Going Global in the College Writing Classroom

Rachel Dobrauc, Communication Skills instructor at Waukesha County Technical College, outlines a means of drawing attention to global issues in the first-year composition classroom. [PDF full version: Going Global in the College Writing Classroom]

Students in the Global World
Internationalization of curriculum in higher education equips students to expand their global knowledge in order “to vie competitively in the global marketplace [by] staying abreast of the electronic deluge of information and globalized knowledge” (Deardoff, 2006, p. 1). However, regional technical colleges face unique challenges and opportunities to reach this end based on their place in the continuum of higher education (Green, 2007; Hunter, 2004; Milliron, 2007) in part because they are often expected to prepare students to be globally competent for entering occupational fields as well as advanced educational pathways. The implementation of a global learning curriculum suited for all academic curricula and should be infused in academic settings beyond traditional four-year universities and colleges (Edwards & Tonkin, 1990). In my Introduction to College Writing classroom, I knew there were ways to address this need to prepare students to be more globally aware, so several semesters ago I revised the delivery of the course to address two goals:

1. Build students’ confidence in their writing skills.
2. Develop students’ global awareness by integrating the world into the coursework.

In this piece, I will share my Introduction to College Writing course revisions and the student responses that followed.

Introduction to College Writing Course Revision
According to the Waukesha County Technical College course catalog, Introduction to College Writing is designed to help students “[u]nderstand the basic principles of composition, including organization, development, unity and coherence in paragraphs and multi-paragraph documents.” When I sought to revise the delivery of this course, there were six key changes.

Adding Global Themes. One key premise in my philosophy of education is that students will improve their writing if they have the ability to build a consistent knowledge base. My intention was to have their writing gain depth and substance by focusing on the different types of global issues and topics. This can be fostered in multiple ways, but I chose the implementation of global theme-based units in order to provide a consistent knowledge base that the students could build upon throughout the semester. For example:

Week 1
Focus: Introduction to Writing (Ch. 1)

Theme: Healthiest Countries and Most Livable Cities

Week 2
Focus: The Reading and Writing Connection (Ch. 2)

Theme: Freedom of Choice: One Child Policy and Arranged Marriages

Week 3
Focus: Complete Sentences and Fragments (Ch. 4)

Theme: Fair Trade

Week 4
Focus: Run-on Sentences and Comma Splices (Ch. 5)

Theme: Global e-Waste Crisis

Week 5
Focus: Combining and Expanding Ideas (Ch. 6)

Theme: Global News

Utilizing Journal Prompts. Many class periods always started with a journal prompt, and the “global” version of the course continued this practice. I like to call my revised method to these prompts as the “local-then-global” approach. This helps students to first identify how the global theme or issue is part of their everyday lives, and then it would dovetail into a broader global scope. Here are two examples:

Journal #2: How many brothers and sisters do you have? What is the biggest benefit and biggest drawback of having a sibling? Do you think the government should tell someone how many children they can have? What would be the pros and cons of this? (Unit Theme: One Child Policy);

Journal #4: If you own a computer or television, how old is it? What did you do with your last one? When you purchase a new one, what will you do with the old one? Do you ever think about where your old electronics end up? (Unit Theme: Global eWaste)

I intentionally provided several questions, hoping everyone could contribute in some way. This has served a bridge to the issue at a global level.

Incorporating Multimedia. Nearly all units include video or audio clips associated that the students view or listen to in class. I have found that students learn more when they can see an issue in action versus only reading about it. For example, e-Stewardship: Taking Responsibility in the Information Age, a video that shows the global impact of careless disposal of e-waste shipped to areas in China and Nigeria, put a vivid image into their minds. Student responses to the unit reference the video:

“I do the exact same thing with throwing old electronics in a drawer and letting them sit. I did not know that old electronics are shipped overseas to sit and produce harmful waste for the children & the environment. It has definitely changed my mind on how to recycle my old electronics.”

