TCR Grad Blog

Graduate director's blog for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Program at Texas Tech University

Waivers, Awards, and Reductions

Posted by Joyce on January 15, 2012

In the week just before a semester begins, there is always the urgent email or call from students who are worried that their waivers haven’t showed up on their account.  While it is indeed troubling, this situation is not dire — it always gets fixed. Philosophically speaking, we did not admit you to our graduate program just to let you fall victim to money troubles — if you get dropped or if your waiver hasn’t been applied yet, we’ll re-add you and we’ll find your waiver.  Sometimes you have to pay what you think your proper amount should be, and then the difference will get worked out in the following days.

There are three types of reductions to your fee bill.

GPTI fee and tuition waivers:  If you work for the program as a teaching assistant (GPTI, TA, or RA), then the department (typically my assistant and the dept business manager) submit paperwork that will reduce your tuition and fees by a given amount.  This is the set of waivers that I recently wrote about–the graduate school will limit your out-of-pocket expenses to $600 starting in the Fall 2012 semester.

Online PhD tuition waivers.  Your initial fee bill looks enormous, but that’s because you’ve been charged out-of-state tuition, along with our program’s hefty coursefee.  The tuition gets reversed via an email I send to SBS.  I do this in bulk after everyone is registered, but late season adds and drops may result in your name not being on the list.  Just let me know and I’ll get the tuition reversed.

Scholarships and Fellowships.  These are awarded by the department, the college, the grad school, or some other entity.  They are often applied timely, but sometimes other offices lose paperwork or fail to inform us timely of some sort of requirement.  These usually get applied to your account by the start of school, but if they’re missing, let me know.

Changes on the Horizon.  I do not know what the precise dollar amount of this change will be, but beginning either in Summer or Fall 2012, online PhD non-Texas residents will no longer have to go through all this tuition-then-reversal situation.  You will simply be billed non-resident tuition and the big coursefee will vanish.  What’s unknown is how much non-resident tuition will be for those semesters. I will still put non-residents into X sections and Texas residents into D sections, however, so your residency status will continue to be important.

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What Do You Want From Life?

Posted by Joyce on November 20, 2011

This from an online doctoral student illustrates, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding about doctoral education:

Offer more courses that help students skills related to web pages and other technologies. I think there is too much emphasis on rhetoric, and not enough focus on technology. Many of us will graduate with significant student loans to pay back;in order to compete (especially during these tough economic times), we need to have a deep understanding of emerging technologies.

Similarly, here’s a master’s student with a similar complaint:

I wish I had more chances to learn about the latest trends and tools in multimedia interactive, web-based technical communication such as screencasting, voice-over narration, embedded user assistance. I’ve barely even touched tools that I think will be come more important in the industry, such as help authoring tools (HATs) and screencasting tools. When I did use those technologies, they were not very central to the requirements

Yes, it would be valuable to have many tools and techniques anchoring graduate classes, and it may certainly be the case that this program is deficient in doing so. But there is a danger, it seems to me, also about locating one’s program value in teaching the tools because we don’t feel that that’s really what we do, nor do we feel that’s what our graduate courses are designed to do. One could certainly offer classes in Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, or FrameMaker. You may ask, “what are those things?” and that’s the point. They’re defunct tools. Or you might consider offering a course in cut-and-paste, when all you do is drag-and-drop. Instead, I think we’d rather offer courses in design (not Frame, In-Design, PageMaker), editing, methodology, and so on.

It’s not unlike computer science, which doesn’t like teaching C++, Viisual Basic, COBOL, Java, or any specific programming tool, but prefers teaching algorithms for sorting and searching, artificial intelligence, pattern matching, robotics, or any one of a number of higher-level skills.

I could check almost half the list here but I am only allowed 4. Having said that, all of these things are things I’ve been teaching for 15+ years or with which I have career experience. It’s slightly insulting to sit through a class on these things when I already feel my expertise level is sufficient for — and I am already producing work in — the business world.

