Teaching Professional Writing http://tpw.tracigardner.com Tue, 14 Jun 2016 15:07:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2 Supporting LGBTQ Students http://tpw.tracigardner.com/supporting-lgbtq-students/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/supporting-lgbtq-students/#respond Fri, 04 Sep 2015 17:12:53 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=199 Read more →

Hello My Name Is, by PhotographingTravis on FlickrThe Chronicle of Higher Ed posted a video this week that focuses on what LGBTQ students need to do well in their classes. ‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know [Video Transcript] outlines the ways that campuses can support these students by paying attention to how they identify and ensuring that they have access to resources that allow them to participate comfortably in the classroom and elsewhere on campus.

In the professional writing classroom, a key issue is the student’s name and the way(s) we refer to them. What do you do if the student’s preferred name does not match the name on the class roll? When we call the roll in class, are we potentially outting students? Are the pronouns that we choose appropriate? The way we address these issues can determine whether the student feels comfortable in the classroom.

My solution is to stop using the roll on the first day of class. Instead, I set up a Google Form that requires students to login with their Virginia Tech PID and password. By collecting this information, I can match students to the names on the roll and figure out who is in the classroom. In the survey, students answer questions that tell me their preferred name, pronouns, and anything else they want me to know. By working through the survey, I can ensure that when I call roll in subsequent classes, I use the names people prefer.

Additionally, students need to know how to change the name that appears with their work in Canvas. It doesn’t do any good for me to use the right name if the CMS outs students anyway. The Canvas Help on How do I change my User Settings? provides the instructions. I just need to make sure students go in and make changes.

In the end, the survey and the CMS instructions help everyone in the classroom. Anyone who wants to use something other than a legal name has a way to tell me and to make sure that we all see their preferred names in the class.

I encourage you to watch the entire ‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know video or read the Video Transcript to learn more about ways we can support these students. It’s definitely worth your time.


[Photo credit: Hello My Name Is, by PhotographingTravis on Flickr]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/supporting-lgbtq-students/feed/ 0
Ethics and Professional Writing http://tpw.tracigardner.com/ethics-and-professional-writing/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/ethics-and-professional-writing/#respond Sat, 18 Jul 2015 05:00:19 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=181 Read more →

A doodle of the word "ethics"The departmental course goals for both technical writing and business writing indicate that students taking the courses will “Interpret research findings with understanding of ethical and human implications.” The developing general education curriculum (AKA Pathways) also encourages teachers to include ethical issues in the courses they teach, providing these three indicators of learning:

  • Explain and contrast relevant ethical theories.
  • Identify ethical issues in a complex context.
  • Articulate and defend positions on ethical issues in a way that is both reasoned and informed by the complexities of those situations

While the Pathways curriculum does not currently apply to the department’s professional writing courses, it sets forth some reasonable goals for ethical reasoning that can help prepare students for writing in the workplace.

After attending the Pathways Summer Seminar in June, I realized that there were some simple ways to incorporate discussions of ethical reasoning into the things that I was already doing in the classroom. Here are four resources that I developed these materials to use as I talk about ethics in my classes.

Professional Writing and Codes of Ethics
This activity asks students to look at the codes of ethics for professional writing associations and then to examine the codes for their own field, looking for places that those codes discuss ethics and communication.

Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing
This discussion strategy asks students to choose among eight options as they consider ethical scenarios related to technical and business writing. The technique deepens the class conversation by adding more nuanced options than a polar choice of ethical or not.

Ten Ethical Scenarios for Professional Writing
Used with the discussion strategy in the previous post, this collection of ten scenarios gives students situations from the workplace that challenge them to use their ethical reasoning skills. Connect these scenarios to the first activity by asking students to explain how their code of ethics relates to the choices that they make.

Clippy as an Ethics Case Study
This more complex discussion activity asks students to think though the ethical positions as they relate to a specific workplace situation. Specifically, the activity asks students to consider how Microsoft ignored focus group responses to the Clippy, the virtual assistant that was once a part of the Microsoft Office suite.

