WR121, W16

This course, like the section of WR121 I taught in Winter 15, is a mixed cohort of Honors and non-honors students taking WR121 together.

The theme of the course is “Re-thinking Stereotypes and ‘The Single Story.'” Our framing pieces for the course will be Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,”” Kevin Sullivan and Linda Davidson’s Washington Post piece “Refuge” and a collection of military narratives from StoryCorp. Collectively these pieces will begin a term-long conversation about the danger of telling/believing in “single stories” of a group of people and the empowerment that can come when detailed, nuanced understandings of groups of people which surpass “single stories” are told.

Each student will choose a specific group of people they are somehow connected with to focus on this term. In the first half of the term they will research/write about the stereotypes and single story that has been created for their chosen group. In the second half of the term they will do research within the group in order to write a piece that challenges the single story of the group by telling a detailed, nuanced version of how the group sees and understands themselves.

Each student will create an ePortfolio that they will work on over the course of the term. This ePortoflio will house all their work for the term and allow them to reflect upon this work and become increasingly aware of their metacognative practices.

I’m greatly looking forward to seeing which groups students choose to focus on and to learning information about each of these groups that will help me challenge my own ideas and beliefs about the world.

I think the concept of this course was strong and I was pleased to see the way the assignments, crafted to build upon each other in a meaningful way throughout the term, worked together to create a larger, cohesive whole–something several students told me they appreciated.

I feel like my biggest success as an instructor in the course was in teaching students how to do effective inquiry-based research and incorporate/cite sources. Students found some amazing sources to help them develop their claims about a wide range of groups including felons, migrant workers, dementia patients, ballerinas, atheists, and people with combat-related traumatic brain injuries. While many students initially struggled to find and effectively incorporate and cite sources, I feel like this is the area where the class as  a whole grew and learned the most this term.

I’m still struggling some with ePortfolio pedagogy. I can clearly see what I want the students to do and why I’m having them work in this platform. When I can get the students to share this understanding they tend to really take off and embrace the ePortfolio and its potential. However I’m still having difficulty getting most students on board. At least 1/3 of the students in this section of the course never really embraced the ePortfolio and this ended up negatively impacting their experiences and learning in the course. I did identify some of the reasons why this buy-in didn’t occur, and am hoping that I’m able to take this knowledge and use it to strengthen my pedagogical approach in future writing classes.

Also the mixed Honors/non-Honors cohort continues to be a struggle. Since the Honors program has not grown and is serving a steadily decreasing number of students, that means that most of the student registering for Honors seats are not students who are in or interested in the Honors Program or Honors level work. It is rather students who are accidentally registering for Honors courses in the online system and don’t really wish to be in an Honors level course. This really creates a struggle not only in terms of motivating them to complete the work for the course for which they registered, but also in building community across a split in-class cohort. So I decided, after much deliberation, that I will no longer teach this course as a mixed cohort. Beginning next year it will be a regular WR121 course. I’m hoping that this will help strengthen the overall course and allow me to build more community among students and more rapport with my students.