I think the best answer to this complaint is “don’t sign up for such a class.” If there is nothing to learn and you don’t want/need the graduate credit, please take some other course. If the problem is deeper, and if nothing we have to offer by way of coursework suits you, and all you want is the initials PhD after your name, then I’d further suggest you drop out and buy a doctorate from U of Phoenix.

While I think the history of rhetoric is important, my time was better spent on courses where I can actually apply what I learn.

Because of my comp/rhet focus, classes that are very focused on tech com are the least valuable to me.

This is a master’s student, offering a complaint that’s certainly not uncommon over time:

I have little interest in the theoretical classes. Although I realize they are a required part of the degree program, they offer little practical use in my everyday life as I am not planning to go into academia or research upon completion of my degree.

Yes, I know you don’t like theory and methods courses. However, since you came to us asking for a master of arts, and not a technical certificate from your community college, theory and methods are going to be a major part of your degree activities. And by major, we’re only talking a 3-course requirement (out of 12), so the theoretical footprint seems pretty paltry compared to what could be required in other circumstances. Why theory? Well, a theory is a story about why things are the way they are. It’s a worldview that helps us put our mundane and repetitive activities into patterns we recognize (and thus may manipulate to the benefit of ourselves and others). Without theory, all of our practical activities proceed randomly.

Rhetoric or Argumentation: How do we communicate effectively and how have we arrived at this point historically? How do we persuade and argue our cases effectively?

Feminism: What is the role of sex and gender in social activities, communication, design?

Methods: How do we make sense of stuff we see happening around us? What do we do about X?

Ethics: How do we behave in our organizations as communicators, designers, rhetors?

Theories of Technology: Why do we worry about tools and techniques so much? Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? What is my role as a communicator/teacher/citizen in a technical world?

Rhetoric and (Science/Healthcare/Law/YourFavoriteSphereInsertedHere): How does communication work in technical and specialized fields and spheres? What are the impediments to good communication when dealing with disparate technical realms? What is the role of communication as facilitating social action, knowledge creation, improved processes within this technical field?

As I write this list above, I find myself confused about the Theory/Practice dichotomy, or rather the label “Theory/Practice.” I am not at all convinced that these bullet points above do not also constitute a type of practical study. Isn’t the question “What type of argument is best suited to making my case in this multi-disciplinary group?” a practical one, not much different from “What typeface is most pleasing AND utilitarian given the publication I’m working on?” or any number of so-called practical questions? Unless you’re a trained monkey, how can you answer even the simplest practical question without understanding the context that gives rise to your question in the first place? And isn’t that context borne out of a theoretical understanding of culture, communication, rhetoric, economics, fields of discourse, quality of production, ethical practices, and fundamental differences among types of people?

If you want to learn specific tools, please go ahead and do so. Nothing’s stopping you. It’s just that we don’t want to give graduate credit for what can be learned from an Idiot’s Guide in a few weeks.

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Faculty Position in Technical Communication and Rhetoric

Posted by Joyce on November 11, 2011

Texas Tech University seeks a specialist in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. Open rank. Tenure-line. Graduate and undergraduate courses in the specialization; service on thesis and dissertation committees. We invite applications from all areas of technical communication and rhetoric. Ph.D. and publications or strong research potential required. It is expected that new faculty will be engaged in scholarship or creative activity that attracts outside funding in the form of fellowships, grants, exhibits, and similar kinds of support.

The Department of English is large (52 faculty, 400 undergraduate majors, 200 graduate students), dynamic, and diverse, with B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in English and B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Technical Communication. We lead the university in online education. The department cooperates in interdepartmental programs in linguistics and comparative literature at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The department supports. three scholarly journals (including Technical Communication Quarterly) and three literary journals as well as the Digital Humanities Lab, LetterPress Lab, Multiple Literacies Lab, and Usability Research Lab.

