Dominic Dongilli

Each year, graduate teaching fellows design and facilitate a workshop as part of their work with the OTLT Center for Teaching. In this Q&A, we feature Dominic Dongilli, a PhD candidate in the Departments of American Studies and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies.

His workshop, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Structures to Foster Engagement Beyond the Classroom, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, in N150 Lindquist Center.

What knowledge or skill do you hope participants gain? 

This workshop is dedicated to course structures and organizing strategies that can proactively foster engagement while acknowledging the constraints of instructor labor. Participants will gain strategies on how to more meaningfully communicate on their syllabus—the document that requires so much time but “no students read.” Similarly, we’ll discuss facilitation strategies for office hours beyond the “required three hours a week” where you hope to get through your inbox in between student questions about the next assignment’s required citation style. Finally, how can readings and assignments be more concretely connected to each other and feedback shaped by students’ goals for their own learning?  

Why did you select Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Structures to Foster Engagement Beyond the Classroom as the topic of your workshop?

In my courses on American cultural studies, I used to tell my students that “there are no wrong answers.” We were all located at a public university in the U.S. Midwest; raced, classed, and gendered individuals whose lives were navigating the historical forces and contemporary legacies that we studied “on paper.” And yet, I was consistently walking back on my assertion. Indeed, there were “wrong answers.” It was not for lack of student motivation, but the fact that my “clear” instructions and paths to engagement were anything but. Flexibility was manifesting as ambiguity; “after-the-fact” problem-solving and intensive feedback made students feel like their time and labor were being wasted (as were mine). I needed to find a way to prioritize my time and labor while providing my students with the tools they needed to meaningfully and successfully engage in my class as one among many (just as my teaching was one responsibility among many).  

Is there anything else you'd like to add? 

My second-grade teacher was famous for saying “students rise to the expectations that teachers set for them.” As a critical cultural scholar, I bristle at the discriminatory and exclusionary values—the “hidden” curriculums of wealth and whiteness—that are assumed in popular applications of “expectations.” But I also hold onto that phrase for the responsibility it places on me as a teacher. Students are doing meaningful work; I have the opportunity to support them in their endeavors and learn from them, too. It is my job to build an infrastructure that fosters student success—one that works for ALL students and clearly communicates the necessary tools to make meaning in the classroom. Learning goals are not abstract ideas that I hope my students will internalize. They are tangible outcomes that we can instrumentalize as concrete steps. Certainly, community always comes with the potential for failure and disappointment. Perfection is but one exclusionary manifestation that perpetuates the harm of “expectations.” Yet, why would I, as an instructor, want to waste my time or that of my students? Classroom “magic” is anything but, and by considering the infrastructures that foster student engagement, we can begin to think of expectations for ourselves and students not as “hopeful happenings” but as “worked toward outcomes.”

Register for Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Structures to Foster Engagement Beyond the Classroom.