ENG-W 311: Writing Creative Nonfiction

In Spring 2015, I taught ENG-W 311: Writing Creative Nonfiction for the first time at IU Kokomo. The course, which introduces students to the genre of creative nonfiction, takes students on an historical as well as theoretical foray into not only how this genre developed (from proto-creative nonfiction like James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), but also how the genre is traditionally conceived by practitioners and writers. To that end, students read and analyze some of the finest examples of creative nonfiction available—both historical and contemporary, novels and short works—and learn to internalize the kinds of discipline and habits of observation that good writing demands.

In order to develop a course that would be relevant and beneficial for the greatest number of students, we also focused on the basics of essay writing, and I was able to successfully incorporate a number of tools and activities normally associated with the teaching of writing in first-year composition: says/does/because analyses, freewrites, peer reviews, and so forth. Students readily took to these activities, and one even cited the says/does/because analysis as a useful tool that s/he uses in other coursework, too. The rest of the evaluations of this course were quite positive, with more than one student commenting on my enthusiasm, my ability to lead effective discussions, and my tendency to push students out of their “comfort zones.”

The only negative qualitative comments from this course focused on the quantity of readings and the number of books I had students purchase for this course. It is true that we didn’t have an opportunity to get to one of the novels that I put on the syllabus, as one student points out, and the next time I have an opportunity to teach this course, I am going to make the difficult decision of which of my texts to cut from the list. I am currently thinking about assigning excerpts from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (rather than trying to work through the entire 450-page volume) so that students can get a sense of Agee’s inimitable writing style and the way he takes on such challenging and delicate subject matter as poor white sharecroppers in 1930s Alabama.

The genre of creative nonfiction complicates the boundaries of what we normally think of as imaginative writing (e.g., fantasy novels, contemporary short fiction, romance, most “Literature”) and writing about real people, places, things, and events (e.g., journalism/nonfiction or documentary writing). So while it’s fair to say that creative nonfiction is rooted in “reality” or things that have actually happened, the genre also plays fast-and-loose with what we might think of as “truth” and gleefully incorporates figures of speech, rich imagery, and other stylistic elements that we might normally associate with literary texts. For this reason and others, I believe that ENG-W 311 is the ideal course in which to encourage students to experiment with perception and different ways of seeing the world. The genre combines elements of both fiction and nonfiction in a sometimes highly self-conscious fashion, which is certainly part of creative nonfiction’s appeal. But this also allowed us to explore the “epistemology of writing”: in other words, the course challenged students to think of writing not as a way of merely recording and transmitting a pre-set message or objective “slice of reality,” but a way of constructing what we think of as objective reality in the first place.

I designed the course to be equal parts (1) writing workshop, (2) overview of both classical and contemporary examples of creative nonfiction, and (3) extended course on the nonfiction essay. Students read some of the finest examples of creative nonfiction writing available; internalized and imitated these models; practiced the kind of discipline a good writing habit demands; and had their work read, critiqued, and interpreted by a small group of smart, sophisticated readers.

Learning Outcomes

  • Deploy rhetorical, grammatical, and stylistic principles relevant to the writing process and creative nonfiction;
  • Participate in a community of writers and share your works-in-progress in a small workshop environment;
  • Write clear and effective nonfiction prose;
  • See and imitate the ways in which professional writers, critics, and commentators make sense of (and report on) the cultures, discourses, and world(s) they inhabit;
  • Read and analyze long, complex works of creative nonfiction;
  • Understand and speak (and write) intelligently about the history and the development of creative nonfiction as a genre.

To successfully complete this course, you must…

Show up to class well-prepared and ready to learn. We will have important class discussions, in-class writing exercises and activities, impromptu workshops, etc. every time we meet, and these activities are pivotal to your success in this course. Don’t miss class.

Be willing (and able) to read actively and thoroughly. Just “getting through” the assigned readings will not ensure your success in this course. You must “read actively” (more on this later) to be able to understand what you have read.

Be willing (and able) to plan, draft (write), and revise. This is a writing studio/workshop, so you will be expected to write several short essays and reading responses.

Be willing (and able) to spend several hours’ worth of time and energy on your partners’ drafts and projects.

Be willing (and able) to actively participate during writers’ workshops and give specific suggestions on your partners’ drafts and projects.

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 311: Writing Creative Nonfiction Spring

2015 (31237)

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 Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Spring 2015

“The most valuable thing I learned was how to read into why an author would write what they do, where they do. Being able to do a says/does/because review of a piece is incredibly useful to me in my courses now.”

“There was a lot of work, which helped push the mind and challenge the student.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] no extra space between the name, title, and paper. Haha. How to write a great creative nonfiction piece and how to write papers in a new way of thinking.”

“I liked the material and the opportunity to expand my writing skills.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] creative writing and how to process papers.”

“I liked the freedom and openness of the class.”

“Sometimes, the class got a little sporadic and it got confusing what was going on.”

“The most valuable thing I learned this semester was more about myself as a writer.”

“It looked bad having a fourth assigned book we didn’t get to. It didn’t cost much to get, but I could have gotten a different book.”

“I liked how free it was to write whatever, but with some guidelines.”

“I didn’t like all of the reading.”

“I learned, in general, how to be a better writer.”

“Dr. C is very enthusiastic and this translates well into his course. The reading material, especially the first book [Capote’s In Cold Blood], was entertaining.”

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

“Cook is very open and honest with his opinion and teaching style, which allows us to be able to adapt our writing.”

“The readings besides Thompson were a bit dull. => Fact that we barely got through Blue Highways.”

“I learned how to adapt to a teachers grading, and try to pass his class.”

***

Click here for the Course Syllabus (Spring 2015).

Click here for our first Workshop Draft prompt on developing a “Personal Soundtrack” and here for our second Workshop Draft prompt on “Deep Mapping.”

Click here for the Guidelines for Final Portfolios handout.

ENG-W 210: Literacy & Public Life

I have taught two iterations of this course: the first was a survey of the American dream and the second was a course on the multinational corporation in US culture. Both of these courses were quite popular with students, and the focus of each course is on critical literacy: what do students already know about the American Dream or the multinational Corporation and what do they need to know? Both of these courses are also interdisciplinary by nature: students read and view nonfiction books, histories, novels, short fiction, and films that draw upon disciplines as diverse as American history and cultural studies, philosophy, and sociology. Based on the popularity of the American Dream course, I then developed another version of this course built around an examination of the US multinational corporation and how it influences so many aspects of our lives. I plan to develop and teach a completely new theme each time I teach this course based on current events and student interest. In fact, in the Fall of 2017 I will teach my third iteration of ENG-W 210: an exploration of the contradictory phenomenon of “fake news.” Again, the guiding pedagogical theme of this course is on critical literacy—what does an educated person need to know about fake news in order to make sound decisions and participate effectively in our democracy?

When I first had the idea to revive the long-defunct ENG-W 210: Literacy & Public Life as a literacy course centered on the concept of the American dream, I could not have known how successful (and enjoyable) this course would turn out to be. I suppose what really surprised me the most was the fact that from the start of the semester students took so readily to the idea of discussing, analyzing, and even critiquing the concept, the history, the images, and the mythology of the American dream, from the Great Depression to the rampant economic inequality of our own era. Rather than having to sell students on the idea that the American dream is worthy of critique and interpretation, in other words, students jumped at the opportunity to spend a semester doing just that and more. This built-in enthusiasm made teaching this course easily the most enjoyable experience of the semester; I underscore the students’ enthusiasm in this narrative because I think it could be interpreted as a compelling indication of the types of courses our students aren’t (or weren’t) getting and are interested in taking at IU Kokomo.

The student comments that emerged from this course were, as I expected, quite positive. The most prevalent theme that emerged from the students’ remarks was that the course taught them to think critically and to interrogate myths and ideas that have become ossified in American culture and society. One student, for instance, wrote the following:

As always with Dr. Cook, the things he teaches are relevant to the outside world [cf. my Teaching Philosophy] and cause you to stop and think about things. This class used a variety of interesting texts and you can tell that Dr. Cook puts a lot of thought into what he teaches. . . . The most valuable thing I learned in this course would be to think critically about things I have often taken for granted.

Another student opined that the most valuable take-away from the course is that s/he learned “How America really is. I experienced a hard-core dose of reality, and I’m much smarter and better prepared for life outside of college after taking this course.” Another student remarked that the course “made me think about things I haven’t before.”

On the issue of multimodality and using a variety of texts and readings, several students made comments such as “I liked the material we covered in class. Some pieces were contemporary, and some weren’t [and] that was cool. I like that we had good discussions consistently.” Another student wrote that the use of “visual aids” and “various media” made the lessons more enjoyable and interesting. Other students were slightly more sanguine about what they learned (such as the student who wrote, forlornly: “Finding a job is going to be difficult”), but overwhelmingly the student comments indicated that the class found the sometimes-difficult lessons about American culture, history, and the American dream to be valuable for their educations and relevant to their lives.

