Reflective Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

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:

ENGL 112 Assignment Spread

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:

ENGL 112 Grade Spread

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):

ENGL 112 Rptd Absences

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.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 28 August 2019

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.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 21 August 2019

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.

Sample Assignment Response: Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Presentation

Typing Monkey GIF - Typing Monkey GIFs
Hopefully, it goes better.
Image: “Typing Monkey GIF” from Tenor.com

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…

I continue to appreciate support for drafting better teaching materials.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 14 August 2019

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.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 7 August 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of research, including the environments of writing and publication, before addressing upcoming assignments.

Class met as scheduled, if with some interruptions, 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, a decline of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 11 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Beginning Research (five posts or equivalent)
  • APA Quiz

Students are still urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 31 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to a brief review of the pulse surveys offered during the first three weeks of class. It proceeded thence to concerns of revision, corresponding to ongoing online discussions and to be applied to upcoming assignments, which also received attention.

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 23 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. One student attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 4 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Revising and Refining (five posts or equivalent)
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Sample Assignment Response: Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Essay

One of the assignments students in ENGL 112 are asked to do in the July 2019 session, following a course redesign, is a four- to five-page “persuasion” essay that builds on the previous rhetorical analysis to see if the students can do the kind of things they’ve seen done. Students are provided a brief list of topics to address and are allowed to select others with instructor permission. They are also asked to involve at least four reliable sources, of which two are expected to come from University-accessible holdings; all are expected to be cited, in-text and at the end of the text, in APA format, and the paper is expected to conform to APA layout and usage standards. As I continue to believe that students benefit from targeted models, I think it fit not only to point to an earlier example that would still be applicable, but to generate a new one.

May we all be as productive as Kermit.
Image from Giphy.com, used for commentary.

Per my previous practice, I began work by setting up a properly formatted document: letter-sized pages typed in left-aligned double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins; half-inch indentations; and cover page, titles, running heads, and page numbers as prescribed by APA. Because the essay is expected to be a researched one, I also made sure to set up a references page with appropriate alignment.

That much done, I remembered that I did not yet have a topic to treat. Fortunately, I’ve written about a fair number of things, many of which have gaps that needed filling; others led to different ideas yet. I recalled that I’ve often asked students to suggest changes to their curricula and that I’ve written on such things myself (witness here, among many others). Having taught many of the writing classes that DeVry offers, I am in a position to be able to speak to what its writing curriculum does well–and does less well. And that led me to a topic.

Having arrived at a topic, I ruminated upon it, and a thesis emerged from that rumination and my past work. I typed it into my document, highlighting it in green for my ease of seeing it, and I began to draft an introduction that would lead up to it. Given the need to contextualize the topic and thesis, I was also able to pull from one of the required outside sources–a primary source, in the event, so necessarily meeting the “reliable” criterion.

With a thesis and an introduction in place, I found myself in position to draft a conclusion, leading back out from the thesis to future implications. It does not normally happen thus for me; I usually move from my thesis to drafting the body of my essay, framing that body in and filling the frame in fits and starts as ideas come to me. But I had an idea for a way out of the paper in mind, and I usually have more trouble with endings than with any other part of my papers, so I took the chance to firm up my paper’s ending early on and give myself a place towards which to write as I did the rest of the drafting.

Knowing then where I would be going with my writing, I turned to the body of my essay, drafting an initial argumentative paragraph. I knew the first point to occur to me would not be the strongest one available to me, for reasons I made sure to note in the text. Accordingly, I determined to place it early in the body of the essay, making use in a short paper of the emphatic order typically prized in writing instruction (and which I recall having noted to my July 2019 session students as being good for such a circumstance). As it developed, though, the argumentative point took on additional strength; I left it in place in favor of mixed order, a variation of emphatic order I have discussed with students and often deploy in my other work.

I pivoted thence to develop another point of argument. I knew what I wanted to say in that point, having had some time to think about the argument, but I knew I needed to look for more source materials to allow me to strike a useful balance between situated and invented ethos. As such, I searched the University library holdings for information, and, finding my initial search gave me more to handle than I could, I limited myself to peer reviewed sources from 2010 onward. A few sources turned up, but, in the midst of reviewing them, another point of argument entirely came to mind, and another, and I worked on them in turn as they arose. Doing so sent me to other sources outside the University library’s holdings as it sent me to the original sources of the University’s holdings for accurate citation data, and I worked to incorporate a variety of sources of information in the hopes of better establishing my ethos.

At length, my argument made, I reviewed my work for clarity and cohesion. I then reviewed it again for style and orthography. The reviews done, I put the paper into an accessible form, which I offer here in the hopes that it will be of help for my students–and perhaps a few others: G. Elliott Sample Rhetorical Strategies Essay.

I can still use some support to draft better teaching materials.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 24 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of theses. It moved thence to consider rhetorical analysis before addressing upcoming assignments, notably the rhetorical analysis (of which a sample is available here).

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 23 students enrolled, a loss of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was somewhat subdued. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 28 July 2019:

  • Discussion: Analyzing Persuasive Messages (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical analysis essay, due next week. Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 17 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of genre, patterns of organization, and essay-building before looking at assignments.

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 25 students enrolled, a net loss of one since the last class meeting; ten attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 21 July 2019:

  • Profile Essay (a sample is here; please submit through Canvas as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file)
  • Discussion: Getting Started Writing (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check