ENG-W 210: Fake News & Democracy in the Digital Age (Literacy & Public Life)

“If you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889)

What does an educated person need to know about information and news, opinion and fact in the digital age? This is the guiding question that will lead our exploration of so-called “fake news,” disinformation, misinformation, and other forms of problematic information this term. As we are often reminded, we now inhabit an increasingly complex and confusing hyper-fast media landscape, where traditional forms of journalism and reporting have been radically reshaped and even supplanted by emerging forms of digital media. This course will give you the tools to engage intelligently in the major issues of our time; to analyze media of all kinds; to parse out the subtle distinctions between various kinds of problematic information; and to find credible, carefully-researched, and accurate journalism, news, and opinion on a variety of topics.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you

  • Develop a broad sense of literacy, which in this course means the capacity to think, read, and write about complex ideas and their historical, socio-cultural, and political dimensions;
  • Apply your developing literacy to public life and what it means to be an engaged and well-informed citizen of a democracy;
  • Speak and write intelligently and confidently about the historical, cultural, economic, and political development of “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, satire, “culture jamming,” and other forms of problematic information;
  • Develop and support a compelling argument concerning fake news and problematic information as an idea in your own experience and research;
  • Analyze media artifacts in order to understand how they “work”;
  • Develop a basic understanding of how technology (and especially digital media) have changed how people get news, share ideas, and learn about the world and the social and cultural impact thereof;
  • Recognize and understand the multidisciplinary nature of a concept like “fake news” and its connection to major questions in epistemology (i.e., the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and various theories about how humans can know, where our opinions come from, how we learn, etc.);
  • Read and understand challenging academic texts such as scholarly articles and monographs; and
  • Learn how to parse out the often subtle distinctions between various kinds of problematic information and where/how to find credible, carefully-researched, and accurate news and information of all kinds.

Click here for the Course Syllabus; check back soon for course materials, handouts, projects, a full list of course readings/resources, and student work.

***

Web Resources and Credible Journalism

In this space, you will find links to some of my favorite web resources for news, opinion, and research. Feel free to add your own materials to this space and share with the rest of us.

Truth Decay (Rand Corporation)

More than a catchy title, this comprehensive report examines the trends that fuel the American public’s growing distrust of facts, science, and traditional knowledge institutions: “an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information” (from the website).

1A  

1A is a terrific news and information podcast from NPR. Perhaps my favorite show is the weekly “Friday News Roundup”: a 90-minute show that brings together some of the country’s top journalists, scholars, activists, politicians, and community leaders to discuss the biggest stories of the week (includes coverage of national and world politics).

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources 

This is the Google doc that started it all: Dr. Melissa Zimdar’s massive list of popular “fake news” sites and helpful compendium of tips to avoid being duped.

ProPublica 

Independent, non-profit news source that produces some of the most trustworthy reporting anywhere. From their website: ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.

Frontline (PBS.org)

Frontline produces award-winning investigative journalism and documentary films.

Fake News Course Reading List 

This Medium post, by a University of Southern California writing professor, is a useful list of readings on all-things “fake news.” Also includes links to other helpful resources around the web.

Data & Society

From the website: The issues that Data & Society seeks to address are complex. The same innovative technologies and sociotechnical practices that are reconfiguring society – enabling novel modes of interaction, new opportunities for knowledge, and disruptive business paradigms – can be abused to invade people’s privacy, provide new tools of discrimination, and harm individuals and communities.

NYT’s The Daily

I really like this little podcast. Every weekday morning around 5:30am the news “drops” on my smartphone in a nice, tidy 20-25 minute package. I usually listen while I’m getting ready for school.

Snopes.com

If you haven’t heard of Snopes, you haven’t been paying attention. Dating back to the early days of the web, Snopes.com is the brainchild and labor of love of David Mikkelson, a folklorist, new media guru, and urban legend expert. It is considered by many to be the best “debunking” site for urban legends and fake news on the Internet today. Snopes.com is as much an invaluable resource as it is a really fun read.

ENG-G 301: History of the English Language

When I was first asked to teach this course, it was because of student need: a student in another degree program was getting ready to graduate and s/he needed a course in linguistics to complete the program’s degree requirements. I was happy to oblige, particularly since researching and developing this course gave me the opportunity to reach back to the early days of my graduate training. Then, as a young MA student, I briefly thought that I would perhaps pursue a career in sociolinguistics. Studying under Tom Nunnally, a linguist and scholar of Southern speech at Auburn University, I took several seminars in both the history of the English language and linguistic diversity in the Southeastern US; I even presented a research paper at SECOL at the University of Alabama—the first conference presentation of my career.

So I was excited to teach and develop this course, though I knew it would need to perform several crucial pedagogical functions: students would likely have never taken a course in linguistics or language history prior to this one, even among the English majors, so I decided to spend the first several weeks of the semester acclimating students to the basic tools and concepts of language study. I also wanted to give students an overall framework for the course that would make sense to virtually any second- or third-year college student; I chose to arrange the bulk of the rest of the term as a more or less strict chronology of the history of the English language, from Old English to the present day. Students also developed teaching demonstrations in pairs that allowed them to explore some specific concept in linguistics or in the history of English.

Finally, it was important to me that students have the tools and the space to reflect on how language and power are inextricably connected in practical ways in society, especially as it relates to the ongoing war(s) over Standard American English (SAE) and various “English-only” movements in US culture. To this end, and using a wide variety of exercises and multi-modal texts (including podcasts, film, and an essay by the late David Foster Wallace on language, power, and the politics of dictionary-making), we examined linguistic variation in contemporary English speech patterns via the documentary film Do I Sound Gay? (Dir. Thorpe, 2014), Rosina Lippi-Green’s analysis of linguistic prejudice in animated Disney feature films, and an historical overview of the so-called “Ebonics” debates from the 1990s over students’ rights to use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the classroom.

Learning Outcomes

  • Develop an understanding of the history of the English language, from its origins to the digital age, and explore its spread over the globe in the 20th century;
  • Learn the basic concepts of structural linguistics;
  • Explore an area of linguistics scholarship in more detail;
  • Develop active reading and study skills that transfer to other college-level courses.
  • Explore the sub-field of sociolinguistics and linguistic/dialectical variation;
  • Develop an understanding of how language and linguistic variation (i.e., differences in how we speak) can be mapped onto power-relations among people and groups of people throughout history and today.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

The highest possible score in each category is a 5.00 = “Strongly Agree”; the lowest possible score is 1.00 = “Strongly Disagree.”

ENG-G 301: History of the English Language Spring

2017 (33411)

1.)    The course was well organized. 3.80
2.)    The course objectives were clear to the students. 4.00
3.)    There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 4.20
4.)    The instructor explained the subject clearly. 4.50
5.)    The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 4.90
6.)    The instructor made effective use of class time. 3.70
7.)      The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 4.10
8.)      The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 4.20
9.)      In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 4.20
10.)   The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 3.80
11.)   The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 3.60
12.)   The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.40
13.)   Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 4.10
14.)   The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 4.20
15.)   The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 3.80
16.)   The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 4.00
17.)   The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 4.20
18.)   The instructor stimulated my thinking. 4.00
19.)   The instructor stimulated class discussion. 4.30
20.)   The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.30
21.)   Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 4.10
22.)   Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 3.90

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2017

“I liked the content matter and the instructor’s enthusiasm about the subject. The instructor was always encouraging of class discussion and was incredibly knowledgeable.”

“The syllabus was out of sync with what was taught for most of the semester.”

“I learned about new ways to conceive of language and English.”

“I liked the origin of the English language the most.”

“I liked the amount of reading the least.”

“The most valuable thing I learned was how to break down large chunks of reading much easier.”

“The ideas were stimulating.”

“I learned the power of the English language.”

“A lot of the info was interesting.”

