My Teaching Philosophy in relation to Carnegie’s Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities

 

Discovery Learning. The first principle of the report is “learning is based on discovery guided by mentoring rather than on the transmission of information.” This principle is promulgated on this campus primarily by the College of Natural Sciences because U.T. professors R. L. Moore in mathematics and R. N. Little in physics became famous for their inquiry-based teaching methods that transformed students from knowledge consumers to knowledge creators and interpreters (http://www.discovery.utexas.edu). I was one of two members of the College of Liberal Arts who participated in the creation of the Discovery Learning center of the College of Natural Sciences.

The Real World. I adapted writing courses to their model primarily by having students confront the real world of nature in various places and forms on and off campus and off and write about the experience. Class meetings are often outside the classroom, devoted to observing, drawing, and writing about nature at Waller Creek, the Biology Ponds, Battle Oaks, the trees in front of the Harry Ransom Center and the Littlefield house, J. Frank Dobie’s house and related statues of horses and cattle along San Jacinto, Texas Memorial Museum, the Story of Texas museum, the Japanese garden at Zilker Park, etc. (Dobie’s house and legacy are part of the course because of a statement by a Chancellor of the University of Texas System, Harry Ransom, who said "I think Frank Dobie was one of the greatest teachers the University of Texas ever had, . . . . one of the truly great natural historians. . . .And this insight into nature, I think, needs to be continued as a Dobie tradition here if the University is really going to realize its own promise.") Another adaptation of discovery learning is E320M, “Literature and the Visual Arts”; again we meet and write about many places on and off campus, usually buildings but also statues and paintings.

University as Home. An additional goal of our visits to various places around campus is to make the university a home for the students, most of whom are from cities other than Austin. We are responding to the 10th principle of the Carnegie report: “Larger universities must find ways to find ways to create a sense of place and to help students develop small communities within the larger whole.” Here at the largest of all universities it is particularly important that students create a sense of place and a sense of community.

Amherst Model. In my adaptation of discovery learning to the humanities I focus on the unknown and unfamiliar in both the external and internal worlds. For example, in my course in writing about architecture (E320M) we visit the Littlefield House on campus and students are encouraged to consider not only questions about the origin of an external object such as “why is this griffin here on this mantel?” They are also encouraged to explore the internal mystery of self (as in “what is my sense of place here?” or “what associations or memories does this evoke in me?” or “how do I feel about this?”). The questions directed at creating a self are inspired by the best course I have had in my life, Freshman English at Amherst College. This was a pure writing course: no books ( though Robert Varnum devoted a book to the course: Fencing With Words: A History of Writing Instruction at Amherst College during the Era of Theodore Baird, 1938-1966). The emphasis in this course was very heavily on learning to think for oneself (what we now call discovery learning) and has inspired me for almost fifty years now.

Learning Record. We brought writing with us to each class and at the end of the first semester in that course the final exam was “Stand outside yourself and describe what you see.” At the end of the second semester the final exam was “Stand outside the person standing outside yourself and describe what you see.” This approach an interview with someone familiar with their intellectual development; an initial reflection on their own learning styles of writing and reading; a series of self-observations; and short interpretive essays written at midterm and semester's end. I expand her sense of learning styles to include visual and verbal learning and learning from both sides of the brain generally. In addition, I ask students to create individualized lists of goals for themselves and include the lists (revised if need be) with each of their self-observations throughout the semester. As they become aware of their learning styles and what blocks their learning they begin to approach the awareness required of us in the Amherst course.

