To conclude a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the July 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition during the November 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions are discussed.
Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.
The section met wholly online, so no attendance was assessed. Online office hours were generally held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:
End-of-term enrollment: 25
Average class score: 687.88/1000 (D)
Standard deviation: 289.871
Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 8
Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:
As I have intimated, I do not intend to return to teaching, whether at DeVry or at another institution. I had been having doubts even prior to the session about whether I was doing any good continuing to teach and continuing to teach in the specific circumstances at the institution, though I continued to accept pay for doing so, so I did not voice those doubts quite as openly as I might otherwise have done. I understand my complicity in structures and their continuation well enough to know that I would invite more justified critique by offering my own. Some events early in the session, both in and outside the class, affirmed those doubts, and, as I compose this final report about my teaching, I know I have made the correct decision in withdrawing from the profession.
I have a number of regrets about my career in the classroom. I have had what is perhaps an unfortunate amount of time to consider those regrets, to mull over what I ought to have done better. Some things did improve in time. For others, the opposite was true; certainly, I have lost much of the joy in the work that I once felt. I have also lost the grinding necessity of continuing; I am in a much more stable place, emotionally and financially, than I have been in previous sessions. Having that stability, being able to stand firmly for a bit and take a look at my circumstances and situation, has let me see what others have likely realized for some time. Having stable footing is letting me step away–and it is time, indeed, for me to do so.
The final assignment required of students in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 instructional session at DeVry University is a career connection analysis. For it, students are asked to compose a somewhat informal paper (formatted in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins on letter-sized paper, but not requiring formal citation or most other APA apparatus) of some 500 words in length that addresses one of two prompts (quoted from University materials here):
Discuss how the skills of writing, researching, presenting, working in teams, and using technological tools help you in your current role in the workplace. Which of these skills do you find most important right now? Which skills do you think will be important to you in helping you achieve future goals?
Look up an occupation you are interested in pursuing after you graduate from DeVry. To find information on occupations, you can visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/. Search for a career you are interested in, such as software developer. Then, click on the “What They Do” tab. Compare the duties of that occupation to what you learned in this class. Which skills that you learned in this class will be most useful to you in your chosen career?
Being well past my own graduation, I cannot address the second prompt directly as given. I can, however, address the first. As such, in the interest of posting an example for my students’ use, I set up a Word document with the requisite formatting and proceeded to draft a response to the prompt. To do so, I divided the task into several short, informal sections (i.e., I stubbed out keywords to guide my drafting, but I did not put in headings, as such): my current workplace role; uses of writing, researching, presenting, working in teams, and employing technological tools; most important skills; and future-goals-related skills.
As I began drafting, I found that the first “section” occasioned only a little bit of attention; it was enough to note the position and its basic duties before moving into the details of composition-class skills I use. The rest, though, seemed to fall into place relatively easily; having taught college-level writing since 2006, I have had time to think about how the skills such classes trade in apply to the working world outside. Since leaving off the search for full-time academic work (note here, here, and elsewhere in this webspace), I have had more occasion to think about how what I have learned can continue to serve me outside the enterprise I had sought to enter. Compiling half a thousand words on the subject took little doing in light of such thinking.
Having composed the document, I looked over it for ease of reading, hoping to keep it in late high school or early college, per Flesch-Kincaid grade levels. I also looked it over for adherence to usage standards; even an informal document benefits from easy reading. That done, I rendered the document such that it can be opened by multiple operating systems, which I offer here in the reiterated hopes that it will be of use: G. Elliott Sample Career Connection Analysis.
Yet another assignment required of students in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 instructional session at DeVry University is a presentation deriving from the earlier Persuasive Writing and Counterargument Case Study that distills and re-presents the materials from the written document in more interactive form. The assignment asks for seven to ten slides and ten to twelve minutes of audio, which precludes giving a straight reading of the paper. (Typically, a five-page paper will be a ten-minute read–and not all of the papers will be the full five pages.) Slides to introduce the presentation and to provide references are obligatory; slides to present content will vary based on the needs of the presentation.
I’ll note here that I make liberal use of previously prepared materials in this discussion, as the assignment and its preparation follow general models I’ve already established, here and here.
