SCMLA– Technical Writing

I took notes at this session and transferred them onto my blog. So I guess that means it is retroactively live blogged.

Steve Marsden
teaches Am Lit and late 19th C lit
Stephen F. Austin University

Using Student Examples in Technical Writing

Students are stirred by contradictory impulses
They want to create a perfect product for the class.

Examples can be well-written concretized advice.
Used badly -> simply “copy monkeys” without understanding audience and language needs

Questions about Examples
Why do students want examples?
How do they pick the examples they use?
How do they use them?
How do they misuse the examples?
What can be done to minimize misuse?

Students don’t know register, style, or format.
Students perceive the example as vital.

Students get a sense of expectations through the examples.

The students need to be able to extract the important from the example so that they will be able to apply this skill in their work.

Give LOTS of examples.
Give one with detailed analysis.
Use a LOT of examples.

The vast majority of students gravitate toward the models of students, so student examples.

-prefer student models to set expectations and quality goals

They will rise to the student model they are given; therefore, no matter how difficult and well done, this is the example the students will follow.

Told the students to do something– worked for one semester on a technical manual.

Students now see the great student models and do better work.

The students will look at the best-designed OR the prettiest example and will take all the elements, even if the writing is bad.

Students prefer examples that resemble their topics.
Students prefer that the examples are given out in handouts.
Students prefer examples that are given online as files.
In other words, they want something they can keep in their hot little hands, not just something you show them and take away.

According to their own reporting, how students used the examples:

  • 44 of 51 read the examples for organizational and structure
  • 38 of 51 read for language, working, and tone
  • 17 of 51 read for heading titles
  • 15 of 51 read for font, spacing, and format
  • 12 of 51 read for chart and graph usage
  • 21 of 51 used the entire document as a template for their paper

Problems with how they used the examples:

  • 7 of 51 copied too much
  • 4 of 51 copied what didn’t apply
  • 7 of 51 used the bad example, unaware or not remembering that they were negative examples
  • 9 of 51 chose the student example over the prompt or the grading rubric, if there was a conflict

Too often they used the example as boilerplate text.

Maybe put a monster tag on the bad examples, labeling them as such.
I like the idea of actually putting a monster on there. It applies the literature they may (or may not) have read to the technical writing. I just kind of like a monster as a monster tag. Would have to make sure the students understood that Frankenstein’s monster was a bad idea.

How do you prevent misuse of examples?

  • multiple models, with an acceptable range of topics
  • never give out a bad example which is not labeled BAD
  • distribute examples as scanned PDFs, then they can’t just cut and paste the template
  • add examples during:
    • gathering
    • evaluating
    • adapting process
    • and ethics discussion

    Laura Osborne

    adjunct at Stephen F. Austin State University
    primarily teaching online

    topic: “The Importance of Building Student Interaction in Online Technical Writing Classes”

    Laura Osborne joined the English faculty at SFA in Fall 2006, after a successful seven year career in the Texas A&M University Libraries where she worked as a technical writer and computer software trainer. Prior to that, she earned her Master’s degree in English at Texas A&M University, during which time she served as a writing center consultant as well as an instructor of Freshman-level composition and Sophmore-level technical writing. She was born and raised in Northwest Louisiana (near Shreveport) and earned her B.A. in English from Louisiana State University in Shreveport. In addition to her academic credentials, she is also a Certified Training Professional and a Certified Online Instructor.

    importance of building student interaction with:

    Need instructor leadership for student interaction.
    How we use the tools is especially important.
    Just setting up a discussion won’t work.

    The typical get-to-know scenario doesn’t work.

    students don’t realize the online class is NOT self-paced

    Two methods to build community:

    1. face to face introduction meeting for an on-campus orientation and an on-line chat orientation
    tell number of students enrolled
    tell majors of students
    give identifying information so that students can feel part of the group

    2. post introductions to people the first week
    have a photo
    put the teacher/instructor introduction up first
    require a photo for student introduction (even if they use an icon)
    folks need to be able to see something to identify the post’s author

    Posting strategies:
    Hallway (just for students to discuss among themselves) was not used.
    I told them I would not be there and it would not be graded, so they didn’t go there. They did not have a reason to discuss outside of interaction required. Could you suggest Hallway as a place to get help where teacher won’t look? Is this a place for the faux-student strategy talked about elsewhere?

    An empty discussion board is scary.
    Posting first is taking a big risk.

    The instructor can post first to model what expectations are, as long as the instructor post is a model/example.

    For in-group assignments teacher should also post first.
    An empty small group board is also scary.

    Teacher responsibility:
    Personal availability is important.
    Write the lecture materials.
    That is not, however, where your responsibility ends. That alone isn’t going far enough.

    Schedule and REQUIRE chats.
    I did not do this. I should have done this. When I teach online again, I will do this.
    Give point value to the chats.
    Grade them: for participation, # of responses, depth of responses.
    (Depth of responses better grade, but number of responses is easier to grade.)

    Schedule enough, but not too many, chats.
    You need 15 to 20 students attending each chat.

    Online chat does not replace a lecture.

    Rules for chats:

    1. Give the topic ahead of time, including dealing with any reading required.
    2. Instructor should ask leading questions. (I think she means questions that come first, will draw people out. Not the legal use of this term.)
    3. Make sure you write, “Good question” or “Thanks for answering” at the very least.

    Availability– through online office hours, chats, IMing
    Active leadership–jump in and post first EVERY time
    Encouragement–Be generous with your positive feedback.
    Clear–Assign concrete point grades to each part of the course, including posts, discussions, and chats.

    Chats are the number one thing listed as positive in my evaluations.

    She holds an on-campus orientation. Only half the class is local.
    What does she do with the part of class that is not local?

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