Prompting Students to Introduce Themselves by Documenting Their Writing Workspaces

As teachers, we are always looking for new ways for students to introduce themselves. Most of my professional and technical writing courses incorporate social constructionist perspectives. Now, when I begin my courses, I ask students to introduce themselves by documenting and describing their workspaces (and places). This allows them to start the course by describing something with which they are familiar, but also prepares them to think about writing in terms of a situated activity.

In what follows:

 

I. First I have archived some examples (from students that have cleared me to post them).

 

II. And second, I have shared a basic version of this assignment.

 

I. ARCHIVE OF WORKPLACE “SNAPSHOTS”

 

1. Alex Adrian, Online English Teacher for Scottsdale Unified School District

 Alex -Snapshot 1

My name is Alex Adrian.  I am the Lead Online English Teacher for Scottsdale Unified School District’s eLearning and SOL programs. 

 

My workspace is very special to me because I spend more time at this desk than I do in my bed. I am seated at this desk for hours upon hours every day, so I needed to make the area not feel like a work desk. The pictures and other small pieces allow me to lean back in my chair and forget about work for a few minutes a day and just reminisce about great memories. It may look to some like a clustered mess, but this is what I like to call my organizational mess. It takes others minutes to find something on my desk that takes me seconds to find.

 

2. Dennis Mitchell, Institutional Research Analyst and Adjunct Faculty at Mesa Community College

Dennis M. -Snapshot 2 

My name is Dennis Mitchell, and I write in a few distinct work and academic roles: in my full-time employment as “Institutional Research Analyst” at Mesa Community College (MCC); as a part-time English composition adjunct faculty at the same college; and as a graduate English Rhetoric and Composition Student, currently at Northern Arizona University.

 

The top left and bottom pictures of my mashup capture my office at MCC. I spend the vast majority of my workdays starring at the two monolithic monitors hanging above my desk; a picture of a favorite place (Chase Field) and other trinkets help the office feel more comfortable. The two monitors help display many data sets and reports at once to assist in the creation of my own work-related texts. Interruptions emanate from my email inbox, coworkers, boss and uncomfortable office temperature, and I occupy this workspace during a typical weekday schedule. While this office is primarily used to construct work-related texts, I do use this workspace to compose faculty-related or student-related texts during breaks or after business hours.

 

My home desk occupies the top right of my mashup image: one monitor with stacks and shelves of papers, books and baseball memorabilia. Creating texts in this environment faces distractions from my dogs (a chubby Chihuahua and a black lab mix), my significant other, household tasks, the TV in the nearby living room or noises outside.

 

3. Ramon Lira, Academic Advisor and ESL Adjunct Instructor at Phoenix College

 Ramon -Snapshot 3

My name is Ramon Lira. I work as an academic advisor and ESL adjunct instructor at Phoenix College. I’m currently taking additional English courses through NAU to be eligible to teach other areas such as composition and creative writing.

 

My workspace is a desk in a spare bedroom, which I share with my wife. The desk is simple, with only “useful” clutter such as paper, pens, a small lamp and computer equipment. To the right is my collection of some interesting things I’ve collected over the years, such as a paper mache replica of a mummy and a Michael Jackson skeleton figurine, both of which I picked up while visiting my wife’s hometown in Mexico. 



 

One thing about this space that makes it special to me is that this is where I wrote “English Speech Production in Insects,” which won the grand prize in this year’s NAU humorous writing contest. The winning entries should be posted soon at: http://nau.edu/SBS/Communication/Student-Work/

 

4. Anthony Garcia, Higher Education at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University

 Anthony -Snapshot 4

My name is Anthony Garcia and this is my first semester at NAU in the graduate professional writing certificate. I currently work in both the public school and higher education settings teaching English. This fall I will be transitioning exclusively to teaching in the higher education setting at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University, in the Norfolk/ Virginia Beach area.

 

The picture of my work area is necessarily basic, but arguably complex. This is my work environment in the public school that I teach in. The work area is extremely basic where only the humming of the HVAC system keeps me amused. I do not favor a generic work environment for getting most of my writing done. Instead, I prefer the white noise of coffee shops, kids playing in a pool, or the waves rolling onto the shore. For this reason, I’m returning to higher education in the fall where writing, grading, and conferencing with students offers more flexibility. 

