Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Getting Rid of the Yawn Factor: Using a Portfolio Assignment to Motivate Students in a Professional Writing Class. (My Favorite Assignment)

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Getting Rid of the Yawn Factor: Using a Portfolio Assignment to Motivate Students in a Professional Writing Class. (My Favorite Assignment)

Article excerpt

Motivating Business or management students in a writing class is often difficult. In my experience, language is usually low on any list of favorite subjects for these students, if in fact it is on the list at all, and so the students are not very excited about taking a course that puts a lot of emphasis on it. Many students do not even think writing is that important--at least not in the way "real" or "content" courses such as economics and accounting are--or do not see clearly how it relates to their degree or future career. But even if some students do recognize the importance of writing and genuinely want to improve their skills, they often come to a writing class with an expectation that it will be boring. In general, therefore, it is not uncommon to find a class of business or management students who show little enthusiasm about writing. Mention the word and their eyes start to glaze over!

Articles in The Journal of Business Communication and Business Communication Quarterly provide evidence that my students are not unique in lacking motivation to improve their professional writing. Skarzenski and Stine (1979), for example, state, "The business communication instructor faces some serious motivational problems early each term. Students often are a little fearful of English or writing courses in general, but, worse, sometimes feel any such course is generally abstract, 'artsy,' and worthless" (p. 27). Campbell (1981), who is "continually faced with the task of motivating students to want to learn about business communications" (p. 30), discusses the use of a proposal writing assignment "to combat the negative attitudes many students have towards writing" (p. 31). Sorenson, Savage, and Hartman (1993) examine the effectiveness of goal-based and punishment-based grading systems as techniques to motivate students to improve business writing.

In 2001 I taught a third-year course in professional and technical writing at Waikato Management School, New Zealand. The challenge for me was to get rid of "the yawn factor" that is usually borne out of the negative perceptions and attitudes just mentioned. To stimulate students and boost their interest and motivation, I exploited the advantages of a portfolio assignment both as a tool for teaching writing and as a tool for enhancing students' job search. This article provides some background on the use of portfolios in an educational context, describes the portfolio assignment for my writing class and the rationale behind it, and draws some conclusions about the outcome of the assignment.

The Portfolio Concept

A portfolio is "a compilation of papers that represent the quality of one's work" (Powell & Jankovich, 1998, p. 72). Traditionally, the term refers particularly to samples of an artist's work assembled "to gain entrance into an art school or to secure a commission (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991, p. 61). More recently, the use of portfolios, especially as part of the employment process, has spread to other fields. Soares and Goldgehn (1985) state, "Employers in the fields of radio and television broadcasting, journalism, graphic art, photography, and architecture regularly review job candidates' portfolios as competence indicators" (p. 17).

In the educational context, in which a portfolio is defined as "a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas" (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991, p. 60), the portfolio concept has been adapted for use as an alternative form of assessment to traditional methods such as standardized achievement tests (Herman & Winters, 1994; Knight, 1992). Advantages of portfolios, including a chance for students to reflect on their work, are well documented. Knight (1992), for example, has used portfolios to assess student performance in mathematics and has found that they give her insights into the students' maturity and motivation for learning. …

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