The few comments and observations that were critical of the course indicated that the weekly discussion forum posts were too frequent, and I have come to agree. In fact, when I taught ENG-W 201 in Spring 2015 as a course on corporations and corporate culture, I decided to make discussion posts less frequent (i.e., bi-weekly), but also more substantive (e.g., students are often asked to incorporate outside research or write longer, more analytical posts).

What I most want to celebrate about ENG-W 210 is that in Spring 2014 nine students (roughly 93% of those who left written comments) made remarks to the effect that they found the course thought-expanding and generative of critical thinking, as well as compelling and clearly relevant to their lives as students and citizens: “this course really generates critical thinking and new ways to analyze the things we are exposed to in this country. Overall I really liked this course and the instructor.” The quantitative evaluations for Spring 2014 were as close to perfect as I’ve received in a course to date; there were no categories in which the mean score was less than 4.00 (“Agree”).

Learning Outcomes (Spring 2014)

  • 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 citizen of a democracy;
  • Speak and write intelligently and confidently about the historical, cultural, economic, and political development of the concept of the American dream;
  • Develop and support a compelling argument concerning the vitality and richness of the American dream as an idea in your own experience and research;
  • Recognize and understand the multidisciplinary nature of a concept like the American dream and how it has been shaped by multiple and diverse forces;
  • Recognize and understand how an idea as complex as the American Dream must be approached through a multidisciplinary lens (history, cultural studies, literature and language, economics, political science, etc.);
  • Read and understand challenging academic texts such as scholarly articles and monographs.

Learning Outcomes (Spring 2015)

  • Gain a better understanding of corporate culture, influence, and power;
  • 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;
  • Identify the pros and cons of corporations and their effects, as well as examples of positive and socially-responsible corporate culture;
  • Apply your developing literacy to public life and what it means to be an engaged citizen of a democracy;
  • Speak and write intelligently and confidently about the historical, cultural, economic, and political development of corporations in the US and abroad;
  • Develop and support a compelling argument concerning corporations in your own experience and research;
  • Recognize and understand how an institutional entity as complex as the corporation must be approached through a multidisciplinary lens (history, cultural studies, literature and language, economics, political science, etc.);
  • Read and understand challenging academic texts such as scholarly articles, monographs, and theoretical texts.

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 210: Literacy and Public Life Spring

2014 (34234)

Spring 2015 (14969)
1.)   The course was well organized. 5.00 4.70
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 4.92 4.33
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 5.00 4.33
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 4.69 4.30
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 5.00 4.30
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 4.85 4.50
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 4.92 4.70
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 5.00 5.00
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.31 4.50
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 4.54 4.17
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 4.77 4.33
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.54 4.50
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 4.69 4.17
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 4.77 4.33
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 4.62 3.30
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 4.62 4.00
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 4.92 4.70
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 4.08 4.17
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 4.00 4.50
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.38 4.50
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 4.23 4.00
22.)  Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 4.67 4.00

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Spring 2014

“I liked the material we covered in class. Some pieces were contemporary, and some weren’t, that was cool. I liked that we had good discussions consistently.”

“I least like the forums every week. It was hard to remember when they are due and make sure they were up to par.”

“I learned that the American Dream can be what a person makes for themselves—or the country makes collectively. The Dream is relative.”

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

“The course made me think about things I haven’t before.”

“The amount of reading and the forum posts [were my least favorite part of the course]. It was all too much at the same time.”

“Finding a job is going to be difficult.”

“I liked the use of visual aids of various media to explain the lessons.”

“I did not like the weekly forum posts very much.”

“I learned to read actively and critically think over the topic at hand.”

“Dr. Cook gave us a variety of books that showed different aspects of one topic.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—personally I hated it, even though I could see its merit in this course.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course is that] the American Dream is whatever I want it to be.”

“The required reading complemented the theme of the course well and prompted me to pursue other works by the authors outside of class.”

“Nothing comes to mind [regarding my least favorite part of the course].”

“My disdain for the corporate life of America is shared by many people.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] the Bait and Switch book.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] The Fear and Loathing book/movie—thought this book was vulgar. The language and vulgarity distracted from the content of the book.”

“I learned about myself and grew as a person.”

“It was extremely insightful, and the instructor facilitated relevant and compelling classroom discussion.”

“[My least favorite part of the course was] that it only lasts for an hour and fifteen minutes.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how America really is. I experienced a hard-core dose of reality, and I’m much smarter and better prepared for life outside of college after taking this course.”

“As always with Dr. Cook, the things he teaches are relevant to the outside world and cause you to stop and think about things. This class used a variety of interesting texts and you can tell that Dr. Cook puts a lot of thought into what he teaches.”

“The most valuable thing I learned in this course would be to think critically about things I have often taken for granted.”

“I like the exploration of the topic. It’s something I have thought about before, and I’m glad the topic was discussed openly and thoroughly.”

“Nothing comes to mind [regarding my least favorite part of the course].”

“[The most valuable thing I learned was how] to analyze data and not believe things at face-value, but question and make my own decisions.”

“[What I liked least about the course were] the forum posts.”

“The course really generates critical thinking and new ways to analyze the things we are exposed to in this country. Overall I really liked this course and the instructor.”

“The subject was interesting.”

“I hate the buzzing A/C.”

Spring 2015

“Dr. Cook is young, fun and enthusiastic.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] NO ROOM FOR CREATIVITY!”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] the inner workings of Corporate America. I also learned how to be more efficient.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] not worth my time.”

***

Click here for Spring 2014 Course Syllabus and here for the Spring 2015 Course Syllabus. Click here for the Fall 2017 Course Syllabus.

NMAT-G 411: New Media Theory

In 2015, I was approached by my faculty colleagues in our New Media program to teach the senior-level capstone course in New Media Theory (NMAT-G 411), based on my previous teaching experience in my well-received Honors Colloquium on digital culture and my own research interests. I developed an effective capstone seminar informed by my own background in critical theory and cultural studies, which formed the conceptual bridge that allowed me to teach this class.

In the last two decades, digital technologies have become enmeshed into our everyday lives to such a degree that one can be forgiven for thinking, “What more can we possibly say about them?” and I figured this sense of “digital exhaustion” might have a special resonance with New Media students in a senior-level capstone course. However, I also wanted to give these soon-to-be-graduates some flexibility in terms of choosing and developing their assignments and projects for the course. To that end, I implemented a Coursework Menu from which students would choose any combination of assignments and projects totaling 50% of the final course grade. Students made their choices, provided a rationale for the projects they chose, and then submitted a Coursework Agreement. Because this was a Capstone/Senior Seminar course, I also wanted students to spend considerable time reflecting on the skills they had learned in their degree program, so I structured the seminar around the various theories and concepts that circulate throughout new media studies and critical theory.

Finally, I took quite seriously the “theory” part of this course. I wanted to make sure that students could do more than merely describe new media phenomena; I also wanted my seniors to be able to take these phenomena apart and understand the constitutive concepts that make them “work.” Asking students to effectively map out 50% of their grade via the Coursework Menu—which could include anything from blogging and responding to discussion questions to making a podcast—encouraged them to map out their own itinerary through such challenging sites as digital identity, social media, privacy and surveillance in the information age, and the economic foundations of digital culture.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

On this Likert scale, 5 = “Strongly Agree” and 1 = “Strongly Disagree.” A perfect score for each category would be 5.00.

NMAT-G 411: New Media Theory Spring 2016 (31737)
1.)   My instructor organized this course well. 4.64
2.)   My instructor is well-prepared for class meetings. 4.79
3.)   My instructor uses teaching methods well-suited to the course. 4.50
4.)   My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics. 4.57
5.)   My instructor treats students with respect. 4.57
6.)   My instructor is regularly available for consultation. 4.57
7.)     The instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.64
8.)     The objectives of this course are clearly stated. 4.43
9.)     Announced course objectives agree with what is taught. 4.64
10.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.29
11.)  Grades are assigned fairly and impartially. 4.21
12.)  The course improved my understanding of concepts in this field. 4.57
13.)  The instructor uses Oncourse or Canvas to post grades, syllabus, and class materials in a timely fashion. 4.57
14.)  New media/art projects are appropriate to the level of the course. 4.50
15.)  My instructor values my creativity and/or originality. 4.14
16.)  Evaluations of my performance/artistic products are constructive. 4.29
17.)  I can apply the learning in this class to work in my future profession. 4.14

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Students did not provide any qualitative feedback on this course.

Click here for the Course Syllabus.

Click here for the Coursework Agreement and here for the Coursework Menu.

Click here, here, here, here, and here for sample assignments, exams, study guides, and projects; click here for a handout on posthumanism and Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982).

ENG-W 365: Technical Editing

(Click here for the Fall 2019 Course Syllabus.)