“I really loved the modern subjects that we covered in this class. I understand the need to begin with OE [Old English], but most of the discussion was about older English.”

“I thought pretty much everything we covered was the most valuable, because language builds upon itself and it was all new content for me.”

“The course has a lot of information that is very useful for education majors and English majors, and Dr. Cook delivers a knowledgeable and charismatic account of that information.”

“The readings are very dense when combined with a full-time schedule of all 300-level classes, it is nearly overwhelming.”

“The information helped pass my content test for education certification.

“[What I liked most about the course and/or the instructor was] how open-ended the class was.”

***

Click here for the course syllabus.

Research Statement (2012-2017)

The Indiana University Kokomo School of Humanities and Social Sciences Promotion and Tenure Criteria state the following guidelines concerning research for promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor if an evaluation of satisfactory is being sought in the category of research. Minimum accepted standards in scholarship for faculty producing scholarly works for purposes of Tenure and Promotion are:

Having at least two, but typically three, refereed publications (can be in press) since the last appointment in rank at IU Kokomo; and, other evidence of or dedication to research as noted in section 3.1.2 of the Department of Humanities Annual Evaluation and Promotion and Tenure Guidelines.

My diverse research interests and background in rhetoric and composition studies have given me the tools to research and publish in a variety of academic areas, from articles on Writing across the Disciplines/Writing in the Disciplines issues and writing pedagogy to analyses of neoliberal economic rationality and academic labor. I exceed the minimum criteria for satisfactory in research as I have

  • 3 peer-reviewed publications (in addition to the SoTL article discussed in the Teaching Section);
  • 1 review essay in a highly-regarded journal in my discipline;
  • 2 article manuscripts currently under review;
  • 8 conference presentations (in addition to the 5 SoTL presentations listed in the Teaching Section);
  • 2 articles and numerous multi-modal book reviews for which I have served as a reviewer;
  • 1 republished, edited version of one of my publications on InsideHigherEd.com (forthcoming in Fall 2017);
  • 2 well-received Special Topics Sessions on “Politics and Pedagogy” at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (RMMLA); and
  • 2 Grant-in-Aid awards for scholarly research (awarded on the basis of merit).

Peer-Reviewed Publications

“First-year Composition Should Be Skipped.” Bad Ideas about Writing. Eds. Drew M. Loewe and Cheryl E. Ball. Morgantown, WV: Digital Publishing Institute, 2017. Print and Web. (Forthcoming in 2017.)

“Notes from the Margins: WAC/WID and the Institutional Politics of Place(ment).” Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing 11 (2014): n. pag. Web. 

“Survival Guide Advice and the Spirit of Academic Entrepreneurship: Why Graduate Students Will Never Just Take Your Word for It.” Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor 21 (2013): 25-39. Web.

Review Essay

Rev. of “Composition in the Age of Austerity,” pres. by Tom Fox, Tony Scott, and Nancy Welch. Chair. Lil Brannon. Conference on College Composition and Communication Annual Convention. JW Marriott, Indianapolis, IN. 20 Mar. 2014. Conference presentation. Kairos 19.1 (2014): n. pag., Web.

Peer-Reviewed Manuscripts under Review

Darr, Chris and Paul Cook. “Rhetoric, Politics, and the Ideological State Apparatus in U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings.” (Currently under review at Communication Law Review.)

Yan He, Paul Cook, Chris Darr, and Polly Boruff-Jones. “Assessing Information Literacy on a Regional Campus.” (Currently under review at Assessment Update.)

Research Presentations (*This list does not include Presentations on Teaching or Pedagogical Research)

“Assessing Information Literacy in General Education on a Regional Campus.” IU Kokomo Faculty Research Symposium. Kokomo, IN: 2017. (Co-researchers: Yan He, Polly Boruff-Jones, and Dr. Chris Darr.)

Serial: What a Podcast Can Tell Us about How We Live Now.” IU Kokomo Faculty Research Symposium. Kokomo, IN: 2015.

“Survival Guide Advice and the Spirit of Academic Entrepreneurship: Why Graduate Students Will Never Just Take Your Word for It.” Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. Boise, ID: 2014.

“Notes from the Margins: WAC/WID and the Institutional Politics of Place(ment).” Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association. San Diego, CA: 2013.

“Pedagogue or Provocateur? Walking the Line in the Neoliberal U.” Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. Vancouver, WA: 2013.

“Altered Politics: The Other in Big-Budget Hollywood Action Films of the Cold War Era.” New England American Studies Association Annual Conference. Mashantucket, CT: 2013.

“Jobs, Networks, and the Democratization of Information.” Networked Humanities: From Within and Without the University. Lexington, KY: 2013.

“Passivity, Scandal, and Teaching: The Rhetoric of Passive Voice.” Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. Boulder, CO: 2012.

Reviewer of Articles for Journals

Reviewer for The SoJo Journal: Educational Foundations and Social Justice Education

Reviewer for Composition Studies

Editorial Board Member, Burningword

Former Book Review Editor for Itineration: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Rhetoric, Media, and Culture

***

For the last five years, my research agenda has been nothing if not eclectic in its targets and interventions. From my first article as an IU Kokomo professor on academic labor and the discourse on academic “advice-knowledge” (the latter a term of my own coinage) to my most recent submission, an essay in a forthcoming anthology of rhet-comp experts called Bad Ideas about Writing, I consider both good fortune—one might even say kairos—and eclecticism to be the current themes of my research interests and scholarly output. My purpose in this narrative is to briefly discuss each publication, its scope and significance, and how it fits into the larger ambitions of my future research itineraries.

Researching and writing a dissertation that traversed several disciplinary sites has given me the tools to embark on an eclectic and wide-ranging research itinerary. Rhetoric and composition’s ongoing disciplinary crisis was the nominal target of the project, but I also explored such extra-disciplinary areas as philosophy, new media, the political-economic doctrine of neoliberalism, contemporary political theory, and academic labor and the future of collective action within (and outside of) the university. I credit the dissertation-writing process for providing me with not only a sharp sense of where my future research trajectories might take me, but also the necessary tools and experience to realize these research plans.

My first publication after arriving at IU Kokomo was entitled “Survival Guide Advice and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.” In this article, which was published in Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor in 2013, I suggest that even with all of the advice offered up to graduate students about navigating the increasingly unlikely transition from graduate school to full-time academic employment, few scholars have scrutinized the nature and function of this advice, particularly in terms of how it influences individual jobseekers and students. The rest of the article examines the largely unexamined nature of academic advice, or what I call academic “advice-knowledge.” Taking a theoretical perspective informed by the later works of Michel Foucault and more recent critiques of neoliberalism and US employment culture, this article explores how advice-knowledge constructs, constrains, narrows, and normalizes the way graduate students understand themselves as individuals constantly in need of introspective self-work in order to remain, if not employed, then at least employable.

In 2014, drawing on my previous job experience as Director of Writing and WAC/WID coordinator at Cottey College, I published a manuscript in a special issue of Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing on writing instruction at rural, regional, and satellite campuses. In this institutional autoethnography (IAE), I explore the dynamics of WPA and WAC/WID work within an exceedingly small, resolutely single-sex, and assuredly rural liberal arts campus ecology. Working within a theoretical framework informed by WAC/WID’s historical commitment to increasing literacy in students from diverse educational backgrounds and recent studies of “aspirational” colleges and universities, my goal in this piece is to reflect on my own experiences and connect these to larger concerns about WAC/WID’s vulnerability in rural SLACs. My exploration is structured around an interrogation of what happens when a rural college’s historical mission and lofty aspirations run up against (1) the philosophical constraints (self-) imposed by institutional identity; (2) the material limitations of location, institutional ecology, and faculty labor and expertise; and (3) the pedagogical realities of the underprepared students it serves. In short, this article explores how the very things that make Cottey unique—its historical commitment to women’s education, its diverse student population, and the inherent flexibility that comes with having an unusually small student body—are challenged by the dynamics of institutional identity and the intensifying scramble within higher education for resources, students, and prestige.

