Teaching Statement- A Writing Praxis

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

– Paulo Freire

Over the years, I’ve invoked many ideas to describe my teaching. I’ve written about the benefits of asking students to do public writing for authentic audiences. I’ve asked the field of Rhetoric and Composition to consider how engaging students in public writing communities can inform their understanding of writing knowledge and practices and provide opportunities for cultural intervention. I’ve attempted to theorize a notion of public pedagogy that interacts with one or more extra-academic publics for the purpose of civic engagement and cultural participation. Because of these activities, I’ve come to understand traditional school genres as arhetorical and often unhelpful. In turn, this understanding has also lead me to begin working to build and share pedagogies that allow students the chance to effect social change in the world, to gain authority in their writing, and to gain conceptual knowledge about writing and digital media production through an enacted and richly rhetorical process engaging material realities and rhetorical discourses: what I call a writing praxis.

I feel confident that my teaching has already allowed me to do these things. But it is my more recent understanding of the notion of praxis that has allowed me to name them, and to see how these goals can be accomplished through an active and enacted pedagogy in which students, together with their teacher, work towards authentic writing and learning. I invoke praxis in the tradition of Paulo Freire and Hannah Arendt, to indicate a socially meaningful and rhetorically conscious method of active response to and within actual social cultures, one that bases such action on careful reflection of the ways writing mediates social realities and hierarchies. Praxis is the understanding and enacted practice of writing to effect social action, to establish relationships, to construct our selves and others in the world. It is what makes us human, in the words of Freire, and what makes us capable of making responsible, critical and reflective meaning in our daily lives.

Praxis takes shape in my classroom in multiple ways. My goal is to make critical learning and thinking come alive through creative, innovative, and consequential assignment projects. In my course design, Women Writing in Digital Spaces, for example, I ask my students to address Wikipedia’s gender gap, its lack of representation of subjects dealing with women, gender, and women’s issues caused by its homogenous and heavily male editor-base. Students are able to effect social change in this type of project by creating and editing articles that extend coverage and representation of women’s studies and LGBTQ topics in Wikipedia. But they also learn valuable critical thinking and writing skills. As de facto global reference source in this post-Britannica moment, Wikipedia is often seen (especially by students) as a neutral compendium of information. When they begin to consider how imbalances in the editor demographic (in terms of gender, yes, but also in terms of race, class, and nationality) influence content, they can also begin to realize how important it is to consider Wikipedia from a critical stance that questions its print-centric, rationalist epistemology.

Allowing students to accomplish writing and digital media production that effects social change also provides them opportunities to assume authority. My experience as a teacher has enabled me to realize the value and means of authorizing writers. To gain authority, students need to come to an understanding of both discourse and reality as deeply rhetorical and constructivist, and of writing as the tool with which they can participate in the rhetorical situation. To prepare them to use writing confidently, I also teach students to use technologies to help them accomplish their goals. In my course design, Writing, Reading, and Rhetoric in the Professions, for instance, I ask students to create a digital portfolio to house their résumé and other work and to serve as a professional presence on the web. Students build these portfolios as a culmination of all the work they do in the course, and by learning and practicing to use an open-source web authoring program, gain the skills and knowledge necessary for digital publishing. They write their professional selves into existence and, in the process, begin to envision who those selves are and how they are qualified within a particular field or discipline.

A writing praxis enables the creation of ourselves, and it enables our abilities to make meaningful impacts on the world around us through and with all forms of writing. But praxis also enables learning at the most fundamental level. If we want students to achieve conceptual writing knowledge, we must enact that knowledge through the provision of highly contextual and interactive writing tasks. If students are to come to an understanding of genre and rhetoric, for instance, we must allow them to see how those operatives function within a specific writing situation. It is this necessity that leads me to engage students in texts and situations in which they have experience and access, and which show and enact specific writing processes through their own constant and contemporary circulation.

