My teaching constantly evolves, responding to the needs and interests of the students in each class, as well as conversations within the department and discipline. Though the variety of course titles I have taught is rather limited, I constantly adapt our foundational courses to test new approaches work for our students, keeping me flexible and creative, updating the course design each semester.

Below this overview, I present additional information about my teaching philosophy and the work I have done to support effective teaching at Saint Leo.

Courses Taught at Saint Leo University

  • Spring 2020

    Rhetoric in Writing

    By combining lecture and applied skills-development activities, this course 1) introduces students to rhetoric as a functional tool that can help navigate the media that surrounds us every day 2) models public uses of rhetoric as a source of inspiration and supplemental instruction, as well as an object for critique; and 3) asks students to practice what they’ve learned from the instruction and models.

    This examination and emulation of texts and speakers from the past and present allows students to find their own voice, add to their rhetorical toolbox, and strengthen their creative, critical-thinking, and writing skills in the future. By looking closely at the strategies used by content creators, this class equips students to see through the texts around them and peer into the minds behind the texts.

  • present2014

    Academic Writing I / Rhetoric & Writing Studies

    The way we write and the things we write change every time we use writing. Learning to write means better understanding those changes. This course teaches students how to analyze and study writing, their writing processes, and the ways different groups of people use writing to get things done. Students will learn how to use language persuasively in various specific situations and in several ways, preparing them to use writing and rhetoric in college, in their careers, and their lives.

  • present2014

    Academic Writing II / Curiosity & Academic Inquiry

    Research is at the core of academia, but it’s also at the heart of everyday problem-solving. If you don’t know how to do something, you identify a question (What’s the best way to do this?), assess the quality of various resources (search YouTube, Yelp, reviews, etc., or ask friends for advice), then draw conclusions from your findings (make a purchase, plan of action, etc.) that address your initial problem. The same overall process is used in academic research, although the steps take on a different shape. This course provides an introduction to the ways that curiosity and genuine inquiry drive academic research, and it shows how inquiry-driven research leads to various forms of writing, from research papers to articles in the popular press.

  • presentFall 2016

    Critical Thinking in Liberal Studies

    This is an online course that develops critical and analytical skills necessary to engage in courses in the liberal studies major. Through readings reflecting representative disciplines included in the major, students will begin to improve their ability to think effectively and express themselves through clear, cogent writing.

  • Fall 2018

    Special Topics: Digital Writing

    When we write, we often expect our words to be digital at some point—either we start by typing or we put our rough draft into a computer after we revise. What happens to text when it’s digitized? How does our technology affect what we can do with our words, and how does it change what we expect from them? This class will make digital text while we study digital text. By working with a creative project all semester, you’ll have a chance to practice the ideas we explore in class, testing theories and experimenting with ideas.

  • Summer 2018

    Exploration in the Liberal Studies

    Explorations in Liberal Studies is the capstone course for the Liberal Studies major. This course will provide an in-depth study of a single text and its connections to the disciplines studied in the major. Students will base a senior research project on a theme or issue related to the text, taking a particular perspective from the social sciences, the natural sciences, the humanities/fine arts, or business, allowing students to apply and integrate their earlier learning in the liberal studies courses.

  • Spring 2018

    Special Topics: The Art of Conversation

    What makes certain people rewarding to talk to? How do some people manage to be conversationally engaging in nearly every situation, smoothly navigating discussions on any subject? People aren’t born with the innate ability to discuss anything under the sun; those who have remarkable conversational skills have developed and honed that ability over time. This course helps you identify strategies and strengthen skills that help your ability to engage meaningfully in conversations with friends, colleagues, authority figures, and strangers. You’ll learn how rich conversation works, why it’s important, and how to make it happen.

  • Fall 2015Fall 2014

    Basic Composition Skills / Improving College Writing

    Writing at the college level requires clarity, consistency, and concision, regardless of the length or complexity of the text. This course is designed to help students develop the writing skills they need to succeed in future college-level courses by strengthening students’ writing skills at the sentence, paragraph and essay levels.

  • Fall 2018Fall 2017

    First-Year Experience

    This seminar course is designed to assist first year students with a positive transition to university life. It will introduce students to the history and culture of Saint Leo University, to the various departments, resources and services available, and it will foster the development of decision making using critical thinking skills and core values.

  • Spring 2015

    Monsters in Literature

    Through reading about the monster and/or the monstrous in literature, students will question what it means to be human and understand how cultures create fictional monsters as ways to define what it means to be civilized.

Courses at Previous Institutions

Materials I produced while in K-12 can be viewed on the Materials from High School page.

  • 20142012

    Composition I (University of Central Florida)

    This course followed Downs & Wardle’s Writing About Writing curriculum, culminating in a student portfolio.

  • 20142012

    Composition II (University of Central Florida)

    This inquiry-based course followed Greene & Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing text. I piloted a revision that foregrounded genre as a recurring structural concept for student work.

  • 20122009

    Language Arts 8 & 9, English I & II (Seminole County Virtual School)

    These courses ran the gamut from creative-writing based through literature-focused and into research-driven. Students were self-paced and needed constant contact to ensure progress.

