Class Report: ENGL 112, 28 November 2018

Following the cancellation from last week, class resumed with consideration of earlier meetings’ events and the exercise from the online presentation that replaced the previous class meeting. It turned afterward to a review of formatting before plunging into discussion of upcoming assignments. Students were afforded time to work on their projects.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 106 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster showed 11 students enrolled, unchanged from previous weeks. Eight attended; student participation was adequate. An online office hour was held on Monday, 26 November 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that another office hour is scheduled for Monday, 3 December 2018, at 6pm Central Standard Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 9 December 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Beginning Research and Introduction to APA (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Proposal and Summary, due online as a Word document
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Sample Assignment Response: A Topic Proposal and Summary for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their fifth week: a topic proposal and source summary for a commentary paper. As previously, I hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ efforts and others’ to write better and help others to do the same.

If only it were so simple a choice…
Image from Giphy.com.

For the assignment (which aligns fairly neatly with the ENGL 135 Topic Selection assignment), students are asked to answer a series of prompts in advance of drafting an essay. The prompts–identify a topic and outline personal involvement in it, summarize two perspectives on it–are meant to help students identify a current, complex topic in which they have some personal investment and to refine their understanding of the topic and the ongoing conversation of which it is part before moving into writing a commentary-style essay on that topic. The University explicitly discourages topics “overly emotional or rooted in religious or moral subjects,” to which proscription my teaching traditionally adds political ideology, gun control, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana.

The first challenge in addressing such an assignment is to identify a field of inquiry. Experience teaches that students, particularly students in first-year writing classes, will try to treat too broad a topic and one for which they are not necessarily well-equipped–not because they are stupid, but because they believe they have to treat major philosophical and cultural concerns to do “real” work. The truth is that working on a narrow topic will yield better results than trying to grapple at a pass with questions that have been debated for millennia without resolution; it is more true in the short sessions at DeVry than at many other schools.

I decided to address the matter by falling back on the topic I seem to have been treating throughout the sample responses I’ve been developing for the present session: roleplaying games, specifically the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying game, with which I have ample experience, as I’ve attested. It is, admittedly, not a topic of serious heft, but it is one I am confident is little treated, which will help me produce an example for my students–both because it will help me to show them that they can move beyond simple reporting and that they can pursue topics relevant to their interests even when those interests seem to be relatively minor concerns.

With a general topic in mind, I set up my response document. As with the other planning materials I’ve developed during the session, I eschewed the template provided by the University in favor of addressing the prompts directly. I pulled up the most recent planning sheet–that for the Rhetorical Analysis from the third week of the session–and mimicked its formatting in the new document. I then transferred the prompts from the University’s materials into my own, formatting them for ease of reading. This included setting up hanging indentations for the sources the assignment needed summarized.

The document set up, I proceeded to address the prompts provided as I could from my own background knowledge and understanding. Those identifying the topic and my engagement with it were the easiest to address, being closes to me and longest established in my mind. (Too, since I was working as what amounts to an extension of previous work, I felt justified in borrowing from the earlier work I had done–something that I have had students ask after doing. It is a fairly common practice, although anything that is formally published will need to be cited and attested if it is used in another work.) Audience was also addressed fairly easily, as I have been working with a clear idea of whom I am addressing throughout the session.

The matter of the specific angle for me to treat was a more difficult one to address. There are many concerns attendant on roleplaying games, dating back at least to Michael Stackpole’s Pulling Report (I’ve noted addressing roleplaying games in my academic work before, and across a fair span of time, I believe.) While the ire of popular culture towards roleplaying games has largely cooled, it remains present, and those of us who were on the receiving end of that fervor remain wary of it. Too, games which concern themselves with emulations of cultures not necessarily those of their players always run into questions of appreciation versus appropriation–but it seemed that that issue beckoned for attention in the current project. It was therefore to that issue and angle that I attended; I will admit that my engagement with the material biases my angle and approach to it.

Consequently, I asserted a specific issue and angle to treat in my coming commentary essay, working toward what might well serve as a tentative thesis–namely, that the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game is more an issue of appreciation than appropriation, although there are certainly problems to be found in the manner in which it goes about incorporating materials into its narrative milieu. I knew, though, that my own opinion might well change based on research I would do, so I did not advance the idea as a formal thesis quite yet.

Instead, I went then to search the University library for materials regarding my prospective project. I first searched Academic Search Complete, pre-limiting my search to full-text peer-reviewed journal sources from 200 onward and searching for “cultural appropriation” in the hopes of finding a useful definition of the term. The search yielded 534 results, which was unworkable for the scope of the project and the time available to it, but I was fortunate that one of the early results was a philosophical piece–and such pieces often make much of asserting definitions before engaging with them. I pulled that source, taking its citation data and summary into my own document.

