Virginia Montecino

See reflections on teaching a distance learning composition class.

NOTE: This is the syllabus for the first distance learning composition class I designed and taught in 1996.  Since then, I have redesigned my syllabus format and use new tools to accomplish teaching and learning goals.  My syllabus design is also different.  As you can see in this early incarnation, my syllabus is much like the traditional syllabus.  I still use a format that allows students to print out the man "bones" of the course without having to go to many links to get the overall picture.  But my more recent designs I think are more Web-friendly.  I keep this syllabus up for comparison  purposes when I explain the evolution of my course.

I am excited about the possibility of teaching and learning in a virtual environment. A composition class, I feel, lends itself well to computer-mediated communication. I am convinced that a community of writers connected primarily via computer can have a rewarding and exciting learning experience. Since electronic mail is a hybrid of verbal communication and written communication we can use this medium to our advantage to share ideas. We can work out ways that works best for the small peer writing groups to get together via modem or real time (if the need arises). Flexibility and self-discipline will be the key to a successful experience. I may change some of my requirements and/or concepts if I think such changes will make for a better learning experience or if some technological breakthroughs between now and then can enrich the way we interact with each other in this distance learning experience. In this distance learning section we will meet for the first two classes in a computer lab on campus and for the final exam date but we will NOT meet regularly in a traditional classroom, but will meet regularly via the computer to have discussions via e-mail and our newsgroup (gmu.course.engl302) and send and receive the texts you produce via computer. Syllabus follows

English 302 - Distance Learning Section - N08

Natural Science

Spring 96

Real time meetings: RobA 105
Jan 23 - 7:20 - 10:15pm
Jan 30 - 7:20 - 10:15pm
May 07 - 7:20 - 10:00pm - end of semester wrap up

See rest of schedule below for assignments and due dates.

Virginia Montecino

Office:Robinson A, Room 413
Office phone:993-1173, Eng Dept: 993-1160
Office hours: T, Th 11:00 - 12:00
e-mail me at

PLEASE GET E-MAIL ACCOUNTS right away (an osf1 account so we have the flexibility of creating Web pages)- e-mail is our lifeline.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This advanced composition course will be conducted primarily via computer-mediated communication. We will meet as a class (in person) for the first two sessions and the final exam date and occasionally meet in small groups if required. This is a writing intensive, research intensive advanced writing course. If you have not taken courses in your major you will not be ready to take this class. You will be picking subjects in your major to write about; therefore, not having some background in your major will be a decided disadvantage. Most of the discussion, small group activities, exchange of papers for comments and revision, and conferencing will be via computer. This class will not be less work than a traditional class, and will require a great deal of self-discipline to keep on schedule. But the good news is you have more flexibility about when to do your work and when to meet electronically with your writing response groups and with me. Course goals.

To accomplish the tasks required in this class you will need a computer equipped with a modem and communications software (I suggest at least a 486 or better machine, with at least 8 megs of ram, Windows, a 14,400 modem with communications software - if you have a MAC - the equivalent.) These requirements will allow you to communicate search for information via lynx or preferably a graphical user interface (GUI) browser like Netscape, and upload and download class information and your compositions. We will use various vehicles such as a newsgroup (gmu.course.engl302) for computer-mediated communication, responding to each others' writing, and having electronic discussions.

You will explore the writing culture and ways of knowing in your major by interviewing professionals in your field in relation to the kinds of writing they do and how they acquire and analyze their data. Since the Internet has become another way in which knowledge is transmitted and shared, you will also research and critique the cyberculture of your field based on the body of work on the Internet: online journal, other texts, and graphics.

TEXTS: Suggested manuals: Research Paper Handbook: Alvin Baron's Bud's Easy Research Paper Computer Manual (has examples of citation forms for online, CD-ROM, E-Mail, and other electronic sources). You may use any current edition (many style manuals have been updated recently) of a style manual in your major.APA is a style consistently used for scientific subjects. Another scientific style, the number/date system is suggested in the Council of Biology Editors manual (also often used for engineering, computer science, nursing). Julia Case Bradley's A Quick Guide to the Internet (e-mailing, newsgroups, mailing lists, telnetting, downloading, uploading, etc.). Strunk's The Elements of Style is an excellent general guide for writing. For MLA and other styles, see Hacker's Research and Documentation Online. The course book and readings will be stacked in the GMU Copy Center under my name and course number. Some readings will come from the Internet.

