College Writing, Learning, Majors and Areas of Study, Pedagogy

A Creative Writer Apologizes to Numbers

Fun read by a creative writing professor about his relationship to numbers. I think the institutional separation of arts and sciences causes us to forget the historic relationship between the two. The original seven liberal arts consisted of three studies of language and ideas, the trivium — grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic — while the other four focused on either theoretical or applied math in the forms of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Education was never about either developing language or math skills. Each one helps you understand the other. Intensive study of grammar and poetics, at some point, makes you feel like you’re studying algebra:

A Humanist Apologizes to Numbers – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One problem with contemporary education at most levels is that it puts knowledge into silos. When you silo learning at the higher education level, you pit knowledge fields against one another, forcing fields and departments to compete for funds and students. That creates zero-sum pedagogical thinking, and that keeps us from serving the whole student, or all students, very well.

College Writing, Learning, Pedagogy

Writing for College and Beyond Book Site Up

One of the benefits of using Bright Futures Educational Consulting for help with your or your child’s college application process is that I’m a published author and experienced college writing instructor who now has a first-year writing textbook out: Writing for College and Beyond.

Bright Futures Publishing is providing marketing and administrative support for the first-year writing textbook Writing for College and Beyond (Lulu Press, 2019). Contact Bright Futures Publishing for desk or review copies, and check out the book webpages for more information, including links to ordering information, the table of contents, the book flyer, testimonials, and a list of special feature.

Writing for College and Beyond is a new kind of first-year writing text, one that emphasizes connections between the writing students do in typical English composition classes and their future business and professional careers. It’s also fully customizable for departmental or group orders. Contact Bright Futures Publishing for more information.

College Writing, Learning, Machines, Pedagogy, Technology

Print vs. E-Books

We all have to use what works best for us, but it’s also smart to pay attention to some of the latest research, which indicates that reading print books rather than electronic books is better for us in several ways:

  • Print books lead to increased comprehension. The tactile experience of reading a printed book actually matters. Check out the research.
  • Related to the above, we’re more likely to read every line of printed material. When we read e-books, we tend to read the first line and then just the words near the beginning of the line after that.
  • We lose the ability to engage in linear reading if we don’t do it often.
  • Reading printed material for about an hour before bedtime helps us sleep. Reading ebooks keeps us awake.

I read both e-books and print books, and I’m grateful for my e-readers (really, the apps on my iPad) when I’m traveling. It’s easier to carry 1000 books on one iPad than it is to carry five in a backpack. I relied a great deal on an app called iAnnotate while I was reading for my last published scholarship, the introduction and chapter 1 of Reading as Democracy in Crisis. I can’t tell you how useful the app was to me: it allowed me to highlight, underline, and annotate dozens of .pdf files and then email my annotations to myself. Imagine having all of the text that you highlighted in all of your books gathered up in searchable electronic form.

Even with this experience, I know what the researchers mean by the tactile elements of memory, the feeling of better control over your media with pages. I do remember where to find things in books by their physical location in the book, which isn’t possible with an e-reader: you can only search terms and page numbers. I think the point here isn’t which search method is more efficient, but which reading style engages more of the brain by engaging more of our physical senses. So I appreciate ebooks and use them quite a bit, but for educational purposes, especially in K-12 environments, we should use them carefully and deliberately, being aware of their drawbacks as well.

I’d like you to consider a few things about the way we developed our technologies:

  • The people who developed our technologies didn’t have our technologies. In other words, the people who built the first computer didn’t have computers.
  • The engineers who landed men on the moon did most of their work on slide rules.
  • The computers that they did at first use had less computing power than our telephones.

So we should use the best technology available to us while being aware of its limitations. Don’t dump your printed books. Continue reading in multiple media, and make sure your children especially regularly read printed books.

College Writing, Educational Consulting, Learning, Majors and Areas of Study, Understanding the Market

Employers Want Writing Skills

In 2011 the Wall Street Journal published an article asking, “Why Can’t MBA Students Write?” which was later revised to “Students Struggle for Words.” The truth is that employers have been complaining about MBA writing skills for well over ten years now, and not just MBAs but college graduates in general. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers stated that 73.4% of employers want graduates with strong written communication skills, while a survey by the American Association of University Professors found that 93% of employers think a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important.”

