Real Research for Real Audiences

Is your campus as cool as mine?  I absolutely LOVE when departments or schools showcase student academic work – after all, that’s why we’re all here!  At IUP, we’re celebrating Research Appreciation Week, which showcases research projects by undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty.  Now, as a newbie faculty member here, I didn’t know anything about this until about two weeks ago.  Had I known, I would have certainly incorporated it into my classes in some way.  Fortunately for me, a colleague is very involved, and she invited me to be a judge for both the undergraduate and graduate scholars forums.  I sat in on an undergraduate panel where students presented their research on art history, fine art, and autism education.  I also sat in on a graduate panel where students presented on fine art, gender studies, and history.

What a delight.  Seriously.  Not only were the panels interesting, I took away a lot about why these types of events are important and how they can help us as teachers of writing in any discipline and specifically as teachers of researched writing.

We need to go to these events, and here’s why:

1. Students need to know that faculty are supportive of their (students’) lives as academics.  Why are they doing all this work if even their teachers don’t appreciate it beyond just giving it a grade?  Students perceive many of us as interested only in our own scholarship.  This simply shouldn’t be so.  As great as I thought this event was, the turnout by faculty was abysmal.  This also simply shouldn’t be so.

2. There’s a lot to learn at these events that hs nothing to do with the actual presentation content,  including what students are writing about, how students are writing, and what types of writing are going on in other disciplines and classrooms around the university.  Personally, I’m not so interested in fine art, but I learned a lot about how students write about fine art by listening to these presentations.  It’s also not a bad place to figure out what you want and don’t want in your students’ writing – there are good and not-so-good presentations at any conference, and exposure to both is educational.

Faculty should encourage students go to these events for the same reasons.

We also need to encourage students to WRITE for these events, and here’s why:  Sure, not all of your students are going to become academics, so the need for polished presentable critical essays (supplemented by powerpoint slides) might not be necessary for them after college.  But why shouldn’t they be learning the importance of these skills as part of their college education, as part of what it means to participate in an academic environment?  It doesn’t matter what they’ll be doing after college – writing, articulating understanding, clear communication, conveying ideas, and debate are skills that will help them regardless of their career field.

If your campus doesn’t have an event like this, it should.  And if it’s just not feasible, why not create this type of forum in your classroom?  Provide opportunities for students to share their research in front of a real audience who might have real questions.  And of course, show that you have real interest.

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