Spring 2014 Classes and First Assignments: ENGL1101 and LCC3403 at Georgia Tech

This semester, I am teaching three classes at Georgia Tech: two sections of ENGL1101/English Composition I and one section of LCC3403/Technical Communication.

My ENGL1101 class focuses on learning about rhetoric and multimodality with the neurosciences and evolutionary psychology. My LCC3403 class focuses on a hands-on and collaborative approach to user-centric research, design, testing, and revision.

In both classes, I have revamped my syllabi to try new things such as new parameters for the first major project in ENGL1101 (Twitter, Storify, Poster, and Essay) and a more guided approach to the first major project in LCC3403 (designing a Lego model, creating instructions, testing instructions, and revising instructions). I made changes in both classes based on my observations and reflections and my students’ course survey (CIOS) comments.

You can see my Spring 2014, ENGL1101 Syllabus and first major project assignment (Writing the Brain for Success with Twitter, Storify, Poster, and Essay) here: ellis-jason-2014spring-engl1101-syllabus and ellis-jason-engl1101-01-assignment.

And, you can see my Spring 2014, LCC3403 Syllabus and first major project assignment (Lego, Haptics, and User-Centric Design) here: ellis-jason-2014spring-LMC3403-syllabus and ellis-jason-lmc3403-unit1-assignment.

It’s the second week of classes and now things are in full swing. I am looking forward to seeing what my students create, do, and learn. If you see me carrying around Yorick to/from ENGL1101 or boxes of Lego to/from LCC3403, ask me how it’s going!

LMC3403, Technical Communication: Lego, Haptics, and Instructions

Students at work with Lego.
Students at work with Lego.

My LMC3403, Technical Communication students are well into their second unit project on reader-centered and process-driven fundamentals. In a fun assignment, I wanted the students to try out many different types of technical communication deliverables for different readers/audiences. Also, I wanted them to think differently about nonverbal communication with the heavy emphasis on haptics, physicality, and making.

Students at work with Lego.
Students at work with Lego.

In this project, their primary task is to build a set of instructions for a Lego model of their own design.

Their Lego model should represent something about their studies, their professional field, or their entrepreneurial spirit.

Students at work with Lego.
Students at work with Lego.

Their project began with the creation of a proposal memo that laid out their entire project: designing instructions, testing instructions, reporting on tests in a memo, revising instructions, and reflecting on the project in a memo.

Students at work with Lego.
Students at work with Lego.

Throughout the process, they have to be mindful of different audiences (executives, managers, and customers).

In these photos, the students are busy at work creating the first version of their Lego models.

Students at work with Lego.
Students at work with Lego.

I was happy to overhear someone say, “It’s nice to actually do something fun in a class for once!”

Brittain Fellowship Year Two, Fall 2013: ENGL1101 (English Composition I) and LMC3403 (Technical Communication)

A year has passed since I began my three year tenure as a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication.

During my first year, I taught six sections of ENGL1101 (English Composition I), which gave me a unique and welcomed opportunity to refine and revise my approach to composition. I made changes to class readings, organization, assignments, and projects. During the process, I invited students to reflect on and comment on their work. This demonstrated their mastery of the outcomes, concepts, and processes of the class. This information, combined with student opinion surveys at the end of each semester, guided my thinking on my class revisions.

Over the summer, I had a very special chance to teach an upper division LMC class: LMC3214, Science Fiction. When I was a student at Tech, I originally tried to take this class from the legendary Professor Bud Foote, who went on to found Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction Collection in the Library. Unfortunately, his popularity combined with my minimal accrued hours, I was unable to take his class. However, in the summer of 2002, I took Science Fiction from Professor Lisa Yaszek, who inspired me to become a teacher and researcher.

My experience teaching Science Fiction at Tech was the realization of a dream long held–to teach a subject specifically in my field and training. As I blogged in earlier posts, I enthusiastically led my students to discovery of the historical and cultural relevance of Science Fiction through a panoply of layered, multimodal approaches to learning–ranging from lecture, active learning, team-based discussions, research projects, and a final haptic building project involving Lego bricks.  From my students’ feedback, I believe that I provided them with rich learning outcomes and fueled their interest in the genre, and it brought me great joy to teach SF and to give back to my alma mater.

Now, in Fall 2013, I have a slightly different schedule than what is typically given to Brittain Fellows. For the most part, Brittain Fellows are given one prep per semester on a 3-3 load. However, several of us who have shown an interest in teaching Technical Communication (e.g., I took part in the Fall 2012 Tech Comm weekly seminar–something required for those teaching Tech Comm for the first time at Tech but voluntary for everyone else) were given a choice to have two preps–one for Tech Comm and two for ENGL1101. I opted to do this, because I wanted to expand my teaching skill set with a topic that I was already very aware of and thought about from my experiences at Tech as an undergraduate and my experiences in the workplace at IT companies.

In order to try out new approaches to ENGL1101 and LMC3403, I redesigned my ENGL1101 syllabus [Fall 2013 ENGL1101 Syllabus] while building my new LMC3403 syllabus [Fall 2013 LMC3403 Syllabus] so that the first unit of both courses would overlap in readings and a similar assignment. This year’s First Year Reading Experience book is Donald A. Norman’s Living with Complexity. I used this as the framework for this shared unit across the two courses. My freshmen would already have this book–something given to them by Tech over the summer, but my LMC3403 upper classmen would have to purchase the book. I thought that it was well worth the investment for them, because I choose to adapt Norman’s idea of managing complexity as a way of thinking about what Technical Communication is: managing complexity through communication. In both courses, students were asked, following a week long discussion of the book, to propose a plan to manage some kind of complexity that they identified around Tech or related to Tech (it could extend to applying to school, the Atlanta area, etc. as long as Tech provided an anchor for their proposal). My ENGL1101 students were asked to propose their plan for management in a 2 page essay that could include photos or illustrations of their making. My LMC3403 students were asked to write a more detailed proposal memorandum that thought through all aspects of the proposal from identifying the problem to a plan for action to costs. I plan to write a pedagogical paper about the types of thinking and composition that my ENGL1101 and LMC3403 students created, but it suffices to say here that the students in the two classes approached the task with enthusiasm and produced sharp proposals.

I want to thank Rebecca Burnett, Andy Frazee, James Gregory, and Emily Kane for their advice and suggestions while I was building my LMC3403 syllabus and assignments.

Here’s to year two!