Class Report: ENGL 216, 18 June 2018

Class time was given over to completing the University-assigned final exam. No other activities were conducted. For it, class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed eight students enrolled, unchanged from last session; one attended, assessed informally. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A series of summary comments for the session is forthcoming. It will post after grades are finalized and submitted and relevant data can be extracted.

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A Rumination on “Political Correctness”

I should probably note that there’ll be some language in this post some readers will find markedly inappropriate.*

In classes I have taught, in my work for the substance abuse clinic, and elsewhere, the idea of “political correctness” has come up more than once–usually used as a term of derogation for those who worry about not offending others. For instance, not long ago at the clinic, a client made a mocking comment about my assuming the presented gender when I was retrieving information, a smirk plastered across the face when saying “How dare you presume my gender” in a drippingly unctuous tone. When I replied “You’re right, and I apologize; which gender would you prefer?” in my practiced professional tone, looking the client dead in the eye, the client stammered out a half-hearted justification of “making fun of those, you know, political correctness people.” But it is not always the case that I am able to make such a response, given the constraints of what I do and where.

In my classroom, however, I am able to do a bit more to work against the expression of such views, if not the holding of them (although I know that language influences perception, so that changes to language do work to change minds, at least in some small way or another). Most of what I teach is writing, after all, and so explicitly and specifically concerned with choosing words carefully and arranging them precisely and considering topic and purpose and audience and desired effects and unintentional consequences–and I note, repeatedly, that every character on every page–and, indeed, every page–is a choice made and so carries meaning, whether it is wanted or not. My students, then, expect that I will or may well comment on every utterance–and they should, since it is at least part of my job to do so. (Even aside from grading, I am supposed to coach them along.)

I do not much censor myself in my classroom; I use the language that comes to mind when it comes to mind, for the most part, and that does sometimes run to what many might think obscene. Some of it is done as part of my work to reassure students that their own usage does not indicate that they are unintelligent–something about which I’ve expressed concern before (here and here, among others). Leaving aside at least one interesting study, if an English professor with a doctorate in the subject will drop a “fuck” in class, or point out that “shit” has been in English longer than “beautiful” (per the OED and Bosworth and Toller), then they can’t be too stupid for using such language, themselves. So it might be thought that I am not in favor of so-called PC culture, in which hyperattention to language and overwariness of the possibility of offense results in creeping euphemisms that appear to weaken rhetorical force through circumlocution and meandering neologism.

The thing is, though, that I follow the idea (not my own, although I do not recall its provenance) that most of what gets decried as “PC” is “people asking to be called by their right name,” and getting people’s names right is a simple matter of politeness and attention. (Yes, I know there are people who use PCness as a means of abusing others–just as there are people who use any and every human construct as a means of abusing others. There are words for such people. “Jerk” is a good one. So is “asshat.” So are others.) And I have found a means of addressing the issue that seems to resonate with students–at least, they are more careful about making complaints about “being PC” after I present it to them.

There are some background ideas involved in it. One is voiced prominently by a University of Toronto professor I’ll not name because I do not want to be perceived as endorsing such an idea–namely, that your choice of preferred address does not in any way compel me to alter my usage, that how you prefer to be addressed and referred to does not oblige me to do so. Another is that whatever words are used “are just words,” and that people “need to grow thicker skins and not be so easily offended.” And it was with those ideas in mind that, in a class I taught a while back, when a student (older amid a bunch of more traditional students) started to get onto the proverbial soapbox about PC culture being censorship, I hoped up onto my own; as its planks squeaked under my weight, I asked what I thought was a simple question:

“And if I decided to call all of my students ‘Shithead,’ would that be okay? After all, it’s just a word, right? So I could be all, ‘Hey, Shithead, did you remember to turn in your assignment?’ and that’d be okay?”*

(Or words to that effect. It’s been a while.)

As might be expected, the class went silent, including the student who had been about to rail against PC culture. After an awkwardly quiet moment, I took the opportunity to lay out my position, explaining that of course it’d be a problem for me to decide that all of my students’ names might as well be Shithead or Asshat or something equally insulting–not necessarily because of the word itself, but because the students’ names are theirs to determine, just as the “PC” labels that are often decried are the names of the people concerned to determine. It seemed to make sense to the students; at the very least, they did not try to argue to me that getting names of people and populations right was an infringement on their free expression (although I am sure some still thought it, and others cared not either way, but simply wanted to get through the class as they could).

