Assignments

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  1. Course participation (10%)
  2. Quizzes (10%)
  3. Job application materials  (10%)
  4. Instructions and documentation (20%)
  5. Usability test (15%)
  6. Scientific or technical controversy report (20%)
  7. Pecha kucha presentation (15%)

Grading

The descriptions below will give you an indication of the expectations that will guide my evaluation of your individual projects. I round up from one letter grade to another, but not for plus/minus grades of the same letter. (For example, a final grade of 79.9% will round up from a C+ to a B-, but a 86.9% will not round up from a B to a B+.)

Grade descriptors

A: Outstanding represents superlative participation in all course activities. All of your assigned work is complete, and all of that work is of very high quality.
B: Excellent represents above-average participation in all course activities. All of your assigned work is complete, and the quality of that work is consistently above-average.
C: Average represents good participation in all course activities. All of your assigned work is complete, and all of that work is of generally acceptable quality.
D: Below average represents uneven participation in course activities. Some of your assigned work is incomplete, and the work that is complete is of inconsistent quality.
F: Inadequate represents minimal participation in course activities. There are serious gaps in your assigned work, or your completed work is of very low quality.

+/- grades

A+: 97-100
A: 93-96
A-: 90-92
B+: 87-89
B: 83-86
B-: 80-82
C+: 77-79
C: 73-76
C-: 70-72
D+: 67-69
D: 63-66
D-: 60-62
F: 0-59

participation (10%)

description

This course is designed to be a participatory learning experience, combining discussions and in-class workshop activities and assignments. As such, it is important that you fully participate in all in-class activities, specifically by committing yourself to the learning community consisting of your classmates and myself.

You will have multiple opportunities to earn participation credit. However, if it becomes necessary for you to demonstrate your participation in the course, it will be your responsibility to save relevant materials (such as your class notes or peer review evaluations) as evidence of this participation.

In general, if at the end of the semester you can demonstrate that you were able to substantially enhance or contribute to the course learning community and you fully participated in course activities, you will be able to earn full credit for participation. While preparation times may vary depending on our weekly schedule, you should generally plan to spend 6 hours a week—or, 2 hours for every hour of class time—working on course assignments and preparing for class meetings.

what does class participation look like?

Participation can take different forms for different students. However, some participatory behaviors hold true for everyone.

First, you cannot participate if you do not attend class or if you regularly show up late or otherwise interfere with course activities. For these reasons, course attendance is a necessary prerequisite for participation. However, attending class does not equal participation, for it is possible to be in every class meeting without engaging with or contributing to the learning that occurs in class.

Second, it will be impossible for you to participate in course learning if you come to class unprepared. You can prepare in the following ways. Before each class meeting you should complete all assigned readings and homework. You should bring all materials to each session, including course texts, additional readings, your notes, homework, assignment files and research sources, discussion notes from previous meetings, and any other relevant materials.

Finally, while in class, you should be engaged in all activities by taking notes on our discussions and participating in those discussions. Similarly, during peer-review sessions and technology workshops you should conference with your classmates and myself and engage with the workshop deliverables.

All of these activities allows you to engage with and make the most of your learning experience in the course, and, consequently, improves the course experience for everyone.

quizzes (10%)

Description

You will receive a quiz grade for each of our class meetings. On any day on which readings are assigned you should be prepared to demonstrate your comprehension of those readings, not simply by discussing them in class, but also by being quizzed on the content of the readings and/or successfully completing any assigned proof-of-reading activities. On workshop days, this quiz grade will be based on your participation in and/or completion of workshop activities.

Quizzes will typically be given at the beginning of class. If you are absent or if you are late and miss a quiz or proof-of-reading activity, your daily quiz grade will be zero. Missed quizzes cannot be made up.

Evaluation

Where appropriate, quizzes, homework, and in-class activities will be graded on a percentage basis (i.e., correctly answering 4 out of 5 questions on a quiz will lead to a grade of 80% on that quiz). When this is not appropriate, these assignments will be graded on a pass/fail basis. Your final quiz grade will be calculated from the average of your daily quiz grades.

Job application materials (%10)

Description

Resumes and cover letters are the first opportunities a potential employer has to judge your fit with the job he or she is offering. Because most jobs receive applications from many more people than an employer can easily interview, it is important that these materials not only accurately portray your qualifications for the job at hand, but suggest how those qualifications are appropriate for this particular job. This assignment will give you practice in making both the resume and cover letter persuasive and it will also give you practice in shaping your personal history for different rhetorical situations.

For this assignment, you will find two different job or internship ads that you are qualified for or that you will be qualified for when you graduate. They may be for different kinds of positions or for similar positions at very different kinds of companies. It is important for the assignment that your job ads ask for different versions of your chosen career.