  • 20092000

    English I: Reading, Standard, Honors, & Gifted (Oviedo High School)

    The official curriculum built these courses around literature, but my focus was on the student writing that responded to the texts they read. I learned to motivate students at a variety of levels to engage with a variety of classic stories.

Details of my Teaching Praxis

Teaching at a Glance

Details appear in the narrative that follows, but highlights of my teaching record include:
  • Initiatives
    • Employed responsive, class-generated course policies
    • Created student-authored open-access textbook
    • Positioned students as content experts
    • Built pedagogy on listening to students and developing agency
  • Student Evaluations
    • “Great” is the most common word in written feedback
    • Candid discussion responses via video appeals to online students (169 views in past 12 months/6 courses)
    • Feedback given on essays seen as my strength
    • Student perception of increased student agency has greatest effect on perception of instruction
    • Discomfort with peer review requires continued development
    • Marked improvement in dfw rates—personal online rates near institutional campus average; personal campus rates reached zero in ay2018
  • Faculty Observations
    • 17 observations obtained from faculty across all colleges and levels
    • Ability to listen to students and lead discussions consistently listed as central strength of my teaching
    • Insistence on student agency affects perceptions of authority
    • Classes consistently shown to foster mutual respect
  • Advising
    • Most advisees are undeclared majors; I emphasize completing the UE program to enhance retention
    • Non-academic advising through Prism's Safe Zone Ally program supports students, improves retention, reduces suicide risk
    • Also advised: honors intern, graduate students at University of Chicago, and PhD candidate at Portland State

Statement of Significance & Impact

The Department of Language Studies & the Arts created my position as a hybrid one—I teach half my classes online and half of them on campus. This intentional fracture gives me a useful perspective, helping me understand the diversity of student needs served by our various course modalities. Teaching in two environments maintains my awareness of our students, broadly speaking, not limited to one degree program or another. Indeed, the courses I teach most often, ENG 121 & 122, are required of all students, so my classes rarely reflect the needs or interests of only a single major. A complete chronological list of all sections I have taught with Saint Leo appears in my downloadable Consolidated Course Evaluations (166 pages, 17.8 MB). A broad overview of course titles here reveals my emphasis and interests in teaching and highlights the balance between modalities inherent in my peculiar position.

  • On Campus
    • SLU 101 First Year Experience (2×)
    • ENG 002 Basic Writing
    • ENG 121 Academic Writing I (24×)
    • ENG 122 Academic Writing II (9×)
    • ENG 300 ST: Digital Writing
    • IDS 200 ST: The Art of Conversation
  • Online
    • ENG 002 Basic Writing
    • ENG 121 Academic Writing I (7×)
    • ENG 122 Academic Writing II (3×)
    • ENG 215CL Monsters in Literature
    • LBS 201 Critical Thinking (9×)
    • LBS 499 Explorations in Liberal Studies

As evidenced by the preceding list, my primary on-campus focus remains on rhetoric-based writing courses (ENG 002, 121, 122, and 300), but I teach other language-related courses (such as IDS 200 and ENG 215CL) based on student needs. With our online student population, in addition to the standard writing courses, I have found a niche teaching in our liberal-studies program (LBS 201 and 499), helping students learn and apply critical-thinking strategies in their work and their lives. This diversity of modalities, disciplines, and demographics has me working with a variety of Saint Leo students, from first-generation on-campus residents to middle-aged professionals returning to school after a decade or more for personal development. The broad understanding of our diverse student body I gained by teaching such a variety of courses proved essential when developing a revised composition curriculum (22 pages, 5.6 MB) for the entire institution.

Since arriving at Saint Leo, my praxis has been driven by two fundamental pillars of my teaching philosophy:

  1. Listen to students.
  2. Let students learn for themselves.

Those principles roughly correspond to the Core Values of Respect and Personal Development, respectively, and they direct both my course design and daily interactions. At their most basic, these principles lead me to give students opportunities to discuss and share ideas more than I choose to lecture. They compel me to help shape how students think without telling them what to think, allowing them to make connections and reach conclusions on their own. Both of these principles lead to greater student agency in the classroom. The effects of that added agency can be seen in three unsolicited letters sent by former students across a variety of courses.

In the first letter, written upon the student’s departure from our school, Andrew Bridge opens with, “Just wanted to thank you again for all the ways in which you inspired me, educated me, and really fostered growth within me. You are without a doubt my favorite professor at Saint Leo.” The student recognized that the learning he experienced was a result of his own work and effort. Nelson Barajas, author of the second letter, also appreciated greater control over the direction of his own learning, writing, “The fact that you were willing to let us decide and were not only helpful but actually interested in where we took the class was definitely a breath of fresh air. It made your class something that I actually enjoyed.” The third letter, written by a participant in a weeklong summer intensive course on Critical Pedagogy I co-facilited, includes this reflection:

As students, we were asked to constantly evaluate the “rhetorics” of the room—how discussion dynamics were unfolding, and what our own evolving purpose was at the seminar. Through it all, Chris was compassionate as we struggled to wrap our heads around all-new pedagogical paradigms, and gave us much individual attention. He was unfailingly tuned in to where we all were on our own trajectories, and what he could do to advance us along that trajectory.

Each of these letters shows how my concern for students and my insistence that they construct their own knowledge work to empower them with greater agency in ways they may not have expected.

