During the first week of October, I presented at and attended the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC) in Harrisonburg, VA. Besides being blown away by the amazingly beautiful landscape that is Virginia, I took away quite a bit from that conference that I’d like to share with you.
The theme of the conference was academic-industry partnerships. The tension that exists between academics and practitioners is ongoing and it is difficult to find a bridge or a solution to the divide that exists among us. But I still think it is a cause worth pursuing. There seem to be several points of contention between academics and practitioners, such as theory vs. practice, academic calendars vs. real-world schedules, and knowledge for the sake of knowledge vs. practical knowledge specifically for the purpose of employment. None of us can deny that all of these issues are gravely important and an integral part to everyone’s education no matter what perspective you typically side with. In fact, I find it nearly impossible to find anyone who cannot understand and conceive of the importance of the opposite side of their own leanings. So what does this have to do with writing and with WAC, in particular? Actually quite a bit.
One of the main complaints of industry is that they hire graduates who cannot write or meet the communication needs of industry. This is an age-old complaint, and I am in no way minimizing it by saying that. It just seems like “we” have never gotten it right. And by we, I mean all of us. While universities are in the business of educating people, we are not an isolated entity, but that’s a whole other post for another day. What I mean by the statement above is that somehow, when it comes to writing, we are not getting the results academics, industry, or even our graduates want. So what can we do?
Typically, writing has been taught separate from content area courses, and sometimes writing has been deemed a separate skill or an “extra” tacked on to papers due in content area courses. We’ve all heard the comment “Are you going to grade my writing on this biology paper, too?” What may need to change is how we teach writing and content area courses. Writing and content should be integrated so closely that students do not see a divide between the two. Writing to learn biology and writing to convey accurate information to colleagues should be part of the curriculum. This is where WAC comes in. WAC is very much about this integration, using writing to learn and learning to write well enough to convey accurate and interesting information on to other professionals. Industry partners will tell you that students won’t succeed or be promoted without demonstrating this ability.
So the question is, how do we do this? There is no one solution, no one particular answer; it is a process. What I would love to share on this blog is ideas about how to integrate writing into your courses in such a way that it is not separate from the content you teach, most especially when you allow students the opportunity to use writing to learn – as a way to discovery and/or understanding of course content.