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

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

-Anonymous student comment (Fall 2014)

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

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

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

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

Learning Outcomes

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

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

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

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

(22316)

Fall 2015

(FLC)

(32334)

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

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

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

Course Evaluation Summaries (Qualitative)

Fall 2015 (32334—face-to-face)

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

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

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

“It was very fun and enjoyable.”

“The essays were very stressful.”

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

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

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

“My writing skills are a lot better.”

“I did not like the course or instructor.”

“He treated me differently from other students.”

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

“He is kinda judgy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t care for the essay topics.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Didn’t give much direction on essays.”

“Cook was awesome and energetic. Loved him.”

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

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

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

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

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

Fall 2014 (22316—face-to-face)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought a lot, I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall 2012 (14857—face-to-face))

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

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

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

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

“Graded too harshly for an introductory course.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Not organized and changed syllabus multiple times!”

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

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

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

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

“I found this class pointless.”

“Manageable.”

“Fair grading.”

“Respect and comfortable discussions.”

Fall 2012 (34416—face-to-face)

“I enjoyed this class a lot.”

“First/only class.”

Summer 2014 (15432—fully online)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

Fall 2013 (27594—fully online)

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

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

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

“It’s good the way it is.”

“Nothing.”

***

Course Materials

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

ENG-W 132: Elementary Composition II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Outcomes

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

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

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

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

(1106)

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

Course Evaluations (Qualitative) 

Spring 2017 (28715)

“He is always nice and willing to help.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing. I thought the course went well.”

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

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

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

“We learned about real life situations.”

“Graded harder than he should have.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I liked the reading material.”

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

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

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

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

“I learned how to properly spot fake news.”

“Interesting topics.”

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

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

“He’s a really good guy.”

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

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

“I did not like all the writing assignments.”

“I liked the free-writing.”

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

“I learned more on fake news.”

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

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

“I like the way he gave clear instructions.”

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

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

Summer 2013 (1247)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is a good teacher with good intentions.”

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

Summer 2013 (1106)

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

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

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

“Lay off some reading.”

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

“This is my first class @ IUK.”

Spring 2013 (14603)

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

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

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

“Nice teacher.”

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

“First rate on both organization and presentation.” 

***

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

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

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Outcomes

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

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

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

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

(9431)

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

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

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

(9519)

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

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2014 (Undergraduate Students)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I discovered one of my new favorite playwrights”

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

“Nothing stands out as being unpleasant, actually.”

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

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

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

Spring 2014 (Graduate Students)

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

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

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

Spring 2013 (Undergraduate Students)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring 2013 (Graduate Students)

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

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

“Excellent course.”

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

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

“Having only 1 text was good.”

“Always available to meet outside of class!”

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

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

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

***

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

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

ENG-W 215: Intro to Rhetoric

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

Learning Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

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

ENG-W 215: Intro to Rhetoric Spring

2016 (31473)

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

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).