Question Formation and Analysis

Assignment Goals

In this sequence of assignments we will examine issues involving the rhetoric of science and technology. The goals of this assignment are:

    • To form questions encouraging thoughtful analysis, writing and argument;
    • To develop a shared course vocabulary;
    • To identify problems and analyze ideas in response to the course readings;
    • To comment on, and help integrate, the questions, keywords and sytheses in class discusion;
    • To use the questions, keywords, responses, discussions and syntheses as a possible basis for developing related course work.


The Question Formation and Analysis assignment has two essential parts: Leading Discussion — comprised of question formation, keyword entry, class presentation and synthesis — and Participating in Discussion — comprised of responses to questions or keywords, class discussion and assessment. I trust this assignment will provide material you will want to use in pursuing other assignments in the course.

At the beginning of the semester, I will create discussion groups. As of this writing, I assume 5 groups, each with 3 or so members. Each group will lead the class discussion once during the semester.

Leading Discussion

Each group will lead the class discussion once during the semester. Members of the discussion group will pose questions and offer keywords on, and related to, the readings. Using the questions, keywords and responses, discussion groups will prepare and orchestrate class discussion.

In light of the class discussion, group members will return to the questions, keywords and responses. Each group member will provide a separate synthesis — a critical appraisal and commentary regarding the themes and issues raised in the week's questions, keywords and responses. Questions, keywords, responses and syntheses will be posted on the class wiki.

    Leading Discussion: Question Formation

    As assigned on the course calendar, the discussion group will develop three to five concisely worded questions based on the assigned readings, related readings and/or on related issues and topics. For each question, please provide a page reference (or references) to the assigned texts — or to outside texts — that indicate your thinking as you formed the question, why you formed the question as you did, and how the question might be approached. For assigned readings, you need only provide the title or author and page number. For outside sources, please provide full citations (for purposes of this assignment I suggest MLA style).

    Please post your questions to the appropriate wiki forum no later than 6 p.m. on Thursday (the Thursday before we discuss the readings on Monday).

    The purpose of the questions is to encourage thoughtful analysis, writing and argument. Please consider the "who, what, where, when, how" implied in the formulation of the question. I offer the following prompts to encourage an analysis of the questions as you pose them:

      • What kind of thinking does the question provoke? Does the question ask for a description? A judgment? An opinion? Data?
      • How is the question posed structurally? Is the question short, long, compound, over determined, vague, careless, precise, wordy?
      • How might the question be answered? What resources might be needed to answer the question — personal opinion, experience, expertise, experiment, close reading of the text, interpretation?
      • Who does the question ask the respondent to be? Fellow seeker? Novice? Dope? Collaborator? Believer? Cynic? Judge? Agent of change?
      • What is the goal of the question? Affirmation and Confirmation? Provocation? Knowledge seeking? Information?
      • When might the question be answered? Does the question assume an immediate answer? Does the question assume a certain vision of the future? Does the question assume a certain understanding of the past? Of current events?

    Leading Discussion: Keyword Entry

    While analyzing the reading, discussion group members will select three to five keywords. The criteria for selecting keywords is for the group to determine. However, I ask that the keywords selected offer continuity (with the readings and existing keywords), variety and inclusiveness. The inspiration for this part of the assignment comes from Raymond Williams Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976). Williams describes his approach:

      ... It is not a dictionary or glossary of a particular academic subject. It is not a series of footnotes to dictionary histories or definitions of a number of words. It is, rather, the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary: a shared body of words and meanings in our most general discussions, in English, of the practices and institutions which we group as culture and society ... I called these words Keywords in two connected senses: they are significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation; they are significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought. Certain uses bound together certain ways of seeing culture and society, not least in these two most general words. Certain other uses seemed to me to open up issues and problems, in the same general area, of which we all needed to be very much more conscious. Notes on a list of words; analyses of certain formations: these were other elements of an active vocabulary — a way of recording, investigating and presenting problems of meaning in the area in which the meanings of culture and society have formed. (emphasis mine, p. 13)

    One of Williams most noted keyword entries was 'culture.'

    From the assigned, or related, reading, then, I ask that discussion groups choose three to five keywords, no more. You may develop a longer entry on one or two keywords and develop a new, or integrated, entry on a previously selected keyword. These keywords should have a common usage (are part of our "general discussions"), but may be given a particular technical or disciplinary definition by the writer. I want you to provide brief entries — 150-250 words — for each keyword (at most, 750-1250 total words).

    I neither want you to mimic Williams' style or concerns, nor provide stand-alone quotes from the text. Rather I ask that you offer "the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary" originating in your mind, our reading and our discussion. Ultimately, I want us to build a vocabulary that lends an evolving basis for our shared inquiry.

    Please post your keywords to the appropriate wiki forum no later than 6 p.m. on Thursday (the Thursday before we discuss the readings on Monday).

    Leading Discussion: Class Discussion

    The discussion groups will use their questions, keyword entries and class members' responses as the basis for structuring an in-class discussion of the assigned reading and related topics. Discussion groups may conduct the class in any manner they choose. However, I want each group to spend the final five to ten minutes of the presentation pulling together the main themes and ideas raised in the discussion — a moment of synthesis if you will. And so I would like our discussions, including the synthesis, to model the process of inquiry promoted in this assignment. Our general goal is a cogent discussion about the issues and ideas raised in, and related to, the assigned reading.

    Leading Discussion: Synthesis

    After Monday's class, each group member will comment and reflect on any ideas raised, or neglected, in the question, keyword, response and discussion process during the preceding week. And, if so inclined, the discussion leaders may revisit and comment on previous questions, keywords, responses, discussions and commentaries. Again, the goal is a critical appraisal and commentary regarding the themes and issues raised in the week's questions, keywords and responses. Please stay away from assessments of class performance ("I thought the discussion went well ..."). I ask that one goal of the synthesis be to help construct a coherent narrative about the issues raised throughout the course. Thus, a possible outcome of the syntheses would be that at the semester's end one could, simply by reading the syntheses, get a clear sense of the relationship among significant ideas raised in the class. Each synthesis will be 250 to 500 words and is due to the wiki within 48 hours of leading the class discussion.

Participating in Discussions

If you are not part of the group leading a given week's discussion, please select a question or questions to which to respond. You may also respond to the discussion group's keyword entry.

    Participating in Discussions: Questions and Keywords

    If you are not leading a given week's discussion, please select a question or questions to which to respond. Your response should be roughly 350 to 500 words. Concision is a virtue. In your response, please give a page reference, or page references, to the assigned reading — or to outside texts (MLA citation) — that indicate the basis for your analysis and argument. Please keep in mind that your responses may provide fodder for future course work.

    You may also respond to the keyword entry. However, you are not required to do so. Your participation would be in addition to your response to a given question or questions. You may participate by providing content to (including other media, references), or editing, the entry. You may also integrate a keyword entry into your question response. If you choose to respond to keyword entries, your effort will be noted as a valuable, rewarded asset to our community.

    Please post your responses to the appropriate wiki forum by Sunday at noon (the Sunday before we discuss the readings on Monday).

    Participating in Discussions: Assessment

    If you are not leading a given week's discussion, please provide your input on the presentation as soon as possible after class (within 24 hours). Please assess the presentation and discussion by completing this on-line form.

Rhetoric of Science and Technology