Feature Stories

Norbert Elliot: The End of the Essay

Norbert Elliot uses technology to teach writing.

Norbert Elliot, a professor of English at NJIT, doesn’t make his students write endless essays.

He doesn’t force them to interpret stories his way, and he doesn’t wade through their writings, fishing for comma faults or misspellings.

Elliot is a traditionally trained English professor, but he makes pod casts, designs websites and has even created a web cast titled The End of the Essay. 

“I insist that my students have a command of the language,” says Elliot, “but communication is much more these days than writing essays. Students have challenged the way I teach by their creative use of new media.”

Back in the mid-1990s, Elliot noticed his students were changing. They read fewer books and newspapers, were obsessed with the Internet and yearned to learn interactively. So he adapted his teaching methods without lowering his rigorous standards.

Elliot, for instance, doesn’t lecture much anymore. He instead sends his students pod casts, which they listen to before class. During class, he engages students in active problem solving, not passive listening. Students busily design websites, pod casts and web casts. They use graphics, video and audio to make their points, not just words. And it all counts as class work.

If you were to visit Elliot’s class, you’d see students gathered in the computer lab, searching websites, reading on-line documents and reviewing full-text data bases. Elliot would be on line with them, acting as their guide.

"Research is nothing more than a Google search for many young students," says Elliot. He teaches them how to broaden their on-line research methods.

“This generation loves the new media,” says Elliot. “I and other professors at NJIT don’t want to purge their creativity. We want to expand upon it.”

Elliot’s teaching matches with what Richard Sweeney, University Librarian at NJIT, discovered in his research on the millennial generation -- those born between 1980 and 1994. Whether they're using Facebook, MySpace, iPods, or instant messaging, millennials are perennially plugged in, says Sweeney.

“This generation wants flexibility -- in the classroom and in their lives,” Sweeney adds. “And to keep their interest, professors must use methods and technologies that engage them.”

That’s precisely how Elliot teaches, says NJIT student Carol Servino.

“Professor Elliot encouraged me to master new technologies that at first I didn’t think I’d grasp,” says Servino. “I think as a teacher he is like the Wizard of Oz -- a master.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)