  • analysis of two articles on metaphors and science: draft 2/13; polished 2/20
  • research paper: drafts 3/19/ ,3/26; polished 4/2
  • examination of the writing culture in your major: draft 4/9; polished 4/16
  • Internet project- Exploring and Critiquing the Web Culture in Your Major: draft 4/23;Web page posted, group paper completed
  • end of semester portfolio: due 5/7

  • PORTFOLIO (turned in at end of semester) to include all the work you produced - drafts and final copies of texts you produced, copies of the responses you made to other students on work in progress, the e-mails to me reflecting on your log entries, your e-mail questions/ comments, peer responses to papers, drafts of papers, final papers, etc - in other words, your "footprints" of your work throughout the semester: all evidence of e-mail discussions related to course work. I assume there will be (and hope there will be) extraneous e-mail discussions. I don't want to eavesdrop on private e-mail, so I only want "footprints" of class work via e-mail. I won't assume the responsibility for keeping track of what you did. So accumulate your body of work, electronic and otherwise. Yes, I know, requiring printouts does nothing for the preservation of trees, but I can't keep an electronic record of all work produced by 22 or so students. And since I have to evaluate your progress, I will be looking for intellectual growth - the development of research skills in your chosen field of study, analytical reading skills, helpful and critical (not the same as criticizing) responses to others' writing, the ability to RE-VISION your own writing in subsequent drafts, and the ability to produce clear, interesting texts with a good sense of audience and purpose. So, finally, I want paper copies of your work - published (I know, in the old fashioned way!) You can revise all work until you turn in your portfolio.

    CRITICAL ANALYSIS PAPER - Write a critical response based on the two articles, "Metaphor in the Language of Science," by Anne Eisenberg and the lecture by John Lawler Metaphors We Compute By.

    JOURNAL/LOG kept throughout the semester, to include comments on readings, insights about your writing, brainstorming for topics, experimental approaches, research progress,etc). Write at least 3 to 4 full pages a week. Once a week I expect you to e-mail me a comprehensive message, giving me some insights into your journal entries. I will occasionally suggest topics for your journal. Keep electronic "carbon copies" of your weekly e-mail reports to me and include them in the portfolio you will turn in at the end of the semester.

    RESEARCH PAPER on a topic in your field of study. If you are working on a "real world" writing project or if you are writing a paper in your major this semester (with my approval and that of your other instructor). Requirements include:

    • Send me e-mail discussing three (3) possible topics for your paper and why you are interested in those topics. 
    • Electronically submit your research paper proposal, including a tentative list of 15 sources, with all publication information in the style you choose (APA preferred). (The appropriate form for your proposal will posted on the newsgroup.)
    • Electronically submit drafts of your paper to your peer response group and to me, along with your peer response form, indicating what questions you have about your text (that would elicit more than "yes" or "no" answers.
    • Submit an e-mail to me, indicating what you learned from your peer responses - what changes you think you need to make in your draft, based on your peer response. What is working? What is not working?
    • Include a written copy of your paper in your final portfolio. Include (on a separate page/s what you want me to know about your paper - the parts you think are successful, the parts you struggled with, what you learned from the research and writing the paper. 
    EXAMINATION OF WRITING CULTURE IN YOUR MAJOR - You will interview a professional in your major for the kinds of writing and reading he or she does in that field, what publications he or she would publish in, including Internet journals or Web sites, acquire samples of the writing, if possible, and share this information with the class. Your interview will be in a Q & A format (provided by me). Besides writing up the interview, you will also write a paper sharing your impressions of the ways of knowing and the writing culture in your major. It is possible some of this info may be included in your Internet project below.

    INTERNET GROUP PROJECT - Exploring the Internet Culture in your Major You will divide into small electronic groups (which may or may not be your peer response groups) and research the Web culture in your major. You will write a group report and electronically share the information with the class, which may include creating Web pages with hypertext links to your findings.

    GRADING: Portfolio - 80%, Participation - 20%. You must earn a C or better to pass English 302. I will inform you if your work in progress does not meet this minimum standard. Since this is a composition class, you will be graded primarily on your finished products and the revision skills you display in the portfolio. Since a composition class depends on the community of writers in the class, participation will also affect your grade. Participation includes but is not restricted to regular e-mail and newsgroup correspondence and discussion, attention to peer response. You will be given evaluation forms to critique each others' participation in peer responses and other group activities.

    SCHEDULE:For the first two classes and the final exam date we will meet as a group "real time." The schedule is subject to change depending upon what we as a class, and you, in small peer response groups decide upon as reasonable. Papers and readings will be centered around specific time frames. But there will be flexibility within those time frames. We will maintain a schedule. Pandemonium will not reign! Sticking to a schedule and being in close touch electronically is crucial to a distance learning class.

    Jan 23 - 7:20 - 10:00. In person class meeting - Introductions, sharing E-mail addresses, dividing into small peer response groups. Review of syllabus, discuss assignments, expectations and the culture of the distance learning environment and review technology required. In-class writing (impression of yourself as a writer/reader, subjects of interest to write about). Explanation of reaction paper to articles on metaphors and science and computers: "Metaphors In the Language of Science" and Metaphors We Compute By.

