Innovative Pedagogy Interview Series

A Conversation with Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Diane Keeling

Dr. Keeling

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions about your project with me, Diane. Could you share some information about yourself? How long have you been teaching at USD, where did you receive your education, which classes do you teach, and what are some of your general interests in teaching and in research?

I have been at USD for almost three years now. I earned my PhD from University of Colorado Boulder, MA from Colorado State University and BA from Ripon College. This semester I am teaching Gender Communication, Public Speaking, and Introduction to Human Communication. I also teach Rhetorical Theory and Communication Criticism. I particularly enjoy teaching about the relationship between rhetoric and the sciences. I identify as an interdisciplinary scholar, just recently having co-authored a book chapter with Dr. Jennifer Prairie who is in the Environmental and Ocean Sciences department. 

Could you tell me more about Rhetorical Theory in general - What is your take on rhetorical theory and who are some of your favorite theorists?

My over simplified explanation of rhetorical theory is that it is the study of how we come to know what we profess to know by attending to the production of belief systems through power, discourse, and conceptions of the human animal. My favorite theorists to teach are Gorgias, Aspasia, and Michele Foucault. However, most recently my research has engaged the work of Gilles Deleuze, Alfred North Whitehead, and Karen Barad. Thinking of rhetoric through these theorists, I would describe rhetoric as the difference that makes a difference in a world of tropic morphology.  


What type of content is covered in the course, and who are the students that take the course?

Rhetorical Theory is an elective within the Communication Studies major, and in my first two years here I wouldn’t describe it as one of our more popular electives.  “Theory” typically scares students, and “Rhetoric” is not well known, so I do a lot of work in other classes to expose students to a number of the interesting concepts, and tell them if they want to learn more they should take my class. Surprisingly, it works. The students who take rhetorical theory with me are typically ones who have had me in other classes and got swindled into enrolling.


Can you talk to me a little about how you teach your course? Do you employ any high impact practices while teaching, such as flipping or anything else?

When I took rhetorical theory as a student and when I taught rhetorical theory at previous institutions it was always lecture based. While this worked as well as any other course elsewhere, at USD it fell flat. I have worked over the past few years to make rhetorical theory more experiential, an uncommon approach to this type of course, designing activities where students can experience the theories or learn about them through interactive activities.


It’s my understanding that you provided an option for students to create a board game on rhetorical theory, a game that would serve to help students who have not taken the course to learn about rhetorical theory. How did you come up with this idea, and what was the reaction from your students when you presented them this project?

I attended the Teaching Professors Technology Conference on a Travel Grant sponsored by the CEE. A panel I attended discussed designing a scavenger hunt for students using QR codes hidden around campus with trivia style questions from course material that would reveal clues about the next location. I hope to eventually design a game like this, but I didn’t have time at that moment to implement it in my course. However, this got me thinking about game-style activities. I wanted students to be able to play games that would help them apply their knowledge about rhetorical theory. Instead of designing them myself, I decided to tap into our students’ innovation and since I attended the conference after our semester was underway, I decided to make the assignment optional, replacing one of their papers. Many students were excited about the opportunity. A majority of the class opted for the game, but a notable amount of students still wanted to write the paper.


How do you assign students to teams, and what does the research project entail?

I allowed students to either design the game themselves or self-select teams up to four people, with the understanding that the more members in the group the larger the breadth of material they would have to cover. I had three groups of three students and one group of two. There was not a research component; instead, students had to thoroughly account for our course readings of the subject, create trivia questions, and design an engaging game where other students would test their knowledge.


Through trial and error, how has your course changed since you began teaching it in conjunction with the rhetorical theory game project?

I have only one semester of experience applying the activity. I have learned that many students don’t have a strong sense of how to design trivia questions that are specific enough to be assessed by the question asker. Some groups would have questions where if the person asking the question wasn’t familiar enough with the subject they would have a hard time discerning if the response was correct or because the question could have a range of responses not easily listed as a specific answer. Some questions were written in a vague way, making it difficult for the person judging the answers to know if the person completely answered the question. Other questions had “easy” level questions that were more challenging than “difficult” level questions and vice versa. While I thought about issues of accuracy in assessing the board game, I didn’t consider discussing the pedagogy of question design and this was an oversight that I would address next time. Thankfully, I now have examples from current board games to use as examples to help future game designers. I could see myself designing an activity around question design that would help students think through issues of audience adaptation, which is an intrinsically rhetorical concept.

What changes have you noticed in the way students learn by integrating this project in your course?

The project asks students to think about issues of engagement and learning. It asks students to think about pedagogy—how others learn and how to help them learn. Through this process they had to become experts in the subject in order to think about game design in a creative and thematic way. In future semesters I will spend more time emphasizing this pedagogical component, which can easily be interwoven with historical readings in rhetoric from Isocrates and Quintilian. Questions about how we learn and how we come to know are fundamentally rhetorical.


What skills have you noticed your students leaving this course with?

Students leave my course with an enhanced ability to question how knowledge is produced and the conditions for its production. Even in the process of question design, students must think through whether or not a question is worth asking, worth knowing, who benefits and at what cost. 


How do you assess the projects?

I created a rubric from other example rubrics I found online. There were five key areas I decided to assess: development of instructions for game players, the aesthetic design and editing of all content, the theoretical rigor and focus, engagement, and critical thinking and educational value. I’m happy to share the rubric with anyone. It goes further in depth in each category.


Lastly, do you have any advice for other faculty members who may be considering integrating gaming centered pedagogy or other innovative learning practices into their classrooms?

To dedicate time training students in the pedagogy of question design.


Thank you for your time, Dr. Keeling. Please keep us up-to-date with your work, we would love to highlight more of your great work in the future.


-Johnny Bobé II

Here are some pictures of Dr. Keeling's class working on their projects:

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