last updated: Wed, February 5, 2020 7:21 AM

Fundamental Course Standards

(essays, responses to prompts that include analysis, etc.)


In my courses, this means your observations, interpretations, and tentative conclusions. It do not mean strong rhetorical argument or persuasion through style. Further, a claim supported by evidence is appropriate in some situations but not others. This common model of essay writing has limited use in literary criticism (but IS useful at times). Think instead about paying attention to context, or connections, or finding aspects of the work that is not immediately evident to others. Seek ways to make something more interesting, or open up avenues of thought, rather than close down the reading with the intent of telling others how the MUST understanding something. Instead the goal is usually how that CAN ALSO think of it in the way you suggest.

"credible" (one of the three lead qualities of analytic work in my courses)

n my courses, credibility of you as the author (of analysis and answers to prompts, etc.) is based on the perception of the care you have put into the analysis of the object at hand, where relevant your selection of excellent secondary sources and a fair and accurate use of them, and reasonable argumentation. You seem, in short, well-informed, critically aware, and reasonable in your conclusions. Since most work is done in areas where there are many possible answers, the usual standard is whether others could see your conclusions as plausible, even if they do not agree with them. Not that when there seems to be an agenda, or you seem to be trying to force credibility through rhetorical argument, readers quickly become skeptical. Avoid this.

"interesting" (one of the three lead qualities of analytic work in my courses)

In my courses, I hope that you can offer analysis that is interesting to the reader. The intent here is first that you look more deeply into the object, to notice things that others could not also just casually notice and bring the reader's attention to that and whatever "that" it, it offers opportunities to think in interesting ways about the object. Like "plausibility" above, "what is interesting" is a hybrid judgment of what is interesting to you but also what you think might be interesting to others. If it is not interesting to you, it is very likely others with feel the same. If it is interesting to you, find a way of conveying why others should also find it interesting if that seems necessary.

"useful" (one of the three lead qualities of analytic work in my courses)

In my courses, I emphasis doing research that will be useful to others, not just yourself. This almost always includes an asymmetrical time-investment equation (you put a lot of time into something so someone can obtain your analysis quickly and easily, not needing to do the work themselves), but can include your talents in curation and analysis (observation, interpretation, conclusion).

“beyond-first-thoughts” (interpretation and analysis)

“Beyond-first-thoughts” is a course standard that is expected of your analysis and other responses to prompts. It means that one’s thinking around an issue will exceed the thinking that any well-educated individual could arrive at within the first few minutes of thinking over the same topic. There are two concepts behind my interest in requiring "beyond-first-thoughts” observations. The first is the belief that early, initial, quickly-arrived-at ideas are more likely to represent packaged ideas, stereotypes, cultural patterns and such rather than be grounded in the actual situation, and so may or may not provide an opportunity to learn from the analysis. The second is my view of asymmetry in analysis; that is, as a time-intensive activity on the side of the person doing the analysis while being time-efficient on the side of the consumer of the analysis: if the consumer could arrive at the same quality of insight in a couple of minutes of thinking on her or his own, the analysis results lack much value.

“content-rich” (interpretation and analysis)

“By “content-rich” I mean substantive statements that provides details rather than summary or topical statements that only tell me about the object or what was thought, decided, or done. Students can assume that unless otherwise stated, all analysis and submissions should uphold this standard except where common sense suggests otherwise.

Here are some examples:

Meeting report —

Topical: “My partner and I met and noticed we have a lot of differences in how to interpret the films.” (You have only said that there were differences. I still do not know what they are.)

Content-rich: “My partner and I met. Anne felt that Himiko’s jealousy was primarily the result of a difference in status between Himiko and the other woman. Jeremy thought that was possible but personally felt the jealousy was the result of an insecurity Himiko had based on an earlier relationship.” (You have said both that there were differences and what those differences were.)

Thesis statement —

Topical: I will explore sacrifice in two films, “My Little Sister” and “The Last Letter.”

Content-rich statement: I will explore the final sacrifice that is made by the main protagonist in two films: “My Little Sister” and “The Last Letter.”


Note that acts of academic dishonest incur penalties on a first-time basis, regardless of apology or excuse. Talk with me about concerns before you submit something. Syllabus, Part 2 has an extensive section on academic integrity as I define it.

Syllabus, Part 2 includes multiple definitions of plagiarism. It is not an easy thing to define and reading those definitions might help you understand how your instructors view plagiarism. It includes my definition, which is:

In my classes, plagiarism is statement made intentionally or by accident in contexts where the listener or reader is likely to assume that the fact or idea presented is yours, when it is not.

“fair-and-accurate” / “over-the-shoulder” (academic integrity—use of secondary sources)

The "over-the-shoulder" / "fair-and-accurate" standard means that if the author of a secondary source was able to look over your shoulder when you are quoting or paraphrasing her or him, if she or he can say, "Yes, that is a fair and accurate use of my words / ideas" then you have done your job. If not, fix the problem. Syllabus, Part 2 has further details.

“context is king” (academic integrity—avoidance of plagiarism)”

The "context is king" standard. This means that, you have given careful thought to the context (both specifically within what you submitting and the overall context of the assignment itself) of your statement, asking, "Given this specific context (whatever it is) will the reader understand the boundary between my ideas and those that are drawn from secondary research material?" If that answer is, "Definitely" you're good to go. If the answer is "probably" rewrite so the answer is "definitely." Errors in this area are plagiarism, whether that was your intention or not. It is your responsibility to give due effort towards avoiding readerly misunderstanding. When it is your idea, say so. When it is the idea of others, say so. When it is the result of a line of thinking starting from of the idea of others, citing those others when your ideas are only one or two degrees removed from those and cite rather than not cite when in doubt. Syllabus, Part 2 has further details.

(active learning outside the classroom)

preparing for and attending class | reading with "some thought and care"

My active learning classrooms are "flipped": the bulk of the course content is assigned outside of class and so the bulk of learning is the responsibility of the student, outside of class.

Preparation using includes assignments that are to be read "with some thought and care". This does not mean memorizing details. It means attention, critical reading to identify the thesis of the content (if there is one), create in one's mind a hierarchy of the major versus minor points, read with some critical alertness (skepticism), and ask how the content is significant to the themes and goals of the course, sometimes in broad ways, sometimes about more specific content. If it is enough to skim assigned material, I will say so

Let's imagine that this is an 80:20 ratio (learning outside class:learning in class). When a student misses class or is not prepared for class on a regular basis, I conclude that student is missing 80% of the course content. This will lead to an "engagement" grade in the low-"C" to "F" range. Regardless of what math is involved, this is the bottom-line grading attitude at the end of the term.

Not only will the "engagement" grade be reduced but the content of test answers might be more closely or more skeptically scrutinized when it is not clear that the student understands the content.

Thus, "knowledge" and "skill" components can also be lowered somewhat as a secondary result of poor preparation. This, of course, is just in terms of grading approaches. On top of that is the obvious thing that if you have not prepared, you know the material less well, and are likely to score lower on many of my assessments since they target your work outside of class, not the brief comments I make in class, or the exercises done then.

General extra credit is also neutralized since the grading principle there is "work done above and beyond the regular work, not in substitute for it, as an opportunity for the student to pursue something of special interest."