As I had with previous exercises of this sort, I opened the paper I would be remaking for presentation, printing out a copy (because I still work on some things better physically than on a screen) and conducting a reverse outline of it to highlight what ideas I treat and in what proportions. Doing so, I found that I had overlooked some typographical errors in the piece when I had proofread it (annoyingly enough, but correcting them is an effort for another situation); I also found that I had eight “sections” in the paper. Taking them with the requested introductory and references components would yield ten slides (and the paper from which the presentation emerges only deploys four references, so one slide for citations would likely be enough).
With the basic organization of the presentation taking shape, I once again opened the PowerPoint template I have prepared against use for this webspace and saved it as a working document for ease of finding it again at need. (I should emphasize here the utility of saving self-generated templates; it makes much easier later on if there is going to be continuation of a project.) After I had, I stubbed out the slides I expected to need, leaving myself an additional blank one ready to use at need. I also set up the overall introduction on the title slide, as well as inserting the references list where it needed to go. (Again, I do that early so as to prevent forgetting to do it later.)
Having set up my basic slideshow, I knew I would need to introduce explanatory images; as I’ve noted elsewhere, such media as students are asked to produce for the assignment rely on graphics for their effect, but merely decorative pieces distract and annoy. Fortunately, an early slide appeared to admit of some illustration for context, as did at least one of the more argumentative slides later on in the presentation. I pulled down images for those slides, putting them into place and citing them both at their inclusion and in the references slide. It did introduce more material into the last, not enough to prompt an additional slide, but enough to occasion reformatting. As with earlier presentations, however, the fact that the references slide could be examined in isolation allowed me to feel comfortable with the changes.
Figures in place, I began to put text into the slides. A commonplace of presentations is that the text on the slides is not a script but a guide for the audience and the presenter; it is neither necessary nor advisable that the presenter read straight from slides (save for quotations). Instead, the text on the slide should help orient both presenter and audience to the information being delivered verbally. Consequently, while I did find myself once again making some notes that came out as complete sentences, I worked to avoid such in stubbing out text on my slides, and I produced versions of my earlier writing of much less formality, given the demands of the medium.
Text laid out, the time came to insert audio into the presentation. Following my previous practice, I worked slide by slide, recording short stretches of audio through the embedded recorder in PowerPoint. (The convenience of having such is part of what keeps me using the program.) I also once again made sure to save after each slide, still having no desire to suffer data loss if it can be avoided. And, following previous practice, I made sure to keep my audio cues in the same place on each slide, the consistency serving to make my slides easier to navigate.
Getting that done, I gave the presentation a final review to check it against assignment requirements (and, hopefully, to eliminate any typographical errors in the current version). Afterwards, I put it where my students and others can see it, where I hope it will be of some help–here: G. Elliott Sample Presentation. As noted, it is a PowerPoint, so it requires such a program to view it.
Another assignment required of students in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 instructional session at DeVry University is a short paper that explicates one argument and offers a refutation of that same piece; the paper will form the basis of a graded presentation later in the session. Students are asked by the University to select “a scholarly article from a reliable source that relays a strong position on a debatable topic” for treatment. A further refinement specific to the class advises students that a set of topics will not be acceptable for treatment (i.e., papers treating them will be refused or awarded failing grades):
Legalization of Marijuana
The paper is to be some four to five pages, or 1,300 to 1,625 words, exclusive of title and references pages, formatted and copy-edited to align to APA standards. It is also to address a University-provided series of questions that presents a serviceable outline for a short paper; in brief, they ask for an introduction to the selected article, a summary of the selected article, a short rhetorical analysis of the same, presentation of one or more counterarguments, and an explication of the writer’s own position on the selected topic (with the tacit acknowledgement that the position may well have changed in the course of doing the reading and drafting for the paper).
In preparing an example of such a paper for student use–whether my own or others’ who may happen across such things–I began by selecting a topic to consider. Most of those occupying current news headlines have not received formal scholarly study such as would be printed in academic journals, so, for me, recourse to my own more scholarly interests seemed to be in order. Much of my work focuses how the medieval is mis/used by later periods (i.e., medievalism, as distinct from medieval studies), so I figured to look at some of the ongoing scholarly arguments in that area. Knowing that the piece to be written is fairly brief, I figured that more involved scholarly treatments would not be ideal for me to select, so I thought to turn to The Explicator, which focuses on presenting shorter pieces of literary explication.
