Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2004

Faculty Award winner

Melody Bowdon

 College of Arts and Sciences

 English

I have taught undergraduate writing classes for over twelve years, and the most gratifying aspect of my experience has always been seeing students make ethical use of the concepts and techniques that they learn from my classes in their lives as professionals and citizens. For me, teaching writing is teaching thinking, and the key to meaningful learning is making a connection between the classroom and the world beyond. For this reason, service-learning is central to my pedagogical approach. This form of experiential education invites students to work on class projects that benefit themselves and their communities through writing for and with people in nonprofit and government organizations and public schools. The work that my students have done in their communities in the past decade has repeatedly pleased and amazed me and I take great pride in being associated with their accomplishments.

Students in my technical and professional writing classes have used their expertise to create computer manuals for organizations such as the Winter Park Day Nursery and United Cerebral Palsy. They've created grant proposals, brochures, websites, flyers, and other documents for a wide range of deserving groups. Through this process they recognize how much they know and how much their communities can benefit from their expertise. They realize that the smallest increment of their donated time can make or break a community project, and that no matter how much they know about the technical aspects of their fields, unless they learn to convey their knowledge to real audiences their training will never reach its potential impact.

Service-learners in my Literature of AIDS course recognize that people with AIDS aren't characters in books but members of the worlds in which they live and work. They realize that it's not enough to feel compassion for people in an abstract sense or to hope for the best; it is their responsibility as educated citizens to take action. They engage in consciousness-raising events, fundraising projects and client services. Some creative writing students participate in writing workshops with people with AIDS and learn about the power of narrative to heal and to bring about change. Students in my literacy and environmental themed composition courses have served as mentors and teaching assistants at a local elementary school and have led recycling drives and held beach clean-ups. They have learned that as citizens they are responsible for taking part in public education and caring for the world in which they live.

Students can learn about technically correct writing through a rules and regulations perspective by reading textbooks and executing hypothetical assignments. What they might miss out on, though, when creating projects read only by their professors and classmates, is the opportunity to recognize the connection between their training as computer scientists, accountants, and other kinds of professionals and the life of their community. Through service-learning, my students have the chance to make that connection and I have the ongoing opportunity to see how much people can accomplish when they're challenged to meet high expectations.