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Many of my students were contingent faculty at other institutions. Some were taking Classical Rhetoric as preparation for teaching the course at their own schools, a few were leading first-year composition programs, and others were leaders in technical communication. You know that scene in Mona Lisa Smile where the teacher discovers she has to rethink her entire course because it quickly becomes clear that her students have read all the material for the year even before the first meeting? That was my class. Such is the quality of student we have in the resident and online Ph.D. programs in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University. But, as in the movie, my students had not yet made pertinent connections between ancient ideas and contemporary practice. (See the course syllabus for links to their work for the course.) We would pack in as much communication as we could, as if we were meeting every day in our Agora. In fact, I began to call my students "sophists."
In the 5th-Century B.C.E., the sophists were a professional class of teachers rather than teachers in a specific school. They were scattered all over Greece--just as my students logged in from all over--and while the sophists may have had some professional rivalries, competition among them was a positive
thing. Their education was in part to gain knowledge, but it was also in part to lead to personal and professional success. A
sophist is one who teaches/learns and/or makes a buisness out of wisdom. But wisdom is by its very nature is an applied faculty. Just as we were to get to know sophism through the writings of Plato and Aristotle, we each became experts over specific ancient rhetors and texts so that we could realize ourselves as sophists (Sophism, 2006). We were to try ideas on for size.
My course needed to focus around problems rather than just concepts.
Click on a picture to go to a sophists' homepage, and click on a name to see sophists' development through blog entries. The latest blog entry for most students is the top 3 things learned in the course.
The syllabus includes the blog prompts each week that students responded to. Each sophist was an excellent teacher and scholar, but for us to understand one another as sophists, we had to create knowledge and apply it both in the context of our shared space or place and in the context of our own city-states. The approach led me to specific reading selections, assignment selections that valued andragogic teaching principles, and other "use(r)ful" perusings.
My class was made up of users with a variety of technological and rhetorical skills and experiences. I decided to design a syllabus that would be full of entry points into the material for my students.