2023 Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

Over the past three years, I have developed seven new courses, all taught in the Global Languages & Cultures Room. One course, Multicultural Pittsburgh: VR Storytelling, has been moved to the summer and offers in-person and remote options. It provides opportunities to collaborate with local artists, business owners, and organizations, with work showcased on the room’s YouTube channel. This new format led to significant revisions to the syllabus. I have also developed entirely new courses, including Digital Storytelling in French, which was a new offering under the umbrella of French and Francophone Sociolinguistics, which meant writing a new syllabus to meet the learning objectives of the existing framework. This was a challenging course, due to the mixed linguistic abilities of students, necessitating adjustments in grading criteria. Students explored Francophone social media, including TikTok, and created French digital films and animations. The aim was to identify socio-linguistic traits of French social media discourse, through semiotic analysis. 

Additionally, I have had the opportunity to teach Multicultural Immersion: Storytelling through VR at the CMU campus in Doha, Qatar, where I gained insights into students’ lives and provided hands-on support. During this visit, I also provided a professional development workshop to teachers interested in exploring how immersive technologies can engage students and adopt media creation as part of their teaching practices.

A Levantine Breakfast in Abu Shariha – shared with permission

In addition to teaching in the Global Languages & Cultures Room, I have become an established instructor in IDeATe, the Integrated Design, Arts and Technology Network, offering two new courses, Digital Realities: Introducing Immersive Technologies for Arts and Culture and Everyday Learning: Designing Learning Experiences in Times of Unrest and Uncertainty.  This first course is the gateway to a new Minor in Immersive Technologies for Arts and Culture, hosted by Modern Languages and administered through IDeATe. The minor takes a unique approach, focusing on storytelling and content creation rather than hardware or platform development. It includes intercultural courses and disciplines, such as game design and computational photography, alongside cultural, and language courses. The Minor in Immersive Technologies has been successful, with high demand and a healthy waiting list. IDeATe has appointed me as the Coordinator for the Minor, and am currently developing a five-year curriculum plan.

Work from Digital Realities, published with permission

The second course I have taught, Everyday Learning: Designing Learning Experiences in Times of Unrest and Uncertainty as part of the Design for Learning Minor in IDeATe, emphasizes informal education and the design of playful learning activities. This course combines my interests in art practice, media creation, and maker elements. It aligns with my teaching philosophy, which emphasizes critical pedagogies and references influential educators and philosophers like bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Henry Giroux. These thinkers assert that education is a human right, and educators should facilitate learning, encouraging learners to challenge established approaches, become critical thinkers, and attain self-actualization, independence, and freedom. In this course, students design and build learning experiences for groups, libraries, and community organizations that might sit outside formal learning environments.

My teaching is essentially constructivist, fostering active, project-based learning around language and culture. Interdisciplinary learning encourages students to leverage their diverse backgrounds ranging from disciplinary knowledge and skill set to their personal backgrounds and cultures, to produce outcomes that both reflect them and speak to the broader human experience. I aim for transparency in assessment criteria and prioritize creativity, originality, and the distance traveled in student work. I believe that grading systems overshadow the learning process, and I am exploring ways to reward risk and innovation, through self-assessment and reflection. To enhance learning experiences, I employ creative techniques like blind contour drawing, improvisation, and the adoption of oblique strategies. I have employed loose parts theory and maker-space ideas that support creativity and innovation.  By exposing students to diverse cultural approaches, I aim to broaden their understanding of creativity, problem-solving, and expression. As I continue developing courses, I appreciate collaboration with colleagues facing similar challenges. I welcome student feedback and explore ways to foster self-assessment and manage outcomes. My goal is to create a trusting environment that encourages risk-taking and innovation in the pursuit of creative learning.

In March 2020, the world suffered a lockdown due to the global pandemic, significantly disrupting our lives and leading to remote work for many. This period has been rife with political challenges, affecting education, scientific research, and academic freedom. It is essential for academics to grasp the political landscape and comprehend the obstacles faced within Higher Education institutions in the United States. One of these obstacles is systemic racism. In response to the pandemic and the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey, educators have actively promoted inclusivity, adopted anti-racist pedagogies, and sought a deeper understanding of systemic racism. However, conservative forces have distorted the narrative, falsely claiming that racial, gender, and progressive ideologies are being imposed on students. Collaborating with my colleagues, I have reflected on these issues as an educator focusing on culture and representation. In 2021, I actively engaged in the Department’s Anti-Black Racism initiatives, attending workshops on diversity, equality, and anti-racism. I revised my teaching materials to incorporate and highlight practitioners from diverse backgrounds and participated in relevant talks such as “Reclaiming Cultural Stewardship and Decolonizing the Archives” hosted by CMU’s Hunt Library, as well as online sessions on “Anti-Blackness and Technology” organized by UC Santa Barbara.

My collaboration with colleagues at CMU has continued, and I have made additional changes to my instructional materials, including adopting Land Statements in my syllabi and introducing them at the start of each teaching term and during workshops and events. Each step has required me to learn the historical context behind these actions and better understand my role in the Global Languages & Cultures Room as a British expat teaching in the US and as someone educated from a British, European, and Western perspective. This ongoing process of adaptation and unlearning has provided insight into my students and colleagues’ challenges and demonstrates solidarity and allyship. It is an essential part of informing and improving my teaching practice.