Spotlight, August 2015
Judy Steiner-Williams’ intensive writing course, C204 Business Communications, is a prime example of a flipped classroom. With the help of her Active Learning Grant, Steiner-Williams made her students responsible for out-of-class “lecture” material, allowing for more in-class time for group work.
“Class time is spent on applying theory and giving feedback, both to individuals and teams,” Steiner-Williams said.
Students read an eText and watch Lynda.com tutorials prior to class, and Steiner-Williams quizzes them to confirm they understand the material. Because of this format, more in-class time is freed up for the team writing prompts and activities Steiner-Williams provides.
Over the course of the semester, students work in small groups to write three types of letters—routine inquiry, good news, and bad news—in response to prompts based on real people and organizations but fictional situations. This past semester, Steiner-Williams used the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and PetSmart. These organizations have rich websites with plenty of information for students to research.
“As they’re doing that, I’m giving more specific feedback on individual documents,” Steiner-Williams said.
While the groups change each time, Steiner-Williams said that sometimes, stronger students serendipitously end up working with those who are weaker, which helps the latter realize how they can do better.
“There are many subtleties in the whole process,” Steiner-Williams noted.
In addition, some of the in-class writing work is timed, which simulates the real-world “stress writing” students will have to do in the business world.
After students work on prompts in-class as groups, they are given prompts to work on individually out-of-class. These assignments are then brought back to class and critiqued and ranked by peers.
“They get that reinforcement from their team members and get to hear how other students think about it,” Steiner-Williams said. “They hear different viewpoints and input, and that expands their knowledge.”
Steiner-Williams, who said she is known for being a hard grader, has observed an increase in scores. More students have also been visiting her during office hours.
“I think they’re more comfortable getting feedback—comfort with me and comfort with understanding that their documents can keep improving,” she said.
After all, as Steiner-Williams noted, people deal with multiple drafts and revisions in a real business environment.
“It’s a constant in class—talking about them [the documents] and revising them,” Steiner-Williams said. “I love it.”
Judy Steiner-Williams is a senior lecturer of business communication in the Kelley School of Business.