RHE 309K – Syllabus

The study of rhetoric is fundamentally a study of argument – how particular authors cater their arguments to particular audiences in particular settings. Although these days the term is often used pejoratively (a given politician’s “empty rhetoric”), this class takes as its premise that virtually all communication is in some way rhetorical. We communicate in order to persuade others that what we have to say, whatever it is, is important. And when we communicate using humor, the message can be all the more difficult to decipher (or take seriously). But the pervasiveness of comedy in contemporary culture makes it a rich and largely under-examined resource for study. Humor is persuasive, and we’ll be asking whether comedic performances encourage audiences to re-think their ideological and political values, or if humor simply reinforces the beliefs that audiences already hold: when are we laughing with, and when are we laughing at, and, most importantly, (how) can we know the difference?

If laughter is a sign of persuasion (a question we will explore together), we will think through why audiences do or don’t laugh, are or are not persuaded by a text. We will think and write critically about what makes comic performances compelling, focusing closely on the relationship between performers and their audiences. We will track how the purpose and message of texts changes as jokes move across media and venue in the digital age, looking at a wide range of sources – from comedy albums to HBO specials, from YouTube to Twitter.

In this course you will learn how to:

  • critically analyze how stand up comedians and popular humorists change, affect, and produce debates in certain ways
  • navigate a number of digital media platforms and engage with online visual, textual, and aural environments to create rhetorically aware arguments
  • think and read critically—identify, evaluate, summarize, invent, organize, and polish effective arguments
  • conduct web-based research: assessing the credibility of sources and documenting those sources accurately
  • edit and proofread your own and others’ prose.

 Required Textbooks and Readings:

~ Everything is an Argument (5th edition). Lunsford, Andrea. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.

Easy Writer:  A Pocket Reference (4th Edition).  Lunsford, Andrea. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

Aside from these texts, I will assign a variety of excerpts from other works, newspaper articles, blogs, and essays over the course of the semester. Whenever possible, I will provide you with digital copies of these supplementary readings, which you may decide to print out or read either on your computer or e-reader devices. These additional readings will all be posted to the course wiki and available for access/download well in advance of the due date.


~ “They Say/I Say” The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (2nd Edition). Graff and Birkenstein. Norton, 2010.

~ A subscription to Netflix Instant Streaming (approx. $16 for two months of service with a one-month free trial) – will be worthwhile for research purposes

Major Assignments:

LR parts A, B1/B2 and C1/C2, plus observations

Mapping a meme essay + peer review + revision of essay

Rhetorical analysis essay + peer review + revision of essay

Multimedia argument + peer review + reflection

Minor Assignments:

4 short papers analyzing and summarizing individual articles and comedic texts

Weekly blog posts

Other in-class assignments/homework including reading quizzes

Coursework and Grading:

Unlike many of the English or composition courses you may have taken in the past, this course gives you the opportunity to self-evaluate based on evidence and observations you collect over the semester. This means both an increase in agency over your own grade as well as an increase in personal responsibility.  The goal here will be to demonstrate how your learning evolves – as opposed most courses that simply ask you to demonstrate an ability to regurgitate classroom discussions and to hand things in on time (though timely submission will be important).

Your final grade will be determined by use of the Learning Record (LR), a system in which students compile a portfolio of work at the midterm and again at the end of the semester. These portfolios present a selection of your work (both formal and informal) alongside ongoing observations about your learning.  This evidence is then coupled with an analysis of your work development (written by you) in terms of the six dimensions of learning and the specific learning objectives for this course (course strands).

The six dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers over the last several decades, and they represent what learners experience in most any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence

2) Knowledge and understanding

3) Skills and strategies

4) Use of prior and emerging experience

5) Reflectiveness

6) Creativity, originality, imagination

In your Learning Record, you must convincingly demonstrate growth in the course strands listed below by providing concrete evidence that you collect over time. This evidence will be drawn from a series of work samples and observations, which you will then analyze. In the summary, interpretation, and evaluation statements you generate, you should explain how your evidence shows learning in the five course strands, using the six dimensions of learning. The course strands and the dimensions of learning can be imagined as a matrix through which you and I will interpret the evidence presented by each of your individual Learning Records. Not every box in the matrix will be filled, of course.  For instance, you might not argue that your learning to research (a course strand) shows growth in confidence and independence; mastery of skills and strategies; etc., but you might argue – based on the evidence of observations and works – that your skills and strategies at research improved, that you gained confidence in the practice of research, and that you were able to incorporate new information into your research plans – thus demonstrating development in three dimensions of learning for one course strand.

