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,” appeared in the edited collection Bad Ideas about Writing in 2017.

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)


Fall 2015



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.”


“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.”


“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.”


“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.”



Course Materials

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

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