I’ve taught since that class, obviously, and while it has not been the case that each section I’ve taught has had the PC issue come up, it has been one that has gotten addressed fairly often–more times than not. Each time, I use the model I stumbled onto in a bit of in-class pique, and, each time, the students seem to take the point–or fake it well enough that I can let it slide. So there is that much, at least, that I’m able to do.

*The language is, more or less, what I use and have used, and the language was calculated to shock–with the idea that the shock would help drive the lesson home. Then again, my teaching has been much reduced since I first went on this tack, so there may be something to various students’ condemnations of me.

However you feel about “being PC,” I hope you’ll feel like sending a bit of help my way.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 11 June 2018

After treating questions from last meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of review and revision in advance of the final written assignments coming due. Discussed also was preparation of an online presentation, one of the components of the final written assignment, and motion was made towards next week’s final exam.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 18 June 2018
  • Course Project: Final Paper, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 18 June 2018
  • Course Project: Presentation, due online before 0059 on 18 June 2018
  • Final Exam: due online before 2359 on 23 June 2018 (earlier is better)

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed eight students enrolled, unchanged from last session; three attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 4 June 2018

Returning from last week’s online holiday make-up session, discussion asked after questions from earlier. It then turned to review of front matter concerns, as well as orders of composition. Concerns of review were also addressed, and a printed document was read and reviewed to offer in-class practice.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 11 June 2018
  • Course Project: Front Matter, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 11 June 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed eight students enrolled, unchanged from last session; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was reasonably good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 21 May 2018

After treating questions from last meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of reports and proposals, as well as explicit and implicit structures. Examples were addressed, as well.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 28 May 2018
  • Week 4 Homework (p. 328, #6), due online as a Word document before 0059 on 28 May 2018
  • Course Project: Outline, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 28 May 2018

Students are also reminded that class will not meet on-site next week due to Memorial Day, but will instead meet online during the regularly scheduled office hour on Tuesday, 29 May 2018.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed eight students enrolled, unchanged from last session; five attended, assessed informally. Student participation was adequate. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 14 May 2018

After treating questions from last meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of process writing, research and documentation, and ethics. Source types (primary, secondary, and tertiary/critical) and assessment of sources received particular attention, with recourse made to documents emailed to students previously.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 21 May 2018
  • Week 3 Homework (p. 238, #9), due online as a Word document before 0059 on 21 May 2018
  • Course Project: Annotated References, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 21 May 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed eight students enrolled, a decline of two from last session; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 7 May 2018

After treating questions from last meeting, discussion turned to concerns of theses in technical writing before addressing document design concerns. The focus was on paratext, including declension of headings, typeface, and page layout.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 14 May 2018
  • Week 2 Homework (p. 178, #7), due online as a Word document before 0059 on 14 May 2018
  • Course Project: Topic Selection, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 14 May 2018

Students are urged to be at work doing background reading to inform the course project.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 111 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed ten students enrolled, unchanged from last session; five attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. The previous office hour was cancelled against instructor’s family needs.

Class Report: ENGL 216, 30 April 2018

For the first class meeting, discussion focused on introductions to the discipline, the course, the instructor, and the course project. Basic rhetorical concerns received attention, as did other underlying matters needed for student success in the class.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 7 May 2018
  • Week 1 Homework (p. 656, #9), due online as a Word document before 0059 on 7 May 2018

Students are urged to be at work selecting topics for the course project and doing background reading to inform the course project.

Class met slightly other than scheduled, at 1800 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus (instead of the assigned 111; class relocated against non-working air conditioning). The class roster listed ten students enrolled; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was reasonably good. Office hours have not yet occurred.