Technical Editing is perhaps the most immediately practical or “nuts & bolts” course I teach on a regular basis at IU Kokomo. Week by week, students learn how to edit technical documents, from proofreading for errors at the surface level to ensuring that documents contain appropriate content, organization, and visuals for their various readers. Students also learn long-forgotten (or never-learned) principles of correct English grammar, syntax, and punctuation; how to use traditional editing and proofreading marks; the editing functions within word processing software such as Microsoft Word; and basic principles of layout and design. Finally, this course introduces undergraduates to the full spectrum of workplace responsibilities today’s editors and editorial teams face, including large-scale project design and management, ethical and legal issues, and the impact of the global marketplace on editing practices, theories, and methodologies.

I have taught and revised this course five times since I started at IU Kokomo in 2012—more than any other course I have taught—and each time I have approached the course with much more confidence. Several students have noted this in my more casual or “laid back” approach to the course. One student, for example, wrote that I made “technical editing fun and rewarding,” while another wrote that the course “had a very casual feel to it.” Another student observed, “I liked that Dr. Cook was very energetic every class. He also made something like editing, which can be intimidating, fun and easy to learn.” Other students opted to write about how much they learned and, perhaps most importantly, how valuable the full range of editing skills will be for them in their other coursework and in their future careers. Indeed, several of my former students have used the skills they learned in this course to launch their own careers in technical editing—some work as freelancers and full-time writers/editors in various organizations, some are enrolled in graduate programs, and one even worked as an Assistant Editor at a well-known academic journal.

One significant revision that I have continued for the last few semesters was that I scaled-back the resume editing assignment; I now opt not to work with Career Services to give students “real-world” resumes. This had been a valuable experience in 2012 and 2013, but the logistics were incredibly time-consuming, and I felt that whatever benefits or gains the students received from knowing that they were working with “real” job seekers was really undermined by the amount of time it took all of us to coordinate our efforts, ensure anonymity, and so forth. So, this time around, as in 2013, students simply edited either their own resumes or those of friends, family, and classmates. This continuing practice proved successful again this year, too.

Because this course by necessity has a somewhat general focus on acquainting students with the basics of technical editing procedures (copyediting, comprehensive editing, grammar/syntax, etc.), I have come to the realization that I need to develop and offer a new series of editing courses, or perhaps a frequent special topics course that could tackle, say, digital media and the cutting edge of the editing profession. Another course might focus exclusively on copyediting and grammar, syntax, and mechanics. I believe the demand exists for these kinds of courses, which could easily function as both core and adjunct courses to the minor in Writing, Editing, and Media. Going forward, I am also looking for ways to partner with the Media and Marketing department on IU Kokomo’s campus to offer students even more real-world editing situations; one of my former editing students now works as a staff writer for this department, and she credits her time in my class with giving her the basic skills and confidence to pursue this career goal.

 Learning Outcomes

  • Perform comprehensive editing, copyediting, and proofreading;
  • Utilize, understand, and confidently support editorial decisions regarding grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and organization;
  • Use and understand editorial and proofreading terminology;
  • Understand the profession of editing, including career possibilities and professional, ethical, and legal responsibilities;
  • Revise for tone, clarity, conciseness, and continuity;
  • Use traditional copyediting and proofreading marks;
  • Become familiar with project management techniques, responsibilities, and challenges;
  • Use technologies related to editing (primarily MS Word 2016);
  • Analyze diverse communication/rhetorical situations.

 Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught ENG-W 365 five times, which has offered me many opportunities 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 2014.

ENG-W 365: Technical Editing Fall 2012 (15522) Fall 2013

(28110)

Fall 2014 (22733) Fall 2015 (29501) Fall 2016 (32944)
1.)   The course was well organized. 1.79 1.25 4.50 4.33 4.36
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.74 1.25 4.44 4.33 4.50
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.89 1.13 4.31 4.22 4.00
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.74 1.25 4.50 4.67 4.00
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.63 1.25 4.63 4.78 4.57
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.79 1.13 4.38 4.33 4.07
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.53 1.13 4.38 4.56 4.50
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.84 1.25 4.38 4.56 4.57
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.00 1.25 4.38 4.56 4.36
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.95 1.38 4.44 4.33 3.86
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 2.53 2.25 4.44 4.33 3.86
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 1.89 1.38 4.31 4.33 3.64
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.95 1.00 4.44 4.11 4.29
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.89 1.38 4.63 4.22 4.43
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.21 1.38 4.69 4.22 4.43
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.58 1.13 4.63 4.22 4.43
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.53 1.13 4.69 4.56 4.29
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.53 1.13 4.50 4.44 4.29
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.53 1.13 4.25 4.56 4.29
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.47 1.13 4.50 4.67 4.00
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 2.16 1.38 4.37 4.78 4.00
22.) Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 2.05 1.25 4.13 4.67 3.54

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Fall 2016

“I had hoped to spend more time practicing proofreading.”

“The units on grammar were very informative.”

“[What I liked most about the course was the instructor’s] enthusiasm for material.”

“[What I liked least about the course were] chapter outlines.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] proper editing techniques, info concerning resumes, and other actually useful info.”

“Fast-paced, well thought out course.”

“Didn’t get through everything according to schedule.”

“Cool guy.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] all the outlines but it helps.”

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

“I liked how organized the class was and how quickly Dr. Cook responded to emails.”

“I didn’t like how we didn’t spend enough time applying what we were learning in class.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to make outlines and edit papers.”

“Initially I liked the concept of the course, and the skills I thought I’d gain.”

“The instructor was condescending and disrespectful to students.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to push through an awful class.”

“Cook is personable.”

“[What I liked least about the course was that it was] 2.5 hours.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] FANBOYS and many elements of comprehensive and copyediting.”

“This course is great for refreshing those old English/grammar skills and rules. The work was usually real world applicable.”

“On occasion it was hard to figure out what was due and when.”

“This course was imperative to my current work as well as the work I hope to do. Dr. Cook works hard to ensure his students not only understand the material, but also where and why it can be used.”

“I found the worksheets on the subject material to be very helpful.”

“I did not care for the coursework being typed up to upload to the assignments. The subject material is heavy, and I would prefer assignments due in class.”

“The most valuable thing I learned was that people need people who have editing skills There are endless career choices!”

“I enjoyed how involved he got us in class, and how he showed us how these skills will help us in the future.”

“I didn’t care for the workload for how much it clashed with everything in other courses, but that’s just my time management.”

“I learned how to edit documents according to certain standards a skill I need to hone.”

“I liked the outlines—great practice.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] how assignments were due on Sunday nights—instead of before class on Monday. In the “real world” this is something I should get used to!”

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

“What I liked most was things being brought to my attention about grammar usage.”

“I did not like being degraded every class session. I will participate in class discussions, but not to where he can embarrass me.”

“I learned what I did not want in a professor. He’s knowledgeable in his material, delivery and the way he talks/treats students needs work.”

“He encouraged everyone to participate in every class meeting. Made sure everyone understood.”

“Some of the things on the exam are things we didn’t go over in class and/or didn’t go over well enough for it to be on an exam.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to edit and the different ways of editing.”

“Learning the technical aspects of editing was difficult because my major never focused on grammar until now, so I liked learning about that part the least.”

“I believe this course helped me to learn how to edit efficiently, so that’s the most valuable thing I’ve gained in this course.”

Fall 2015

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

“I liked taking the midterm exam the least.”

“I loved learning about consistent [sic], more consistent ways to edit an official document.”

“The class was considerably less painful than I thought it would be. My only major problem was the difficulty of the editing test. I don’t think a test should be so hard that you have to be a grad student to get an A. That being said, Dr. Cook did a wonderful job making sure everyone was at least on the same page throughout the whole semester. I would not hesitate to take other classes with him in the future.”

“I liked the style of this course, it was a lot of hands on learning and discussion which was very beneficial. Dr. Cook is also really easy to talk to if you don’t understand something.”

“Sometime we got behind in our work and we had to rush through things.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned I this course was to] be specific, and clear about what you’re trying to say.”

“There was a lot of homework.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to edit and prepare proper documents.”

“I really enjoyed learning how to edit. Dr. Cook has a lot of knowledge of the topic.”

“I learned what it took to be an outstanding editor.”

“Every day was an academic adventure.”

“He’s a bit neurotic with grading.”

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

“The most valuable thing I learned was not to over-edit things, which will help out when I get a book editing job.”

“I loved the way the class was conducted and the material.”

“I think the final project could have been less simplistic.”

“I learned that I want to be an editor. I had kind of known that already, but this class has solidified my decision.”

Fall 2014

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

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

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] it confirmed my choice of career in editing.”

“He always made something into a learning experience.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to copyedit, how to proofread, how to format documents!”

“I liked the ‘cool down’ day because they helped me stay on track and manage the assignments.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the editing exam [frowny face].”

“The most valuable thing I learned in this class was how to comprehensive edit.”

“[What I liked most about this course was the] material covered.”