Greater agency, I have found, comes as a surprise to many Saint Leo students, unsettling their expectations for education. By unsettling students, I get them to reconstruct their perception of how classes work, starting by challenging the assumed authority of the instructor.

My efforts to challenge the presumed authority of instructors begins on the first day of classes, when I invite on-ground students to collaboratively construct their course syllabus, defining the course policies for themselves. By having students define the expectations of their own classroom, I get greater buy-in to the course policies throughout the semester, and I find students are more focused on learning because they construct an environment aligned with their needs. For instance, some classes decide to create a policy allowing for music in the classroom because they know it helps them stay focused while working. In those cases, we discuss how and when it’s appropriate, and the policy ends up incorporating respect at its core, such as this from my 2017FA1-ENG-121-CA01 class: “We are able to listen to music with headphones when doing independent work—but not loud enough for neighbors to hear.” Students in that class balanced their need for attention assistance with others’ need for uninterrupted work. That class’s complete set of course policies appears in the callouts below. Students in my 2017FA1-ENG-121-CAH1 class, which met right before lunch, prioritized access to food. Therefore, they created this policy: “Students are allowed food and drink during class with restrictions. Any foods considered disruptive such as loud packaging or strong scents are discouraged. Students are asked to kindly respect the peanut butter allergy in class.” Note how the policy presented here is specific enough to allow them to snack like they wanted so they could keep hunger at bay, but they took into consideration the needs of their colleagues, who didn’t want disruption (sounds), distractions (smells), or reactions (allergies). Their full set of course policies appear below.

Student-Crafted Course Policies, 2017FA1-ENG-121-CA01

 

  • Cell Phones/Electronics
    • Students can use their electronic devices during class as long as they are still involved and engaged in the class discussion or whatever activity is taking place.
    • Students can use electronics to look up information to contribute to the discussion.
    • We are able to listen to music with headphones when doing independent work—but not loud enough for neighbors to hear.
    • If doing independent work, cell phone use is allowed as long as it is quiet and work is finished.
    • In the case of an emergency, you can take a phone call as long as you step out of the room and try to be as non-disruptive as possible.
    • Keep social media and texting to a minimum during a class discussion.
  • Participation Contributing to class discussions should be in effect because it invests one into what is currently being learned. Participation in group and class discussions focuses on the community values of Saint Leo and helps contribute free thoughts and ideas on the topics being learned. The contribution in discussions will include all students by sharing their thoughts and ideas. Small group discussions can be used to share opinions and thoughts in a smaller setting, to be shared later in a larger discussion with the whole class. Asking for direct opinions from peers can lead to more contributions of ideas into the overall class topics.
  • Redoing Assignments
    • Redos can receive full credit
    • If majority fail to understand an assignment we have the option to propose an alternative assignment or hold a vote for a completely new assignment.
    • Deadlines for redos are flexible with the specific assignment, but office meetings are required for additional instructor feedback.

Student-Crafted Course Policies, 2017FA1-ENG-121-CAH1

 

  • Participation Students must participate as well as be willing to present their work, thoughts, and essays. While participating, students should be able to listen to others with an open mind. Actively listening in class will be required along with their full attention. Attending class and doing the work assigned is crucial to participating.
  • Attendance It is advised to make it to class and Friend will take attendance. With participation being an active assessment, not being in class can potentially harm your final grade. If you do not attend class, it is your responsibility to make up work missed.
  • Late/Homework Policy It is strongly advised that the homework is done prior to the arrival to class. If one person does not have the homework, it can set the entire class back. Not having the homework can decrease productivity within the classroom. So, do the homework.
  • Food/Drink Students are allowed food and drink during class with restrictions. Any foods considered disruptive such as loud packaging or strong scents are discouraged. Students are asked to kindly respect the peanut butter allergy in class.
  • Academic Honesty Students should work together, and doing equal work while in groups. Students should only use their original content on all coursework. Answering classmates’ questions is allowed to develop a collaborative environment.

What may seem minor—allowing students to include policies about food and music in their syllabus—has broad residual effects. Students who set the rules for their classes are empowered from the start. They know they will be listened to and can control their learning. And they are conditioned to look after one another. Every time I have students create their policies, I learn what they value, and I establish collaboration as the norm from the beginning. By defining the rules of the space, students take ownership of their own learning environment, and they see through discussion how their policies help ensure that learning remains central to our classes—the policies they create are in service of, not a distraction from, learning. Language used in the example policies is student-centric, encouraging, and non-punitive, which sets a tone of encouraging collaboration and helps students view the course as an opportunity to excel. In the CA01 section, note that their uncertainties about success called for a “re-do policy,” creating for themselves a safety net that permitted experimentation and the potential for growth. Their policies encouraged learning and provided safety.

This collaborative process of creation benefits me, as well. Because students have already identified not only what good behavior looks like but also how it assists their learning, I spend minimal time dealing with discipline. As evidence, the “addresses potentially disruptive behaviors before the learning environment is impacted” criterion on the vast majority of my teaching observations are marked “n/a” because disruptive behaviors so rarely occur in my classes.