Neither the University library nor my local library had access to The Explicator, however, so I expanded out from the specific journal to the Academic Search Complete database that both have, using my local library (which I find easier to access) and entering the term “medievalism” as a general search parameter. The search returned a total of 555 hits, so I moved to narrow my search parameters. First came restricting results to peer-reviewed full-text articles, which trimmed the results down to 209. Next, I restricted results to the previous ten years–2009 to 2019; 107 results remained. I did notice, though, that the database offered another search limiter, restricting to academic journals only; I selected it, narrowing my search results to 60 sources–a much more manageable number than the original set of results.
Skimming the 60 results, I found a couple of articles that appeared to directly address medievalist texts with which I have had some engagement. Both were longer, perhaps, than I had originally intended to treat for the present project, but my familiarity with the subject matter of both suggested that they would be relatively quick reads for me. I looked at their references lists to see what lines of argument they would be engaging, and one made more use of secondary and critical materials with which I am familiar than the other; I chose that article, printing it out for my own ease of reading and notation.
Having pulled down the article, I did as I had done with the earlier current event assignment, setting up a Word document in which to draft my sample and inserting the article’s APA-style citation into it immediately so as not to forget to do so later. Then I read the article, making marginal notes (and benefiting from wide margins on my printed copy) as I did.
After reading the article, I stubbed out a prospective paper structure in my set-up Word document, following the general structure lined out by the University. With that structure in place, I began working towards a thesis statement, knowing that a fair bit of the material I would compose in the process of arriving at that thesis would need to be discarded as I worked on a fuller draft of the sample assignment. It does not pay to get too attached to words amid drafting; they are supposed to change in revision.
When I arrived at a working thesis, I followed my common composition practice of copying it, pasting it to the end of my working text, and highlighting it in green–something I do to help keep myself on target while reminding myself that I need to delete it later. For me, it’s like scaffolding when building; it’s needed to get the building up, but once the building’s up, it needs to be taken down. Once that was done, I started drafting, working backwards from the thesis to flesh out the introduction and then moving forward through the paper.
A couple notes about that drafting need making. For one, I did not work linearly through the draft. I rarely, if ever, do so when I am composing with a keyboard. Instead, I stub out bits to ease transitions into parts of my papers, and I halt work on one part when I have an idea about another part. I am usually able to get back into my own head when I read what I have written, but I lose track of ideas easily if I do not write them down, so I spend a fair bit of time jumping back and forth as I put words on the page, working to smooth them together as I go and in revision. I suppose that I make some small, repetitive use of what Asimov discusses in “The Eureka Phenomenon,” namely letting my subconscious mind address issues while I attend elsewhere.
For another, I did not have the luxury of sitting down to compose in the same place where I have my standing research apparatus. Over years of study, I’ve put together a workable library of scholarly texts, most of which are not open-access, and all of which have my marginalia throughout; even where the texts are now in the public domain, my annotations are not, and I use my annotations a fair bit. Consequently, as I drafted, there were several points at which I noted that reference to other sources would be useful. Following my long-standing practice, I made in-text notes about them, highlighting the notes in teal so that they would attract my attention for fleshing out and removal.
When I had fleshed out a draft, I saved it and sent it where I could supply the references that were yet missing. Once I had filled those gaps in the paper and expanded somewhat, I reviewed my draft for ease of reading; once again, considering the needs of the audience for which I write it, I strove to peg its reading level late in high school, perhaps early in college. Finding some success in that, and having proofread for adherence to APA usage conventions as I did so (again, with the note about the problems in doing it so close to having done the writing), I rendered the paper into a form accessible to readers. I present it here, hoping that it, and my efforts more generally, will continue to be of some value: G. Elliott Sample Case Study.
