Teaching portfolio – Sean Zdenek

Sean Zdenek, PhD
Associate Professor
Technical Communication and Rhetoric
Texas Tech University
806.834.6652 (office)

Curriculum vitae (Fall 2016)


Teaching philosophy
Course syllabi
Sample course assignments
Sample course notes
Selected course evaluations (numerical)
Selected comments from students on anonymous course evaluations
Confidential letters of recommendation from former students
Teaching awards

Teaching philosophy

As a faculty member in technical communication and rhetorical studies for more than a dozen years, I strive to create online and face-to-face classroom experiences that engage, challenge, and motivate students while preparing them for jobs in industry or academia. My courses are grounded in rhetorical principles, user advocacy, industry and community engagement, and universal design. My teaching and research come together in obvious ways through courses devoted to web accessibility and disability studies but also through my abiding interest in making inclusivity and accessibility the centerpiece of all my syllabi, assignments, and classroom spaces.

My courses reflect an expansive definition of technical communication, a field of study that must prepare our undergraduate students not only to write well but to design information with a range of tools, genres, and modalities that meets users’ needs. Technical communicators must be able to create and blend words, speech and other sounds, images, and video into formats that reach the widest audience regardless of ability. They must also know how to transform data into infographics and other displays. My pedagogy is multimodal, offering students multiple means of representation, action, expression, and engagement (in keeping with universal design principles). For example, when I teach undergraduate students to develop instructional materials, I encourage them to engage kinetically and haptically with a range of physical media and objects. They use and develop instructional materials to analyze and solve Rubik’s cubes, make duct tape wallets, tie various technical knots using rope pieces, make balloon animals, learn to play a musical instrument, create Lego designs, and make increasingly complex folded paper objects (Origami). Through these and other in-class activities in which students engage in multiple ways—with a range of materials, through their bodies, and with their classmates—they develop a critical and embodied sensibility for what makes instructions and other documents effective.

My students work closely with real clients because I value community engagement as a way to help students learn about project management, industry expectations, and teamwork. Technical communication is a bridge between users and clients. Client projects often raise difficult questions about the ethics of advocating for users when a client may have conflicting needs or ideas. These conflicts can become teaching moments, a way to discuss the importance of ethics not in a vacuum but through a real problem that students are grappling with.

My pedagogy is grounded in rhetorical principles and user-centered design. The focus of my teaching at the undergraduate level is not on tools such as Adobe InDesign per se but on helping students analyze rhetorical situations, develop solutions for users’ needs, apply principles of good writing and design, and test documents with users. My concept of user-centered design in the classroom tends to go further than current treatments by questioning narrow definitions of users that assume an able-bodied norm and leave out a wide range of users with disabilities. Accessibility is a mindset in my pedagogy rather than an add-on, and I strive to find ways to bake accessibility into my teaching and my syllabi from the start.

I locate technical communication firmly within the critical tradition of the humanities. My pedagogy is humanistic: critical, reflective, ethical, and rhetorical. Even as students learn to produce effective documents for industry and non-profit clients, they are also challenged to be critical consumers and producers who question norms and values, including the stereotyped norm of the technical communicator as a glorified typist. Ideally, I want to give my students the tools to move, ultimately, into leadership positions. I believe a critical pedagogy will make good on the promise inherent in the humanities to produce an ethical, reflective workforce of leaders and project managers.

Course syllabi

Undergraduate courses

Advanced Composition
Capstone: Professional Issues in Technical Communication
Developing Instructional Materials
Information Design
Professional Report Writing
Style in Technical Writing
Rhetorical Criticism (A new course proposed by me and approved by the College in Fall 2007. Rhetorical Criticism is currently being proposed as an addition to our core requirements for BA Tech Comm majors and as an example of “rhetorical literacy” in our new university-wide initiative on communication literacy.)

Graduate courses

Document Design
Foundations of Technical Communication
Rhetorical Analysis
Sonic Literacies: Rhetorics of Sound (special topic)
Web Accessibility and Disability Studies (special topic)
Writing for Publication

Sample course assignments

Web accessibility report (ENGL 5386: Web accessibility and disability studies)

Sample course notes

These daily agenda documents are uploaded to Blackboard for students to access and study. I use these documents to structure our in-class activities and explain upcoming assignments.

ENGL 5386: Web Accessibility and Disability Studies (Grad Onsite) — 9.3.2015
ENGL 5375: Document Design (Grad Online) — 2.15.2016
ENGL 3366: Style in Technical Writing (Undergrad Online) — 10.10.2016
ENGL 3362: Rhetorical Criticism (Undergrad Onsite) — 9.18.2014

Selected course evaluations (numerical)

To access all of my course evaluation data, search the Institutional Research site at Texas Tech University.

ENGL 5375: Document Design (online), Spring 2016
ENGL 3366: Style in Technical Writing (online), Summer 2015
ENGL 5386: Web Accessibility and Disability Studies (online), Summer 2013
ENGL 3362: Rhetorical Criticism (onsite), Fall 2014

Selected comments from students on anonymous course evaluations

“Dr. Zdenek is an excellent teacher and scholar. He asks probing questions and pushes until he gets a thoughtful and convincing answer. He treats student contributions with respect. His sense of humor makes class meetings enjoyable.” Graduate student in ENGL 5371: Foundations of Technical Communication, Fall 2006.