In the past, I have discussed ethics once, covering most issues broadly and dealing with the ethics of intellectual property rights in more detail. With these new activities, I plan to make discussion of ethics part of every major project in the course. In the end, I think students will be better prepared with the complicated situations that they will face in the workplace.


[Photo: ETHICS by dannonl, on Flickr]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/ethics-and-professional-writing/feed/ 0
Recommendation Letters for Students http://tpw.tracigardner.com/recommendation-letters-for-students/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/recommendation-letters-for-students/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 06:16:24 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=167 Read more →

RECOMMMENDED!Eventually, a student will ask you to write a letter of recommendation or fill out a similar recommendation form. My overall advice in these situations is to think about the situation, whether you feel you can write a strong recommendation, and whether you are the best person to write it.

How to Decide and What to Say

Remember that you are not required to write a letter for anyone, especially if you feel that you cannot provide a good recommendation. It’s also completely acceptable to say no if you are too busy because of other obligations. You don’t have to give the student any complex explanation, though I think the writer in us wants to say, “No, because….”

I usually make the decision based on what the letter is for. If it’s for a tech writing student who is applying for a job after graduation, I usually suggest that someone in their major will know their professional qualifications better than I do, so I don’t feel comfortable writing the letter. No one expects an English teacher to know if someone would make a great civil engineer or software developer.

If it’s a student looking for a recommendation for something on campus, I usually go ahead. If it were a research assistantship or the like, I might hesitate; but for something with a club or campus office, I assume that I know enough to give a recommendation (and that their writing skills probably aren’t the crucial thing for the job).

If the letter is for a student who I can’t recommend for some reason, I say no with a general response: I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can write a strong letter for you. Just be direct. The student surely wants a good letter, and if you say you cannot provide one, the student should get the message.

Regardless of the kind of letter, if you’re crunched for time, just say no. There’s no reason to add one more thing to your workload. Just provide an honest reply to the student: Right now, I have to decline your request because of other obligations. I would not be able to get to your letter in a timely manner.

Timing of Your Response

If you are going to say no, do so quickly. You might be tempted to let the letter wait so that you can avoid the uncomfortable reply. While it’s tempting to wait, remember that the student needs to find someone else to write the letter. A quick negative response from you gives the student more time to find someone else.

What to Write

If you do decide to write the letter, make the student do the work. Ask her to provide details on what she’d like you to emphasize and to remind you of some things she did in class to stand out. Remember the FERPA guidelines apply, so you cannot talk about the student’s specific grades or other private information.

Here are some good resources:


[Photo: RECOMMENDED! by jm3 on Flickr]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/recommendation-letters-for-students/feed/ 0
Writing Effective Email Messages http://tpw.tracigardner.com/writing-effective-email-messages/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/writing-effective-email-messages/#respond Sun, 31 May 2015 22:14:57 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=156 Read more →

mailboxI like to give special attention to how to write effective email messages early in the term. It’s information that will serve students well in their careers, but just as importantly, it increases the professionalism in the emails that students send to me as well as the messages that they post in our online discussion forums.

I use resources from My English Teacher’s Email Survival Kit to set some basic email guidelines and to address specific problems, like abuse of the Reply All feature or unclear subject lines.

I highlight relevant details from infographics that will catch students’ attention. How to Easily Write Better Emails from WhoIsHostingThis has some interesting points:



SHOULD I SEND THIS EMAIL? is another fun one to share, and its flowchart organizational structure appeals to engineers and programmers.

Finally, I have a slideshow of Sassy Email Responses that I wish I could send in reply to messages from students. As I explain in my Teaching Email Courtesies post, students respond well to the examples in the slide show and love the follow-up activity where they violate the rules for fun.


