Developing Your Course Topic

Using Disciplinary Expertise as Course Topic or Theme

In the WCP, your disciplinary subject matter (one of your areas of scholarly or intellectual interest) can be the vehicle for teaching written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal communication. We do not teach a generic course across all sections. Instead, instructors all use programmatic outcomes and take a humanistic perspective in the critique and creation of artifacts. To accomplish these outcomes, WCP faculty customize the topic or theme of their courses to reflect their own distinctive professional expertise and interests, which are often highly engaging to students.  This customization has at least six benefits:

  • Instructors’ scholarly or intellectual interests reflect expertise that establishes their credibility and authority in the classroom.
  • Instructors’ expertise enables them to create courses that expect students to think and communicate about complex concepts and difficult questions—concepts and questions that present themselves to students as intellectually engaging and challenging.
  • Instructors have expertise as writers, speakers, designers, and collaborators. Their experience models strategic disciplinary processes in a variety of modes and media.
  • The range of instructors’ scholarly or intellectual interests appeals to diverse student interests.
  • Instructors are able to extend their scholarly or intellectual interests in the context of multimodal communication (WOVEN) and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL).

Using your scholarly and intellectual interests as a vehicle to teach multimodal communication is an essential aspect of teaching in the Writing and Communication Program. In practice, doing so is an easier endeavor in ENGL 1101 and 1102 than in the technical communication courses. That said, ways do exist of incorporating aspects of your scholarly and intellectual interests into any class; please feel free to talk with Andy for help thinking through how you might bring your interests into your course.

Emphasizing Course Goals vs. Emphasizing Course Topic—and Preparing Your Course Description

Draft your course description so that you describe the focus of the course as about learning to be a better multimodal communicator—a better writer, speaker, designer, and collaborator as well as a better user of technology. The primary focus of the course—multimodal composition, not your course topic or theme—should have prominence, for example, by location (top), sequence (first), or visual emphasis (box, color, rules, font).

One way to do create the appropriate emphasis is to put your course goals paragraph (focusing on multimodal composition) first and your thematic overview paragraph (focusing on your thematic concept or topic) second.

So, do not do something like this:

This course focuses on X in contemporary world literature. In the course, you will study X and refine your critical thinking and communication strategies about various aspects of X. As you investigate X (including its aesthetics, forces that shape it, and its cultural role), you will employ WOVEN strategies to create diverse projects about X: analysis and reflection papers, websites, curated digital collections, apps, blog posts and responses, feature articles, newsletters, campaign pitches, and posters.

Instead, consider the shift in emphasis illustrated in this example:

This course provides opportunities for you to become a more effective communicator as you refine your thinking, writing, speaking, designing, collaborating, and reflecting. You’ll develop strategic processes for various media and create artifacts in multiple WOVEN modes (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal). In this section of the course, you’ll investigate X (including aesthetics, economic and environmental forces, and socio-cultural influences) as you employ WOVEN modes to create diverse projects about X: analysis and reflection papers, websites, curated digital collections, apps, blog posts and responses, feature articles, newsletters, campaign pitches, and posters.

As a more specific example, note the beginning of this description:

English 1101 will introduce you to rhetorical principles and multimodal composition through a variety of individually- and collaboratively-composed projects. With these goals in mind, we will rely on the power of Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal forms of communication to explore our course theme, “Censorship.”

Or note the structure of this description:

Course Goals

English 1102 introduces students to the principles and practices of communication they need in their academic and professional lives. The goal of classes in the Writing and Communication Program is for students to develop competence and confidence in all communication modalities (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal) and to understand how effective communication balances multiple modalities thoughtfully and synergistically. English 1102 addresses rhetorical principles and multimodal composition while it introduces research as well as cultural studies and literary/discourse analysis. Students will develop an understanding of the genre on which the project focuses as well the rhetorical processes involved in creating examples of that genre. Projects will create purposeful, audience-directed texts that present well-supported arguments using appropriate conventions of written, oral, visual, and/or nonverbal communication. Using the learning outcomes established by the University System Board of Regents, and the Council of Writing Program Administrators, Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program has set the following desired learning outcomes and learning expectationsfor English 1102.

Our Theme

In our course, we will read and discuss a variety of approaches used to interpret literature, culture, and critical theory. The course will seek to multiply the ways in which you read texts of all types. We will survey major interpretive movements from the early twentieth century to present, all the while reading and discussing primary texts meant to help us consider the role of politics in literature, broadly defined. So our goals will be twofold: we will defamiliarize how we read, and we will think about how what we read narrates the political consequences of reading itself. Along with the WOVENText, which will serve as our guide to multimodal communication about these conversations, we will use a critical theory reader and three works of fiction: Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel about Chicago meatpacking, The Jungle; Chris Bachelder’s absurdist novel circling around Sinclair, U.S.! (2006); and, finally, Paul Thomas Anderson’s art film, There Will Be Blood (2007), which took its inspiration from Sinclair’s novel, Oil! (1927). These texts will offer a discourse about the interplay between politics and art to which we will add our own written, visual, and oral contributions.

In other words, make sure that writing and communication are the focus of the course and that your subject matter is the vehicle. The focus of the course is NOT about particular authors, essays, websites, TV shows, films, cartoons, news articles, short stories, novels, poems, plays, essays, and so on. These simply provide fodder for communicating (necessarily, one needs some subject knowledge to be able to communicate). The focus (or emphasis, purpose, or goal) of the course is on the processes and strategies of becoming a more capable communicator.