Here is the transcript of my talk. I imagine once everyone else is back from Vegas, I will get a hold of their talks and putting them up here on the blog.
I started teaching various level of Freshman Composition in 2006 in the California State System. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent mentor and resources were made available to us (the contingent writing instructors) that were supportive, but never oppressive. This, as many of us know, is not always the case. I learned a lot “on the job” during those two years, and many of the lessons I still carry with me today; lessons that I won’t repeat here because they are lessons that now appear so obvious to me, but were not at the time because I had never taught a writing course.
As an instructor off the tenure-track and without a formal background in rhet/comp (horrendous, I know!), I was looking for a meaningful way to connect with other people (potentially with more experience/expertise) to learn from in a collaborative way. Being a contingent faculty member and (as many of us do) teaching outside of my area can be an intimidating and marginalizing experience. With a heavy teaching load on top of it, I wanted a quicker way to filter the large amount of research and materials available.
One of the reasons I co-created #FYCchat was to address what I saw as a lack of professional development opportunities for writing instructors, particularly those with little time, formal training, and administrative support. I also created it to connect with like-minded English writing instructors who had embraced the digital; I have colleagues at my current institution who could help me with a traditional writing classroom (again, though, largely through experience and not through formal training), but I wanted to expand my knowledge and my pedagogical approach to include “new” and emergent (sorry, Trent!) forms of writing and communicating, not to mention new ways of engaging with my students.
While I know that organizations like NCTE provide a myriad of publications and support for teachers, as well as the existence of numerous journals and other books dealing with these very issues, it is indeed difficult and overwhelming for someone who is “new” to the field (or forced into it due to financial circumstances of needed a job) to know where or how to begin. Part of why I created #FYCchat was to connect with practitioners who would recommend what to read, as well as other resources and tips that could be quickly and perhaps more easily be integrated into my writing course.
I was particularly inspired by #engchat, where English teachers share best practices, resources, assignments, and provide support for one another. In fact, many of the #edchat ‘s have been developed to address the lack of meaningful professional development opportunities for k-12 faculty - meaningful, relevant, and practical. The testimonies of participants show that many of the participants get more from these weekly hour-long chats (interspersed with tagged tweets sharing resources and offering support during the rest of the week) than day-long or weekend-long PD offered by most schools and school districts.
I wanted to recreate that opportunity for Writing Instructors at the college level. Now, some reflections, if you will permit, that might appear to be off topic, but I think no less relevant to the larger discussion of social networks and social media in the classroom, as well as community formation. That it took a non-Rhet/Comp PhD and a graduate student to create #FYCchat I think shows how far academia still has to come in embracing social media as a tool for teaching and learning. It still feels, to me, like the #FYCchat community is a marginal one, compared to more established listserv communities. This is at once understandable, but also troubling as we have not collectively moved our communities to use and embrace the tools our students are using (or will need to be using).
I also wonder how to grow our community moving forward. Perhaps we lack the legitimacy because both Nicole and I are “outsiders” - a PhD student and a Comparative Literature PhD teaching off the tenure-track. But this is the reality of who teaches the majority of composition courses today in academia: contingent faculty and PhD students. There is still a deep denial of this reality, in part because it is shameful to admit: these core courses, important for students in successfully transitioning into college, are taught by perhaps some of the “least” qualified faculty. The “T Middle Space” that Nicole mentions is so important, but at the same time, problematic insofar as that it is even necessary. The inequities that our system simultaneously reinforces and ignores (or at least attempts to minimize and marginalized) had made it necessary to create third spaces like #FYCchat so that we can learn on our own in ways that best fit with the demands of our jobs, our lives, and our schedules.
But I worry that even one hour a week is too much for many faculty and graduate students teaching FYC. I also worry that perhaps this chat is still seen as being “risky” by the majority of the faculty, in part because of who participates, but also because of where we are holding it, that people are “afraid” to participate. And while the testimonials of those here would attest to the fact that we have all greatly benefited from what we have learned from each other during these chats, perhaps the opportunity costs are seen as too great for what is actually gained. To these questions, I don’t know the answer. Perhaps I need to set up a survey and send it out to the various listservs. Our community may be small (as compared to #engchat) but we are a strong one, and an important one. It’s formation and evolution has forced me to reflect on the inequities within the system of teaching FYC. It also has put into sharp relief how far we have yet to go in higher education in embracing the openness of the web and the utility of social media.