Kairos 17.3

WRIT1002 – Writing & Rhetoric 2: Argumentation

WRIT1002: Writing and Rhetoric Two—Argumentation introduces students to rhetorical reasoning and various theories and practices of argumentation. The course is designed to improve writing and critical thinking abilities by teaching students to construct persuasive, ethical, and engaging arguments, and focuses on the production and reception of arguments across a range of contexts, including digital environments. This is a first-year undergraduate course in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, but WRIT1002 also attracts junior and senior undergraduate students from all faculties at the University of Sydney.

For this course, students work collaboratively, discussing their thoughts in small groups and subjecting them to a larger audience, increasing the authenticity, depth, and breadth of their learning. Students engage in peer- and self-review processes throughout the unit to develop metacognitive strategies. Opportunities for invention and reflection are also continually presented as our students advance through graded, discovery-assessment tasks and a critical reading task.

Students begin the discovery process by choosing essay topics or issues on which to take an argumentative stance. The technologies that are used in the discovery process include dialectic that takes place between students and their tutors in workshops, online discussion boards, and journals; critical interpretation of texts; and tutor-assisted group experiential activities.

The first stage of discovery is a brainstorming/freewriting session followed by peer reflection and self-reflection. Students are guided through a series of dialectical processes before commencing four contiguous graded assignments that coalesce to form part of the final, larger assignment. These discovery tasks consist of a source justification task, a literature review task, a visual representation and analysis task, and an interpretation and analysis task. The tasks are sequenced in this way to scaffold student learning, to integrate the material with prior knowledge, and to encourage the development of form and structure (Mayer & Moreno, 2003). After receiving feedback on the fourth assignment, the interpretation and analysis task, students again revise and reflect on their work for their final argumentative assignment: the discovery essay and reflection.

It is through this final reflection that we gain the most insight into how students conceptualize this processual approach to writing and what benefits they perceive in taking this approach. This constant process of invention, reflection, and revision engages students in the purposeful pursuit of knowledge and facilitates the retention and retrieval of that knowledge (Zumbach, 2006).

It is not surprising that most students recognize that this approach breaks up the creation of a written task into smaller, manageable steps, which reduces the sense of burden associated with essay writing by bringing the final essay easily within reach. The freedom of choosing their own topic and writing freely on it before conducting any research is foreign to many students, and those students approach this aspect of the process with anxiety about the value or academic validity of their own ideas, as expressed in the following reflective statement:

"I loved that it was unrestricted so while honing in on specific issues I was able to be very loose and wild with my ideas which really motivated me to start the research phase of this project."

Students also engage in collaboration in a critical reading task. This assignment is an interactive task in which students critically interpret and analyze mock advertisements in video format. Students use YouTube to view segments from episodes of The Gruen Transfer (Connolly & Fitzgerald, 2011), an Australian television show in which competing advertising teams formulate arguments on seemingly preposterous topics and compete with each other to develop the best pitch. The groups work in class and online, again combining inventional with metacognitive evaluation and revision strategies. They identify and evaluate the argumentation models and approaches taken by the competing advertising teams and determine which team produced the most effective or successful advertisement. The analyses assess the use of tone, format, tactics, and preconceptions assumed by the advertisers; the features, arrangement, and presentation of visual arguments; the teams’ use of ethos, pathos, and logos; and cultural implications and appeal to audiences outside Australia.

Students formulate an oral argument to present to the class, and many enhance their verbal presentation by using visual resources such as presentation software. After the presentation, students collaboratively review and revise their work to produce a final written report. One such group presentation was created by Mohamad Assoum, Crystal Liu, and Ashleigh MacDonald, who analyzed a segment where rival advertising companies vied to produce the most successful appeal for donations for CEOs rendered bankrupt by the Global Financial Crisis. The students produced a sound and detailed critique of both advertisements and incorporated a parody of the discovery process in their presentation. This parody simultaneously demonstrated the camaraderie, mutual respect, and cohesion of the group, who overcame the challenges posed by their diverse disciplinary backgrounds by distributing the workload according to each individual's strengths and interests. The students then submitted the following reflection statement:

"Overall, the group has learned that there are many elements involved to provide an effective argument and sometimes visual arguments are more powerful in portraying a message effectively than a written argument. Although we understand that The Gruen Transfer is a satirical show, the messages delivered highlighted how the use of logical fallacies can have destructive effects on an argument. It illustrated the power of camera techniques, the necessity of a comprehensible message, and the power of voice over and music in creating a persuasive and well-constructed visual argument. We thoroughly enjoyed this task and have made great friendships out of it too!"