Creating Knowledge. Discovery learning is clearly crucial in this kind of writing. In my experience passive knowledge is forgotten after the course is over; learning only takes place when the student is an active participant. If students construct knowledge themselves in the process of writing rather than simply receiving it from a higher authority, they develop confidence and can become lifelong writers and learners. In my courses at times I do not do so well on question 12 of the expanded student evaluation (“adequate instructions concerning assignments”) because I refuse to tell students what to think. As Prof. Paul Gottlieb (Molecular Genetics) testified at a recent meeting of the Discovery Learning group, this is a common problem of this approach. Nevertheless, I insist that students create their own topics. I then mentor the writing and revising, giving them many opportunities to improve their grade and thus discover the secret of writing: rewriting. I am trying to solve the problem of lack of detail about assignments partly by using the Online Gradebook in the Blackboard system. Because it is numerical it forces me to work out specific points for various aspects of each assignment that students can know in advance. In addition, the weekly updates of their grades gives students precise information about their progress in the course that makes it easier to control the tendency to grade inflation that plagues writing courses with multiple revisions. However, ultimately I want students to recognize, as I did finally at Amherst College, that there is inevitably a certain amount of ambiguity in the creative process. To help them accept the inevitable frustrations, I now ask them to read a few paragraphs of the description of the course I took so long ago (http://www.la.utexas.edu/users/bump/Baird.html).

The Freshman English courses I have been teaching for some years now (RHE309K), the Freshman Seminar (FS301) that I have begun teaching again recently, and the Plan II Freshman English course I will begin teaching again (E603A and B), are organized according to the second principle of the report: “Construct an Inquiry-based Freshman Year” and all my courses follow the third recommendation: “Build on the Freshman Foundation . . . inquiry-based learning, collaborative experience, writing and speaking expectations.”

Speaking as well as writing. One of the greatest needs in our students, it seems to me, is confidence in speaking. While this cannot be a primary goal of a writing class, it can be accommodated in various ways. One method is to havestudents turn in two copies of their journal entries at the beginning of class. While they are performing other tasks I assign, I go over their journals, organize them for discussion, and return one copy to each student. Then when I call on them to tell me what they think about the subject they can real aloud from their writing and thereby gain confidence.

Collaboration. In additional to class discussion and small group work, another way to facilitate “collaborative experience,” I have discovered, is to compile a collective list of class goals from the individual lists students create for their learning records. Like the name game used in the first class days, this creates a group identity out of individual personalities. The most consistent technique, for me, however, is electronic collaboration, using a classroom intranet, the internet, and the Blackboard system.

Technology. Ever since I helped establish the Computer Writing and Research Lab (CWRL) in 1986 I have been focusing on principle six of the Carnegie Report: “Use Information Technology Creatively. Because research universities create technological innovations, their students should have the best opportunities to learn state-of-the-art practices – and learn to ask questions that stretch the uses of technology.” In 1986 there was no “internet” as we know the term now. However, once I acquired enough computers and a room for them over in the Flawn Academic Center, graduate students in the CWRL created an intranet that enabled students to do asynchronous peer editing of essays and synchronous electronic class discussion. I have published a much cited essay on the latter (#25 in the CV) and still use the peer editing system, only now I use Blackboard.

Minimum vs. Maximum Marking. Students post their formal essays in a Blackboard Discussion Board and then respond electronically to other students’ essays with suggestions for revision. I also use Blackboard Discussion Boards for informal writing; after they visit various places on campus they post their journal entries and read what their peers have written as well. Journal entries, with minimal marking from me, are required for almost every class meeting to get the students in the habit of writing and break through any writer’s block problems they might have. However, I believe there is still a place in writing courses for maximum marking from the instructor and detailed peer editing. So I ask students to do writing as a work of art, and thus the best writing they can possibly do. I ask them to think of their projects as, say, statues: they would want them to have as few flaws as possible, to be as “perfect” as possible. This is especially true of the text on websites that can be read by people all over the world. However, even the writing confined to the private Blackboard system is to be read by the other students, an audience that resembles that of the real world.