The second principle of my teaching philosophy, letting students learn for themselves, leads me to avoid lecturing in favor of experimentation and collaboration. Rather than expecting students to unquestioningly absorb what I say, I instead give them just enough information to get to work, then rely on a sense of discovery to motivate them through any challenges they encounter. Students who are accustomed to being told exactly what to do every step of the way through a course meet a new challenge in my classes, as I am asking them to think—and learn—on their own power. In recent semesters, I have taken this a step further, asking students to present new material in my stead. This way, the presenting students are seen as “experts” in their specific topic, and they find ways to explain the material in familiar terms, making the content more accessible to students than any approach I would take. I have found this process empowers students and further develops the cooperative trust established through syllabus building.

When these student experts present content in class, I work with them both before class and during their presentation to smooth over rough spots or prevent confusion. I provide on-the-spot course corrections that clarify what students say without wresting control of their presentations. Students see me collaborating with them and respecting their autonomy, providing a safety net and again allowing for experimentation. That experimentation came to the forefront with a student presentation that took place during Dr. Parker’s observation this semester. One of that day’s student presenters made a claim that I didn’t think was supportable. I questioned his thinking in the middle of the presentation because we have established a culture in class where guesses and “wrong answers” are valued as discussion points and learning opportunities. I challenged the student by saying I wanted to “push back on” something he had said. Whole-class discussion ensued as we all debated the merits of both perspectives on whatever was being discussed. The matter resolved, and we moved on. Several minutes later, I made another comment about something, and the presenter immediately said, “I’m going to push back on that,” essentially using my words against me and exerting authority over me because of his role as the in-class expert—and doing so while he knew I was being observed by my Dean. The student knew he had the ability to offer up such a challenge, and what followed was one of the most engaging and nuanced conversations that class had had in weeks. I firmly believe that such open and interactive conversations only arise as a result of the collaborative atmosphere I develop and the emphasis I put on student agency from the beginning of the semester.

Beyond student presentations of course content, another way I enact my principles of listening to students and letting students learn for themselves is through a project I’ve been engaged in for the past three years—one that aligns with the campus initiative to reduce student textbook costs and the years-long effort to redesign our composition curriculum, each of which are detailed on my Scholarship page. For this project, I am working with students to create a customized textbook for Academic Writing I and II. This project began in Fall 2017 with the honors-level ENG 121 course, continued the following spring with ENG 122, with additional refinements and edits being made in every subsequent semester. With this project, I have engaged students in real, meaningful service learning that will benefit the entire Saint Leo community. Our goal is to create a single open-access textbook that can be used by all our Academic Writing courses in the future. It is a textbook by students, for students. This arrangement provides a practical, imaginable audience for the writing and a purpose that goes beyond the boundaries of our classroom. While working on this project, students have felt their writing has meaning and purpose. They provided that feedback explicitly both during class and on their evaluations, but I also got to hear students put the content of the course into practice as they worked to create their book chapters. Students didn’t just learn the course content; they applied the course content to a real project that I hope in the future will help meet a real need at our university.

The benefit of this textbook project goes beyond Saint Leo students. Once this book is published, it will be licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial license, meaning that others can use our material for non-commercial purposes, so long as the credit the student-authors for their work. It also means that a textbook created by Saint Leo University can be used at no cost by other institutions. The most popular textbook for the content we will teach in our Academic Writing classes was designed for students at Research-I institutions on a trajectory toward graduate school. As most of our students focus on their careers more than on continuing education, we need to take a different approach to our course design and textbook. As the first such textbook available, our project has the opportunity to set a standard for educational resources in composition and be used by similar institutions everywhere, further enhancing Saint Leo’s reputation and name recognition.

Significance Evident Through Student Evaluations

My student-driven approach to teaching has grown as a direct response to student needs I have seen here at Saint Leo. Many of our students, particularly those who are the first generation from their families to attend college, lack the self-confidence and ability to navigate the bureaucracies of higher education than their peers with a family history, and expectation, of college success. By putting students more in charge of the path of their learning, I help students build confidence and support their autonomy as learners. Because this approach places importance on student contributions and downplays my prominence in class, thereby reversing the power dynamic to which students have grown accustomed, handing agency over to students does occasionally generate resistance or even a little resentment from students who would prefer to have a teacher dictate their thinking and actions. Students’ narrative responses to my course evaluations (166 pages, 17.8 MB) reflect both the benefits and the challenges of my approach through their eyes. Comments on some critical student evaluations sometimes request that I play a more directive role in the classroom. I have worked to find greater balance in my classes, whereby students lead discussions and activities after conferencing with me, bolstering their confidence and ensuring students learn the essential content. Additionally, I am working to build a collection of student sample papers that will be included in the course shell for all future WRI 121 & 122 courses, giving students across our institution model texts to emulate. These model assignments will help students navigate the new kinds of texts we will ask them to create, which will improve the quality of student writing on those assignments (Wardle, 2009; Rhodes, 2007). In these ways, student course evaluations have shaped and refined not only my own teaching practice in my classroom but also the design of upcoming UE Foundations courses.

