CARRIE HANNIGAN, M.S.

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY & TECHNOLOGY


Teaching adults can take on a variety of forms, whether in a professional setting, online environment, traditional classroom, or writing center. Each environment, though, relies on similar teaching methods to not only engage students, but also provide them with the skills and confidence needed for success in school, their community, and the workplace. As a technical communicator, my course designs and teaching style reinforce professional communication methods and information analysis. These goals are achieved through relevant lecture content, facilitated discussions, models of technology use, and assignments that promote critical thinking.

Courses that focus on writing and communication skills, including college-composition and technical writing, make up the majority of my teaching experience. Composition courses are taught in a way to prepare students for upper-level college courses and the related writing assignments, though, I prefer to further focus on skills less specific to the five-paragraph essay and focus more on skills that can be transitioned to workplace writing, such as critical thinking, information organization, technology use, and appropriate communication methods. As an example, when students struggle with adopting a formal tone in their writing, which is generally the appropriate tone for academic and business communications, we evaluate the effectiveness of formal writing as compared to conversational writing in emails, presentations, blogs, Internet articles, or professional documents. Furthermore, my technical writing courses are developed to help students create portfolios for career advancement or changes in their communities (e.g., grant proposals), as these documents are not only practical but they also require critical thinking and research to create an effective outcome. 

TEACHING INFLUENCES

I began my teaching career in a business setting, where I provided professional training for tasks related to electronic publishing and product development. As this was not a formal education environment, I inherently adopted some of the andragogy assumptions about adult learners proposed by Malcolm Knowles. Knowles advocated that education was the only means to solve problems, and I readily saw the positive effects well-prepared training sessions had on groups of adults ranging from 23 to over 60 years old. Knowles also recognized that effective teachers need to appreciate the experiences adults bring to their own education, along with the fact that adults not only need to know the reason behind learning information or a task, but they also need to immediately understand how they can apply this information in practical situations. While I mostly teach in formal education environments now, I still rely on the student-centered ideas proposed by Knowles. 

As technology has become more accessible to students, I have come to draw influence from Stuart Selber’s, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, and the publications of Yoram Eshet, who both have affected how I think about digital literacy in my classrooms. Selber and Eshet have identified “levels” of literacy that break down the daunting task of teaching students how to use technology critically and effectively. While critical thinking and information analysis are the basis for this type of literacy, designing courses that support and assess digital literacy requires specific direction to move students from just “consuming” technology to effectively using technology to have a positive impact on their communities and workplaces. As Selber and Eshet advocate, assignments I design will help students identify their communication’s goal and recognize the qualities of their audience in order to influence decisions related to which technology would best suit that situation. 

TEACHING METHOD

My teaching method and course development is twofold. To begin with, I analyze the course objectives or outcomes to determine the abilities students need in order to achieve these goals. It is vital that students be provided tasks that not only support relevant knowledge in relation to course goals, but also encourage students to engage with and practice using the knowledge prior to assessment. While providing this knowledge may result in lecture content, my lectures are developed to be dynamic through the use of examples, multimedia, and related personal experiences. Furthermore, development of supplemental media may be necessary to reach students, whether they are online or in traditional classrooms. Simply providing an assignment sheet noting the requirements and rubrics may not be enough for students who are new to college-level writing assignments or students who "over think" an assignment. Therefore, I create multimedia materials to reach students through alternative methods in order to explain requirements, provide examples, and share tips for success. These supplemental materials may take the form of a brief video, where audio, text, and images are combined, or an interactive presentation through a tool like Prezi.

Lecturing in my classrooms, though, is kept to a minimum since significant learning takes place as students act on their knowledge through in-class discussions and exercises. Classroom discussion, whether online or in-person, begins with general questions to reveal students' personal experiences or opinions on a topic. From that point, I will facilitate discussions to go in several potential directions such as, brainstorming student responses on a whiteboard to visually track and show connections between ideas, setting up counter-arguments between students, drawing in lecture content to connect discussion points, or simply urging students to continually justify their responses with examples, logic, or evidence from sources. 

Teaching Goals

My teaching goals not only relate to student enrichment, but also personal enrichment. I have always learned from my students almost as often as they have learned from me, and this is a cycle I will continue to pursue by challenging myself to improve what I bring to the classroom and how I engage with my students. My recent goals include improving students' digital and informational literacies through relevant teaching materials, models, and assignments. As information becomes more accessible to global audiences, students need to assess information given to them and be able to clearly convey their ideas in response often through the use of technology. Additionally, whether I teach in a virtual or in-person environment, I will continue to bring together my professional and academic experiences to help students reach their own goals. Ideally, I want to inspire them to rely on writing and technology to have a positive impact on their communities.