Warning: This is an archived course website that is part of my teaching portfolio, so some links may no longer work. Please contact me with any questions about this site.


English 411 is designed to be a “senior seminar” for technical communication majors, which means that we’ll spend less time doing hands-on technology projects and much more time reading, thinking, talking, and writing about technology. The reading load will be heavy, and it will be absolutely essential that you keep up with our reading schedule. Likewise, this seminar course won’t succeed unless you come to class ready and willing to discuss (and argue about) what you’ve read. I expect every member of the class to say something interesting during every class period.

What’s the upside of this arrangement? Well, in exchange for your commitment to read deeply and speak intelligently, I will free up your time to think great thoughts by assigning fewer projects and short assignments than I typically assign in my courses. English 411 won’t have much “busy work,” but as I suspect you already know, challenging intellectual work will certainly keep you busy.
Brief descriptions of the major assignments follow below. Additional details about these assignments will be posted to the class website as the semester progresses.

Short Papers (30%). You will write three short papers (4–6 pages) during the semester, each worth 10% of your course grade. These papers can take several different forms; for instance, you might:

  • compare and contrast the ideas of two or more authors we have read.
  • analyze one of the arguments we have read to evaluate its rhetorical efficacy.
  • research in greater detail a technical topic discussed in one of our course readings.
  • argue against the ideas contained in one of our course readings, proposing an alternate theory or approach.
  • examine a topic in the news using one of the theories we have read.
  • address a professional communication problem and propose a solution based on one or more of our course readings.

We will discuss these options in class before the first paper is due. I am willing to entertain other ideas for short papers; please see me if you would like to write a “nontraditional” essay for one of your short papers. The course calendar lists six dates for submitting these short papers, and you can submit your three papers on any of these dates. (You cannot submit more than one paper on a single due date, and I strongly encourage you to submit at least one paper early in the semester.)

Final Paper (20%). Your final assignment for the course is a 12–15 page paper exploring one of the topics we have discussed throughout the semester. If you choose, you may use one of your short papers as a starting point for the final paper, but the final paper will require considerable additional research. You will submit a paper proposal during the 11th week of the semester, and you will meet with me individually to discuss and refine your proposal. In addition, we will conduct multiple in-class peer critique sessions to share our ideas and polish our prose.

Class Presentation / Leading Discussion (10%). To prevent me from dominating class discussions, each of you will lead the class discussion for a portion of one class session. A schedule of topics and dates will be drawn up the first week of class. When you are responsible for leading the discussion, you will begin with a short presentation (10 minutes) that shares the findings of your research into one of the topics discussed in that day’s readings. Your presentation should be accompanied by a one-page handout that distills your research and points your classmates to additional sources on your topic. At the conclusion of your presentation, you should transition into a discussion (20 minutes) of that day’s readings and take the lead in moderating the conversation among your classmates. However you decide to present your ideas and lead the discussion, the end result should be an interesting conversation between you and your peers that extends the themes and ideas from that day’s reading.

Contributions to the Class Website (15%). We will use Delicious.com, an online bookmark-sharing service, to collect links to interesting websites, news stories, videos, lectures, etc., that might be useful resources as your write your short papers and your final paper. To add a link to the class website, login to your Delicious account and bookmark a page, providing a descriptive title and a few sentences of summary and/or commentary. Be sure to add “english411” as one of your tags, and the bookmark will automatically appear on the class website. I expect you to add at least two links to the class website each week. Your grade in this category will be determined by the number of links you’ve posted and the quality of the summary/commentary you’ve written.

Short Assignments and Class Participation (25%). Most of our class sessions will be conducted in a discussion format, and you are expected to contribute actively to our discussions and to interact courteously with your peers at all times. To earn a good grade in this category, it is not enough to attend class regularly (though that is important, too)—you need to ask questions, engage your peers (not just me) in conversation, and show evidence that you have completed the reading assignments. I will give you a midterm grade in this category to let you know how you’re doing.