Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking of Writing: A Digital Resource for Writing in the Disciplines DVD

Speaking of Writing: A Digital Resource for Writing in the Disciplines. Dir. Stacey Cochran. DVD. North Carolina State University, 2009.

This DVD features two short videos of professors at North Carolina State University discussing writing in their disciplines. The first video, “Speaking of Writing,” discusses academic writing in different disciplines, organized by such questions as “Where did you learn the writing conventions of your discipline?” The second video, which replicates some of the material from the first, goes discipline by discipline and devotes more time to each of the six interviews that form the core of the videos. The DVD appears to be intended for new instructors of composition, alerting them that writing conventions vary from discipline to discipline. The videos do demonstrate that fact well and indeed illustrate that some of those variations will even be in direct contradiction to one another such as when the food science professor says that he’s not looking for creativity such as one might use in a novel, but for students to write a story using the facts of a lab experiment, which is closely followed by the historian who detests passive voice constructions because they mask the causality and human responsibility underlying many historical events. So basically in one class students are likely being advised to write in passive voice whereas in the next they’re being advised to do the opposite and write in active voice. No wonder students can get confused about writing, if they aren’t aware it can vary from discipline to discipline! Watching the DVD will provide a viewer with a succinct understanding that, despite some shared characteristics such as a desire for clarity, what is considered good writing is essentially relative in the academy. Thus, an instructor will need to make explicit expectations for writing and the conventions of the discipline if he or she expects students to produce good writing. As the historian notes, students can’t be expected to produce good writing in a discipline if they’ve never been exposed to the type of writing they’re expected to produce before. As instructors in a discipline, it’s our job to teach those conventions and expectations to students. The DVD will shortly be available in the mini-library of writing instruction materials in the USP office. It is courtesy of the Council of Writing Program Administrators and North Carolina State University.