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February 14, 2017 Previous day Next day

I have been thinking a lot lately about the work community partnerships can do in classrooms and in communities. And I’ve been trying to understand if there are common frameworks and outcomes that exist across my experiences over the past twenty years. Somewhat to my own surprise, I’m increasingly thinking that much of my work has really been occurring within the context of Writing Across the Curriculum.


It is well known that community partnerships in Composition Studies exist within in a wide network of sites, such as schools, issue-based organizations, and community groups; they occur in resource-poor and research-rich environments; and they cross diverse heritages and national borders. Most importantly, each type of partnership produces writing that is public, powerful, and productive for all those involved – students and community participants.


As I reflect back, I have come to realize that such partnerships can also take place beyond the composition classroom, moving outwards across departments and across colleges. When they do so, they can begin to show how core concepts associated with effective writing – concepts of audience, genre, and style – can be an inherent part of any college classroom. I’ve come to understand how such partnerships can provide students with an opportunity to consistently consider how academic writing across their coursework can be linked to important work in the community. In a sense, partnership work can produce a metacognitive sense of writing that moves not only across coursework but across the college and the community.


As such, partnerships can also provide a common nodal point among diverse faculty to consider their work not only as disciplinary experts but also as writing teachers and community members.


Case in Point: For the past decade, I have been working with a colleague in Anthropology. Our initial reason to get together was to discuss whether I might be able to help publish some oral histories of Syracuse community activists. That idea ultimately fell through. What continued was a discussion of how the process of having students engage in community oral history and publishing projects allowed them to gain a deeper understanding not only of writing in each of our respective classes, but also of how to imagine themselves as authors across different disciplinary classes and local communities.


At one point, we actually tested this “thesis” by creating a set of community projects focused on immigration, gentrification, and Native American Rights. We would bring these projects into our classrooms, then discuss whether the need to respond to public contexts had given our students a sense of writing that transferred beyond the disciplinary conversations of our courses. (It should be noted that this work has led, and continues to lead, to conversations on whether he is really a Composition scholar or whether I am really an Anthropologist.) And out of this series of conversations and initiatives, we built a community engagement fellowship program for undergraduates, which drew together students across the college and university to focus on one specific community project. (That broad narrative of this work is discussed in “Sinners Welcome: The Limits of Rhetorical Agency,” College English, vol. 76, no. 4, July 2014.)


Ultimately, over the past decade, I have worked and planned classes with scholars in Religion, Education, Communication, and Visual Arts. Partnership work has also allowed me to connect with scholars in Geography, Women’s Studies, International Relations, Urban Education, and Philosophy, to name a few. While my colleagues and I have never done a study on how these floating conversations or consistent set of commitments to partnership work has altered our sense as teachers, I think we would all agree that the nature of projects – the inherent demand for writing, research, and analysis that emerges from a discipline and moves across classes toward a community – has enriched our pedagogies and assignments. And not for nothing, this latent writing across the curriculum work has certainly enriched my professional life.


What I have ultimately come to reflect upon is how the possibility of collaboration that partnership work provides across the curriculum is particularly important at this current moment. I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but in a “post-fact” media landscape, we need to provide students with consistent opportunities to understand how strong research and writing (across disciplines) is vital for effective change to occur.  Within that context, perhaps partnerships across the curriculum can also show students the power of different insights coming together through writing as an important tool in the pursuit of a more just world.

Traci Gardner

Infographics as Readings

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Feb 14, 2017

Detail from Communicating in the Modern Workplace: How Millennials and their Managers CompareI believe that students’ reading styles have changed. There is still a place for textbook chapters and journal articles, but students have become accustomed to short, fast-paced texts like Tweets, Tumblr posts, and YouTube videos. They’re more likely to share a pin on Pinterest or a gif on Imgur than recommend a textbook reading.


Given the chance, students can easily apply these literacy skills in class, and that is why I have been assigning relevant infographics this term as part of the course readings. The first week in my business writing classes and my technical writing classes I asked students to consider the following infographics, which present details about writing in the workplace:



After reviewing the infographics, students considered whether they agreed with the ideas, how believable the research behind the infographics is, and what information they might add to improve them. The result was a vibrant conversation on our Slack site. Rather than generalizing about the readings, students pointed to specific claims that the infographics made and addressed them from personal and professional perspectives. The infographics seemed to add something to the class dynamic that traditional readings didn’t always provide.


My guess is that the readings were successful because they were short and direct. Students didn’t need to search around for the important tidbits. Everything was clear and obvious. Further, the visual aspects of the infographics allowed them to communicate with words and images. The detail shown above, for instance, not only states “nearly 3 in 4 employers rate teamwork and collaboration as ‘very important’” but also illustrates that idea by graying out one of the human icons shown. Whatever the reason, the infographics worked, so I have continued to include at least one infographic each week along with the other readings.


Some days I daydream about creating an infographic-driven text for these classes, but I am not arguing that infographics should completely replace more traditional readings in the classroom. There’s room for both. What do you think? How would you incorporate more visual texts, like infographics, in your writing classes? Please leave me a comment with your ideas.



Credit: Detail from Communicating in the Modern Workplace: How Millennials and their Managers Compare