Sample Annotated Bibliography: Why Not Have a Rhetoric Requirement among UL Lafayette PhD Students in English?

What follows is an annotated bibliography such as my students are asked to write for the AnnBib assignment during the Spring 2016 instructional term at Northern Oklahoma College. As is expected of student work, it treats an issue of its writer’s curriculum. It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students (they are asked for a two-paragraph introduction that contextualizes the project and outlines the methods for selecting materials, as well as six annotative entries, exclusive of heading, title, and page numbers; the sample below provides them), although its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

Please note that the bibliography below treats the same topic addressed in earlier sample assignments written throughout the Spring 2016 instructional term; it is, in effect, an expanded version of the T&S assignment required of students at Oklahoma State University, for which a sample assignment has been provided (here). Some materials will be duplicated from the earlier version.

I hold a doctorate in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). Earning it obliged me to take many hours of coursework, draft and defend a dissertation, and sit for a battery of comprehensive exams. Those exams are described by the ULL English Department as helping to prepare students for teaching and research–but most of the teaching that I have done since leaving ULL has been in rhetoric and composition, and the training the exams promote and assess did not require me to make much if any formal study of that area of English studies. That a combination of logistical and disciplinary factors contribute to the lack of a rhetoric requirement in a battery of generalist English exams seems likely, but more investigation is needed to ascertain whether or not it is.

Conducting such an investigation suggests looking at discussions of comprehensive exams, generally, as well as of the disciplines in which the specific exams being discussed might exist. Those discussions are easily found in a number of disciplinary-education journals, such as are available through the Oklahoma State University library and through subscriptions to publications of organizations invested in English education, such as the National Council of Teachers of English. A few prominent results of searches through such materials are related below; they, and other sources yet, argue for a dominant format of comprehensive exams and a view of the field into which graduates of the ULL English PhD program will enter, highlighting some of the disconnections between how the program prepares its students for their likely career paths.

Hassel, Holly, and Joanne Baird Giordano. “Occupy Writing Studies: Rethinking College Composition for the Needs of the Teaching Majority.” CCC 65.1 (September 2013): 117-39. Print.

The article argues against perceptions among writing scholars that devalue the work done by most writing teachers, who work in two-year and open-admission institutions. After defining a number of its terms, the authors note that studies of such teachers are not proportionate to the work they do. They continue with discussions of the two-year teaching environment, the focus of writing scholarship on four-year and elite institutions and the concomitant problems associated with community colleges, and what benefits would accrue to teachers and scholars from a reconsideration of such positions as they outline. The article concludes with a few recommendations of how to proceed, namely the support of research by and about two-year and open-admission institutions.

Of particular importance in the article is a quotation from a  Chronicle of Higher Education article by Schmidt, one noting that non-tenure-track faculty account for more than three quarters of teaching positions (119). While it does not discuss the comprehensive exam as an item, it does point towards the ubiquity of writing instruction by those with graduate degrees in English, irrespective of their specialization; it is a point the article reiterates. As such, it helps provide context and support for the need for graduate students in English to take exams and concomitant training in rhetoric, since it is from rhetoric that the practice of teaching writing emerges.

Nolan, Robert E. “How Graduate Students of Adult and Continuing Education Are Assessed at the Doctoral Level.” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 50.3 (Fall 2002): 38-43. PDF file.

The article encourages discussion of the forms comprehensive examinations in doctoral coursework should take to increase completion rates and more accurately reflect the expectations placed on those who pursue advanced graduate study. After explicating then-current demographic data among graduate students, the piece lays out its purpose and summarizes previous studies of the topic. It then lays out its methods–noting the group surveyed and describing the survey used. Findings follow, identifying major trends about the timing, format, and intentions of comprehensive exams. The article concludes with notes that indicate no consensus among programs about how to hold comprehensive exams and what they ought to do.

The article may suffer somewhat from concerns of age, and repeated mentions of what various things “presumably” do weaken some of the rhetorical force of the piece. The brevity of the piece may also be of some concern. The article does, however, provide a useful summary of tendencies in how examinations have been conducted at the doctoral level across disciplines. In that regard, the article offers a useful starting point for discussion of any topic treating comprehensive exams at the doctoral level. As background material for framing investigation of the comprehensive exam, then, it is worth reading.

Palmquist, Mike, and Sue Doe. “Contingent Faculty: Introduction.” College English 73.4 (March 2011): 353-55. Print.

Introducing a special issue of College English they edit, Palmquist and Doe note the centennial of the National Council of Teachers of English, the quarter-century anniversary of the Wyoming Resolution (one of the major statements regarding contingent those members of college and university faculties with the least protection), and the many statements made by scholarly societies calling for improvements to the working conditions contingent faculty face. They then lay out the contents of the special issue of the journal, summarizing three articles and three discussion forums that occupy the following pages.

