This was my first time teaching a course in the area of professional and technical writing, and following department guidelines, I used the universal syllabus and textbook, though freedom still existed to tweak and guide the course in your own direction. This course is required for multiple majors, and the student composition was broad, but mainly I had engineers, nutrition and physical education, and business and finance, presenting a broad range of talents, goals, and expectations.
Overall, my goal was twofold. First, I wanted to strike a balance between the more product-driven and professional expectations of a workplace with the generally process-driven space that occupies my classroom. I wanted to create a space where students could grow and learn, while making mistakes, but I wanted to be clear and consistent with my expectations, as a supervisor or boss may be.
This took shape in a few ways throughout the semester. First, assignments generally had multiple steps, went through multiple revisions, and tended to include reflective components. For example, the onboarding assignment had them analyze the rhetorical situation of the class, and during the first week, we explored multiple drafts of the cover-letter, recommendation letter, and bio. Similarly, the instruction assignment included multiple reflections and drafts, and the feasibility study included a space for them to create a group charter, a proposal, and a progress report, all giving me access to different steps of the project, in addition to class conferences and check-ins. Last, the revision memo added a layer of reflection to the revision process. All of these approaches allowed time for students to grapple with new writing problems, situations, and genres.
At the same time, each project generally ended in a product or set of products that fit strict professional expectations and genres. While unit one had multiple drafts and interventions, I expected a crisp set of letters, etc., at the end and reviewed them as if they were from applicants. I tended to grade more for style and document design than in other classes. And though genres here had some freedom, they were more constricted by being professional, real-world ones, like cover letters and memos. Furthermore, we incorporated a range of both informal and formal group work, and both unit two and unit three projects were cooperative, reflecting the team-based approach in actual jobs.
My second major goal, in addition to striking a balance between more process-friendly writing and stricter real-world expectations, was to focus on the utility and reader-centered nature of most professional and technical writing. In other words, I wanted the writing in class to to be both “useful” and “persuasive,” as our textbook called it. Useful writing is easy for an audience to follow and apply. For example, in the instruction unit, students were surprised how hard it was to craft easy-to-follow instructions, even for seemingly simple tasks. User testing further illustrated this difficulty, while providing some ideas for improvement. By user testing, we could actively explore usefulness and in my assessment and class activities, I kept coming back to this concept.
Persuasive writing, in a related way, was reader-centered by speaking to what the audience (usually a client, co-worker, or manager) wanted. In the onboarding assignment, for instance, students were presenting a case for their employment, but doing so with a focus on the application, the course goals, and the specific desires and expectations I may have as someone on a hiring committee. Similarly, students worked with actual clients, like business owners, Bird Library, and campus security, to study and address goals and problems that faced these clients. They interacted over a range of genres, from e-mail to face-to-face meetings, and we discussed these different genres in class, workshopping and reviewing them together.
Reteaching the class, I would make some changes. First, I need to tweak some of the major assignments. I plan on shifting unit one’s application to an actual position that they may apply to instead of the class to give them more variation and interest. For unit two, I need to find ways to force students to create more original work, as they often chose tasks that already had some form of guide or advice. The feasibility study also needed to be a bit more focused and client-directed, as many groups still focused on their needs over client needs or had vague clients.
Second, I needed to develop a better means to provide written feedback. I often checked in with spoken conferences, but written feedback could be slow, which was especially unhelpful in this class. Similarly, making peer feedback more collegial and business-oriented (instead of more informal) would also be a helpful goal.
Overall, I was happy with the class and content with the evaluations, but I see modes of improvement and streamlining, like always.