John A. Dowell
Service-Learning Writing Project
Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures
MSU

WRA135
Frequently Asked Questions
(FAQ)


Please be fully advised WRA135 is quite unlike any course you've taken before. That said, be aware it's designed to accomodate "the Six Guiding Principles established by the university in 1994 to guide MSU into the next century," as listed by MSU President Peter McPherson:
    • Improve Access to Quality Education and Expert Knowledge
    • Achieve More Active Learning
    • Generate New Knowledge and Scholarship Across the Mission
    • Promote Problem Solving to Address Society's Needs
    • Advance Diversity within Community
    • Make People Matter

Bearing in mind those guiding principles - and that we've now entered "the next century" - let's have a look at the FAQs!


FAQ LIST

Q. The title of this course is rather complicated - "WRA135 - Writing: Public Life in America: The Service-Learning Writing Project." What's all this about?
Q. I've heard Dowell's classes are almost entirely internet-based. True?
Q. I don't know much about computers ... in fact, it sometimes seems computers "hate me." Is that a problem?
Q. I've heard there is a lot of writing in all ATL courses - that students are expected to produce at least 6000 words of instructor-evaluated text, in fact. Is that true with this course?
Q. I've also heard there's a gosh-awful lot of reading in ATL courses. Is that the case in WRA135 as well?
Q. Some of the readings for WRA135 are said to be "difficult" and some of the writing assignments are quite tough. Plus, it's been said some of the texts use "foul language" at times. If this is true, why?
Q. Where will I find the texts for this course?
Q. How will I submit my writings for evaluation?
Q. Is there a specific format for my submitted online writings?
Q. Am I expected to check my email frequently?
Q. I have at least one account outside of MSU (e.g., HotMail, Yahoo, Mac.Com, Netscape.Com, etc.) I use for email. May I use it to email the instructor and/or others involved with the course?
Q. What about emails to the professor - is there a specific format for them?
Q. How are my writings evaluated?
Q. So how is my Final Course Evaluation decided?
Q. Let's say - only for the sake of argument - I decide to intentionally fail this class. What's the VERY easiest way to fail?
Q. Okay, but what if I simply cannot attend a given class for some reason. What should I do?
Q. So you've indicated I'm sort of "Working for the Largest Sense of Community - the World Community, the State Community, the City Community, the MSU Community, the Course Community, and my Group Community." Does that mean there's a LOT of work required outside the classroom?
Q. Why is there no "regular syllabus" for this class?
Q. I hear you say we are to "appreciate our differences" in this class and want us to learn from them ... and share such learning with one another. Well, let's hypothesize I was raised in an environment which - intentionally or not - fostered what could be termed "bigotry" (i.e., an "innate" dislike/fear of gay, Black, Asian, Hispanic, elderly, handicapped, Eastern European, non-Christian, female ... etc., people).


Q: The title of this course is rather complicated - "WRA135 - Writing: Public Life in America: The Service-Learning Writing Project." What's all this about?

A: While most everything you'll need to know about the course is described on the class Homepage, the Achievement Requirements, and the Schedule, it's worth emphasizing the very unique nature of this course. First, to be sure, this is a WRITING course; you will be expected to write - and revise your writing - a GREAT deal, just as you would for any other ATL course. Second, this is a course dealing with "Public Life in America"; you will be dealing with American public life in a scholarly manner throughout the semester. Third - and likely most uniquely - you will be actively working with a Service-Learning agency throughout the semester; details on this aspect are forthcoming.

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Q: I've heard Dowell's classes are almost entirely internet-based. True?
A: Quite true! But don't worry; you'll be expected to just practice this stuff until it becomes "natural" ... and that will happen sooner than you ever expected!

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Q: I don't know much about computers ... in fact, it sometimes seems computers "hate me." Is that a problem?
A: No ... and yes! A great deal of classtime will be spent in computer labs, plus you will be expected to spend considerably more time in some computer labs around campus. Believe me, you will get better at using these devices! Computers are simply tools, appliances; just as are telephones and portable CD players. As with those devices, computers generally only make the mistakes you "tell" them to make (as when you misdial a phone number or plop a CD in a player upside down). So, no, it's not a problem if you don't yet know much about using computers or the internet; yes, it's a problem if you insist on believing inanimate, plastic and silicon-based appliances have an opinion about you, one way or another!

