Marking Tips for the End of Term



Andre Duret-Lutz

At this time of year, we all have our own ways of balancing the volume of assignments, our standards, and time.  Advice on how to manage this process is everywhere.  Here is one example, written by Brian Martin, an Australian university professor, that is both practical and amusing.

By the way, though I didn’t seek out an image with Santa watching over a pile of work, I managed to find one…

LTO Workshop: Snapchat, Reddit and Social Media in Education



I thought those who weren’t able to attend the November 16 workshop might like to have a summary of the content.  There were two presenters: Anatoliy Gruzd, a researcher with Ryerson’s Social Media Lab, who is principal investigator for a project on learning analytics in the social media age, and Rahman Ata, a graduate student in the Faculty of Science who is a Snapchat strategy consultant with Snapchat Access + Research Agency (SARA).

Dr. Gruzd provided data from his research on faculty perceptions of the strategic use of social media in education. You’ll find various related slideshows and the project blog if you scroll down the page I’ve linked to above.  He also recommended an eBook, Social Media for Academics: A Practical Guide, which can be accessed through the Ryerson Library.

Rahman Ata explained how he created mini stories using Snapchat to help his biology students review information from lectures.  He brought the sensibility of Generation Y to this subject, and I thought he argued persuasively that Snapchat’s 24-hour limit can motivate students to seek out and retain key information.

When PowerPoint slideshows are made available on the Learning and Teaching site you’ll find them here.

The following are themes that emerged during the general discussion:

  • When designing assignments and exercises using social media, should faculty surrender to the reality that students increasingly prefer to communicate through images rather than writing, or is our role to encourage them to work outside of their comfort zone?
  • Is it appropriate to have students use their personal social media accounts for class work, or would it be better to design assignments that use only closed networks, such as D2L?

Apparently next week’s LTO workshop–Designing Technology Enhanced Learning–is already full, but I’m sure Wendy Freeman, who is one of the organizers, can direct you to resources.

Old Issues, New Thoughts About Teaching Grammar


                                                Brown’s First Lessons in Language and Grammar (1904)

Two essays in the WAC Journal tackle the pedagogical value of grammar instruction in higher education.  The first, “What if the Earth is Flat? Working With, Not Against, Faculty Concerns about Grammar in Student Writing,” by Daniel Cole, analyzes the results of a retreat designed to help faculty without expertise in communication pedagogy to understand how to help students write better. His study covers a lot of familiar ground for anyone who has taught professional writing in a university and struggled both to teach students to write grammatically and to temper expectations of consequent miraculous conversions to eloquence.  Joanna Wolfe’s response, “Disciplining Grammar: A Response to Daniel Cole,” hinges to some extent on a straw-man argument: “it’s not true that good grammar = good writing.”  Her vivid sample exercises, however, effectively support her assertion that “we need to be prepared to provide concrete advice and tools that can help faculty recognize and teach the organizational macrostructures and rhetorical conventions common in their disciplines.”

Robo Markers


Bill Dickinson

At the moment, Word’s grammar checker is a poor substitute for a seasoned writing instructor.  However, a start-up company, WriteLab, is trying to perfect machine learning for programs that assess writing, not for just a few stylistic and grammatical errors, but “quality” of composition.  Once a dogged critic of these programs, MIT research affiliate, Leslie Perelman, joined Writelab as Chief Research Scientist. A Boston Globe interview from last year documents the reasons behind his change of heart.  I haven’t been able to discover evidence that he is still a member of the company team.

Recent Journal Articles on Professional Communication


The September 2016 issue of Business and Professional Communication Quarterly contains a number of articles relevant to our teaching: the use of social media in communication courses, what professional communication skills employers value, and the importance of weaning anxious students from over-dependency on PowerPoint text slides. The findings aren’t earth-shatteringly surprising, but you’re likely to find worthwhile nuggets.

The October 2016 issue of the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication focuses on human-centred design.* This subject is top-of-mind for me because I’m in the midst of marking my computer science students’ user documentation assignment. Here is the abstract for this special issue:

In this special journal issue, we explore the turn toward human-centered design (HCD) in research and higher education. We begin with a discussion of how HCD emerged in scholarly work at the edges of our field in places such as design, psychology, art, and engineering. Following this, we consider how an HCD perspective is manifesting itself in academic programs in different institutional contexts. We then discuss how this trend is further illustrated by the transformation of our department at the University of Washington, which shifted from being the Department of Technical Communication to becoming the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering. Finally, we discuss the work of a group of researchers who contributed articles to this special issue. Each of these articles offers a perspective from someone within our field about how an HCD perspective has influenced their thinking and research.

*See “Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful” for a contrarian view.