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

“[What I liked most about this course was that] it had a very casual feel to it.”

“He should have not given an option between quizes [sic] and chapter review. Chapter review would have been more helpful for this kind of course.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was that] circle bullet points are unprofessional.”

“[What I liked most about this instructor was that he was] helpful in learning.”

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

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

“I enjoyed the course readings in the early portion of the semester about editors, also I liked the online quizes [sic] over chapter outlines.”

“Not too fond on all the grammar, but very glad that I took this class for my future writings.”

“The most valuable skills I can take from this course are the skills that will make me a better overall writer.”

“He made technical editing fun and interesting.”

“No complaints.”

“[The most valuable things I learned in this course were] how to edit documents, a refresher on grammar and punctuation, and the responsibilities of an editor.”

“He was genuinely interested in the subject matter, and could clearly articulate subject to students. The assignments were challenging, but not difficult and I liked that most.”

“The exam was designed specifically to be difficult and I don’t think the class was ready for that.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to professionally edit myself, particularly resumes.”

“I liked learning the process of how editors may communicate with clients and the editing process.”

“Nothing to really complain about.”

“[The most valuable things I learned in this course were] editing and grammar.”

“The course and the instructor helped me learn about concepts that are applicable in real life.”

“I learned how to properly proofread a paper, how to check for grammatical errors and how to properly mark up the paper to indicate the errors.”

“Learned a lot about how to use proper grammar.”

“It went very fast from topic to topic.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] the proper way to use the English language.”

“Class atmosphere was laid back.”

“There were certain homework assignments that were left ungraded for a while.”

“[This course] increased my awareness in copyediting my own work.”

“This course refreshed a lot of what I knew about grammar, and taught other rules I did not know about previously.”

“For me, it wasn’t nearly as challenging as I thought; however, I’ve typically been known for my grammar skills.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] whether or not I knew, or thought I knew was correct.”

“I liked that Dr. Cook was very energetic every class. He also made something like editing, which can be intimidating, fun and easy to learn.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to think like an editor when writing and reading.”

“The class was interesting and I liked the professor.”

“I liked everything about the class.”

“I learned how to copyediting appropriately.”

Fall 2013 (includes MALS students)

“Dr. Cook was always ready to meet with a student and helped me work through a few issues. Always was able to get the class talking and encouraged alternative answers.”

“Fantastic professor, one of my favorites that I’ve had.”

“The class discussion was stimulating, interesting, and useful. I like how much time the professor devoted to students contributing and in class discussion. The instructor definitly [sic] cares about the students and was willing to devote extra time outside of class for making sure students understood the material and could do their best.”

“I liked the instructor’s commitment to students. However I was troubled by the difficulty of the test. Yet I did learn a lot more in this class than in other English/writing classes.”

“It is inane and absurd to have a test that is so difficult no one has gotten an A on it. It should be graded on a curve if it’s going to be that difficult.”

“This is one of the most useful and helpful courses I have taken. The one exam was just too difficult.”

“Very fair grading.”

“Dr. Cook gives the students personal attention and gets to know his students.”

“Very good course. Not the most interesting material, but Dr. Cook made it extraordinary.”

“Great, great atmosphere for learning. Real laid back and not tense.”

“Instructor is awesome. Keeps things chill and uses humor to relate to students. Awesome.”

“The exam was only on grammar. For such a large hunk of grade, we spent very little time on the mechanics.”

“Dr. Cook has been patient, helpful, and has gone out of his way to assist student learning.”

“I believe I learned much more than my test reflected.”

“Dr. Cook is an excellent teacher and very encouraging to his class. He went out of his way to [help] students to succeed.”

“I would take any class this professor taught. He is excellent.”

“Maybe use peer evaluation for group project. Five people in a group didn’t really work (at all).”

“Always available for meeting.”

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

“The reading was alright, but it felt out of order.”

“Used every minute of class.”

“Maybe remove one chapter or two.”

Fall 2012

“What was actually taught vs. the planned objectives greatly differed, and not in a good way. Class time was wasted on irrelevant material and nothing was clearly explained.”

“As far as grading goes, there was not enough evidence based on not doing most of the assignments because we never got to them and the mid-term did not assess what we ‘learned,’ because I learned nothing.”

“I feel as though as the class progressed—the professor’s organization of class time and activities got better.”

“This class took up all of my studying time!”

“Great instructor! I would definitely take another class with him.”

“Loved the hands-on experience.”

“Workload was manageable yet effective; ideal balance made assignments and projects count.”

“Truly seemed to enjoy helping students learn and succeed (and was quite effective at doing so); demystified grammatical rules that have been plaguing me since grade school.”

“Absolutely fantastic instructor and course: would love to take another course from this instructor; highly recommend both!”

“Organization could use some work.”

“Group assignment was a killer!”

“I really hated the group project. Suggest smaller groups. It’s too hard to coordinate that many people.”

“Great instructor. I’m sure he will be more organized in the future.”

ENG-L 495 / SPCH-S 400: Senior Seminar in English & Communication Arts

(Click here for the Fall 2019 Course Syllabus.)

This seminar asked students to reflect on their four years of coursework by exploring the closely-connected origins of their separate disciplines, English and Communication Arts/Speech Communication. The overall pedagogical goal of this admittedly rather ambitious Senior capstone course was to show students how academic disciplines and the knowledges, practices, and identities they produce are not “natural” or accidental, but constructed via complex processes of specialization, professionalization, socialization, and what scholars call “boundary work.” One of my primary research interests dating back to my grad school days has to do with the way modern academic disciplines work to produce knowledge via complex processes of boundary-setting and differentiation—a series of moves and techniques closely related to the circulation of disciplinary power, as has been discussed extensively in the work of Michel Foucault, Stephen Mailloux, Thomas Gieryn, David Russell, and others.

Traditionally, Senior Seminar courses for English and Communication Arts majors at IU Kokomo have been combined into a single section. This is done for several practical reasons: primarily to ensure that the course has enough students to “make” (i.e., meet enrollment requirements) and to save faculty labor and time, but also because English and Communication Arts faculty work closely in the same school and tend to collaborate on both pedagogical and scholarly projects. When I was asked to teach this course in Fall 2016, I was excited that I would have the opportunity to teach both sets of students, even though this meant attempting the (arguably) impossible: creating a seminar-like environment for some 30+ students. Still, I was encouraged in that I would be able to use both my research background and my training in rhetoric and composition studies to explore with students how their separate disciplines came to be separate disciplines in the first place. Given my liminal status as a “rhet-comp person”—a status that puts me on the boundary between literary studies/English and Speech Communication—I thought, as did my Chair and others, that I would be a good candidate to teach such a class.

My hope was that by discussing, reflecting on, and writing about their past two or three years of coursework in their respective majors, these students would come to see the constructed, historically-contingent nature of academic disciplines and thus be better able to engage complex problems and issues after graduation from multidisciplinary perspectives. The projects that students developed in this class were diverse and many were excellent. Some of the most effusively positive comments I received from students in 2016 were from this particular course (see below for full qualitative data).

However, the course also received some significant criticism—as did I. Many students were put off by the divided nature of the course and some felt that there was tension between English and Communication Arts majors. One of the first assignments I had students complete asked them to bring in copies of their unofficial transcripts or simply a list of all of the courses they had taken in their majors thus far. I then asked them to reflect on the skills and capacities (e.g., critical thinking, analysis, summary, public speaking, reading skills, etc.) that each course developed and write them down; the idea was that when we met to discuss our first set of readings, we could also talk about how the institutional and even curricular boundaries that exist between English and Communication Arts courses appear much more permeable when one considers the many similarities at the “root” of our disciplines. I developed a worksheet and set up a way to share these reflections anonymously in Canvas. I had high hopes that this would get the semester off to a good start, begin to build community between the students, and make a statement about the constructed—although no less “real”—boundaries between academic disciplines.

Two things happened. First, a destructive tornado touched down just blocks away from IU Kokomo at the same time that the semester was getting started and during that crucial early-semester period of “getting to know” each other and building trust. Chaos ensued in the days and even weeks that followed as several of my students lost their homes and the campus community in general worked hard to recover from the destruction.

Second, when we did re-start the semester a few days later, the dynamic that developed between students was tense and non-productive. Rather than exploring the “differences that unite us,” to put it in a somewhat corny way, some students apparently misread this exercise as an attempt to vaunt English over Communication Arts. (One irony here is that at the time we were reading Plato’s Phaedrus, a text that is about love and learning—all the more ironic is that this dialogue is probably assigned in far more Speech Communication theory and history courses across the US than in the typical 400-level English class. But I digress.)

There were two other significant structural problems with the course—both of which were my fault entirely. First, as many of the written comments attest, I tried to cram too much dense reading and too many time-consuming online discussions into a course in which students also had to complete a large-scale project with a faculty mentor. Students seemed to respond positively to the in-class discussions, even students who were otherwise quite critical of the course, so I should have made more time for in-class discussions while lessening the readings and homework. I think I was overly enthusiastic—and therefore overly ambitious—about how much we could get done, and I vastly underestimated the impact that 30+ students would have on the seminar atmosphere I was trying to develop.

