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Writing a Course Manual
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I am currently revising my Technical Writing Course Manual, in preparation for my summer session course, and I want to share the document and how it has worked this week. I first created the manual, using a Google Document, for my spring courses to eliminate the dozens of web pages that I had created previously. The manual addressed several challenges that I had encountered in courses:
- With the information chunked out in a series of web pages, students had trouble finding details when they needed them. Placing everything in one manual meant the information was all in one searchable place.
- Students frequently needed a direct link to a specific policy, explanation, or detail in the course materials. The headings in the Google Document let me link to discrete information in the manual.
- Previously, I used a separate website for the kind of information included in the manual, but students were sometime confused about the need to go to a separate place outside the course management system (CMS) to find course information. The Google Document was easy to embed within our CMS, so I did not need to use a separate website.
The manual proved successful during the spring term. Students consulted it it regularly throughout the term. Whenever I looked at the embedded manual on the course homepage in the CMS, I saw a collection of anonymous animals, from the Anonymous Anteater to the Anonymous Wombat. I came to value all those anonymous animals as evidence that students were going back to the course documents long after the first days of the course. I’ve never had that kind of validation with a traditional syllabus.
One issue to address as I revise is the length of the manual. It currently comes in at 34 pages, and I’m still tweaking things. Naturally, I don’t expect students to read and memorize the manual; but what seems obvious to me may not be obvious to students. I have added the section below to explain how I expect students to use the manual in the course:
How to Use this Manual
This course manual is a guide to English 3764, Technical Writing, as taught by Traci Gardner at Virginia Tech. The manual is arranged in three large sections:
- Syllabus and Basic Course Information: all the information typically included on a syllabus, including details on course assessment and the textbook.
- Requirements: explanation of the work that is expected in the course.
- Policies: all the guidelines that apply in the course, listed in alphabetical order.
Do not feel compelled to read the manual cover-to-cover. This guide is a reference you should review at the beginning of the course and then return to throughout the term as necessary.
At the beginning of the course, you should skim through the entire manual. Read the information that provides key details on the class carefully, such as the “Tentative Course Schedule” and the “Late Policy.” Pay attention to the kind of information that is included in the manual as you skim.During the course, check this manual for the answers to your questions first. You can check the Table of Contents as well as use the Find command to search the manual. Most general questions about the course are answered here.
I’ll emphasize these instructions the first week of the course as well, when I point out some of the key details students should review. I’m looking forward to a second term using the manual, and I hope it will be a positive experience this term too. As you check out the document, note any questions or suggestions you have and leave them below as a comment. I’m planning to use the document again for the fall semester, so I can use your advice and feedback!
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