On January 16, I will set off on what promises to be the adventure of a lifetime. I’ll be a faculty member on the spring 2012 Semester at Sea voyage, a program sponsored by the University of Virginia that takes some 650 students, 40 faculty members, and a staff around the world! I’ll be teaching a course on academic writing and we’ll be writing about all we are seeing and learning. Even better, I will get to direct the ship’s Writing Center, offering tutorials, workshops, and special events for students on the trip.
The faculty and staff will begin our voyage in Fort Lauderdale, then sail to Nassau to pick up the students and a group of “lifelong learners” who will be joining us. We’ll then head to Mauritius and Brazil, where we’ll go up the Amazon, and then cross the Atlantic to Ghana before heading around the horn of Africa (stopping in Cape Town for a week) and then visiting India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan—and crossing the Pacific to Hawaii and home to California. To say I am wildly excited is an understatement: the only places I have visited are Hawaii and South Africa, so I am going to see sites I just never thought I would get to. Best of all is that we will have lots of lectures on board and then many excursions when in the ports. I have signed up to visit schools in four countries, for example: I hope to learn as much as possible about education in these countries and to meet young students everywhere. So who could ask for a better way to ring in 2012?!
I hear that the internet service on the ship is spotty, and I won’t be able to receive snail mail, so I am going to be a bit out of touch for the next few months (we return May 1). But I am going to be blogging about what I am learning, so watch this site for occasional posts. In the meantime, if you’d like to get a sense of the students and the ship, check out a video made by the students on the fall 2011 voyage:
And let me know how you will be ringing in 2012!
When the famous Greek orator Demosthenes was asked to name the three most important parts of rhetoric, he replied “Delivery, Delivery, and Delivery.” What did Demosthenes mean by this cryptic response? Most important, he is arguing that of the five major canons of rhetoric (invention, organization, style, memory, and delivery), delivery is most important: in the ancient world, we should remember, rhetoric was deeply performative. The rhetor stood and delivered orally, and the “how” of that delivery was as important—often more important—than the “what” of the message. Delivery, delivery, delivery.
We’ve seen a lot of change in 2000 years, so it’s very interesting to see that today we have come back around to Demosthenes’s insight: how we present information and knowledge is of crucial importance to getting our messages across. That’s an important reminder for teachers of writing and for student writers. “Writing” is no longer just words on paper or screen. Rather, writing is now full of action as well as of orality, aurality, visuals, and more. And how it’s delivered is crucial: will it be on a Website? In an audio or video essay? In an oral presentation with multimedia support?
In the latter case especially, students need to understand the difference between writing to be read and writing to be heard. Writing to be heard is performed writing, and it’s characterized by shorter and more simple syntax than formal written texts, by careful and systematic use of “signpost language,” that is explicit transitions that help listeners/viewers keep on track, by purposeful repetition, and by vivid and lively diction (those verbs better be active and concrete!).
My students end every term with major oral presentations of their research findings, and they are getting better and better at these performances. What has been particularly interesting to me is that doing their performances seems inevitably to help them sharpen and tighten their arguments so that they’re able to articulate their ideas much more clearly than they were able to do in an earlier written draft. Here’s a script one of my students this term prepared, along with the slides that accompanied it. He says he worked harder on his word choice and sentence structure in this script that he delivered orally than he ever had on a regular essay for a class. I think he did a pretty good job here and wonder if you agree.