NATHANRIGGS

Φ

PhD Candidate
Rhetorics, Communication,
and Information Design

Clemson University

Teaching Philosophy

Following Freire's critique of the banking model of education, in which students are empty vessels for teachers to deposit information, I think that education is not a simple transmission of knowledge from an "expert" to a lay audience, but instead is a fundamentally transforming and creative experience that should challenge students to take ownership of the knowledge they possess and to actively engage in its production. The most effective way to make this happen, I believe, is to foster a radically open, interactive experience that focuses on knowing by doing in a community of learners (students) working on similar projects, sometimes together. I actively try to develop students' understanding of their own learning processes as community driven, hands-on experiences rather than the matters of rote memorization or individual enterprise.

I also try to link this understanding of knowledge as socially produced to the behaviors we exhibit in different contexts and communities (rhetorical situations); we act as we do because we either have knowledge about how to behave, and do so appropriately, or we lack the knowledge and act poorly. I connect this to the rhetorical concept of persona, and emphasize not only how it is always socially constructed, but also how it must be intentionally changed to fit different audiences and communities. One teaching assignment I often use to illustrate this point early in the semester, in both technical writing and first-year composition, requires students to analyze a persona that they have created online, whether it be on social media, in multiplayer video games, or the like. They are required to approach this persona from a variety of audience perspectives, which sometimes conflict, and then find ways to change that persona to incorporate these different audience expectations. This opens our classroom discussion to the critical notion of ethos and audience awareness, and we revisit the matter throughout the semester.

In short, I combine elements of critical pedagogy with dialogical classroom discussion and learning by doing—but I bind these with constant focus on how technologies shape and are shaped by communication practices. For instance, in my current technical writing courses we are concerned with the document design of open-source and open-access materials, the form of which spans across computer code, textbooks, IEEE white papers, and user-based content. I am also gathering responses and materials to transform our free textbook into a wiki-type document that changes in response to student and teacher use, forming a kind of "living" textbook for technical writing that adapts with student input as well as with changing technologies, document styles, and times. I intend to make this available to future teachers, students and researchers as well, in line with the open-source, open access, and "free" ethos of the project.

Ultimately, however, my teaching philosophy stems from a concern for student well-being, today and in the future, and I strive to create an inclusive atmosphere that rejects and fights against discriminatory injustices that are often based on race, social class, gender, dis/ability and sexuality (though they are certainly not limited to these). Our classroom discussion frequently revolves around attempting to dismantle the structure of these inequities, especially as they relate to the technological and linguistic practices that serve more to exclude underprivileged and minority voices than to empower them. This ideal cannot be reached, I believe, by top-down, authoritarian instruction, but only by an always learning community based on active engagement with each other, being responsible for each other, and acting respectfully to each other—and that is the classroom environment that I try to cultivate.