Also in 2014, I published a review essay of a fascinating panel I attended at that year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication. The panel, which was entitled “Composition in the Age of Austerity,” appealed to me in part because of my position as Director of Writing and my work with adjunct faculty, but also because of my previous research on academic labor issues. In this review essay, I run down the major points of all three panelists’ presentations, and then I suggest how central these broader economic and institutional concerns are to the work that faculty and researchers do and often take for granted.

Most recently, at the end of 2015, I submitted a manuscript to an exciting new anthology entitled Bad Ideas about Writing. My contribution, which is called “First-year composition (FYC) Should Be Skipped,” attempts to demolish the widespread idea that first-year writing is a course that lacks intellectual value or rigor. This particular collection, which includes some high-profile scholars in rhet-comp, is directed at a popular audience—parents, students, high school teachers and administrators—so I was especially gratified that my article was chosen for publication, which will occur in late 2017. My selection was also chosen to be reprinted on the national higher education website Insidehighered.com; this version will also appear later this year (2017).

I am scheduled to teach a course on Issues in Teaching Writing (ENG-W 400 / LBST-D 511) again in the next semester or two. Not only will my work with graduate student writers in hybrid-enrolled courses give me a critical perspective on this course, but my ongoing scholarly interests in the training of writing teachers also gives me the chance to help students engage this complex terrain from several angles. For several semesters now, I have been revising Chapter 5 of my dissertation, an essay entitled “The Terrain of TA Training: Re-encountering Theory and Practice.” In this essay, I argue that even though the discourse on TA training in rhetoric and composition studies is rife with calls to balance, bridge, or unite theory and practice in the training of writing teachers, we seem to have a difficult time articulating what such a project might do. Largely because we lack a robust conception of practice (or praxis), the tendency is to draw the line between theory and practice as boldly as possible, privilege theory over a vaguely-defined notion of practice, and then argue that reuniting the two is a fundamental prerequisite for administering a successful teacher-preparation program. Like the other elements of my research portfolio, my work in this area hearkens back to my dissertation project, and it continues to inform my day-to-day work as Director of Writing and as a frequent teacher of first-year writing.

But my research agenda continues to unfold in new and exciting ways, which I think is another strength of how I engage the research process. Since 2012, when I started at IU Kokomo, we have made several strong new hires in areas such as American Literature and Philosophy/Ethics; working in close proximity these new hires has injected a new sense of excitement and possibility into my own research agenda. Josh Mugg and I are currently developing a proposal to an interdisciplinary online journal entitled Fast Capitalism, and we hope to submit our piece sometime this semester. Working with yet another colleague in the School of Education, Tara Kingsley, I am also pursuing a project on the impact of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on Indiana K-12 public school policy. In just the last few months, I have submitted two other articles to journals, and both are collaborative studies. The first, which we recently submitted to the journal Assessment Update, is a longitudinal study of information literacy assessment in ENG-W 131 and SPCH-S 131 on the IU Kokomo campus. The second article is entitled “Rhetoric, Politics, and the Ideological State Apparatus in U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings,” and this article is currently under consideration at Communication Law Review.

I also routinely teach Research Methods and Materials (ENG-W 368); without fail, every time I teach this course and work with students on their projects, I find a new interest or area to explore on my own.

As a final example of both my indebtedness to the growing research culture here on campus and my own contributions to that culture, I would like to briefly mention my work over the last several years with some of our finest students—those in our MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program. I have directed three MALS thesis projects to their successful completion (Navi Vernon, Chad Wagoner, and Mary Kennelly). In addition to directing these three projects, which I am told is an unprecedented amount, I have also served on three other thesis committees: those of Greg Ogle, Scott Manthe, and Jesse Sopher.

Working on these projects allowed me to stretch and extend the boundaries of my own knowledge—working with one of my former graduate students, Chad Wagoner, on a subcultural analysis of the rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in the US, for example—and they have helped me to solidify and concretize my own previous research through the process of being a co-discoverer with the student. For an example of the latter, I would refer to my work with Navi Vernon on the emotional and affective dimensions of the writing process and its relations to therapy, my work with Greg Ogle on Second Life (a highly-interactive, online virtual world/simulation), and my work with Mary Kennelly on grading, evaluation, and pedagogy in the first-year writing classroom. Each of these projects could be seen as extensions of my own explorations as a graduate student and early-career academic: as a grad student I worked with affective writing pedagogy, for instance, and I have always been fascinated by the theory and practice of evaluating student writing. Both of these projects appeared on my radar at times that helped inform and further my own teaching in these areas, such as when I taught a grad-level course on Issues in Teaching Writing (ENG-W 400 / LBST-D 511) for the first time in the fall of 2013.

As for Greg’s thesis project, he was just finishing it up right around the same time that I was teaching an Honors Symposium on digital culture, so working so closely with Greg allowed me to interlace elements from what I was teaching with some of the truly meaningful explorations Greg was following out in his work with identity-formation and Second Life. Greg also continues to visit my courses to talk about his research when appropriate, such in Spring 2016 in my New Media Theory course (NMAT-G 411). My point, ultimately, is that I believe research—good research—to be the product of social interaction and the fundamental interactivity of all knowledge. So I will continue to pursue what I consider to be a collaborate research agenda, and I use that word “collaborative” in both a traditional sense and a more capacious one, as I will discuss more fully in the conclusion below.

My current solo research project is a revision of Chapter 5 of my dissertation, an essay entitled “The Terrain of TA Training: Re-encountering Theory and Practice.” In this essay, I argue that even though the discourse on TA training in rhetoric and composition studies is rife with calls to balance, bridge, or unite theory and practice in the training of writing teachers, we seem to have a difficult time articulating what such a project might do. Largely because we lack a robust conception of practice (or praxis), the tendency is to draw the line between theory and practice as boldly as possible, privilege theory over a vaguely-defined notion of practice, and then argue that reuniting the two is a fundamental prerequisite for administering a successful teacher-preparation program.

Finally, and on a broader note, I would like to add that my work has undoubtedly benefited from the growing research culture on campus and the concerted efforts that various students, faculty, and administrators have made to foster such an environment. I was honored to be recognized at the first and second Faculty Research Awards Ceremonies, I presented my own work at the Faculty Research Symposium in April 2015 and again in April 2017 as part of the Information Literacy Assessment Team, and for every year that I have been at IU Kokomo, I have been a strong advocate for and participant in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, formerly run by Netty Provost and now headed up by Erin F. Doss. Every year I send several students to this conference, which I think is a vitally important experience for both undergraduates and graduate students, and I suspect that this year will be no different. (Indeed, when I taught the Senior Capstone course in New Media Theory in 2016, I required these students to submit a proposal/abstract to the conference.) Finally, the Research Support Group for faculty has also helped to develop this research culture at IU Kokomo; as a matter of fact, I contributed an early draft of my latest manuscript for Bad Ideas about Writing to the group late in 2015, and the feedback I received was timely, substantive, and supportive.

As I look ahead, I hope that collaboration is the theme that continues to emerge from my research agenda. As I mentioned previously, I am already working with five other faculty members on four different projects, and I hope to identify other areas where such overlap between research agendas and abilities might occur with other faculty, staff, and students.

 

ENG-W 131: Reading, Writing, & Inquiry I

“I have learned a lot of valuable things from this class. The one I probably learned most was that it takes hard work and time to get better at something.”

