Teaching with UM RhetLab

UM students enter Writing 100/101 classes with wide-ranging levels of exposure to rhetorical terms and strategies. UM RhetLab is designed to level the playing field for students by addressing the rhetorical content knowledge that DWR teachers emphasize. RhetLab modules consist of pre-tests, short readings with embedded activities, and end-of-module quizzes. Students work on these modules mostly outside of class, using the personalized learning features of the courseware to address their own needs and to take ownership of their learning. In annual surveys, two-thirds of 100/101 students have reported that the modules have helped them with their larger papers and projects. In this guide you will find best practices for teaching and learning with the Lumen modules.

Why are we using UM RhetLab?

The Lumen modules address three issues in our Writing 100/101 classes: students’ varied levels of preparation for college writing; the limited means of assessment in composition courses; and the expense and generalized nature of copyrighted textbooks and courseware.

We know from the annual Condition of College and Career Readiness Report (2016, 2017, 2018) that less than ⅔ of ACT-tested high school graduates meet ACT college readiness English benchmarks and less than ½ meet reading benchmarks. Percentages are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students. Several studies (Pane et. a.l, 2015; Kiang et. al., 2016) have suggested that personalized learning tools can improve college readiness. The Lumen modules focus on the foundational rhetorical strategies and concepts first-year students need to meet the demands of college writing. Students use the modules in ways that suit their level of preparation. Some modules may serve as review of foundational knowledge while others introduce learners to new material and provide opportunities for practice.

The essay is the standard means of assessment in composition courses, which is appropriate. But the composition of an essay demands a solid grasp of foundational rhetorical concepts and facility with varied rhetorical strategies. Drilling down into an essay to pinpoint the concepts and skills students are struggling with is difficult, both for students and instructors. In How Learning Works (2010), Ambrose et. al. note that “adding structure and support — also called instructional scaffolding — to a practice activity in or out of class promotes learning when it helps students practice the target skills at an appropriate level of challenge” (132). The activities and quizzes in the Lumen modules operate as part of the instructional scaffolding students need to meet the challenges presented in a full-length essay or multimodal project. Because work in the modules is self-paced and quizzes can be taken more than once, students can work with a concept until they understand it, demonstrate their learning, and be affirmed for their knowledge, even if they cannot yet apply that concept in an essay.

While many textbook companies offer personalized learning courseware, those products are designed for mass audiences, protected by copyright, and come with a high price tag. Because the content of the Lumen modules was suggested and composed by DWR teaching faculty, it aligns closely with UM’s first-year writing curriculum. As each module is an independent entity, faculty can easily order and implement modules to fit their individual course calendars. That close alignment and flexibility frees instructors from having to mine generalized, pre-packaged content for material relevant to their courses, and because the content of the modules is OER, their cost is low.

Integrating RhetLab with Blackboard

The Lumen Waymaker courseware integrates seamlessly with your Blackboard course.

Installation Instructions

My DWR Logo

Find the RhetLab Blackboard package and Installation instructions on myDWR

Best Practices

If you use course copy to quickly generate your Blackboard environment from a previous semester’s course, do not copy the Lumen Package from the previous semester. Make sure it is unchecked when you select the content to copy. Copying the package from one course to another breaks the LTI links between Waymaker and Blackboard.

Once the package has been imported, you can move and rename any of the Waymaker folders and links as if they were any other Blackboard content item (though if you use course copy, you’ll have to remember where you put everything so you can remove it before copying).

Waymaker automatically creates Grade Center columns for each module quiz. By default, these columns are worth 20 points and are not assigned a category. We recommend you adjust the grade center columns as follows:

  • Hide the Waymaker columns from student view. They see their scores when they complete each quiz; generating a Blackboard notification each time they take a quiz tends to make them more concerned about grades than they should be.

  • Assign the columns to a category that corresponds to how they are weighted in your syllabus. If you combine the quizzes with other homework, just make sure your homework columns are in the same category as the quizzes.

  • Consider keeping the category with the Waymaker quizzes out of the course grade calculation until the end of the semester. This can help with grade anxiety.

Student Payment Options

There are two ways that students can pay for the Lumen Waymaker modules. The first is to purchase an access code at the campus Barnes & Noble bookstore. The second is a direct pay option using either a debit or credit card. For either payment method, students will need to access the Lumen Waymaker modules through the tab on your course Blackboard page. From there, students will see two folders for each module: one a “Study Plan” and the other a “Quiz.” The content, or “Study Plan,” is made up of open educational resources (OER), so there is no payment option when accessing this material.

The quiz assessments are where students will be asked to enter payment. When students attempt to access any of the Lumen module quizzes, they will see a “Course Assessment Activation” screen where they will have three options: enter an access code purchased from the bookstore, pay directly using a debit or credit card, or use one of two free passes to take a quiz at the present time and pay later. (Note: the direct pay option using a debit or credit card is the cheaper option as there is no bookstore markup involved.) Finally, if a teacher feels like a student isn’t completing quizzes because of a problem affording the materials for the class, the instructor can contact the DWR’s Instructional Designer for assistance.

Payment Screen for Students

Making RhetLab Part of the Class

It is essential for students to see the Lumen Waymaker modules as valuable to their learning and as an integral part of the class. As such, the modules should be part of a homework score worth between 10%-15% of the final course grade. Teachers may count the modules as the sole component of the homework grade, or they may include other assignments and factor the work altogether. This range works best because it is substantive enough to demand students’ attention, but it leaves the vast majority of the final grade to be determined by papers, projects, and other writing.

