Ownership is more than task oriented learning!
This is the first time I am teaching Technical Writing at Clemson University, which is based in the Department of English. It was a last minute request by the department since they had a full time lecturer give their notice on January 1 of this year. Years ago, I took Technical Writing as an undergraduate and Technical Editing as a graduate student.
There are two classes wrapped around professional, advanced writing based solely on the type of students and the academic curriculum. You find more science based students (engineering, sciences, etc.) in Technical Writing and more business and liberal arts students in Business Writing.
So I decided to build the class around the needs of the students, where the students could take on ownership of the curriculum and I would provide the direction and professional instruction. So, I gave them a few example syllabuses from other Technical Writing classes at Clemson. I asked to to take the syllabuses and the book that is required, separate into groups, and build a syllabus based on their needs and wants. I gave them two days to take this information, collaborate with their group members to write this syllabus, and then be prepared to propose to the class what the syllabus would offer. Then, the whole class would vote which syllabus to use.
I knew that each group would propose different approaches but ultimately there would similar themes which would lead to having a hard time to vote on one particular syllabus. The consensus…well the favorite syllabus had nothing to do with curriculum but how the group wrote and clearly communicated in the document an obtainable plan. So, we decided to take the core consistent elements, and put them into the well written syllabus structure one of the groups created.
But here is what they learned…this group of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists learned how to write, communicate, and sell their vision. While they presented, other class members had questions and concerns. These ideas were voiced and at sometimes, heated discussion took place over a project that some did not feel comfortable taking part…live interviewing.
The first day of class, each student just wanted a syllabus. They wanted a “professor” to just tell them what to do so they could read the chapter, study for a test, and move to the next task. They were quiet, reserved, and un-willing to voice opinions. What has happened in just two weeks…a group has taken ownership of the time they are investing in three hours a week. Ownership in class instruction and all the outside work associated with this semester.
They are not only thinking…but taking ownership in their future. They are acting like entrepreneurs, visionaries…those who want to engage and take an active role in the educational experience that they are investing.
I love teaching!