“I really enjoyed his class. I felt that I learned a lot that will benefit my career. I felt that Dr. Zdenek was interested in fostering both intellectual and practical growth in his students. The readings were excellent—well chosen and interesting. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the class. Dr. Zdenek’s personality is well suited for this subject. He is funny and creative and asks compelling questions. I think he was an excellent guide.” — Graduate student in ENGL 5375: Document Design, Spring 2005.

“Dr. Zdenek is by far one of my favorite professors. He is fair and very approachable, making every effort to be available if needed by a student. This class was very useful and I enjoyed the material presented in this class. Dr. Zdenek always exhibits vast knowledge in the areas he teaches in this program.” — Graduate student in ENGL 5375: Document Design, Spring 2005.

“Great course – particularly appreciated how the large paper was set up – parts of it written throughout with feedback from Dr. Zdenek. Dr. Zdenek has provided the most substantive and useful feedback I’ve received from any professor […] a fantastic and very useful course.” — Online graduate student in ENGL 5371: Foundations of Technical Communication, Fall 2009.

“Dr. Zdenek was an excellent instructor. He was engaging and always went beyond the book. I enjoyed the class immensely, and I’m kind of sad that it’s ending.” — Graduate student in ENGL 5375: Document Design, Spring 2009.

“Dr. Zdenek allowed me to enroll in his class at the last minute and I think this has been my favorite semester. I have taken many classes here and the advancements that have been made are outstanding; wish they’d been in place before. Dr. Zdenek made learning fun and he assignments were very thought-provoking. His explanations were very clear and after taking his class, I find myself seeing the mistakes he warned against in writing. This has been my best year and I ALMOST hate graduating…well not so much! You get the point…” — Online undergraduate student in ENGL 3366: Style in Technical Writing, Spring 2011.

“This was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. The professor seemed to care about teaching and about writing in general. He tried to get everyone involved in the skype chats and used information that seemed relevant to both the subject and to students. He used articles that were interesting to prove key concepts– about hurricane Katrina and Michelle Obama to show the difference in word choice and about the economy to point out cliched phrases. The book was possibly the most useful writing guide I’ve ever read. Overall, great course.” — Online undergraduate student in ENGL 3366: Style in Technical Writing, Spring 2011.

“This class is how college should be. Dr. Zdenek keeps it interesting and timely.” — Undergraduate student in ENGL 3362: Rhetorical Criticism, Spring 2010.

“Even though I’m an accounting major, I feel like this class was more useful than some of my business courses. I learned a lot from my field because of all the research I had to do in here. I think every business major should take this course.” — Undergraduate non-major in ENGL 3365: Professional Report Writing, Spring 2008.

“This is a very important course that helped me to view the world and epistemology in a different way. Great course!” — Graduate student in ENGL 5386: Accessible Rhetoric: Web Accessibility & Disability Studies.

“This course provided me with tools and techniques that are crucial to any research I will do. Dr. Zdenek was approachable, knowledgeable, and helpful, and I learned a lot from his class.” — Online graduate student in ENGL 5362: Rhetorical Analysis, Fall 2008.

“Dr. Zdenek’s course was an important foundation for my research. His assignments not only prepared me for the week’s discussion, but they will be valuable resources as I continue in the program. I have been very impressed with Dr. Zdenek’s willingness to meet online and discuss questions/topics for the class. His course design, particularly with the student roundtables, engaged the students and allowed us to apply the theories studied each week. This has been a very positive and relevant course experience.” — Online graduate student in ENGL 5362: Rhetorical Analysis, Fall 2008.

“Quite possibly the best class I have ever taken. Dr. Zdenek has a knack for facilitating discussion that engages students and demonstrates a deep knowledge of the subject matter.” — Graduate student in ENGL 5362: Rhetorical Analysis, Fall 2004.

“This course provided an excellent foundation for technical communication. […] I thoroughly enjoyed the assignments (as much as a student can enjoy papers) and the format in which the material was delivered. Dr. Zdenek is an outstanding instructor.” — Online graduate student in ENGL 5371: Foundations of Technical Communication, Fall 2009.

“I thoroughly enjoyed both the course and the instructor. This is one of the most beneficial courses I have taken during my undergraduate career, and I believe this is a result of a fantastic teach[er] and well-organized course. The directions/assignments given were clear and explained thoroughly. The instructor provided great feedback to students in a professional/nice way. This allowed every student to feel confident when sharing their work or asking questions. The instructor had a passion for technical writing that definitely showed through his fantastic lectures. Although this course met for three hours once a week, I was never bored/uninterested in the material. I learned a lot of valuable techniques that will help improve my writing. I would recommend this instructor/course to future students.” — Online undergraduate student in ENGL 3366: Style in Technical Writing, Fall 2016.

Confidential letters of recommendation from former students (available on request)

Dr. Steve Morrison. PhD 2016, Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Texas Tech. Dissertation title: “The Wise and the Wicked: Narrative Influences on Political Identity in Partisan Media.” Dissertation chair: Sean Zdenek.

Dr. Ashlynn Reynolds-Dyk. PhD 2015, Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Texas Tech. Dissertation title: “Is this Normal? Why are you Staring? Real Freak Shows Run Over at the Intersection: A Multimodal Approach to Rhetorical Analysis of Disability and Reality TV.” Dissertation chair: Sean Zdenek.

Teaching awards

Nominated for The Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award. Texas Tech University, 2011.

Melissa Helquist, PhD 2015. Title: “Eye, ear, hand: Multimodal literacy practices of blind adults.” Winner: 2014-15 Texas Tech TCR Dissertation Award. Technical Communication and Rhetoric Alumni award committee. Dissertation chair: Sean Zdenek.