Building on my research agenda, my pedagogical practices stem from my firm belief that digital and multimodal technologies serve as effective vehicles for analyzing and critiquing power structures and social injustices. All students enter the classroom with diverse understandings of multimodal forms of composition, such as memes and TikTok videos. My courses encourage students to build on this pre-existing knowledge by critically examining how historical, material, and social contexts shape media and perpetuate systems of oppression. In addition to analyzing traditional and multimodal forms of media, my students participate in critical making by using digital and physical technologies to create imagetexts, podcasts, Twine games, and other multimodal projects. These assignments promote accessibility and inclusivity by centering students’ expertise and teaching them to compose for diverse public audiences.
In all my courses, I prioritize conversations about the intersections of disability, gender, sexuality, social class, and race with historical and contemporary literature and media. For example, in my Envisioning Environmental Disaster in Children’s Literature upper-division course, students worked in pairs to lead the class discussion for one text, focusing particularly on the historical and social contexts of their chosen reading. The discussion leaders for Cherie’s Dimaline’s novel The Marrow Thieves, for instance, delivered a short presentation on the enduring effects of colonialism and sexual abuse in Canadian Indigenous communities. Building on this material, the student leaders then guided their peers through a conversation about the ways that this history influences the characters’ experiences of climate change, as well as broader cultural depictions of Indigenous peoples in children’s media. Similarly, in my Issues in American Literature and Culture: True Crime course, I paired Thomas R. Gray’s 1831 pamphlet “The Confessions of Nat Turner” with Kyle Baker’s 2008 graphic novel adaptation Nat Turner. The student discussion leaders provided the class with an overview of the historical representations of slave rebellions in visual media, leading to a discussion about the ways that the comics medium enables Baker to subvert oppressive uses of imagetexts and provide a counternarrative that centers Black voices. In positioning students as class leaders, I encourage them to discern how media can uphold or resist inequal social power structures, articulate their diverse perspectives on these issues, and engage in difficult conversations with their peers.
I also augment students’ analyses of texts by designing my courses around digital and multimodal projects that help translate their academic research in new media. For example, students in my Envisioning Environmental Disaster course conducted research on environmental issues—such as fast fashion and pollution in their local communities—and used Canva and other free digital tools to create imagetexts that educate children about these pressing topics. Three of these projects were published in the comics studies journal ImageTexT. Likewise, in my Multimodal Writing/Digital Literacy class, students developed coding literacy by composing interactive text-based games with the open-source Twine platform. The class also created podcasts and audiovisual essays for the RecessMedia digital archive that critically analyze cultural aspects of children’s media, like racial representation in Disney movies and the role of social hierarchies in The Hunger Games. These projects challenge students to reconceive traditional understandings of narrative and teach them to multimodally communicate their research with non-academic audiences. As students develop their projects, we evaluate existing multimodal texts and read articles about accessible visual design and digital inclusion. In prioritizing accessibility, inclusivity, and students’ personal interests, multimodal assignments foster equitable pedagogies and develop digital literacies that students can use outside the classroom.
In sum, I seek to teach and promote equity in the classroom through diverse materials and approaches. My class discussions teach students to examine and critique the power structures that shape literature and other forms of media and that, by extension, contribute to enduring social inequities. Furthermore, critical making with digital platforms equips students to engage in activism and continue these conversations with popular audiences beyond the classroom.