Real Researchers in Class

This semester, I have been teaching ENGL 360: Editing and Publishing.  It’s a career-prep course intended to introduce English majors to a variety of job possibilities in the fields of editing and publishing.  Although I have some experience in this area, my profession is teaching.  So, I decided to seek out some professionals in editing and publishing and have them come to class to speak about their careers.  We heard excellent talks from Deb Klenotic, the web content and social media editor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Zack Stiegler, communications media professor and expert on media law at IUP; Jennifer Bails, freelance writer and editor; and Luis Fabregas, reporter for the Tribune Review, author and self-publisher of A Transplant for Katy.

My students in 360 have told me numerous times how useful they’ve found these talks from real writers and editors.  And in our last presentation, from Luis Fabregas, I was struck by something he said quite often that I thought would have been useful in my more general composition courses too – research.  He used the word research many many times.  Here was a real writer talking about the many ways in which he does research on a daily basis as a reporter, and also how he had to do research not only on the content of his new book, but on how to publish it.

So it occurred to me, if you’re teaching students to write any sort of researched document, whether in a writing class or across the disciplines, bring in problem-solvers to talk about how they do things in the real world (outside of school).  I’ve often shown students my own blog, the one I wrote while doing my dissertation, and talked about how I did research for that project.  But that’s way out of the scope of what a first-year writer is thinking about, and I definitely see a lot of eyes glaze over and worried faces when I bring it up on the screen.  My own experience as a researcher isn’t interesting to them – they see it as part of my agenda to get them to do things they don’t want to do (of course, that is not my agenda, but they too often probably see it that way).

Instead, I’m thinking of people who work on smaller projects on a daily basis that require multiple avenues of research.  We all know people in a variety of fields – we should use our friends and colleagues to help our students.  I’m thinking this semester of having my friend who works in marketing come to my Comp 2 course to talk about the various ways she uses research to keep her company’s Facebook page updated with cutting-edge news.  I have another friend who works for an adoption agency, and I know that on a daily basis she uses professional research in social sciences to keep current in her field and also to help her solve problems that come up in her job.  The administrator at my son’s daycare does research on every day – in early childhood pedagogy, school administration, she interviews and meets with administrators from other schools, she does surveys of parents – this is all research.  More advanced students are also great resources – have some seniors come in and talk about the ways in which they’ve researched post-graduation opportunities (jobs, grad school, etc).  I think we’d find that they use much more than Google for these types of research (they probably go to the library for reference books, brochures, talk to friends, parents, advisors and career counselors – these are all sources for research).  Ask these students to talk about how the research skills they learned in college are helping them outside of college.

So here’s the take-away: have real researchers come to class to talk about their processes.  It’s one way to combat the ‘assignment-for-school/teacher-as-audience’ syndrome that comes along with a lot of researched writing assignments.  And, like it did for me with Luis, you never know what ideas you might get from it too.

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