    Jan 29 - Last day to drop with no tuition liability

    Jan 30 - In person class meeting- 7:20 - 10:00. In-depth discussion of readings on metaphors. Draft of paper on metaphors due 2/13; polished copy due 2/20. Get e-mail accounts. Technology workshops as required. Preliminary searches using X-Libris and Netscape for your topics to write about for this class.

    Feb 6 - Read "Plain Words Please," and "Simplicity." This week post to your group's "meeting place" on the newsgroup gmu.course.engl302 your research strategy on the subject in your major around which you have chosen to base your research paper and your Internet project. What search "machines" and databases did you use (don't rely on one medium alone)? What key word and/or search strings did you use? Include in your message a representative a sampling of the Web sites (with URL addresses)and titles of information, and text journals, incl. authors, dates, and titles of the articles. Why did you choose this subject. What did you find out about this subject through your research? From what perspective do you think you will approach this subject? Do you need to revise your search? Why? Why not?

    Feb 13 - Drafts of metaphor paper due. Send electronic drafts (via a medium we agree upon)of your metaphor papers to me and members of your peer response group. Review peer response criteria posted on newsgroup (gmu.course.engl302) for suggested ways to respond to each others' drafts. Send email messages to me about what changes you need to make to revise your drafts.

    Feb 20 - Metaphor paper due. Send me an e-mail (cc: your group) explaining what adjustments you made in your search strategy in finding a subject for your major assignments, and any changes you made in subject and/or focus. Reminder to work on Writing Culture in your field assignment- due April 9.

    Feb 23 - Last day to drop without dean's permission.

    Feb 27 - Submit preliminary research paper proposal

    Mar 5 - Submit to me and your writing group your final proposal for research paper. Peer response to proposals. Reminder to continue work on Writing Culture assignment.

    Mar 11 - 18 - Spring Recess

    Mar 19 - 1st submission of draft of research paper to peer response group. E-mail me about your research paper progress.

    Mar 26 - Second submission of draft of research paper. Peer response

    Apr 2 - Research paper due. Work on Internet Project.

    Apr 9 - Submit draft of Writing Culture assignment. E-mail me (cc: your group) progress on Writing Culture assignment. Work on Internet Project.

    Apr 16 - Writing Culture assignment due. Work on Internet Project. Elect a member of your group to e-mail me this week your group's progress on the Internet project.

    Apr 23 - Work on Web page and polish draft of group paper on Internet Project

    Apr 30 - Internet Project due(Creation of Web pages on project completed,incl. group paper

    May 2 - Last Day of classes. E-mail me a progress report on finalizing portfolio)

    May 7 - Exam Day 7:20 - 10:00 pm . Submit portfolios in person. In-person sharing of portfolios. Sharing of Web pages on Internet project.

    Grading Standard:

    A - work far exceeds average requirements for the assignments - writes clear, interesting, grammatically correct prose with a clear sense of audience and purpose, shows individuality and highly developed thinking skills and writing skills.

    B - work exceeds average requirements for the assignments - writes clear, grammatically correct prose with attention to audience and purpose, shows well developed thinking skills and writing skills.

    C - work meets average requirements of the assignments - writes understandable prose to an appropriate audience, with a minimum of grammatical errors, shows effort and progress in thinking skills and writing skills.

    D- (a D is not a passing grade in English 302) work does not meet minimum requirements for the assignments - lack of clear focus, does not exhibit clarity of thought, consistent problems with sentence structure and/or numerous grammar and mechanics problems interfere with readability.

    English Department Statement on Plagiarism

    Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or endnotes; a simple listing of books and articles is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting. Student writers are often confused as to what should be cited. Some think that only direct quotations need to be credited. While direct quotations do need citations, so do paraphrases and summaries of opinions or factual information formerly unknown to the writers or which the writers did not discover themselves. Exceptions for this include factual information which can be obtained from a variety of sources, the writers' own insights or findings from their own field research, and what has been termed common knowledge. What constitutes common knowledge can sometimes be precarious; what is common knowledge for one audience may not be so for another. In such situations, it is helpful, to keep the reader in mind and to think of citations as being "reader friendly." In other words, writers provide a citation for any piece of information that they think their readers might want to investigate further. Not only is this attitude considerate of readers, it will almost certainly ensure that writers will never be guilty of plagiarism.

    In addition to the plagiarism statement, above, I want to advise you that users of the Internet also have to be aware that material accessed electronically must also be cited, giving credit to the sources. This material includes but is not limited to e-mail (don't cite someone else's e-mail without permission), newsgroup material, information from Web sites, including graphics. Copying someone else's Web page and format is, in effect, stealing that person's or institution's intellectual property. The unique format of a hypertext document's markup language is also subject to copyright and shouldn't be duplicated. Making links to a site is, at this time, okay. See Internet Issues pertaining to copyright and related subjects.

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