You will craft two different sets of resumes and cover letters, one for each job ad. (You can search for jobs at sites like Careerbuilder.com or Monster.com, but you do not have to use these sites exclusively.) You will also write a memo to me outlining the different rhetorical strategies you used for each set of materials: i.e., what was different and why? In the memo, you should include links to the original job ads. If you do not include these links or if the links do not work, I will be unable to fully evaluate your job materials.

Your resumes and job letters should be no more than 1 page each. Your memo should be 1-2 pages long.

Note: if your resumes are identical or nearly so, it means one of two things. Either your job ads were too similar, or you are not making a clear argument about what your particular qualifications are for each job.

Evaluation

You will submit this project on two occasions. The first submission will be due during the first weeks of the course. I will respond to this version of the project, then, at the end of the semester, you will choose one of your resumes and cover letters to revise and resubmit, with a particular focus on addressing the skills you have learned in this course. Each submission will be worth half of your total grade for this assignment. I will evaluate your job application materials using the following criteria:

  • Audience accommodation: Each set of materials must attend to the expectations, needs, and values of the different audiences represented by the job ads you have chosen. These differences will manifest in word choice, argument choice, and details you highlight.
  • Content: Job application materials are designed to persuade an employer to interview you, so they should extend beyond a summary of what you have done to date. Every list of skills and every job description should be crafted to demonstrate how you are a fit for this position.
  • Format: Resume and cover letter formats are very conventionalized and precise. You must adhere to them carefully except for cases where you wish to produce a specific, carefully constructed rhetorical effect.
  • Style: Together, each resume and letter effectively creates a professional ethos. The written and visual tone is appropriate and effective for the audience. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be impeccable, since employers will use the smallest excuse to whittle their application piles down to manageable levels.

instructions and documentation (20%)

description

Instructions are important documents in the real world. They are a way companies can connect to their customers. They structure the way individuals do their jobs. They help ensure everyone does the same thing for the same task. They can show people performing tasks how to do so safely and effectively.

Unfortunately, instructions are often the worst-written documents we encounter. They can skip important steps, fail to orient the reader to essential tools or concepts, assume too much or explain too much, or generally confuse the reader who is likely to be unfamiliar with the task at hand.

Writing instructions is harder than it seems, but more important than we assume.

For this assignment, you will produce a set of written instructions for a task of your choosing. Your instructions will be designed for users who have not necessarily worked through the process that you are describing. Your instructions will include both text and visuals and should allow even novice users to move successfully through your selected step-by-step process.

You will submit the instructions digitally. Your final instructions should include a minimum of 1,000 words, 5 individual steps, and 10 accompanying images. All visual aids are to be created by you; no third-party visuals will be allowed.

This project will be both an exercise in writing effective instructions as well as clear document design that makes effective use of headings, bullets, lists, body text, and image placement.

Some sample tasks include: Cropping and resizing images in Photoshop, signing up for courses, designing a webpage in MIX, testing soil for heavy metal contamination, scanning and OCRing text with the library photocopiers and Acrobat, making beeswax candles, or building a campfire.

Some tips on choosing a task:

  • Choose a task you are reasonably familiar with. If you are a novice, you might miss steps and mislead the reader unknowingly.
  • Choose a task with specific steps that are not based on technique. “How to sink a free throw” or “how to ballroom dance” are interesting topics, but a reader’s success will depend on form, not function.
  • Choose something appropriately complex. “How to put on a band-aid” involves too few steps for an effective project.
  • Do not choose a recipe. Any task involving cooking or mixing drinks is off limits for this assignment.

evaluation

You will submit this project twice. The first submission will consist of a draft of the project that I will provide feedback on, and the final version will be revised according to your evolving understanding of the project and my and your classmates’ feedback. The first submission will be worth one quarter of the total grade for the assignment and the second submission will be worth the remaining three-quarters. Your instructions will be graded according to the following criteria:

  • Audience accommodation: The instructions are appropriate for the intended audience. They’re written from a user-centered, rather than author- or expert-centered, perspective. They anticipate the user’s questions, difficulties, and needs.
  • Content: The instructions include all of the information needed to complete the task at hand. Background information, warnings, visual aids, and definitions are included where appropriate. All visual aids are the original creation of the author; no third-party visuals will be allowed.
  • Organization: The instructions are organized logically. Items within numbered lists are organized chronologically. Sections and sub-sections are clearly marked with headings.
  • Format: The instructions use the elements of document design (font choice, white space, contrast, alignment, headings and sub-headings) appropriately and consistently. The overall design is clear and consistent.
  • Style: The instructions are written as active voice commands and effectively create a professional ethos. The written and visual tone is appropriate and effective for the audience. Headings, along with numbered and bulleted items, are in parallel form. The document is free from typographical or grammatical errors.