I highly recommend you spend some time investigating The Learning Record website.  It will ease an concerns and anxieties you may have as well as prepare you for the tasks ahead.  This is an entirely transparent process/system, and this site will answer many questions that you are likely to have.


Successful completion of this course will depend on your completion of several long writing assignments (each revised according to peer and instructor feedback), several short writing assignments, components of the Learning Record (which comprise reflection on and self-evaluation of your work for the term), and brief homework assignments. In order to get a passing mark for the term, you must complete the following assignments to my satisfaction:

~ Long Writing Assignments: Paper 1.1, Paper 1.2, Paper 2.1, Paper 2.2, Paper 3.1

~ Short Writing Assignments: 4 Research summaries

~ Components of the Learning Record: Parts B1, B2, C1, C2, and 16 observation statements

Failure to complete any of the above assignments may result in a failing mark for the term. Failure to complete the long writing assignments (Papers 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 3,1) so that they meet the “minimum requirements” listed for each assignment may also result in a failing mark for the term.

The course strands for RHE 309K are as follows:


Research includes the ability to find credible and reliable sources (using databases, performing searches, locating a range of information in a variety of manners and media) as well as the ability to incorporate research into one’s writing (using citation styles such as APA and MLA, quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing). Student development in this learning strand should demonstrate new skills in or knowledge about finding and using information while composing a persuasive discourse.


Argumentation includes the ability to present a convincing claim (incorporating evidence, connecting reasons and evidence, appealing to emotions, soliciting trust, demonstrating goodwill) and the ability to organize information in a convincing manner (arranging material so that it can be understood and so it conciliates and moves the audience). Student development in this learning strand should demonstrate an acquired ability to analyze the arrangement and persuasive material in an argument as well as the ability to write and arrange a persuasive argument.

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy includes the ability to locate, manage, synthesize, analyze, and share streams of information in electronic environments; to compose multimodal texts using digital technologies; and to participate in collaborative online spaces. Student development in this area should demonstrate a critical awareness of media and an improved ability to compose and analyze multimodal texts.


Presentation includes writing style (clear sentences, vocabulary that is appropriate to the audience and situation, distinct voice) as well as mechanical correctness (“error”-free prose, proper punctuation, and correct formatting). Student development in this learning strand should demonstrate: acquisition of editing techniques; learning about the qualities that one typically finds in this type of writing (this genre or this form of writing); an acquired ability to write distinctly or clearly; knowledge of or skill in punctuation, document-formatting, and/or “proper” syntax.

Writing Process

The writing process includes all efforts that come before the writer finally sits down to compose (brainstorming, planning, note-taking, brief writing to record information or test ideas) as well all critical reconsideration and reshaping of a written product (evaluating one’s own work or another’s work, forming and executing goals for revision, reconceptualizing an argument in light of new information or new circumstances). Student development in this area should demonstrate a more complete knowledge of how effective writers compose as well as a more refined ability to plan, write, and revise.

(Optional) Collaboration, Cooperation and Support

An important part of responsible civic engagement (as well as academic success) is learning to collaborate with your peers. It’s also a classroom contribution that all too often goes unremarked or unrewarded since it’s less clearly tangible or easily measured. This course strand, therefore, is not as rigorously defined given that it can include a wide array of activities and behaviors, some of which might include (but are not limited to): working together on a group project inside or outside of class by splitting up responsibilities and balancing contributions, continuing conversations beyond the classroom (via Twitter or otherwise), helping your peers by answering their questions, assisting them with technologies, and/or providing additional peer review feedback (such as looking at drafts, discussing ideas, brainstorming together, etc).