-Anonymous student comment (Fall 2014)

My teaching career at IU Kokomo has been shaped by ENG-W 131 perhaps more than any other course, and not only because I have taught it so many times and in so many different iterations. Because I think of myself first and foremost as a writing teacher—with all the requisite hand-wringing that entails—ENG-W 131 (and its counterpart, ENG-W 132) have occupied a central place in my thinking, reflection, and teaching since my first day at IU Kokomo. Recently, I condensed my reflections on first-year writing courses like ENG-W 131 in a “manifesto,” of sorts, on why I believe these courses are so crucial for students’ developing critical literacies and their ability to explore complex problems and issues through writing. The piece, which is entitled “First-year Writing Should Be Skipped,” will appear in the edited collection Bad Ideas about Writing later this year.

When I first began teaching it in 2012, ENG-W 131 was on the cusp of being substantially revised by the IU Writing Directors, and I was able to immediately join this system-wide effort and have an impact on the revision of the course. (ENG-W 131 is taught on all IU campuses.) This large-scale curricular revision entailed changing the course curriculum and the major assignments to the concept of the “moves” that students need to learn in academic writing: summary, analysis, synthesis, how to deploy direct quotation and paraphrase responsibly and effectively, and so forth (see Learning Outcomes below). As an introduction to academic writing, ENG-W 131 grounds students in the basics of how scholars and researchers go about exploring problems, making arguments, researching ideas, and persuading others through language. The course also introduces students to essential rhetorical principles, such as the rhetorical situation and appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos).

Around the same time that we were revising ENG-W 131 for the entire system, I was asked to develop and teach the first fully-online version of ENG-W 131 on our campus, which I developed and initially taught in the fall of 2013 after completing the online coursework for my Basic Online Instruction Developers Certificate and putting the new course through a rigorous review process. I then revised this fully-online course and taught it again in the summer of 2014. Since then I have trained several adjunct faculty to teach this fully-online version of ENG-W 131, and it was in the process of developing this course that I began to experiment with the various tools in Canvas (announcements, podcasts, audio feedback on writing, etc.) that have become a central part of my pedagogy (see Statement of Teaching Philosophy ). As part of my pedagogical work as Director of Writing at IU Kokomo, I routinely mentor faculty at all levels in how to teach this course more effectively through brown bag workshops and one-on-one teaching observations; I have also developed and currently maintain a Canvas site for all instructors of first-year writing that contains handouts, sample syllabi, assignment sheets, learning outcomes, links to other resources, and “How-to” guides. Writing instructors can also use this site to share ideas and resources among the rest of the writing program.

Late in 2014, I compiled a custom textbook and reader for this course with another colleague entitled Write to Success: A Handbook and Rhetoric with Readings for First-Year English. In 2015, along with my colleagues in Communication Arts and in the IU Kokomo Library, we started the “Information Literacy Assessment Team,” which led to a large-scale information literacy assessment project on ENG-W 131 and SPCH-S 121. My course evaluations in ENG-W 131 have been quite positive on the whole, which is often difficult to achieve when teaching first-year students, particularly in writing classes with average enrollments of 22-24 students per course. In ENG-W 131 and in many other courses I routinely teach, I have used Canvas extensively and creatively to provide audio feedback on student writing, conduct online peer reviews, send out daily “recaps” that cover assignments and readings for our next class, and even produce podcasts on key concepts or skills. I believe that all of these activities and digital tools are crucial for interacting with first-year students on a commuter campus where meeting to talk about writing projects during traditional office hours isn’t always possible.

Learning Outcomes

  • Perform a rhetorical analysis (i.e., analyze audience and purpose) of texts in several nonfiction genres;
  • demonstrate an understanding of summary, analysis, and argument;
  • exhibit control over one’s audience and purpose given the nature of the assignment;
  • use IUCAT and library databases to locate, evaluate, and use academic texts (e.g., books, journal articles, magazine articles, essays, academic websites, book reviews, etc.);
  • recognize and continue developing your own writing process;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the unique expectations for impromptu essays and essay-based exams;
  • recognize and deploy the essential “moves” of academic writing: summary, paraphrase, direct quotation, analysis, and synthesis;
  • show responsibility in the use of borrowing information from outside sources and avoiding plagiarism;
  • perform global and local revisions, edit, and proofread your work and the work of others.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught six separate sections of ENG-W 131: four sections as face-to-face classes and two sections as fully-online courses. Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree). Also, for the two fully-online sections, IU Kokomo uses a different set of questions in course evaluations. I have reproduced the data from the four face-to-face sections in the first table and the two fully-online sections in the second table.

ENG-W 131: Reading, Writing, & Inquiry (Face-to-face sections) Fall 2012 (FLC) (14857) Fall 2012 (FLC) (34416) Fall 2014 (FLC)

(22316)

Fall 2015

(FLC)

(32334)

1.)   The course was well organized. 2.76 1.79 4.58 3.93
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 2.48 1.74 4.67 4.20
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 2.38 1.89 4.25 3.80
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 2.67 1.74 4.50 3.93
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 2.52 1.63 4.83 4.33
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 2.57 1.79 4.67 3.93
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 2.24 1.53 4.75 3.93
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 2.00 1.84 4.83 4.00
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.43 2.00 4.58 4.13
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 2.14 1.95 4.00 3.53
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 2.43 2.53 4.00 3.80
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 2.57 1.89 4.50 3.93
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 2.71 1.95 4.17 4.20
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 2.62 1.89 4.50 3.93
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.52 2.21 4.42 4.00
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.90 1.58 4.42 3.60
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.67 1.53 4.67 4.07
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 2.19 1.53 4.08 3.67
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 2.10 1.53 4.00 3.73
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 2.10 1.47 4.17 3.43
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 2.95 2.16 4.17 3.71
22.)  Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 3.10 2.05 3.60 2.93

All online course evaluations use a five-point Likert scale where 5.00 = “Strongly Agree” and 1.00 = “Strongly Disagree.”

ENG-W 131: Reading, Writing, & Inquiry (Fully-online sections) Fall 2013 (27594) Summer 2014 (15432)
1.)   The objectives/learning outcomes for each part of the course were clear. 5.00 3.80
2.)   The required tests, quizzes, projects, papers, and reports accurately measured my attainment of these learning outcomes. 5.00 3.60
3.)   The course was well-organized. 5.00 3.60
4.)   The required reading and assignments contributed to my learning. 5.00 4.60
5.)   The threaded discussion/course conference contributed to my learning. 5.00 4.40
6.)   The assignments and workload were appropriate for this course. 5.00 3.40
7.)     The instructor’s course materials engage me in learning. 4.67 3.80
8.)     The instructor provided timely feedback. 5.00 3.80
9.)     The instructor’s feedback was clear and useful. 4.67 3.60
10.)  The instructor’s interaction with students was respectful. 5.00 4.80
11.)  The instructor provided opportunities for students to learn from each other. 5.00 4.80
12.)  The instructor was available and helpful. 5.00 4.20
13.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 5.00 3.80
14.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 5.00 3.40
15.)  Overall, I would rate the instructor as highly effective. 5.00 3.60
16.)  Overall, I would rate the course as highly effective. 5.00 3.40

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Fall 2015 (32334—face-to-face)

“[What I liked most about the course was] the people.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the papers.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write.”

“It was very fun and enjoyable.”

“The essays were very stressful.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to organize and analyze essays.”

“[What I liked most about this course and/or instructor was that] he truly cares for students.”

“[What I liked least about this course and/or instructor was that] he’s hard to understand.”

“My writing skills are a lot better.”

“I did not like the course or instructor.”

“He treated me differently from other students.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] not many quizzes.”

“He is kinda judgy.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write.”

“[What I liked most about this course was that it was] very interesting.”

“[What I liked least about this course was] how the essay was always [the] same and did so many in so little time.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to develop [a] thesis.”

“[What I liked most about this course is that] I needed to think outside the box.”

“[What I liked least about this course was the] papers.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] thesis.”

“Always available to help or to get in contact with.”

“I didn’t care for the essay topics.”

“I didn’t care for either [the course or the instructor].”