Usability test (%15)

Description

As the advocate for the user, the technical communicator is responsible for anticipating and accommodating the level, needs, and assumptions of the reader. But because the technical communicator occupies a hybrid position—not quite expert, not quite novice—it can be difficult to know when this accommodation is successful. In order to discover and correct problems of expression and interpretation for particular audiences, then, the technical communicator can design and run a usability test.

In this assignment, you will work in groups of 3-4. Your group will choose one group member’s instructions from the instructions and documentation assignment to test with a selection of potential users. That is, the group will define success criteria, design a test, run the test on some subjects, collect and analyze data from the test, and write up a report analyzing the instruction’s strengths and weaknesses.

Requirements of the test

What to test for: Your goal is to see if the instructions work. Can the intended readers understand them and carry them out successfully? To evaluate success, your group must set some reasonable standards of successful performance. For example, you may decide that the instructions are successful if 80% of the readers can follow the instructions in less than 10 minutes, making no more than two minor mistakes. The details of the standards of success will depend upon the instructions you test.

Who to test: While everyone will test the instructions on 8-12 real readers, your group may use either of two kinds of readers:

  1. Readers who are all roughly similar. Which one is more effective? In what ways does each set of instructions succeed? How do they fall short? Which one (if either) would you recommend as the set to distribute to the waiting public? Test at least four people on the original instructions and at least four on the new set.
  2. Readers from different user populations. Assuming that the instructions were written for a particular user community (e.g. math majors, anxious car owners), see how well readers from this group can use the instructions as compared to readers outside the community (e.g. English majors, budding car mechanics). Test at least 5 intended readers and at least 3 unintended readers.

Members of the group should all help to find readers and plan and conduct the tests.

How to conduct a usability test: The basic technique is to observe a reader trying to follow the instructions without offering any assistance. You may employ any and all of the following techniques to measure your readers’ success:

  • Time them on individual steps and overall time on task
  • Record their success or failure at completing individual steps
  • Take notes on their comments or problems as they read and follow the instructions
  • Give them a questionnaire about how they liked the instructions

The method you choose should reflect the criteria you set out at the beginning. Remember, whether subjects like or feel comfortable with a set of instructions is only one aspect of success (even though it is an important one).

What attitude to take: Take a professional attitude toward the test, whether you wrote the instructions or not. Your goal as a group is to find the best instructions for performing the task—not to judge the writer’s ability to write or the user’s mental agility. Remember that the reader is always right. A “careless” mistake on the part of a reader may be due to information that is not as easy to spot as it should be.

Requirements for the Usability Test Report

Rhetorical situation: Assume that your group is a team of document design consultants that has been hired by some organization to evaluate the instructions and recommend whether they are good enough to distribute to the public. Invent any details necessary to fill out this scenario. For example, you may assume that employees are accidentally destroying data in photographs when they modify them due to faulty instructions, and that the company hired you to revise the instructions and show that these revisions are successful. Or your team may have been asked to write the instructions for a new commercial product that the company is planning to market. In any case, your report must make some recommendation about what the company should do with the instructions you evaluated: (1) go ahead and distribute them, or (2) do more revision and testing.

Topics to address: Your goal is to present a professional report that is both informative and persuasive. It should inform your reader(s) of your activities. It should also persuade your readers that you conducted a responsible investigation, that your conclusions are valid and that your recommendations are worth following. Remember that reports are saved as documentary evidence; you are also writing to an implicit audience of consumers, regulators, and future administrators.

Your report will take the form of a memo and follow the model of a Test Report (see HTW for more details). Within the body of the memo, you should review the purpose of the instructions, state the objectives of the study, describe the testing methods used, analyze the results (including tables and figures, as necessary), and use the analysis to support your recommendations. Each of these requirements will be further discussed in class.

Remember, you have to live with your results, however messy or unpopular they are. The user test is not a final evaluation but a tool for improving a company’s documentation.

The final report will be 750-1,250 words in length.

Evaluation

The report will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Audience accommodation: The report is appropriate for a non-technical audience and is written from a user-centered perspective. The report anticipates the reader’s questions, difficulties, and needs.
  • Content: The report meets the genre expectations for usability testing as described above and is cited using the APA citation format. Visual aids are included where appropriate.
  • Organization: The report is organized logically. Items within numbered lists are organized chronologically. Sub-sections are clearly marked with headings.
  • Format: The report is formatted according to the expectations of a formal report and uses the elements of document design (fonts, white space, contrast, alignment, headings and sub-headings) appropriately and consistently. The overall design is clear and consistent.
  • Style: The report effectively creates a professional ethos. The written and visual tone is appropriate and effective for the audience. The document is free from typographical or grammatical errors.