For more information, please visit www.english.ttu.edu/TCR

Texas Tech University is a growing state-supported institution, with a law school and medical school and colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture, Architecture, Business Administration, Engineering, Human Sciences, Mass Communications, and Visual and Performing Arts. The College of Arts and Sciences represents 35% of the total enrollment of 32,000.

Candidates must apply online at http://jobs.texastech.edu/postings/41752 with letter of application and vita. Letters of recommendation will be solicited later from exceptionally qualified candidates. Applications accepted till the position is filled. Screening starts December 15. Direct inquiries to Miles Kimball (miles.kimball@ttu.edu).

TTU is an Equal Opportunity /Affirmative Action Employer, and it encourages applications from minorities and women.

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It!

Posted by Joyce on October 30, 2011

Citation Obsession? Get Over It!

by Kurt Schick, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10-30-2011

…we should abandon trivial roadblocks so that students can write more often in more classes. Recent research demonstrates how effectively and efficiently writing can improve comprehension of content in any discipline. Writing also enables students to practice analysis, synthesis, and other skills that constitute critical, creative, and even civic thinking. If writing provides one of our best means to enhance learning outcomes across the curriculum, then more writing equals more learning. Why would we design writing assignments with obstacles that discourage students from learning?

Read the whole opinion piece:  http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

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Grad Applications Reviewed Yearly, effective immediately

Posted by Joyce on October 4, 2011

Effective Fall 2011, the graduate program will no longer take applications twice a year. Beginning with the January 15, 2012, deadline, we will look at applications ONLY every January 15th. This new policy applies to online and on-campus programs, to the MATC and PhD equally.

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Curriculum Survey Results, Fall 2011

Posted by Joyce on August 28, 2011

As has been my custom for the past 5 or 6 years, I have surveyed the graduate student body to ask about classes (their value and ideal frequency), meeting times, the culture of the program, and general demographics, all of which I use to schedule events, tweak our offerings, and attempt to address deficiencies of the program. Here are the results:

Survey Results: On-Campus Graduate Students, 2011 (N=8)

Survey Results: Online Graduate Students, 2011 (N=24)

I have studied the results and offer the following observations.

First, while I don’t include it here, I have examined the results by degree program, as well as modality, so as to see if there are material differences in PhD and MATC. There are, as you can imagine, but the list of “to do” items reveals itself in your answers to open questions. Thus a) I don’t think it’s worth having a formal report that distinguishes among the populations and b) since the MATC N is rather small, I think it’s better for anonymity to have those results folded into the larger questions.

Second, and this has come up in various ways over the past 5 years, while there is a modality difference in the online programs and the f2f programs, that difference in no way corresponds to one being more valuable than the other. This assertion/fear/hunch is simply not true, as I believe is demonstrable in our plans and actions since the inception of the online programs 8 (PhD) and 12 (MATC) years ago. Recruiting, applications, and admissions are variable across all four programs, and naturally if you look at one year, you may be tempted to assign meaning to the fact that X students versus Y students got admitted or graduated or got a job. But if you take a longer view of our program’s trends, I simply don’t think you will see any favoritism among programs or any significant differences in quality trends between programs. The only trend that matters is to increase quality, and I think we can demonstrate steady progress in this mission over the past 5-10 years.

Third, although the numbers of negative feedback are small, I certainly recognize a need to keep trying to improve our programmatic communications with you. Someone rightly says that they get a welcome letter and a link to our official website, but that specific advise is in short supply. One often has to get information from other students, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for culture and knowledge, it also frustrates many of you. I’m going to do my best to make dates, procedures, and specific steps more available to you, and I thank you for your honest feedback.

Fourth, I always study the class-offerings questions very carefully each year as I plan the next block of courses. I’m in the midst of recommending classes for Summer 12, Fall 12, and Spring 13, and these data are really important to me in this endeavor. There’s always tension around the frequency of required courses, and I always make sure that foundational and methods courses appear in the rotation every year. As for electives, your feedback has a very large impact on my decisions, and you can rest assured that the courses you really, really want will show up in the next block.