The grade criteria for evaluating your learning record are as follows:

A – Represents outstanding participation in all course activities, perfect or near perfect attendance, and all assigned work completed on time. Also represents very high quality in all work produced for the course. LR provides evidence of significant development across the five dimensions of learning. The Learning Record at this level demonstrates activity that goes significantly beyond the required course work in one or more course strands.

B – Represents excellent participation in all course activities, near perfect attendance, and all assigned work completed on time. Also represents consistently high quality in course work. Evidence of marked development across the five dimensions of learning.

C – Represents good participation in all course activities, minimal absences, and all assigned work completed. Also represents generally good quality overall in course work. Evidence of some development across the five dimensions of learning.

D – Represents uneven participation in course activities, uneven attendance, and some gaps in assigned work completed. Represents inconsistent quality in course work. Evidence of development across the five dimensions of learning is partial or unclear.

F – Represents minimal participation in course activities, poor attendance, serious gaps in assigned work completed, or very low quality in course work. Evidence of development is not available.

I – Work for the course is incomplete and the instructor will allow the student additional time to complete it. The amount of time allowed is at the discretion of the instructor.

Revision and Peer Review:

For each major writing assignment you will produce multiple drafts to be reviewed by both your peers and myself. The revisions made to papers in this course must be substantial. In other words, you cannot only correct for spelling and minor grammatical errors. To have effectively revised a paper is to have re-envisioned it: to reconsider structure (both global and local); to weed out extraneous claims and clauses; to improve the flow of ideas and sentences; to provide additional support for weaker arguments. I will be looking for revisions that focus on global aspects of writing, such as responding to the assignment, using appropriate and consistent tone, fair summary, good organization, effective argumentation and source use and critical thinking.

One major portion of paper revision in this course is accomplished through peer review. On days in which we have peer review, you must bring at least 3 full pages of a draft to class. Without 3 full pages, you will be counted absent. Peer review is mandatory. If you are absent on peer review day, you must obtain reviews through your peers through other means and then submit the reviews to me. A paper 1.1 or 2.1 that has not been peer reviewed will not be accepted.

Because this class is focused on building revision skills, I will use examples from your submitted work to showcase both well-executed and revisable content. These examples will be anonymous. If you do not want me to use your papers for examples, you must notify me in writing. You are allowed to change your mind.

Assignment Submission: 

Students are expected to turn in digital copies of all major assignments via email or by posting them on the course wiki (as indicated by the instructor) before the beginning of class on the due date. Note: this is not a license to skip class on major due dates.  Everything you submit for this course should be submitted with the file name: lastname-date of submission-assignment tag.

Late Work:

Work is due on the dates specified by the course schedule. All work in this class will be submitted electronically and so will have a date and time stamp. This date and time stamp in the class wiki will serve as evidence of when the work was turned in. Should you fail to post your work to the class wiki on time, you will jeopardize your ability to get the grade that you desire for the term. Note that in the criteria listed for a student to earn an A or a B for the term, I stipulate that all assigned work must be completed on time. In addition to affecting your final grade, habitually turning in work late will put you out of sync with the rest of the class and will affect your overall performance.  Late submission will also result in assignments being returned late, which may set you back even further if the assignment needs revision. For these reasons, I strongly caution against submitting anything after the due date. That said, if you do not complete an assignment on time but do complete the work, you should submit the material to demonstrate its completion and to continue with the assignment sequence that everyone else will be following.


The Department of Rhetoric and Writing has a very strict absence policy.  This is a departmental policy, and no exceptions will be made.  Please refer to that policy statement if you have questions.  It is vital for you to understand that should you miss the equivalent of FIVE class sections, you will fail the course.

Plagiarism and Collusion:

The writing and digital composition you do in this course must be your own. All images you use in this class must be attributed to their sources – regardless of the formality of the assignment. We will spend plenty of time in class covering copyright and fair use guidelines, but it’s important to understand that the same rules apply to both linguistic and visual composition.

Regardless of intention, passing off the work of others as your own can be either plagiarism or collusion. Both are scholastic offenses that I will not tolerate. Plagiarism is a serious offense, and students caught plagiarizing will not receive any credit for the given assignment (meaning they cannot meet the criteria to obtain a “C” in the course). If the offense is egregious or flagrant, however, students risk failing the course outright.