Digital genres such as visual memes, videogames, and social media provide these types of opportunities strictly because they are so readily active, enacted, and available to students. These are the genres that a large majority of students are already involved in. Bringing them into the classroom isn’t just a means of capturing our students’ attention with a flashy lesson plan; it represents a conscious decision to consider the genres that are meaningful to students and that play a significant role in public culture. In my course design Digital Rhetorics and Literacies, for instance, I teach an assignment in which students analyze the construction of race and ethnicity in a multiplayer videogame, World of Warcraft. Examining this videogame as a text does more than engage students in a familiar genre; it also opens them up to new understandings of how racial essentialisms are mediated through visual, textual, and social gestures within a multimodal game environment.

Because my students are working towards meaningful action through critical writing and thinking, I see myself in the classroom as a mentor and collaborator. I’m committed to working with students to help them reach these specific goals: to help them see their own capability to effect social change, build authority as writers, and gain conceptual knowledge about writing across old and new media platforms. My classroom practices also reflect this. I encourage open discussion and collaboration. I work to decenter my own authority in order to allow space for students to find their own. I meet students where they are in their writing skills in order to help them get to the next level. I encourage extended processes for major assignments and ask students to work toward larger assignments with informal writing tasks and participation. More than anything, I attempt to make my classroom a place where writing works to engage the world, where it accomplishes some social action, and where—through such engagement—my students themselves become critical, capable beings who understand writing and know how to use it in their everyday lives.

Course Designs

English d150: Basic Writing | Writing Conventions Across Communities

Welcome to English d150! This course is designed to help you gain an understanding of how writing “rules” change across different situations and communities. Throughout the term, you will get the opportunity to study writing in at least two communities, one representative of academic writing, and one other community you choose yourself (which could be recreational, professional, social, etc.). By studying how the fundamental functions of writing (including mechanics, form, and conventions for borrowing) appear among these communities, you’ll also develop a knowledge of their conventions and the capability to be more effective in different writing situations.

Syllabus: English d150: Basic Writing – Writing Conventions Across Communities

English 101: Composition I | Habits of the Creative Mind

Composition I: Habits of the Creative Mind is a course designed to introduce you to college-level reading, writing, and thinking through sustained practice of eight habits of mind: Curiosity, Openness, Engagement, Creativity, Persistence, Responsibility, Flexibility, and Metacognition. These cognitive habits have been identified by experts in English and Writing Studies as crucial components of becoming a successful writer in college. More importantly, these habits will help you to become a more thoughtful, creative, and curious writer and thinker beyond your college experience. Working to develop and refine these habits will influence nearly all of the work we do in this course, and I want to invite you to open your mind to these new ways of thinking and being in the world. We will also pay attention, throughout the course, to certain writing concepts and skills, including but not limited to: rhetorical knowledge, genre awareness, the process of writing, research, and source work – that is, learning how to converse with others’ ideas in your own writing. A final central concept we will investigate will be the notion that writing conventions and expectations change as we, as writers, move across community and discipline. Welcome to Composition I. I look forward to reading your work and to listening to your ideas in our classroom discussions.

Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing: http://wpacouncil.org/framework

Syllabus: English 101: Composition I – Habits of the Creative Mind

English 202: Composition II | Research, Information Literacy, and Democracy in the Age of Fake News

Composition II – Research, Information Literacy, and Democracy in the Age of Fake News – responds to the fake news phenomenon that emerged in the fall of 2016, at the height of a contentious presidential election and within a rapidly shifting media landscape. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults now get their news from social media. For millennials and Generation Z, those who had access to Internet technology from a young age, this is hardly surprising. However, we are only beginning to realize how such a media landscape, in which social media giants and their sharing algorithms hold sway, will shape our access to and interaction with news and other information. Fake news websites, which intentionally publish misinformation or propaganda for financial or political purposes, are one such effect of this new landscape. Of course, research and information literacy are highly valuable skills in their own right – and the aim of this course is to help you improve your knowledge and practice of research as critical inquiry. We will discuss, learn, and write about what information literacy requires in the age of fake news. Finally, we will reflect on the importance of research knowledge and critical information literacy to a well-functioning democracy. Welcome to English 202! I look forward to reading your work.