[Photos: eMail by Esparta Palma, on Flickr; excerpts from “How to Easily Write Better Emails” from WhoIsHostingThis]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/writing-effective-email-messages/feed/ 0
Choosing Open Textbooks http://tpw.tracigardner.com/choosing-open-textbooks/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/choosing-open-textbooks/#respond Sun, 17 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=152 Read more →

OEROpen textbooks are a free option that can replace or supplement traditional textbooks. They are published with an open license, typically allowing readers to use, print, and modify (with attribution) the textbook. With the cost of textbooks from major academic publishers ever on the rise, open textbooks help reduce the cost of taking a course.

Inside Higher Ed sponsored a webinar on Open Educational Resources (OER) in April: “The Case for Open Educational Resources and Open Policies.” The presenter, Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons, included links to various clearinghouse collections and OER sites, which you can explore to learn more about what is available. As some examples of the kind of resources included in the webinar, here are some links Green shared, which I tweeted out during the event:

Here are some example open resources that are designed for professional communications:

As you look at open textbooks, you will notice some drawbacks. Open textbooks may not be as carefully edited as the alternatives from academic publishers. You may notice that features you take for granted are missing, like an index, a full table of contents, or ancillary materials to use with the text. If you are thinking of choosing an open textbook, think carefully about the amount of work that you and students will need to put into using the book.

If you are considering open resources for your classes, I suggest you proceed with caution. If you don’t have time to create any additional resources you need to use the text, open textbooks may not be the best choice. Additionally, be sure that the production quality is high enough for the course. It’s hard to insist that student work be error free if the textbook isn’t. Finally, if you are interested in open resources but worried about whether the text will work, you might begin by using some supplemental material alongside a text from an academic publisher.

Bottom line: Open textbooks do offer some significant advantages (in particular, the free pricetag), but if you are new to teaching a professional writing course, you may be better off choosing a text by an established academic publisher to ensure you have the support you need while you are developing your assignments and classroom activities.


[Photo: Open Textbook Summit 2014 Day 1 by BCcampus_News, on Flickr]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/choosing-open-textbooks/feed/ 0
Syllabus Policies Matter http://tpw.tracigardner.com/syllabus-policies-matter/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/syllabus-policies-matter/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 16:32:15 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=142 Read more →

tpw-classrulesAt the beginning of every term, I include what feels like far too many policies that will govern the course. The syllabus is essentially the contract for the course, so it can be critical that all of the guidelines you will use are outlined clearly and discussed during the first week of class.

Example Policies

You can check the syllabus for any of my courses for my exact phrasing. Generally, I include a policy for each of these topics:

  • Communication Guidelines (email address and response times)
  • Online Office Hours
  • Participation (with details on who to contact for absences)
  • Work Guidelines (Honor System and Principles of Community)
  • Late Policy
  • Religious Holidays
  • Backups
  • Equal Access and Opportunity
  • Grading

And if that’s not enough, I plan on adding a Class Cancellation Policy the next time I teach. You can find more information about policies in the Virginia Tech Faculty Handbook section “Chapter 09 – Instruction-Related Policies.”

Why It Matters

Let me share a story from this term to demonstrate the value of spelling everything out ahead of time. About mid-April, I received an email from a student who had never submitted any of the major projects in my tech writing class. It was my first direct contact from the student. Fortunately, I was able to pull out the class syllabus and point to the specific policies that governed the situation:

  • You must complete all major assignments and requirements in order to pass this course.
  • You will receive a zero for any work that is not submitted by the deadline.There are no extensions on deadlines. [Note that I have a very generous late policy]
  • Class participation in online forum discussions and in all assignments is required.
  • If you miss a deadline because of an illness, death in the family, or family emergency, see the Student Advocacy page from the Dean of Students Office for details on how to document the situation.
  • If you have an issue that affects your ability to complete the course, you may qualify for Academic Relief. For personal medical issues, contact the Schiffert Health Center, and for psychiatric or psychological issues, contact the Cook Counseling Center.

These policies covered me when I had to justify why the student could not pass the course at this point in the term. Admittedly, I include a lot of policies on my syllabus, but I have learned from situations like this one that a lot of rules up front saves me from a lot of frustration later in the term.