“I liked the consistent subject matter we discussed throughout this course. Each assignment was connected to the list. I think Dr. Cook approaches teaching in a matter of fact, but understandable manner, while making it fun and interesting.”

“[What I liked least about this course was] nothing really.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] writing skills and how to make an effective argument.”

“He was very knowledgeable about pop culture which helped us connect with him.”

“WP’s [Writing Projects] were back to back.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write a statement of purpose.”

“What I liked most about the course and the instructor was the amount of freedom we had for assignments.”

“The drafts that we turned in were not graded fairly in my opinion.”

“I learned ways to dig deeper into certain texts.”

“[What I liked most about this course was] not much outside work.”

“Didn’t give much direction on essays.”

“Cook was awesome and energetic. Loved him.”

“I really liked Dr. Cook, I didn’t have a least [favorite aspect of the course and/or instructor].”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write a good paper in proper formatting with a good thesis.”

“[This course] helped me learn how to write papers for other classes.”

“The class, combined with speech, was WAY to [sic] much to take on at once.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this class was] how to manage my time.”

Fall 2014 (22316—face-to-face)

“The course was upbeat, and Dr. Cook kept everything moving at a steady fast pace.”

The WP’s [Writing Projects] felt a little rushed at the end, I think it could have been spread out a bit more.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] rhetoric! And ethos, both really came in handy in my speech course.”

“He was very open-minded and has a good way of teaching.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the time frame.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to check myself/review.”

“I really like it when a professor loves what he does and cares about our success and Dr. Cook does and that made this class enjoyable.”

“[What I liked least about this course was] writing, but that is my own fault.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to revise a paper well.”

“[What I liked most about this course was] the presentation for the lesons [sic].”

“We didn’t get as much time for work in-class, than I expected.”

“I thought a lot, I did.”

“I’ve better developed myself, and I’ve learned how to write 5 page and up papers.”

“I like the organized layout of all of the upcoming assignments.”

“[What I liked least about this course was] the lack of different topics among the last few papers.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] new techniques for revising a drafted paper.”

“I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the working environment instead of just lectures.”

“I did not like the limited time we had on papers.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to proofread better and a better understanding of the types of writing.”

“I liked most that he helped us think more outside the box, and helped us whenever we needed help.”

“I was confused sometimes [about] what we needed to do for some of the assignments.”

“I have learned a lot of valuable things from this class. The one I probably learned most was that it takes hard work and time to get better at something.”

“I liked the subject we cover over in this class.”

“I like how my English and Speech were together [illegible].”

“I enjoyed the instructor’s teaching methods and personality.”

“I disliked the amount of (what I believe to be) unreasonable amount of essays.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] writing skills.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] the different readings.”

“[What I liked most about the instructor was] his attitude and friendliness.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the pace.”

“[What I liked least about the instructor was] the page count.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] that MLA is an easier format to learn than APA.”

“[What I liked most about this course was] being active in class; in other words, I didn’t feel like I was just sitting in class. I felt as if I was I a group of people discussing several things.”

“[What I like least about this class was] to me, unclear instructions on how to go about writing and I really did not learn much from the book.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] open thinking.”

Fall 2012 (14857—face-to-face))

“The thing I didn’t like was how we’d learn how to do something (ex. MLA) after we had to use it already.”

“We read a lot but I never felt like I learned very much.”

“We were graded on things we hadn’t been taught yet and we were graded way too critically for our intro to writing we aren’t experts. I don’t think people deserved to fail.”

“Some assignments were explained to day they were due and received grades that did not reflect well on what we had learned. Try teaching the lesson and then assigning homework.”

“Graded too harshly for an introductory course.”

“Doctor Cook was not organized. He changed what were doing all the time. He didn’t follow the syllabus many days.”

“Doctor Cook didn’t really grade fair. Many students got the same grade every paper. They never improved or did worse. Always the same.”

“I enjoyed Dr. Cook as a person, but not as a professor.”

“I learned hardly anything in this course. He taught me nothing new. I knew most of it.”

“Cared too much with what students were doing than actual teaching.”

“Not organized and changed syllabus multiple times!”

“No exams but essays were graded harshly. This class is a composition class NOT a writing class.”

“I liked him as a person but never learned anything, and felt like he wasn’t concerned with our class.”

“I still have not learned how to write a paper.”

“A lot of class time [was] wasted on irrelevant stuff.”

“I found this class pointless.”

“Manageable.”

“Fair grading.”

“Respect and comfortable discussions.”

Fall 2012 (34416—face-to-face)

“I enjoyed this class a lot.”

“First/only class.”

Summer 2014 (15432—fully online)

“It was well organized. The instructor was very helpful.”

“I learned how to be more clear in my descriptions.”

“It was online so I could do it from home.”

“I liked how there was a schedule provided for the student, which helped me to know what was due on a specific date.”

“I liked that I could work on the course at midnight if that was what worked best for me.”

“Upfront honest about the grading system and about what was really expected. An example of a piece of writing would have helped.”

“Nothing.”

“I believe that during the last week of the course, there shouldn’t have been a lot of assignments due. That is the only improvement I can suggest.”

“The directions and expectations of the assignments could be clearer.”

“Allowed the writing center to be offered online too. I took this class while I was in Iowa and could not get to the writing center.”

“Nothing.”

“I think there are no improvements in this area.”

“Communication could be easier. It was difficult to learn how to work the technology (Oncourse) so that got me off to a very bad start.”

“Dr. Cook is a good instructor, though I believe he expects Junior or Senior level work in a Freshman class. He needs to get more inline with the expectation of Freshman and not other levels. I personally am a Senior, I did score an A, but the level was far above a Freshman. I fear how my classmate who this was their first experience with college really did.”

“The instructor was very hard to meet with. I tried on 3 different occasions to meet with him to talk about the assignments, grades, and expectations. I am not a d student and I don’t feel like this class accurately measured my skills because his grading scale was slippery.”

Fall 2013 (27594—fully online)

“I like the way the class was organized. We were able to work at our own pace and our professor always got back to us in a timely fashion.”

“I could pretty much work at my own pace and know what we were doing ahead of time so I could work ahead to make sure I gave myself the time needed for that assignment.”

“Just make sure all the assignment sheets have the same information regarding where to submit the assignment.”

“It’s good the way it is.”

“Nothing.”

***

Course Materials

Click here for the Folio 1 Learning Guide for my fully-online section of ENG-W 131.

ENG-W 132: Elementary Composition II

 “This teacher stimulated my thinking and I walked out of the classroom each time knowing something I didn’t know before. I enjoyed the instructor very much.”

-Anonymous student comment in ENG-W 132 (Summer 2013)

I have taught several versions of this second-semester first-year writing course; it is essentially an introduction to research writing that attempts to give students a broad sense of how scholars and researchers in the humanities and social sciences explore problems and write about them from different disciplinary perspectives. With this rather broad pedagogical mission in mind, ENG-W 132 can be “themed” in a number of ways, and I put a great deal of thought into the themes I develop from one semester to the next.

Given current events and student interest, the most recent version of the course (Spring 2017) led students through an exploration of so-called “fake news.” Students gained valuable experience in information literacy by analyzing and writing about the infamous #PizzaGate scandal, concepts such as “digital polarization” and “filter bubbles,” and even important epistemological questions such as “How do we know what we know?” and “Which sources of information can be trusted in the digital age?”

But perhaps the most successful iteration of ENG-W 132—and the version I taught most frequently—was the themed course on work. Late in 2012, spurred on by the difficulties I noticed some of my students were having balancing school with in some cases a full-time workload, I developed a themed section of ENG-W 132 centered on work, employment culture in the US, and “the working life.” Students wrote “working autobiographies”; interviewed friends, family, and community members for their empirical (APA) research writing projects; and read some of the finest statements about work in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including excerpts from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America and Studs Terkel’s Working: Americans Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do.