Syllabus: English 202: Composition II | Research, Information Literacy, and Democracy in the Age of Fake News

English 220: Advanced Composition | Nonfiction Writing in Digital Media

A course in nonfiction and creative nonfiction, including study and practice of genres such as the magazine article and personal essay. We will pay particular attention to issues of style, form, and narrative strategy in the nonfiction essay, while also exploring how digital media open up new opportunities for these genres. As I have formal training in both creative writing and composition, we will employ hybrid methods from both disciplines for practicing, discussing, and improving your writing. Be prepared to discuss and apply conceptual knowledge on rhetoric, genre, style, voice, and process; share your writing in peer review and workshop activities; and use class time for writing exercises and discussion of published essays. You will also be expected to lead one class discussion of a published essay. I ask that you take an open-minded and experimental attitude concerning technology as we will explore how writing in digital media can allow us to reach a broader audience and work with modes of communication beyond print text. Welcome to English 220. I look forward to reading your work.

Syllabus: English 220: Advanced Composition – Nonfiction Writing in Digital Media

 

English 3060j: Women & Writing | Women Writing in Digital Spaces

This course explores the ways in which new media and digital geographies both open up new possibilities and create new challenges for women writing in public spaces. We will examine the ways in which women have used digital media to create new kinds of writing, and also the backlash against women speaking in digital spaces through movements such as Gamergate. We will also look at, and work to remediate, the under-representation of women and LGBTQA persons in online forums such as Wikipedia. As fulfillment of the junior composition requirement, this course is also focused on helping you become a better writer. In my time teaching writing, I’ve learned that that happens when you begin to understand writing as a tool through which we mediate (influence) our daily social realities (including our identities, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs). I can help you become more aware of how this works by asking you to pay attention to how writing and writers are always affected by a number of factors, including: different forms of digital and analog media; social communities, both f2f and online; rhetorical goals/purposes (what reader and writer hope to accomplish), the genres being used, and the audiences being addressed and invoked.

 

English 3080j: Writing & Rhetoric II | Digital Rhetorics and Literacies

The design of this course emerges from the assumption that learning writing and rhetoric in the 21st century should include digital literacies that innovations in technology over the last 30 years have brought about. The goals for this course are centered on improving our writing, reading, and critical thinking abilities, but we will also consider what it means to be “literate” during this time in history when texts, and they ways we write and read them, are undergoing massive changes. To accomplish this we’ll read and write frequently to both increase our understanding of digital literacies and practice them, using new media and web technologies for writing projects. One central idea that will be a common thread throughout the course is the notion that texts and the writing technologies used to produce them are tools that influence our social lives, feelings, behaviors, even identities. We’re also going to start thinking about texts as more than just printed words on the page. As digital technologies develop and become more widely available, texts are increasingly including image, video, and modes of organization that go beyond the traditional. Projects in this course include a rhetorical analysis of the production of cultural and racial identity in video game environments, a personal essay written from your social media feeds, a group “hacktivist” project that endorses a social or cultural activism agenda, and a reflective essay on how you’ve come to understand digital literacy by the end of the course.

English 3080j: Writing & Rhetoric II | Writing in Wikipedia

Rather than ban or ignore it, this course invites you to learn about and practice writing by observing, analyzing, and contributing to Wikipedia. The encyclopedia has a lot to teach us, it turns out, about research, writing, collaboration, genre, authorship, and digital rhetoric—the way new media forms influence texts, and the author/audience relationship. Yet for all it can teach us, and in spite of its success, Wikipedia is still a work in progress. This course will ask you to critique and update the encyclopedia’s coverage of a subject that we all have access to, if not immediate experience with: the representation of Appalachia, and its related issues and identities. In doing so, we’ll also be studying how the encyclopedia, in its attempt to be “universal,” often leaves out or fails to represent regional and local culture. Our practical goal for this aspect of the course is to improve the encyclopedia’s representation of Appalachia, its people, places, art, etc. But we’ll also “zoom out” to think about some broader implications for understanding identity, rhetoric, and writing. How, for instance, does mainstream media perpetuate negative stereotypes about certain identities and regional cultures? How are these stereotypes circulated and promoted? How might they be reversed or dealt with? Finally, how can participation in Wikipedia serve some of these goals? Let’s find out together.

