Dr. Quinn

a woman of words

“Dead.Lines”: Mini-Projects for the Tech Writing Classroom


This Fall 2013 semester, I am teaching an ENG 360 Tech Writing class for the first time at my university – McKendree. This is my first semester teaching at McKendree, but it is not the first time I have taught a technical writing class, so I feel fairly comfortable teaching and exploring the learning outcomes for this class with my students (most of whom are computer science majors, but I also have a healthy dabbling of Communications majors).

Below is the course description:

ENG 360 emphasizes the strategies and formats required for effective written communication in professional and technical fields. The course requires clear, concise writing in various formats (memos, reports, etc.) geared to appropriate audiences as well as the use of graphics.

Pretty boiler plate course description. It taps at the overall structure of the class, but how to expose the vein – the sweet, shiny gold mother load that will excite students and really get them engaged?

And so began the “Dead.Line” Mini-Projects.


Dead.Line Projects are actually assignments/projects I had used before in some variation or another. But the vetting, preparation and context of these assignments are quite different when presented as a Dead.Line.

So here is the over-all gist or content of these mini-projects.

  • Dead.Line Projects are truly problem-based writing assignments in disguise (or in plain sight!). I take on the role of an employer/manager (sometimes aloof, sometimes micro-managing – although not very often, and sometimes nurturing and supportive).
  • Dead.Line Projects, true to the name, emphasize a workplace deadline. If you don’t turn it in, then you can kiss your job (AKA grade) goodbye.

(I know. I know. Totally contrived environment AND don’t all of the assignments and projects we use in undergrad writing classes have deadlines?? Yes, but it’s all in how you present the scenario. It is a mental perception. Students perceive these as different, and perhaps more “authentic” (?). They are clearly more engaged with the Dead.Line approach. For me, anyway…)

  • Vetting is key with the Dead.Line (see my “Secret’s in the Sauce” section below for more on this). To do this, I created a Prezi Presentation titled ” Deadline: Word origin in three [not so] simple steps… and an Introduction to our course mini-projects.”

Click on the image below to access the Prezi.



Secret’s in the Sauce

The “Dead.Line” Prezi presentation first explores the background of the word Dead.Line. I do this to get the students’ synapses firing. It also comes from left field because they are expecting me to launch into the project description straight away. They’re wondering – how does this tie in? – and keep listening to me to find out (so I get to slip in some etymology under the radar! Did you know that the word deadline actually has a really interesting and twisted past?!?).

Once I have their curiosity piqued, I show a video (this is also in the Prezi) to inspire them into using their time wisely and to think about how they can be more creative (and, hence, enjoy the projects) if they spend more time actually working on these assignments.

Then – finally! – I explain the concept of the Dead.Line mini-projects (my rationale and approach for the assignments. (You will see this in the Prezi. It is a PDF that if you zoom in on, you will be able to read.)

Are We There Yet?

Examples! What do the mini-projects look like??

If you haven’t taken a look already, access the “Dead.Line” Prezi (link above). Then, check back with this blog, and even this specific post, for my next installment on the Dead.Lines mini-projects where I will share the first assignment and how it turned out with the students!

First Example: The Verbal Request

One comment on ““Dead.Lines”: Mini-Projects for the Tech Writing Classroom

  1. Pingback: Dead.Lines: The Verbal Request Projects (#1) | Dr. Quinn

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2013 by in Dead.Line Projects, Teaching, Tech Writing, Undergraduate Writing Projects.
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