On Teaching Writing in a Korean University — Part 4: Finding Your Own Way to Live in Rome

[Note: You’ll probably get more out of this if you start at part 1.]

So: how to make Rome livable, without doing as the Romans do?

Redefine Realistic

First off, I’m no longer going to take it upon myself to try and teach my students how to write in contexts where it’s not part of the course.

After all, I have a heavier classload than lots of profs who give no writing work to begin with — and the writing courses usually end up in the foreign profs’ courses , though I think it’s debatable who’s better equipped to teach Korean students how to write in English.

After all, the program where I teach has, quite apparently, a minimal focus on writing. Having students learn to write anything (in their mother tongue, or in English) beyond the cursory structural stuff done in a writing course, or the very specific skills modeled and worked through in the textbook, is not a priority. It’s not even on the radar.

Okay, fine, so outside of writing classes, I need to find a way to evaluate that is more than a hoop-jumping exercise (because this, I abhor and because I refuse to contribute to more hoop-jumping in Korean education). How?

Innovate

The Internet changes everything. We have countless resources available. I posted not long ago about MP3 lectures and how they’ve been useful in one of my classes. If this is a way that my teaching can be adjusted to work within the confines of what I’m given — a pretty useless schedule of 2 hours one day, 1 hour the  next (what I wouldn’t give for two 90-minute classes a week for each class!), then I can offload some of the lecture time to MP3s and use classtime for other things.

How about using the Web to innovate one’s evaluation system for courses?

For a very simple example, I used to use peer evaluation sheets after panel discussions. It was a nightmare. Everyone would write up his or her responses, and include (or not) grades for the participants. I’d have to collate the different panel responses, copy the results over, tabulate them, and then give feedback on each response paper.

I wasn’t obtaining the data I needed in the way I needed it.

This semester, I’ve split those responses into two things: an idea-focused response paper, which I simply read and give feedback on, and a use-identifying poll (via Google Docs) for students to assign grades to their peers (and provide feedback).

The feedback is easy to collate and distribuute to students. (It’s already in a spreadsheet, so it’s just a case of copy-and-paste, followed by print.) The grades are easy to calculate, since they’re also in their own column in the same spreadsheet. Plus that’s a significant reduction of the amount of paper I’m shuffling, and that students are shuffling among themselves.

It just works. And there’s no reason why something similar couldn’t be done in terms of students demonstrating their learning. Using new media, one could remove the “writing” component for students while allowing them to construct and defend intellectual arguments.

Youtube clips (or other forms of media-based homework) can double as a passable equivalent to the essay form, with a few things being facilitated by this alternative:

  1. Further development of the speaking and presentation skills that seem core on our department’s skills-radar.
  2. Development of small-scale media-production related skills which I think are growing in importance for everyone. Recording, mixing, and posting a video clip is a basic communications skill, just as writing an essay once was. (And is likely to involve some writing as well, without putting the writing front and center.)
  3. Balancing out the difficulty of looking at student ideas (content) as opposed to form/technique (grammar/writing skills) which it seems unfair to evaluate too heavily, but which is hard to filter out in written work. I won’t have to trick myself into pretending I’m not noticing the quality of writing or that better-written arguments somehow seem more intellectual and reasonable.
  4. Reducing my workload, which is a dire necessity at this point.

Second off, I’m going to devote as much classtime as I can to two things:

  • Giving students the chance to demonstrate that they have done the reading — including the odd quiz, and direct questoins from me.
  • Making room for student-directed discussions.

I must admit, this is something I have relatively mixed feelings about. I think that university is the place where we learn to think, and that writing is an integral part of how thinking comes to matter to the world — as well as an integral part of how we learn to think in more intelligent, rational ways.

But if that’s not the model here — and it clearly seems not to be — then far be it from me to insist upon it. It’s not like anyone’s asked me to give up all my weekends doing something they’re not willing to do.

To some degree, going with the flow is something that one must eventually begin to do, in order to remain sane and healthy anywhere.

So while I happen to find myself in Rome, I’m not going to be hanging out at the Temple of Jupiter… but I’m also not going to be out in the streets, screaming that hieromancy is wrong and must be stopped. One who rails daily against hieromancy is likely to lose his own guts in the process. And one who too-ostentatiously demonstrates against it only drives himself man.

Better to be a small positive influence, and point out that there are other ways to look at the future. And to be part of it.

Series Navigation<< On Teaching Writing in a Korean University — Part 3: When in Rome… Stop and Ask Yourself: Why Do Romans Do What They Do?“Where Did I Lose Marks?” & “I Got a C+, But I Expected a D+”: Conversations With Two Students >>

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