New Definition of Writing. As the mention of websites suggests, one of the questions that stretch the use of technology is the definition of “writing” itself. With the increasing dominance of multimedia in our culture, visual and verbal rhetorics have been to merge. Whether we like this or not, it is a fact of life, one to which I believe we must adapt (see #20 in the CV www.cwrl.utexas.edu/currents/fall99/bump.html). I can tell how important this is to the students when I assign the “road map”: “a visual representation of the various “places” you have experienced over the course of your life. Can be in the form of a graph or a mandala or a map or computer program or …… (electronic examples are on the web site.)” This becomes part of their portfolios, but it not worth many points. Nevertheless they spend immense amounts of time and creativity on this little project, presumably because it is visual rhetoric. Hence I include drawing in their informal writing activities, assigning # 52 and a section from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and require the first of two student projects to be in at least two media. The result is usually an illustrated essay or a website, and the acquisition of practical skills helpful to students in their careers at the university and in the real world. I made this requirement even in E316K, a sophomore literary survey course that is not normally taught as a substantial writing component. One student wrote on the evaluation: "educated me in a way that will stay with me throughout life." Another, Matt Wilkinson, a student who before my class knew no HTML, emailed me after the class was over: " After completion of the web page I was hired shortly thereafter to do one for this company during the summer [Morris Export Co.]. They offered me a job as a junior programmer .…Things have worked out quite well, and it would not have started if it wasn't for the webpage that I created for your class. Thanks."

Portfolios.The portfolios in my courses are organized around principle 7: “the final semester should focus on a major project and utilize to the fullest the research and communications skills learned in the previous semesters.” When the portfolios are web sites, students are able to include the URLs in their job applications and the results have been impressive.

Student Pictures and Publications. Another of the questions that stretches the use of technology concerns student participation in the “publication” of their courses on the internet. I try to increase students’ involvement in and ownership of the course by including in our web site not only their own “writing” but many of my pictures of them participating in class activities. They often show the pictures to their parents and friends, with the result that our website becomes a combination of student memories as well as pedagogical “publications.” One student said that in twenty years he would like to be able to take his children to our web site and point to himself in the class pictures. Besides reinforcing the sense of the university as a home, such sites also give prospective students an idea of what a course is like, provide immediate feedback to parents and others when the students are enrolled, and encourage alumni support in subsequent years.

The Scholarship of Teaching. The question of student “publication” of their writing on a course website, raises questions about the relation between teaching and research. This research university, like most others, is very much aware of its place in the Carnegie Classifications. Those categories are to be radically redefined in 2005. Where will this university rank then? If we do not adopt the “broader and more encompassing definition of scholarship” that will apparently be applied at that time, we can expect to fall in the rankings. The graduate school noted that the Carnegie commission report “argued that premier research universities like UT at Austin devote insufficient teaching resources to their undergraduates.” One response of undergraduate divisions here to this challenge is the Center for Teaching Effectiveness. The center sponsored some U.T. faculty for the Wakonse South Conference on College Teaching organized primarily by Texas A&M. In 1999 the keynote speaker, Brian Coppola of the U of Michigan, a Carnegie PEW scholar, talked about the scholarship of teaching. I have been working on this concept for some time. Many of my publications integrate my teaching with my research [see items 5, 6, 20, 75, 78, A, B, C, D, 104, 105, 106, 108, 110, 112, 113, 115, 116, 118, 119, 120, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171 in the Curriculum Vitae], but my work on internet publications is perhaps the most innovative.

My composite web site was included in a research study called “A Nomad faculty: English professors negotiate self-representation in university Web space” by M. Hess (Computers and Composition Volume 19, Issue 2, August 2002, Pages 171-189):

Like Broad's homepage, the homepage for Jerome Bump (2002) at the University of Texas reveals an attempt to connect personal and professional identities, or versions, within online representation. Although the graphic background of Bump’s homepage shows what might be a traditional academic office—a painting, and walls lined with tall bookshelves—Bump represents himself visually only through pictures of himself as a rancher. One graphic shows the professor on a horse another focuses on a smiling Bump wearing a baseball cap and carrying; two small birds. The homepages’ welcoming statement provides details about Bump’s life outside the university, offering links to pictures of cats, dogs, and steers from his ranch. The professor shows his institutional connection by including the official seal of the University of Texas at Austin in the top right corner and by telling the viewer that all large animals on his ranch “are burnt orange and white, the school colors” (online). He further connects his ranching life and academic work through a link to the Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty,” the poem that inspired both Bump’s interest in nature writing and the naming of one of his horses. The graphics and textual content that both Broad and Bump chose to offset the professionalism of their homepage’s textual content work to humanize their spaces by including the personal alongside the professional.

 


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