I don’t write about my teaching much. I think it’s because I have been in a kind of boring stretch—I’ve been teaching technical writing for the last couple of years. It doesn’t blow my skirt up, but I try to make it more interesting than the classes I took as an undergrad. I take a project oriented approach rather than teaching a bunch of modules on genre—I want people to put the genres like memos, proposals, and reports together in a more cohesive way (in their heads at least). I got some feedback from the student’s last term suggesting that they just didn’t understand why paraphrase and summary were such important skills. I spend at least three weeks on that; clearly I’ve failed somewhere if they don’t know how crucial it is.
I’ve started thinking that part of the problem is that they are so used to summarizing or paraphrasing from print sources that they do not see the difference between using a summary of a situation to argue for the need for a project or grant and using it to prove that they have “done their homework” to get a grade. The two activities obviously aren’t the same. In the long run, one matters and the other doesn’t. I decided to skip working from print for a while—I’m working from presentations and video clips. This will hopefully shake things up enough that they won’t confuse writing summaries with doing “book-reports” and such.
Several people on campus asked me where I found the clips I was using, so I figured I’d gather them up here in a post.
Last week I started with Dick Hardt’s 2005 Oscon Keynote about Identity 2.0— many people have remarked on how excellent it is. I think it works well in tech writing because it leads naturally into discussions of issues regarding ethos and trust. Not to mention that it’s not boring. And it is simple enough for non-tech savy to follow for the most part (except the buzzword ending) and it is good practice for a tech writer to imagine that they’ve been sent to a presentation about things they don’t understand in order to report back to people who understand even less. I’m having people write a memo covering the parts of the presentation significant to anyone wanting to start an e-business.
Struggling to get this video to run (with audio) in our PC computer lab really bummed me out—I ended up using my Mac instead after some delay. I decided I needed a clip to make sure that everything was working before going live. I picked the infamous Steve Balmer remix to make sure that the sound and projector were working before getting down to business. I think that the form of paraphrase/summary that most students are familiar with is the movie trailer—so I opened displayed the original trailer for the Shining. The trick with a movie trailer is to show you just enough to pique your imagination. But in writing summaries, leaving things out can cause problems.
To display what happens when you leave things out in the wrong places, I just could not resist playing the best of the year in unnecessary censorship. This demonstrates very clearly what can happen when you attenuate things in non-standard ways. I know it was a risky choice, but it did air on network television after all. The other tool that I wanted to work with is arrangement—to that end, I played the remix of the Shining trailer. Of course, I had to finish with the ethos-rattling Angry Alien Shining in 30 seconds. It really is a remarkable paraphrase—I just wish it wasn’t in flash so I wouldn’t have to exit Keynote to play it.
The capstone on the whole video in the classroom thing had to be reach. It didn’t go over as well as I expected it to, but it provides a good opportunity to talk about kairos. That’s what I’ve done so far: at least it made me more interested in teaching technical writing.