In Democracy and Education, John Dewey argued that education was crucial for the development of competent and thoughtful citizens. Through education, students not only learn facts and figures that may inform their decision-making, but they also develop an appreciation of the common interests of society and the diversity of democratic citizenry. Likewise, the discipline of communication traces its roots to Ancient Greece where speech and rhetoric were deemed integral for participation in the polis. Communication has diversified beyond speech and rhetoric, but it remains focused on democratic values. Consequently, I strive to encourage students to think about the political, economic, and social consequences of policies related to communication technologies and media. Furthermore, as a teacher, I strive to emphasize social justice and critical thinking, give students’ individual attention that meets them where they are, and adapt my teaching based on student feedback.
Individual attention is extremely important in helping students succeed in classes and in life. In my public speaking courses, I use individual meetings and personal attention to help students. Despite the importance of public speaking skills, many students struggle with fear of public speaking. Office hours and one-on-one meetings became crucial for helping students navigate feedback and develop speeches, particularly for students who were in their first year of college. In addition, individual attention to students’ needs was crucial for supervising students’ final projects in Media and Youth Culture, a course I developed. For their final projects, students created a media literacy workshop in small groups. The groups submitted a draft of their media literacy workshop halfway through the semester for feedback. Feedback on their projects enabled me to prompt students to think more critically about the subject of their project or make other adjustments to the workshop. Individual attention also helps me become aware of and do something about the concerns and needs of the many diverse students I teach. Individual attention allows me to meet students where they are and encourages me to pursue additional training that will help me better serve my diverse students. For example, I made a commitment to access and equality and participated in several professional development opportunities, including LGBTQ+ ally training and racial justice ally and advocate training. These trainings have better equipped me to work with students from a variety of backgrounds.
Emphasizing social justice in all of my classes is integral to who I am as a person and teacher. In public speaking courses, I encourage students to craft speeches on topics of civic importance in their major. For example, in a persuasive speech, a student might explain how water conservation affects farmers and propose a policy solution that balances the need for farmers to have access to water with citizens’ need to access clean water. In my media literacy class, students developed workshops to teach the rest of the class about media literacy issues. For example, one group taught their classmates about the “digital divide” in the United States and potential policy solutions to it; the group was able to show why Internet access would be important to different groups of citizens, such as job searches, homework, and reading news. Through this workshop, students could see the direct connection between government policy and life satisfaction for an issue that many were not aware of at the start of the semester. End-of-the-semester evaluations indicated that students found teaching others about the media and its power enabled them to learn more and become better citizens.
I have also used service learning to enhance students’ social justice education. I developed a service learning version of the public speaking course. Students volunteered with a community organization and used their experience to develop two speeches about a local problem or issue. For example, an environmental science student worked with the Save the Prairie Society and presented speeches about prairie conservation in Illinois. After the course was over, the student planned to continue volunteering and educating people on the environmental importance of the prairie and prairie conservation. By combining a speech class with service learning, I engaged student interests and challenged them to see how communication practices are connected to democracy. The students were asked to reflect on their speeches and volunteering. Again, students commented that they learned more about the power of communication, and they became better citizens.
Teaching students to think critically is also one of my goals, whether it is in having students evaluate the argumentation in speeches or how rhetoric is used in advertisements. In a media literacy class I taught, I included readings on a variety of media issues that affect social, civic, and economic life, such as targeted political ads online and diverse representations in the media. The class was designed to get students to ask questions and engage in critical thinking; for example, we held a debate on how cyberbullying should be regulated and whether those regulations should take free speech into account. Students were given a variety of materials from different perspectives to help them prepare; they then debated in class in a traditional Lincoln-Douglas format. I gave both sections of the course the same evidence, but they weighed that evidence differently; through their debate, they were able to conclude on their own which regulation was better. The process taught them to think critically, as well as respect differing opinions.
Finally, incorporating student feedback throughout the semester enables me to ensure that students are getting the most out of their experience. I regularly use both mid-term and final student feedback to assess my teaching strategies. I have used mid-term feedback to tailor courses to the needs of specific groups of students, as well as adjust assignments based on final feedback. Although I may adjust course requirements and teaching style, my commitment to student learning remains the same.