Reflective Comments for the March 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the January 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in SPCH 275 and ENGL 135 during the March 2018 session at that institution. After a brief outline of each course and statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

SPCH 275: Public Speaking

Students enrolled in SPCH 275 during the March 2018 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, including the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were presentations meant to offer practice in speech-giving and homework reflecting upon performance in the presentations. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are

20180300 SPCH 275 Grade Breakdown

  • Online Discussions
    • Two threads in each of Weeks 1-7, 15 points each
  • Homework Assignments
    • Week 1, 20 points
    • Week 2, 20 points
    • Week 3, 20 points
    • Week 4, 25 points
    • Week 5, 50 points
    • Week 6, 25 points
    • Week 7, 30 points
  • Weekly Presentations
    • Week 1, 25 points
    • Week 2, 35 points
    • Week 3, 50 points
    • Week 4, 100 points
    • Week 5, 50 points
    • Week 6, 100 points
  • Course Project
    • Weekly Work, Weeks 2-7, 15 points each
    • Final Presentation, 150 points

Unlike before, most assignments were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Wednesdays from 1800-2150 in Room 108 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 5
  • Average class score: 698.91/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 174.36
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 0
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1

Attendance was recorded with each class meeting. Despite that, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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ENGL 135: Advanced Composition

Students enrolled in ENGL 135 during the March session were also asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were homework meant to practice skills used in the workplace and in later stages of the course project. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are

20180300 ENGL 135 Grade Breakdown

    • Discussions
      • Weeks 1 and 7, 60 points each
      • Weeks 2-6, 30 points each
    • Homework
      • Information Literacy Module- 30 points
      • APA Assessment Activity Module- 30 points
    • Course Project
      • Topic Selection- 50 points
      • Source Summary- 100 points
      • Research Proposal- 50 points
      • Annotated Bibliography- 100 points
      • First Draft- 75 points
      • Second Draft- 80 points
      • Final Draft- 120 points
      • Reflective Postscript- 50 points
    • Participation- 45 points

As before, most assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Other assignments were generally assessed by rubrics of similar form, announced to students in advance of assignments being due and returned to students with comments once assessment was completed. Some few were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Saturdays from 0900-1250 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 13
  • Average class score: 597.97/1000 (F)
    • Standard deviation: 269.96/1000
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 2
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 5

Despite shifts in assessment that meant attendance was able to influence grading, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments (one submitted none of the major assignments and only a handful of the minor ones)–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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Impressions and Implications

There is always something to say about the teaching that goes on during a session. Some of it is held over from earlier work; I continue to go off on tangents, for one thing, although they seem to have been better integrated into the lectures and discussions this session than in many previous ones. And absenteeism continues to be a problem, as does non-submission; I do what I can to prompt showing up and turning work in, but I teach adults, and my hold over them is sharply limited.

Assigned topics–in this case, curricular reform–did not go over as well this time as in the past. The speech class accepted the topic, but not as much was done with it as might be hoped. I want to put that down to it being the first time I’ve taught the class at the present institution; being less familiar with it meant that I did not know what problems were likely to occur, so I could not correct for them. But I do not think I can ascribe all of the difficulty to that.

The composition class largely avoided the topic, many students noting to me that they did not feel competent to treat it. Given the non-traditional student body with which I work, I can understand the concern, although I argued to them that they, having lived outside academe and in the “real” world (problematic as that term is), are well-positioned to see what does and does not correspond to the demands imposed outside the ivory tower. Still, given that few if any attempted it, I feel I must adjust my approach.

That said, I will make at least one more attempt to use the specific topic; the ENGL 216: Technical Writing class I am assigned for the May 2018 term will be treating it, with my thinking being that the more advanced students will have more agency with the topic–and restricting them from the pallid institution-suggested topics will produce better, more engaged work. Further, if I am given another section of ENGL 135, it will return to a fall-back for me: humor. I can hope that future students will enjoy their work more, and that I will have an easier time reading, as a result. And, if I am given another section of the speech class, I will convert the weekly course project work to participation scores much as I have done with an assignment in ENGL 135.

All of this, of course, assumes that I will continue to have the opportunity to teach. I am aware of my contingent status and therefore appreciate that each offer of a course is a gift whose endurance I cannot take for granted. As such, I remain grateful for the opportunity to put to use those skills that years of study have developed in me and for the chance to help others cultivate their skills and themselves.

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Class Report: ENGL 135, 21 April 2018

For the final meeting of the session, class was given largely to completion of the reflective postscript. Student questions were entertained and comments made about work as appropriate.

Students are reminded that the final component of the Course Project is due before the end of day Saturday, 21 April 2018.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; one attended, assessed informally. Class participation was as could be expected for the circumstances. No students attended Monday office hours.