2311: Introduction to Technical Writing
The observed instructor, David Grover, is a Texas Tech Rhetoric and Communication Ph.D. candidate. The first-year instructor’s dissertation (still under development) is currently titled “Preparing Graduate Students to Teach Online.” Dr. Cargile-Cook is the first-year instructor’s dissertation advisor. The instructor, therefore, has a longstanding working relationship with Dr. Cargile-Cook, who is also the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric and the co-author of the textbook used in the 2311: Intro to Technical Writing course.
The first-year instructor shared in a retrospective interview (that took place on March 8th) that this was his first year teaching 2311 at Texas Tech, but that he has 9+ years of experience as an undergraduate instructor teaching composition courses both onsite and online.
The first-year instructor currently resides in Iowa (EST). He facilitates online courses from his home office. Because of his remote location, all meetings and discussions with students take place remotely. His office hours and contact information are provided in his course syllabus (see Appendix II).
On the day of the observation, Feb 29th, there was perfect student attendance. All 20 students appeared engaged and accountable.
Figure 1: Skype avatars for participants, instructor, and classroom observer.
Overall, the delivery of the online version of the 2311: Intro to Tech Writing course was very successful. The class started and ended on time. There were a few technical difficulties, but when technical issues did occur, the instructor addressed the issues immediately. Students were moderately engaged throughout the class. They participated in formative learning activities. For example, the students spent time reviewing instructor-provided content, answering questions, posing questions, working in groups, presenting, and performing peer reviews. (Cargile-Cook, 2003).
The first-year instructor appeared well organized, prepared, and knowledgeable. A well-written class agenda was distributed before class and was referenced on numerous occasions during class. Also, the first-year instructor gave clear verbal instructions and repeated the instructions to provide situational overviews as needed (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015). He welcomed and encouraged student contributions, but also was careful to guide conversations back to the required reading materials without stifling or discouraging participation.
The instructor used Blackboard as the learning management system. He employed Blackboard to facilitate the asynchronous components of the course. He then used Skype to conduct the synchronous component of the course. A large group Skype call was initiated at the start of the synchronous online session. In addition, participants used small group Skype calls to perform group work (group learning activities). During the retrospective interview with the instructor, he shared that one of the issues with using Skype (non-business version) is the inability to share screens. He stated that if he feels screen-sharing is necessary, he uses his own copy of Adobe Connect. Adobe Connect is not currently software available to Texas Tech instructors.
During the retrospective interview, the first-year instructor explained that new instructors are provided with a standard 2311 class schedule, which they are encouraged to follow closely for a minimum of one year. The sample course schedule has one open unit, which the first-year instructor referred to as the “wildcard” unit. The “wildcard” unit allows new instructors to experiment with customizing the lecture and learning activities. The first-year instructor chose the topic of usability as his “wildcard” unit. Table 1 provides the six instructional units included in the first-year instructor’s version of the 2311: Intro to Technical Writing course.
|1. Materials & Correspondence||Job Application Packet||I||15|
|2. Proposing Actions to Decision-Makers||Formal Proposal||G||15|
|3. Documenting Procedures||Instructions Set||G||15|
|4. Usability||Usability Report||G||15|
|5. Presenting||Formal Presentation and Visual Aids||G||15|
|6. Reflecting on Your Work||Reflective Memo||I||15|
|Informal Assignments||A variety of classroom deliverables such as worksheets, exercises, quizzes, and so on.||I||10|
Table 1: First-year Instructor’s Assignments
According to the first-year instructor, beginning in the second year, instructors are given more freedom to modify the course sequence and the learning activities. For a point of comparison, the syllabus of an experienced instructor, Dr. Craig Baehr, is included in Appendix IV. Dr. Baehr is a professor at Texas Tech and is also the co-author of the required text for the 2311 course. The assignments from the 2311 course of an experienced instructor are provided in Table 2.
|Assignment||Due Date||Grade Weight|
|Professional Portfolio||Feb 10||15|
|Instructional Materials||Mar 3||15|
|Analytical Report||Apr 7||15|
|Revised Portfolio||May 5||15|
|Quizzes and Short Answers||—||15|
Table 2: Experienced Instructor’s Assignments
In addition to the standards course schedule, first-year instructors are provided with facility mentoring and are invited to attend faculty meetings. The university also provides new instructors with access to a Blackboard site that contains supporting instructional materials that might be beneficial to new instructors.