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Q: I've heard there is a lot of writing in all ATL courses - that students are expected to produce at least 6000 words of instructor-evaluated text, in fact. Is that true with this course?

A: Absolutely! This is a writing-intensive course. You are expected to complete assignments as directed, fully, to the best of your abilities (which will be improving throughout the semester - presuming you actually work on your materials with genuine revisions in mind), and on time.

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Q:I've also heard there's a gosh-awful lot of reading in ATL courses. Is that the case in WRA135 as well?
A:

"Reading awakens the mind, heart, soul, and body," wrote Mark Victor Hansen, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul. "It allows you to make life's journey interesting, meaningful, purposeful and impactful." With that in mind, be advised this is also a very reading-intensive course.

Also bear in mind that in this course we do NOT necessarily "go over" all readings beyond a Q&A session. When you are assigned a reading, you are simply expected to read it. Pop Quizzes are very frequently given to reward you for doing what is merely required of you. Participation in university-level courses will always require a GREAT deal of reading.

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Q: It's been said some of the readings for WRA135 are difficult and that some of the writing assignments are quite tough. Plus, it's been said some of the texts use "foul language" at times. If this is true, why?
A: Many of the reading and writing assignments are to be considered very challenging; merely "skimming" your various readings or trying to "slide by" with "late-night/11th-hour" writings/interpretations of readings will clearly result in negative evaluations. Plus, certain texts include (what some consider) "obscenities"; this is a "real world" class, after all. If you find this intolerably problematic, please drop this class ASAP through the Registrar.

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Q:Where will I find the texts for this course?

A: ALL the local bookstores in the East Lansing area have been made aware of your "paper" texts. Along with the "paper" (a/k/a "hardcopy," "treeware," etc.) texts required, a number of required texts will be available only on-line, via the World Wide Web. Please do not be intimidated by this! All recent data indicate most employers are demanding certain computer literacy skills from new employees and this class will assist you in gaining a "foothold" in the metaphorical starting block.

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Q:How will I submit my writings for evaluation?

A:

Keeping in mind the above, all drafts of all your work are to be "posted" on the World Wide Web on the dates specified - thus, you will be required to establish and revise quite a number of "webpages" and learn some fundamental skills for posting your work (much of our in-class time will be spent in both Macintosh and PC computer labs (including the Learning Resources Center [EBH204]) to facilitate this, plus you're expected to work on these skills in other labs - though extensive prior knowledge of HTML code-writing/scripting is certainly not required).

With ALL that in mind, please ALWAYS remember your posted work may WELL be employed for ANY worthwhile purpose ... just as long as you are given named credit (this is considered "covered" by "Fair Use Policy.") That is to say, as long as you are clearly credited for your efforts, whatever you write may be used for instructional purposes (i.e., by the Writing Center, by your peers, by your Agency, by ANYONE, so long as applicable laws concerning such matters as libel and slander are observed and obeyed).

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Q:Is there a specific format for my submitted online writings?

A:

You bet! But - again - don't worry ... it's SIMPLE and consistent! ALWAYS bear in mind EVERY submission should be in this format (and should NEVER have the "lesser than" [<] or "greater than" [>] symbols!):

[upper left-hand corner]
<LAST, First> (Name, with a <mailto> link - explained in class - e.g., WRITER, Ima)
<Title of Essay> (e.g., Second Midterm Essay)
<Class> (e.g., WRA135:004-S00)
<Instructor's Name>, instructor (i.e., "John A. Dowell, instructor")
<Date the page was last updated/revised> (e.g., 1/26/2001)
<Link to the Assignment> (e.g., Assignment)
<word count> (e.g., 679 Words)
[/upper left-hand corner]

<full horizontal line>

<centered essay title [bold looks nice!]>

<left-justified, single-spaced body of the essay (in a REASONABLE font size/style), with each paragraph separated ONLY with a double space>

<full horizontal line>

<centered "Works Cited" [without the quotes; bold looks nice!]>

<left-justified, alphabetized (NEVER numbered!), single-spaced, bulleted cited works in MLA format ONLY>

<no-shadowed full horizontal line>

HERE is a super-simple example.

