Rhetoric of the Written Argument in Context: Human, Animal, Environment

RWS 200, SDSU, Spring 2017

This course prepared students to develop academic arguments with attention to context.  We examined relationships between environments and living beings, both plant and animal, human and non-human.  By completing a series of posts and interacting weekly other student’s writing, all students contributed to a single WordPress blog designed for this class.  A visit to SDSU Special Collections was a highlight of this course.  I collaborated with Special Collections who hosted an exclusive exhibit of holdings and materials related to course themes for student engagement.  Many students were entering and accessing Special Collections for the first time.

Students analyzed the argument of a documentary film to discern in writing the stakes of and context in which its argument was situated.  Students then used theoretical writings on animal studies to examine fictional texts.  Finally, students proposed, researched, and developed a project on the topic of their choosing with attention to context.  The final project allowed students to develop a persuasive and informed academic essay, an archival project utilizing university Special Collection material, or a creative/critical project.

The final assignment produced outstanding and fascinating work across the optional categories .  Students wrote about conflicts of teaching the bible as literature, zoos as contested and necessary sites of conservation, seventeenth century texts on animal magnetism, twentieth century collections on religious cults and food preparation.  They created zines on generational gaps in music, about the ethics of vegetarian diets, and used litter on found coastal regions for the material of their zine.  Some students coded and developed html essays after a brief instructional lesson on Twine.  A few projects defied categorization but demonstrated rigorous critical thought, design, and/or attention to Special Collections archives (see slideshow).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Upon request, I would be happy to share materials (syllabi, handouts, slides, worksheets, links to course blog sites, etc.) developed for this course.

Introduction to Literature: Criminal/Justice in American Literature

LIT 220, SDSU, Fall 2016

Framed by the title, this course examined literature whose themes traversed the line between crime or the criminal and American ideas about justice rendered by writers from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century.  An ambitious course working across genres, including the essay, ephemera, letters, novels, drama, quasi-autobiography, nonfiction, graphic fiction, poetry, and film, students surveyed American literature, developed a vocabulary for literary study, and produced written argument driven analyses.  Authors included Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, Eugene O’Neill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X (& Alex Haley), Toni Morrison, John Berendt, and Louise Erdrich.  We surveyed a compilation of poetry produced by incarcerated individuals, discussed a graphic novel, and viewed the film O Brother Where Art Thou.  The rich diversity of the fields from which texts were drawn and the focus of student writing allowed us to peer into interdisciplinary academic work via the literary by thinking about critical race and ethnicity studies, travel literature, sound studies, visual studies, film studies, and queer studies.  Students worked through a series of short essays and completed a series of short writings focused on close reading.  This is a required general education course for undergraduates at SDSU (as of 2016).  In part, it fulfills one of the four “Foundations” courses that students will take in the area of the Humanities and Fine Arts as a student at SDSU.

Upon request, I would be happy to share materials (syllabi, handouts, slides, worksheets, etc.) developed for this course.

Rhetoric of the Written Argument: Digital Literacy

RWS 100, SDSU, Fall 2016

Collage of social media logo and imagery.

Excerpted below is the introduction to the course from my syllabus (and adapted from shared materials developed by previous graduate instructors):

You are going to be studying principles of rhetoric in order to evaluate and analyze complex arguments; you will develop certain skills in order to identify and apply rhetorical principles and techniques.  The study of rhetoric will assist you in producing writing and thinking that argues effectively–produces an effect–with well-evaluated and analyzed support.  This is something every scholar in all majors, from Microbiology to Art History to Child and Family Development, will need to do in their time as undergraduates, as future graduate students, and/or in the professional world, not to mention the larger personal sphere.  By way of achieving these goals, you will be introduced to arguments about digital literacy and you will engage in electronic writing, potentially an important medium for your future work.

This course provided students with a vocabulary for academic argumentation, strategies for reading, locating, and evaluating argumentative components and concepts, and extensive argument-based writing opportunities.  Students created stand alone blogs to complete weekly short writing tasks.  Heavily interested in writing as a process, including review and revision, this course also gave students a set of skills to develop confidence in critiquing the work of their peers.  Course material drew from informed, popular writings on digital literacy from authors such as Clive Thompson, Nicholas Carr, and danah boyd.  Students also examined youtube videos, television clips, and digital literature.

Students developed positions on the positive and negative contributions of social media to literacy, while evaluating complex arguments on this topic.  Students practiced providing an account of multiple arguments on the effects of the digital on cognition in an effort to evaluate the persuasive techniques of each argument.  Finally, after closely examining a third intervention on the concept of “digital native,” students attempted to add to the conversation by constructing an original, informed response.  This is a required general education course for undergraduates at SDSU (as of 2016).  In part, it fulfills the “Goals in Communication and Critical Thinking” that provides preparation and allows students to advance in their “Foundations” coursework.

Upon request, I would be happy to share materials (syllabi, handouts, slides, worksheets, etc.) developed for this course.