 

5. Kevin Boyd, Graduate Student at Northern Arizona University

 Kevin -Snapshot 5

My name is Kevin Boyd and I am a student at Northern Arizona University in the MA in English program. My workspace for my studies consists of a desk in my bedroom with a computer hooked up to a forty inch television as a monitor. When I am alone, it is a perfect setup to write and complete schoolwork.  The large monitor allows me to write on one side of the screen and have another document or website on the other side for quick reference.

 

Unfortunately, I also have to share my workspace with a four-legged friend. My cat’s food is also on top of the desk. The desk is the only safe place we have been able to find where our dog is unable to get into his food. Sometimes when I am working the cat comes up to eat, paws at the monitor, or tries to rest his head on my hand that should be typing.

 

6. Selina Reid, University Staff Position at Arizona State University

 Selina -Snapshot 6

My name is Selina Reid, and I am in the Rhetoric and Teaching Writing (RTW) program with NAU. This is my first semester as a graduate student, although graduate school is my area of expertise. I currently hold a staff position at Arizona State University in the Graduate College, where I’m a jack-of-all-trades, helping students, applicants and academic units go from application to graduation. I specialize in dealing with international students, international transcripts review, and I issue I-20 documents which allow international students to apply to get their student visas and study in the United States.

My workspace differs according to what tasks I need to accomplish. Much of my reading is done while walking on my treadmill. You can see my makeshift foam and duct tape “desk” that I rest my books on. I studied and read throughout my undergraduate career this way and I am convinced that walking and reading makes me learn more efficiently.

 

The big, brown chair is the latest addition to my reading and studying workspace. This chair is only for lazy, non-serious reading and writing. This is not a schoolwork chair.

 

The kitchen table is the best workspace for writing and doing school assignments. I like being next to the kitchen and family room while I work, but sitting at the table forces me to get down to business, unlike the comfy chair.

 

7. Steven Seamons, Associate at W.L. Gore & Associates

Steven S. -Snapshot 7 

Since I am not permitted to take a picture of my workspace at Gore, you get to see my workspace at home. My name is Steven Seamons. I am an associate at W.L. Gore & Associates, and I attend NAU.

 

At this workspace I am a father of 4 (2 girls and 2 boys) all under the age of 8, and it is very hard to find a free minute, or at least quite free minute.

 

For this assignment you get a glimpse of this workspace in all of its glory. On closer inspection you can see we have a lot of coats. We live in the mountains and we are always in need of an extra layer, my workspace is also the coldest spot in the house. I have to wear socks so my feet don’t turn into ice. This workspace is most commonly used for storage of bottles, crayons, children’s art, and supplies for runny noses.

 

8. Kathryn Johnson, Graduate Student Northern Arizona University, Mother, Business Owner

 Kathryn -Snapshot 8

My undergraduate self of 8 years ago would be shaking her head in disbelief if she saw this. Gone is the idealistic dream of what I thought my home office would one day be like when I became a mother and a teacher. Instead, on what doubles as my dining room table (my favorite piece of furniture, witness to countless family occasions with all the people I hold dear) there sits what appears to be a mess. On the contrary, I promise, it is actually an organized chaos of bills, business paperwork, and now, as evidence of my jump back into the academic world, endless amounts of English classwork. It is a place that is uncharacteristically peaceful for me in the early morning hours and afternoon naptime, knowing the most precious things in the world to me, my twins 3 ½ and new baby boy, 8 weeks, are sleeping soundly in the rooms within earshot. It’s true that this is probably not the most convenient home office for a student, business owner, mother, and former English teacher, however, the views are great and the kitchen (copiously stocked  with cereal, coffee and beer- essentials for every busy mom) is close by, so I can’t complain.

 

9. Steven Maierson – Undergraduate Admissions and Orientation at Northern Arizona University

Steven M. -Snapshot 9 

I work in two separate environments in distinct capacities. The larger and more vibrant image is the space in which I free write and work as a student. It is my game station and link to the world and all its ills. Books and images surround me, things representative of who I am—tiny Batman figurines, a replica of Sting from The Lord of the Rings, and the desktop image of a Black Mage from Final Fantasy. The other half is my workspace at Undergraduate Admissions and Orientation at Northern Arizona University. At this place I maintain an orderly environment with minimal personal conveniences. I keep it neat so that if I need to move it isn’t a hassle. The small flashes of personality are random holiday gifts we receive in the office and, of course, a fantastic image of Tremors as my desktop background. It is here where I write procedural documentation and the occasional essay for school.

