Dad shared with James Kalathil, and I felt comfortable being surrounded by walls filled with books. Occasionally, Dad would take me on a tour of campus. He’d point out individual buildings and say, “That’s the Design building. That’s Math. Over there is the Library and next to that is Music.” A college campus, he’d explain, is where different people from different buildings come together to make all of us a little smarter. I was intrigued.
I began teaching in 1990, my senior year at UCLA, when I got a part-time job at Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School, or UES, a laboratory elementary school affiliated with UCLA. At UES, I worked as Ruthellen Moss’s teaching assistant for 5th and 6th graders, a lunch-time playground attendant, and a tutor for the school’s new computer lab.
After two years at UES, I became a private tutor, specializing in writing and thinking skills for junior high and high school students and English conversation skills for LA-based Japanese businessmen. With the teenagers, I discovered that they seldom thought about their topics prior to writing. So I slowed down the writing process by introducing a reflecting process - a ten, twenty, or thirty-minute conversation about their topic. I also learned that with word processors teenagers were more willing to write a second, third, or fourth draft of a paper. With the Japanese businessmen, I learned that American popular culture is an excellent vehicle for engaging conversations. My students would come to class having experienced some form of popular culture and we would spend hours talking about it. In addition to increasing their English conversation skills and confidence, they improved their understanding of American culture and often left class with a notepad full of cool new slang.
Teaching College Students
In fall 1994, I became a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Maryland. My timing was excellent. By the end of my first year, American Studies Professors Jo Paoletti and Mary Corbin Sies received a grant to incorporate computer technologies into their undergraduate classes, which allowed them to hire Psyche Williams-Forson and me as teaching assistants for Material Aspects of American Life. In what was probably a first for any American Studies class, we had our students design and author web sites rather than write traditional papers. I also worked with Professors Sies and Paoletti and others to build Virtual Greenbelt, an early virtual museum devoted to Greenbelt, a New Deal-era planned community in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., that featured student created and curated work. I spent my last year at Maryland as a research assistant helping to launch the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, or MITH, where I learned a great deal about teaching with technology from MITH’s founding director Martha Nell Smith and fellow grad student Jason Rhody. I learned the most about teaching by talking about teaching with fellow grad student Kelly Quinn.
The best thing about being a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Maryland was the opportunity to design and teach my own course. I designed, taught, and constantly tweaked Electronic Communication and American Culture (1997), American Media Cultures (1998), and Technology and American Culture (1999). Teaching two sections of thirty students each semester for three years taught me how to teach college students.
Instead of writing papers, my students designed and authored web sites or what we used to call “homepages.” First, I would assign a question that would require students to weave together the class readings and original research. Then, students would design web sites comprised of a written argument, a few relevant graphics, some hyperlinks, and a bibliography. With their webs-in-progress online, students would come to class, pair up, read each others’ work, and then sit and discuss what works and what doesn’t. Two days later, having considered their peers’ feedback and suggestions, students would complete a final version of their Web sites. This process taught me that students work harder when their work is online, students work more creatively when their work is read by their peers, and students better understand media when they make media.
While at the University of Maryland, I received a number of individual and collaborative awards for my teaching. In 1998, I won the Center for Teaching Excellence’s “Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award.” The same year I received an American Studies Crossroads Project “Faculty Investigator Grant.” For the Department of American Studies’ use of computer technologies in the classroom, Professors Paoletti, Sies, and Virginia Jenkins, fellow grad student Debra DeRuyver, and I won University of Maryland’s “1998 Departmental Award for Excellence and Innovation in Undergraduate Education.” In 2000, MITH founding director Smith, MITH Fellows Katie King and Paoletti, fellow grad student Rhody, and I were awarded University of Maryland’s “Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology.”
Teaching Graduate Students
In 2000-01, I was hired as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s unique MA program in Communication, Culture, and Technology (CCT). I taught two sections of a graduate class called Cultures of Cyberspace. Through CCT, I learned how to design graduate-level syllabi, how to introduce key concepts through mini-lectures, how to step aside to let students discuss and develop their own ideas, and how to encourage students to continue and share their work beyond the classroom. While at CCT, I directed the master’s theses of Jason Gallo (who recently completed his PhD in Media, Technology & Society at Northwestern University), Amy Harrison (now Content Director at WEbook), and Jeff Young (now Senior Writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education), and worked closely with Mary Madden (now Senior Research Specialist at Pew Internet and American Life Project) and Megan Sapner (now finishing her PhD in Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin).
Teaching Communication at the University of Washington
In September 2001, I moved to Seattle to become an assistant professor in the School of Communications at the University of Washington (UW). A year later, the School merged with the Department of Rhetoric to become the Department of Communication. At UW, I continued to experiment heavily with digital media and learning.
