CO150—College Composition—is a common experience for most CSU students. CO150 focuses on initiating students into academic discourse and developing composing practices that will prepare them for success as university students and as citizens. Therefore, the course focuses on critical reading and inquiry, writing for a variety of rhetorical situations, and enabling effective writing processes. Its key objectives include the following:
Developing a repertoire of strategies for addressing a variety of specific rhetorical situations, i.e., different purposes, audiences, and contexts;
Learning important elements of academic discourse, such as forming and critically investigating questions, using sources effectively and ethically, and writing effective summaries, analyses, and arguments;
Increasing information literacy through practicing strategies for locating, selecting, and evaluating sources for inquiry;
The course or its equivalent is required by the All-University Core Curriculum to satisfy Category 1 a., Basic Competency in Written Communication. (See http://catalog.colostate.edu/front/aucc.aspx). In addition to meeting this CSU core requirement, CO150 credit will satisfy a core requirement for communication (CO 2) at any Colorado public higher education college or university. This is due to its inclusion in the state's guaranteed transfer (gtPathways) program. (See this PDF.)
This curriculum is also designed to help instructors realize three broader educational goals:
Engage students as active members of the CSU community
Engage students as active and interested learners
Develop student understanding of their positions as world citizens responding to significant global challenges
As we work to meet the CSU Composition Program’s objectives as well as the core curriculum requirements, we rely on the metaphor of writing as a conversation. Like a conversation, writing involves exchanges of ideas that help us shape our own ideas and opinions. Students usually know that they would be foolish to open their mouths the moment they join a group of people engaged in conversation—instead, they’d typically listen for a few moments to understand what’s being discussed. Then, if they found they had something to offer, they would wait until an appropriate moment to contribute. Our students understand what happens to people who make off-topic, insensitive, inappropriate, or otherwise ill-considered remarks in a conversation. In CO150, we build on this understanding by suggesting that, prior to contributing to the debate about an issue, they should read, discuss, and inquire further about what other writers have written. Then, when they’ve gained an understanding of the conversation, they can offer their own contribution to it. By using this metaphor, we can help students build on their understanding of discourse as situated within larger social and cultural contexts.
Background to the Co150 Theme of “The Rhetoric of Green”
Each year the composition staff at Colorado State identifies a theme upon which to organize CO150, trying always to find one that is interdisciplinary and of contemporary interest. This year we have chosen a new theme: The Rhetoric of Green. We use the word “rhetoric” to mean not only the study of argument and persuasion, but also an analysis of how people write to and for specific audiences. While the word rhetoric is worthy of complex, book-length definitions, in its simplest form it means doing things with words. CO150 is designed to help students learn how to untangle some of the rhetorical tactics that are used to persuade us to act, think, and feel particular ways about the environment. As they learn to sift through ideas, evidence, claims, assumptions, values, and opinions, they will be asked to consider how something is said as much as what is said. We have done our best to include a representative range of the voices in the readings for the class. By studying a variety of writers, we shall analyze how essays are crafted for particular audiences as much as we shall study how persuasive they are in content.
The word “green” in this context is, of course, much more than just a color. “Green” suggests a set of preoccupations about how and why to make decisions that responsibly—and ethically—consider our environment. Given Colorado State’s position as a “green university,” it makes sense to ask what, exactly, does it mean to be “green”? Locally, it is worth considering what has happened on campus since Colorado State implemented its “Green is Gold” initiative in 2001. On a practical level, how effective are initiatives like “the great sofa round-up”? Last year Colorado State competed with more than 500 universities in “RecycleMania” and placed second in the nation for our campus recycling rate. How important is it to recycle? Now first-year students can choose whether they wish to pay to use renewable energy in their dorm rooms, powering their laptops and video consoles with alternative sources of electricity. Does this make any difference to overall campus energy consumption—and environmental health? What are the effects of the recent “green construction” guidelines for new buildings on campus? Is “going green” just a campus fad?
Today, most people give at least some attention to the environmental significance of their decisions and actions. There are few conversations that engage a wider audience than discussions about the environment, including topics as diverse as climate change, green business practices, composting, “clean” energy, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, and the ethical consumption of natural resources, among many others. As teachers of writing, we feel the opportunity to have our students examine such a rhetoric is too rich to pass up.
Keeping in mind this course theme and the overall course objectives, we've structured the course in three phases.
In Phase 1, students hone critical reading skills as they listen to the conversation on this question-at-issue: What is the rhetoric of green?
In Phase 2, they explore questions raised during the first phase, and then add their voices to the conversation by writing an argument.
In Phase 3, they synthesize the various skills learned during the semester by identifying, analyzing, and responding to a problem in the form of an argument worthy of the attention of a public audience. Students will typically be writing in one of two popular genres (blog or op-ed) as they seek to inform their public audience of a phenomenon such as “greenwashing.”
Each phase builds on the previous one to further develop the inquiry and composing competencies needed to achieve the course goals
A Few Last Reminders
There are many approaches to teaching first-year writing. You may have experienced other approaches as a student or teacher. Therefore, it may be helpful to consider what CO150 is not. It does not focus on writing about literature, creative writing, or personal narratives. Nor is CO150 a course that teaches students how to write in particular modes of discourse such as description, narration, or traditional research papers. And while the course attends to editing and style concerns in the context of students' writing, it is not a grammar course. Rather, CO150 gives students experience with writing in response to different rhetorical situations, making choices to address a variety of purposes and audiences, and developing strategies for successful communication.
A first-year composition course is in many ways a rite of passage for university students. It is not only a course that will help students write effective academic discourse, although that may be its most important purpose. It is also not only a course that is designed to stretch students intellectually and teach them how to think critically, a skill essential to academic success. It is a course that asks students to engage directly with the world in which they live.