First Year Composition – Critical Issues

Dr. Kim De Vries
Office: L-195N
Office Hours: Tuesdays, 1-1:45 and by appt.
kdevries at csustan dot edu
Phone: 209.667.3775

Important Notices about furlough and H1N1 Flu


For the past 10 years the CSU system has suffered chronic under-funding.  This year, because of the state economic crisis, the budget cuts are draconian, $584 million, the worst ever in decades.  The CSU administration is attempting to manage these cuts by dramatically increasing student fees and by furloughing almost all University employees, including faculty, staff, and administrators.   A furlough means mandatory un-paid days off for employees; there are 18 of these this year for faculty.

For students this means that on some days the campus will be closed.  The library will have shorter hours and many campus support services will be decreased or eliminated. It will, for example, be more difficult to get signatures to meet deadlines. Some classes you need may have been cut from the class schedule or are full.

The days when I’m forced to cancel class because of the furloughs are marked on your syllabus below.  These days off are not holidays; they are a very concrete example of how budget cuts have consequences.

H1N1 Flu

If you develop symptoms of H1N1 influenza (swine flu), which are: fever and cough or sore throat, along with fatigue and feeling ill, DO NOT come to class. Contact me by email or phone and I will excuse you and make arrangements for you to complete assignments. The H1N1 flu is very contagious; however, it is almost always associated with significant fever (over 100.5 Fahrenheit), so if you don’t have a fever and feel up to it, you may come to class. I encourage everyone to get the vaccine, which is just coming out. Make sure it’s the vaccine that covers H1N1 flu. If you do get the flu, once your fever has been gone for 24 hours, you should no longer be contagious, and may attend class. Also, wash your hands!

Focus on Critical Issues

What does it mean to be “literate” and how has this changed as a consequence of the introduction of new communication technologies? What social skills and cultural competencies do young people need to acquire if they are going to be able to fully participate in the digital future? (Jenkins, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 8/17/09)

The past decade has seen enormous turmoil in the US and abroad, socially and economically.  In order to move forward and recreate a just and peaceful society, we must first understand the issues around which so much debate has erupted.  This class will focus on several of those issues and as we explore them, students will develop skills in critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  We will also learn how to use technology, rather than letting it use us.

Purpose and Goals

Students in this course will:

  • develop critical analytical skills while becoming familiar with a variety of current issues;
  • learn to identify good and bad arguments while working as a team;
  • create concise descriptive, persuasive, and analytical texts;
  • present their work to an audience, and engage in thoughtful discussions in class.

Since it is difficult to learn these skills through “empty” exercises, students are required to complete a hands-on project that aims to educate others about a current issue.

Required Work

  1. Participation: For each class session, the student should make at least one thoughtful contribution to the class discussion, describing their response to the readings or other assignments, and offering some topics or questions we should explore. Keep in mind that contributions here also allow me to assess your mastery over the course content so try to anchor your comments closely to the course material. You need not reference all of the material for that week but should focus your discussion on salient points of interest.
  2. Reading journal/blog: You will maintain an ongoing  journal in which you reflect upon the skills, knowledge, and tools you are seeking and getting out of this course and reflect upon how the subjects covered in the texts relate to the circumstances of your own life. The key word is reflection; this is about thinking about the subject matter, not simply demonstrating that you did the reading or writing. Your journal is primarily a conversation with yourself about what the subject might have to do with the world you actually live in. Extra credit will be given to those who main their journal online, as a public blog.
  3. Multi-genre Assignment: For this assignment, you are asked to think critically about an issue discussed in class.
    • Create four pages (2000 words) exploring how the issue affects your life and be prepared to speak for a few minutes in class about the issue.
    • Next you will create a version that incorporates a variety of media to communicate your ideas.  *Adapted from Andrea Walsh, MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies
  4. Final Project: For this project you will work in  group to focus on some idea we have discussed in class and/or that you have written about in your journal and create a text or multimedia work to explore that idea further and educate other students about that issue.  Your aim is to express your current thinking and the thinking of others on that idea and communicate this to an audience in a way that engages their interest and ideally provokes further thinking.  If this is a text, aim for about 5 pages max, single spaced, or about 2500 words.  If you are making a video or audio piece, probably 10 minutes, max.  If it’s some combination, we can talk about it!  The first step will be a proposal that explains the idea you want to explore and how you want to explore it.

