In 1995, I started teaching (with one month to prepare) at Fairleigh
Dickinson University (FDU) in Teaneck, NJ. The class was a master's
level course in technical communications, and I had four extremely tolerant
students who taught me how to teach them.
Later, I taught similar master's level classes at both FDU and Polytechnic
University in Brooklyn on technical writing, technical editing, and
technical graphics (not how to do graphics per se but how to analyze
graphics and, ultimately, specify and buy graphic services).
At Fairleigh Dickinson, after a hiatus while I pursued my own masters
in teaching English as a second language, I started teaching technical
communication to undergraduates in the Gildart
Haase School of Computer Sciences and Engineering. I also taught
a few classes on usability testing and analysis and then taught similar
classes at New
Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ.
I became involved in two interesting teaching programs at FDU and
- The FDU Engineering school instituted rubrics for designing classes,
first to ensure that students met accreditation standards but, as the
teachers met and discussed the process, also to make sure that we reinforced
each other's messages and lessons over the four-year span of the students'
educations. I've added rubrics to each lesson plan for which there
is one. I've also included information
on creating rubrics here.
- Dr. Carol Johnson in the NJIT English department created a set
of common modules and a recommended online portfolio template that
all the teachers in the technical communication used so that we could
participate in a cross-class assessment at the end of the semester.
There were about seven sections per semester, and all of the students'
work was similar enough to compare. Thus, we were able to see how
our students were doing in comparison to others and we also ended
up discussing and sharing our teaching methods. It was an excellent
way for instructors to get together and communicate in very practical
terms. More information on this program appears on Dr.
Johnson's web page.
Why this set of pages?
When I started teaching, I found lots of information and lesson plans
for primary and high school classes, but very little for college-level
classes. This was especially apparent when I started teaching online
classes and looked for online resources. WebQuests,
for example, truly engage students in lessons using online resources,
but there were only a handful of WebQuests for college-level students
(versus thousands for pre-college students).
So I started developing my own lesson plans. My rule was, "Teach
the way you'd like to betaught," and the approach I took actually has a name--constructivism (although I
didn't know that until I started the MAT program). For a paper that describes
the approach, see Teaching
without a Net: How Constructivism Leads to Higher-Order Learning For
the Students and Sleepless Nights for the Teacher (a Word file).
I'm publishing the plans in the hopes that other college teachers
will find them to be good jumping-off points for their own lesson plans.
Once I started the MAT, I found out how to write lesson
plans and, eventually, how to grade the results. The lesson plans on
this site (see the right column) follow FDU's style. (There are other styles,
but the sections are basically the same even if the name or order is
different. Adapt as necessary to your university or school.) For teaching
and grading resources, see the bibliography.
My standard technical-communication
syllabus is available in Class
Documents. Also attached is an Excel grading rubric for the course
as a whole.
Note that for each lesson plan on these pages, you'll find some of
the comments students made about the class. I didn't try to pick only
the best or the worst, just a representative sample. Some show higher-order
learning, some don't. The comments come from final exams, one of which
appears below in Class
Documents, and from student assessments--see Classroom
Assessment Techniques for more information about assessing your
teaching as you go along.
You'll notice that the spelling and grammar aren't perfect in many
of the responses. Although the technical communication course is not
a remedial course, I did what I could to teach the students better spelling
and grammar. They were asked to do a worksheet each week for homework,
and I passed out worksheets at the beginning of each class for the on-time
students to do while the late ones wandered in. They all had to do the
worksheets and I gave them pass/fail points for all the ones they did.
Also, when I graded their papers, I marked them up with references
to pages and sections in Diane Hacker's Pocket Style Manual.
Any short style manual will do, but Hacker's has good examples and covers
almost all of the mistakes I saw.
See Grammar & Spelling
Help for the books I used.
syllabus, technical communication for undergraduate engineers.
Note that a syllabus for masters' level or professional writers is
significantly different from this one.
rubric for the course. This gives the students an idea of how
their work will be judged. I provide individual rubrics for each lesson
final exam. This final is as much a test of how well I taught the
subject as of how well the students learned.
Since the exam tries to identify higher-order learning ("how
did you apply this information?") and sophomores often haven't
been asked to do higher-order learning, I found I needed to tell the
students from Class 1 what the exam would be like and how they should
prepare for it.
- Here is a sample final (in the first class, I pass around an exam
with the student's name deleted, after getting the student's okay first): Filled-in
final from NJIT.
- Here is the homework assignment I give them in the first class: Homework,
Class 1. We discuss the results in Class 2 so they know what I
think is the best answer and why (green because the student shows that
he or she used it outside of class and also understood the point of
I prefer to let students fill in the exam electronically and email
it to me. Typed exams are easier to read and no one has to show up for
two hours at school with all their notes and books.
I've had a few students try to cheat, oddly enough. One cheater had
another student fill in the answers for classes she hadn't attended
(I gave her zeroes for all of the missing classes, so her score was
very low); and one copied and reformatted a friend's exam, then sent
it in as his own. The poor friend was shocked that his kindness in sharing
his ideas was so taken advantage of. Luckily, the cheater admitted he'd
taken the exam. I would have had to fail them both if he hadn't.
- Angelo, Thomas A., K.
Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques, A Handbook for
College Teachers, 2nd ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,
1993. Use the exercises in this book to get immediate and regular feedback
from your students.
- Trice, Ashton D., Handbook of Classroom Assessment, New
York: Longman, 2000. Skinny book that contains everything you need
to know about creating tests and analyzing the results.
- Clark, Ruth, Building Expertise, Cognitive Methods for Training
and Performance Improvement, Washington, DC: International Society
for Performance Improvement, 1998. This book is written for corporate
trainers, so it's very good for helping you move adults from novice
to expert levels.
- Mager, Robert F., Preparing Instructional Objectives, 3rd.
ed., Atlanta, GA: CEP Press, 1997. How to define objectives, the trickiest
and most important part of writing a lesson plan.
Grammar & spelling help
- Dale Jungk, Applied Writing for Technicians, McGraw-Hill,
2005, ISBN 0-07-828357-4. This book has grammar and style worksheets,
which are useful for teaching the basics that many students don’t
seem to have and would be a waste of time to teach in class.
- Diane Hacker, Pocket Style Manual, Bedford/St. Martin's,
2003, ISBN: 0312406843. Very important book for students to have. I
used this when grading papers by pointing students to the relevant
section of the book when they have a grammar, style, or sense error.
- J. N. Hook, Spelling 1500, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.,
1986, ISBN: 0-15-583212-3. This workbook, which contains 1500 words,
shows how words are spelled and why they're spelled the way they are,
making the worksheets far more interesting than you might imagine.
Unfortunately, the book seems to be out of print.
- Mary Stoughton, Substance & Style, Instruction and Practice
in Copyediting, EEI Books, Alexandria, VA, ISBN 0-935012-18-4.
This is one of my standard texts in graduate technical writing and
editing classes, but the first two exercises in the book are great
for setting baselines for the undergraduates. They are often shocked
at how badly they do.