I have been offered and have signed a contract to teach a class at DeVry University for the November 2019 instructional session, a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition. It is wholly online, with the session spanning 28 October 2019 to 5 January 2020; consequently, instruction will be almost wholly asynchronous, though I will hold a regular office hour, likely on Wednesday evening, given other scheduling concerns I have at the moment.
The redesign I mentioned previously seems still to be in place, but they seem to tend to less grading than I recall from earlier experiences teaching ENGL 135. I will have to generate new examples, of course, but I need to be doing more writing, anyway, and students continue to benefit from having the models to follow. Given broader events, I am not sure how I can produce ethically sound examples that will still do what I need them to do; I am not the master of my own curriculum, here, but am obliged to follow a prescribed sequence once again. I knew that going in, though; my comments from more than a year ago still seem to hold.
For all the problems that are in place with the kind of teaching I will be doing, I am still glad to have the opportunity to do so once again. Though I presently need the funding less than I have in the past–the regular job I work treats me pretty well in that regard and in several others–it is still welcome. More welcome is the chance to once again put to work the skills I spent so long developing; I hope they have not atrophied such that they will no longer serve me or the students enrolled in my class.
Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the May 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 112: Composition during the July 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.
Students enrolled in ENGL 112 during the July 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. While there was some overlap with previous iterations of the course in terms of the assignments requested, there was not congruity; the later assignments differed from previous practice. Three papers (a profile, a rhetorical analysis, and a “persuasive” paper) and a presentation deriving from the final paper accounted for the majority of the grade; discussion activities accounted for more than a third, and a quiz over APA guidelines occupied the remainder, as presented in the figure below:
Point values sum to 1,000.
Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.
The section met in a hybrid on-live session on Wednesdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:
End-of-term enrollment: 18
Average class score: 762.222/1000 (C)
Standard deviation: 158.91
Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 5
Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1
Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:
Since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to assess attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):
This session has been one of the better ones I’ve had in the past few years. Although live attendance could have been better, the students who did attend were more engaged than many I have had in my classrooms since leaving New York City, and student engagement in discussion threads was quite robust. I think it directly ties to the quality of the work I received from students in the class; many of the papers and presentations I got were good ones, if perhaps not the most adventurous. (I note that many students took a “safe” route in their final two major assignments, but with as many as were in their first session at DeVry, if not in college, generally, I cannot be justly annoyed at it.) It is the kind of thing I continue to hope to see when I take on a new set of students, and I am particularly happy to have gotten it this time around.
The thing is, the fact of having good students does not do much to help me further develop my skills as a teacher. Working with good students is easy; they do most of the work, needing only limited guidance. In the kind of lock-step curriculum in place at DeVry, there is not the flexibility to challenge further those students who show themselves able to do more, and while I have worked to reward those who have done that more, there is only so much I can do within the constraints within which I must operate to keep working. The same offers have been and will continue to be open to any students who seek to avail themselves thereof, but I am still not sure how to get more students to take me up on them. It is something I clearly need to continue to work on.
As ever, I am glad to have had another opportunity to put to work those skills I spent years developing. I am less happy that the September 2019 session does not have me teaching–but I look forward to future sessions that will.
For the final meeting of the session, discussion opened by noting the availability of evaluations and the looming end of the session (31 August 2019). It moved thence to treat questions from the previous class meeting and earlier before looking at others’ presentations to offer critique and addressing final assignment concerns.
Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, a decline of one since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.
Students are reminded that the the rhetorical strategies presentation, of which a sample is available here, is due before the end of day Saturday, 31 August 2019.
Grading will be finalized shortly after the session ends, with reflective comments to follow after.
After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion remarked upon student surveys being available. It then turned to concerns of presentation, in anticipation of the final assignment for the course.
Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, a decline of two since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.
Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 25 August 2019:
Discussion: Presentation Experiences (five posts or equivalent)
Discussion: Presentation Peer Review (five posts or equivalent)
Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample is available here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.
Another of the assignments students in ENGL 112 are asked to do in the July 2019 session, following a course redesign, is a “persuasive” presentation that derives from the earlier “persuasive” essay. The presentation should be five to seven minutes in length, containing five to seven slides (possibly more, if the references list is particularly long), and should provide a summary and breakdown of the earlier essay. Following previous practice, I propose to provide a more targeted one for the current session–the more so because the assignment is new to my experience of the present course (though I have examples relevant to other courses on hand).
