Planning Technical Writing

Posted: April 13, 2009 in Brainstorm, Course Design, Pedagogy, School
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This summer, I will be teaching technical and professional writing. I teach this course differently than most, and I think my method works pretty well. Some people involve the students directly with real companies, which I appreciate. But my method involves on the one hand much less direct involvement but on the other much more flexibility.

What I do is give the students a simulation of a company, give them problems to solve, and teach them to communicate while solving these problems. Once they have a grip on that, they write something that I am confident all of them going into the business field will eventually have to write: a business plan.

This semester, I’m making some minor changes.In the past, I’ve let them make up companies. This semester, I’m going to make the companies. I also let a group more interested in academics form their own collegs; this time, I’m going to form the college too. A large part of this reasoning is because I don’t have as much time. It’s a summer course, so I can’t waste time.

Regardless, I need a company with five departments and a college. I think I’ll call the company Megacorp, and the college will be the college of liberal arts at Lyseum University.

Megacorp is a huge multinational corporation, and has just opened a new office here in Minneapolis. They are looking for staff to fill out five of their departments: Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Legal, and Management. Each of these, of course, is looking for something different:

1. Human Resources: they are looking for people with good interviewing skills, outgoing personalities, strong organizational skills, an understanding of staffing needs, the ability to write successful job advertisements and to sort through resumes of applicants, managing new employees, and recommending and implementing new policies and practices. Bilingual a plus.

2. Marketing: they are looking for creative self starters with a flair for the artistic, willingness and ability to sell product, strong organizational skills, integrity, strong written and oral communication, and an ability to represent the clients in a positive and productive manner.

3. Finance: they are looking for people with strong organizational skills, strong written and oral communication, an accounting or finance background, strong mathematics ability, and a real eye for details.

4. Legal: they are looking for people with strong written and oral communication, organizational skills, a knowledge of the law, legal experience, and an ability to deal with issues of affirmative action as well as liability claims. Mus be prepared to think outside the box and find creative solutions.

5. Management: they are looking for strong interpersonal skills, the ability to work under pressure, and the ability to network. A successful candidate will be able to communicate between departments, to solve problems, and to know how to delegate authority. They will also be able to look to the future and plan for where the company can grow.

As for the University, there’s just the one college; I’ll let the students pick their actual departments. They will each represent their department in a college wide committee.

Once they’re in groups (which they’ll do by applying with a real resume and cover letter after the first day of class), I’ll start giving them problems to solve, problems relevant to each field. They’ll get one every class. On Tuesdays they’ll be expected to just produce some communication (to be presented on Thursdays), but on Thursdays they’ll be expected make a presentation (to be given on Tuesdays).

When they feel they have a strong grip on things, and have all solved the instruction problem (each group has to develop a set of instructions for something; these will be linked to their departments), they can ‘quit’ and form their own company, thus moving into the business plan stage.

The academic group won’t quit, of course. When they’re done, they’ll just be quitting that committee. And in so doing, they’ll join/form the Curriculum committee. They will then have the rest of the semester to put together a curriculum, either for a department’s graduate program or for a general undergraduate program. This will be their final project.

All final projects will be presented at the end of the term.

As for the grading, I’m thinking this kind of breakdown:

  1. Resume/Cover letter 15%
  2. Communications/Presentations during simulation 10%
  3. Instructions 10%
  4. Simulation evaluation 20%
  5. Business plan/curriculum 20%
  6. Final presentation 10%
  7. Business Plan Evaluation 15%
  8. Participation +/- 10%

The “Simulation evaluation” will be entirely up to them: each student will evaluate the rest of their group, recommending a grade they believe each member of their group (other than themselves) earned. I imagine I’ll get a whole lot of A+’s here, but at least they’ll have to justify it. Same for the Business Plan evaluation. They may be in the same groups, they may not.

Last semester, I allowed someone to work alone. I don’t think I’ll do that again. They need more than themselves to bounce ideas off of.

That leaves me with essentially 5 things to grade. Shouldn’t be all that hard, I hope.

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