As technologies progress, an old higher ed focus continues

By Jeremy Cunningham
September 7th, 2017

The beginning of fall semester is always the most intellectual fertile time in my academic year.  I approach the classroom from a rested viewpoint.  I am able to think in more big-picture terms, to apply a theoretical lens to my works that sometimes gets lost in the daily grind of the academic year.  I feel a sense of true purpose that gives me great hope and grand ambition.

This mindset matched well with an article published on LinkedIn by Jeff Selingo titled “Why Are So Many New College Graduates Such Bad Writers?” Though it leads to a discouraging first conclusion, Selingo’s thesis gives the work English instructors do distinct importance in today’s modern world.

Over my career, I have been told on separate occasions that students don’t necessarily need to read or write anymore. Friends in other industries tell me they never wrote a paper longer than three pages in their undergraduate studies. Even some of my colleagues have directed our curriculum towards short, impromptu written responses because they don’t see any need to write longer texts.

Writing in Context

Selingo’s article bolsters my belief that writing is important by putting it into the professional context. An epigraph within his piece says it best: the biggest differentiator in business now is good writing.” Selingo supports this statement by presenting data on the increase in the explicit request for skills in writing and communications in job postings. It is more critical than ever that all students can write clearly and concisely.

Selingo outlines several tactics to improve communication skills. Some are casual activities like read good writing or take time with your writing. Others draw students back to the lessons of the writing process: draft, edit yourself, seek outside feedback, and revise.  His advice is not revolutionary, but it bears repeating at a time when the basic need for good writing is openly doubted.

Writing and Technology

As always, the question in this piece is how does technology coincide with this issue?  Technology in education mostly comes down to access.  Technology opens the door to more reading than ever. I can find written word on any topic I have an interest in; one question may be though: is what I am reading good writing?

Technology also allows for me to get a high volume of feedback from individuals. This can be anonymous or it can be personalized. Some questions in that realm may be: is the feedback I am getting useful? Do I understand what my editor is suggesting? Are we able to have a back-and-forth so I can explain my intentions and he/she can make their feedback explicit?

To answer these questions, edtech must allow coursework to access individuals, tools, and content that is outside of a given institution.  Using the broadest range of content in my classes has to be more than a theoretical mindset in my teaching. As I teach online, I can’t merely be content with students conversing about their writing online. My goal should be that it exceeds what I would expect in a face-to-face classroom because the access to the larger world is greater in an online space. The standard has to be raised.

Selingo’s article bolstered my spirits and also laid down a sincere challenge for my year. We must be constantly aware of the value and importance of our work. As edtech continues to adapt old practices, we must avoid throwing out our core value to society. Our practice is ever-expanding, but our mission should remain the same.