Fifth, some online students really do not like the MOO, but year in and year out, the MOO has received very high marks, probably because it’s easy, it’s text, and it’s used heavily. A key concept for you is also the cost of tools, as we have to pay for software and hardware out of course fees if we want to upgrade. The MOO’s cost has been virtually free for years, as has WebBoard, but cheapness isn’t the only reason to keep a tool.  We could upgrade to any number of tools, and we evaluate them all the time — but the ones that involve the most money always give us pause because we are sensitive to how much you pay in fees and tuition. In any event, know that this topic is constantly revisited by the faculty, and while it’s unlikely we’ll adopt a uniform platform, it is very likely we’ll adopt (and support in-house) a couple of new tools this year or next.

Sixth, I probably fixate too much on your negative feedback, but I really do study the final two questions of the survey every year very carefully. I’m very keen to learn about your perspectives on what we’re doing poorly and what your ideas are regarding priorities going forward. Many of you dislike our online presence, and while it’s not fair to blame tools, I blame our CMS, which the department adopted 4 years ago, and which is quite uncreative. I think we’ll move away from that this year, and we’ll also try to move a lot of program information into more accessible places.

Seventh, many of you are concerned about the size of the program, the faculty-to-student ratio, and the availability of your faculty, all of which are related. This year, for the first time in quite a while, the overall size of the combined programs decreases as we admit fewer students and graduate more, and I think this seems like a reasonable level to sustain or shrink slightly. I don’t know if holding the line at this level will address your concerns about size, but I think it’s unlikely we will shrink the program any more than 10-15% percent from current levels. It is also unlikely that we will be in a position to hire any new faculty, so we are going to have to address questions of communication, access, and general culture by adjusting our practices.

A final thought about communication and knowledge silos. I get this every year, and I try to address the issue in different ways each year, but complaints about program communication always interest me. On the one hand, of course the program should have better communication. We’re communicators and we have the tools and know-how to operate at a high and useful level for you. And I’ll keep trying to improve. On the other hand, I am not sure how smart it is to shift information into a centralized location when all the literature on knowledge and speed of information tells us that what makes social networking (and decentralized information exchange in general) powerful is that it doesn’t rely on one person or one centralized process. One of you writes that you had to learn about what to do from other students as if it’s a bad thing—from a theoretical perspective, I think it’s probably the case that information about the university, the professors, and the general know-how of being a graduate student ought to be faster and more accurate if it is generated not only from me and my fingertips, but also from you as you scour the university bureaucracy to answers and solutions related to getting your degree. In fact, you comprise a much, much larger research force than I do, especially when it comes to dealing with the university, and I would encourage you to help yourselves as much as possible, rather than looking to me to produce an org-chart and a how-to sheet on how to navigate the treacherous waters of the university. If you learn something valuable in dealing with a certain office (like Financial Aid or the Registrar) for example, please don’t sit on that knowledge, but push it to your classmates using the listserv, the facebook page, our twitter hashtag, or any number of other fast means. Similarly, when I learn the answer to a question that one of you asks me, I don’t reply to you directly, but instead push the answer to the listserv, the facebook page, this blog, and so on. I know it’s sloppy, but I honestly believe it’s the best way to deal with the complexity of our current situation.

Which is not to say I’m giving up on my responsibility for being one of those sources of information for you. On the contrary, I will continue trying to add value to the communication spectrum by sharing my thoughts, our program policies, and various announcements—the things that I know more directly and what I can learn more efficiently.

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CRN’s for Fall 2011 Variable Credit Courses

Posted by Joyce on July 24, 2011

Section numbers and CRN’s for Fall 2011 variable credit courses:

8000, x21, 23764: dissertation hours, online, non-Texas students only
8000, d21, 21742: dissertation hours, online Texas residents only
8000, 027, 22937: dissertation hours, all local doctoral students

7000, 027, 22936: everyone preparing for quals

5000, 027, 14858: Professional development hours

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New Approach to May Billing

Posted by Joyce on April 23, 2011

After multiple years of requesting that Student Business Services bill you for the May Workshop, after years of trying different techniques for billing a zero-credit course, after one year of working with University College’s conference services, I believe we have finally arrived at a reasonable means of  charging you for the 2-weeks in May for online PhD students.