The first-year instructor started his class promptly at 6:00 pm CST. Once all participants successfully joined the large group Skype call, the instructor began taking attendance. The instructor incorporated a microphone check as part of the roll-call procedure. Every student was required to unmute his/her microphone and share his/her favorite website. This was an interesting classroom management tactic for an online environment, but the process took about 20 minutes to implement, which might appear to some observers as an excessive use of synchronous class time. However, it was an interesting way to engage each student and to identify if there were any technical issues. It also served the purpose of collecting information regarding the environment in which the students were participating. For instance, from the background noise level emitted from one student’s microphone, it appeared that he might be participating from a sports bar.
Agenda and Key Concepts
After roll call was complete (at about 6:20 pm), the class agenda was reviewed by the instructor and key concepts from the required reading were discussed.
|“When writing our job application materials, we discussed the rhetorical situation we were writing for—that is, the speaker, message, and audience and how the three were related. Let’s do the same for the proposals we’re currently writing.”
The first-year instructor provided a mini-lecture that included a discussion of the rhetorical triangle. He also included a corresponding visual in his agenda.
At 6:45 pm, the participants were asked to break into their respective workgroups and begin working on their group assignment. They were instructed to return at 7:45 pm to the main (large group) Skype call, at which point they should be prepared to present the work completed in their respective groups.
The initial group formation occurred in a prior class, so it was unclear if group membership was based on self-selection or instructor assignment. The instructor did not provide information on how to initiate the small group Skype calls, which led the observer to believe that the students had performed this task in the past and were familiar with the process. Therefore, the students did not require additional instruction.
At 7:45 pm, the small workgroups returned to the main (large group) Skype call and began presenting the work they had completed in the workgroups (small group Skype calls).
Each group appeared to have decided in a previous class who would serve in the different roles defined by the instructor.
|“For this project, I want you to imagine that you’re a freelance team of instructional designers trying to convince a potential client to hire you to develop whatever instructions set your team has chosen to do. If that’s the case, what do you need to do in your proposal to convince your client to hire you? What is the client looking for, and how can you project that?”|
The instructor also revisited the role responsibilities prior to the start of the group presentations. See Table 3 for the role descriptions provided by the first-year instructor in his syllabus.
|Note-taker||The note-taker will be primarily (but not solely) responsible for creating and writing the Google Doc for this activity.|
|Spokeperson||The spokesperson will be the primary speaker when the team presents the results of the activity later in class.|
|Interrogators (2)||The interrogators will be in charge of asking other teams follow-up questions as they present later in class.|
Table 3: Group Roles DefinedDuring the team presentations, the first-year instructor did a good job asking clarifying questions, directing discussions back to the key concepts, providing feedback, encouraging participation, and sharing knowledge.
During the team presentations, the first-year instructor did a good job asking clarifying questions, directing discussions back to the key concepts, providing feedback, encouraging participation, and sharing knowledge.
Debrief and Summary
On completion of the presentations, the first-year instructor circled back to the key concepts, answered questions, and set expectations for the next class.
The instructor used a number of classroom management techniques. The mic-check activity discussed earlier in this report is an example of one of these techniques. During the retrospective interview, the first-year instructor shared that managing an online learning environment with 20 students can be challenging. He shared that it’s difficult to carry on intimate and meaningful conversations with 20 people via Skype. Therefore, to encourage more interaction and conversation between participants, he employs workgroups. The workgroups are an important and consistent component of most of his classes. The use of small groups encourages social learning, which is learning through interaction with a community, (Horton, 2012).
The first-year instructor accommodated the three basic learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic in the class session (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015).
