Moody Faculty Spotlight: Jo Lukito
Dr. Josephine “Jo” Lukito is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Media, where she researches cross-platform media language—such as interactions between news and social media platforms—in a global political communication context. She joined the Moody faculty in fall 2020.
What first started you down the computational linguistics path? What keeps you on that track today?
I've always been really interested in language as essential to human societies. Language is how we express emotions, relay instructions, share ideas, and engage in political discourse. As I started studying political language in social media and news, I realized that I was living in an era of unprecedented language communication. Owing to the plethora of language data now produced by humans online, I began using computational linguistic approaches to make sense of how people discuss political and social issues. What keeps me on this track now is the interdisciplinary nature of the field and the importance of studying political language. It's a growing field, which means I'm always learning about new techniques and ways to computationally process language. And, in an era of deepening political contention, I think it's really important for us to have cutting edge tools to study and make sense of public discourse.
How have your experiences as a recent graduate student (and/or as an undergraduate) shaped your teaching style?
I'm a first generation undergraduate and graduate student, and the first child of immigrant parents, so I didn't really know about or understand higher education before entering it. That informs my teaching significantly: I bring a lot of real-world examples and experiences to flesh out various academic concepts I teach and I try to make academia as accessible to all students. As a student, I realized there was a lot of "tacit knowledge" about the norms of higher education in the United States--things we "should" know but are not necessarily taught. For example, I didn't know professors did research for several years as an undergraduate student. I try to bring these things to light with my students, particularly first-generation students who may not know much about academia.
As someone who uses math and statistics in my research as a journalism and media scholar, I am also keenly aware that math can make some people anxious. I, too, struggled a lot with my statistics and mathematics courses as an undergraduate student. Thankfully, I had a handful of dedicated professors and teaching assistants who encouraged me to keep practicing and reshaped my perspective of math. Now that I'm on the other side, as an educator talking about statistics and code, I try to teach math and statistics as an empowering skill that needs to be practiced rather than something people are "naturally" good at.
What are some of the practices you’ve implemented in your classes (or outside of class) to make coding and Big Data methods more accessible to people?
One important way I try to make coding/programming more accessible is by using a lot of real world data, particularly social media data, rather than the typical "tutorial datasets" that are assigned to students. I believe students learn a lot more with fun and interesting data, whether it's about sports, video games, politics, or the latest television show. Once students are interested in the data, they're motivated to learn how to analyze and understand the data.
Another way in which I make coding and big data methods accessible is through "live coding" in class. Live coding is a teaching method where the educator writes code during class so students are able to see the process of writing code. This is especially beneficial for beginner programmers because they are able to see me make mistakes and fix my own code in-person (for more advanced classes, students are able to read code much faster and so live-coding can feel too slow). Throughout the course, I work with students so that by the time they leave my class, they are empowered to learn more code on their own or to take more classes.
Looking back at the past year, what was the most significant change you made to help your students during the transition to online learning? What was the most significant change you made to help yourself as an instructor?
One of the most important things I did this year was to schedule at least two one-on-one meetings with students. Online teaching can be quite impersonal and I wanted to have several opportunities to chat with students and assess their development as a programmer. I also used those opportunities to reinforce the importance of communicating with me and asking me for help. Additionally, I organized optional "conversation" meetings with students in the middle of the semester to check in on students and provide an opportunity for more casual conversation. This provided an opportunity for graduate students to ask about academia/higher education and mental health, but I believe it was also important to remind students that they were not alone even though we were collectively isolated in our homes.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming year? Do you have any advice for new Moody faculty?
I am most excited to see people in person! I moved and started my time in Moody during the pandemic, and all my interactions with Moody faculty and students have been online thus far. I am excited for serendipitous conversations and real-life office hours. I'm excited to teach in person again so I can see the joy on a student's face when they figure out the solution to a coding problem and walk around excitedly in the classroom. And though I've been here for a year, I think I'll still feel "new" to Moody in the Fall 2021 semester because I have not worked on campus here before.