The critical comments discussed above, however, are outnumbered by positive feedback from students who appreciate the confidence I place in them and the opportunity they have to take control over their own learning. A vivid example of this contrast appears in the evaluations from my 2017SP1 ENG 121-CA08 course. One student complained about “the unsure feeling students have” when given more agency over their own learning, while another in the same class praised the “free thinking environment [and] inspirational conversations.” In summary comments, one student complained that they “never really grasped the concept of [my] teaching,” while another student in that same class appreciated the approach, having this to say:

This course was a much needed break through a hectic semester, it allowed for the excess pressure of writing to be done away with while opening my mind to thinking more before I did ANYTHING! The professor taught in a way that made me believe that the concepts were my own and not theories that were ratified years before.

For a birds-eye view of student comments on my evaluations, see the IOTA word cloud shown below. The word cloud indicates the frequency at which specific terms appear in student comments. For example, the word “great” is displayed in the largest size because it is the most common term in my evaluations, reflecting common support from students. The next most-common words, “assignment” and “understand” reflect the relationship of my assignment design and the importance of those assignments to student learning. Overall, the qualitative feedback I get from course evaluations shows both the challenges and the rewards of increased agency. Granting students greater agency allows them to experience meaningful learning in ways they might not have experienced before. Going forward, I want to find ways to continue providing opportunities for motivated students to forge their own paths while also providing more structure and predictability for those who struggle with the unexpected freedom and shift in classroom authority.

Collection of words from student written feedback. The following words stand out: assignment, discuss, good, knowledgeable, great, understand, time

Word cloud from qualitative feedback in IOTA. Larger words appear more often.

Because half of my teaching obligations are online, I want to specifically address the ways I engage students in those classes and establish personal connections over distance. Giving students the ability to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions can be challenging in an online environment, especially when the courses are designed by others, and I’m asked mostly to grade and to guide. Yet my approach has created consistently strong feedback, with several students telling me I’m the first teacher they feel like they know, with one student in a 2016SP1 course emailing to tell me, “your videos were great and added a nice personal touch.” Others remark on how much the videos help them process material, such as this student from 2018FA1:

I saw your comments on the recent Critical Analysis paper and I wanted to thank you for the great feedback. It would be perfectly fine if you used my paper and I’m glad you think it is worthy of being an example.

Also, thank you for the comments and video you posted about the first Critical Analysis paper; they really helped me figure out what I needed to change this second time around.

Multiple students have also told me I’m the first teacher to take the time to give them meaningful feedback on their writing. For instance, one student in my 2018FA1 course wrote in an email, “Thanks for your comments on my paper. If I had had more teachers like you who actually gave feedback this writing business probably wouldn’t be so difficult. Last term I had an English teacher who liked to say nope…or doesn’t work. Nothing else.” A student in my 2019FA1 course told me, “You are too dedicated to your class and take the time for REAL feedback, with videos and in depth concepts.” Sometimes that “real” feedback can be to my detriment, given how long it takes to pay intense attention to providing meaningful commentary on students’ writing styles. But reading that students value the attention—and perhaps have not experienced it before at Saint Leo—provides extra motivation to dedicate the time. Furthermore, since I regularly receive favorable comparative feedback, I know that I am improving the reputation of Saint Leo online instructors by setting a new bar for interactivity and personalized feedback.

As alluded to in the quoted comments above, my weekly discussion videos have become my trademark. Using this communication tool, I respond to the thinking students display in their discussion posts and give them warnings of upcoming trouble spots that traditionally frustrate or confound students. In these brief videos—typically lasting no more than 5–10 minutes—I show students my personality, my reactions, and my compassion. I use them as an opportunity to develop a sense of community within an online environment, showing students that everyone in the class is working together toward a common goal. Rather than responding to every student post (which makes the discussion board a conversation with me, not the class), I choose instead to read all posts and report back to students about the highlights. I recommend they read certain threads that draw out particularly useful or insightful ideas, or examples of excellent interaction with the material. This summative contribution aligns with findings from Heejung, Sunghee, and Keol (2009), who suggest that, “when the instructor’s intervention was minimal, students tended to more freely express their thoughts and opinions, with a large number of cues for social presence.” To further facilitate social presence in online courses, I infuse a bit of my lighthearted personality, frequently identifying a “Teacher’s Pet of the Week” for any student whose post goes above and beyond or shows outstanding engagement with the material. Students react to this tongue-in-cheek “honor”, as well, joking in future weeks that they have a reputation to uphold, or that they might lose their title the next week, etc. I find it’s a fun way to draw attention to what works well in online discussions and make students more aware of the effort that goes into meaningful discussions.

By creating a forum for addressing the whole class in a medium that goes beyond text and allows for nonverbal cues and more obvious emotional reactions, these videos serve as a hallmark of my classes, helping students feel less isolated as they progress through their online classes. From 2018FA2 through 2019FA1, my videos were viewed 169 times, accounting for over thirteen hours of viewing time. When I post a video, it is always accompanied by what I call a “Cliff’s Notes Version”—the text of the notes I use to make the video. Considering students can simply read the text of my commentary and ignore the video altogether, the fact that students have spent thirteen hours (an average of just under five minutes per session) watching these videos suggests their value to our online students. I intend to continue this practice and search for other ways to present myself as more personable than merely a string of words on a screen when teaching online.

