Wrapping up Fall 2005 EN3090

What a semester. For the first time ever--and I hope for the last time--I taught three sections of Tech Comm. I had to make changes to the course, and I'll talk about those in a moment, but I was very pleased with some of the results.

First, the success stories. Among other changes to the course, I made everyone collaborate with a partner so that cut the number of projects to 38. Of those, there were many that displayed excellence of one sort or another, but the seven "A" projects stood out in quality of research, quality of argument, quality of writing, and quality of design. They all shared one characteristic--their authors were very passionate about the topics.

Here's the rundown:

  • A project that analyzed the crisis in text book prices. Not surprisingly, honest research revealed that it was very difficult to point the finger at one source. After 15+ pages explaining the problem and examining data from sources such as the GAO, the authors recommended a multi-faceted approach including asking profs to post information on their texts well ahead of the beginning of the semester (I immediately sent an email to all of my Spring students giving them the title, author, isbn, etc. for my texts). I suggested that this report be repurposed for the campus bookstore committee and (potentially) for the general faculty.
  • A project proposing a quarterly magazine devoted to healthy body images for PSU women. Again, a thorough discussion of the problem followed by an equally thorough description of the proposed magazine. I'm 100% behind this idea -- though I do wonder if they could start with a webzine.
  • A proposal to create a Geology Minor at PSU. Their most shocking finding: after examining the courses that comprise other schools' Geology minors, we already have the courses/faculty in place, we only need to create the minor program! Wow.
  • A report that examined the mosquito problem in Plymouth in light of last fall's discovery of birds infected with EEE and WNV. One of the writers had actually worked in mosquito control in the past. Instead of relying on their own experience, they went to great pains to find and cite excellent sources. Acknowledging their own student status and seeking cover under the credibility of "expert" increased their own credibility.
  • A report that examined the dangerous crosswalks on Highland by the library. Great research, great documentation of their sources, very direct and compelling writing. They actually made the idea of a pedestrian bridge seem reasonable (until the price came up). Dream big!
  • A proposal seeking to address the outrageously long wait at the coffee shop in the HUB. This one was close to my heart. They proposed simple coffee carts in the outlying buildings (Hyde, Boyd, Rounds) that could be supplied by a van. I don't know if it makes $ense, but it would make me less grumpy in the morning.
  • And finally, a proposal by the weather guys to purchase a system called WSI for the meteorology department. This is the software that makes all of the space-aged illustrations and fly-throughs during a weather forecast. More than anything else, they made compelling arguments that PSU grads hoping to break into broadcast├é meteorology were not competetive because they have not trained (and cannot make demo tapes) on WSI.

Now for the changes this semester. The big change: everyone had to have a partner for their projects. Many students HATED this. The common complaint--my partner can't write so I'm stuck doing all of the hard work. There are ways that a partner can be a good collaborator even if they're not doing an equal amount of writing. But, in a few cases, both sides agreed that one partner did ALL--or nearly all--of the writing. Unacceptable. I'll work on mechanisms to ensure each partner is doing a considerable portion of the writing.

I dropped my old technical description assignment, but the instructions assignment suffered because of that.

I also added another conference. Since I had THREE sections, these conferences were too short. But they were so worth it. If I could swing it, I would add a third. Instead, I'm thinking of adding a research presentation--an informal presentation where the students stand up in front of the class and discuss the sources they are using for their project and the lines of questioning they are pursuing approximately two weeks before the due dates.

Another change I'm considering: HTML journals may be replaced with blogs...