Technical Writing Course Offers Students Community-Based Service-Learning Opportunities

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The Rhetoric and Composition Office in the Department of English has offered Technical and Report Writing (ENGL 3053) for many years. It's a composition course that allows class participants to develop the kinds of documents they might be called on to deliver in real-world professional settings.

Instructor Laura Gray, however, likes to take the course a little farther, having her students interact directly with the community outside the classroom.

As a result, students have the chance to see how their academic writing can have important, observable and positive results in the lives of other people — even before the semester ends. The writing from this course uses a global perspective to examine local, real-world solutions, which has helped past students from the class gain internships and jobs. 

This fall, Gray's students tackled a range of local and state issues to try to make direct impacts through their writing.

"The students are doing amazing things!" Gray said. "And, nationally, we are among only a few courses doing something like this outside of discipline-specific service work, especially within the humanities."

Students in Gray's sections of ENGL 3053 have developed a number of successful collaborative projects that could influence actual community processes or policies in Northwest Arkansas and in the state. These include:

  • A large and continuous food donation (with ongoing grant support) in a new school food security program for Springdale Schools and communities.
  • The collection of SEC schools data and program development for making more humane and improving the process on our campus for assisting victims of sexual assault.
  • The development of data support and legislative policy for the state of Arkansas for increasing public school vaccinations.
  • A program proposal alongside Chartwells and the University of Arkansas food court to reduce plastics in campus waste.
  • An initiative to partner off-campus housing with the city of Fayetteville recycling and waste management program to increase recycling for students living in apartments.

"In my most recent project, a recommendation report, I was allowed to go out into the community and develop my civic social skills and to have a chance to raise awareness and involvement in important global issues," said class member Zachariah McCoskey. "Where usually I would just learn theories and best practices and stop there, I think it is very refreshing to have a chance to apply what I am learning to the real world, and I feel my understanding of the class topics have been deepened because of it."

Developing these kinds of course experiences is not a light undertaking. Gray has over two decades of local community engagement and project development fieldwork both here and abroad as a teaching specialty.

This work has taken her to Belize, Vietnam and Kazakhstan, where she has worked with a broad range of partners from local community members to national policy makers.

"I wanted to bring this kind of work into the traditional classroom because I saw firsthand what a difference it makes when students partner outside the university on issues that matter to them. Finding the gaps in understandings, working many hours outside of class in student meetings, and making introductions for students with established community partners — these are just a few things that contribute to student successes," Gray said.

"The curriculum evolved organically and over many years," she continued. "And I'm so proud of where they are taking it. This term's students demonstrated exemplary writing and meaningful solutions-based deliverables that go beyond their grades and out into the world to effect positive change."


Leigh Sparks, assistant director, graduate programs
Department of English


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