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Q: Am I expected to check my email frequently?
A: Yes! There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest three answers are: (1) I occassionally supplement class information with email, (2) I sometimes make "quick'n'dirty" corrections to class information via email, and (3) it will keep your AFS space from filling up, providing you choose to remove downloaded emails from your space! (You are issued a WHOPPING 26Mb of AFS space, but 11Mb are devoted to MSU email.)

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Q: I have at least one account outside of MSU (e.g., HotMail, Yahoo, Mac.Com, Netscape.Com, etc.) I use for email. May I use it to email the instructor and/or others involved with the course?

A: Sorry, but NO! There are a number of reasons for this as well, but it's sufficient to merely say it avoids a GREAT deal of confusion when you use ONLY your MSU account when emailing folks dealing with this course. Setting up multiple accounts is fairly easy using most popular email "front-ends" (e.g., Eudora 5.0+, Outlook Express 5.0+, Mac Mail) when you read the "How To" materials included with the programs, but be aware you may ALWAYS access your email via your MSU account from ANYWHERE using ANY BROWSER by using MSU Mail.

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Q:What about emails to the professor - is there a specific format for them?
A:

Yes! Quite specific, in fact. Because I receive so much email, you MUST begin the Subject heading of ANY email to me this way

WRA135

The reason for this is simple - as I get SO much email I must use "filters" to put incoming messages into specific "folders." For your email to find its way into the correct folder on my computer (and thus be read by me), the Subject MUST look exactly the way indicated above - note "WRA" is capitalized, there is NO space, then 135.

An additional note is in order. When emailing me, please remember this IS a writing course! While you certainly needn't compose "formal" emails, you MUST demonstrate your understanding of the fundamental rules of "American English" composition. For example, NEVER use lower-case "i" to indicate the singular nominative pronoun "I"; do NOT misuse contractions (it's not "should of," it's "should've"); nouns and verbs MUST agree; etc.

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Q:How are my writings evaluated?

A: When evaluating student writing, I always bear in mind the intended audience for a given piece. As I've "been around the block a few times," as it were, I'm well aware of what's expected by your audience. (Please note: your audience is NOT "the instructor" any longer; you're writing for a WEB-BASED audience!) The various writing assignments are both frequent and strictly evaluated, as specified by the rubric - peer evaluations, remediation at the Writing Center, and subsequent draft rewriting are to be considered de rigueur. (Also remember the Writing Center is available for excellent help with your internet component of this class!) All that said, I can easily provide you with holistic evaluations of your work via email when requested. However, your work - and, thus, its evaluation - will improve GREATLY when you come see me for a face-to-face rubric evaluation!

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Q:So how is my Final Course Evaluation decided?

A: As detailed on the Achievement Requirements, you'll see the various aspects of the class are divided into three Levels: I, II, and III. Level I Assignments = 15% of your Final Course Evaluation (early "diagnostic" writings, various in-class writings, all pop-quizzes, etc.); Level II Assignments = 40% of your Final Course Evaluation (presentation materials, all midterms, and the final exam); and Level III Assignments = 45% of your Final Course Evaluation (agency work/all website work). While it's obvious the Level III Assignments are the most "heavily weighted," some people mistakenly believe they can simply "slide" on such Level I Assignments as pop quizzes. They are clearly mistaken - you are to ALWAYS keep up with your readings/viewings for this course!

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Q: Let's say - only for the sake of argument - I decide to intentionally fail this class. What's the VERY easiest way to fail?

A: Simply, miss classes and/or don't respond when asked to interpret assigned materials. Class attendance and participation are both mandatory and strictly enforced. Even if you have no control over it, missing/not participating in more than a certain number of classes (as specified in the Achievement Requirements) - or ANY class in which you are to lead discussion - WILL result in a 0.0 evaluation for the course. Remember you only "get back" - i.e., receive from evaluations - a reflection of what you "put in" to this class ... or any other, for that matter. Laziness/slacking is always negatively evaluated; diligence/critical thinking is always positively evaluated. Come to EVERY class well-prepared, with a willingness to revise your writings, a willingness to share your well-defended thoughts, and with an open mind ... and you should do quite well! IF you miss a class for some reason, be sure to offer a DOCUMENTED legitimate excuse (again, as specified in the Achievement Requirements).

