Professional Writing Capstone (Eng 5430)

This course, targeted at graduating seniors in the Professional Writing major at Utah State University, uses a common syllabus designed to have students gain an understanding of the technical writing job market as well as to produce materials they can use in job interviews (such as a résumé, cover letter, and print and web portfolios).

SPRING 2006 summary
This was the first time I taught Capstone, and I adapted a weekly schedule based on the common syllabus that USU professional writing faculty members Kelli Cargile Cook, Charlotte Thralls, and Mark Zachry produced in the early 2000s.

  • sections taught in department this term: 1
  • number of students enrolled: 13

teaching innovations
I made one major change to the standard syllabus for this class, and that was to assign the capstone students to work two hours in the departmental computer lab. I instituted this pilot program to see whether those in their final year of school—who knew the lab and its software best—would make ideal lab consultants. However, the students misinterpreted my reasons for wanting them to work in the lab and assumed that it was so that the lab didn’t need to have to pay consultants. (I was Acting Lab Director at the time, so this class assignment was received as my trying to get the students to work for free.) Thus, the majority of the students complained that the experience was a waste of their time. Sadly, they didn’t take advantage of the many professional development opportunities I knew this work would provide for them, and my suggestions on how they might make the situation more useful for themselves remained unused. I’m still considering what I might learn from this situation that will be of use the next time I think about implementing professional development and service learning into my course goals.

teaching challenge
In addition to the above challenges to my innovation, this course proved to be difficult for me not because of subject matter (professionalization, which is right up my research alley) but because I intervened in an incident involving one of the students overstepping her boundaries in the departmental lab prior to the semester starting. A lab consultant had to call the campus police, and as Acting Lab Director, I revoked her privileges. However, she had to take my course, so we agreed on terms of proceeding before the semester. In the end, her behavior did not improve and class was disrupted, evidenced by a downward trend in my teaching evaluations for that class. Should this unique situation happen again, I believe the solution would be to work with advisers and find alternate class arrangements for the student.

narrative evaluations

  • The interview process was fun and very helpful. Cheryl gave some good stories and examples from her life that helped us see what the real world is like.
  • I have two great portfolios now! I’m ready to get a job, or at least apply for one, and I wasn’t before this class.
  • Cheryl was interested in what the students want to do with their future. She has good networking and interviewing examples to share.
  • Dr. Ball is a talented designer and she has enthusiasm for design and online teaching. She has contemporary insights into the job market and the skills required to get hired and be a competitive tech writer. Dr. Ball is great at what she does.
  • I liked the immediacy of our concerns, the reality and importance of everything we’ve been learning at university. Cheryl’s attitude of professionalism without too much idealism/stuffiness was nice.
  • She has a weird idea of what a good design is and those that didn’t use pink flamingos had a poor design even if it refleted us. We should be able to choose what works for us, otherwise she needs to design portfolios for each student so that we do exactly what she wants.
  • Good things: Cheryl was happy. She has energy. She fed us poundcake. Once. We got the recipe. We built portfolios. This is good.

accompanying materials