One of the fundamental assumptions of a seminar course, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, is that the students in the class will have had similar curricular experiences and that they will be at roughly the same level in terms of their coursework and skills. Because this class was so large—and because it was made up of two sets of students from different programs—my insistence on making this a true seminar (rather than, say, a large workshop/lecture course) ultimately led to some of the semester-long problems that plagued the course. In short, I was trying to cram too much into one semester and develop a seminar vibe among a lecture-sized group of students. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. But as usual, the students’ remarks were quite insightful, as in this particularly thoughtful critical response:

 The course was not what I expected. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the students’ bad reaction to the setup of the course was probably the worst part. For a while, the atmosphere was very stressful both for students and the professor. I simply think more thought should have been put into the course structure, and more consideration should have been taken for others on all parts. There was a lot of disrespect from disgruntled students, and obvious frustration from disgruntled prof. More organization and less class assignments and more focus on projects and after-college life.

And this student is correct. While I do think the atmosphere improved over the course of the semester, especially by the final third of the term when students were finishing up and sharing their Senior Seminar projects (many of which were stellar, by the way), the vibe that developed in the class from those first few weeks proved to be counter-productive in the long run.

I will be teaching this course again in the Fall of 2017, but this time, I will only be teaching English majors. Based on my experience teaching this course in Fall 2016, we decided as a department that attempting to “split” a single Senior Seminar course between both English and Communication Arts—while there are some obvious areas of conceptual and theoretical overlap—resulted in a much larger class than is typically warranted in a “seminar”-type setup. This new arrangement will also enable me to focus more energy and class time on the unique professionalization issues that affect English majors (applying for graduate school, developing a strong writing sample and resume/CV, and so forth). Finally, the course will include a weekend Writers’ Retreat to IU’s Bradford Woods near Bloomington, Indiana.

 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.” Because the course was composed of both English and Communication Arts majors, there were two sets of evaluations with slightly different evaluation items. I have rendered this distinction in the tables below.

ENG-L 495 and SPCH-S 400: Senior Seminar in English and Communication Arts Fall 2016 (English majors)
1.)   My instructor organized this course well. 3.50
2.)   My instructor is well-prepared for class meetings. 4.50
3.)   My instructor explains the materials clearly. 3.90
4.)   My instructor stimulates my thinking. 3.90
5.)   My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics. 4.50
6.)   My instructor shows genuine interest in students. 3.80
7.)     My instructor is regularly available for consultation. 4.40
8.)     My instructor encourages me to participate in class discussions. 4.30
9.)     Announced course objectives agree with what is taught. 3.60
10.)  I am pleased with the text required for this course. 3.10
11.)  Directions for course assignments were clear and specific. 3.90
12.)  The instructor uses technology in ways that helped my learning of concepts and principles. 4.40
13.)  Standards for student achievement are reasonable. 4.00
14.)  My instructor collects enough evidence for valid grading. 4.10
15.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.10
16.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 3.90
17.)  The instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning. 3.70
18.)  I kept up with the studying and work for this course. 4.00
19.)  I actively participated in class activities and discussions. 3.80
20.)  I learned a lot in this course. 3.40
21.)  I developed skills in critical thinking in this course. 3.90
22.)  This course increased my interest in the subject matter. 3.56

 

ENG-L 495 and SPCH -S 400: Senior Seminar in English and Communication Arts Fall 2016

(Communication Arts majors)

1.) My instructor organized this course well. 3.78
2.) My instructor is well-prepared for class meetings. 4.22
3.) My instructor explains the material clearly. 3.06
4.) My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics. 4.44
5.) My instructor treats students with respect. 3.22
6.) My instructor is regularly available for consultation. 4.11
7.) The instructor uses technology in ways that help my learning of concepts and principles. 3.56
8.) The instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive. 3.53
9.) The instructor uses Oncourse or Canvas to post grades, syllabus and class materials in a timely fashion. 3.78
10.) Faculty work to provide diverse examples in classroom discussion, readings and supporting materials that broaden the student’s exposure to other cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, abilities, ways of thinking, and/or ideas. 4.06
11.) The objectives of this course are clearly stated. 3.22
12.) The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 3.67
13.) Grades are assigned fairly and impartially. 3.22
14.) The course improved my understanding of concepts in this field. 3.00
15.) Course content covered through the semester reflects announced course objectives. 3.17

 Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Fall 2016 (English majors)

“I absolutely loved this course. The Phaedrus and textbooks on paradigms and research—just all the text [sic] for the class—were intriguing and taught me a lot about critical thinking, identity and academia.”

“Cook is a challenging professor. But, theoretically, we are here to LEARN. I love that he makes us give our all and be engaged students.”

“His lectures teach us not just ‘book knowledge’ but real-world knowledge.”

“Really a thoughtful capstone.”

“I enjoyed the actual project that I created for the class, however the lectures did not seem to lend much insight that was apparently applicable to my project besides one section on creating the research question.”

“I did not enjoy the set up of the course or the class environment. Even though the goal seemed to be to show how Comm[unication Arts] and English have a lot of overlapping skills and materials, too often it seemed like the discussion was pushed towards which major is ‘better’ than the other. Also, the beginning setup of the class until we got to the section on actually setting up a research project did not make sense in connection with our projects and the overall goal of a capstone. It was a frustrating course at the beginning of the semester and not because the readings were too difficult but because it didn’t seem to offer connection to our capstone goals.”

“I liked when this course pertained to Senior Projects and Paul made himself available to students during/after class to help or answer questions.”

“The course was not what I expected. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the students’ bad reaction to the setup of the course was probably the worst part. For a while, the atmosphere was very stressful both for students and the professor. I simply think more thought should have been put into the course structure, and more consideration should have been taken for others on all parts. There was a lot of disrespect from disgruntled students, and obvious frustration from disgruntled prof. More organization and less class assignments and more focus on projects and after-college life.”

“My project was pretty cool so…”

“It got intense at times. Dr. Cook is generally cool but there were times I thought the grading was kind of biased. I had a tough time because I thought it functioned more like a high-level English class which sucked for Comm[unication Arts] majors. I didn’t participate in the discussions a lot b/c the few times I did the professor got kind of snarky.”

“I really liked my project so that was fun.”

“Dr. Cook was very adaptable to a changing class environment. The class was very disagreeable with things being taught, and Dr. Cook handled the situation well.”

“[What I liked least about the class was] the class attitude toward material being taught. Mixing Comm[unication] Arts and English folk probably wasn’t the best idea.”

“[The most important thing I learned in this course was that] deadlines are important.”

“The instructor [was] always quick to help us if we had questions or concerns and we always had interesting discussions.”

“[The thing I liked least about the course was that] we don’t always get to all of the lesson plans”

“I learned a lot about rhetoric and how it applies to my field.”

“The instructor is knowledgeable on topics discussed.”

“The combo of two majors made it difficult to understand at times.”

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

“The instructor is very knowledgeable.”

“The fact that the 2 majors were combined in the same class [was my least favorite aspect of the course].”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in the course was] skills I will (and have) used in my life. I am glad I had the opportunity to read Plato and Kuhn.”

“I did not feel the prof created an atmosphere conducive to learning. I did not feel comfortable speaking in class because of the prof’s poor classroom management skills.”

Fall 2016 (Communication Arts majors)

“I don’t know that I have ever had a professor who made a greater effort to involve each student in intellectually stimulating conversation.”

“The course felt sporadic at best. While we followed a syllabus, coursework did not begin to feel connected or relevant to our discussions until we were halfway through the semester.”

“Instructor was knowledgeable.”

“[The instructor] seemed to favor English over Comm[unication Arts].”

“Instructor was decent. Treated us like adults.”

“I think he tried to do a little too much sometimes in combining English and Comm[unication] Arts.”

“I liked how organized the course was and enjoyed discussions.”

“I didn’t like some of the materials we covered because I wasn’t sure how it applied to what we were learning.”

“[What I liked the most about the course was] combining the beginning of writing/rhetoric with modern interpretation and understanding.”

“Wish we started our projects sooner due to amount of time it takes.”

“[What I liked most about the instructor was] everything, he is an awesome guy!”

“I loved it all.”

“The instructor helped to make the class interesting and he was always very helpful.”

“What I liked most about the course was the join with English and Comm[unication Arts].”

“What I liked least about this course was the fact that the professor seemed very rude to students. He seemed willing to meet, but he just was rude.”

“I didn’t enjoy how disrespectful he was to students, how segregated the class was (between English and Comm majors), and how partial he was to changing grades because students whined about it. I also found the Phaedrus completely useless, and I know that isn’t just me. Did this class prepare me for post-graduation? Hell no.”