This course also includes a literary analysis component, so I used Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell as the novella that provides the basis for students’ MLA literary analysis writing project. (Orwell’s book explores work and survival among the working poor in 1920s and 1930s Europe.) The course evaluations from these courses have generally been stellar, particularly for a first-year writing course: I have even received unsolicited emails from students at the conclusion of the course (see below).

Several students have been critical about the amount of reading and writing required in the 6-week summer sections of ENG-W 132, as well as its counterpart ENG-W 131 (see qualitative comments below). My philosophy has always been that there must be consistency among all sections of ENG-W 132, whether taught in the traditional 16-week semester format or in the compressed 6-week summer course. However, I do have some concerns about whether the summer sections of ENG-W 132 are a sound option for many of our students, and I have worked with Academic Advising to identify and encourage stronger students in writing to enroll in both summer sections and online sections of writing. (In 2013, I developed a handout and distributed it to Academic Advising that provides some basic guidelines for placing students in 6-week, 8-week, hybrid, and online sections of first-year writing.) Ultimately, however, the choice is completely up to the individual student. I am not opposed to exploring the idea of phasing out the 6-week summer sections of writing courses for the simple reason that students need as much exposure to the writing process as possible, as well as the time to reflect on their process and their works-in-progress, and I am not convinced that this format achieves that goal for many students.

Finally, since ENG-W 132 is no longer offered by other campuses in the IU system—and given its pedagogically-ambitious scope as both a humanities and social sciences research writing course—I am currently developing a replacement course at the 200-level that will combine elements of research writing with service learning and community/regional engagement. This will be a significant change, but it will allow me to complete revise and overhaul ENG-W 132 into a 200-level (Sophomore) writing course and revitalize interest in teaching these introductory writing courses among instructors in the writing program. I spent a considerable amount of time developing an earlier version of this course called “ENG-W 221: Sophomore Writing Lab” that was to be a true Writing in the Disciplines course at the 200 level in which students could opt to take discipline-specific writing courses based on their majors (Education, Humanities, Nursing, etc.). Logistically, however, the implementation of this course proved to be too difficult with our limited staff of mostly adjunct writing instructors (approximately 83% from one semester to the next). On the other hand, students in a research writing/service learning course can choose to tailor individual writing projects to their own academic interests and major.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate composing/research skills appropriate for an academic audience;
  • Demonstrate skills in using the IU Kokomo library for locating a wide variety of sources, including discipline specific databases;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the characteristics of scholarly sources
  • Integrate research smoothly and appropriately into a paper;
  • Demonstrate clear understanding of the conventions of both MLA and APA documentation styles;
  • Create a thesis/research question that is supported in a way that demonstrates control of the sources;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the distinction between primary and secondary sources.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught ENG-W 132 four times as a face-to-face course. Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree). For example, the first three sections of ENG-W 132 I taught used the old Likert scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score. The section I taught in Spring 2017 uses the new Likert scale in which “5.00” is the highest score in each category.

ENG-W 132: Elementary Composition II Spring 2013 (14603) Summer 2013

(1106)

Summer 2013 (1247) Spring 2017 (28715)
1.)   The course was well organized. 1.58 1.54 1.88 4.75
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.63 1.85 1.65 4.85
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.37 1.69 1.53 4.70
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.63 1.85 1.71 4.55
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.47 1.69 1.47 4.85
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.37 1.69 1.65 4.75
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.32 1.46 1.41 4.85
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.58 2.46 2.94 4.90
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 1.74 2.31 3.24 4.75
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.68 2.54 2.76 4.55
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 2.26 1.85 1.71 4.75
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 2.22 1.38 1.76 4.75
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.88 1.46 1.82 4.55
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.89 1.46 1.76 4.70
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.39 1.85 1.88 4.70
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.33 1.23 1.71 4.60
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.33 1.23 1.53 4.80
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.39 1.31 1.71 4.65
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.56 1.31 1.65 4.40
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.50 1.38 1.71 4.55
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 1.94 1.85 2.12 4.80
22.)  Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 2.39 1.77 2.29 4.35

Course Evaluations (Qualitative) 

Spring 2017 (28715)

“He is always nice and willing to help.”

“[What I liked least about the course and/or the instructor was] nothing.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write a complete essay without the 5 paragraph method.”

“Instructor was organized. Met with students and answered any and all questions. Was also very understanding.”

“[What I liked least about the course were the] amount of papers due in such little time.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was to] communicate about assignments, ask peers for advise [sic] and feedback.”

“I liked the topics on fake news the most.”

“Nothing. I thought the course went well.”

“The most valuable thing I learned is read something or listen to something scholarly everyday on what’s going on around the world.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] how close we were together.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] to always be complete and detailed in your answer.”

“We learned about real life situations.”

“Graded harder than he should have.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] fake news.”

“I enjoyed the freedom that we had to discuss the topics set in front of us.”

“I sometimes did not find the readings to be relevant to me.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] to be confident in my writing.”

“[What I liked most about this course and/or instructor was] how he facilitates/encourages discussion.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] revision and communication.”

“Course was well organized and helpful to learn credible sources.”

“[What I liked least about the course and/or the instructor was] nothing.” 

“I learned how to edit my papers well and find credible sources.”

“I liked the reading material.”

“I didn’t like the length of the papers.”

“I learned how to tell what was fake news.”

“Professor Cook was always ready to teach, and made learning easy.”

“Professor Cook promoted a few one way political discussions that should’ve been avoided.”

“I learned how to properly spot fake news.”

“Interesting topics.”

“[What I liked least about the instructor was] attitude.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was that] the use of technology may not always be effective.”

“He’s a really good guy.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] fake news.”

“I liked Paul he is a very good teacher.”

“I did not like all the writing assignments.”

“I liked the free-writing.”

“I didn’t dislike anything [about the course].”

“I learned more on fake news.”

“[What I liked most about the course and/or instructor was] the amount of dedication.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to properly cite sources.”

“I like the way he gave clear instructions.”

“[What I liked least about the course and/or the instructor was] nothing.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to write a well written paper.”

Summer 2013 (1247)

“I genuinely loved this class and would gladly take others taught by Dr. Cook.”

“Dr. Cook was prepared and used every second of every class.”

“This was a tough course. The 6 weeks made for a very intense situation. Personally, this is a great class with great things to learn. I don’t think 6 weeks is the best way to offer it. Dr. Cook was awesome, he knows the material, but I felt stressed as did others.”

“I felt he did care about our learning and the outcome of our work.”

“My regret is that I didn’t take the course in a full semester. I felt like due to time constraints I didn’t offer my best work.”

“The workload for this course was very intense for a class of this level.”

“The workload, to me, seemed to be a bit much. I had a hard time trying to get things done on time and in the best way possible.”

“He is a good teacher with good intentions.”

“A lot of reading and material covered but it was a shorter class so I guess that is to be expected.”

Summer 2013 (1106)

“This teacher stimulated my thinking and I walked out of the classroom each time knowing something I didn’t know before. I enjoyed the instructor very much.”

“He tried to be prepared but didn’t utilize time well.”

“Standards are way too high. If the whole class gets a C its [sic] you—not them.”

“Lay off some reading.”

“It would be nice if you went over the papers in more detail, like what you’re wanting done in them.”

“This is my first class @ IUK.”

Spring 2013 (14603)

“Knowing our grades along the way would be much better!”

“I didn’t like the whole ‘working’ theme for every paper.”

“I wish Dr. Cook would have put things in the gradebook throughout the semester.”

“Nice teacher.”

“Was not friendly, did not understand his students did not like his teaching.”

“First rate on both organization and presentation.” 

***

Click here for the Spring 2013 Course Syllabus on “work” and the working life; click here for the Summer 2013 Course Syllabus.

Click here for the Spring 2017 Course Syllabus on fake news in the digital age.

