Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Teachers in Other Fields Can Teach You

The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 21st, 2015

Interdisciplinarity has been a watchword in academia for at least two decades. Yet when it comes to pedagogy, most of us are still unlikely to go looking for inspiration outside of our own disciplines. Some teaching resources do cross disciplinary lines. But I’d wager that the number of biologists who read College English is not much higher than the number of literature scholars who read the Journal of College Science Teaching (and in both cases, we may be talking single digits). While that’s understandable, I see much to learn from paying attention to how colleagues in other disciplines are changing the way they teach.
To take a small step in that direction, I want to look at how scholars of composition and rhetoric have changed their approach in recent years, and what instructors in any discipline might learn from those changes.
Composition studies has seen a significant shift over the past 20 years, from an exclusive focus on writing skills to a broader emphasis on a variety of modes of communication, including oral, visual, aural, and digital. Underlying that shift is a questioning of the primacy of the written word and a healthy skepticism of the traditional privileging of writing—specifically, essay writing—as the only mode of expression we should be concerned with helping our students develop.

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