One of the most profound shifts in higher education that was illuminated by COVID-19 in 2020 was the challenge the pandemic posed to (re)envisioning the pedagogical frameworks and practices employed to structure education in the classroom. Pandemic pedagogy, a term that is increasingly employed to describe the phenomenon at the intersection of remote learning, social disruption, and pedagogical environments, engages at the frontline with gaps in the understanding of and need for new resources revealed by the pandemic. The advent of innovative teaching practices that respond to societal inequities, disruptions, and fissures occurred alongside shifts in the conceptualization of existing societal concerns, such as the disparities stemming from digital divides, race, and gender. Pedagogical discourses have grappled with the grand narrative of American higher education as the great equalizer, with its institutional spaces symbolizing the great open domain of commingling, free speech, unfettered discourse, and the promise of equal opportunity that offered equal rewards for all.
Arguably, our experiences with COVID-19 have critically informed our evolving understandings of differences and disparities. The Teaching and Learning Council (TLC) seeks to revise and update The National Communication Association’s (NCA) resources for post-pandemic teachers and learners in ways that speak to our emerging understandings. The TLC’s efforts in the present year are conceptualized within NCA’s mission, which defines Communication as the “discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry.”
Situating TLC’s Mission in the Present Moment
Organizationally, the TLC is one of five councils that support NCA’s mission of advancing the Communication discipline. The TLC’s charge is to promote Communication teaching and pedagogical efforts by facilitating professional development opportunities for educators. The Teaching and Learning webpages on NCA’s website offer resources for Communication educators to meet the disciplinary needs of their students. The resources are designed to support Communication educators in their efforts to cultivate classroom environments that are characterized by vibrant discourse, civic engagement, and deliberative dialogue informed by theoretical inquiry and applied initiatives. The TLC seeks to provide resources that support inclusive pedagogical practices for facilitating student engagement, participation, and assessment of student success. Given the engaged and immediate nature of teaching, the TLC is guided by an understanding that our classroom deliberations, dialogues, and practices are being reshaped by societal shifts and tensions in the present moment. The classroom is a space that reflects and embodies our own and our students’ experiences, struggles, and meaning-making processes. Therefore, the resources we offer must be responsive to and aligned with the challenges and aspirations that define our situated yet collective consciousness.
The TLC seeks to provide resources that support inclusive pedagogical practices for facilitating student engagement, participation, and assessment of student success.
The Teaching and Learning resources that were developed by TLC and NCA staff can be found within the Academic and Professional Resources section of NCA’s website. Our current efforts are collectively directed toward the task of bolstering the resources we offer. The TLC’s present focus is on identifying points of disconnect and disruption opened up by the pandemic experience. For example, student engagement practices that worked well in the classroom setting may not have necessarily seemed as appropriate when our students logged on to classes over Zoom from their personal home environments. Likewise, a growing realization of disparities and their intersectional facets as they inform how our students are present, learn, and participate in class, and how we, in turn, define, assess, and support student success, was at the front of our minds.
Integrating Past Experiences and Looking Ahead to Support Disciplinary Pedagogy
At the virtual meeting of the TLC that took place in February 2021as part of the NCA Leadership Retreat, the council sought to articulate a frame for developing resources that spoke to the shared experiences of Communication educators. We sought to anticipate the post-crisis challenges faced by Communication programs, departments, and students. For example, we discussed the development of resources pertaining to technology, learning design, and the (re)envisioning of traditional and mainstream forms of support. We addressed pedagogical entry points that could creatively disrupt instructional practices to integrate compassion, community, wellness, and mental health in our own and our students’ present-day lives. We look forward to critical feedback as we update traditional features where needed and add new resources to support our members’ current needs. For example, gathering resources on how open educational resources (OERs) are used in different Communication pedagogical contexts can help address resource gaps in making the educational experience a level playing field for our students from diverse backgrounds. TLC member Andrea Vickery is working with her institution’s librarian to investigate OERs that can be useful in Communication classroom settings. The pandemic has also highlighted the struggles of non-tenure track, minority, and marginalized faculty in higher education. We hope to hear from those in NCA’s membership who belong to marginalized groups in higher education settings about the resources they need and how NCA and the TLC can help provide them.
