Eugene Baer (baer@POST.ITS.MCW.EDU)
Sat, 6 Jan 1996 11:37:02 -0600
Tim, John, et al regarding students' experiences vs ours and effects on
writing, but first, an intro. I'm new to the list, an English prof at
Wisconsin Lutheran College, a small liberal arts college in Milwaukee, WI.
My background is rhet and comp. I direct both our WAC and writing center
I agree that reading is a key here. Most students are not well read,
comparatively speaking and with reference to their profs. And links between
quantity and probably quality of reading and quality of writing seem
indisputable (references available). However, I am finding that our current
and recent crops of students are either nearly illiterate (re belles
lettres) or are surprisingly well read, but chiefly in 20th century works
rather than in earlier literatures. Not only English majors but also those
in disciplines such as history and philosophy fall into this category.
Regarding the rest, and I refer specifically to those majoring in
disciplines such as business and communication, they seem to be able to
develop at least an adequate level of functional writing with careful
nuturing and in most cases, if they perceive writing as valuable to them and
likely to be immediately so.
Also, if these students are much more visual media literate, perhaps
we need to tap into this literacy and use it to help them become literate
and fluent communicators with the written word. Some faculty are
incorporating desktop publishing, hypertext, and such into writing classes
so that students can draw on their visual literacy to enhance their written
texts. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, our English majors do
not need to use these enhancements/crutches(?); they write quite well, as do
many history, philosophy, and other humanities majors. On the other hand,
much communication today makes use of a combination of spoken words, written
words, and visuals, especially in many business-related fields (marketing,
advertising) and in many journalism-like fileds (public relations).
Sometimes these are paper presentations; other times they are presented via
computers and other technology.
Should we redesign the writing curriculum to include visual and
electronic communication? Should we hold the fort? Capitulate? Obviously, I
think we need to be aware of the changing nature of communication and need
to examine changes carefully so that we can identify and mine the gold and
cast onto the slag heap the dross.