I then looked into the other term most germane to my treatment: cultural appreciation. A search of Academic Search Complete for the term with the same restrictions yielded 469 results; no stand-out among the early results was forthcoming, so I narrowed my search to “cultural appreciation definition.” Only 13 results returned, which was a small enough number to survey sources individually. One source was culled from that set of results, cited, and summarized into the document.

The content made ready, I reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Proposal and Summary. May it, like its predecessors, be of good service!

I could still use your support as I develop more materials for my students and others to use as they further their own understandings of the world.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 26 November 2018

Following up on the previous report, students were asked to analyze sample arguments and to submit portions of their early drafts of the full course project for peer review. The latter were to be submitted for review and instructor feedback, as well.

The course roster showed 22 students enrolled, a decline of one from last week; all participated in at least one online discussion during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 19 November 2018; one student attended.

Students are reminded that another office hour is scheduled for tonight, Monday, 26 November 2018, at 6pm Central Standard Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 2 December 2018:

  • Discussion Thread: Peer Review (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Second Draft (due as a Word document in APA format)

A Rumination on Some Past Informal Work

In working on one of the other projects I have going on at the moment, I had occasion to look back over some of my older work in it. (This webspace isn’t the only ongoing concern I have, to be sure.) Doing so occasioned the usual wincing at some of the much earlier writings, the rue that I had once thought some of the dreck I pushed out was worth pushing out. (It’s not as if I were being paid for the work and faced a deadline. And now I have to wonder about such being said about some of my other writing…) It also reminded me and prompted me to discuss some of what took me into the pursuit of a scholarly job in the first place; it’s something I can return to without worry at this point, which was a relief.

It came up on a search for “rumination.”
Image sourced from Psychology Today.

It’s quickly evident that such scholarly agenda as I have had has focused on medieval English literature and the practice of teaching English. More of the work I’ve ended up doing, though (and not all of which shows up on my CV), has been of what might be called a lighter nature. I’ve worked with fantasy literatures, chiefly Robin Hobb’s writings, as well as with RPG materials (of which I’ve discussed some in recent weeks in this webspace), and I have a healthy strain of taurascatological work under my belt. (I am aware that all work in the academic humanities can fall under that rubric. I’m not going to have that argument right now, though.) I’ve not always been ready to admit to it–and even now, when I am more or less out of academe and largely free to pursue such studies (amid the limitations imposed by my restricted institutional affiliation), I find that I talk about it in terms of admitting to the work, rather than celebrating it.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I do enjoy working with medieval materials. They’re neat, and there’s something about holding objects hundreds of years old that thrills. I do not regret doing the work on the materials themselves–at least, not more than I regret much of the experience of academe. But I do think that focusing on them ended up being to my detriment in terms of finding full-time academic work. I’ve noted elsewhere that I am but one of many, many medievalists; I am one of far fewer scholars of fantasy literature and RPGs. And I think that I would have been a “sexier” candidate working with less…formal materials than Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. And I think that I would have ended up showing more joy in my work had I allowed myself to focus more on the “lighter” work I tend to do anymore. I’d’ve gotten more enjoyment from following more jokes than I have, and I think it would have come out in the work, helping me both to do more of it (so I’d be more likely to get hired) and to do better at it (so I’d be more likely to get hired).

If academic work is a calling, I heard more than one, and I answered one of the quieter calls made to me.

Like what you see? Send some money my way!

Class Report: ENGL 112, 21 November 2018

Owing to tomorrow’s holiday, DeVry University opted to close all of its campuses as of 1800 CST today. My section of ENGL 112 normally begins at that time; it was concomitantly cancelled. A slide presentation was emailed to students and announced in the course’s Canvas site; an exercise embedded in it serves as the equivalent of attendance for the cancelled meeting.

Students are reminded that another office hour is scheduled for Monday, 26 November 2018, at 6pm Central Standard Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 2 December 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Revising & Refining and the Role of Truth in Advertising (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay, due online as a Word document

Sample Assignment Response: A Rhetorical Analysis for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (herehere, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their fourth week: the rhetorical analysis for which they (and I) planned last week. As previously, I hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ efforts–and others’.

No, it’s not the Illuminati. Just the rhetorical triangle, traditionally and simply conceived.
Image taken from http://www.ou.edu/englhale/triangle.html

For the assignment, students are asked to draft a rhetorical analysis of the advertisement they selected in the previous week, asserting whether or not the ad is likely to be effective at its presumed purpose for its presumed audience. The analysis should take the form of a brief (title page and three to four pages of text) thesis-driven essay, formatted according to APA standards and making minimal if any use of outside information other than the assessed ad–which need only be cited by way of providing its URL. It is a fairly standard assignment, calling for a fairly standard response, and one that should emerge easily from the work done in the previous week’s assignment.

