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.

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