Syllabus: English 3080j: Writing & Rhetoric II – Writing in Wikipedia

CourseSite: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Education_Program:Ohio_University/Writing_and_Rhetoric_II,_Writing_in_Wikipedia_(2014_S2)

English 3840j: Writing, Reading, and Rhetoric in the Professions

Welcome to Writing in the Professions. This course invites you to learn more about how writing works in general and in your chosen profession. I designed the course with the understanding that texts are very much influenced by the social, material, political, and economic conditions of the environments in which they emerge. The psychological assessment written by a mental health counselor, for example, has very different goals and appears within a different set of circumstances—as defined by the professional community— than does the patient report written by an E.R. nurse. This makes it difficult to talk about what makes all forms or instances of professional writing “good” because “good” can change from profession to profession and situation to situation. Accordingly, instead of studying arbitrary rules about good writing in general, in this course you will study how writing actually works and what you need to  know about your profession to be a successful writer in that particular community.This process entails studying some writing theory— through which you’ll gain the terminology and metaknowledge to understand how writing works and how to transfer that writing knowledge to different writing tasks.  In particular we’ll be focusing a lot of time and energy on concepts of genre and discourse community, concepts which will help you understand how writing is always influenced by environmental factors. We’ll also do some more practical work, like creating a resume and cover letter. I will ask you to read and write quite a bit in this course, but I also expect that you’ll gain some valuable knowledge about writing in your field.

Syllabus: English 3840j: Reading, Writing, and Rhetoric in the Professions Syllabus

CourseSite: mattvetter.net/writingintheprofessions

English 730: Teaching Writing

English 730 serves as an M.A. level introduction to teaching college writing. In this course we will work towards two central goals. First, we will increase our knowledge and understanding of current concepts, theories, and issues in writing studies – especially those that are immediately applicable to the teaching of general-education, college composition. Second, we will apply this new knowledge to the practical work of curriculum development and other teaching practices – syllabus design, lesson planning, assignment development and assessment work. These two central goals, disciplinary knowledge and practical experience, will guide all of the work we do. But they will also allow us to explore multiple approaches to the teaching of college writing, and to think about how teachers adapt and evolve their pedagogies to account for cultural, educational, and technological shifts. Finally, we will pay special attention to the ways in which new digital technologies have opened up opportunities for the teaching of writing. Welcome to English 730. I look forward to reading your work and listening to your ideas in our discussions.

Syllabus: English 730: Teaching Writing

English 831: Multicultural Rhetorical Traditions

English 831: Rhetorical Traditions serves as a multicultural introduction to rhetoric, rhetorical theory, and rhetorical history. Rhetoric has been predominantly and historically identified as a Western (Greco-Roman) domain, one in which male voices figure/d prominently. This course seeks to challenge and disrupt such identification, through a re-visioning of rhetoric as it is practiced and understood by voices outside dominant discourses. To that end, we will take a comparative approach that examines rhetoric in ancient cultures beyond the Greek tradition. Our historical method will not assume a linear progression of rhetorical history, and we will not attempt to undertake a comprehensive historical survey. Rather, we will employ what Krista Ratcliffe terms “historical eavesdropping” to explore the ways in which contemporary notions of writing and rhetoric are haunted by ancient/classical traditions. By exploring contemporary theories, practices, and applications, furthermore, we will work to validate traditionally marginalized voices and identities. We will pay special attention to the ways in which feminist rhetorical practices allow us to rethink rhetoric. Finally, throughout the course we will ground our study of rhetoric in its application to the teaching of writing.