“After watching the video in class, my views on recycling old electronics have shifted dramatically. At first I did not put any thought into my e-waste and where it went. Now if I need to dispose of my electronics I’ll take the advice from the video and textbook and be careful where it ends up. Once I think about it, would I want everyone else’s used up electronics in my house? Absolutely not!”

Students have been engaged by the videos, and they have also been exposed to global diversity. Many of the narrators or interviewees illustrate diversity through different languages, cultural practices, and even visual landscapes of the different countries where clips are taped. For some, this might be their first glimpse into a world outside of their Wisconsin borders.

Identifying Geography. A number of my college’s classrooms have world maps, which were part of an initiative to the global competency of our students and staff. To develop global awareness, it is helpful to be surrounded by maps. Since some of my ICW classrooms don’t have maps, I use Google maps as needed when we discuss a global topic.

Revising Learning Activities. The textbook I use, the third edition of McWhorter’s Pathways: Scenarios for Sentence and Paragraph Writing (Pearson), contains many different activities and exercises for each chapter. There are also two different readings that I have used in the course revision: an essay on the one-child policy in China and another essay about the excessive consumption issues we have in the United States. However, the content used in some of the exercises lacks substance. I can still remember the sentence that I read 40 or more times in one grading session before I revised for global integration: An antique crock used for storing lard was on the shelf.

This seemed far removed from any experience or content that could be relevant to students, and I wanted to have exercises that were meaningful and applicable. A key element of the global revision to the course was rewriting many activities and exercises, so I embedded the learning activities with content from the global theme of each unit. The following example illustrates how the global theme can be carried through to the learning activities:

Run-on sentences and comma splices: The global e-waste crisis
Indicate if each example is a run-on or comma splice. Correct the sentence.

1. Electronic equipment and gadgets are the fastest growing waste stream in many countries this is especially true in the United States.

2. Cell phones, laptops, TVs and a growing number of gadgets show up in all stores, we are always wanting something bigger and better.

3. Every year we buy new updated equipment to support our needs there are upwards of 300 million computers and one billion cell phones produced every year.

I also found that homework submission rates improved, and the work the students handed in was much more interesting to read, probably because of their interest in the topics.

Reinforcing Vocabulary Connections. I have always found the study of words and vocabulary instruction fascinating and of extreme importance. I frequently use the analogy with students that words are like spices or ingredients in the kitchen: the more you have, the greater your flexibility and creativity. At the end of class, once we have discussed our writing focus and global theme, I provide two or three words for the students to record in their vocabulary journals. These words are related to the theme, and they usually come from the video we watch or from the audio we listen to in class. The word usage embedded in context helps reinforce learning, and the week’s words are related. For example:

Obsolete, Languish, Toxic, Dismantle (Unit Theme: Global eWaste)
Stringent, Sustainable, Contradiction (Unit Theme: Fair Trade)
Revitalize, Feasible (Unit Theme: Sustainable Transportation)

We review the words’ contexts from the video, followed by a review of antonyms, synonyms, and usage in the students’ everyday lives or occupations. I found this method of choosing vocabulary helpful in that the content is again reinforced through learning activities and vocabulary selection.

Descriptive and Persuasive Essay Topics
These elements have worked together to reinforce knowledge around a consistent strand of content. Each piece is built upon the other, and the class has shown great interest in the different topics. This was evident in the well-developed discussion, their ability to critically ask questions, and their application to their writing projects. This was not an intentional change to the course, but many students made decisions to extend the global topics into their writing assignments.

In the first essay assignment, students were asked to write about a significant place they could describe in great detail. In previous semesters, I required them to choose a place they had personally visited. In this revised course, they could choose a location that they wanted to visit. The majority of students did select a place they had a personal relationship with, but I did have a few students choose to write about places such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Russia, and Buenos Aires. The choices required students to go the extra step to research their chosen topics.

The second essay assignment was a persuasive paper. Although the students had a choice of any topic, several chose global issues. A culinary student chose to write about fair trade as an advantageous way to purchase coffee. Another student wrote about the devastation that deforestation is causing worldwide. One of my business students chose his topic about the benefits of globalization. And an IT student wrote about the advancements Native American casinos have for the communities in which they are located. These topics were just some of the examples of students’ finding a personal draw to global topics when it was an optional choice.

