Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2016

Faculty Award winner

Stephanie Vie

 College of Arts & Humanities

 Writing & Rhetoric

No matter the class I teach, rhetoric serves as our foundation. Rhetorical literacy - which I define as an individual's ability to critically analyze a communication situation and best select from the available communicative strategies - is my pedagogical touchstone. To focus on rhetorical literacy, I ask students to analyze a range of rhetorical situations by examining their audiences and then identifying appropriate communicative strategies. Once students analyze the relationship between author, audience, and message, they can consider how different textual features such as genre, language, and tone - even font choice, white space, and color choices - can affect the reception of their message. Given the wide variety of writing situations we experience today, it is important to equip students with communicative and analytical skills for the twenty-first century. Thus, I also encourage students to critically analyze their composing technologies and the spaces where their messages could be disseminated, such as wikis, social media tools, and static websites.

This focus on rhetorical literacy is an attempt to work against what Clay Spinuzzi (1996) has called pseudotransactional writing, "writing that is patently designed by a student to meet teacher expectations rather than to perform the 'real' function the teacher has suggested" (p. 295). That is, frequently the classroom is a setting where students compose to show only their instructor evidence of their learning: writing is used as a tool for assessment and grading but not necessarily to meet any audience's expectations other than the instructor's.

In an additional attempt to counteract pseudotransactionality, I bring in real-world audiences to my teaching. As an educator, I am not only preparing students to succeed as communicators within my course, but also to succeed as independent thinkers outside the academy. To foster these skills, I emphasize experiential learning, collaboration, and reflection along with rhetorical literacy. My research attends to the impact of technology on rhetoric and literacy; I have found that one area significantly complicated by technology (particularly Web-based social media technologies) is our understanding of audience. Therefore, I ask students to work within the broadened concept of audience that the World Wide Web offers us. For example, in my undergraduate professional editing course, students work with the online peer-reviewed journal Kairos, which publishes multimodal webtexts. In this course, students corresponded with real authors throughout the copy editing process, learning about not just editing but manipulating audio, video, and textual elements and communicating with actual authors of these webtexts throughout the various stages of production. These assignments are my attempts to move writing and communication beyond the narrow confines of my particular classroom and thus reinforce our discussions of rhetorical literacy through interactions with a far broader audience.

As an educator, I am committed to helping students become critical thinkers who are engaged within and beyond the classroom setting. I believe that a foundation of rhetoric and rhetorical literacy coupled with exposure in composing in technologically mediated spaces gives students an expanded view of literacy today and thus better equips them to succeed beyond the academy.