For four of my five years at UW, I taught Introduction to Communication, a large-lecture class for 450 students. I felt energized to teach media literacy and critical thinking to large amounts of students recently shell-shocked by 9-11, the War on Afghanistan, and the War on Iraq. With “Intro,” I learned how to give large lectures, how to design an introductory syllabus for Communication, and how to work with a team of graduate TAs. Best of all, I got to “meet,” teach, and learn from a few thousand UW students.
While at UW, I designed and taught a number of new courses on digital media and cultural difference. With help from a “Teaching Race, Gender, and Ethnicity Fellowship” from UW’s Curriculum Transformation Project, I developed and taught Cultural Diversity in/and Cyberspace. This course asked students to read, discuss, and write about the social construction of cultural difference and the ways such differences are played out online. In Basic Concepts of New Media, students learned about virtual communities and online identities and then designed and built their own. To keep it current, I continuously revised Basic Concepts of New Media and by 2006 was using Facebook as our classroom platform. Another class, offered through Comparative History of Ideas, was LGBT Media Activism. For over a year, a few focused UW undergraduates lobbied me to teach a course on media analysis and media activism with special attention to queer politics. With help from guest lectures from nearly a dozen professors, graduate students, librarians, and community activists, I taught the class, for free, in Spring 2005.
At UW, I taught one graduate course (three times) called Theories and Criticism of Communication Technologies. I also worked with many outstanding graduate students and directed the MA theses of Alice Marwick (now a PhD student of Culture and Communication at NYU) and Adrienne Massanari (now an Instructor of New and Digital Media at Loyola University Chicago). I also served on the MA and PhD committees of Irina Gendelman (now an Assistant Professor of Instructional Design at Saint Martin's University).
I also tried to teach through newspapers. From spring 2005 to spring 2006, I contributed faculty opinion pieces to The Daily, UW’s student newspaper. During a time when too many college campuses were silent about issues like war and peace, it felt good – and right – to speak out. In all, I wrote four editorials: “Collective wondering” (May 18, 2005); “Play it really, really loud” (December 7, 2005); “Listening to students” (April 24, 2006); and “Learning from Topsy Smalley” (May 26, 2006). Writing the editorials - and being approached by students in class and on campus to talk about the editorials - led me to consider other avenues of public expression and in 2006 I launched my first blog silver in seattle.
While at UW, I was the runner-up or finalist to many campus, regional, and national teaching awards. In 2004, I was a finalist for UW’s campus-wide “Distinguished Teaching Award.” In 2005, I was a finalist for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars’ “Faculty of the Year.” In 2006, I was runner-up for the Q Center at the University of Washington’s “Q Faculty Visionary Award.” Also in 2006 I was a finalist for the Tolo Chapter of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society’s “Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching Award.” I did, however, proudly win Alpha Chi Omega Sorority’s 2005 “Professor of the Year.” Also, in 2007, a year after I left UW, the UW Alumni Association asked the Class of 2007 to vote for their favorite professor to deliver an end-of-the-year “fun, unconventional lecture”; I was a finalist.
Teaching Media Studies at the University of San Francisco
In fall 2006, I joined the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco. In two years, I have taught six different courses, including five Media Studies classes: Introduction to Media Studies (taught twice), Digital Journalism (taught twice), Digital Democracy, Media Workshop, and Media Internship. I have also taught one Davies Forum, in spring 2008, called Digital Literacy. For this teaching narrative, I will discuss my experiences with three USF courses: Introduction to Media Studies, Digital Journalism, and Digital Literacy.
Introduction to Media Studies introduces students to the field of media studies and Media Studies at USF. To do so, we approach our topic historically. My students read, discuss, and write about oral cultures, illuminated manuscripts, the printing press, books, newspapers, magazines, comics, the telegraph, recorded music, radio, telephones, film, television, cable television, computers, computer games, the Web, and Web 2.0. Along the way, Media Studies professors share their work through guest lectures, Gleeson Librarian Joe Garity teaches research skills through library tours and workshops, and Career Services Center’s Alex Hochman offers tips on how to begin thinking now about future jobs in media and related fields.
By the end of the semester, I expect my students to appreciate a spectrum of media - from the printing press to WordPress, from corporate to alternative media, from broadcast to participatory - and to have a basic understanding of media’s relationships with capitalism, consumerism, and militarism, as well as with race, gender, sexuality, and class. Further, I expect my students to understand that media studies - the discipline and our Department - combines media analysis and media production and I encourage them to begin thinking about what kinds of media they want to make while at USF.
In spring 2007, I developed a new course called Digital Journalism. Part seminar on the present state of journalism and part workshop on the future of storytelling, Digital Journalism teaches students about the current and dramatic transformations that are happening in traditional journalism as well as other media-related industries. Students also learn how to use web-based tools and technologies to gather and access news and stories and to create and distribute their own. Finally, and most importantly, students learn how to learn new tools quickly and independently.
