ASU workshops, courses emphasize importance of relaying intricacies of complicated subjects to general audience
A roomful of teachers are huddled in groups around pages of text, hurriedly highlighting, circling and underlining certain words and phrases. This isn’t a paper-grading marathon, though — it’s a writing workshop, and the pages they’re marking up are op-ed letters.
Find Your Voice: Using OpEds to Tell Your Story and Fight for Justice, sponsored by the Central Arizona Writing Project (CAWP), brought together elementary and high school teachers from across the Valley at ASU Prep Academy’s downtown Phoenix campus in February to learn practical lessons for both personal writing and teaching writing to their students.
ASU associate professor of English and director of CAWP Jessica Early was on hand for the event. She said learning how to write op-eds can impart “really important, practical skills that help people to be participatory citizens, and also help students learn how to write for a real audience.”
ASU courses geared toward communication
An awareness of the value in teaching students to be better communicators is evident at ASU across disciplines. Several degree tracks — including those in the fields of sustainability, science and health — require or offer courses geared specifically toward learning how to communicate the sometimes-complicated intricacies of a subject to a more general audience.
Gregg ZacharyGreg Zachary is a professor of practice in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Barrett Honors faculty; affiliate faculty in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies; affiliate faculty in ASU’s Department of English; journalism disruptor at the Imaginary College, part of ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination; editor of the “Rightful Place of Science” book series for ASU’s Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes; and author of “Married to Africa” (2009), “The Diversity Advantage” (2003), “Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century” (1997) and “Showstopper: the Making of Windows NT” (1994)., professor in ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, serves as acting director of the certificate in nonfiction writing and publishing, currently offered by the School of Life SciencesThe certificate in nonfiction writing and publishing will soon transfer from the School of Life Sciences to the School for the Future of Innovation in Society..
“I think it’s part of your obligation as a learned person … that you make your knowledge or the work you’re doing understandable to others,” Zachary said.
He points to School of Earth and Space Exploration Foundation Professor Lawrence Krauss as an example of an academic who “writes very effectively and clearly about science subjects.”
School of Life Sciences Regents’ Professor Stephen Pyne, an expert on fire history, teaches courses in the certificate program and has also written and published widely, including several op-eds for the New York Times. He cited wise words from fellow SOLS professor Brian Smith, who said, “If we don’t start communicating better with the public, we’ll be out of business.”
Communication a way to change the world
Heather Grimm, who teaches science at ASU Prep, admits she didn’t know much about persuasive writing or communicating expertise with the public before coming to the CAWP workshop but that she sees the value in it.