Course Description

This honors course offers comprehensive training in oral, written, visual, and digital communication for the twenty-first century.  It unites these various modes under the flexible art of rhetoric and uses rhetoric both to strengthen communication skills and to sharpen awareness of the challenges and advantages presented by oral, written, visual, and digital modes.

In this course, the second of a two-part sequence, you will hone your rhetorical skills within the context of civic life by 1) developing stances and persuasive arguments, 2) learning to deliberate effectively, and 3) crafting advocacy appeals with attention to mode of delivery.

Required Course Materials:

  • Rhetoric and Civic Life (2013). Hawhee and Crowley. Custom textbook.                 IBSN: 9781269413978 (This is the same book as last semester.)
  • “Shaping our Future: How Should Higher Education Help Us Create the Society We Want?” National Issues Forum Issue Guide. Available free: PDF link.


Specific details on the following assignments will be discussed during class and available on the course website.  All major assignments must be completed in order to pass this class.

Please note that while the primary goals of the course assignments are the same across RCL sections, individual instructors sometimes tailor the instructions.  (Takeaway: Make sure you’re completing the assignments I’ve actually assigned, not just what you hear friends in other sections discussing.)

Unit Five: Articulating Beliefs

Students will compose a statement of personal belief in light of NPR’s long running “This I Believe” series.  To practice both effective writing and speaking, these pieces will be written as an essay and recorded as a podcast.

Unit Six: Deliberating

For this unit, you will receive training as a deliberation moderator, study the idea of deliberation in the United States, participate in an organized Civic Issues Forum as a class on the question of improving college education, and participate in online deliberation.  At the end of the unit, you will submit three assignments:

  • a philosophy statement on moderating
  • an analysis of your experience with the Civic Issues Forum
  • a reflection on your online deliberation experience

Unit Seven: Persuading and Advocating

During this unit, you will draw on the rhetorical skills you have built over the course of the year to accomplish two tasks: first, to write a persuasive essay, and second, to produce an advocacy piece using a communicative mode of your choice.

Unit Eight: Presenting Yourself

As a capstone requirement, you will create an e-portfolio and select, revise, and arrange the best sampling of your coursework into a digital portfolio.


Active engagement in this class is required, and it has several dimensions, not the least of which is presence in class. This doesn’t simply mean bodily presence, but actually attuning to the class discussions, demonstrating knowledge of the assigned readings, contributing thoughtful comments, asking relevant and engaged questions, and providing helpful feedback to peers during workshop sessions.  Also valuable is recognizing when it is time for other students to contribute, as well as avoiding behaviors such as texting, reading the paper, etc.


Like last semester, students will maintain and post to three distinct blogs for this course:

  1. a Civic Issues (CI) blog (5 longer posts)
  2. a Passion blog (10 posts of moderate length)
  3. a homework blog (your old RCL blog—short, infrequent posts)

A portion of class each week will be devoted to reading and responding to the blog entries by peers in class.

The CI blog is a bit different than anything we had last semester, so be sure to review the instructions under the Assignments page on this site.



Unit Five This I Believe Podcast 15%
Unit Six Philosophy Statement: Moderating 5%
Civic Issues Forum Analysis 10%
Online Deliberation Reflection 5%
Unit Seven Persuasive Essay 15%
Advocacy Project 15%
Unit Eight Final e-Portfolio 10%
Overall Blogging 20%
Participation 5%


A   4.00  Superior achievement
A- 3.67 Excellent, some room for improvement
B+ 3.33 Very good
B   3.00 Good
B-  2.67 Not quite as good
C+ 2.33 Somewhat above average
C   2.00  Average or satisfactory competence
D   1.00  Minimally competent, but still passing

I assign letter grades in this course, rather than points, and use the standard numerical values listed above when calculating averages at the end of the semester.  Occasionally the standards grades don’t provide enough precision, so I sometimes use “slash” grades to indicate an assignment is a little better than the lower score, but not quite into the upper range.  In terms of final calculations, this would count as the average of the two scores.  (A grade of B/B+, for instance, is the midpoint between the two GPA scores: 3.165)

I will review how to calculate a weighted average later in the semester (or you can look it up), but it is your job to keep track of all grades earned during the semester.

At the end of the semester, I average the grades and then round to the nearest letter grade.


Course Policies

Attendance and Lateness
Consistent attendance is expected.  In most situations, more than three absences over the semester, whether excused or unexcused, will result in a lower final grade for the course (typically 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional absence, down to and including an “F”).

Three late arrivals equal one absence.  You’ll need to bring the reading material to class on the day it is assigned or risk being counted absent for that day.  Coming to class without having completed the assigned reading or writing may also count as an absence.

If you participate in university extracurricular activities that require you to travel, please notify me in advance to missing any classes and provide supporting documentation.  In the unfortunate event that you face an emergency, please call Student & Family Services at 814-863-2020.  This hotline is available 24 hours a day, and it will notify your professors of your absence and when you will return to class.  I am very accommodating, so long as you check in with me in advance.

 Academic Integrity

Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner.  All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course.   Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students.  Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction.

I assume you know how to put together a basic works cited list, using a standard citation style (usually MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE, or IEEE).  If you are unfamiliar with citation expectations in American scholarship, please stop by office hours so we can discuss them.   We will also discuss how to cite things aloud and online, which may be new to many people, and we’ll cover just what needs to be cited.  I welcome questions on this issue at any time before assignments are due; please, double check with me beforehand, rather than guessing, as even unintentional violations can have negative consequences on your academic career.  I also strongly recommend completing Penn State’s short Plagiarism Tutorial for Students.  In particular, the section on inappropriate paraphrasing is worth a close read.  (I have to assign sanctions to at least one student every year because of paraphrase-style plagiarism.)

We will discuss proper citation practices in class, and I welcome questions on this issue at any time before assignments are due.  I’d like to stress too that plagiarism is not to be confused with the sharing of ideas—all writers get advice from friends and colleagues.  For the purposes of this course, the element that distinguishes such productive collaborative moments from plagiarism is that of willful deception.

Written Assignment Guidelines

  • While some assignments will be submitted online (on your blogs), most will be printed and submitted in class.  It’s your responsibility to read the directions and syllabus closely to determine the correct method of submission.
  • Printed assignments will be collected at the beginning of class the day that they are due.  Online assignments also must be submitted by the time class begins. (Manipulating timestamps on online assignment submissions is an academic integrity violation and will result in academic sanctions and a referral to Judicial Affairs.)
  • Barring legitimate emergencies, even if you are absent on the day that an assignment is due it is your responsibility to arrange to submit the assignment on time.
  • All presentations must be given on the day assigned.  Failure to present on your assigned day will result in no grade.
  • At my discretion, extensions may be granted for written work if arranged in advance.  However, a penalty of one full letter grade per day will be applied.  Late work for which no such arrangements have been made will not be accepted.
  • All assignments should be typed using an easily readable font.  Please use margins of 1.25” and a 12 pt font size.  Please double-space your work. Printing on both sides of a page is welcome, although not required.  I don’t carry a stapler, so please find a way to staple essays before arriving at class.
  • Carefully proofread all assignments before submitting.

Disability Support Services & Special Circumstances

The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities and is committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to programs, facilities, and admissions without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities.  If you have a registered disability or any other special circumstance, please let me know about it within the first week of class. We can then devise a plan for how to approach the semester.

Statement on Nondiscrimination

The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. The Pennsylvania State University prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University.