Courses Taught: Remedial Writing 031-032-033 Series, Composition 1-101, Composition 201, Advanced Writing 401
Students anxious to get the general education writing classes behind them will benefit from considering Dr. Blessinger's advice, because the writing requirement is not going to go away. He states that any class at the college level should incorporate some type of writing. Not every class is going to incorporate ten-page essays, but, as Dr. Blessinger puts it, "A student need[s] to be brief when it's necessary, to be able to condense information into very short blurbs in some courses." Other courses, especially literature, and even some science and business classes, provide the opportunity for a student to articulate more complex ideas.
Dr. Justin Blessinger is an accomplished creative writer, remains active in the developments of his discipline, and shared paragraphs of knowledge and insight on writing. It is appropriate, then, that it was under his tutelage that his Advanced Writing class undertook the redesign of the OWL website.
Blessinger finds that students seem to struggle more with writing when it is outside of English classes. "It's as if the knowledge they have garnered has fallen by the wayside when they are confronted with classes that are not in English. That is one of the challenges we are facing—especially the English department, but all across the campus, how to integrate the skills that we emphasize," said Dr. Blessinger.
One of the problems the Internet has raised is a growing laziness. "With the growth of the Internet, writing has become increasingly similar to conversation. Chat allows you to immediately correct yourself if you are misunderstood, and that is a good thing. Email allows you to send a follow up or to hit reply and say, 'Can you clarify this for me?' All within the space of an hour or a half-hour, you can clarify an issue," said Dr. Blessinger, indicating the positive aspects of such convenient communication. "But what about when you do not have the opportunity to revise something that is said? If you are writing instructions for a program, for example, you get one shot to say it right. The customer or the consumer or the audience can reread it ad infinitum, but you get only once chance to write it. As soon as you release that information there is nothing more you can do short of posting updates, if you do get the time."
Dr. Blessinger finds immense value in the library's online databases, not only for his students, but for himself. "Students increasingly demand that information is available to them in an online format. I use the library databases all the time. I myself do not go into the library building here at DSU very frequently. If I do then it's often so I can speak face to face with the librarian and seek further feedback that way. It is actually quite rare that I am in the library for the purpose of doing research because so much of it is made available digitally," said Dr. Blessinger. "I think that's a great thing, but the trade off is of course that the students are less likely to interact with the librarians and to be exposed to other ways to do their research." Therefore, the research component of ENGL 101 and 201 is becoming increasingly important. It is in these classes that students are usually first introduced to databases such as ProQuest, EBSCO, and LexisNexus.
To Dr. Blessinger, student interest in professional publications related to their area of study is not just encouraged, it is a necessity. "If you want to be a successful and professional individual in any field, you would do well to make sure you are engaged in the publications and the conversations of your field," said Dr. Blessinger. "If you are studying something that you are not interested in reading about, then you are in the wrong major. You are not doing yourself a service because you will be miserable."
Some students resist involving themselves in professional organizations and publications related because they have the mentality that at some point, they will be done learning. This mentality needs to be corrected. "Computer majors, I think, are especially good at [opening themselves to furthering their knowledge]. People who are involved in technology . . . they are the type of people who are automatically drawn to a field that is constantly evolving. I think that is what is great about some of those students who are in that major. You don't go into that major thinking, 'I am going to learn one thing, master it, and never have to learn anything again.' By the time you make it to college you know how fast the computer world changes. And I think that other majors would do well to adopt a similar mindset," said Dr. Blessinger.
Dr. Blessinger, like the other professors in the discipline, is always willing to work with students who are struggling with their writing. But, there has to be a partnership. Students need to admit that they are having trouble and commit to a proactive effort to make an improvement. "If [students who are struggling] are willing to meet with a tutor one on one, agree to meet with me, say, once a week, if they agree to submit work to Smarthinking.com, to the tutors, or if they agree to submit work to the online writing lab, then they have a good chance," said Dr. Blessinger. "It translates into a lot more work for the student, but in the cases in which I've had students who are aware of their deficiency and who are willing to address that deficiency, there's hope . . . Unless the student takes the initiative and adopts a healthy attitude, we cannot help them. If the student is willing to take all the suggestions, we can address even the most significant deficiency provided that the student has the natural proclivity and the work ethic required."
Perhaps the simplest and most effective method Dr. Blessinger suggests for improving writing is to read. "Writing is a natural outgrowth of reading . . . My writing does not improve unless I am engaged in the act of reading. My students' writing will never improve except in the most mechanical and physical of ways—that is, formatting issues, comma issues, punctuational issues in general—unless they are committed to the act of reading," said Dr. Blessinger. "If the student commits him or herself to a lifetime of reading, writing becomes a natural expression that is almost automatic, like breathing."