The TLC’s Invitation for Contributions that Update Existing Resources
In the coming year, the TLC is looking to add to the existing resources. For example, the TLC is soliciting eTools content from educators that innovates on conventional uses and practices associated with some of the existing eTtool essays on the website. (eTool essays provide practical advice for Communication instructors on how to integrate technology in the classroom.) In line with NCA’s inclusivity ethos, the TLC is particularly interested in showcasing how IDEA themes and the experiences of our students from diverse backgrounds are/can be integrated in eTools that have been previously published. We would like to hear from those of you who are using eTools in critically informed ways and hope to share examples of such work on NCA’s website.
To further update NCA’s sample undergraduate syllabi collection, the TLC seeks to emphasize newer foci that many of us have integrated in our offerings to grapple with the discourses of inequity and marginalization, among others. We seek inspiring and innovative syllabi that touch upon themes of social transformation, social justice, identity, and social movements. The TLC can showcase the pedagogical work of NCA’s divisions in partnership with NCA division chairs, for example, who are in touch with the instructional needs of their membership in close ways (e.g., through innovative syllabi and classroom practices in their content area). For example, in a recent email regarding an emerging collaboration with the Environmental Communication Division (ECD), ECD Chair Phaedra Carmen Pezzullo (Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder) noted, “Given how more and more NCA scholars are teaching about the environment, no matter what topic they teach, the NCA ECD Is excited to work with [the TLC] on publicizing resources from our global network of teachers…. [Together] we hope to make it easier for new teachers of environmental communication and more experienced ones wanting new ideas—especially on incorporating diversity and inclusion—to find our division and the resources we can provide.” ECD’s Teaching Committee head, José Castro Sotomayor (Assistant Professor, California State University, Channel Islands), is working with the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) “to connect [E]CD’s and IECA’s teaching resources… to feature Environmental Communication’s international scope” by providing syllabi that reflect their focus on the Global South and other areas for the Syllabi section of the NCA TLC website. Likewise, following an example TLC member Eddah Mutua provided, we also are keen to receive course syllabi in global area studies such as African Culture and Communication, African American Culture, and Communication and Interracial Communication. In traditional areas of inquiry, too, we are keen to see how our members could benefit from resources that respond to discourses of disparities, immigration and migration, and race, gender, and marginalization. As TLC member Kristen Blinne noted, undergraduate and graduate syllabi for a gender and qualitative research methods course would be intersectional while addressing a disciplinary gap.
Focusing on the disruptions navigated during the pandemic, the TLC revised three questions from its traditional line-up for Teachers on Teaching: (a) How do you re-examine taken-for-granted assumptions of student success and performance through the lens of inclusiveness and diversity? (b) How do you shift your teaching practices to navigate disruptive change? And, (c) How has teaching in times of crises revealed pedagogical spaces that need articulation? Teachers on Teaching offers advice to novice and seasoned instructors alike from recipients of the NCA’s Wallace A. Bacon Lifetime Teaching Excellence Award, Donald H. Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in Higher Education, along with the excellence in teaching awards offered by the Southern, Eastern, Western, and Central State Communication associations.
A 2021 contributor, Michael Arrington (Assistant Professor, Sam Houston State University), shares his emphasis on dialogue to address a failure in the classroom. Arrington learned what constitutes dialogue in the face of change and the role of silence in a “special topics course on interracial communication in the spring of 2009,” when, in his words, he “worked at a large, southern, predominantly white public university. The campus culture, in the eyes of many minority students, was less than welcoming, as evidenced by the effigy of soon-to-be-President Barack Obama found in front of the campus library during the previous semester. From the first day, few students were willing to speak about the course’s subject matter… I stressed the importance of openness and honesty in the dialogue I hoped to facilitate throughout the semester. However, in my attempt to generate worthwhile dialogue about communication and race, I failed to prevent the classroom conversation from deteriorating into a shouting contest among unoriginal, superficial monologues. In one class meeting, tensions between two students escalated to such a degree that I placed myself between them to prevent a fistfight.” Jonathan Bowman (Professor, University of San Diego) shares his experience in emphasizing how teaching gives him “the chance to help students to think outside the self, and to help individuals locate themselves within a larger social system and to figure out what that means for them.” Highlighting moments of enacting instructor vulnerability, Bowman notes, “I have also had to learn the importance of not presenting a façade that faculty ‘have it all together,’ but instead address classroom topics as they emerge; if I have personally struggled in the past with a class-relevant issue (e.g., disordered eating), I briefly acknowledge that reality in order to normalize experiences and also provide hope.” Jimmie Manning (Chair and Professor, University of Nevada, Reno) experimented with allowing his graduate class “to build its own syllabus and identify what they wanted to gain from the course.” Manning found that empowering students to create a classroom environment that is “more inclusive of diverse student needs, [is] taken more seriously by the students who were both getting the lessons/knowledge they craved and also understood why learning certain topics or exploring particular theories was important to others; and overall created a space where students were vulnerable both in terms of personal information they shared and in admitting what they did not know and hoped to understand better.”
