Dr. Quinn

a woman of words

Dead.Lines: The Verbal Request Projects (#1)

Last week I shared the rationale and concept of the Dead.Line Projects, but I didn’t include any examples. If you haven’t read the introduction post for the Dead.Line projects, check out this post from 5 October 2013 titled “Dead.Lines”: Mini-Projects for the Tech Writing Classroom or use this Shortlink to access the post: http://wp.me/p12q27-5J

Introducing the First Project

The first Dead.Line project I present to the class I like to think of as the “Verbal Request Project.” Anyone who has worked outside of the classroom will tell you that rarely does a boss, manager, or supervisor provide you with detailed instructions and a rubric for a quick request for information. So this first Dead.Line project is designed to recreate that kind of scenario.

I typically introduce the first Dead.Line project the same day I show the Prezi Presentation (I linked to it in the post above), because then the students understand the general concept behind the Dead.Lines. And they are then thinking about expectations for the first project. But here is the link again in case you missed it: http://prezi.com/7sfedm1zakaj/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share


I introduce the first Dead.Line project by clearly explaining to my students that I am now wearing my manager hat. I am no longer their instructor: I am a hands-off, less is more kind of supervisor. If they work hard and provide me with what I want to know, then I won’t micro-manage them.

Side Note: After I say this to them, I then explain the different management styles out there and ask what types of managers they have encountered. It is important to keep them active and eager to ask questions and interact.

I then continue, as their hands-off manager, and explain that I like technology but I am not the most techno-savvy. I’ve heard about some various Social Media technologies floating around out there on the web, and I want to know if we could use it at our company.

After this, I then hand out little sticky notes to each student with one technology listed for them to explore.

Here is an example of some technologies I’ve used:

  • Padlet
  • Educreations
  • Glogster
  • Storybird
  • GoAnimate

(This list is a work in progress and so it is not exhaustive! I would like to add more Social Media AND even suggest students explore tangible technologies – especially for my Computer Science majors. For my Communications (Marketing & PR especially), I might encourage them to look at Scribus, for example – although that is not a Social Media, but it is a free version of InDesign.)

They are to locate the technology online and then determine if it could be used in their career field.

Another Side Note: This is where it can get tricky. Mostly undergraduate Juniors and Seniors take my ENG 360 Tech Writing class. By this point, they’ve either worked or completed internships AND they know what career they’re going to pursue. Because of this, I tell them to choose their future career as the workplace scenario and discuss whether they could use the technology in that environment. If they aren’t comfortable with this vagueness, then I tell them to discuss whether they could use the technology in the education setting.

One More Thing

Before I conclude my verbal set of instructions, I tell them that I don’t care how they present the information to me, but I need to know the following items:

  1. What is the technology?
  2. How can I use it?
  3. Would they recommend it?
  4. Finally, they must create something with the technology to show me what it looks like in action.

[The point here is to see what skills they will apply to this writing situation. Will they use compare and contrast? Will they write a report in Word or use a PowerPoint or some other technology? What audience awareness skills will they consider, use, and apply?]

What Happens Next?

You can expect to get bombarded with a lot of questions at this point. 🙂

Undergrad students are accustomed to being told exactly what to do, and they don’t like the vague details they receive with this Dead.Line. BUT they are eager to stretch their creative skills!

When answering student questions, I try not to add too much direction. I tell them that what I am looking for is what I am looking for. I want to see what their tech writing skills are, so while I won’t deduct points for lack of design elements, I will deduct points for lack of effort.

The point here is to encourage them to decide the best environment in which to write their feedback/report, as well as how much detail (as long as they are answering what I have explicitly requested). I don’t tell them exactly what I am looking for!

What the Verbal Request Dead.Line Assesses

I think it is pretty clear by now, but here is what I am looking for with this project:

  1. Writing Ability (fluency is important for upper-classmen/women)
  2. Problem Solving Skills
  3. Development of Ideas
  4. Document Design
  5. Critical Thinking Skills (I know, pretty obvious, but have to list it)
  6. Audience Awareness

Outcomes: Here’s What Happened AND What Instructors Can Expect

I was quite pleased the first time I assigned this project. I think timing helped – students complete this project early in the first week or two of class. So they are eager to produce (and possibly to please??).

Here are some examples of student submissions:

  • Elaborate Word Documents with labeled sections of their feedback and pictures
  • PowerPoint Reports
  • Essay-style Reports in Word Documents (some were 2-3 pages and some were only a paragraph with no title or context)
  • Hand-written short answers (mostly brief paragraphs) and notes (these are typically the students who waited until the night or morning before class to look at the technology)

Changes I will Implement the Next Time I Do This…..

I use Blackboard, so the next time I assign this project, I am going to require students submit their feedback via Blackboard Assignments. This assignment is assessing document design skills – not their ability to procrastinate and still get the points…

I assumed students’ critical thinking skills would have urged them to type up their feedback (this is a technical writing class after all!). But I received enough hand written notes, that I am going to force them to use technology to create and submit their work.

Interesting Phenomena & Follow-Up

I assigned this project on a Tuesday and the students presented the information during the next class on Thursday. I grouped students by their technologies (at least 4-5 students were researching the same technology). Students shared their findings in small groups and then together as an entire class.

I noticed that the students were far more positive in their written feedback than in their verbal feedback during class discussion.

The students provided far more effective and practical feedback in class, so, the next time we met, I pointed this out to them. I explained that criticism is just as important as praise. I reassured them that they wouldn’t offend me if they didn’t like the technology (even if I do like the particular technologies I provided them!).


We are almost done with the first Dead.Line. Hang in there!

The next time we meet, we explore the Report Genre. After we discuss the characteristics and expectations of this genre, I then ask them to think about what they submitted for the first Dead.Line and how they would revise their work to incorporate [more] aspects of the Report Genre.

Students meet in small groups (grouped by similar technology again) and debrief. Then I collect the feedback from them.

At this point, I grade and upload my comments for the first Dead.Line in Blackboard. I’ve already jotted down my own notes about the quality and techniques applied, so I make sure I include my thoughts and respond to their own revision ideas.

Last Note: For students who submitted a hand-written project, I usually tease them about their handwriting (it usually isn’t legible) and I explain they would never do that in the workplace. So even though I did say they could choose how to present their feedback, they needed to be thinking about their audience and the work, as well as academic, environment. (And they lose points for these deficiencies!)

While I think it is a good learning opportunity for the hand-writers, I’m still going to require a digital submission through Blackboard the next time. Upper classmen/women shouldn’t be handing in scribbles in a 300+level technical writing class…. HONESTLY….

One comment on “Dead.Lines: The Verbal Request Projects (#1)

  1. Pingback: “Dead.Lines”: Mini-Projects for the Tech Writing Classroom | Dr. Quinn

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This entry was posted on October 12, 2013 by in Curriculum Design, Dead.Line Projects, Teaching, Tech Writing, Undergraduate Writing Projects, Writing.
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