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Partnering with Students on Textbook Revisions
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Collaboration is a key theme in the second edition of Understanding Rhetoric, and we devote an entirely new chapter to this important topic. So it was exciting to travel to Kennesaw State University in Georgia to see students in college composition class demonstrating many of the best practices we’ve identified.
As the academic year was getting off to a busy start, I noticed an email in my inbox from a person with an unfamiliar name: Matthew Tikhonovsky.
Dear Professor Losh,
My name is Matthew Tikhonovsky, and I am a student at Kennesaw State University. I am contacting you to inquire if there is a student committee that makes recommendations and suggestions for your textbook Understanding Rhetoric. Your wonderful textbook has been welcomed with open arms on the campus of KSU and is currently required reading in many first year English classes! Nevertheless, many students, myself included, believe that a student committee that offers students' perspective on rhetoric would be an invaluable resource for Understanding Rhetoric. I look forward to hearing back from you!
Rhetorically this student was doing everything right in addressing a stranger at another institution! The email was brief and to the point, adopted an appropriate tone, provided context, and made a reasonable request. I responded positively and expressed my enthusiasm for meeting with a student committee.
A few weeks later I found myself at Kennesaw State meeting with an amazing delegation of students. They were all from the project-based learning class of writer Christopher Martin in a course that encouraged them to use writing to change real-world conditions close to their own lives.
Although Martin was the instructor, the students were clearly in charge of the session with me. They collaboratively authored a PowerPoint and matching handout and used graphic design to amplify their messages.
The team presentation was fluent and professional, perfect for communicating effectively with a guest author. I was impressed to see how tasks had been divided up to capitalize on every student’s expertise. Each student volunteer tackled a specific aspect of the textbook and offered practical suggestions for ways to make the third edition even more student-centered.
In addition to a flawless demonstration of the power of joining forces, the students modeled all of the advice we offer in Understanding Rhetoric about reading critically, using evidence to support an interpretation, getting beyond confrontational styles of argumentation, actively embracing revision, and making information more dynamic with visual appeals. The student journalists who attended also gave the exchange a rave review.
With company representatives available to answer questions about the publishing process, the students also learned a lot about how ideas get into print and about how much revision went into the first two editions of the book. I was happy to see that their overall evaluation of the book was quite positive.
I look forward to keeping in touch with this great group of writers and communicators. Just before Winter Break Matthew came to my campus to present his findings at the William and Mary Writing Resources Center on the campus where I teach. Using empirical methods, he is now conducting undergraduate research with a faculty mentor in psychology to examine his research question about how words alone and words with related visuals compare when it comes to retaining information about principles for good writing. Matthew’s experiment also uses a control sample with words and unrelated visuals. Now he’s a great exemplar for the research chapter too!
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