Of particular note in the piece are cited comments from the American Association of University Professors and a committee of the Modern Language Association of America. Combined, the comments speak to the prevailing conditions faced by those who will teach English. Most postsecondary teaching positions are contingent, and most composition teaching is done by contingent faculty. The chance that a graduate of any English PhD program will teach composition off of the tenure track is therefore substantial, making preparation for that work all the more important–and its lack all the more curious.

Ponder, Nicole, Sharon E. Beatty, and William Foxx. “Doctoral Comprehensive Exams in Marketing: Current Practices and Emerging Perspectives.” Journal of Marketing Education 26.3 (December 2004): 226-35. PDF file.

The authors identify and explain then-current and -emerging practices regarding doctoral comprehensive exams in United States marketing programs. After offering a general introduction to the topic, the authors review available literature on the topic, focusing largely on Bloom’s taxonomy. Methodology follows, with a survey described and the process of its dissemination, completion, and interpretation articulated. Results detailing the perceived purposes of doctoral comprehensive exams, structures of those exams, and changes to the latter are presented, and less traditional emergent structures–an “original papers” approach, an “extended take-home,” a “specialist,” and a “no exam–no paper” approach–are explicated. Results are discussed, and a conclusion suggesting that the traditional closed-book format of comprehensive exams will be less common in marketing schools finishes the article.

Although Ponder, Beatty, and Foxx discuss marketing, specifically, many of their assertions are likely applicable to other fields. Despite common perceptions of advanced education as liberal and socially deconstructive, academia tends to remain wedded to older structures, so the “traditional” examination structures discussed in the article are likely to be represented in other fields and programs entirely. If such points of correspondence are in place, then others may also be, making the conclusions reached by the article at least provisionally applicable to other areas of advanced education. Also notable in the article is the concern voiced by some faculty that changes to traditional exam structures “are depriving students of the opportunity to integrate a broad range of knowledge at a deeper level than they will ever have an opportunity to achieve again” (234), offering an unusual perspective on the comprehensive exam that may well bear examination.

Schafer, Joseph A., and Matthew J. Giblin. “Doctoral Comprehensive Exams: Standardization, Customization, and Everywhere in Between.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 19.2 (July 2008): 275-89. PDF file.

The authors describe general tendencies regarding treatment of comprehensive exams by programs awarding doctoral degrees in criminal justice. The need for systematic study of criminal justice programs is articulated before the doctoral comprehensive exam is contextualized. Exam procedures are described and historicized. Study methods–largely focused on conducting surveys and interviews–are described and findings articulated, the latter focusing largely on the forms the exams take. Findings are subsequently discussed, identifying and commenting on the patterns that emerge from the study and treating relative merits of several exam formats. The article concludes with questions about the ongoing utility of curricular standards to both the discipline and the broader community the discipline serves.

Although Schafer and Giblin treat the discipline of criminal justice, specifically, they ground their article in information deriving from studies of other fields–notably including rhetoric–and assert that their own discipline largely follows the structures of others. The conclusions they reach about their own field therefore present themselves as able to be generalized back to those other fields, so that what they say about comprehensive exams can be applied to other areas than their own. Additionally, their relatively recent (to this writing) article allows their conclusions to be taken as more timely, and their relatively extensive bibliography offers useful insights as to further reading.

Scott Shields, Sara. “Like Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: An Art-Based Exploration of the Comprehensive Exam Process.” Arts & Humanities in Higher Education 14.2 (April 2015): 206-27. PDF file.

Following an epigraph taken from Scripture, Scott Shields explains that her piece is a reflection on the experience of doctoral comprehensive exams. The reflection is framed in terms of the general shape and purpose of the doctoral exam, described as having ritual aspects that are not clear to graduate students who will soon take such tests; the author notes desiring to explicate the ritual through narration in reflection. Excerpts of exam questions and answers, as well as visual and verbal materials taken from personal journal entries relating to the exam experience follow; reflections on individual exam components accompany each set of materials. Ultimately, the author arrives at the notion that the value of the comprehensive exam is in its facilitation of individual focus on personal growth leading to shared experiences.

While the piece is unconventional, it is of value in that it offers an inside perspective on comprehensive exams; most treatments of the subject look at them from the perspective of having long completed them. The anecdotal and idiosyncratic nature of the article may read to some as lessening the effectiveness of the piece as a whole, but that same individualistic narration does much to remind readers of the deeply personal nature of the comprehensive exam. It bespeaks the overall engagement with subject matter inherent in the comprehensive exam, making it all the more important that the exercise is directed to good effect.


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