Thursday we will be hosting a workshop led by Professor Vesta Daniel
from the Art Education department. She will be speaking with us about her work on community-based pedagogy
. We will be exploring different ways of engaging students with their communities in the classroom. We're also getting ready for our next workshop in two weeks--The Press Release: Write All About It!
We will be joined at this workshop by Dr. Barbara Glass
, the director of the Professional Writing Minor, and Melissa Soave
, the Communications Director for the College of Humanities. They will help us think about how writing assignments like the press release might help students learn valuable professional skills as well as achieve important course goals (we might call it "professional writing across the curriculum").
We have a theme with the workshops this quarter--"writing that does something."Â
So often our students feel that the writing assignments we give them is disconnected from a "real" context. Traditional essays, of course, do
do work of a kind--they help students develop critical thinking skills as they help them to organize and articulate academic arguments, among other things. However, community-based assignments and professional writing assignments can give students an opportunity to engage a specific audience--to write in a particular context to acheive a particular goal using functional forms of writing that people use to get things done in the civic and professional world. It is difficult to get such rhetorical focus from traditional assignments, which often have very vague audiences and purposes. Assignments like the ones we'll be exploring in our workshops over the next few weeks can help students in their civic and professional development--and help them learn important course content and methodology.
Asking our students to do this work, however, forces us to carefully think about the relationship between the academy and the world "outside." This can be a difficult task. Last Thursday, Nancy Pine, a PhD candidate in English, and one of my predecessors as WAC coordinator, met with the WAC team to discuss her work on WAC and service learning (SL). She mentioned how SL offered some exciting opportunities for students--that to engage students with the community had "appealing" pedagogical potential. However, she revealed that her research had led her to a scepticism about many SL projects. She saw deep flaws in SL programs stemming from the failure of SL programs to adequately assess the relationship between the SL classes and their clients in the community. There was often a tension, she noticed, between the goals and motives of the students and SL instructors and the goals and motives of the communities in which the students worked. For example, students heading out to tutor in public schools may be aware of critiques of certain forms of testing common in schools, but for teachers those very tests may be an institutional reality they can't simply dismiss. An instructor in this case would have to adequately prepare students to act appropriately in these circumstances, and give them the critical tools to reflect on their work productively.
Confronting these challenges can offer pedagogical opportunities in themselves--but it needs to be part of the work that students and teachers do. I'll be excited to hear about what our guests have to say about such challenges and how we can confront them in the classroom.