I teach a variety of courses in the English Department at City Tech, ranging from First Year Writing, Literature Courses, and courses in our newly launched B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing. You can visit all of my courses on the OpenLab here.
Utopian Studies / Science Fiction
Science Fiction (ENG 2420)
In Science Fiction, many of my students already enter the course with a long- standing / wide-ranging knowledge of the genre (something I usually don’t find in writing-intensive or General Education literature courses). However, they have not had much experience with close / active reading, strong analysis, connecting the work they do reading Science Fiction texts to larger social issues, and objectively entertaining alternative viewpoints. Throughout the semester I emphasize how the genre, in imagining alternative worlds / possibilities, highlights the gap between what “is” (our current world) and what “ought” to be (how Science Fiction, while ostensibly about imagined or speculative worlds, actually is a critique of our own world, and helps to think about alternatives to the present). Check out our course sites from Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020.
Utopias & Dystopias (ENG 2000: Perspectives in Literature)
This course is an introduction to literature through the lens of “utopia,” or the desire for a different, better way of being. Through exploring short stories, novels, poetry, songs, advertisements, films, TV shows, the news, social media, and our own experiences, we critically examine the blurry line between utopia & dystopia: when / how / why various utopian impulses (such as happiness, progress, technological advancement, efficiency, stability) that are intended to improve society can go–and have–gone terribly awry. We consider how thinkers have historically imagined some of the more frightening and perhaps unforeseen and unintended consequences of “utopia”, and then we apply these fictional visions to the real-life contemporary world in which we live. We ask ourselves the difficult (but unavoidable) questions that emerge from such a study: What are the values behind our actions? How do we conceive of / build for abstract goals, such as happiness, progress, knowledge? How does our increasing dependence on science and technology (often viewed as utopian tools capable of leveling the playing field, sharing diverse ideas, bridging distances, and uniting people from different backgrounds / races / cultures) have the potential to transform into frightening methods of control, censorship, conformity, and isolation? Are our virtual connections / lives / memories displacing our sense of “the real”? Have we retained–and if so, can we continue to maintain–our humanity in this post-human age of commodification, cybernetics, and catastrophe? Will the environment withstand our relentless abuse of it? Will people withstand our relentless abuse of one another? In our attempt to answer these questions throughout the semester, we develop critical perspectives that are an integral part of becoming competent thinkers, readers, writers, and citizens of the world. Check out our course site from Spring 2014
Utopian and Dystopian Literature (ENG 3402: Topics in Literature)
I designed this course for our department’s special topics courses. Check out our course site from Fall 2020
Interdisciplinary Explorations of Happiness & Well-Being
Selling Happiness: The Promises and Problems of Self-Help (ENG 3402: Topics in Literature)
This course is an introduction to the “the American love affair with self-help” (Salerno 7) through its literature, industry, and critiques. Dominated by the rhetoric of happiness, progress, and individual improvement (the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality), the self-help genre can often be reductive, a series of simple steps that one must perform diligently to attain greater well-being. Self-help is also a full-fledged industry, deeply embedded in the mandates and cultural logic of capitalism, consumerism, and materialism. As such, self-help produces exorbitant profits by selling its books, products, and authors (as motivational speakers, life coaches, therapists, pop psychologists) as commercialized commodities. Moreover, a great deal of self-help is aimed at helping individual workers succeed in business, function well on the job, or acquire more money or material possessions. In encouraging personal growth and relationships as functional and transactional, this “emotional capitalism” (Illouz 60) trumps other values such as struggle and challenge, community and critique, and solidarity and justice. In light of this, we will explore the genre’s core problems, paying particular attention to how self-help preserves and serves the status quo and limits possibilities for what the happy person and the good life ought to be. We will also explore how, since the notion of the individual “self” is culturally constructed, self help’s task of identifying and recovering an “authentic” self is misleading.
Self-help is often dismissed as low-brow, quack remedies for the masses; in fact, this may be its “stealth weapon, the sinister secret of its success: Everyone underestimates it” (Salerno 3). However, in this course we will seriously consider how/why self-help matters. What do these books teach us? What are their values? What version of the good life, of happiness, do they offer readers, and how do they encourage people to change themselves to be more aligned with this versions? In short, what is their pedagogy? Why do we read them? What is compelling about them? Visit the course site to learn more. (in development: check back soon!)