All of the students in Digital Journalism design and maintain a blog. This gives them a free, independent, public, and relatively easy-to-use multimedia platform to publish, distribute, and converse about their ideas and stories. In the past, my students have blogged and photographed the graphic novels exhibit in Gleeson Library (organized by Gleeson Librarians Kathy Woo and Debbie Benrubi), blogged and photographed student murals outside Crossroads Café (organized by Professors Eric Hongisto and Sharon Siskin), interviewed and blogged about the secret garden at the Loyola House (tended by Father Tom Lucas), and photographed, filmed, and blogged USF's organic garden. When students from one class engage in work of students from another class, everyone gets smarter.
In addition to stellar student evaluations, I have received positive qualitative feedback on Digital Journalism. One student wrote: “Digital Journalism is one of the best courses I’ve taken at USF. I feel like I am more prepared to enter the job market that is so oriented toward new media. Prof. Silver showed that he really cared about all of our progress and learning. We had fun and learned a lot!” Another student remarked: “David Silver is an amazing asset to USF and the Media Studies major. He is expertly proficient in new online digital technologies useful to both the Journalism and Production sides of the major. His ideas, as well as his personality, inspire students to go above and beyond normal expectations.”
Last year, I taught the spring 2008 Davies Forum and designed it around Digital Literacy. We read reports about literacy from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and read portions or all of Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. We thought about, talked about, and designed a few hundred blog posts about literacy in a digital age. With enormous help from Erin Smith in the Dean's Office, we hosted, listened to, and blogged about eleven Davies Forum Guest Speakers: Bryan Alexander; Ivan Chew; Kevin Epps; Brewster Kahle; Francis Lake; Mary Madden; Jasmine Park; Kelly Quinn; Fred Stutzman; Phillip Thurtle; and Gayla Trail. We took and uploaded nearly five hundred Davies Forum-related photographs to Flickr. With help from Gleeson Librarian Vicki Rosen, we took over a significant chunk of Gleeson Library to recognize National Library Week. And we field-tripped to Haight Street to watch experimental film, to the downtown branch of the San Francisco Public Library to learn about Library 2.0, and to Humboldt County to spend three days at Stonelake Farm.
Part Walden, part Web 2.0, Digital Literacy encouraged my seven honors students and I to log on and log off to better understand the informational environments that surround us. Whether I required my students to shop for and cook a delicious meal and blog about it, or whether I asked my students to find a part of San Francisco that would make Jane Jacobs proud and blog about it, or whether I encouraged my students to reflect upon something important for a few days while at Stonelake Farm and blog about it, the assignment was essentially the same: log off before you blog off. Teaching Digital Literacy was a high honor of a lifetime and the student evaluations were the highest of my academic career.
Teaching Other People’s Classes
In addition to teaching my own classes, I have guest-lectured in my colleagues’ classes. I have given two guest lectures about “Web 2.0” for Professor Dorothy Kidd’s Media Institutions course and gave a guest lecture on “Web 2.0, Crowd-sourcing, and New Forms of Reporting” for Professor Teresa Moore’s Journalism II: Advanced Reporting course. I also gave a guest lecture on “The September Project and Building Public Culture” for Professor Josh Gamson’s Sociology of Culture course.
I enjoy blogging and teaching about blogging. In fall 2007, I gave a presentation called “Blogging 101” to USF faculty, librarians, and staff as part of the Center for Information Technology’s (CIT) Emerging Technologies in Higher Education Speaker Series. Also that semester, I gave a talk called "Blogging" at a town hall meeting at Gleeson Library. In spring 2008, together with Professors Andrew Goodwin (Professor of Pop) and Michael Robertson (Darwin's California Cat Presents the 15-Minute Man), I was part of a panel discussion and blog demonstration called “Blogging Teaching, Collegiality and Self-Expression” as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Development lunch series. In summer 2008, I conducted (with help from two recently graduated Davies Forum students) a workshop called “Blogging 101” for USF faculty, staff, and students as part of CIT’s Summer Tech Intensives. I also conducted (and continue to conduct) a number of blogging workshops for the students enrolled in USF’s Garden Project. For this work and my work with my own blog, silver in sf, I was awarded USF’s Full-time Faculty Innovation Award in spring 2008.
Learning about Teaching
I enjoy learning about teaching. For the last two years, I have gained much from Dean Michael Bloch’s Lunchtime Teaching Series for 1st and 2nd year professors. I learned a lot from our discussions and enjoyed getting to know my faculty colleagues over a tasty lunch. In 2007, I attended my first Faculty Resource Network at NYU and enrolled in “Foundations of Online Course Development,” which helped me think through some issues around student learning and student blogging. In 2008, I attended my second Faculty Resource Network and enrolled in “The Landscape of American Food in the Twenty-First Century.” The week-long program was excellent and generated many refreshing conversations (and future collaborations) around food, teaching about food, and teaching with food.