The TLC seeks to emphasize practices rather than activities in NCA’s Online Assignments and Resources. In the Effective Instructional Practices (EIPs) section of the website, we hope to emphasize practices rather than activities (Andy Kai-chun Chuang, TLC member) that address under-represented topics, such as examples of how instructor practices support internationalizing communication, use self-disclosure and identity, critique linguistic privilege (e.g., how we teach speech and public speaking), or support awareness of instructor difference (e.g., decolonizing teaching in American classrooms, Eddah Mutua, TLC member). The EIPs’ focus is on providing NCA members resources for instructional practices that seek to explicitly include the experiences of minority students, minority teachers, and their allies in everyday classroom activities to create inclusive learning environments.
The TLC’s Invitation for Contributions to New Resources
A new page titled Syllabi Statements is envisaged for the Teaching and Learning section of the website. As proposed by TLC member Kristen Blinne, the Syllabi Statements page would reflect the additions each of us make to our syllabi that are situated in and speak directly to our unique classroom and institutional cultures. The goal is to share how Communication educators have addressed shifts in our collective consciousness through statements included in course syllabi (e.g., statements that reflect acknowledgment of indigenous lands). We solicit contributions that reflect our individual approaches to classroom inclusivity, participation, grading, tardiness, and absences through our syllabi. These statements can be helpful for Communication instructors seeking transformative approaches to conceptualizing constructs including student participation, presence, and engagement and examining how others have operationalized these in their courses. Syllabi Statements could support critical understandings of, for example, how educators have addressed student struggles in intersectional ways. With the syllabi statements, the TLC envisions a space for topics that are pedagogically on the margins, incorporate IDEA themes, and provide resources for faculty members to engage creatively within the situated context of their own courses and classrooms.
The TLC has traditionally sought to bolster (with varying degrees of success) resources for the K-12 and Community College sectors. With recent shifts in Communication education that have occurred as a result of the past year’s economic and labor market swings, the relationships between traditional four-year undergraduate liberal arts institutions and community colleges deserve our fresh and continued attention. This year, TLC member Andy Kai-chun Chuang met with the Community College interest group at the Eastern Communication Association to see how the TLC could better support K-12 teachers and two-year college faculty. I look forward to working with Chuang to see how the TLC can enhance the NCA website in ways that respond to the needs of basic course directors, K-12 teachers, and two-year college faculty. The TLC seeks input and contributions that can help build our resources for faculty and students in these institutional contexts.
I conclude this overview with an invitation to attend the exciting panels that the TLC will sponsor at the upcoming NCA 107th Annual Convention in Seattle. The convention will highlight the theme of Renewal and Transformation, and the TLC will examine this theme through the following panels: “As we lean towards renewal and transformation in teaching and learning: Challenges and opportunities,” “Transformations in teaching and learning: Reflections from the field a year after the pandemic,” and “Renewing and transforming the instructional communication course.”
With pedagogy and praxis foregrounded in immediate and vital ways in higher education in the past year, I hope this overview of the new resources for Communication educators and learners provided by NCA and the TLC will be helpful for the association’s membership and will serve as an invitation to contribute your ideas. We hope that by enhancing the association’s resources, we can even better serve our collective pedagogical efforts and respond to the needs of all segments of the Communication discipline, its educators, and our students. We look forward to developing these new resources with the contribution of our membership and envision the continuous development of a resource base that exemplifies and serves our discipline’s evolving needs and furthers our students’ impactful contributions in applied contexts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
VINITA AGARWAL is Associate Professor of Communication at Salisbury University, Maryland, and the author of Medical Humanism, Chronic Illness, and the Body in Pain: An Ecology of Wholeness (Lexington Press, 2020). Her research theorizes ecological, relational, and dialogic understandings of whole-person care in chronic illness management. She has published in journals such as Health Communication, Journal of Patient Experience, Qualitative Health Research, Journal of American College Health, and Journal of Advanced Nursing. She is Chair of NCA’s Teaching and Learning Council, and Associate Editor of Frontiers in Communication (Health Communication).