The Department of Rhetoric and Writing’s Statement on Scholastic Responsibility offers detailed explanations of acceptable and unacceptable forms of quotation and paraphrasing. I will provide you with citation guidelines for images, but the fundamental principle is: always provide attribution.

Communication and E-mail Policies:
E-mail is an official means of communication at UT-Austin, and I will frequently use this medium to communicate class information. You are therefore required to obtain a UT email account and to check it daily. All students may claim an email address at no cost by visiting the UTMail website.

My email policies are as follows:

  • All emails must contain both a salutation (addressing me as Professor Blouke) and a closing in which you identify yourself.
  • I will check my email between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and will generally respond within 48 hours.
  • I strongly encourage you to email me with questions and concerns, but if your question is a lengthy one (about writing, digital media, etc.), I may ask you to visit my office hours instead of responding via email.
  • If your question relates to technical issues with any of the various programs/digital platforms we will be using in the class, I expect you to investigate the website/program’s online tutorials, instructions page, FAQ page, or to google your issue before contacting me. Your email should include an acknowledgement that you’ve tried to find a solution and an explanation of what you still need help with.
  • will not respond to emails asking questions that I feel can be answered by looking at the syllabus or schedule.
  • will not respond to emails that I deem impertinent or disrespectful.


Students will create individual blogs on Tumblr and follow the course blog as well as your classmates’ blogs.  Discussion topics will be posted each week, and you will be expected to respond to the prompts regularly.  Additionally, students will create Twitter accounts and follow the course Twitter stream. For each class period, students will be expected to Tweet a question, comment, or sample material connected to the reading for the day. Tweets should be directed to the class Twitter feed (@Standup309). You are welcome to use your personal Twitter account or create a separate account specifically for the course. The blogs and Tweets are intended to generate discussion both in class and out, so I welcome you to respond to your classmates’ posts and to use these platforms as a conversational tool. Just keep in mind that these are public platforms and use your common sense.

Reading Quizzes:

It’s important to stay on top of all the assigned reading for the course. Writing a post about Tuesday’s discussion topic does not exempt you from reading the materials for Thursday. To ensure everyone is keeping up with the reading and prepared to participate in classroom discussion, I will periodically give in-class reading quizzes.

Students with Disabilities:

The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), at (512) 471-6259 [voice] or (866) 329-3986

Religious Holy Days: 

By UT Austin policy, you must notify me of a pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day. If you must miss a class, an examination, a work assignment, or a project in order to observe a religious holy day, I will give you an opportunity to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.

Undergraduate Writing Center: 

I strongly encourage you to use the Undergraduate Writing Center, FAC 211 (the second floor of FAC, down the hallway on the right). The Undergraduate Writing Center offers free, individualized, expert help with writing for any UT undergraduate, by appointment or on a drop-in basis. Any undergraduate enrolled in a course at UT can visit the UWC for assistance with any writing project. They work with students from every department on campus, for both academic and non-academic writing. Whether you are writing a lab report, a resume, a term paper, a statement for an application, or your own poetry, UWC consultants will be happy to work with you. Their services are not just for writing with “problems.” Getting feedback from an informed audience is a normal part of a successful writing project, it demonstrates an active involvement in the writing process (an important course strand), and a desire to go beyond the minimum course requirements. Consultants help students develop strategies to improve their writing – in any stage of the process. The assistance they provide is intended to foster confidence and independence (a dimension of learning). Each student determines how to use the consultant’s advice, and what the consultation will cover. The consultants are trained to help you work on your writing in ways that preserve the integrity of your work.


While I will rarely (if ever) disrupt your schedule by moving the due dates of major assignments, all readings and short homework assignments are subject to change. The class will evolve based on your interests and participation. As a result, occasional juggling of readings may occur from time to time, so check the course schedule (on either the course wiki) regularly for up-to-date reading assignments.

***Every week you will be expected to post to both tumblr and Twitter, as well as to record observations in your Learning Record. As these are consistently recurring assignments, they are not reflected directly on the schedule and will be your responsibility to keep up with.