To begin my own work, I opened the advertisement being assessed and my earlier planning sheet. I also set up a document for my response, formatting it on letter-sized sheets with double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman type. I then set up my title page and main text, inserting running heads and page numbers as appropriate. (How to do so has been covered during class time; it is also in video tutorials in the University’s online materials.) I hadn’t yet determined a title for the project, so that received attention before I moved further into the work.

Because the current project is an extension of last week’s work, or last week’s work was preparation for the current project, I felt justified in bringing the text over from the planning sheet to the main document wholesale. I had done a fair bit of work on it, and, as I told my students during class time, the more work done on the planning sheet, the less would (in theory) need to be done on the essay itself. I did strip out the headings from the planning sheet, as I do not think them necessary in so short a paper as the exercise calls for; explicit transitions and clear statements of ideas serve to guide readers through the document.

I did notice, though, that I had quite a few paragraphs beginning more similarly than I like to see. Several consecutive paragraphs started with “The ad,” and, while pattern-forming can help to unify a document and to establish argument, the flat beginnings threatened to come off as uninspired and pro forma–and if I am merely going through the motions with something in which I am invested, I cannot hope that readers will engage with it. Consequently, I adjusted my transition into one of the paragraphs, offering some variety in the hope of maintaining readerly interest.

As I made the change, I also noted places where I could connect my prose back more strongly and explicitly to my thesis. The paragraphs treating logos, ethos, and pathos in the advertisement could each stand to have an overt return to the thesis at their ends, so they received such. The third paragraph, describing the advertisement, also looked like it would accept an explicit motion towards the thesis; it received one, as well. (The offers of explicit return to the thesis also helped me make page length; I was a bit short of the full essay in the planning sheet, which is to be expected–and corrected before the full submission.)

Additionally, one or two comments about the desirability of the advertisement’s target audience seemed called for; I made them. Further, given the relatively specialized nature of what was being advertised, I felt it appropriate to offer more context for my discussion as a whole; I expanded my initial paragraph a bit to accommodate that contextualization, which I hope will make clearer what I am talking about.

The content made ready, I deleted my highlighted notes and reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Rhetorical Analysis November 2018. May it be of good service!

Help me to keep helping others; send some money my way.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 19 November 2018

Following up on the previous report, students were asked to consider presentations and work towards their annotated bibliographies. The latter were to be submitted for review and instructor feedback, as well.

The course roster showed 23 students enrolled, a decline of two from last week; all but one participated in at least one online discussion during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 12 November 2018; one student attended.

Students are reminded that another office hour is scheduled for tonight, Monday, 19 November 2018, at 6pm Central Standard Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 25 November 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: First Draft and Analyzing a Sample Argument (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: First Draft (due as a Word document in APA format)

Yet More about My Teaching

I recently made the note that I have never sat for a first-semester college composition class; owing to a particularly excellent high school English teacher (thank you, Mrs. Murray!) and my undergraduate school’s policy on AP classes and their equivalencies, I was exempted from that particular curricular requirement. There were certainly advantages to it; I was spared the expense of the course at the college level, for one, and, for another, I did not have to take the time to go through the class, but instead could focus my schedule more fully on what was then my major field of study.

Nope, never did have this part of the experience.
Image from Inside Higher Ed, here: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/03/11/importance-general-composition-courses-essay

As it happened, though, I did not attend to my major as closely as I ought to have done, and I ended up switching my course of study–to English, in the event. And while I moved directly into major coursework in that curriculum, I did, as a senior, have to round out my composition requirement (much to my annoyance, having already been successful in upper-division English classes), and doing so without the context provided by having sat for the earlier class made things less easy than they ought to have been. (I did still get an A in the class, though; I’d’ve been embarrassed had I not.)

Even as an undergraduate English major, I worked toward being at the front of a classroom; graduate work only suggested a different kind of classroom. But most of the teaching I have ended up doing has been in first-year composition classes; I’ve taught it at all but one of the colleges where I’ve taught, often in multiple sections each semester, such that I’ve lost track of how many individual iterations of the course I’ve taught. And throughout doing so, I’ve struggled with understanding how students can act toward it as they do; I’ve never been in the situation, and I was not a normal student until graduate school in any event, so my frame of reference is small, indeed.