“Instructor was abrasive and often did not relate student to Canvas.”

“Seemed off topic.”

“I liked that discussion most of the time boosted my learning.”

“I did feel like the instructor had his share of favorites and was sometimes difficult to approach.”

“I liked the discussion and freedom in the class.”

“We spent the entirety of the semester in a class that was a combo of English and Comm[unication Arts] people studying the similarities between English and Comm[unication Arts] majors. We did not create resumes and cover letters. We did not prepare for ‘the real world.’ The instructor taught above the knowledge level of the class to the point that we could not comprehend any of the materials. The instructor ignored me when I had questions after classes because he couldn’t stop talking to other students. He flirted with and seemingly favored other female students in a nature that others would agree with. And he came in the room multiple times while I was filling this out and rushed me.”

“I liked that he was knowledgeable.”

“The objective was vague, the grading between other students seemed biased, he taught closer to his personal biases than objective information, he often made students feel stupid, he didn’t moderate discussions, he often interrupted presentations to start speaking on it himself, and he seemed to insult students who didn’t understand concepts in front of the class.”

“I felt like (some of) his comments were disrespectful. Why the hell are we studying philosophy when we have no idea how it relates to the course. The books that we read were a waste of time.”

“The course forced me to increase my vocabulary. I now can be included in philosophy conversations. Dr. Cook is very intelligent and is generous in sharing his knowledge.”

“The worst part of this course was that ‘disciplinary identities’ textbook!! It raised my stress levels. [Frowny face.]”

 

 

ENG-L 202: Literary Interpretation

“This course is incredibly useful for any undergraduate student—it challenges the way we’ve always lived and looked at the world. Curiosity is a dying aspect of human life, and this class taught me to question everything. I cannot imagine having this class with anyone other than Paul Cook. He is the best, most helpful instructor I’ve had at IUK. He is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and facilitates excellent discussion and learning. I don’t know how he ended up teaching here instead of some Ivy League school, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have had him.”

–anonymous student comment

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was to] read, take notes, re-read, and read some more.”

–anonymous student comment

ENG-L 202 introduces undergraduates to the major theoretical movements, thinkers, and concepts of 20th and early-21st century critical and literary theory, with a special focus on how concepts like authorship and originality, textuality/reading, and even identity circulate throughout the diverse tools and practices of literary interpretation. Students also learn the basic “grammar” of literary interpretation: theme, plot, character, setting, etc. Because ENG-L 202 is taken by many students regardless of major and currently serves as the de facto introductory/gateway course for the English major, I organized this course differently from a traditional theory or “intro to literary interpretation” course. For example, rather than obsessing over individual theorists, thinkers, and schools of thought, this course is organized around concepts and sites—politics, texts, difference/s, culture, and ideology.

The primary idea is to teach undergraduate students—most of whom are not English majors—how to approach, analyze, and interpret literary (and even some non-literary) texts. This approach is based on the belief that interpretation is perhaps the interdisciplinary enterprise, one that is indispensable to all areas of inquiry. In practical terms, this means that students in ENG-L 202 learn about different ways of approaching and interpreting literary texts, but my ultimate goal is always that they learn different ways of understanding. Some of the most positive course evaluations of my teaching career have come from this course, as evidenced by the epigraph I chose for this Course Profile above. I have also received several unsolicited personal notes—such as the one reprinted in the final section below—about the quality of this course from students.

I first taught ENG-L 202 in Fall 2014, and it also represented my first attempt at teaching an “L”-designated (i.e., literature) course at IU Kokomo. I was gratified to be able to expand and round out my teaching portfolio. Keeping in mind both the fact that this course is generally taken by non-English majors and the fact that this course traditionally has a rather large enrollment (29 students completed the course in fall of 2014), I decided to design the course more as an interpretive, “tools-based” survey of literature and concepts central to literary interpretation and theory (e.g., culture, authorship, ideology, subjectivity, etc.).

This pedagogical approach worked. The qualitative comments for this course were perhaps the most effusively positive I have ever received: “The instructor pushed me beyond my ordinary abilities,” “It [the course] was a completely different way of looking at things in life,” “This class made me think about topics I had not studied before,” and “I liked that this course actually made me think things through, unlike some of my other classes.” One student even wrote that s/he learned, way too many valuable things to pick just one, but I guess the class has changed my worldview, and that has made me a better, smarter person.”

Several students liked the enthusiasm and energy that I brought to the class lectures and discussions. One student remarked, “I really like the way the instructor gets people involved in class discussions, and I also liked the course readings… I learned to question everything.” In short, students seemed to enjoy and learn a great deal from our lively class discussions and my use of multimedia texts in lectures and weekly assignments, in-class writing, and discussion forum posts.

I tried to make this course as valuable and useful as possible to the greatest number of students: useful and relevant for the English or Humanities major, but also capacious enough to be of some practical use to a Business or Nursing student, too. I try to bring this pedagogical orientation to all of my courses, but as I mentioned previously, the make-up of ENG-L 202 lends itself best to this sort of focus. As one student wrote, “The material in this course was presented and discussed in a manner that allowed all students to understand.”

The student critiques of the course fall into one of three categories: (1) the grading system for discussion posts and forums was unclear and there were too many required posts; (2) the reading load was too heavy, and (3) the course readings pushed too hard against some students’ beliefs and were sometimes offensive. (For example, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was singled out a couple of times by students for its vulgarity and subject matter.) To address the issue of unclear grading, I developed an improved rubric document called “Guidelines for Discussions.” This rubric and guidelines document has been so successful in ENG-L 202 that I continue to tweak and revise t for different courses I teach in which discussion posts, forums, and even blogs are routine assignments. I remain sensitive to the fact that students are often inundated with readings and with discussion posts, and one significant revision for the next time I teach ENG-L 202 is that I’m going to try to space-out our discussion posts such that we have time in class to highlight and discuss some of the more compelling posts from one week to the next.

I am also quite sensitive to students’ perceptions of the content of the readings and their usefulness or relevance to the course, but I think one of the great advantages to teaching humanities courses is the exposure that students receive to provocative, controversial, and, frankly, different texts and experiences. Humanities scholars and teachers have an obligation to help students explore—together, in small seminars as well as large non-majors courses—the significant conflicts and contradictions of our shared circumstances. There is great pedagogical value, I believe, in the kinds of productive, civil disagreements that reasonable people can have about themes, concepts, ideas, and even eras in American history (e.g., we spent significant time discussing the “War on Drugs” in the US and how competing understandings of history and culture play out in this conceptual arena).

According to the results of IU Kokomo’s most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), students indicated that they do not have enough opportunities in their coursework to engage with or discuss challenging or controversial topics and discussions. I envision my version of ENG-L 202 to be in part a direct response to this indicated curricular need. Also, the data from the qualitative and quantitative portions clearly indicate that this approach produced a positive experience for the majority of students—my numbers are well over 4.0 (“Agree”) in almost all categories and over 4.5 in many, while some students described their experience in the course as “enlightening,” “stimulating,” and “incredibly useful for any undergrad student.” “Well organized, & the subject was easier to understand because of Dr. C,” was how one commenter put it.

Learning Outcomes

  • read literary and theoretical texts in a more active, engaged, and scholarly way;
  • apply different critical and theoretical lenses to literary texts;
  • demonstrate proficiency in close readings of varied forms of art and texts;
  • trace and discuss the development of major concepts in critical theory and literary studies;
  • use critical thinking, research, analysis, and synthesis to construct a cogent, well-written argument.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught ENG-L 202 five times in two formats (i.e., regular term and summer term), which has offered me many opportunities for revision and pedagogical experimentation. The highest possible score in each of the following categories is 5.00 = “Strongly Agree.” (*Note: The fifth iteration of this course, which I taught in Summer of 2017, was also successful, but I will not receive these course evaluations until the Fall of 2017; hence they cannot be included here.)

ENG-L 202: Literary Interpretation Fall

2014 (22526)

Summer 2015

(13856)

Fall 2015 (29317) Summer 2016 (1300)
1.)   The course was well organized. 4.46 4.73 4.64 4.56
2.)   My instructor is well prepared for class meetings. 4.50 4.64 4.64 4.67
3.)   My instructor explains the material clearly. 4.19 4.45 4.64 4.33
4.)   My instructor stimulates my thinking. 4.38 4.45 4.73 4.78
5.)   My instructor is knowledgeable on course topics. 4.73 4.64 4.82 4.78
6.)   My instructor shows genuine interest in students. 4.58 4.36 4.73 4.44
7.)     My instructor is regularly available for consultation. 4.58 4.45 4.68 4.67
8.)     My instructor encourages me to participate in class discussions. 4.54 4.45 4.68 4.78
9.)     Announced course objectives agree with what is taught. 4.42 4.18 4.32 4.33
10.)  I am pleased with the text required for this course. 3.85 4.36 4.55 4.22
11.)  Directions for course assignments are clear and specific. 4.19 4.09 4.55 4.33
12.)  The instructor used technology in ways that helped my learning of concepts and principles. 4.35 3.91 4.45 4.11
13.)  Standards for student achievement are reasonable. 4.19 3.55 4.50 3.89
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 4.19 4.09 4.64 4.33
15.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 4.12 3.64 4.59 4.33
16.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 3.92 3.73 4.59 4.22
17.)  The instructor promotes an atmosphere conducive to learning. 4.62 4.45 4.59 4.44
18.)  I kept up with the studying and work for this course. 4.19 4.45 4.64 4.11
19.)  I actively participated in class activities and discussions. 4.12 4.36 4.32 4.44
20.)  I learned a lot in this course. 4.19 4.27 4.62 4.56
21.)  I developed skills in critical thinking in this course. 4.35 4.27 4.57 4.67
22.) This course increased my interest in the subject matter. 3.56 4.00 4.60 4.11

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Summer 2016

“I liked learning about literature and how to break it down and analyze it. I have a new appreciation for literature.”

