Seminar in Composition A blog for Annette Vee's section of Pitt's SC


Assignment: Texting?

When did you last send a text message? My guess is approximately 26 seconds ago. Now, when did you last take time to write a thoroughly researched, fully developed lengthy essay where you didn’t procrastinate, consulted with your professor multiple times, and wrote and reworked several drafts? For most college students, the answer would be either “not recently,” or “never.” With that in mind, John Jay College’s Andy Selsberg is redesigning his freshman English classes to focus on concision and content rather than meeting a length requirement. In his recent NY Times op-ed article, “Teaching to the Text Message,” Selsberg argues for assigning students short tasks focusing on content, such as writing “coherent and original comments for five YouTube videos, quickly telling us why surprised kittens or unconventional wedding dances resonate with millions.” Society’s emphasis on efficiency and clarity is better served, he believes, by teaching students the impact of a single well-written sentence than by immediately assigning a five-page essay, which “invite font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés.” Can YouTube video comments, Amazon book reviews, and text messages really teach students the art of getting a point across? Is this unconventional method a necessary catching-up to current ways of communication or just an handy excuse for bored English professors?

Posted by SrInAStrangeLand

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  1. I believe that this new idea that Professor Selsberg is arguing has a valid point. Students don’t want to learn in the same way as we have been for decades. Now that technology is so influential in our society, teaching methods need to change in accordance with our dependence on it. I believe that Selsberg has a point when he says assigning a long paper only gives way to manipulation of font size, plagiarism, and cliches. Assignments need to be more creative so that in return, the professor gets creative essays from students. I’m not saying that long essays and research papers need not be assigned, because they are a necessity in our academic growth, but there needs to be more emphasis on teaching student how to clearly and forcefully present an argument without the “filler information” that’s so often presented in long paper assignments. And if that means relating argumentative essays to text messages, then so be it. Students will more likely get the point and want to actively participate in assignments if they can better relate to the topics and understand how to write a well written paper.

  2. I think that this professor has a good idea with shortening his assignments to the length of texts. This strategy involves the class a lot more with the assignment because it is not tedious and even fun at times. I don’t think this change in teaching styles is a necessary change however, albeit an interesting one. While writing short, to the point, messages is convenient and easier than writing essays, they are much less eloquent. College is supposed to prepare you for the real world, and what is being taught in that classroom will not be very useful outside of it on its own. It will be useful for communication through text messages and writing short descriptive sentences online. In the workplace and rat race, however, those short sentences will fail to get the job done. Businesses still require reports and resumes written out fully and clearly. These short sentences do have some advantage however. The ability to reach a clear, concise point can easily be integrated into a larger piece. Once this ability is mastered, conclusions and theses of papers will be made much more clear as well.

  3. This approach to writing very interesting, and appealing. Personally, I can’t think of an assignment that gives me more anxiety than writing a paper. This is probably the case for many students. Having the opportunity to write a text or a comment on a video sounds like much less of a headache than writing a paper. On the other hand, the intrinsic brevity of texts, tweets, etc. provides a challenge of its own: the students must be extremely concise in their compositions since they do not have the flexibility of five hundred, fifteen hundred, two thousand words as they would have in a research paper. Being forced to make a point in very few words would certainly help students eliminate unnecessary filler from their essays. This isn’t to say, though, that the advent of these new forms of communication and composition completely voids the value of the research, writing, and revising process. Research papers aren’t going away (at least not any time soon–I think), but learning to write concisely about a specific point and adapt to current communication styles is certainly a valuable skill.

  4. I agree with this professors new way to write essays. Now a days if a student has a long essay they tend to leave it to the night before, leaving it with little thought or revision. I know this because I am definitely one who does this some times. English and essay writing are my two weakest subjects so I tend to push the subjects off to the side and get great anxiety when the essay’s due date is around the corner. I agree with the fact that this professor is just keeping up with today’s changing world. Back in the day before there was internet and students had to go to the library and check out books to be able to find information on their essay that was the only way to do it and no one thought of it any different. When the internet and search data bases came out teachers eased into the idea of using this. For one of my essays this semester instead of finding a scholarly book about the subject I only had to use a search data base. This was easier and less time consuming then taking a trip down to the library and search through countless books. Teachers today are just furthering adjusting to the faster and dramatic changes that are happening into today’s world.

  5. I think that the professor is making a valid point. If you ask there isnt a student out there that enjoys writing lengthy papers, and most teachers dont actually enjoy reading them. Why write a 10 page paper if you can get the point across in just 10 words. By changing his teaching styles this professor is keeping up with our generation and how the world is working. With the busy lives most teens and college students have sitting down to write a well thoughtout and researched paper is almost impossible. Realisically we all procrastinate and leave it until the last minute or the hour of free time we have in our week. By teaching to the text message students are learning to write in a way that makes sense to them as opposed to feeling punished by having to write an essay.
    The texting generation has already learned how to get their point across through one text and because of this they tend to get to their point in the beginning of the paper rather then writing a 10 page one. I don’t think this is a way for professors to be lazy. I think the opposite that it encourages students to try harder because it will take less time and the task at hand is simplier therefore they will do better.

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