I just finished drafting an email to be sent to faculty, inviting them to use our Movable Type blogs in their classrooms during the Spring semester. Writing these sorts of general-audience appeals is tough. The language we’ve used in the past has felt kind of smarmy and usedcarsalesmanesque to me. Check out this Incredible program we’ve got going on! Imagine all the Amazing things you can get out of it! And boy, do we Provide Support! I tried scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch, but gave up and used a slightly modified version of the old pitch.
My discomfort with the whole thing comes from a couple sources. For one, I don’t particularly like the idea of selling the technology. The blogging initiative is housed within the Writing Across the Curriculum program, and with good reason – student blogs are only valuable insofar as they provide some benefit to the goals of the course, which usually ends up having something to do with writing. So there’s a sense in which I’d like the email to say “Do you want your students to accomplish academic goals x, y, and z? Here is a tool for you!” But this kind of pitch feels disingenuous, making the tech tool sound like a magic elixir that will simply, you know, “get the job done”.
At the same time, if I scale back the rhetoric and talk in more measured terms about the kind of benefits that students might get from blogging, I’ll probably limit my audience. Faculty members get a ton of requests to try new things, and if my request is riddled with conditionals and hedges, it’s not clear that it will shine through as something worth doing. The only people who will be persuaded by that kind of talk are people who are already warm to the ideas I’m pushing – the “low-hanging fruit”, as a colleague of mine once called these faculty members. And while there’s nothing wrong with this low-hanging fruit, I want to broaden the base of bloggers a bit each semester.
In the end, I rationalize the smarmy sales pitch to myself as follows. The point of the pitch is to get them in the door, thinking about what blogging is, and maybe giving it an earnest try in their classes. The benefit for their teaching, if there is one, will make itself apparent, regardless of whether this benefit is as Incredible and Amazing (or perhaps totally Different From) what was “promised” in the original pitch. I don’t think this makes me cynical, I think it makes me pragmatic. Or at least I hope so.