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials

This course, which I have now taught twice in the last five years, introduces students to research as an ongoing, recursive practice of inquiry and knowledge-making. By examining a variety of research methods and methodologies (including quantitative research, ethnography and autoethnography, textual and theoretical research, digital research tools, archival research, etc.), students in this course learn how to develop an idea, plan a research project, go about gathering data (whatever “data” may be in any given case), perform analysis, and present their work to an audience. In short, this course is a practical introduction to developing a research project in the humanities that is guided by these questions: how do researchers and scholars create knowledge? And who gets to decide what “counts” as knowledge in a given disciplinary arena?

Research Methods and Materials builds on the assumption that research is connected to context, and that what information is included/excluded and how that information is interpreted/discussed impacts the reception of the research. Therefore, we explore a number of different research “contexts” within English studies (i.e., literary studies, writing studies, and rhetoric); we learn about research methods that can be applied to vastly different materials and contexts (i.e., fields and disciplines outside of English); and we examine digital research tools and their impact on how research is performed.

Because the course covers such a wealth of material, I find it useful to divide the semester into two overlapping and interwoven parts. For roughly the first half of the semester, we concentrate primarily on so-called “traditional,” library-based research and the assorted skills and practices that go along with it—textual analysis, digital research strategies, archival research, problem statements, literature reviews, and so forth. A good portion of the second half of the semester, which includes a greater focus on research in writing studies and rhetoric (English studies’ “other half”), is devoted primarily to empirical research models, and we explore various types of quantitative and qualitative research methods: case studies, surveys, personal interviews, and field work. I find that it is important for students to understand early on in the term that these categories I’ve just mentioned are more dynamic and general than they are neat and clean; in other words, these are broad categories that tend to overlap both conceptually and practically. In fact, one of my primary goals in this course is to get across to students just how “messy” the research process can be—and usually is—as I have found that many undergraduates and even some graduate students seem to come into this class thinking that research is largely a paint-by-numbers endeavor.

The spring of 2014 marked the second time I had the opportunity to teach this course, and I was gratified to have the chance to revise some of its shortcomings from the first go round. More than any other course I routinely teach, this course might be the most challenging and time-consuming course to plan, develop, and deliver, even from one year to the next. Next to teaching first-year writing, I think this is the most difficult course I regularly teach.

As can be gleaned from some of the student comments below, part of the challenge of this course can be explained by the sheer project-load. Students complete mini-ethnographies, keep research logs and blogs, inventory their professional and personal research interests, perform field work (both physical and digital), learn about how digital tools and resources are rapidly revolutionizing the way researchers work, explore CITI and IRB certification, and complete full-scale, in-depth research projects through several theoretical and practical lenses.

It is also true that ENG-W 368 is also one of the most gratifying and, I would say, “hard-earned” teaching experiences I’ve yet had. And my qualitative course evaluations, which were quite positive for this course (a marked improvement over 2013, I think), are rivaled only by my quantitative evaluations: in most categories in 2014, my scores were close to a (perfect) 5.0 (“Strongly Agree”) among ENG-W 368 (undergrad) students. In the graduate-level course, LBST-D 511, the numbers were slightly lower, but still very close to 4.0 (“Agree”) in most categories.

The qualitative evaluations focused mainly on the practical usefulness of the course (“I learned how to write a project proposal and a lit review which will be helpful for my thesis proposal” and “I learned a lot of research strategies that have helped me with several papers this semester”) and my own effectiveness in terms of flexibility and open-mindedness. Students also noted the difficulty of the course and the “boring” nature of some of the materials. Indeed, perhaps my favorite comment for this course is from the student who wrote, “Dr. Cook goes above and beyond to make sure we succeed. This class wasn’t my favorite, but [Dr. Cook] made it worthwhile.”

I attribute the continuing success of this course to the simple fact that our students have few other opportunities to take another course with a similar scope and level of rigor. And I routinely hear from students that more courses with a similar focus on research would be useful. I plan to begin the work of researching and developing these courses in 2018. Finally, I pride myself on making this course as rigorous and comprehensive as possible, and the most significant challenge of teaching Research Methods on a small campus is that the course must cover a great deal of territory both in the Humanities and in Social Science disciplines.

Learning Outcomes

  • Define common research methodologies used in literary studies, literary history, writing studies, and rhetoric;
  • Use a wide array of digital research tools;
  • Evaluate and critique published research;
  • Recognize strengths and weaknesses of research methodologies in published studies;
  • Practice several research methods on a small scale through class activities and discussions;
  • Draft and develop a problem statement and research project proposal/abstract;
  • Propose, plan, and conduct a large-scale research study.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught ENG-W 368 two times, which has offered me an opportunity for revision and pedagogical experimentation. Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree) starting in Fall 2013.

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials (Undergraduate) Spring 2013 (31431) Spring 2014

(9431)

1.)   The course was well organized. 1.43 4.50
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.29 4.75
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.43 4.75
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.43 4.50
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.86 4.75
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.86 4.75
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.57 4.50
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.71 4.75
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.14 4.50
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.57 4.00
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 1.43 4.50
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 2.00 3.75
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.86 4.50
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.57 4.25
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.29 4.50
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.14 4.50
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.14 4.50
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.29 4.00
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.29 4.50
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.29 3.50
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 2.00 3.50
22.) Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 1.86 2.75

Reminder: Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree) starting in Fall 2013.

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials (Graduate) Spring 2013 (32452) Spring 2014

(9519)

1.)   The course was well organized. 1.40 3.75
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.40 3.75
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.60 3.75
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.00 3.75
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.00 4.00
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.40 4.00
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.20 3.75
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.00 4.00
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 1.00 3.75
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.00 3.75
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 3.40 3.75
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 1.20 3.75
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.20 3.75
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.20 3.75
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.25 3.50
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.00 3.50
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.00 3.75
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.00 4.25
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.00 3.75
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.00 3.50
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 1.40 4.00
22.) Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 1.60 4.67

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2014 (Undergraduate Students)

“Dr. Cook is very willing to work with students and their problems. I really appreciated this.”

“There were some classes where we didn’t do anything, in-class workshops for the final projects. They were good days though, and they helped.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how extensive a research project is. Didn’t realize it took so much time, and Dr. Cook illustrated and taught it well.”

“He was always excited to teach and loved discussions about the topic.”

“We had many interruptions because of the weather, and it always felt like we were trying to catch up. Dr. Cook did his best to condense the material so we did not lose any information, but that’s the only complaint I have.”

“I learned how to write a project proposal and lit review which will be helpful for my thesis proposal. I learned more about qualitative studies, how to apply and use IRB [Institutional Research Board], and was able to practice presentations/presenting to a class.”

“The instructor clearly demonstrated new concepts about doing a research paper that will help me in the future. Dr. Cook is a terrific teacher!”

“[What I liked least about the class was] writing a 20-page paper, but I understand it comes with the territory.”

“I like how the instructor had us work on parts of the paper, so when it came deadline time, I already had a lot done.”

“I greatly enjoyed Sam Shepard, and look forward to reading more of his plays.”

“I thought the research textbook repeated too much information.”

“I discovered one of my new favorite playwrights”

“Dr. Cook is open-minded and flexible.”

“Nothing stands out as being unpleasant, actually.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] research techniques, of course.”

“Dr. Cook goes above and beyond to make sure we succeed. This class wasn’t my favorite, but he made it worthwhile. Thank you.”

“I learned a lot of research strategies that have helped with several papers this semester. I think I would have struggled a lot more if not for this class.”

Spring 2014 (Graduate Students)

“Dr. Cook cares, and comes through clearly! He helps way beyond his pay scale.”

“I had this course as an undergrad [too]. Dr. Cook helped keep my interest in a fairly boring subject.”

