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Meeting the Challenge


You can pass this course; those who do usually earn an A or a B.  Unfortunately, I've only had one class during one semester earn grades of A, B, C, or W only, no D or F grades for the course.  Staying organized, staying positive, and keeping fit can give you an edge (and filing for a W grade instead of just drifting away. W's don't hurt grade averages; F's require A's in other courses to keep an average above 2.0). 

My job is to get as many students to meet the standards of the course as possible.  I do that by--

  • Keeping in touch: calling before each class meeting to get students ready
  • Flexing deadlines: Usually, about half of the students in a section send in essays on time, more at midterm and final.  Usually, at least half of the class submits responses to online discussion forums during the prescribed week on the course calendar--some do longer and more frequent responses and gain extra points (and extra reflection on course content).
  • Providing extra-credit and alternative assignments: The same link is on the site map.
  • Encouraging revising for a higher grade: Some of my colleagues require all of their students to revise before grading; I offer my students the opportunity to revise after an initial grading of what the students believed was their best effort.  Either way, we offer our students editorial commentary to help guide them in improving the substance and style of the writing.
  • Demanding minimal performance but rewarding excellence: High-quality essays and forum responses--that have a clear thesis, that quote relevant phrases from assigned works and sometimes other students' ideas, that show a varied writing style with few grammatical glitches--get high grades, occasionally over 100%.  In addition, I occasionally ask permission to keep for possible publication truly exceptional essays and make-up tapes.   (Permission is the student's prerogative; the reward and recognition of exceptional excellence is in the asking.)  Literacy: For the past two semesters, one or two students have turned in very poorly edited work--as many as one grammatical or spelling mistake per line of writing.  For any work that is not collegiate, I usually withhold a grade until it is revised and edited up to college standards (the average I have observed is not more than one or two sentence errors, if any, in an essay, and not more than a handful of spelling errors, and those usually not more than one letter off).  FREE help is available in the campus Academic Support Center (DTC, 1st floor; PRC, across from the open computer lab in the Learning Resources Center, Bldg. A); there volunteer faculty and trained tutors will work with any student on getting an idea for writing, fleshing it out with details, and editing hints.  I'm also available during office hours and by appointment; many students email ideas or thesis statements ("How's this?"), rough drafts, and questions before sending me their work to be graded.

Your job, as I see it, is to get the most education you can during the time you have.   Previous students have done that by--

  • Keeping in touch: If you aren't emailing or phoning me at least once every month, you're probably missing something.  When students ask questions, I often pass on the answers to everyone (never revealing who asked the question, of course).
  • Meeting deadlines: Students who stay up with the work and even do extra or work ahead are getting more out of the course than students who keep avoiding the deadlines on the grade roster. Students who get behind may or may not get their best value from the course, depending on how they can "clump" together enough time rather than sustaining a steady pace through the course. 
  • Contacting classmates: Most students have not done this in prior semesters, but the perspectives of peers can be quite valuable, since the ability to balance conflicting perspectives on a work of literature is one of the major skills of this course.  Contact is best made at the on-campus session where you can see classmates face-to-face, but the Blackboard email system lets you find "users," students in the same section and click beside their names to send an email to their VCCS email.
  • Thinking analytically: One way to understand what thinking analytically means is to look through the course objectives.  Another is below:
    • You should be able to "see" (tolerate, understand) more than one way of looking at a work--and yet reason through for yourself the most sensible, a view most in line with the evidence in the work itself and your knowledge of the world. For instance, in researching a controversial issue, such as abortion or immigration, you should be able to detect bias in an article about the topic and ask what's missing or overstated--and find a counter-perspective to help you arrive at more balanced thinking than the distortions and conflict-promoting misinformation and half-truths available in popular media.
    • Based on your writing experiences in ENG 111 and high school, as well as your own interests, you should be able to select topics from a menu of challenging options, gather evidence from reading, formulate and put forth your view of an issue and support it by citing and explaining relevant information from your source readings.
    • Varied sentence structure emphasizes important ideas.  So does varied sentence length. Novice writers tend to write sentences that are all 2 - 2 1/2 lines long.   High quality essays are made excellent by revising--usually.  Most students do a draft of an essay before I see it to evaluate it--and then revise according to my guidelines, as much as possible, to earn a higher grade.

Of course, all of this is very demanding--but ENG 112 is like that in any format.   That's why it's a required course for transfer curricula--because of its academic rigor, its focus on analytical reasoning, and its emphasis on insightful, stylish written and oral expression.

All students who enter the course can succeed with it, but many need more time on task than others.  In an online course, nearly all decisions about time are yours.


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