After two decades of owning a commercial printing business, Bill Leach decided to pursue his original goal of university teaching. Starting at Brevard Community College, he subsequently began teaching composition and literature courses at Florida Institute of Technology in 2001.
Now an Assistant Professor of English, Leach also serves as Online Liberal Arts Program Chair at Florida Tech, where he has conducted research into the integration of technology in online and blended learning environments. Leach spoke with us about the importance of writing skills in the workforce and the advantages of online learning.
Q. Can you tell us about your background, including how and why you transitioned from business owner to assistant professor?
Writing comes naturally for me. After college, I planned on teaching in a university, but I entered the family printing business instead. After 20 years, we sold the business and my previous plan of university teaching was realized when I was hired as an adjunct English instructor at the local community college. I have been teaching writing since 1996.
Q. Why are writing skills important for people entering the workforce?
Good writing and communication skills are essential in the workplace. Whether one manages a shoe store or plans Mars missions, the business world runs on exact and complete communication from the bottom tiers to the top tiers and vice-versa. For example, an entry-level employee’s idea to increase sales can be put into a memo to a manager, and the manager can place this idea in a proposal to the owner or CEO. If successful, sales are increased, talents are recognized and the entire firm benefits.
Q. You have undergraduate and graduate degrees in English. How did your own liberal arts education impact your corporate career?
My background in liberal arts fit perfectly with my position in the printing firm, from proofreading copy to writing sales literature for customers. A liberal arts background benefits those in the corporate world and provides experience in giving speeches, conversing with clients and relating to fellow employees and management.
Q. Having taught in traditional and online classrooms, what do you consider to be the best aspects of online learning?
Teaching online has taught me to be more patient and understanding to the students, especially adult learners who are balancing jobs and family responsibilities. I’ve also learned to be more concise and clear in my comments via feedback on assignments or email communication. From a student’s perspective, I believe that online education teaches skillsets such as working more independently and being more self-directed. Once the students realize the online environment is just as challenging (and sometimes more challenging) than a traditional classroom, then learning can begin.
Q. In the Writing about Literature course, you discuss authors ranging from Shakespeare to Faulkner and Lewis Carroll. For non-English majors, in particular, what are the benefits of having an eclectic reading list?
An eclectic reading list benefits all majors because it introduces them to life situations that they may not be familiar with. Imaginative writings provide all of us pleasure and beauty, and nourish our intellectual and emotional lives.
Q. Your doctoral studies focused, in part, on the use of digital media. How has the digital age transformed education in general and the teaching of writing in particular?
An obvious way the digital age has transformed student writing is the comfort level students have in writing for digital media, such as websites and blogs. Writing instructors need to be aware of the changing landscapes and help guide students through them. I believe that today’s students have become more skilled at writing concisely for digital media.