“Proofread (#25) Question! I find it appalling that IUK has record attendance yet cannot afford to pay professors fair/prevailing wages! Shame on IUK!”

Spring 2013 (Undergraduate Students)

“This is an excellent course. There should be two of them. I wish I could have taken it twice.”

“There were no exams. Grades were based on writing assignments.”

“This is a stupid question. Are we evaluating this professor, or all the professors I’ve had?”

“Need this class offered in the evening or at nite [sic].”

“Schedule changed, but OK—because of weather days, etc.”

“Dr. Cook did an outstanding job of teaching this course. He definitely led discussions well and had great insight to writing research.”

“Dr. Cook never explains his arbitrary grading. The exam would be the final project and I do not know whether it assessed what I learned b/c he handed these out prematurely.”

“[Teacher-student relationship] is Dr. Cook’s strong point!”

“I think a blatant disregard for student’s [sic] time needs to be addressed Dr. Cook (for two semesters now) has continuously held class over and disregarded students [sic] schedules. For instance this evaluation was handout out at 12:48 and our class ‘ends’ at 12:45.”

“I am of the firm opinion that Dr. Cook is a great professor, a large source of information, and very helpful, but we were never on schedule with his syllabus, and he was all over the place in regards to organization.”

“Other courses of this level have significant less workload. Dr. Cook continuously puts us all through busy work yet has high expectations for ongoing projects. This course literally took up all of my study time and I neglected other courses just to stay afloat in this class.”

Spring 2013 (Graduate Students)

“Extremely well organized. Any deviation was logical and explained in full.”

“Absolutely awesome. One of the best, most student-learning-centered profs in the university. This class should be required for all MALS students. Best if a core requirement for all majors. Research is a key skill.”

“Excellent course.”

“Should immediately follow D510 “Intro to MALS” course as the second course in the sequence.”

“Seemed to be behind schedule a lot. Not enough time for discussions.”

“Having only 1 text was good.”

“Always available to meet outside of class!”

“Thank you for teaching me, Dr. Cook.”

“#3=> the ‘in-class activities’ were actually random assignments given for outside, sometimes w/ little or no warning. It would have been better for these to have been included on the syllabus or given at least a week to complete.”

“The workload was fine; however, the timing was not. Given a 2 day notice to do and turn in a time-consuming observation was difficult for those of us with work and home schedules.”

***

Click here for the Spring 2013 syllabus and here for the Spring 2014 syllabus (Undergraduate).

Click here for the Spring 2013 syllabus and here for the Spring 2014 syllabus (Graduate).

ENG-W 215: Intro to Rhetoric

Since its “invention” in the fifth century BCE, rhetoric—the study and practice of persuasion through language, signs, and symbols—has been a powerful force in public affairs, education, politics, and in the practice of civic life, even though today rhetoric is rarely studied outside of English and communication arts. This has always struck me as odd, since the impact that rhetoric and the study of persuasive language has had on Western societies really cannot be overstated. In fact, until around the middle of the nineteenth century, rhetoric dominated formal education in Europe and the United States. My overall teaching objective when developing and teaching ENG-W 215 was to show (and yes, persuade) my undergraduates that to study the history of rhetoric is to explore the evolution of ideas, politics, and—in short—ways of being together in the world as they have developed since the time of the ancient Greeks.

Learning Outcomes

To that end, I developed the following specific learning outcomes to guide my students’ exploration of the rhetorical tradition:

  • Develop a broad sense of what rhetoric means, what it is (and has been), and how it can intervene in the problems and issues of our time;
  • Apply your developing understanding of rhetoric to public life and what it means to be an engaged citizen of a democracy;
  • Speak and write intelligently about the historical, cultural, and political development of rhetoric;
  • Develop and support a compelling argument concerning the vitality and richness of rhetoric throughout Western civilization, from the Greeks to the present day;
  • Recognize and understand how an idea as complex as rhetoric has impacted multiple disciplines and sites of knowledge-production (history, cultural studies, literature and language, economics, political science, etc.);
  • Read and discuss challenging academic texts such as classical texts, philosophical treatises, and scholarly articles and monographs.

As a writing teacher, whether I’m teaching the history of rhetoric or a film class on zombies, my courses are always grounded in the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) dictum that to write about a topic is to explore that topic. In WID and in Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) circles, this is called “writing to learn,” and it is a foundational tenet of contemporary composition studies. Put plainly, “writing to learn” is the notion that students learn, retain, and use information best when they are consistently engaged in the recursive process of writing about, reflecting on, and discussing with others the materials and concepts they are learning. I believe this is especially true when students encounter challenging, difficult, and even frustratingly-opaque readings, such as the classical works of Plato, Aristotle, and others.

For this reason, I consciously designed this content-heavy 200-level survey of the rhetorical tradition as reading-intensive, with a special focus on active or engaged reading. Active reading calls attention to students’ own reading processes, prompting them to slow down and reflect on what they read, sometimes spending several minutes working through a single passage or even sentence. I supply handouts, guidelines, and we practice active reading in class. The difficult language of the primary texts of classical and modern rhetorical theory can be alienating in their difficulty, and thus require a kind of attentive, reflective reading process to which most of today’s students are simply not accustomed.

I also wanted students in this class to understand from the outset just how relevant a study of rhetoric and rhetorical history can be for their present circumstances, so we spent a great deal of time in class discussions and in writing projects exploring the interdisciplinary nature of rhetoric and persuasion. Rhetoric, as the ancient Greeks well knew, is probably the “interdisciplinary” discipline. No other single discipline encompasses so many disparate fields of knowledge or is as central to human understanding as is the study of the persuasive uses of language.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that students were learning how to develop as rhetoricians (i.e., persuasive and effective speakers and writers), so in addition to evaluating students’ mastery of the course content (i.e., the major figures and concepts in the history of rhetoric and rhetorical thought), my short writing assignments (or “SWAs”) were designed to allow students to form connections among and between various theories of language, politics, culture, power, social identities, and civic action.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

The highest possible score in each category is a 5.00 = “Strongly Agree”; the lowest possible score is 1.00 = “Strongly Disagree.”

ENG-W 215: Intro to Rhetoric Spring

2016 (31473)

1.)   The course was well organized. 4.50
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 4.88
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 4.63
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 4.88
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 5.00
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 4.63
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 4.38
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 4.75
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 4.63
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 4.63
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 4.37
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.63
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 4.00
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 4.25
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 4.75
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 4.75
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 4.75
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 4.38
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 4.63
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.88
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 4.86
22.)  Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 4.83

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2016

“I liked how knowledgable [sic] the instructor is on the subject.”

“Dr. Cook knows a lot about the material he teaches. He passes on his knowledge very well.”

“[My least favorite aspect of the course was that] it was early.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to critically read difficult texts.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] the open atmosphere for discussion and his availability for outside consult.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was the] history of rhetoric and the importance of it.”

“I liked discussing theorists the most (Nietzsche, Cixous, Burke).”

“At times the instructor made me feel ‘stupid’ or not good enough. Felt as though sometimes he forgot that we are taking more than just his class. Asked us to spend 6 hrs on 1 essay when we read 4 that week. The work load seemed way to [sic] big for an intro class.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] time management.”

“I love Dr. Cook’s passion for the course and his enthusiasm for the topics. I like what I learned, I did not consider this a writing course, but I loved what I learned.”

“The instructor was not clear enough on grading or requirements for assignments. And the quizzes were not fair to me, the reading material is in a different language I need explained to me before answering questions about it.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] the power of speech/persuasion…the philosophy of rhetoric…and feminism.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] discussions. They helped with my understanding of the information.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] all the reading.”

“I really enjoyed this course. I wish there had been more supplemental assignments. I think these would help understanding/add small ‘fluff’ to our grade.”

“[What I liked most about the course was that] the course material covered a broad timespan.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] sosososoooo much reading.”

“Everything [in this course] seemed really valuable.”