Writing a Course Manual

Cover page of Technical Writing Course Manual, featuring the document's title and a collage of photos of people writing in the workplaceI am currently revising my Technical Writing Course Manual, in preparation for my summer session course, and I want to share the document and how it has worked this week. I first created the manual, using a Google Document, for my spring courses to eliminate the dozens of web pages that I had created previously. The manual addressed several challenges that I had encountered in courses:

  • With the information chunked out in a series of web pages, students had trouble finding details when they needed them. Placing everything in one manual meant the information was all in one searchable place.
  • Students frequently needed a direct link to a specific policy, explanation, or detail in the course materials. The headings in the Google Document let me link to discrete information in the manual.
  • Previously, I used a separate website for the kind of information included in the manual, but students were sometime confused about the need to go to a separate place outside the course management system (CMS) to find course information. The Google Document was easy to embed within our CMS, so I did not need to use a separate website.

The manual proved successful during the spring term. Students consulted it it regularly throughout the term. Whenever I looked at the embedded manual on the course homepage in the CMS, I saw a collection of anonymous animals, from the Anonymous Anteater to the Anonymous Wombat. I came to value all those anonymous animals as evidence that students were going back to the course documents long after the first days of the course. I’ve never had that kind of validation with a traditional syllabus.

One issue to address as I revise is the length of the manual. It currently comes in at 34 pages, and I’m still tweaking things. Naturally, I don’t expect students to read and memorize the manual; but what seems obvious to me may not be obvious to students. I have added the section below to explain how I expect students to use the manual in the course:

How to Use this Manual

This course manual is a guide to English 3764, Technical Writing, as taught by Traci Gardner at Virginia Tech. The manual is arranged in three large sections: 

  • Syllabus and Basic Course Information: all the information typically included on a syllabus, including details on course assessment and the textbook.
  • Requirements: explanation of the work that is expected in the course.
  • Policies: all the guidelines that apply in the course, listed in alphabetical order.

Do not feel compelled to read the manual cover-to-cover. This guide is a reference you should review at the beginning of the course and then return to throughout the term as necessary. 

At the beginning of the course, you should skim through the entire manual. Read the information that provides key details on the class carefully, such as the “Tentative Course Schedule” and the “Late Policy.” Pay attention to the kind of information that is included in the manual as you skim. 

During the course, check this manual for the answers to your questions first. You can check the Table of Contents as well as use the Find command to search the manual. Most general questions about the course are answered here.

I’ll emphasize these instructions the first week of the course as well, when I point out some of the key details students should review. I’m looking forward to a second term using the manual, and I hope it will be a positive experience this term too. As you check out the document, note any questions or suggestions you have and leave them below as a comment. I’m planning to use the document again for the fall semester, so I can use your advice and feedback!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Political Memes from the Internet to Protest Posters

As I have written in my last two posts, I presented on the ways that image macro memes (the memes that usually consist of an image and a text caption) at the Computers and Writing Conference in June. Specifically, I focused on political memes and how these memes are a form of activism as the people who make and share them spread their message.

As Limor Shifman explains in her book Memes in Digital Culture (2014), memes are a way of expressing opinions in political conversations, undertaking advocacy and grassroots action, and participating in political movements. Given these functions, political memes are perfect for the classroom: They ask students to use critical analysis, persuasion, and argument in authentic conversations.

Encourage students to think about the use of memes beyond Internet sharing by examining this version of the Distracted Boyfriend meme, updated to focus on gun control:

Distracted Bodyfriend Gun Control Meme

The meme was shared in a Tweet from @rachel_handler. It shows the distracted boyfriend with the object label “Trump,” looking back at the woman in red who is labeled “NRA,” while his girlfriend who is labeled “Our Lives” looks at him in disgust. Under the meme, the political protest poster states, “We call BS!” The text of the Tweet provides the context where the meme was shared: “great sign my little sister sent me from today’s #nationalschoolwalkout pic.twitter.com/i0WqRMdaDF.”

What interests me about this image is that the Internet meme is no longer bound by the Internet. Instead, as was also the case with the Grumpy Cat protest poster I shared previously, the meme has been recreated in an analog world, printed out in this case and glued to a piece of poster paper with an additional line (“We call BS!”) to emphasize the message.

The shift from Internet meme to protest poster seems a natural one. What works for political advocacy online can make a similarly strong message in an analog situation. While some Internet memes would not translate to nondigital messages (think of animated gifs and memetic videos), image macros make the transition smoothly. For more examples of memes on protest posters, check out the Medium post “Teens March With Memes.”

After students examine a meme that has crossed from the Internet to an analog existence, ask students to consider these questions:

  • Why would someone use a meme on a political protest poster?
  • How would the purpose of a political protest influence the kind of meme someone would choose?
  • What audience(s) would a political poster using a meme target? Consider specific posters and the memes they use.
  • Why do you think the poster maker made the choice of the specific meme for that specific poster?
  • What underlying messages does the meme on a particular protest poster communicate? Think about the assumptions and “unspoken” messages in the poster.
  • What existing meme template would be a better (or worse) choice for this message?
  • Why would someone use this Internet meme on an analog poster? What can you say about how it transitions from the Internet to a poster?
  • What guidelines would you propose to help someone choose and customize a meme for a political protest poster?

As you may guess, these question work students toward creating a rubric for effective memes, which can then be applied to their own political memes. My post last week offered a range of online tools that students can use to create memes.

Do you have ideas for using memes in the classroom? Do you have questions that you would like me to consider in an upcoming post about memes? Just let me know by leaving a comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.