Course materials

We will not be using a standard textbook this term. Instead, we will be “reading” a variety of articles, books, videos  and media pieces from web sites. Most readings and media are available online, and will be linked from the calendar below.

A writing guide is available as well, at this link. You may also use other writing guides if you own one already, or prefer to purchase a hard copy.

Optional Contract and Portfolio Grading

In this class, if you choose this option, I won’t assign letter or number grades to any of your work in order to calculate a grade. I believe that assigning that sort of quantitative value to your communication shifts our focus from its proper place: what you want to say and why you want to say it. Grades force us both to instead be always calculating what some small part of a paper is “worth,” and thinking about that grade, when in fact successful communication is the real reward for your efforts. Of course, in the end I must give you a grade. I feel that the most accurate assessment of your learning can only be achieved looking at it all together. A class, like a text, is more than the sum (and average) of its parts.

Your final grade in this course will be based on my evaluation of your written assignments, your work in class, and your work responding to your classmates. With effort (see below), anyone can pass the class. We will talk in class about what is considered exceptional and worthy of high grades, and what is considered excellent communication in the academic community at large. Remember, you control what grade you earn.

If you complete every assignment in a satisfactory manner—meaning it shows effort, and your participation is similarly strong, you will get a B. You cannot pass the class, let alone earn a B without completing EVERY assignment.

Though I do not grade individual assignments, be assured that if you are in danger of failing, you will know. I will also be happy at any time in the semester to talk about your work.

When I do finally assign a grade, I will be using the +/- grading option.

What do I mean by “effort?”

As I stated above, a passing grade depends on fulfilling all of the requirements with effort. There is, of course, no exact measurement of such a vague quality. I will, however, look for certain concrete, observable signs of notable effort, thinking, and involvement:

Engagement: In class you are ready to participate. This means that not only have you done the reading I assigned for each day, but you remember it and are prepared to discuss it. You have tried to figure out confusing passages, noted your own questions or reactions to the reading, and thought about what it all means. When writng is due, you have it ready on time.

Sophistication: Show that a complex idea or question drives your writing or comments. For instance, don’t just tell four obvious reasons why dishonesty is bad or free will is good. A sophisticated piece would delve into a question about honesty or free will, and therefore show the complexity of the chosen issue.

Movement: Show in your writing and from week to week a movement of thinking through or figuring out your thinking on a topic. Thus your work needs to have a line of thinking or a succession of points. It needs to go somewhere.

All Essays should receive basic copy-editing for grammar and mechanical errors. All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified in the writing schedule. You cannot pass the class without submitting all assignments. Late assignments will be penalized, but it is always better to hand them in late than not at all. If you have to miss class on a due date, you are responsible for making sure I have the assignment anyway.

Be careful if you email me your work.  Make sure your name is on the document, and that the subject line says Engl 1001 — <name of assignment>

Our Classroom Community

We learn best in a supportive community. In order to ensure that our class works as a community, we will all follow the following guidelines:

  1. No cell phones. That means no cell phone ringing, no text messaging, no wandering out to answer a call during class, unless it is an emergency. I will expect some explanation of the latter. Enjoy being inaccessible for a space.
  2. Practice courtesy. We will be courteous to each other, even if we disagree very seriously with each other’s opinions or attitudes. Learning to work together in spite of disagreement is essential to your success in academic and professional life.
  3. Academic Integrity is the basis on which any academic community is founded. We will follow the policy set forth on the English Department website:


Week 1:

2/16– Introduction to class. What communication skills do you need to practice? What issues are important to us right now?  Discussion Groups formed.

2/18– Journal introduced. Discussion of writing processes. First take on your own writing process–a detailed description.  Homework: Journal entry and .

  • List your own ideas about important issues.
  • Next list all the ways you might have an impact.
  • Once you have completed the list, choose one or two issues, and write in more detail about that/those.
  • Link out to other sources of information.