Syllabus: English 831: Multicultural Rhetorical Traditions

Intensive Summer Version: English 831: Multicultural Rhetorical Traditions

Writing Assignments, Recent & Select

 

Genre Analysis Assignment

Collaboratively developed with Matthew Nunes for a course in Professional Writing, this project asks students to examine and analyze a particular genre in their chosen profession or discipline in order to make a realization about how it functions within that community.


 

Ethnographic Writing Guide

Students engage in ethnographic research to study the writing practices in their chosen professional community, and create a “guide” to help other novice writers entering that field or profession navigate its genres, identities, specialized language, goals/values, writing tools, and technologies and how these interact with writing. Because the guide targeted a novice audience, students also practiced key technical writing skills.


Professional Profile Package

Students construct a resume and cover letter targeting a specific and current job opening they have identified in an online search. A standard assignment for a professional writing course, this project is especially rich in that it asks students to write in a genuine rhetorical situation. The assignment also requires a cover letter in which students describe their experience. Collaboratively developed with Matthew Nunes for Writing in the Professions.

Group Hacktivist Project

A group assignment I designed as part of a course in Digital Rhetorics, this project asks students to appropriate a digital technology or medium in order to work towards a particular social agenda. Student groups engaged with issues like media literacy and student alcohol abuse


 

Portfolio and Reflection

A reflection and portfolio assignment, part of my Digital Rhetorics course design. Students showcased their major projects in their portfolios and made an argument about how literacy is changing in their final reflections, using experiences and readings from the course as evidence for their claims. By learning to utilize Wordpress as a portfolio Content Management System, students also learned transferrable digital publishing skills.


Found Social Media Essay

A “Found Social Media Essay” assignment developed collaboratively with Sarah Einstein for a course in Digital Rhetorics, this project asks students to investigate the construction of their online identities with/through the pastiche of social media fragments into a found essay. This assignment teaches awareness of digital identity production, essay style and form, and helps students make key realizations about the relation between language and identity, especially as it plays out in social media.

 

 

What My Students Are Saying

“He actually cares about us and he also makes sure we achieve our goals.”

“He is better than most professors because he actually cares about his students and will help you anytime of the day for anything even if its not ideal for him.”

“I really don’t think there are any weaknesses in the course, he is a great teacher and I think he should get a long contract and stay here to help out students here for a long time. If that doesn’t happen its a huge loss for this school.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed having Dr. Vetter as my professor. He does a great job of creating fun, interesting assignments and creates such a safe learning experience where you feel free to voice any ideas or opinions. I would take any of his classes again.”

“High ability to relate with students. Great knowledge of content. Great in class and out of class reading choices.”

“Vetter was a great professor. Very intelligent and compassionate for his students. Since it was a gender studies course, he was very understanding of everyone’s opinions which is really important for such an important class.”

“The instructor was very passionate and helpful. He was always wanting the best out of his students.”

“Mr. Vetter was an amazing teacher. He made every assignment very clear and would make sure every single student had a clear understanding. He was very effective with connecting with his students and made us very eager to learn. He made the course relavant and catered to individual needs. To me, he was a teacher that made me want to genuinely go the extra mile for and strive to be the best student I could be.”

“I have never really enjoyed English composition classes, but this class and Mr. Vetter improved my writing skills in fun and creative ways. He used constructive criticism and helpful feedback which made it clear where my writing could be tweaked or slightly improved.”

“Mr. Vetter is one of the best professors I have ever had at OU. He was willing to take time out of his schedule to meet with anyone. He is also one of the most understanding teacher, and wants every student to succeed. English is my most difficult subject, but with him he made it very manageable because he described the requirements he wanted in great detail. He also had great time management because along with his graduate work, he graded our assignments in a timely fashion.”

“He is very open to students comments and feedback. He also himself gives very helpful feedback and really genuinely cares about your success as a student.”

“Mr. Vetter was an amazing teacher. He made every assignment very clear and would make sure every single student had a clear understanding. He was very effective with connecting with his students and made us very eager to learn. He made the course relevant and catered to individual needs. To me, he was a teacher that made me want to genuinely go the extra mile for and strive to be the best student I could be.”

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