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Q: Okay, but what if I simply cannot attend a given class for some reason. What should I do?

A: You will very often be working in groups; choose your groupmembers well. When you need help or clarification or feedback on any assignment - or if you must miss a class and need to know what information you missed - your groupmembers are always your first contact ... NOT me. If you deem information from your groupmembers unsatisfactory for any reason, you are then certainly more than welcome to discuss the issue with me. YET again, IF you miss a class for some reason, be sure to offer a documented legitimate excuse as specified in the Achievement Requirements.

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Q: So you've indicated I'm sort of "Working for the Largest Sense of Community - the World Community, the State Community, the City Community, the MSU Community, the Course Community, and my Group Community." Does that mean there's a LOT of work required outside the classroom?
A: To be MOST certain! A great deal of work outside the classroom is, as mentioned earlier, mandatory. As this is a Service-Learning writing class, you will be required to perform a variety of tasks for your chosen Agency (including writing they require from you), in addition to your other assigned work for this class.

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Q:Why is there no "regular syllabus" for this class?

A: What I've done is separate the two usual components of a typical class's "syllabus" into the Achievement Requirements and the Schedule. On top of that, I've added the class Homepage. Please note that while the day-to-day schedule is subject to considerable revision (although exam dates and due dates for most written assignments are "solid"); in an attempt to keep all three of my WRA135 classes "on the same page," some manipulations of specific days' posted agenda are inevitable. Please see me when - as a result of such manipulation - you have a conflict with another class's schedule (this does NOT guarantee a change in your favor, BTW, but I certainly want to be fair).

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Q: I hear you say we are to "appreciate our differences" in this class and want us to learn from them ... and share such learning with one another. Well, let's hypothesize I was raised in an environment which - intentionally or not - fostered what could be termed "bigotry" (i.e., an "innate" dislike/fear of homosexual, Black, Asian, Hispanic, elderly, handicapped, Eastern European, non-Christian, female ... etc., people).
A: Expressions of true bigotry and similar ideological intolerance will NOT be endured in this class - i.e., while you might subscribe to bigoted and/or intolerant ideologies (e.g., racist, homophobic/heterosexist, anti-Semitic [or any other faith], sexist, classist, ageist), you are NOT to presume ANYONE will endure your expressions of hatred in silence, least of all your instructor. With that said, it is also fair to not tolerate genuine expressions of prejudice directed toward you or anyone else you know. ("Genuine" is emphasized to remind you we may on occasion speak "in character," i.e., using a hypothetical voice with which to suggest a belief other than our own.) In any case, if you believe you have been targeted with such prejudice, please speak with me immediately and we will address the issue together.

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Please understand: this last FAQ is not to completely preclude you from expressing your heartfelt opinions (far from it!) or from "having to be Politically Correct" (whatever that is these days) when writing for or speaking in this course. Instead, it is yet another reminder of your Audience! As you're in college, you - and your audience - are now expected to be more sophisticated than in the past.

Again, if you find you are - for ANY reason - unable to keep up with or adhere to the (admittedly fast-paced and sometimes irregular) requirements/agenda/schedule for this class, you are advised to drop WRA135 through the MSU Registrar just as soon as possible. Please do NOT presume a failure to attend/contribute/evaluate or otherwise keep up with this class will result in a No Record or Incomplete evaluation; it will instead result in a 0.0 evaluation.


BACK to Dowell's WRA135 Homepage
Page Created: 7.19.1998
Page Last Modified: 1.8.2001
© 1998-2001, John A. Dowell - please e-mail me with corrections/additions/whatever!
Definitions of "
de rigueur" and "metaphor" are from the American Heritage (Electronic) Dictionary, 3d ed. ©1994, SoftKey International, Inc.

page URL: http://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/FairWarnings.html


metaphor. 1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or. 2. One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol. [back]

de rigueur: Required by the current fashion or custom; socially obligatory. [back]

BTW: An abbreviation for "by the way" often encountered in online writing. [back]