This is a guest post by Jaimie Gusman. Jaimie lives in Honolulu and is a professor at the University of Hawaii. She's also a poet and the founder of the MIA Art & Literary Series. You can read more from Jaimie on her blog, Poetic Vetanda.
As an English instructor and PhD student at the University of Hawaii, I’m constantly looking for innovative ways to teach anything from standard introduction courses, such as First Year English Composition, to advanced courses such as Poetic Process and Fiction Writing. I’ve been a student of higher education for about 11 years (which basically makes me a professional) and an instructor in various academic institutions for about 6 years, and I can honestly say that from both sides of the chalkboard (yes, UH still has these archaic things), teaching is not a singular activity. We need support, and more of it.
Whether this support comes from suggestions for better reading lists, lesson plans, or activities, the majority of us educators are open to new ways of facilitating the best possible learning experience for our students. Especially the educators who are just coming into the field: teaching assistants, graduate students, lecturers, and associate professors. Pedagogy is constantly changing, and the newbies are the ones who are going to redefine education with advances in classroom technologies. Although my university’s Composition & Rhetoric department tries through various programs with student mentors and tutors to encourage faculty and graduate student collaboration, with so much going on it’s difficult to organize weekly, even monthly, meetings where we can share pedagogy tips, syllabi, and materials. Who has the extra ten minutes during office hours to look up an email address, write a courteous note, attach a file and put it in Dropbox when there are important Facebook statuses to update?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to confront what can be seen as a lack of community in my own department. If I have a question, want to request teaching materials, or even meet up with fellow instructors, tenured or not, to hash out ideas over a beer, there is no platform to do so. I’ve used Tracky before to help organize an editing project for an anthology I’m creating, so I thought maybe this software could also help university faculty collaborate easily by sharing their classroom materials online and in one place. As teachers, we have to help keep each other on top of our game. That means we stop hoarding all the good stuff for ourselves and start building a community based on teamwork. And not just within our own schools, but across the country, the world.
How many educators would love a public space to go to where you can ask for book or lesson plan recommendations and actually get answers? How many teachers would love to discuss current pedagogy practices or university politics? Personally, I would love to use Tracky to connect with teachers at other universities who are interested in creating courses where our students can interact with each other on projects, even from thousands of miles away.
Our students are smart. Just this past semester, after spending about 10 minutes writing notes on the board, my poetry undergraduate took his ipad out of his backpack and snapped a picture of the notes. Done and done. I wasn’t angry, because it was a great time-saving solution. I would have rather spent those extra 10 minutes in a discussion about experimental poetics, rather than use valuable class time on something students could have accessed and discussed with one another on Tracky. Efficiency is another way Tracky can help. Our 50-minute class sessions feel smaller when time is wasted on housekeeping. There are so many possibilities, and with Tracky, I believe we can start thinking of Education as a field where collaboration and effective organization leads to innovation.