Teaching Approach and Business Background
My approach to teaching comes from ~15 years in the business world, where I started out as a contract data entry operator at EDS in the GM Lordstown plant. I then moved to Banc One Services Corp. in Westerville, OH, where I was also a data entry operator, but I wanted to move up to a technical writer position. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as qualified as an engineer who applied for the job, so I quit and moved into secretarial work, which paid better for a few years but was ultimately unfulfilling. In 2000, I went back to YSU for a master’s degree in Professional Writing and Editing (now a Professional and Technical Writing program) and graduated in August 2001. After teaching for one year there (Sept. 2001–May 2002), I used my master’s degree to obtain my first tech writer position, at Audio-Technica in Stow, OH.
After working at A-T for one year full time, I decided to return to graduate school at Kent State University. For the first four years, I also worked as a marketing communications consultant for A-T. Later, I spent my school breaks doing contract technical writing for RADCom Services in Hudson, OH.
Because I did not take the traditional path to a Ph.D. and academia, I bring unique work experiences to my writing classroom. The courses I design take as their foundation actual business practices, with a keen focus on how corporate structures impact the writer’s day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. In every corporate environment in which I have worked, collaboration is an almost constant feature. No piece is written in isolation, whether it’s a tiny, one-paragraph magazine ad, web content for a product, help documentation for an app, or a thousand-page manual that gets updated regularly.
Writing is a negotiated social practice.
And, as such, writing needs to be taught in collaborative environments that allow students to master the negotiation of audience, purpose, meaning-making, and delivery. The standard grading system is not well suited to this teaching approach; students are taught to view their grade as dependent only on their own work (which is why they hate group projects so much), so they are reluctant to see the value in messy writing environments in which the end goal is not clearly delineated nor the grade awarded based on a well-structured rubric. With so much depending on their grade point averages, can we blame them?
But this is not how writing works in the real world.
Since 2001, I have been developing and revising courses in professional writing to try to negotiate the tensions between the standard one-student-one-grade system and the reality of professional writing as a negotiated practice. I try new things all the time. Some work, some don’t. Sometimes, people don’t like that I try new things. I realize it can be difficult not to “stick with the tried and true” in times of great change. But can we afford to be conservative when the whole of higher education is shifting beneath us?
We can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.