The success of my methods of online instruction can be seen through numeric student evaluations (see “Composite Evaluations by Online Class,” below) and in students’ written comments. For instance, in my 2016FA2 course, students shared the following:

  • “I likes Prof Friend’s video critiques of our discussions. These were the best discussions I have participated in at Saint Leo.”
  • “Prof. Friend himself was the strength of this course. … He gives feedback on our discussion posts as a whole class using a video. This is something that I enjoyed as I had never seen it before in my previous classes.”
  • “Professor Friend was always available for support and I really appreciated his sense of humor and professionalism.”

Composite Evaluations by Online Class (4-point Scale)

Comments from my 2018SU2 course echo the appreciation of my communication style:

  • “I wish all my instructors had the teaching style like Prof. Friend.”
  • “Professor Friend is excellent to work with. He communicates well and is extremely fair in assessing assignments.”

And these from a 2018FA2 course of soon-to-graduate seniors:

  • “The instruction was very interactive with the students. He provided extensive feedback on discussions with polite corrections.”
  • “The strength of this course is one of your top instructors. That is Christopher Friend. He is tough and fair. Easy interaction without being condescending like many of your professors. Prof. Friend is, more then likely, responsible for student retention at SL.”
  • “The discussions and the professor were the strengths of the course. I’d even go so far as to say with a different professor the course would have been boring.”
  • “I believe if you gave Prof. Friend more access to the course development in all his courses(which means let him spend money). Make him a lead Professor or something that increases his salary. You don’t want to loose him.”

By comparison, my lowest-rated online course, offered 2017FA1, included comments from a student who believes I grade essays based on whether I agree with a student’s position, not based on the quality of the writing according to a given rubric. While I readily acknowledge that a paper arguing a position I have long dismissed as untenable makes it more challenging to concentrate on the writing over the position itself, I am aware of that difficulty and take extra care to assess based on a rubric, not based on personal feelings. The student in question, while holding views that don’t align with mine, also happened to write papers that were severely deficient in clarity and support, which led to his low scores. One 2015FA1 course with a low numeric evaluation included comments from a student saying, “I never understood what was expected about me and other classmate where in the same situation than me,” and another wishing for “Less peer review more Friend review.” That first complaint about understanding was contradicted by other comments from the same class (“Instructions were clear,” “[Friend] also was always there if you had a question, would respond immediately to whatever you asked,” and, “The way that my instructor made up think about how to go about complete each writing assignment was some times difficult but rewarding.”). In response to the detracting comment about peer review, I have made sure to work more directly on teaching students how to review papers helpfully and accurately, improving not only their learning but also their ability to help improve each other’s writing.

Looking through other courses with lower-than-average evaluation scores (seen in “Composite Evaluations by Campus Class,” below), I struggle to find more of a pattern. For instance, my 2016FA1-ENG-121-CA01 was below 4/5, yet a student complaining that they “got bored easily” contrasts with another comment from the same section that “Dr. Friend is one of my favorite teachers I have ever had. He is a great guy, and understands how to get the best out of his students. I love the way his class is set up, and it really promotes an environment for learning.” In my 2017SP1-ENG-121-CA08 course, I experimented with having students publish their work to a course blog instead of the usual LMS, which led to more frustration than liberation, so I have not repeated that experiment. And lastly, both of my SLU101 sections were poorly rated. The content was in flux the first time I taught it (2017), and my evaluations did improve in 2018, but I refrained from teaching another section of that course until the course content stabilizes and I can better understand what kind of value I can add to its implementation with a teaching style emphasizing student agency.

Composite Evaluations by Campus Class (4-point Scale)

Of course, no teacher’s style appeals to all students in every class, and it seems my approach works best with students eager to take control of their own learning, sometimes frustrating those who want an instructor who takes more directive control. That difference in perspective has been the only consistency I have found in comments on student evaluations to explain classes where I am significantly above or below the average composite score for the College of Arts & Sciences. For complete historical comparison, refer to the charts throughout this section. To put my numbers in perspective, I want to point out that more than 78% of the courses I have taught at Saint Leo (online and on-ground combined) have been required fundamentals courses (ENG 002, 121, 122; SLU 101) into which students are placed before beginning work in their majors, rather than courses that they elect to take and select to suit their interests within their field of study. Furthermore, these fundamental courses occur at the beginning of our students’ collegiate careers, and these courses often serve to “weed out” underprepared students, while upper-level courses benefit from having students focused more on graduation than orientation.

Composite Evals by Class, 2014–15 School Year (Paper Evaluations)

Composite Evals by Class, Fall 2015 (5-point Scale, Electronic)

As an aside, the composite scores calculated for the individual and school levels are inconsistent across IOTA reports, with some incorporating numbers about library and other resource use into the faculty score, and some even including the number of hours students report spending on homework—numbers that have nothing to do with the teacher’s performance. Therefore, I recalculated the composite scores for all levels and all courses to generate my reports and charts. Furthermore, I am working with Cheryl Hemphill during the 2019FA2 semester to test new reporting methods that should save time and calculation frustrations for faculty who prepare portfolios in the future, making our statistics more accurate and accessible.