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/syllabus-policies-matter/feed/ 0
Simplifying the First Days http://tpw.tracigardner.com/simplifying-the-first-days/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/simplifying-the-first-days/#respond Sun, 26 Apr 2015 04:26:11 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=133 Read more →

Berry O'Kelly School, Early 1900sOnce upon a time, everyone came to class on the first day ready to work. Students had the books in hand, and they were ready to dive right into the course. A few might have even read the book before the first session and knew the information well enough to explain it to their classmates.

Times have changed, but it’s still possible to find a happy ending during that first week. You just have to keep the realities of the academic system in mind. With the current system at Virginia Tech, most business and technical writing classes are full before the first day of class. You might think that means that you can send out an email with details on the syllabus and book before the first session so that everyone is ready to go on the first day. Unfortunately, that system only works in fairy tales.

First Week Challenges
Because of the way course request works, your class roster isn’t set until at least the last day to add. Up until that date, someone may drop your course and a new student may add. During the fall and spring terms, that period is a week. During the summer and winter sessions, it’s three days. This enrollment system means that you may have a new student who will not have seen the syllabus or had the opportunity to purchase the textbook as late as eight days into the term during the fall and spring terms and as late as four days into the term during summer and winter sessions.

Even if the enrollment doesn’t change, a few students seem to always have problems getting the books. The bookstore may run out. Their financial aid hasn’t come through. They have to wait until pay day. They have to wait for Amazon shipments. So even if you have the same students you started with in the first day of class, you have to allow up to a week for them to have the textbook.

My Solutions
I have found that to be fair to everyone I either have to delay all deadlines or allow for generous make-ups. Since I hate keeping track of the 1001 reasons and students who need extensions, I use these guidelines to set up deadlines and the course work during the first week:

  • I email the syllabus and textbook information before the first class; however, I think of it as a way to help students get ahead, not a pre-class to-do list.
  • I take attendance beginning on the first day of class, but I don’t count absences against students until they are enrolled in the class.
  • I collect in-class work or quizzes during the first week, but accept that work through the end of the second week of classes. After that, I tighten the due dates.
  • I strongly encourage students not to procrastinate if they have the ability to complete the work that first week. Most of them will submit their work prior to that last day, which helps with my workload.
  • I assign readings during the first week, but focus on material that will likely be review, like information on process-based writing and the rhetorical considerations of audience and purpose.
  • I supplement with online materials that match the textbook readings to help any students who have trouble acquiring the textbook. I do not necessarily provide such supplements after that first week.
  • I begin the first major writing project during the first week, but I choose a project that does not rely on the textbook so that everyone can begin the project. Recently, I have been using a Professional Bio Assignment.

I have found that any other system results in heartbreak, either for students or me. From my perspective, these guidelines ultimately save me time and energy. I tried making work due quickly during the winter session because of the very short time allotted for the course, but I had a student add on the last day to add the course, making him three days behind. I had to rearrange all the due dates in the system to give him time to complete the quizzes and other work. Now I set up the course so that these problems don’t come. Students are happier, and so am I. Maybe not happily-ever-after happy, but at least I’m not the evil villain.

[Photo: Berry O'Kelly School, Early 1900s by Universal Pops, on Flickr]


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/simplifying-the-first-days/feed/ 0
Outside Genre Capstone Assignment http://tpw.tracigardner.com/outside-genre-capstone-assignment/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/outside-genre-capstone-assignment/#respond Thu, 09 Apr 2015 15:29:01 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=127 Read more →

newstreetThere’s new content in the the department’s Google Drive collection. Dr. Paul Heilker has shared a capstone assignment on outside genres, which he has used in 3104: Intro to Professional Writing and 3764: Technical Writing.

The assignment asks students to examine a genre of professional writing that they would like to get paid to write in the future. Students write a proposal, conduct research, and compose a final report that outlines all aspects of the genre, from the rhetorical situation to the specific genre conventions.