“The workload was pretty intense, but I should have anticipated that with this being a summer course.”

“This course does a good job of stimulating the thinking process, and Dr. Cook is right there to assist and push it along. He’s a very energetic and enthusiastic professor.”

“[What I liked least about the class was] being the youngest in the class.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned was] how to read better.”

“[What I liked most about the class was] break time.”

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

“I struggled occasionally with quizzes because I didn’t have enough time.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this class was] how to dig deep into poetry.”

“I liked specifically the book The Theory Toolbox because it generated thinking that is different from the usual way of thinking. I really enjoyed reading, but I believe the discussions [sic] homework should be in class. The instructor needs to try not [to] enforce the workload of 8 weeks – 16 weeks in a 6 week course. The class is better at being a 16 week course. Critical thinking was great to learn.”

“Dr. Cook [is a] good teacher.”

“Course is very important everyone I will advise everyone to take.”

“Dr. Cook was engaged.”

“[What I liked least about the course is that] it was’t online.”

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

“[What I liked most about the instructor was that he was] very fun and always stimulated thinking.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the amount of courseload work each night.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to closely read something and see the deeper meaning.”

Fall 2015

“I enjoyed how knowledgeable that instructor was, and how complicated theories and ideas were clearly explained.”

“I wish we would have spent more time on plays in this course.”

“The most valuable thing I learned was how to develop my skills in analyzing literature.”

“The professor was enthusiastic and interesting and the readings were great.”

“Too early.”

“How to look more deeply into literary works to understand them.”

“Promoted critical thinking while being enjoyable.”

“The instructor has a lot planned for each lesson but seldom gets to it all.”

“New ways to look at literature, culture, and life. This was a very interesting and useful course and I encourage everyone to try it.”

“The open atmosphere. Dr. Cook made class discussions open to all of us and made it easier to voice opinions.”

“I learned skills to further critical thinking. I also took away a new way of looking at literary texts.”

“The instructor was very knowledgeable and had the class well organized.”

“The worst part about class was that it was at 8:30am.”

“I learned that I need to look at all perspectives of a subject/problem before judging.”

“I liked most about this class the challenge the instructor gave me. Through his critical thinking challenges, I learned an abundance of knowledge.”

“I didn’t have anything to dislike.”

“The most valuable thing I learned in this course was the ability to analyze things more deeply than I could have imagined.”

“[The thing I liked most about this class was] that it was a discussion based class.”

“[The thing I liked least about this course was] that the grading system was confusing. Points would be deducted from discussions for unexplained reasons.”

“[The thing I liked most about this course was] how to look at the bigger picture in social situations and when reading texts.”

“Dr. Cook was very knowledgeable about the subject and the text was useful.”

“No complaints regarding course/instructor.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to look at things in more than just the literal sense.”

“Very influential, and inspiring.”

“Wish it was year long.”

“Dr. Cook has really expanded my thinking, and I am grateful for that.”

“I liked the class discussions, and the topics covered. I thought it drove the material home, and help [sic] me understand.”

“The grading scale was fair, but never got clear explanations on what was needed for achieving above 90s. Though a lot of feedback was given.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] perspective, and new ways of looking at the world.”

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

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

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

“I enjoyed the subject matter and the concepts taught through this course.”

“I did not always feel like class time was used effectively. There were several times when a point Dr. Cook was trying to make was made clear 20 minutes into class and then he would continue to lecture on it for the rest of the class time, causing us not to have time to cover over things we read/did.”

“The most important/valuable thing I learned was where our ideas of identity come from and the concept of the subject vs. its symbol.”

“Dr. Cook is very understanding helping and very interesting instruction.”

“I really don’t understand this class but he gave us good explanation also [illegible].”

“I really like him the way he gave us a time and work—I believe he is one of amazing English instructor.”

“I really liked how I was able to comprehend some of the more difficult concepts in the text book. Dr. Cook made it easy to understand.”

“I didn’t like the way the midterm [exam] was set up.”

“I learned how to (really) read and analyze a text. I also learned how to question things and turn things into ‘theory.’ Loved this course!”

“Dr. Cook is very excited about what he teaches and it shows in his teaching style. This made it more exciting to be in class and learn about the literature.”

“The one thing that I didn’t really care for was The Theory Toolbox. It was hard to understand.”

“The most valuable thing I learned was I need to slow down when reading and break up what they might mean.”

“I enjoyed learning more about poetry and being able to analyze it better.”

“I did not care for the discussions that were on Canvas. At times I did not really understand what he wanted. Also, hard to understand why I got a certain grade on them.”

“I learned how to think outside the box. Reading poetry and plays were exciting to me.”

“The short stories and poems were interesting so I guess I liked that the most about this course.”

“I don’t have any complaints.”

“Learning how to evaluate subject matter more critically and objectively has been the most valuable thing I’ve learned in this course.”

“What I liked most about this class and instructor is that it challenged me. Dr. Cook chose a textbook that challenged my way of thinking and he did so through our in-class and online discussions.”

“What I liked least about the course was that Dr. Cook held higher expectations than I feel should have been expected for a 200-level course.”

“[What I liked most about this course was] that even when I don’t fully understand a text, to keep reading and re-read. Also Dr. Cook chose a textbook that really challenged my typical way of thinking and I am appreciative of that.”

“The course expanded my thoughts to be open-minded and the instructor was very passionate about every topic.”

“The course had too many reading assignments for me to juggle with other classes. The instructor was sometimes harsh on some students responses in class discussion and was too opinionated himself on some matters.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] The Theory Toolbox. [heart symbol]

Summer 2015

“Dr. Cook brought a passion for the subject to his teaching and made the materials more engaging.”

“There was more re-reading of texts than I would like (thought it was understandable that we’d need to go over some things more than once).”

“The most important thing I learned about was the nature of subjectivity vs. the ‘self’.”

“I enjoyed the discussions of the texts and hearing everyone’s view on the topics.”

“There was nothing concrete to show how I could improve on assignments or exams. I would have appreciated some direction with improvement.”

“When I think I understand a context, always look for another.”

“Learning history and popular opinions about literature.”

“There’s a lot of discussion/open group work, but not much interesting presentation of tested material.”

“Critical thinking is not a skill I need to develop to get the job I will apply for after college.”

“I liked how this course was centered around class discussion. I also liked how the instructor used real-world examples to explain hard-to-understand subject matter.”

“The quizzes were very challenging and somewhat stressful, but they were reasonable.”

“The most valuable skill that was honed in this class was close-reading. I feel confident in my ability to close-read any text.”

“I liked the subject matter and class discussions. We talked through difficult topics and held great debates.”

“I was 100% unsatisfied by the grading scale. I would receive the same grade on forum posts, whether or not I spent 5 minutes on an assignment or 5 hours on another.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was that] we should not take everything we hear as absolute fact.”

“I liked being taught how to actively read.”

“No troubles.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned was] active reading.”

“The course is very interesting and the text is relevant and entertaining. Dr. Cook is extremely enthusiastic about making sure his students are engaged in class.”

“I would have preferred to have taken the course in fall in order to really dive into the material. The summer timeframe means a heavy workload.”

“Just in general more about close reading and how to leave myself behind while attempting to interpret texts.”

“[What I liked most about the instructor was that Dr. Cook was] super passionate about the topics.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] the ideology that we studied.”

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

“Enjoyed the course material and the organization of the course.”

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

Fall 2014

“The instructor pushed me beyond my ordinary abilities.”

“Although I understand the use and the necessity of the course books, one was extremely offensive.”

“I learned to go beyond my set limitations and that everything is questionable.”

“He was enthusiastic and energetic in the classes and kept the course and discussions as interesting as he could.”

EVERYTHING we did was worth 100 POINTS! That’s crazy.”

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

“Dr. Cook was very knowledgeable and really explained things until we understood what he was saying.”

“I felt the works we read were very biased, particularly against religion.”