The numbers are high because too many college grads leave college with poor writing skills. In some cases the problem is simply etiquette: graduates haven’t learned formal business communication. Others think that writing skills are difficult to teach, as if good writing was more an innate talent than a learned activity. I think these impressions come from a panacea view of writing instruction: students take a writing class, and then they learn how to write, so if those one or two writing classes are good enough, they don’t need any more.

Writing instruction doesn’t usually work that way, however. Developing writing ability is a matter of cognitive development, not just a matter of taking in information, so it takes time to develop. If a college program wants to develop students’ writing skills, students need to be made to read and write and to receive writing instruction in most of their classes, not just their English classes. The problem is that business and many other professional programs don’t invest in practices that develop writing skills, such as placing high reading and writing requirements on their students and then holding their writing to high standards.

Solution? If you’re in college, regardless of your major, take additional, even unrequired writing classes. Take all the discipline-specific writing classes that you can. And take some writing classes outside of your discipline, maybe even creative writing classes. In addition to those strategies, work on your own to develop your skills and get outside help. For example, I have a first year writing textbook titled Writing for College and Beyond, one that ties the basic elements of college writing to typical tasks in business writing. I wrote this textbook out of eighteen years’ experience teaching college writing in addition to my own experience with business and professional writing. Additionally, I’m the author of four other books and a number of book chapters and reviews as well as short stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I would love to help you with your college application essays, requests for letters of recommendation, and with your editing needs. Just contact me for more information.

College Writing, Learning, Machines, Pedagogy

More about Technology and Education

When I was sixteen I took Shōrin-ryū lessons with a friend of mine at the local Y. The first thing we asked our instructor was, “When will we receive training with weapons?” Why did we ask this question? Because we were sixteen. Our instructor, who was not sixteen, fortunately, told us that he didn’t train students to use weapons until they were at least a brown belt, which is one stage before black, because weapons are an extension of our bodies. We can’t learn to use weapons properly until we learn to use our bodies properly.

Similarly, technology is an extension of our minds. All the tech in the world won’t make us smarter if we haven’t developed our minds. Without that mental development, we’ll just be idiots with fancy toys, and I think we all know the world has enough of those already. So the first question we need to ask about any educational technology is, “In what ways, exactly, will this educational technology improve our teaching?” My experience with a great deal of educational technology is that the learning curve for instructors and students is so steep, and the tech so buggy, that tech, except when completely necessary, is as much an impediment to learning as it is a benefit.

When we think about the use of tech in education, we should also consider the fact that “traditional education” using “outmoded methods” invented the computer, the cellphone, and put astronauts on the moon. Given the history of education, I think it’s safe to say that educational tech is irrelevant to educational effectiveness. I think it’s important to understand that educational tech is not a magic bullet that will suddenly transform colleges into centers of effective learning (most of them actually are already). The basis of strong education is committed and well-supported instructors.

The Luddites were an early-industrial group of English workers who, because they were under the threat of being displaced by machinery, went out and started destroying machines. I don’t mean to advocate for some kind of twenty-first-century educational Luddism. There is no turning back, or away, from our culture’s dependence upon technology in the foreseeable future. I think we need to distinguish between educating students using technology and educating students to use technology. Rather than looking for the next magic pedagogical bullet in a box, I think we should be teaching our students to code, basic programming languages, how computers and networks work, and so on. We need to raise the bar on technological literacy, in other words, but that’s very different from looking for the latest multimillion dollar pedagogical tool while we continue to disinvest in teachers.

I would like to encourage students and instructors to focus primarily on developing the most advanced technology that we all have: that highly complex processor wet-wired between our ears. Read a lot and read increasingly complex texts. Learn how to write well. Take the most advanced math that you can. No matter what your major, try to get in at least a year of calculus before you finish college, preferably one semester before you finish high school. If you develop yourself in these ways, your tech will be an extension of your highly developed mind enabling you to do things better and faster. If you don’t, your tech will do your thinking for you, and the only possibilities that you’ll ever be able to consider will be determined by the programming parameters of your equipment.