Heilker’s generous collection of resources includes the assignment, related details on the deliverables, and some student-written samples.

Note: If you cannot access the assignment, use the contact form to request access.


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/outside-genre-capstone-assignment/feed/ 0
Setting a Cancellation Policy http://tpw.tracigardner.com/setting-a-cancellation-policy/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/setting-a-cancellation-policy/#respond Sun, 29 Mar 2015 05:51:58 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=121 Read more →

classcancelledIf you are meeting classes face-to-face in the classroom, be sure to talk about class cancellation policies on the first day. Students already know that the university will send out VT Alerts in the case of a campus-wide cancellation (e.g., in case of weather problems); but it pays to talk about other times when your class will not meet ahead of time so that students know what to expect.

Discuss Substitute Instructors
The English Department requires you to find a colleague who can cover your class in the case of an emergency. Explain to students that if you cannot make it to class for some reason, this substitute will teach the class in your place. Students are quite used to substitutes from their high school days, so you will not need to provide much more information.

Explain Your Cancellation Notification System
Be sure to include a policy on your syllabus that explains how you will let students know if you will not meet in the classroom. You might be meeting elsewhere on campus (like the library), asking students to work online, or conferencing with students in your office. Tell students how you will let them know to ensure there is no confusion in these cases.

I include notifications on the class calendar and in daily reminders on the class website during the days leading up to the special sessions. In the case of last-minute changes, I send out notifications using the Announcements tool in Scholar. I advise students to always check their email before coming to class to make sure they know of any changes.

What If I’m Teaching Online?
Fortunately online classes don’t have set meeting times, so you will never need to cancel a session. That said, it’s helpful to let students know how you will let them know of any changes to the schedule . An Announcement in Scholar will usually take care of the situation.

Why All This Bother?
Obviously, clear communication helps a class run smoothly. That’s not the only reason however. You never know when someone will disrupt your plans. As I explained in this post, a recent conversation on the Writing Program Administrators Discussion list (WPA-L) dealt with a student who wrote a “Class cancelled” message on the board, and others in the course believed the message and left. Even without jokesters, students can be confused by a note taped to the classroom door or a message on the board from a previous class.

Explaining your policy in advance will ensure that no one is confused by a random sign posted on the classroom door or a note scribbled on the board. While you’re at it, talk about how you will let the class know about changes in your office hours as well. It will save you time and help you avoid problems during the term.


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/setting-a-cancellation-policy/feed/ 0
Using lynda.com for Technical Support http://tpw.tracigardner.com/using-lynda-com/ http://tpw.tracigardner.com/using-lynda-com/#respond Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:19:00 +0000 http://tpw.tracigardner.com/?p=105 Read more →

L_lyndaLogoYou are bound to hear technical questions about the software you ask students to use for your course. I ask students to use Google Drive, because I like the commenting system that it has. You might use PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, or other tools. Rather than taking time to write documentation or create demonstration videos for these tools, point students to lynda.com.

All students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech has full, free access to the tutorials on the lynda.com site. Just login with your PID and password, and choose a topic from the “Browse the library” link at the top or search for a topic. lynda.com includes a full transcript of the videos (which helps take care of accessibility). Click in the transcript or the course outline to move around in the videos. Do preview the videos to make sure that will work for you.

As an example of how I use the videos, in one of my first posts in the course, I give students this advice:

If you have never used Google Drive before, you can learn more by watching relevant portions of Google Drive Essential Training with Jess Stratton. (Login required; lynda.com resources are free to VT students.)

The link gives them very complete documentation for the site, and I put the responsibility on learning how to use the tool on students. If questions about a specific capability do come up, I give students to URL to the particular section of the lynda.com video that covers the answer. In other words, I don’t explain the tool myself. I point them to the documentation.

There are also videos on the site that can help with specific kinds of writing. In particular, there are several videos that can help students with job application materials:


http://tpw.tracigardner.com/using-lynda-com/feed/ 0