John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Would You Like Me to Blog About?

Several decades ago when I was working with my colleague, Jerry Jewler, to administer the University 101 course at the University of South Carolina, Jerry shared with me one of the many great creative ideas he gifted to me: freewriting. Actually, it wasn’t Jerry’s original idea, but it struck me as original and it was original in our context. The source of the inspiration was the writing pedagogy guru, Peter Elbow, to whom Jerry introduced me. And what we were trying to do was to teach University 101 instructors who didn’t teach writing, to teach writing to first-year students in the first-year seminar, to reinforce the writing instruction they were receiving in the first-year English course sequence. The moral of our story was we were trying to convey to students that writing was for life, not just English 101.

The freewriting technique at its most elementary level is a process for discovering ideas. And you simply ask students to start writing any ideas that pop into their heads, not be shared or submitted to anyone, especially their professor. And then as the ideas begin to flow, you gradually “focus” the freewriting process by providing “triggers” for the students to narrow the range of their free thinking and freewriting.

Bottomline: it was a very effective pedagogical process to use in first-year seminar instructor training workshops, and then with our students. I recalled this process as I started to write this blog post. I was trying to discover my blog idea of choice—I really do have so many, so I don’t literally have to engage in freewriting. But my starting to write a blog, and freewriting have in common that they are both processes of idea discovery and ultimate communication.

As I was thinking about what to write about, I had a novel thought, one that we used to practice in University 101 too. Jerry and I would urge our instructors not to fill every class date on the syllabus in advance. Instead, we would urge them to find out from the students what they wanted to learn about and to use some of those open dates to respond to learner needs. Wow. What a novel idea: try to teach people what they want to learn.


And so, finally, to the point of this blog posting: I thought I would ask you, my reader(s): is there anything you would like me to write about? Eureka! Let’s ask the customer. This doesn’t obligate me to satisfy the request but I am certainly not asking the question just to know what my readers are interested in. I plan to do something with this! Thank you very much.

And now that I think about it, that University 101 course was not just a course for my first-year students. It was a course designed to make me a more effective professor. And it did just that.

-John Gardner

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