In January 2011, it was determined at high levels that we could place a charge directly on your bill without having to go through registration of any sort.  It was further determined that the charge should go on your account after the last date in the spring semester that would trigger a “semester-fail-to-pay” penalty, and this date is generally April 15th.  The charge goes onto your spring semester, but since it falls after this “last date to pay,” it sort of functions as a billing period corresponding to the Maymester.  The reason we have to do this is that there is no Maymester billing period, and to collect your May payments timely (so that we can pay housing, dining, visitors, and so on), the late spring charge was deemed to make the most sense.

I went through specialized training to do this direct charge, and while it’s always possible I’ll make a mistake, I have complete control over the charges and refunds, so it’s very, very easy to fix if we need to adjust your payment.

So the details are these:

1. You’ll see a charge for the May Workshop in your spring semester, Detail Code TG02, “Technical Comm Maymester Fee,” which is $1600 in Spring 2011, which you’ll need to pay as soon as possible, and certainly no later than May 9th.

2. if you’re taking a summer course, it is billed in the Summer 1 semester, and its deadlines for payment are typically something like “Full payment of mandatory tuition and fees or enrollment in a payment plan due for Summer I”, due on May 27th this year. If you’ve signed up for a payment plan, then you have until June 27 to make a first payment.

This approach to May billing ought to give you the option of installment payments, access to financial aid, and detailed bills that you  may be able to use for reimbursement from employers.

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The Cost of the PhD

Posted by Joyce on March 25, 2011

I often get requests to  provide someone with the “cost of the degree,” and while I understand that there are some schools, some disciplines, and some systems that treat the degree as one thing with a set price, it is certainly not our model.  Why?  Because there are so many variables for a given individual’s progress that a standard cost would be impossible to provide.

However, I’ll give it a shot.

First is the amount of coursework you have to take.  It’s more variable for the PhD than for the MATC, but even in the latter case, we do credit you with prior graduate work (we’re limited to 6 hours).  The PhD is a 60 hour degree (post bachelors), so the number of transfer credits has a huge bearing on your cost of coursework.  When figuring costs, the only thing to do is to use averages, and the average number of transfer credit hours realized by PhD students is 21 (or 7 courses).  If you want, you can construct a normal distribution of transfer credits with the average at 21 hours, the left tail at 15 hours, and the right tail at 30 hours, and you’d have a really good picture about transfer credits.  In other words, most students, falling within one standard deviation, would receive 18-24 transfer credits.

The current tuition and fees for one 3-hour course stands at approximately $1200 for Texas residents and $1800 for non-Texas residents.  This is another variable, of course, as the tuition and fees are largely out of our control.  You might use these figures and apply a reasonable rate of inflation during your time in the program if you want to be conservative.

However, using 7 transfer courses as our average, that means that the average number of courses to complete with your TCR faculty is 13, and if we multiply, then we have ~$15,500 for Texas residents and ~$24,000 for non-Texans to complete coursework.  Everyone has to take at least 12 hours of ENGL 8000 by rule of the university, so we might as well use that figure for our cost calculations (realizing that many students, mostly local students, but some online students, will exceed this figure).   12 hours is basically 4 three-hour courses, and we’ll use the same in-state  and out-of-state figures from above to arrive at ~$5000 for Texans and ~$7500 for non-Texans.

Online doctoral students are required to come to the May workshop every year until they graduate.  Taking the best average time to graduation that we have so far (about 4.5 years), then that means 4 1/2 workshops, currently billed at $1600 per, so that’s ~$7000.  You have to get to these workshops, and that’s highly variable, but let’s use a very rough figure of $1000/year, so let’s add a rounded figure of ~$5000 for travel.

