Dr. Brian Lain

Our March Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. Brian Lain, Associate Professor and Director of Debate in the Department of Communication Studies. Dr. Lain teaches such compelling classes as “The Zombie as Rhetorical Figure” where he playfully infuses pop culture into not just his teaching, but his overall teaching philosophy for the more serious cultivation of independent and critical student citizens.

Dr. Brian Lain

“My approach to teaching is to take seriously that the skills in the classroom are survival tools for students and getting them involved, in control, and engaged in their own learning is necessary for the production of a stable and safe community for the future.”

 

How long have you been teaching?

I am not sure calendars go back that far. I taught as a graduate assistant for the first time in 1993. I started at UNT in 2002

What classes have you taught/do you teach at UNT?

I primarily teach COMM 2140: Advocating in Public, COMM 5080: Introduction to Graduate Studies, and COMM 3540: The Zombie as a Rhetorical Figure. However, I have often taught Rhetorical Methods, Visual Rhetoric, and Rhetoric & Popular Culture.

How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?

I was fortunate to participate in a NextGen CLEAR redesign cohort in 2012 that changed my view not only of teaching but also of assessment. That was a paradigm changer for me. I have been able to workshop my own teaching through work with academic debate so in the summers I get to try new teaching methods with our camps and workshops. I am fortunate to be in a department that supported revision and redesign. I meet weekly with a set of instructors to consider how to improve our lesson plans and follow our own best pedagogical practices. At the end of each semester, I complete assessment on my courses and look for places where assessment data can lead to better instructional design. Likewise, I try to stay in touch with my instructional designers at CLEAR and Career Connect because they are sources of great ideas and great resources that I need.

Did you ever take formal classes or trainings on teaching in graduate school? What about later on in your teaching?

Yes, in Graduate school I had a required course on pedagogy in communication (my discipline). I have been able to refresh these skills through work at professional conferences throughout my career.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced teaching, and how did you overcome them?

Staying on top of new technology is a constant challenge. I am still learning Canvas and iClicker. I try to make one advance per semester in terms of staying on top of those changes. Likewise, I try to identify one goal for each class to improve and better communicate my goals to the students. In that sense, communication is both a challenge and an opportunity. I have benefitted by implementing new tactics of transparency in the classroom, but I still need to do more. Students enjoy classes more when they understand everything going on and are invested in their own learning. While I try to make the classroom enjoyable, it is more important to tell students why they are asked to do certain things, and that also is a significant challenge.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

In general, I follow a pedagogical philosophy that is student-centered. I had a chance to outline my general approach to teaching when reflecting on my experience teaching zombie culture. I call it “Developing a Student-Centered Pedagogy: A Teacher’s Survival Guide.” My title is a direct allusion to Max Brooks’s (2003) Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. I compare our battle as educators against mindlessness to the fictional characters attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse in films such as Night of the Living Dead, Zombie Land, and The Walking Dead. An engaged student-centered pedagogy, I suggest, is the anti-dote to the virus of mindlessness that threatens to infect our classrooms and our society. What else is the slow creep of meaningless lives and mindless jobs that students seek to fly from by going to a university than a zombie invasion? My approach to teaching is to take seriously that the skills in the classroom are survival tools for students and getting them involved, in control, and engaged in their own learning is necessary for the production of a stable and safe community for the future.

What resources do you find most helpful to your teaching practice?

My colleagues, reaching out for help and asking for their expertise has been invaluable. Likewise, the folks at CLEAR and Career Connect have been incredible.