“[What I liked most about the course was] reading texts I enjoy (such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and that so clearly pushed some students beyond their comfort zone. I also think Dr. Cook deserves recognition for making so much time for students on top of everything else he does.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] not having consistent due dates for discussions and quizzes.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] that Marxism actually has some popularity.”

“Well-organized and the subject was interesting and easier to understand because of Dr. C.”

“The only thing I disliked in this class were some of my former students.”

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

“It was a completely different way of looking at things in life.”

“Sometimes I felt offended by comments about my religion.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] not accepting everything as natural fact.”

“This course is incredibly useful for any undergraduate student—it challenges the way we’ve always lived and looked at the world. Curiosity is a dying aspect of human life, and this class taught me to question everything. I cannot imagine having this class with anyone other than Paul Cook. He is the best, most helpful instructor I’ve had at IUK. He is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and facilitates excellent discussion and learning. I don’t know how he ended up teaching here instead of some Ivy League school, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have had him.”

“Every class period seemed very unorganized. We were told to read material that we never discussed and discussions in class were confusing. There never seems to be a plan. Almost all instructions for assignments were unclear as to what we were to do. Even when questions were asked, there was not a direct answer given.” 

“[The most valuable thing I learned was] how everything is ideological.”

“I liked the Canvas discussions and the Zizek documentary. Both stimulated my critical thinking skills.”

“I would have liked more notice for the discussions. I liked doing them, but I felt like they were announced with little time to complete the assignments.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was that] ‘everything is suspect’ and the way history is presented to us.”

“The class made me think about topics I had not studied before.”

“I do not feel the course description matched the actual class. Also, I felt the topics were presented from one side. I felt many of the works and even the textbook was not an academic source.”

“I liked how this course stimulated my thinking with our class discussions.”

“I did not like some of the books we had to read. The book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had little to do with the main reading book Theory Toolbox. Most of the class was difficult to understand and wished the teacher would check with the students about how we felt about the assignments.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this class was] the importance of critical and independent thinking.”

“I liked the amount of time we got to talk as a class in order to understand the subject matter more.”

“We had quite a lot of reading assignments and I do not think we thoroughly discussed a few of them.”

“I learned reading strategies and how to analyze material at the collegiate level.”

“I liked his enthusiastic way of teaching.”

“Having only two days to work on some assignments [was what I liked least about the class]. I would’ve like [sic] to know ahead of time to fit in with my work schedule.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was that] everything is about interpretation and how it is viewed.”

“Some of the course topics were interesting and challenged some of my views.”

“I felt that my instructor was only open to opinions that matched his own. I felt as though he favored some students over others. I also thought some of his lessons were not academic and added nothing to the course objective.”

“I liked the way this course challenged some of my views/ideas.”

“I was familiar with the course material before coming into the class (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and I still had plenty to learn.”

“Sometimes lecture wasn’t as ‘goal driven’ as it could’ve been. We got off topic a lot.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned was that] EVERYTHING IS SUPECT.”

“I liked that Dr. Cook is easy to talk with. His sense of humor makes discussions more interesting than they would otherwise be.”

“I least liked the online discussions.”

“Question everything.”

“I liked that this course actually made me think things through unlike some of my other classes.”

“I disliked the grading system for this course. I don’t feel like everything should be worth 100 points.”

“The most valuable thing I learned is how to critically analyze texts.”

“The material in this course was presented and discussed in a manner that allowed all students to understand.”

“I like that the course increased thinking and Paul taught everything thoroughly.”

“[What I liked least about the course was] all the reading and how many discussion questions there were.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was to] read, take notes, re-read, and read some more.”

“Course readings were well chosen to make rather dense material more entertaining.”

“Grades were assigned fairly, but unclearly with what you need to do to improve.”

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

“[What I liked most about the course was] the selection of reading texts we were assigned at the beginning of the semester.”

“[What I liked least about the course was that there were] a lot more discussion board assignments than I anticipated.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to look at texts analytically and how to understand and interpret them more effectively.”

“I really liked the way the instructor gets people involved in class discussions, and I also liked the course readings.”

“I least liked doing this evaluation when there are numerous typos and grammatical errors.”

“I learned to question everything.”

“My favorite part about this course was the way it inspired me to think differently.”

“[I learned] way too many valuable things to pick just one, but I guess the class has changed my worldview, and that it has made me a better, smarter person.”

“I liked how there were class discussions almost every class.”

“I liked the discussions in the class.”

“Some of the readings were challenging.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how to be a better reader.”

Click here for the latest Course Syllabus (Summer 2017) and here for a regular-term Course Syllabus (Fall 2015).

Click here, here, here, here, here, and here a sampling of course materials, assignments, exams, and handouts.

And finally, here is a nice note a received from a student in this course.Cook_note from student.jpg

HSS-E 110: IU Kokomo Summer Bridge Program

The Summer Bridge Program is a one-week orientation course designed to help students successfully transition from high school or the workforce to the challenging environment of the 21st-century university. Working closely with their instructors and other students in their cohort, incoming freshmen (and some new transfer students) spend a week on campus learning about academic expectations in college, getting acquainted with the IU Kokomo campus, and developing the “habits of mind” that college coursework demands. The summer of 2017 will mark my third year of teaching in the Bridge Program, and I was gratified to be able to build upon what I learned in my first two years in this program. Together with my co-teacher, Michelle Westervelt, we design modules and activities for students that include campus tours, mock debates, active reading exercises, freewrites, digital projects/podcasts, reflection activities and writing projects, and a trip to the Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis. The guiding pedagogical philosophy behind the Bridge Program has always been that in order to teach incoming students, you must first help students feel comfortable and welcome. All of our activities are designed with this in mind as our first learning outcome, and we revise the course readings, topics, and projects each time we teach it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will learn about college-level academic expectations and the “habits of mind” college courses demand;
  • Students will develop networks and friendships that will help them make a successful transition to life at IU Kokomo;
  • Students will develop awareness of campus procedures and policies, as well as where and how to find assistance with common questions and issues;
  • Students will gain awareness of campus activities, clubs, organizations, and many other extracurricular and internship opportunities;
  • Students will apply critical thinking skills to academic exercises and activities and will begin to get a “feel” for college-level work;
  • Students will gain awareness of a variety of classroom formats (hybrid, lecture, “flipped,” etc.);
  • Students will discuss career and degree options with faculty and staff members.

Course Evaluation Summaries

Evaluations in 2015 were qualitative only—these comments can be found below. 2016 evaluations were both qualitative and quantitative, but the qualitative feedback from students has unfortunately been lost. At the time of this writing, we are preparing for the 2017 section of Summer Bridge, which will commence in early August of 2017. (Click here for the Summer 2017 course syllabus.)

Summer 2015

  • I came in to the program as a nervous IUK freshman, and went out of the program as a confident IUK freshman. The Bridge program taught me a lot about IUK.
  • I think this program really helped introduce students to college.
  • I know where my classes are and I know people I can go to for help when I need it.
  • I am more comfortable and confident about starting school.
  • The instructors who lead it, they were insanely helpful. Any question you have they’d answer it.
  • I really liked this program because it helped me learn so much more before the school year started.
  • It helped me gain awareness of the campus.
  • Learning about the important things in life.
  • It helped me learn about the campus and feel more comfortable being here as well as meet new friends.
  • Meeting people on campus/staff and a few students.
  • Touring campus and learning tips about campus.
  • Very resourceful and the food.
  • Meeting classmates and professors before classes started.
  • You get to meet a lot of professors and faculty who really care about helping you succeed.
  • Meeting new people.
  • Knowing which building has what.
  • Learning one.iu.edu and Canvas.
  • Touring the building.
  • Guest speakers.
  • Meeting new people.
  • We took tours to know where everything is at and they had great lunches and guest speakers.
  • Learning how college is and the classroom setting.
  • Helpful in financial aid, campus activities.
  • The information about various topics, learning more about what college is like, being with professors.
  • How the instructors got everybody to participate.
  • How the students participated.
  • How the instructors gave knowledge of classrooms and campus life
  • Learning how different it is from high school, how to manage stress, mostly how college works.
  • Learning all of the little details and questions I had before.
  • Many of my questions were answered, the lunches were great, and now I won’t have anxiety the first day of class.
  • This program also showed me where I can go for help with everything.
  • The professors gave us a lot of needed information.
  • They also gave us information that nobody usually shares about what college is really like.
  • They help us feel comfortable at the campus.
  • The tours.
  • Financial aid talking to us.
  • The speakers.

Summer 2016

HSS-E 110: Summer Bridge Program Summer 2016
1.)   The course was well organized. 1.79
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.74
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.89
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.74
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.63
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.79
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.53
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.84
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.00
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.95
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 2.53
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 1.89
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.95
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.89
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.21
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.58
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.53
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.53
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.53
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.47
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 2.16
22.)  Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 2.05

Click here for the most recent Course Syllabus (Summer 2017).