My practice of writing the assignments I ask my students to write has been an attempt to help me better understand those I teach by putting myself into situations not unlike what they face–and it seems to be a better match with non-traditional students than with the more “normal” first-year college student. Like most of the non-traditional students, I write what I write amid working at one or more other jobs; I do not have the “typical” student’s ability to focus wholly on my coursework at this point. (To be fair, I was not as good about it when I did have that ability as I ought to have been–and I was not as good about how I exercised that lack as I ought to have been, either.) Like many of them, it’s been a while since I was a student in a traditional classroom setting, as well. But there is still the divide in that I have remained grounded in the field of study, while most or them have never had a solid grounding or have lost what they did have. Thus, while I mean to continue my practice of drafting and offering examples, I know they are only useful to a particular point.

Having been assigned once again to teach first-semester composition, I have found myself in mind again of my own lack of common collegiate experience. (I am in mind once again, after some time, of Timothy Carens and the College English piece “Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television.” I have to wonder how valid the assertions remain.) I am certain that my teaching has suffered because I did not face the challenges that my students do; I have not been as sympathetic in the past as I perhaps ought to have been, and it has shown in the comments that students have left me. Though I have improved, I know there is still work for me to do–and that there are things I am not likely ever to get, really, because I am not now and have not been where they are whom I teach. And that continues to sadden me.

I still don’t make much from teaching. I could still use your support.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 14 November 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and earlier, discussion turned to concerns of paragraph and essay structures before moving into more explicit address of upcoming work on rhetorical analyses. Formatting and presentation received some attention, as well, and students were offered time to complete their assignments.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 106 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster showed 11 students enrolled, unchanged from last week. Nine attended; student participation was reasonably good. An online office hour was held on Monday, 12 November 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that another office hour is scheduled for Monday, 19 November 2018, at 6pm Central Standard Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 25 November 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Analyzing Persuasive Messages and Writing with Style (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Rhetorical Analysis Planning Sheet, due online as a Word document
  • Week 3 Pulse Check (due online)

Sample Assignment Response: A Rhetorical Analysis Planning Sheet for DeVry University’s ENGL 112

To continue on from earlier work (here and here), I will follow further the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition. The second paper they are asked to write is a rhetorical analysis of a classroom-appropriate* advertisement; as with the earlier profile, they are asked to precede their work on the main paper with a planning sheet. Since they are asked to do it, I will be doing it, as well, in the continued hopes that I can help my students and others by doing so.

It’ll be about this.
Image taken from https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/news/2018/11/6/those-who-serve/.

The first task was to select an advertisement to review. Given the sheer number of such available, even within the rubric of “classroom appropriate,” it was not an easy thing, at least at first. Faced with the over-abundance of examples, and feeling that I ought to make the exercise work for me as well as for my students, I focused my attention on my own interests and prior efforts for the class. (Following up on earlier course materials helps in many cases.) In terms of Google image searches to run, I went from “advertisement” to “classroom appropriate advertisement” to “advertisement Legend of the Five Rings.” Said search yielded a plethora of results, so I applied my existing knowledge to winnow the results down to those reflecting the current holder of the intellectual property of the game, Fantasy Flight Games. And, since I primarily play the role-playing game, I focused on that, selecting the promotional material for a specific supplement.

With the advertisement selected, I moved on to setting up the document for my response. As before, I eschewed the University-provided template, setting up a document on letter-sized paper with one-inch margins and single-spaced 12-point Times New Roman type. (It is not APA standard, I know, but the document is not of the sort as demands it. Rather, it follows the sample profile plan I did earlier.) I also stubbed out sections and prompts from the assignment documentation. Directions for completion were highlighted to attract attention and to serve as a reminder for later deletion. The called-for URL linking to the advertisement was easily inserted early on; I did so to be sure it got done.

I began then to address the other prompts in the document. Context for the advertisement and a description of it received attention, followed by specific work on the advertisement’s deployment of logos, ethos, and pathos. Along the way, I checked APA style guidelines to be sure I was presenting materials in a way that would oblige minimal adjustment later.

I had needed to do the descriptive work because I had needed it in place to come up with the thesis for which the later analysis calls. Once I had that work done, I was able to address the issue of whether or not the advertisement would likely succeed with its presumed purpose and audience, and I needed that information to draft the introduction and conclusion for which the current exercise called. Having it, I did so.

The content made ready, I deleted my highlighted notes and reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Rhetorical Analysis Planning Sheet November 2018. May my readers use it in good health!

*As might be imagined by those who know me, either in person or from reading what I write, I have…issues with such a term. Since I’ve already treated the matter, I’ll not belabor the point at this time.

I hope I can count on you helping to keep this kind of thing going.