Course Goal

This course is designed to prepare you to respond to the challenges of communicating as a professional with certain (and often very special although not always shared) technical expertise. However, because the classroom is not the workplace (neither academic, corporate, commercial, nor industrial), and because the workplace is itself constantly changing, the goal is not to teach you how to communicate generally. Rather, the goal of this course is to help you learn to learn how communication works in any new situation.

The kinds of communicative activities you undertake in your professional life will vary, from job interviews to presentations to progress reports, and so on. You couldn’t possibly, in the course of just four months, learn every communicative form that you will one day encounter. So, instead, we focus in this course on the framework of how communication happens—the things, in other words, that different communicative activities have in common.

For example, all communication takes the from of a genre. That genre is appropriate to both a context and purpose. And, emergent from that genre, context and purpose, there is an identity, a persona or agent who selects purpose. There is a practical consciousness or an awareness of “how to” that is apparent in the performance itself. And, there is always an acknowledgment of the success of the performance (as well as the performer), most often by representatives of the community (sometime communities) for whom that performance is most relevant and salient. In this course, I will ask you to consider these “elements” of underlying form as you perform your communicative activities.

Primary Course Project

By way of realizing the course goal of learning to learn how, I will ask you, in collaboration with other team members, to engage in a major project. Simply stated, this project is to write a feature article suitable for publication in an existing science/engineering magazine (or, for that matter, merely a magazine that publishes material related to science and engineering).

Of course, simply stating the project belies the complexity of successfully completing it. For example, your team will need to develop a thorough understanding of what is involved in writing a feature article (the above elements of underlying form) for a magazine that you (your team) select. I can assure you that it will include a myriad of complex and interrelated tasks. Your team will need to develop a project plan for completing this article in an efficient (given your other obligations, classes, or semester projects) and effective (tangible progress with publication as the aim) way. And, you (your team) will need to develop relationships with people who might be able to help you. Perhaps the most important people are those fellow team members, whose expertise, hard work, good will and understanding you will surely come to need and rely on. Again, there is more that will be needed, and together we will discover it.

In addition to the article itself, you will be asked to do other (mostly related) work. The list of course assignments (and their grade values) is below; descriptions are available under the "assignments" tab on the wiki.

Assignment Points
Annotated Bibliography & Mag Analysis 5
Journals (individual) 5
Query Letter 5
Pitch Presentation 5
Article Draft 10
Final Article 25
Ethics Presentation 10
Op-ed (individual) 10
Class & Team Citizenship 15
Final Exam (individual) 10

Peer Evaluation

I take seriously the notion that this is a course about communication, including that which goes on at the group level. To this end, twice during the semester, I will ask that you consider your team’s progress in the class and assess the contributions of the other members in your team—as well as your own. I do this in part to better understand the inner-workings of each team so that I can help them when and where they need it. I also do it to alleviate the concern of some students (not altogether unfounded) that team work is on occasion abused as a good excuse for someone to do less than his or her share of the work.

Note that “Class and Team Citizenship” accounts for 15% of the course grade. I use these assessments as one of several sources as I figure this part of your final grade. It is important that you as an individual team member fully understand the nature of your contributions, and that the other members of your team value those contributions. All of this being true, remember, not all team members’ contributions will or even should be identical, nor will those contributions always and in all ways be equal.

Submission Protocol

I ask you submit assignments in a number of different ways, so you always need to check the schedule to see how an assignment should be submitted. I know this is a little complicated, but I have my reasons. Some assignments will be emailed to me. Some will be uploaded to the wiki (as either pdf or Word file). Some will be both emailed or uploaded AND given to me as a paper copy. I'll try to be utterly transparent about my expectations; I just ask that you always refer to the schedule for the proper directions for submission.

One Final Note

I suspect that your experience in this class may differ from that of your experiences of most other classes. For example, I will rarely “lecture”. Occasionally, I will do mini-lessons, 10-15 minute “just-in-time” instruction based on what folks seemed to need at that moment—usually in response to a question. You will likely spend class time working within your respective teams. Most days, I will be “roaming” from team to team, attempting to make contributions to the successful completion of your major project. In the same way that I feel responsible to “prepare” you (your team) to succeed, I would hope that you (individually and as a team) feel responsible to share with me what you think you need to succeed. Feel free, even obliged, to ask me questions, but also to make suggestions about what I might prepare for, provide to, or teach your group or team that would help you (your team) specifically.

So, in order to use this class time effectively and efficiently, you (individually and as a team) will have to engage in planning, organizing, and completing tasks important to your respective and collective performances.

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