My general philosophy on undergraduate teaching is that whenever possible, coursework should allow students to pursue their own original research ideas. Graduate classes are opportunities for me to teach students how to interrogate research and formulate their own questions. To this end, I have developed several approaches to achieving these goals across the curriculum I cover. My primary teaching goal is to involve undergraduates in original research in such a way as to give them a sense of ownership of research outcomes and an ability to critique social science theories through evidence that they themselves have collected and analyzed. As pragmatic outcomes, this usually also means that students in my classes learn to collaborate in research teams, explore ways of organizing projects from beginning to end, and see their work have an impact outside the classroom setting.
I am particularly proud of a teaching format I have developed for my undergraduate classes, a format I use in Comparative Media Systems (COM420) and Communication Technology and Politics (COM407). In both, the class is run more like a newsroom than a traditional lecture hall, with the goal of service education and public scholarship. This pedagogical approach has three objectives: to involve undergraduate students in original research; to give students team-based experiences that parallel those needed for their future careers, including investigative skills and practice conceptualizing tables, charts, and figures that communicate research findings in accessible ways; and to disseminate our findings to journalists, policy makers, and researchers around the world. Small, evolving teams propose and complete short original research projects, often redrafting their reports several times over the quarter.
My Communication Technology and Politics class began as a COM495 Special Topics course. In collaboration with a colleague, we successfully lobbied to have the course permanently added to the department’s curriculum as COM407, and I have taught it twice since. Students develop their political personalities as they learn to research and compare public policy options, to think critically about political communications practices, and to make their written arguments coherent and concise. In my Comparative Media Systems, students have also been conducting small group projects that contribute to a broader class-defined research agenda. Both courses have generated news releases for the UW press office, which were picked up by national media. Many students reported being excited by this first opportunity to do original research and contribute to intellectual life outside the campus.
I regularly teach Basic Concepts of New Media (COM300) with an innovative curriculum for large classes. I have implemented the recommendations learned in a teacher-training seminar, which advocated that large classes often have several assignments worth modest percentages each. Although it requires a significant amount of time for grading and student mentoring, the payoff for student learning has been impressive. Moreover, each time I teach the class, I have one large project that involves undergraduates in original research through which they contribute to the world outside the university. For example, in 2003, we built an online encyclopedia of new media businesses in the Pacific Northwest; in 2004, we created a wifi map of the downtown core for the Seattle Mayor when his office was considering offering wireless Internet access to the city’s churches and charities; in 2005, we made public service ads on student mobile phones, and aired the best three on the local NBC affiliate, KING5; in 2010, we audited the mobile phone habits of Seattle drivers, providing some useful metrics at a time when the state legislature was considering action to discourage driving and mobile phone use. Awards from the UW Office of Undergraduate Education to help internationalize the Communication Department’s curricula and involve students in original research have allowed me to create some of these innovative and challenging pedagogical projects. I cotaught a version of this class with Dr. Simon Werrett, a colleague in the history department who specializes in science and technology studies, as When Technologies are New (HUM202).
There are two particular skills I have developed in teaching and mentoring graduate students. First, my main graduate teaching responsibility as a faculty member in Communication has been to develop the core methods curriculum. My Methods of Communication Inquiry (COM501) course underscores my commitment to methodological pluralism by exposing first-year graduate students to a wide range of methods used in communication scholarship. The final output of this course is a research proposal combining two methods of the student’s choosing. Ideally the students learn about the valuable synergy of multi-method research design, but at the very least students finish the course with both a serious respect of the rhetorician’s tools and the ability to read a logistics regression table. The course is not a stats course; it covers the notions of evidence and argument that unify and distinguish critical inquiry and the scientific method. I have taught this required introduction to methods class in most of my years at UW, and the methodological chops of our graduates have improved as a result.
The challenge of teaching Methods of Communication Inquiry is to faithfully present the many approaches to research. To accomplish this, I walk students from the early stages of a research trajectory, during which we often generate theory through humanistic and qualitative inquiry, to the later stages of comparative and quantitative inquiry, during which we often test theory. Graduate students often enter the class with strong ideological commitments to method. I do not believe that the common qualitative and quantitative distinctions are worth fighting over—a reflection of my commitment to multi-method, interdisciplinary inquiry in my own research. This class is an important part of our graduate program, and my goal is to teach students the value of having research questions drive method choices. Collegial feedback has confirmed that the reading list and system of student evaluation does justice to the methodological diversity in our discipline. In the last few years I have developed an undergraduate version of this course, Social Science Communication Research Methods (COM382).
I provide similar conceptual and methodological range in my other graduate courses. Whereas my undergraduates have multiple, short writing assignments, in my graduate Organizational Communication (COM570) and Computer-Mediated Communication and Community (COM597) courses, I allow students to develop larger research papers that fit the needs of their graduate careers. I believe in a heavy set of readings but almost complete freedom for students to submit large papers that are appropriate for the stage of their careers. I accept draft research proposals, conference papers, or dissertation chapters, as long as I can track progress from the beginning to the end of the quarter, and the intellectual development fits within the broad context of the course. This allows students to develop papers for scholarly conferences or to map out the research plan for their larger thesis project. This has worked well with Organizational Communication. My newest graduate seminar, Information Societies is an intense directed reading course on various theories of the political economy of information.
My second central contribution to our graduate program is that I have a strong mentoring record that includes a string of papers involving students as coauthors and, even though I am a relatively junior faculty member, a record of helping to place students in good jobs at research universities. Both of my NSF-funded projects are essentially globally networked teams of young scholars at different stages of international fieldwork, analyzing findings, and disseminating research by participating professional conferences and publishing articles. As another example, a group of four students expressed an interest in doing a feminist team-ethnography of technology usage by young women in India, Tanzania, and Haiti. I offered some additional training in team-ethnography, found funding to send them overseas, and have been using several innovative digital tools to maintain the research network. Another network of graduate students is working in London, Egypt, and Pakistan, doing work that feeds my interests but also generates material for their doctoral projects. I take mentoring seriously, and have found creative ways to involve graduate students in an extended network of researchers interested in the global context of information and communication technologies.
Recently, I developed a graduate level Comparative Research Methods (COM597) course that has attracted students from across the social and policy sciences. have revitalized the Political Communication Award that is offered by faculty with shared interests across the Departments of Political Science and Communication to PhD students in either unit. Political communication research at UW is strong, and clarifying the rules of the award, drawing in new members and advertising to graduate students has helped solidify our identity as a research community. I have been on many graduate student committees, and am beginning to supervise my own students. But my most notable mentoring activities have been in publishing with graduate students and helping them find success on the modern academic job market. In recent years I have contributed to the Graduate School’s Mentor Memo series. I have coauthored short guides on coauthoring relationships and on preparing the cover letters for applications to academic jobs. As part of this service I have led several workshops with graduate students and am contributing podcasts for wider community of graduate students at the university. And I have helped graduate students become established scholars at other institutions—see the list of students who have become faculty colleagues at other universities.