Featured Online Faculty Profile
Shannon Riggs, MS
Professor - Professor, Online
Teaching Field: Communication Skills
Where I come from
When I was a little girl, I played at two things-being a writer and being a teacher. I am happy to say, I now write for a living and teach writing courses. My nonfiction work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and on websites. My first children's book, Not in Room 204, about childhood sexual abuse, got a starred review in Booklist, won the Oregon Book Award for Children's Literature, and made the Chicago Public Library's “Best of the Best in 2007.”
I have a master's degree in professional writing and extensive experience in course development. I first applied to DeVry University in order to have a teaching job I could take with me anywhere. My husband was a Navy officer; we moved 18 times in 15 years. Now he is retired and we have settled in Oregon, and I hope never to move again.
Teaching writing means that I get to share the subject I love with others. Teaching and writing still feel like play to me; sometimes I can't believe I get paid to do this.
What do program architects build?
I am also the program architect for the sequence of English courses from ENGL 032 to 135, the developmental and composition sequence. A program architect looks at courses from the student's point of view, with an eye to ensuring that each course builds on the previous one, so that students can build skills rapidly and effectively. I stay in very close contact with the instructors who are teaching the courses. They give me feedback on a regular basis about what works or not, and interesting new things that they've tried. I pool all those best practices so that we continually improve our courses and practices, including the way we grade and the way we explain grading to students.
By collaborating and pooling resources, not only do we get the best resources, but we free up some time for instructors to spend with students on meaningful interactions that really make a difference. Inventing all your own classroom materials is a lot of work, and it's being duplicated from classroom to classroom in most colleges. After almost every 8-week session, one of our English instructors receives a teaching award from DeVry University, based on student input. I think that is evidence of how well our collaboration is working.
Writing changes lives
Studying composition is studying how to communicate. Communication is the most practical skill in the real world; it has the power to change lives.
Let me give you an example from outside the English classroom. Because of my book, I had a chance to speak at the fundraiser for the local child abuse assessment center this fall. The focus of my speech was why kids don't tell when they are sexually abused, and why professional assessment is needed. The topic was a difficult one to speak about publicly, and I spent a lot of time writing - and re-writing - the text of the speech. The experience was really powerful for me personally - and apparently for the 500 people who came. The center more than doubled the funds it raised, compared to last year. As a writer and writing instructor, I couldn't help but see the connection between the carefully written speech and the effects it brought - raising all of that money for such a great cause. That's the power of the written word!
"Show up on the page"
My best writing teacher was Dr. Cheryl Glenn, now at Penn State. She was the only professor in the English Department who ever gave me a C. I had A's in all my other classes. For some reason that did not turn me off; I took more of her classes because she was challenging me. She pushed me to “show up on the page,” to represent my own point of view and write in my own voice about things that mattered to me. When I did, she gave me an A.
Walking the talk
The most rewarding thing for me as an instructor is working with a student who comes in with a low level of confidence and gets comfortable with writing while in my class. A lot of people are afraid of having to write. It's easy to get over that. A little bit of success really builds your confidence.
My way of teaching writing is very practical. It comes from my experience as a writer, having to produce a lot of words on a regular basis for a variety of different media. I have to be practical to meet the deadlines. Writing is a process with three steps: generate ideas, draft, and revise. The biggest mistake that people make is waiting for inspiration to hit. What you need instead is a process that you have practiced. That builds in reliability. The process works for you even if you don't feel like writing or don't know what to say or don't have enough time.
Over time I have learned a lot from my students about the kinds of professional writing they have to do in the workplace. I bring in information about techniques; they bring in sample reports or email, things they're judged on every day. In-class peer reviews are very good for both the writer and the reviewer. They see more techniques and approaches that other writers are using and they learn to pay more attention not only to what is said but how it's said.
I like teaching online better than classroom teaching. I was surprised to find that I have more contact with all the students and more back-and-forth discussion than I would usually have in an onsite class. Online, everybody has to participate, and I can go one-on-one with them. That makes people feel more connected with their course of study; they have more invested in the class. It makes people get over any inhibitions or lack of confidence that they may have.
DeVry University's online technology is great. eCollege is the best platform I've ever used. Some others are clunky to get around, but eCollege is extremely easy to use. The Hub is a great resource center. Part of my work is to develop online tutorials that we use in English classes, and I have some fun with that. For ENGL 227, Professional Writing, we have a weekly 5-10 minute tutorial that is like a talk show. Two English instructors, represented by cartoon avatars, talk about the main concepts for the week's work. We keep that in the Hub as a resource, along with tons of other tutorials and materials.
Cut the commute, meet interesting people
Convenience is the great upside to being a distance learner. Working online gives you the flexibility to do the other things that matter to you. For me, that means driving my children to activities and volunteering in their classrooms. But it takes a lot of discipline. The online students I see who are most successful give themselves a schedule and stick to it. They make sure they check off every item on the checklist.
I usually have 15-27 students in a class, a very diverse mix of ages and backgrounds. They are highly interactive. My impression is that more students are coming to DeVry University straight out of high school. Maybe it is because they feel at home with exchanging ideas online so the idea of going to school online doesn't seem like a far-out idea to them.
DeVry University provides an excellent quality education. DeVry University is committed to continually improving its course offerings and the way that we teach in order to meet students' needs and marketplace requirements. The university makes significant investments in course development, learning aids, and technology. DeVry University always strives to be the best in its field. That is the key to success in life - for the university as well as for students.