The effect of an academic “weeding out” process can to an extent be seen by analyzing drop/fail/withdraw (DFW) rates, which measure how many students do not successfully complete a course. Online classes, regardless of institution, are notorious for having abysmal completion rates. Saint Leo’s overall online DFW rates tend to hover in the 30–40% range. My DFW rates for ENG 121 & 122 (see below) in AY2106—the oldest data available—were higher than the institutional average in each modality except for my ENG 121 online classes. By AY2018, my DFW rates for each of my Academic Writing courses were lower than the corresponding institutional averages. Rates for my ENG 122 classes are particularly noteworthy, with my online rate dropping to within 5 percentage points of the campus average and my campus rates dropping all the way to zero. I believe this improvement is the result of attention to student orientation at the beginning of the semester and a revision policy built on the opportunity to grow and improve during the term. I recognize the affect low DFW rates have on student retention, and I will continue to look for ways to make students, especially those online, feel supported in their efforts to complete my courses.

121 Drop/Fail/Withdraw (DFW) Rates by Academic Year

  • Friend Online
  • All Online
  • Friend Campus
  • All Campus

122 Drop/Fail/Withdraw (DFW) Rates by Academic Year

  • Friend Online
  • All Online
  • Friend Campus
  • All Campus

Significance Evident Through Teaching Observations

As somewhat of a contrast to the divided views seen in student evaluations, my teaching observation reports have been consistently strong over the years. In my class observations (8.3 MB PDF), I present feedback from seventeen class visits across my five years here at Saint Leo, providing feedback from a variety of roles and colleges across the institution. Whether the observer was my dean or a colleague in the College of Business, these observation reports show me to be a strong teacher who listens carefully to students and creates opportunities for them to experiment and learn. In her 2019 observation, Chantelle MacPhee noted the leadership skill I exhibited while facilitating class discussions. In his 2018 observation, Steve Kistulentz observed that “while the open and collegial discussion seemed to reinforce the idea that while the instructor serves as an obvious authority figure in the classroom, that authority was driven from mutual respect.” Dr. Kistulentz’s comments reflect my emphasis on enhancing student agency, as discussed above. Similarly, in her 2018 observation, Heather Parker noted that “divergent points of view are presented as a result of the structure of the class that facilitates learning by encouraging student[s] to challenge each others ‘statements’ much in the same way he challenged students during the course of the conversation.” It seems clear that my efforts to engage students in meaningful discussions; give them more autonomy in the classroom; and expect them to behave as colleagues, rather than subordinates, work well enough that their effects can be seen even in brief classroom observations. In the future, I intend to continue finding ways to have students take charge of their own learning and responsibility for class discussions.

Significance Evident Through Advising

The nature of my position—half online, half on-campus, all focused on first-year writing classes—has implications for the advising work I do, as well. Whereas most faculty advise students as they navigate their way through the specifics of their major, I don’t teach classes in a major, and my advisees typically have yet to declare their majors. Furthermore, I often have a small number of advisees at any given point (see Advisee Counts by Semester chart below for details). As a result, much of the work I do for academic advising relates to the University Explorations program, helping students learn how to navigate their options and interpret their Program Evaluations. Because I count as one of my greatest personal strengths the ability to make people feel welcome in new environments, this advising work suits me well, and I enjoy the opportunity to guide students through the UE program as they attempt to better understand themselves, their interests, and this institution.

Of particular note, I work hard to push students to complete the UE program. Many students who come to Saint Leo without a clear idea of their academic major discover in their first couple years that the major they want isn’t offered at our school. These students often start talking about options for transferring to other schools that better meet their academic needs. In these circumstances, I always work with students to help them complete the UE program and qualify for an Associate degree, which has two immediate advantages. First, completing an AA degree helps make the student more appealing to a receiving school, making the transfer process simpler by avoiding the administrative work of transferring course credit. Second, completing an AA degree means Saint Leo can say the student earned a degree from our institution. My advising work is specifically intended to target our retention and completion rates.

Advisee Counts by Semester

Perhaps my greatest contribution in this category has come not from academic advising but rather from personal advising. As the faculty sponsor of Prism, Saint Leo’s gay-straight alliance, and as a visible Safe Zone Ally (more on that in Service — Statement of Significance & Impact), I’m in a unique position to advise students on navigating personal and professional concerns regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity, and related matters. In fact, in the first half of the Fall 2019 semester alone, I have had two students visit my office seeking advice for managing family tensions or the coming-out process in various situations. In each case, the students said they came to me because I have a Safe Zone placard displayed beside my office door. Students know I’m a helpful resource if they have concerns related to these issues, and the growing number of Safe Zone Allies on campus shows how my advising efforts stretch beyond just my office. By training other faculty, staff, and students to be Allies for the lgbtq+ members of our community (see training materials; 27 pages, 4.3 MB), I help ensure our students feel seen and supported. My role as Faculty Advisor for Prism makes me a visible resource for more than just personal support. In the Fall 2019 semester, a student in one of Dr. Wolfe’s psychology classes meet with me to help advise him through his class project that involves studying members of the lgbtq+ population. Because Dr. Wolfe knows about my involvement with Prism and the population in question, he knew he could refer that student to me for advice and guidance on his project.

