This post was originally published June 3, 2014.
In July, I will begin teaching an online section of Technical Writing. The course takes place completely online. I’ll never meet with the students in a face-to-face classroom, and there will be no set meeting time for the class. Students will log in whenever they like and access resources on the course website and in Virginia Tech’s CMS.
These classes are usually made up of students who are off campus for the summer, often working or doing an internship, and who are taking the course in their spare time. There is also the possibility of international students who are out of the country for the summer and military students who are serving somewhere. I expect to see some similarities among the group. In particular, I believe most of them will be splitting their time between the course and some other major activity (like an internship).
The biggest challenge I see is building community among this group of students. They are likely to have some common experiences, but these students probably don’t know each other and are not likely to connect with one another beyond completing the activities for the course. After all, logistics are against them grabbing coffee after class or meeting at the library to work on an assignment together.
I decided that I wanted my first writing assignment for the course to work on two goals: to help students get to know one another and to work on a writing task that fits the focus and objectives of the course. There are hundreds of online icebreaker activities I could try, but I wanted to find something that was appropriate to the kind of workplace writing the course focuses on.
After some research, I decided to try a professional bio assignment. I’m still working on the details, but generally, students will imagine that they have taken a new position with a company and have been asked to provide a short biography statement for the company newsletter or the team section of the company website.
While the textbook I use doesn’t address the genre specifically, I found quite a few useful webpages that students can read and compare, including the following:
- How to Write Short Company Newsletter Bios of Employees (eHow)
- Transform Staff Bios from Mundane to Magical in 6 Easy Steps (GettingAttention.org)
- “Meet the Team” Pages: Examples and Trends (Smashing Magazine)
- How to Write a Short Bio About Yourself (Chron)
- How to Write a Snappy, Tight Professional Bio (NBC Chicago)
- How to Write a Sample Self-Bio at a New Job (Global Post)
- Writing a Professional Biography (U of Rochester)
- Top Ten Tips for Writing a Professional Overview or Biography (Ezine @rticles)
My plan is to ask students to review those articles and chat in an online forum about issues of style, audience, and purpose. After their exploration, they will write their own bios, choosing a style and format that is appropriate for a job they aspire to have. I’ll ask them to share their bios in the online forum as well, and I’ll have them provide one another feedback.
By the end of the unit, I hope they’ll know each other a little better, understand a bit more about the basics of technical writing, and have a bio they can use in the future. Once I finish designing the assignment, I will be sure to share it here. For now, I need to get back to planning that course. It’s just a month away!