 

10. Dennis White, Saint Louis Community College; District Coordinator (4 campuses, 2 satellite locations), Assistant Professor, Reading (Florissant Valley Campus)

 Dennis W. -Snapshot 10

I share an office in the communications building with another faculty member, which is the typical setup; offices are located at each end of the building with classrooms in between. I spend many hours writing in this space, most recently developing student and instructor materials for the college’s new student success course, which just completed its first year of implementation. Sometimes I work through periods of concentrated writing activity, and other times I engage in conversations with colleagues, students, and administrators. I usually place work on the desk to the left of the computer, which I removed in order to give this picture a cleaner look, but I am fairly neat in the way I typically maintain my writing space. I enjoy writing here and the relatively quiet location at the end of a hallway. I also enjoy the close proximity of a window, glancing out of which provides an occasional quick break when needed to reenergize my writing.

 

11. Ashley Salazar, Assistant Director of TRIO Educational Talent Search, Garden City Community College

 Ashley -Snapshot 11

Our office and my desk are hidden away in the basement of the administrative building on campus, but I like it that way. It allows for our small staff to work together without distraction and shields the outside world from the chaos that we often create.  Our writing takes many forms and those texts create action. That action is often noisy, causing the rest of the college campus to appreciate the existence of a “lower level”.  I have a distinct area for my own creative processes, but I share the larger communal space with two other staff members.  I find it both comical and telling that we regularly communicate through text via internet signals and computer screens when we sit within inches of one another.

 

12. Jesse Maloney, substitute High School Teacher at Greyhills Academy High School and Graduate Student at Northern Arizona University

 Jesse -Snapshot 12

My name is Jesse Maloney, I’m a substitute High School teacher at Greyhills Academy High School and graduate student at Northern Arizona University.  The place where I like to conduct my school work now that it’s summer is at the bar in our outdoor parlor. 

 

When I put on some surf shorts and a basketball jersey it’s a serene warm setting even at night and I don’t feel cooped up and stressed.  It helps to lose track of time and get quality reading and writing done with my heavy semester.

 

 

II. [ASSIGNMENT]: INTRODUCE YOURSELF; DESCRIBE YOUR WORKPLACE

 

Hello and welcome to _____,

 

We all, likely, have multiple places in which we work and in which we read, think, and write. This assignment asks you to document and describe the key features of your environment at one of those “places”. I put “places” in quotations because it may be a fluid and dynamic location. You can, and should here, think of work places and spaces as both a physical location, but also as a time-based location. What else is potentially at play? For example, do you share the space with others? Is there anyone else competing for that space? Are there interruptions? Etc.

 

To think about reading and writing as things that happen in spaces, in locations, in specific time periods, is a unique way to introduce yourself to others in the course. Follow these instructions. This firs assignment will also prompt you think about the production of texts as a literal and situated act that happens in real locations. And it will help you get to know your classmates a bit in order to jumpstart the formation of our classroom community.

 

With this in mind, I was recently inspired by the discovery and playfulness of a blog: http://nathanmeunier.com/2012/06/22/shop-talk-freelance-workspaces-volume-1/ that invites writers to send photographs and brief descriptions of the settings and spaces in which they work. As teachers, researchers, and students of writing, we all spend endless hours in these spaces writing and working. See my example at: https://acomposing.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/the-work-spaces-and-places-of-writing-teachers-researchers-and-administrators/. Consider how my example is primarily playful. Feel free to be playful yourself, but also focus on including some serious forms of analysis about some aspect of your workspace that is worth comment.

 

So, tell us a bit about your workspace.

 

INSTRUCTIONS

 

1. Include only one (JPG) photograph (which can be a mash-up, multi-panel photograph) of the setting/space in which you work and write.

 

2. Include the following information: your name, title/job, and the university/school with which you are affiliated.

 

3. And include a short description focusing on what you find most interesting to describe/share about your workspace.

 

4. Post your narrative for the class to see. Remember: Write it in a fashion where you feel comfortable sharing publicly. Do not include details that you don’t want others to know. Do not include details that you might consider too personal for some reason.