For that matter, my advising work extends beyond our institution. I presently serve as the outside committee member and subject-matter expert for a PhD candidate from Portland State University’s sociology department, helping to advise the student as they progress through their dissertation research. As of the latest update, that student expects to graduate in 2020. I also had a unique opportunity during my first year at Saint Leo to advise graduate students at the University of Chicago. As part of my visit to that school to participate in a panel discussion (see Scholarship of Teaching), I also worked with University of Chicago students who scheduled advising appointments during my visit. Students knew my areas of expertise before I arrived and were able to ask for guidance on any relevant topic during their half-hour one-on-one sessions. Conversations ranged from pedagogical advice to help with CV revisions. These sessions allowed me to turn my conference attendance into a mentoring opportunity, and they helped me develop my persona as an established academic—something particularly beneficial for me while I was a first-year faculty member.

Overall, my experience with advising, much like my teaching assignments, has been multimodal, diverse, and nontraditional. Since arriving at Saint Leo, I have worked to improve degree completion through academic advising, retention through personal advising, and our reputation through advising students at other institutions. Looking ahead, I intend to find additional creative opportunities to advise and support students beyond simply helping them navigate degree programs.

Teaching Goals for the Future

A detailed narrative of my teaching goals follows, but in brief, I have set these targets for the years ahead:

  • Short-Term Goals
    1. Complete student-created wri 121/122 textbook
    2. Prepare training courses to help faculty migrate from eng 121/122 to the new wri 121/122 curriculum
    3. Adapt new wri courses to online delivery via RISE process
  • Medium-Range Goals
    1. Support teaching faculty in delivering new courses via in-person center visits, dedicated Faculty Liaisons at centers, and an online repository of assignment sheets and sample student work
    2. Establish an academic-writing presence at Academic Excellence Day
    3. Build sense of community by developing composition newsletter
    4. Train cave support staff in expectations of new curriculum
  • Long-Term Goals
    1. Establish writing and rhetoric as a full-fledged program with additional course offerings across all grade levels; serve as director of that program
    2. Create undergraduate academic journal to showcase student work
    3. Facilitate creation of a dedicated writing center to support writing efforts across the institution, with consultations available via all modalities

My main priority for future growth in my teaching remains the revision of our academic-writing courses. This project has proved much larger and more complex than initially anticipated, yet I continue to view that complexity as an opportunity for learning and development, both for me and for the institution. Having obtained support for our new wri 121 & 122 courses, my focus now shifts toward implementation, roll-out-and faculty support. With the support of my department chair, the ueac, and the vpaa, I believe the coming changes will be implemented sensibly and with the right amount of publicity to secure faculty buy-in and student engagement. Through the rest of the 2019–20 school year, I will work to complete the student-authored textbook project that’s already in progress. Because the proposed curriculum has been in flux over the past five years, the textbook could not be completed because we didn’t have a target for which to aim. Now that the proposal has been accepted by the department and the ueac, the curriculum appears to be settling, and I can have students write material that works for our new courses.

At the same time, I will develop a faculty training course to help instructors make the transition from the academic-writing classes we’ve been teaching for years to a new rhetoric-based program. To help faculty at our centers make the transition, I will visit our centers to present the intentions of our new program, present myself as the person behind the project, and establish faculty liaisons at each center who will serve as an accessible point of contact with whom I can meet to see how the transition works, addressing issues and concerns when needed. Eventually, I hope to encourage dialogue among wri 121/122 instructors via a program newsletter in which faculty can discuss issues, share solutions, and explore options for making our courses meet the needs of our diverse student group.

After rolling out new courses and supporting the instructors in their efforts to teach them, I plan to work on recognizing students and instructors who excel in the courses. I intend to make academic writing more prominent in our Academic Excellence Day festivities by creating student awards for best essays/projects once those are standardized and instructor awards for best assignment/teaching given each year. As Saint Leo continues to grow, we will have more resources available to make our student achievements more visible to the public. Considering the number of students taking our eng 121 and 122 courses, I hope to create some form of undergraduate academic journal, in which we publish the best work of our students—perhaps those who compete for awards at Academic Excellence Day. Such an undertaking obviously requires a good deal of resources and coordination, but as our student body continues to grow, I plan to take advantage of the available resources and train students to produce that journal.

Saint Leo will soon face the challenge of needing a dedicated writing center, differentiated from our current cave on campus, to meet the needs of our revised composition curriculum and growing wac initiative. While I do not see myself as qualified to manage such a project, I intend to work closely with whoever is tasked with creating our writing center, as it will need to support and reflect our new course curriculum.

Looking even further ahead, I have a long-term goal of becoming the director of a rhetoric and composition program at Saint Leo. My intentions have always been to develop professionally as this institution expands. I joined Saint Leo five years ago with the knowledge that, as an early-career academic, I had plenty of room to grow; the small size and huge growth potential of Saint Leo seemed a perfect fit. As our student population and our course offerings continue to expand, I want to see academic writing serve as an essential component of our students’ academic success. I believe our need for courses that examine the rhetoric of various disciplines will increase, and I want to be here for many years to come to help support that expansion.

Miscellaneous documentation referenced in the narrative above can be viewed here. Specifically, these documents are available:

All available course evaluations are available for review in a consolidated PDF (166 pages; 17.8 MB).

Complete forms from every teaching observation I have had are available in a consolidated PDF (125 pages, 8.3 MB).

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