To draft the presentation, I knew I would need to work from the materials I have previously developed, so I opened my saved copy of the earlier essay. That ready to hand, I did a reverse outline of it, noting how much space I allocated to which components of the paper (excluding cover page and references list, which take a prescribed length and “as long as they need,” respectively). Doing so showed me with an introduction, three points that take up approximately 206 words each, a final point that takes close to 400 words to develop, and a conclusion, plus references. That leaves me seven slides’ worth of material, possibly eight due to the length of my references list. Knowing I need to observe length guidelines and that the introduction slide cannot be the same as the introduction of the paper (the slide needs to reflect the cover page, with an overview slide that glosses the introduction to the paper), I knew I could not simply bring over the points as presented.
With two slides at the beginning and at least one at the end already reserved, I knew I had two or three slides to make my points. Normally, this would mean I would make two or three points only, out of the four available; generally, one slide takes one point. From my outline, though, I knew I had one point that outweighed the rest, and by a large margin. I figured that that point would get a slide of its own, reflecting its importance. The other three could be glossed together, perhaps in one slide, compressing them to effect. I would be able to touch on all of my points while emphasizing the importance of the most pertinent, while still allowing myself room to expand if I needed it.
A rough plan in place to put together the presentation, I opened a PowerPoint template I’ve long had for use in this webspace; it’s colored and formatted such that it lines up with the materials I present here, coming off as of a piece with them and helping me to present my work in a unified manner that increases my perceived professionalism, thus ethos. I saved it as my working project so that I could find it again at need and began to stub out the slides I knew I would need. Some adjustments needed making to keep my formatting consistent, which happens; one exception was the References list, which I allowed to auto-format in the interest of compressing the information. The slide can be looked at in isolation and at larger magnification, if needed, so its legibility amid the presentation is less of an issue than it might otherwise be.
Presentations rely on graphics to make their point, and I had not generated graphics in drafting the essay from which the presentation derives. I was obliged, then, to do so, rather than to use decorative graphics such as the GIF at the top of this blog entry; presentation graphics need to be informative rather than entertaining. I tend to use Excel to do so, finding the program useful for converting numbers to figures and setting them up appropriately. As I developed each graphic, I inserted it into the appropriate slide; the graphics take precedence over any text, so I placed them with the intent to insert text around them. I also inserted text-box captions, as appropriate. Too, I made sure to save my work with each adjustment; I’ve lost too many projects not to do so.
With the graphics in place, I inserted the text I wanted to have present. Reading straight from slides is far from ideal; the text on slides should serve as a set of guideposts for speaker and audience, rather than as a script. I placed the text with that principle in mind, moving swiftly to bullet out my ideas. Owing to my background, I did draft complete sentences for my text, but that need not always be the case, as long as what is presented conforms to the usage standards expected by an audience working in the field the presentation treats.
The text in place, it came time to record audio for the presentation. Moving slide by slide, I recorded short audio pieces to embed in each slide, saving after doing each; again, I’ve lost projects, and I have no desire to repeat the experience. I did not read straight from my preceding paper, though I had it ready for review; instead, I extemporized from each of the sections I had identified in the reverse outline, making sure to note my sources of support in my narration (in addition to where they appear in the presentation’s text already). Because I want my audience to engage with the presentation, rather than passively receive it, I made sure the audio does not automatically play; I placed audio icons consistently in the slides to ease access.
All that done, I reviewed my work, making adjustments I saw as needed to bring the presentation in line with stated requirements as nearly as I could determine. With that done, I put the presentation–which I hope is helpful–where my students and others can get it: G. Elliott Sample Presentation July 2019. It is a PowerPoint file, so it has to be opened with that program or a similar one…
Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion returned to concerns of citation, which had been brushed against during the previous week’s meeting. It then treated some common concerns of usage noted from student papers and suggested by students during the meeting.
Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 21 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; eight attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.
Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 18 August 2019:
Discussion: Integrating Research in APA Style (five posts or equivalent)
Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Essay (in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format, please)
Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample will be made available for student reference soon.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.