Student Responses
In my six years of teaching writing at the college level, it has been routine for students to take me aside before or after class on that first day (and subsequent days) to share their past experiences and travails with writing.

I was always told I was a bad writer.
My papers always came back full of red ink.
I just cannot get started.
I had a really bad English teacher in high school.
I hate writing…and reading.

Every so often students will say they keep a journal, write poetry, or would like to start blogging. This is the opening—a place where I can hook them to embrace the process of writing. It is my firm belief that, when students have something important to say and instructors acknowledge that contribution, a connection can be made. I revised my course as a way to get students engaged. I wanted to provide a forum for them to share their thoughts on issues that were relevant them.

Contextualization, or the teaching of academic skills in the context of disciplinary topics, has been shown to benefit learners. Baker, Hope, and Karandjeff (2009) argue that contextualization aids transfer of learning and improves the retention of information. In addition, through intrinsic motivation, the learner is drawn to engage in a task because it is perceived as interesting, enjoyable, and useful. I saw this repeatedly throughout the semester when students thought critically and responded meaningfully to journal prompts and discussion questions. The pre- and post- course surveys confirmed this with students making significant gains regarding confidence in writing skills.

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They also showed strong improvements in their awareness and development in global citizenship after grappling with different global themes all semester.

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Note: Of the two sections, Monday’s night class consisted primarily of non-traditional students and Friday’s class primarily consisted of traditional students.

An unanticipated response was their developed knowledge of their home country and heightened awareness of their community’s issues. At the end of the semester, I asked the students to reflect and share which country they learned the most about over the semester. Those who answered the United States surprised me. The support they offered for this included:

I had no idea how different we were from everyone else, like what we find is beauty compared to all other countries or how Apple produces iPads in China.

We learned about global issues and they always related back to the US and how we live.

This illustrates how students kept learning more about their own homes and country when looking out beyond their national borders.

Interestingly enough, I have started to routinely experience students sharing what they learned. I could not help but smile when I read Lisa’s comment about what she thought kept perpetuating the issue of e- waste. She was a business student employed full-time:

This crisis keeps happening because the people recycling these electronics do not know where they are ending up. What I am planning on doing to help stop this pollution from happening is educate others around me. I have talked with the purchasing department at work regarding who we send our broken electronics to. I have already requested them to go through me before anything gets recycled.

She, like many others, critically questioned and analyzed these issues in class, and she extended this to others outside the school. This application of what she learned really helped reiterate my confidence in the changes I made to the course delivery.

Extending this integration of global content into the curriculum of students in higher education, particularly two-year technical and community colleges, is essential. With careful construction and instructional design, faculty in writing courses can help increase students’ confidence in their writing while also developing their global awareness and overall worldview. Students are being taught and motivated to enter into a diverse and changing society, so higher education must meet this need.

References
Baker, E. D., Hope, L., & Karandjeff, K. (2009). Contextualized teaching and learning: A faculty primer. Sacramento: Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges.

Deardorff, D. K. (2006). The identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 241-266.

Edwards, J., & Tonkin, H. R. (1990). Internationalizing the community college: Strategies for the classroom. New Directions for Community Colleges, 70, 17-26.

Green, M. F. (2007). Internationalizing community colleges: Barriers and strategies. New Directions for Community Colleges,138, 15-24.

Hunter, W. D. (2004). Got global competency? International Educator, 13(2), 6-12.

McWhorter, K. T. (2012). Pathways: Scenarios for sentence and paragraph writing (3rd ed.). New York: Pearson.

Milliron, M.D. (2007). Transcendence and globalization: Our education and workforce development challenge. New Directions for Community Colleges, 138, 31–38.

One thought on “Going Global in the College Writing Classroom

  1. Pingback: Vol 58, No 1 (2016) Table of Contents | The Wisconsin English Journal

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