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Designing and Developing Courses in PWR

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PWR courses are fundamentally courses in rhetoric. This means that PWR students gain knowledge and skill in assessing communication situations, in understanding and evaluating the discourse of others, and in making an impact through their participation in conversations, including research conversations.

PWR courses are themed, which presents a particular challenge in the design of a new course. A successful theme must be capacious enough to accommodate the interests of the diverse students who may find themselves enrolled in the course, yet it must also be precise enough to give students a clear idea of the kind of work they'll do in the course.

During the enrollment period, students visit the online PWR catalog and rank their choices for their PWR section. The online catalog includes a short written description of the course (including descriptions of each major assignment), as well as a short video interview with the instructor. The goal of the description and video is an advising goal: if students make informed choices about their section preferences, more students will find a better fit in their PWR courses, resulting in a more productive quarter for all.

PWR courses are writing courses. Time spent reading and discussing reading should be limited. Assigned readings must be chosen carefully for their value in helping student solve the communication challenges they will encounter at Stanford and elsewhere; readings should not be seen solely as a way to transmit knowledge about the course theme.

Constructing a syllabus in PWR involves asking questions about where we want students to end up. What kinds of experiences should students have in PWR? What kinds of puzzles will they solve, what challenges will they address, what skills will they exercise, what knowledge will they gain? PWR planning starts at the end of the quarter, with a vision of students' destination. We then work backward, designing the tasks and experiences that will help them get there.

Quick tips:

In general, here are some steps instructors might take to prepare for designing a new PWR course:

  • Select a course theme that’s open enough to accommodate research projects from different angles but that’s specialized enough so students feel a sense of direction
  • Balance the course theme with writing.
  • Time theme-related readings to line up with the writing component you want to focus on in accordance with each assignment. For instance, you might choose a piece of close analysis to read in preparation for the RA in PWR 1.
  •  Consider  how each assignment transitions into another and integrate activities that help with that transition.  Students should understand how their work connects and builds throughout the quarter; they shouldn’t feel that the assignments are unrelated.