Scientific or technical controversy report (20%)

Description

Issues in contemporary American society are increasingly scientific and technological in nature. One of the problems facing an open public conversation on many issues is a lack of public understanding about the nature of the problem or problems that underlie the issue and potential responses to it. For this assignment, you will participate in a group that will thoroughly research and write a summary report on a current scientific or technical controversy.

Such controversies include, but are not limited to: cloning, genetically modified produce, bioterrorism, global warming, and stem cell research.

To prepare for this report, your group will:

  • Research all sides and viewpoints of the controversy. Remember that, despite what we imply through debating techniques, every issue has more than two sides, and every viewpoint is embedded in a specific set of values, experiences, and goals. As you research, keep an open mind.
  • Synthesize your researched information to figure out what the public needs to know to make informed decisions about the controversy. This might include a definition of terms, a sense of what the actual topics of disagreement are, a history of the controvesy, an explanation of scientific or technical principles, the range of viewpoints represented by key players and the impetus behind these viewpoints, the implications or consequences of this controversy, or future events that may impact the understanding or state of this controversy.
  • While there is no such thing as a completely objective report, avoid explicit bias (such as supporting one viewpoint over others) and be aware of how your tone, style, and arrangement might influence your audience to choose a particular response or outcome.

Your report will be 1,250-1,750 words in length (excluding appendices). It should follow the conventions of formal business reports, including: a title page, an abstract/executive summary, a table of contents, a table of figures and graphs (I expect all charts and graphs to be created by the group and to follow the design principles in the WSJG), a clear organization forecasted with obvious headers, and appendices (as needed). See HTW for more details about these textual features.

Evaluation

The report will be submitted twice. The second version should address any feedback from the instructor. The first submission will be worth one quarter of the total grade for the assignment and the second submission will be worth the remaining three-quarters. The report will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Audience accommodation: The report is appropriate for a non-technical audience and is written from a user-centered perspective. The report anticipates the reader’s questions, difficulties, and needs.
  • Content: The report meets the genre expectations of a formal report, is exhaustively researched, and is comprehensively cited using the APA citation format. Visual aids are included where appropriate.
  • Organization: The report is organized logically. Items within numbered lists are organized chronologically. Major sections and sub-sections are clearly marked with headings.
  • Format: The report is formatted according to the expectations of a formal report and uses the elements of document design (fonts, white space, contrast, alignment, headings and sub-headings) appropriately and consistently. The overall design is clear and consistent.
  • Style: The report effectively creates a professional ethos. The written and visual tone is appropriate and effective for the audience. The document is free from typographical or grammatical errors.

Pecha Kucha presentation (15%)

Description

Where the report will educate your audience about the range of viewpoints and considerations that inform a particular controversy, in this presentation your group will advocate for a particular response to the controversy in the form of a 6 minute and 40 second presentation. The presentation will follow the pecha kucha format—20 images displayed for 20 seconds each.

The pecha kucha format will not provide you with much time to communicate the full complexity of your report. For this reason, your goal for the presentation should be to give as thorough a summary of the controversy as is necessary to establish the persuasiveness of your advocacy without omitting important or contradictory information. That is, you should aim to persuade an audience of informed individuals without misleading them, either explicitly or implicitly by omitting important information that should inform their decision-making. To do so you will need to succinctly give the topic, major players, and main points of contention in the controversy along with the reasons why your proposed response is the best/most effective/most desirable one.

You can only improve your oral presentation skills through practice: standing and delivering a talk. Such practice is especially important given the precision necessitated by the pecha kucha format, so I strongly encourage your group to perform a full dress rehearsal of the talk sometime before your speaking date.

Evaluation

You will present your talks for the university community and a time that we will determine later in the semester. I will evaluate your talks using the following criteria:

  • Audience accommodation: The presentation is appropriate for a non-technical audience and is given from a user-centered perspective. The choice of content anticipates the audience’s questions, difficulties, and needs. Responses to specific questions from the Q & A session directly address audience concerns.
  • Content: The presentation effectively and clearly advocates for a response to the scientific or technical controversy from the group’s report.
  • Organization: The presentation is structured—with an introduction, body, and conclusion—so as to effectively communicate the content, including clear (oral or visual) signals to indicate major points or introduce new topics.
  • Format: The presentation adheres the requirements of the pecha kucha format—20 images shown for 20 seconds each. The images chosen for the slides are appropriate and effective for communicating the content of the presentation.
  • Style: The presentation adheres to best practices for oral communication. Speaking time and other presentation tasks are distributed as evenly as possible among the team. Speakers are able to be heard in the back of the room. Speakers address the audience instead of the screen, making eye contact with the audience and using appropriate and effective body language.
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