Writing for the real world

Yesterday I was asked about the tone and rules of blogging for assessment, and I was really interested that this was “as opposed to blogging in the real world”.

This is a problem we’ve made for ourselves, but it’s not triggered by blogging itself. There’s an expanding inventory of post-conventional assessment activities that pride themselves on “real world” applicability, and yet we insist on applying the one tool you don’t find in the real world—grades—in response.  In fact, there’s a pretty strong case that the gap between the real world and the university world is forced by grading as a practice. Grades tether higher education to K-12, and make it really hard to convince students that university work is aligned to professional practices.

The thing is that in most professional settings, someone who doesn’t like your last piece of writing is at best going to give you feedback and support to have another go; and at worst is simply going to overlook you next time. Sometimes people who love your work will say nothing at all until you express self-doubt. You’ll struggle for an afternoon over a two-page paper and it will come back from the executive office cut to a paragraph. Some days you’ll write with a skater’s elegance, and everyone will overlook the writing but adopt the idea that you proposed. You’ll submit things for publication that get rejected, and other things that aren’t so good that get published. And so on.

Grading is a really poor preparation for all this.

But here we are, and understandably students want to know which side of our mouths we speak from when we say “authentic”.  If they write in the accessible tone of blogs they like and follow, will we then grade them according to the conventions that  are responsible for so much awful academic writing?

I think we can push ourselves a bit harder here, to accept that students writing on public platforms like WordPress are already in the real world. If we have to grade this, we should try to draft statements of competency and achievement on the basis of what we know about real world writing, not on some effort to force equivalence to term papers, exams, or university essays.

But what I really wanted to mention was this lovely post by Pat Thomson, on writing “I” as an academic.

Pat writes an excellent blog for academic writers. Her post is on one of the most tired assumptions in academic writing, that if you write “I” in a paper, the floor will open up beneath you and you will be hurled into a pit of crocodiles. The result is contorted writing, and no sense of who thinks what. I love this post because it’s practical, and focused on writing in public.