Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Abstract

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Improving Your Messages to the Community

Abstract for workshop/paper I will give at the 2015 SIGUCCS Conference, in St. Petersburg, FL.

Whether it’s an outage, scheduled maintenance or an announcement about a new technology resource, the pressure is on you to create effective and readable messages.

Henry David Thoreau once said that he had received no more than one or two letters in his life that were worth the postage. thoreauTo be sure, most of your communications don’t require postage and won’t be cherished forever. But they should be worth the time it takes to read them.

University faculty, staff, and students are bombarded with hundreds of messages every day, from multiple sources. They appreciate it when your communications are organized, concise, and readable.

In this session, you’ll learn ways to improve written content for emails, blogs, and other communication channels. We’ll concentrate on how to cut the flab from your writing and strategies for organizing information. We’ll also cover how to choose the best words for promoting your organization’s resources and services.

Elizabeth Cornell is the IT Communications Specialist at Fordham University. Before that, she was post-doctoral fellow with the English Department at Fordham, where she taught composition and literature.

“Teaching Digital Writing” Conference and Workshop at Bard IWT

At the 2013 Institute for Writing and Thinking Conference and Workshop, held at Bard College, I believe I was the lone tweeter. Given that the conference title was “New Kinds Attention: Teaching with Writing in the Digital Age,” I was a tad surprised. But only at first. Many of the conference participants, made up of K-12 teachers and college professors, were new to digital writing. Others were using technology in their courses, but often with resistance and even resentment. I arrived to the conference expecting to discuss with others strategies for digital writing and planned to leave with new techniques and ideas, but that did not happen. Instead, I learned a great deal of first-hand information (much of which should be familiar to anyone who reads about education) about how teachers are contending with technology, from everything they like about it (SMART Boards) to what they dislike (unauthorized use of devices in the classroom; the tools change too quickly to be mastered). The experience gave me insight as to how to better work with people, whether a student or a teacher, who are skeptical or hesitant to try new technologies for writing projects. I plan to expand on those ideas in a future post. Below is a collection of tweets I made, mostly during Cynthia Selfe’s talk, “New Kinds of Attention: Teaching with Writing in the Digital Age.”

Idea Factory: Here, Now

NYC at Night (c) robertgoldwitz.com

This semester, I’m giving the students in my course, “Tales of Gotham: New York City in Fiction,” the responsibility of leading the class and teaching each other. In the past, I’ve required students to lead discussion using PowerPoint and contribute to the class blog. On most other days, it was up to me to direct discussion or activity in the class. Students had to write a couple of papers that many perceived as a school chore with little bearing on their real lives.

That all sounds kind of dull and twentieth-centuryish compared to what I’m planning this semester. Students will still blog. They will still lead the discussion (using Prezi). But they’ll be collaborating on projects that aren’t necessarily paper-based. They might make a video. They might do some mapping. Maybe they’ll mash and mix. Use social media. Create videos, podcasts, timelines. Discover new digital tools designed (or maybe not designed) for reading and writing. They will reflect on all this using words, image, sound. I’ll reflect back to them in similar ways. I’m leaving it up to them to figure out what they want to do with the texts we’re reading. This class will be as much an experiment for them as it is for me. We might all be a tad nervous (at least I am) about this shift in classroom dynamics and responsibilities, but I think we will have fun doing this together. For some more details about the course, the syllabus can be accessed on the Course page.

Many insightful people who generously shared their insights online and with me in person have brought me to these current teaching methods. Here are links to several sources that I find encouraging and inspirational:

One thing I did was hack my syllabus (somewhat) after reading and following the links in Jason B. Jones Chronicle article, “Creative Approaches to the Syllabus.”

Cathy Davidson is on the cutting edge of reimagining the college classroom. Her book, Now You See It, bursts with ideas and supplies a discussion of how she came to her approach to education. An important premise of the book is that education still prepares students for a twentieth-century world requiring people to show up at a desk in an office building and pretty much work at a specific task. School is like that: A class in a specific subject occurs at a specific time. Students perform activities for a grade. Teaching students to value their unique strengths and take an interdisciplinary approach to ideas and learning are among the things she writes about. At Duke University, she teaches a course in which students choose many of the texts. Then they lead the discussion and create the content. Students also take responsibility for assessment.

Tanya Sasser‘s blog, Remixing College English, provides much inspiration for me. Sasser, who writes about her successes and challenges in the college writing classroom, is an endless font of ideas. Her most recent post describes her current remedial* composition class. Her students will use the blog format to create a digital newspaper, with a theme of their own choosing, that they work on for the entire semester. This approach, she hopes, will plunge them into writing that will challenge them and is pertinent to their education. It will avoid writing assignments meant to improve writing skills but whose content is essentially pointless.  *Why “remedial”? Why not Composition I? People don’t take Remedial Algebra. They take Algebra I.

Suzie Boss wrote “How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory” for K-12 educators, but it applies to all teachers. I think students should read it, too. Most educators agree that we need to cultivate students’ abilities to be innovative and creative. They need to learn how to identify and solve problems. Sharing knowledge, often in public ways, with others is also crucial. How do we make all that happen? Boss makes several suggestions. “Welcome authentic questions” from students. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. And not just students with other students, but students with teachers, mentors, and members of the community. Gaining experience with failure and bad ideas is also crucial. Boss offers eight tips in total for “reinventing yesterday’s schools as tomorrow’s idea factories.” However, I’m not waiting until tomorrow. The idea factory is here, right now.