Since I’ve landed at NYU Shanghai, I have been involved in crossing borders—shuttling between silos in an attempt to support student learning and advanced literacy acquisition throughout their educational experiences. When I first arrived, I was told that something that contributed to the decision to hire me, besides my background in L2 writing and TESOL, was that I had knowledge of professional and technical writing from my time leading development at the Purdue Online Writing Lab. So about three weeks into my first semester, I sat down with the dean of the Silver School of Social Work and we started developing a professional writing seminar that would provide L2 writers with a targeted opportunity to continue working on the literacy skills required to be practitioners in the field of social work. We purposefully designed the course to address linguistic and rhetorical issues, while staying away from creating a remedial grammar and writing course—a fact that I’ve felt the need to remind people of recently as leadership has changed.
During my second year, I was tasked with leading a support project to help our first-year sciences faculty better scaffold students’ acquisition of scientific literacy practices. I contributed to and supervised the development of a bank of instructor- and student-facing resources that covered topics like scientific writing best practices, common organizational patterns and genres in scientific communication, and advice for working with L2 writers in an ethical manner, as well as general guidelines for effectively providing feedback about writing.
Despite the fact that all of this disciplinary border crossing has been such a major part of my career at NYU Shanghai, I’ve got to say that I’ve just come to realize something rather profound. I enjoy engaging with people outside of my discipline. It’s thrilling to discuss teaching with others and to highlight the ways that we can complement each other when it comes to literacy acquisition and development. Sure, it can be frustrating when you feel the need to constantly (re-) justify the importance of what you do—which is helping disciplinary faculty make explicit for students what they have implicitly acquired over years of graduate study and professional engagement—but at the end of the day, I enjoy it. We tend to learn a great deal from each other. And, while there are varying degrees of engagement, just like when teaching, when I reach even just a few of my colleagues from outside my discipline, and we learn from each other about ways to improve how we teach students…well, that’s a major win in my book.
TL;DR: Escape your disciplinary silo often and talk with others about your practice. You’ll both gain something valuable from the experience.