Dr. Cindy Tekobbe: Technology and Rhetoric

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Before joining the Department of English at The University of Alabama in 2015, Dr. Cindy Tekobbe taught classes for Arizona State University’s Department of English, Writing Programs, and Herberger School of Arts, Media + Engineering. She covered topics such as digital design and rhetoric, social media literacy, gender and sexuality, rhetoric of memory and identity, academic writing and research, and first-year composition.

Dr. Tekobbe is a career software developer and project manager, specializing in enterprise financial applications and web platforms. Dr. Tekobbe explains, “Dot com is a high risk industry, with the majority of companies failing quickly. The hours are long, and the stakes are high.”

Thinking back to her software career, Dr. Tekobbe reflects, “Those were hard years for me, but under that pressure, I flourished intellectually. I learned a great deal about business, technology, and myself. Once our dot com was successful though, it became like a regular company and a regular job. I knew I wanted to continue to intellectually flourish, and to invest myself in important social justice causes and engaging university students. And for that, I realized I would need a PhD. So, here I am.”

Which aspects of software development have influenced your teaching?

One skill that software development gave me was experience in technical and professional writing. I prioritize designing clear, concise course documents. For example, my syllabus and assignment prompts have requirements listed in bullet points, grade distributions represented in pie charts, and easy-to-follow visual calendars of due dates. My students seem to appreciate the clarity and structure these documents provide.

I am also experienced in collaborative work environments, so I design collaborative and as-close-to-real-world-as-possible projects for my students. My classrooms are kinetic spaces where students are sharing responsibilities, cross-talking, and working together in shared files and digital sites. It is my hope that my teaching style helps them build the kind of collaborative and communicative skills they will need when they launch their own careers.

How does incorporating new technologies benefit your students?

Technologies are both a benefit to students and a detriment. I think carefully about how and why I use a particular technology in the classroom. I consider how this platform will benefit my students and in what ways it might also marginalize them. When I choose a technology, I encourage students to recognize its benefits but also to acknowledge the ways that same technology deliberately keeps them at a distance. For example, we use a Facebook group to communicate and share resources, which is enormously helpful. However, we also read articles about how Facebook uses algorithms to curate the content, which allows us to see how our choices can impact those algorithms. I think students find collaborating in Facebook groups helpful, but they also appreciate how algorithms work. Once they know about those algorithms, they can apply that knowledge to the other social technologies that they use regularly.

Do you think that technology in the classroom can become a distraction?  

I find that technology can be helpful for some students and distracting for others. For example, my technology-enabled classrooms can assist students with learning preferences or certain kinds of challenges, like auditory processing or attention deficit difficulties. However, for students who prefer traditional books and paper, my classroom can feel distracting. To mitigate these differences, I publish my syllabi early so students can see what the course will be like before they sign up.

What has been your experience teaching in a new geographic location?

It has been a fun adventure! I am a native of Arizona, and while I have traveled a lot, I have never lived anywhere but the metro Phoenix area, which is much larger than Tuscaloosa, or even Birmingham. Similarly, Arizona State, where I taught for six years, is larger than Bama. This is my first time living in this kind of everyone-knows-each-other community, where nothing is very far away. I really like it, and I adore my Northport neighbors. My English and Arts & Sciences colleagues are all friendly and kind. While I value my years at ASU, as an instutition, UA has far more resources to support my work. UA students are respectful and engaged in their education. The sense of community among students is really wonderful. Tuscaloosa is a beautiful town. I do really miss is Sonoran and Oaxacan Mexican food, which are only found in Mexico and the Southwest.

Tell me about your projects outside the classroom. How will this work be beneficial to your teaching?

I have several large projects in the works right now. I’m the Managing Editor of constellations: a journal of cultural rhetorics, and I am working with the rest of the editorial board on a long-term project to design and launch a collaborative publishing space for cultural writing, film, and art that will feature the work of junior scholars and emerging artists. I’m working on a book on gendered harassment and marginalization in digital and literacy practices. I’m collaborating with scholars at Millersville University and MSU (Michigan STATE UNIVERSITY) on a project that incorporates digital-making and handcrafting into composition pedagogy. All these projects benefit my teaching because they allow me to explore different kinds of experiences writers and makers have and how I might enhance those experiences or mitigate some of the negatives that come with them.

Who has influenced your career?   

My mentor and dissertation director Dr. Keith D Miller is a strong influence on me. I have been sustained and inspired by my ASU doctoral cohort, Dr. Brent Chappelow of USC; Dr. Dawn Opel of MSU; Dr. Ryan Shepard of Ohio; Dr. Ryan Skinnell of SJSU; Dr. Kat O’Meara of ESU, friendships we have forged through the fire of dissertating together. My research collaborative, Dr. Katrin Tiidenberg of Aarhus University and Dr. John McKnight of Lancaster University, have been frequent collaborators, and as a transdisciplinary team, have introduced me to a wide range of methods and disciplinary practices that I think make me a more rounded scholar. Finally, my partner, Chris Cowles, who is also a software developer, who reads my drafts, talks through my research questions, and reminds me to eat and sleep. 

What are some of your goals for teaching with technology?

I want to continue to improve as a teacher. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Teaching involves discrete tasks, skills, assessments, listening, processing, and nuanced adjustments. An excellent teacher develops these skills over years of practice. My focus is on continuing to develop my pedagogy skills and seek mentoring from seasoned teachers.

I maintain professional relationships in the technology world, and I hope to consult with the tech sector in their efforts to recruit more women. That is a long-term goal. In the meantime, I look forward to rolling with the tide.

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