*I designed this course and had it approved by the Literature Committee in Spring 2014; it is currently in the rotation to be taught in the 2020-2021 AY.
“The Composition of Happiness: Assessing the Rhetoric & Reality of Well-Being” (First Year Learning Community: ENG 1101, with HUS 1101: Introduction to Human Services)
I regularly bring my research on self-help, positive psychology, and happiness studies into the classroom. I have partnered with a Human Services faculty member, Justine Pawlukewicz to create a First Year Learning Community, “The Composition of Happiness: Assessing the Rhetoric & Reality of Well-Being.” My First-Year Writing course centers on critical engagement with well-being through our class “happiness archive,” in which students blog about “happiness” in their worlds and analyze “not only what makes happiness good but how happiness participates in making things good” (Ahmed The Promise of Happiness 13). The goal of this project is, to borrow a phrase from critical educator Paulo Freire, to practice “reading the world and the word,” to build from personal narratives of happiness to an understanding of institutionalized well-being, and to move from being passive consumers of information to informed participants in the important, ongoing public debate about well-being. This project builds on the various literacies a diverse student body brings to the academy and (in its first iteration) culminated in a collaborative, researched, service learning assignment on well-being in higher education, in which students assess well-being in their college community and present recommendations for improvement using academic research and ethnographic fieldwork (quantitative and qualitative analyses of physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being in their learning environments). Since my students often feel alienated from/ disempowered by their educational experiences, with minimal voice or stake in what goes on at our commuter campus, this project helps the school become more aware of and respond to the needs of the students it serves, and also enables marginalized students to become active participants of their educational experiences.
*This learning community was offered twice, in Fall 2013 and Fall 2014, and you can learn more by visiting the respective course sites here and here. Additionally, I presented on the first iteration of this learning community at the 2014 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), and my presentation was chosen to be part of an online project/archive of emotions in writing, created by the scholar Lance Langdon. You can listen to my presentation, “The Composition of Happiness: Freshman Writers’ Assessment of Well-Being in Higher Education” here. This presentation informed some of the arguments in my article, published in Composition Forum, “Why Well-Being, Why Now? Tracing an Alternate Genealogy of Emotions in Composition.”
Since we had taught this learning community the year before, for the second iteration my faculty partner and I worked together to revise our courses, especially with an eye towards integrating them more fully and to help the students to more completely make connections between the ideas of well-being in their major and more generally. To help achieve this connection, I created and maintained a collaborative OpenLab site, where we housed both of our courses, content, and discussions. This mutual virtual space helped to bridge the disciplinary divide, especially since we had discussion questions related to both of our courses’ content. This is just one example of my extensive, active us of the OpenLab and open digital technologies in my pedagogy, and how I reflect on my experiences to improve student learning / success.
Learning Community (brief) description: Ever wonder what happiness really is? In this English and Human Services learning community, you explore from pop culture, positive psychology, and social services perspectives–what makes individuals and communities flourish or flounder.
ENG 1101 description: In English Composition I (ENG 1101), we work our way through the complex and contradictory nature of “happiness,” exploring abstract concepts (such as virtue, value, freedom, and progress), zooming in to study individual needs and desires (and the ways in which these are both created by and marketed to by things such as popular culture, advertising, and self-help products), exploring the “science of happiness” as defined by the expanding field of positive psychology, and finally broadening our gaze to engage contemporary measurements of well-being and applications of it in areas such as social media, digital technologies, city planning, economic policies, and educational curricula.
Throughout the course, we engage “happiness” as a discourse (the rhetoric of happiness) that both circulates in and helps create our world and ourselves, and we move from personal visions and / or cultural stereotypes of happiness to more critical, theoretically grounded perspectives on the subject. We ask many questions about happiness and well-being, such as:
- Why does studying / thinking critically about happiness matter?
- How do we (and others) define happiness?
- Are visions of happiness the same for everyone?
- What values do these visions of happiness endorse (perhaps implicitly)?
- How is happiness represented in various places, such as in the media, popular culture, advertising, schools, the government?
- What do these representations teach us about what we should / should not desire, what we should / should not value, what type of people we should / should not be, and what type of actions we should / should not take?
- Who gets to decide what happiness should look like?
- Is happiness measurable?
- How do you plan for / create happiness, both at individual and the societal levels?
- Is there equal access to happiness (or even the possibility of happiness)?
- Perhaps counter-intuitively: Is happiness (as defined by mainstream rhetoric / politics) even desirable? If not, how we might we imagine alternative visions of / methods for happiness and well-being?