The instructor provided a visual (see Figure 2) to help explain the elements of the rhetorical situation as they relate to proposal writing. He also used common visual design principles in the development of his syllabus and agenda (i.e., appropriate headings, font sizes, white space, etc.).
Figure 2: Rhetorical Triangle
At the beginning of class, the instructor verbally outlined the agenda. During class, he introduced and verbally reiterated key concepts. At the end of each segment, he provided verbal summaries.
The students were required to read, write, and present as part of this session. Students read a chapter from the textbook before arriving to class with the understanding that they would be required to discuss and apply information from the reading. In addition, students participated in a group writing activity that provided the learners with an opportunity to apply and practice the skills and knowledge that they had acquired from the reading (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015). Finally, the students were asked to present their group work to the class with the expectation that fellow students would question the group members about their choices, processes, and motives.
The first-year instructor addressed different adult-learning (andragogy) factors in the design and delivery of his course, including relevance, involvement, and control (Lee & Owen, 2004).
The proposal writing unit was the second unit covered in the course. The first-year instructor aligned the units to match a relevant, real-world workflow. “Without such application, such information might be discounted as irrelevant, tangential, or not useful to the adult learner” (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015). First, the participants were required to prepare high-quality resumes to attract clients (Unit 1). Once a client showed interest, the participants were asked to prepare a proposal for work (Unit 2). After winning the opportunity to serve the client, the participants prepared a client deliverable (Unit 3). The sequence of instruction and the activities performed mirrored a real-world process. In addition, the process involved the analysis of a complex situation and the design of an innovative solution.
The first-year instructor shared in the retrospective interview that working with 20 students online can be challenging. Chatting with 20 people at once can be chaotic, and having 20 people talking over each other can be confusing and inefficient. Therefore, he encouraged the use of small groups. The small groups, according to the first-year instructor, provide a more intimate learning environment for the students. To help add structure and encourage involvement, the first-year instructor also ensured that each group member played a specific role and was responsible for specific tasks. This approach encourages learners to play an active, involved role in their learning (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015).
The first-year instructor allowed students to choose a project topic that they felt passionate about or had prior experience with. Providing adult learners with independence and flexibility encourages responsiveness (Baehr & Cargile-Cook, 2015).
The workgroups also serve as a means by which to better engage the participants. Group activities encourage student-to-student exchanges and help to strengthen the learning community (Baehr, 2012). According to the first-year instructor, it’s easier for the participants to carry on meaningful discussions and participate in activities in smaller groups. In other words, the small groups provide a more intimate learning experience.
Areas of Strength
The first-year instructor did a good job designing appropriate learning activities, managing the online class, engaging students, encouraging participation, and ensuring that learning objectives were addressed. In addition, the instructor was very knowledgeable about the topic and appeared very comfortable facilitating in an online environment.
Recommendations for Improvement
As noted in the observation log, there were distracting noises coming from the instructor’s microphone during the online class.
|6:03—Instructor: Sets expectation about small and larger teams. “This semester I’m going to experiment with larger teams. We’ll see how this goes.”
Observer’s Comment: Children in the background fighting or playing. Background noise appears to be coming from the instructor’s mic. This is very distracting. There is also this very weird, repetitive clicking noise. It sounds like someone clicking the end of a pen non-stop.
The class observer and writer of this report is also a working parent. Therefore, the sounds of children playing are sounds that I am very familiar with, and they are sounds that bring joy to my heart. However, the students attending this class are paying tuition to Texas Tech for the opportunity to receive a high-quality education delivered by professional staff—which they received in this case. Unfortunately, the background noise was distracting and might have given the students the impression that the instructor was multi-tasking: providing childcare and facilitating the online course at the same time. Figure 3 is an example of the impression this might have given to the participants.
Figure 3: Multitasking Instructor: Cartoon created by Yvonne Wade Sanchez using Pixton.com.
Because the 2311 course is an intro course for techcomm majors and a service course for other majors, it might be the first exposure that students have to the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Department and/or their first exposure to an online course offered by TTU. Therefore, a multi-tasking instructor might not be the first impression the department wants to give to students.