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The Rhetoric of Written Argument

The Rhetoric of Written Argument, RWS100

About the Instructor

Chris Werry, San Diego State University

Associate Professor, Rhetoric & Writing Studies, director of the lower division writing program (the G.E. writing program). Chris is interested in critical digital literacy, the rhetoric of extremist groups, online community design, open education and open publishing.

Briefly describe the population of students who take the course:

Roughly 3800 students take RWS100 each semester. RWS100 is a required first semester G.E. writing class that around 90% of incoming students take. These students are from across the state and country, and also include international students.

OER Adoption Process

1. Briefly describe what motivated you to adopt OER for this course

The main motivations were a) to save students money and expand access, b) create a custom textbook that was more closely aligned with our curriculum, c) create a textbook that our community of writing teachers could discuss, contribute to, and share. I also wanted to create a textbook that included material on critical digital literacy, as this seems missing from all the writing textbooks I’ve seen, and I wanted it to be “modular” and flexible, so teachers could combine and add to it, publishing their own additions to the textbook.

2. How did you find and select OER for this course? 

I created the first version of the textbook, and am now working with a couple of colleagues to revise and expand it. Throughout the process I was supported and encouraged by James Frazee, our Chief Academic Technology Officer, Kate Holvoet, a librarian and ITS Fellow for Open Educational Resources. Colleagues in the SDSU Digital Humanities Initiative also helped support the work.

3. Describe any challenges you experienced and how you resolved them.

The mistakes I made and the challenges I experienced are too many to list. There was a great deal of misunderstanding with the bookstore, largely my fault. At one point I wanted to move to low cost OER, in order to make the project sustainable and provide very modest funding to pay for training and professional development for writing teachers, but blundered around for two semesters going down blind alleys and some near misses with the wrong partners.

Course Description

RWS100: The Rhetoric of Written Argument (General Education class)

What is the Story of this Course? You will practice interpreting, analyzing, evaluating and producing written argument. Why? Because argument is central to academic literacy, critical thinking, professional communication and civic life. You will learn to write and revise papers in which you address complex arguments effectively, use source materials responsibly and make sound decisions about audience, context, structure, and purpose. 

By the end of RWS 100 students should be able to:

  • Analyze a variety of texts to demonstrate rhetorical knowledge of an argument’s project, claim, audience, genre, rhetorical appeals, rhetorical strategies (including evidence), and assumptions.  
  • Evaluate arguments and their evidence through a process of critical inquiry.
  • Locate, evaluate, and incorporate material from sources into their writing projects.
  • Compose a variety of texts, employing flexible composing strategies and processes for invention, structure, drafting, reflection, collaboration, feedback, revision, and editing.
  • Apply conventions of academic writing, including genre choices, grammar, spelling, mechanics, and citation practices.

Curricular Changes and Student Access

1. What did you change as part of the OER adoption?

I added online resources and learning material to help TAs and teachers teach the textbook. I created a template course wiki that contains the textbook and associated teaching resources that can be mass produced and given to teachers. I also created a teaching wiki that accompanies the textbook, and I am working on an online journal that showcases student writing that comes out of our new classes that use the textbook and online resources.

2. How and where do students access materials?

Currently students generally access the textbook through an LMS or one of the wikis I provide. A few teachers print the textbook and have students access it from the bookstore.

Here is a link to the main wiki that hosts the textbook

Teaching and Learning Impact

We have not assessed direct effects on teaching or learning. A number of teachers have said they find the textbook very useful, and a lot of teachers have adopted it. Students in my classes have provided positive feedback to me.

The textbook has provided new opportunities for collaboration with colleagues and I’ve scheduled meetings to talk about the book and have also hosted some workshops. I have also shared it with colleagues at local area community colleges. Some of our teachers teach both at SDSU and nearby community colleges, and have said they find it helpful to use the book across institutions. 

We have not measured grade changes or student retention. 

Student Feedback or Participation

See above

Cost Savings

In fall 2018 we first piloted the OER textbook with 21 sections, saving about $29,000 at ~$1400/course. Since then we haven’t tracked the number of people using it in detail, but awareness of the textbook has grown and more people have said they are using it.  So these numbers may have increased.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity

The technologies associated with the textbook are all free. We believe the textbook itself expands availability and accessibility. We have not assessed the textbook in relation to diversity, but in terms of context, it was written with some attention to diversity, but I would like to review this and consider it more carefully.

Sharing Best Practices

Sustainability is key. I floundered around for quite some time trying to find ways of addressing this. Luckily, I received help and advice from Kate Holvoet (Library and OER initiative) and James Frazee (ITS). They also helped me find some local funding support through OER/ITS which has played an important part in developing and sustaining the project. 

I plan to share this OER experience at SDSU through workshops and meetings, with colleagues at other local area academic institutions, and more broadly, via conference talks and published work.