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Developing and Writing an Effective Advanced PWR Course Proposal

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The following suggestions are designed for instructors developing an advanced elective course proposal. These suggestions come from focus group conversations with students about what makes a strong proposal and elective course.

Proposal Framing & Language

  • Your audience is students: engage them at their level and with their interests
  • Be welcoming and excited
  • References issues and topics that they care about
  • Avoid jargon (ex: multimodal) and heavily theoretical opening paragraphs
  • Avoid making it too niche
  • Avoid making it seem intimidating, daunting, or overly challenging
  • Avoid references that make students feel unprepared
  • Reference issues students care about, current events
  • Use relevant, compelling hook and questions
  • Structure in short paragraphs
  • Provide specific description of assignments, skills, & learning objectives
  • Show students how they will have the opportunity to take projects in their own directions & connect with issues in their own lives
  • Want electives to provide communication strategies and new types of writing that they can apply to their careers
  • Students are interested how you frame key concepts, like identity and culture
  • Title must be legible to future employers, etc. (as it appears on transcripts)
  • Course needs to be clearly situated in writing/rhetoric/communication, not in a discipline (i.e., if a student wants to take a feminism course, they'll take it from FGSS - how is your course a PWR course?)
  • It's important that the course invites dialogue and multiple perspectives rather than just serving as a platform for the instructor's agenda or a particular ideological/political stance

Assignment Design

  • Students are reading course descriptions to see what they will doing in the class
  • Make sure the description explains the writing or the products that they will produce
  • Provide explicit word counts and expectations for the coursework in general and the assignments in particular (what will they be doing in class? what will they be producing as work?)
  • They are not interested in writing "just another PWR RBA"
  • Excited to produce in new genres and formats, especially with real-world applicability (hands-on) or creative options
  • Concern that they might lack the specific knowledge, like how to create comics or infographics- don't just say that students don't need prior experience with those modalities, how the assignments will work or how they will be trained
  • Want practice and training in genres that will be useful for their careers
  • For artistic projects, students want some clarification about the balance between analysis/critique vs. production
  • Group projects & collaboration are OK and might excite students, but be clear about division of labor & assessment

Notation students are the primary audience, though open to all students

  • Consider the NSC & NCR students as a key audience
  • What they produce in the class must become an artifact for their portfolio

Be mindful of workload 

  • Be aware that students are concerned about their obligations and bandwidth for taking on an elective course
  • Must be less work than PWR 1 or PWR 2 (the advanced course is a 3-unit course; PWR 1 and PWR 2 are 4-unit courses)
  • Make sure creative projects aren't too much work
  • Amount of reading- can be more than in PWR, but should be less than a seminar (note that PWR 194s are more reading-heavy than PWR 91s, which are project-based)

Consider incorporating Community Partner Engagement

  • Students are interested in connecting with communities in the real world and getting beyond the bubble
  • They are very concerned and critical about the ethics and practicalities of engagement
  • They don't want relationships with partners to be extractive, burdensome, awkward, or cringy
  • Very daunted by the idea of finding community partners themselves (rarely will they have pre-existing relationships), so indicate how you will facilitate these connections
  • Concerned about doing interviews or other skills- need training
  • Explain how it's going to work & proactively allay their concerns
  • Mention guest speakers or field trips

Most effective ways to market an advanced course

  • Word of mouth among students
  • Email and social media from clubs and center
  • Title is very important
  • WAYS certification & cross-listing are major benefits (instructors can note possibilities on the proposal and then pursue it once the course is approved)

Partial wish list of topics:

Note that this list varied among different focus groups and there wasn't clear consensus about which topics were the most appealing.

  • Identity categories that are marginalized or aren't well-represented in the curriculum: Asian-American, gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity (including mixed race), disability, FLI/class in America
  • Bay Area, learning more about our communities & region
  • Activism
  • Public art
  • Non-Western approaches to rhetoric or non-Western rhetorical forms
  • Health/medicine
  • Science communication skills
  • Interdisciplinary between fields
  • Visual rhetoric, drawing, art, animation
  • Documentary
  • Podcasting
  • Technology/programming and society
  • Scientific controversies
  • Science fiction
  • Media and ethics
  • Archives
  • Connect STEM issues and arts/humanities or identity questions
  • Intersection of different fields, topics, identities, modes
  • Intersection of different topics in new combinations: ex: Asian-Americans & hip-hop
  • Anything where students can say "there's no other course like this on campus"


*This page adapted from notes that PWR lecturer Hayden Kantor produced for his session on developing advanced course proposals at September Sessions 2022. The session was titled "Developing and Writing an Effective Advanced Elective Course Proposal."