Week 2

2/23–  See Speaker Torrico in the event center. Homework: Read “How America’s Universities Became Hedge Funds” and write a journal entry identifying the claims author Bob Samuels makes in that article. Then identify the evidence he offers to back up his claims. This overview of Argument Structure — Three Models may help you analyze his argument.

2/25–  In class we will do a group exercise based on this article and your initial analyses.  What research would let us decide if we agreed? Then we will analyze assemblyman Torrico’s argument as a whole class.  Homework: do the research on higher ed and on the CSU as determined in your group.

Week 3

3/2 Furlough Day — Work on 2000 draft for text of multi-genre assignment.

3/4– The state of higher education; what does your research show? What do you now think about Samuel’s argument and why?   Evaluating Sources: How do you know what to believe? Things to consider when evaluating print sources; Things to consider when evaluating web sources.  How do the sources you found measure up? Homework:

  • Journal entry on why this issue is important to you personally.  Write in detail how it affects your life. This will get you started on a draft for the multi-genre assignment.
  • Find three sources you think are useful, relevant, interesting, and credible for the multi-genre assignment

Week 4

3/9 Combining Knowledge: work in your group to put your ideas together.  What do you all think now about the state of higher education?  Also, the Multi-genre text is due.  Peer feedback in class, discussion of adding further genres.  Homework: work on the rest of the assignment, due 3/16, and Begin reading  Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow.

Note: Cory Doctorow’s website seems to be having issues.  Here’s a pdf of Little Brother

3/11  Furlough Day Finish Little Brother.

Week 5

3/16  Discuss government authority, privacy, and civic responsibility.  Compare to other representations such as in the film Avatar. Homework: Journal entry about freedom vs safety.

3/18 Final Multi-Genre assignment due. Feedback in class.  You will turn in the assignment to me at the end.

Week 6

3/23 If needed, finish discussing Little Brother.  Civil rights: what do you know about the history of civil rights? What do you think about some of the current debates around civil rights? List those you know of, and discuss in groups what information you’d need to argue any claim about civil rights convincingly. Homework: Pick an issue and locate some credible sources of information, write a journal entry about how they affect your view.

3/25  Gay Marriage.  A hot issue in many states during the last few years, including California.  Currently Proposition 8 is being challenged in federal court and ultimately may go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Homework: Read and view the following, write a journal entry about your own views on the issue, include an explanation of where your views come from and what concrete evidence or support exists for them.

Week 7

3/30 Furlough Day.

4/1 Combining Knowledge: work in your group to put your ideas together.  What do you all think now about Gay Marriage? Exercise in argument analysis. Homework: Your group must prepare a 5 minute presentation explaining some aspect of this issue.

Week 8– 4/6, 4/8


Week 9

4/13 Work on Group presentations, intro on collaboration. Homework: Write a journal entry about what that process was like (this is a continuation of the writing you started in class).

4/15 Presentations. Homework: Journal entry on what you might do differently next time.  Start brainstorming about the final project.

Week 10

4/20 Successful collaboration strategies, discussion and exercises.  Discussion  of the final project. project proposals developed in class. Homework: Project Proposal

  • What is my claim/question?
  • How will I present it?
  • Create outline or story board

4/22 Project Proposals due.  Feedback from peers and from me.  Homework: Revise proposals.

Week 11

4/27 Final proposals shared, some class time to work on the projects. Homework: Journal entry about how the project is going. How is the collaboration going?

4/29  Furlough Day

Week 12

5/4 Nuts and Bolts for final projects.  depending on what each group has chosen, the might be about interview techniques, web-page creation, making videos, etc.

5/6 Check on final Papers/Projects in progress in Group conferences instead of class.

Week 13

5/11 Discuss making successful longer presentations.

5/13  Final Projects/Papers due for feedback.  Plan presenting it in class as a group.  That is, each group will present one of the projects to the whole class on Thursday.

While giving feedback and choosing a project to present, consider the question or issue the group explores:

  • What makes it important?
  • How are background information and research data given, so that viewers or readers can really understand the argument and conclusions?
  • How did the authors choose to use other media to support their explanations and arguments?
  • Do you understand how all the information fits together?
  • Does the conclusion seem to follow logically from the rest of the project?

Week 14

5/18 Final projects presented.   Evaluations.

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