Local students don’t have to come to May workshops, obviously, but they have moving costs and living costs while they’re in Lubbock.  I don’t know whether it’s fair to allocate the entire cost of living during one’s approximately 5 years in Lubbock to  the cost of the degree, but if you did, you might use a figure of $800/month for rent/mortgage = ~$48,000 (realizing that if you buy, then you’ve got equity in your investment and will recoup it when you sell), and something like $20,000 for food and other living expenses.  However, you’re going to spend money on food and lodging wherever you live, so I don’t think it’s worth calculating these costs into the cost of your degree.  What might be useful would be to compare the cost of living in Lubbock to another school or the city from which you’re moving to arrive at a differential cost of living.  Lubbock is generally an inexpensive place to live, so there may be slight cost savings for being in Lubbock as opposed to other places.  In any event, I cannot hope to calculate these differences into the cost of the degree, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?

Local students do tend to take more hours of ENGL 8000  because they’re required to register for 9 hours of coursework if they are instructors, so maybe we can just let this difference balance out the May workshop costs for the online students so that we don’t have to have too many final figures.

The subtotal at this point stands at ~$32,500 for Texans ~$43,500 for non-Texans, and let’s be conservative and round that up to ~$40,000 for Texans and ~$50,000 for non-Texans, to account for books, computers, and other educational incidentals.

So there’s the answer to the cost of the doctorate.  If you pay out of your own pocket, then these are reasonable figures for your budget.  I’d be very interested to learn from those of you who have finished, or are about to finish, if these estimates are close  to your actual figures. If you want to be ultra conservative, increase these figures by a safety margin of 10% or 20%, maybe rounded up to $50k for Texans and $60k for non-Texans.

There are many ways of getting someone else to help pay for your degree, of course,  and they’re even more variable than the cost calculations.  I’ll treat them in another blog post.

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Doctoral f2f Annual Review Schedule

Posted by Joyce on February 19, 2011

TCR
PhD annual reviews: February 25, 2011

Room 357

Time

Student

Chair

Member

Member

Member

9:00

Bacon

Baehr

Kemp

Rickly

10:00

Brandenburg

Rickly

Baehr

Carter

11:00

Wery

Kemp

Baehr

Rickly

12:00

Christofides

Kemp

Baake

Zdenek

1:00

Wang

Barker

Baake

Dragga

2:00

Watson

Carter

Baake

Koerber

3:00

Beaudin

Rice

Lang

Booher

4:00

Bennett

Lang

Barker

Booher

Late in day

Room 358

Time

Student

Chair

Member

Member

Member

9:00

Crane

Still

Cargile-Cook

Barker

10:00

Jahnke

Still

Dragga

Cargile Cook

11:00

Krahmer

Still

Baake

Cargile Cook

12:00

1:00

Trice

Still

Zdenek

Booher

2:00

Trauth

Rice

Booher

Lang

3:00

Huston

Zdenek

Barker

Koerber

4:00

Barron

Rice

Koerber

Carter


Annual reviews (TBA),
2011

meetings by arrangement, by March 1 (MOO, WebCam, Phone, etc.)

Notes

Student

Chair

Member

Member

Out of town

Visconti

Still

Rice

Kimball

Just did quals

Ray

Baehr

Kimball

Carter

Out of town

Rasberry

Zdenek

Rice

Eaton

Working on diss

Sharpe

Carter

Baake

Barker

Out of town

Pohland

Kimball

Baehr

Out of town

Zobel

Still

Zdenek

Booher

To be arranged

McKenzie

Dragga

Carter

Kimball

 

 

TCR
PhD annual reviews: March 4, 2011

Room 357

Time

Student

Chair

Member

Member

Member

9:00

10:00

Schafer

Eaton

Baake

Rice

11:00

Latham

Eaton

Still

Baake

12:00

Mellon

Eaton

Baehr

Booher

1:00

Edgell

Eaton

Baake

Dragga

afternoons

2:00

3:00

 

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