Since this is a composition course, we never leave writing out of the picture: all class meetings will be devoted in part to writing, revising, and/or discussing ideas and drafts. One segment of the course centers on a collaborative class poster and presentation (with HUS 1101) on the theme of well-being in our learning community. The final section of the course is devoted to individual research projects.
Well-Being in Urban Design (Interdisciplinary module with Architecture ARCH 4710)
I designed and implemented this interdisciplinary module for ARCH 4710: Urban Design (co-taught by Jason Montgomery and Michael Duddy), as part of my work as a Faculty Fellow for the NEH Making Connections” Fellowship connecting the humanities and STEM (Spring 2015). This interdisciplinary module introduces considerations of well-being, happiness, the good life, and the happy city into an upper-level major course in architecture on urban design that explores a site- pecific project in Brooklyn. Our module consists of a number of different aspects, including in-class seminar, individual and group reflections in class and on the OpenLab course site, a visit to a MoMA exhibit on megacities, inequality, and speculative design (including a gallery talk I arranged for the students / faculty), and my participating in a “jury review” of their work (midterm presentations). The goal of this module is to help students to develop a broader socio-cultural and rhetorical understanding of their major, and how the technological work they do has broader implications. They are not just “service” workers providing infrastructure or support for others, nor are they doing neutral things: their work has power and ideological implications, and the buildings and cities they design have values that have real-world impact. I want them to see themselves as makers of meaning, and to make connections among their work (and other fields / issues), an objective that was definitely achieved (e.g, one student mentioned that something “clicked” for her about the ethics of her profession, in a way it hadn’t the past four years of her degree here).
I also worked with the two Architectural Technology professors to help scaffold their students’ learning experiences, especially in relation to critical thinking, writing intensive practices, open digital pedagogy, and general education. Both the students and faculty involved gained a lot from this collaboration, and we are hoping to run this module again in a future semester. I have also been invited to contribute my module / experiences in a write-up for a co-authored article (with other members of this “Making Connections” grant), which is currently under review at a pedagogy journal. This was an incredibly successful pilot collaboration, achieving what the college strives towards when discussing “making Gen Ed live” and making meaningful interdisciplinary collaborations at a college of technology. On a personal note, it was also one of the most exciting collaborations for me, connecting my research and teaching meaningfully.
Negotiating Networks and Dealing with Data: Composing our Digital Selves in an Online World (ENG 1101: English Composition I)
This course explores how and why personal identity, relationships, authenticity, privacy, and communication / composing change in digital spaces. Students consider their digital selves (how and why they perform certain types of identities in certain environments) as well as how they make connections, live, study, relate, communicate, and work in networked online environments. Since this is a composition course, we never leave writing out of the picture: all class meetings will be devoted in part to writing, revising, and/or discussing ideas and drafts. The last segment of the course is devoted primarily to improving writing and working through students’ own research projects. Visit the course site to learn more.
Introduction to Literature: Fiction (ENG 2001)
This course begins with a module on short stories and the elements of fiction, and then moves two recent longer texts that foreground the act of storytelling itself. In particular, students will examine the ways in which the narrators of these texts constantly revisit, revise, and re-imagine their stories, blurring the lines between fiction and fact, and re-shaping both the plots and themselves in the process. Check out our course site from Fall 2013
Together, we will learn the elements of fiction and practice close reading through various short stories and two post-apocalyptic novels that explore notions of identity, storytelling, and imagining other possibilities/worlds. In particular, we will consider how the texts’ settings constrain their narrators, and how these narrators make sense—through language—of their lives when they don’t always have control over what happens to them. We will pay close attention to how these narrators constantly revisit, revise, and re-imagine their stories, blurring the lines between fiction and fact, and re-shaping the plots, themselves, and their worlds in the process. Check out our course site from Fall 2017
Professional and Technical Writing
Writing with New Media (ENG 2720)
I taught this course in Fall 2015, which was the first time it was offered (it is one of the core requirements for the department’s Bachelor of Science degree in Professional and Technical Writing (PTW), launched Spring 2015). Visit the course site to learn more.
Advanced Technical Writing (ENG 3773)
I have taught this course a number of times, most recently in Fall 2014. Visit the course site to learn more.
*The course has since been renamed/re-numbered, ENG 2575: Technical Writing (in light of the new courses in the PTW major).