Teachers should help students see the modules as an important part of the class. This can happen in several ways:

Teachers can talk about them in class:

For example, a teacher may briefly cover the highlights from a module after students have completed their work on it. Ideally, this would involve explaining connections to the major paper or project that the class is working on at the time.

Teachers can refer to them in feedback:

For example, a teacher may make a comment on an analysis draft for the student to refer back to the “Rhetorical Appeals” module to bolster an idea involving ethos, logos, pathos, and/or kairos.

Teachers can mention them in student conferences:

For example, a teacher can talk to a student in a meeting about the argument paper on how to strengthen her thesis statement and avoid logical fallacies using the advice from the “Argument” module.

And teachers can ask students to reflect on them both during and after major papers or projects. See below for a couple of reflective ideas:

Daily Write example – “Reflect for about five minutes on how the ‘Evaluating keys to successful analysis’ module has impacted how you constructed your thesis on the analysis paper. How is this significant in your understanding of college-level analytical writing? Why does this matter in terms of your growth as a writer and learner?”*

Part of a Unit Reflection example – “How did the Lumen Waymaker modules that you completed during this unit impact your work and/or your approach to the assignment? Why does this matter?”

Assigning UM RhetLab

It is advisable to give students specific instructions and deadlines for their work on the modules. Like some students do with reading and other homework, they might be tempted to not take the modules as seriously as they should unless teachers make it clear that the rhetorical content knowledge and other material contained in the modules is important to their learning and to their class success. Teachers should inform and remind students that the modules can take on average about an hour to complete so they should budget their time appropriately (though many students do complete the work in a shorter time). Additionally, instructors should reinforce the fact that students can attempt the quizzes more than once to help improve their scores. This may mean students need to spend some additional time working.

Below are a few ideas for assigning the modules:

For a M/W/F class, assign one or two modules on Monday or Tuesday of a week, and require the work to be completed within seven days. For example, assign the first two modules on Monday, the first day of class. Make the due date the following Monday by class time. (Note: Some teachers might want to list a due date/time that is earlier than class time in case they want to look at the results in advance of the meeting.)

For a T/TH class, assign two modules on Tuesday of a week and require that one is completed by Friday and the other by the following Tuesday before class time.

For any course, assign one module as the only homework and require it be completed by the next class meeting.

As noted previously, teachers may want to plan on using a few moments of class time to discuss the modules after they are due in order to emphasize their value in the course and make connections to the larger assignments.

Dealing with Problems

Some teachers may experience low completion rates or poor work. In these cases, it is important to communicate with your students before a pattern is established. If a teacher assigns the first module or two and many students don’t complete the work, make an announcement in class reminding students that the modules are designed to help them build up their knowledge and that they count for a significant portion of the final grade. Or, talk to students individually and let them know you are reviewing all the work in the class. Whatever the case, do not ignore the problem. All students – but especially first-year students – can benefit from a reminder that someone is accounting for their work.

If a teacher feels like the work on the modules is poor or substandard on a class level, emphasize again that students can take quizzes two times. And remember that teachers have the ability to grant extra attempts at quizzes for any student by going into the given quiz on Blackboard, then clicking “Manage Quiz Attempts,” finding the particular student or students, and choosing the number of extra attempts.

Why Quizzes?

All of the individual quiz questions in the Waymaker courseware are tied to an identified skill, which in turn is linked to a learning objective. Learning objectives are linked to module outcomes, which are themselves linked to course outcomes. Thus, each individual quiz question is connected in some way to a production-based learning outcome in WRIT 100/101. One concern faculty may have about the courseware is that the quizzes are only valid assessments of module content knowledge and that there is no substantive relationship between module content knowledge and writing skill. However, if we accept the validity of our course outcomes, as measured with rubric-based assessment of student writing, we must also accept the validity of these quiz questions as a measure of essential rhetorical skills.

This question appears in the analysis module quiz:

Which of the following best describes how evidence should function in an analytic writing?

Here is the full skill map for this question:




Recognize keys to successful analysis writing, Recognize and evaluate keys to successful, analysis writing.


Evaluate keys to successful analysis


Exploration and Argumentation: Students will use writing and other modes to analyze texts, explore unfamiliar ideas, engage with thinking different from their own, develop sound arguments, and reflect.

All of the skills and objectives in the courseware target the first two levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. If we accept the validity of Bloom’s taxonomy, foundational knowledge and comprehension are prerequisite for application, which is in turn prerequisite for analysis, evaluation, and other higher-order knowledge work. Students cannot analyze texts in their own writing until they can evaluate keys to successful analysis. In order to evaluate, they must first recognize those keys.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Verbs


When we evaluate student writing, we base our assessment on an application of learning objectives from the top three tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Evaluation, Synthesis, and Analysis. For example, when we decide if a student’s thesis statement is “supported by sound reasons” or if it “demonstrates awareness of the depth of the issue,” we’re looking at the student’s application of higher-order critical thinking skills. Are they able to construct a logical thesis that is supported by the right mix of evidence which targets a specific time and an identified audience?

Does assessing higher-order skills necessarily tell us about a student’s lower-order skills? If a student cannot construct a thesis statement with sound reasons, can we know conclusively that it’s because he or she doesn’t understand logical fallacies? In the strictest sense, we cannot know. The instrument of assessment– our rubric– is not a valid measure of the lower-order skills. It’s only a valid assessment of the criteria it explicitly measures.

Since students have gaps in knowledge or other significant preparation barriers coming in to college writing, it is important that we know where those gaps are. Assessing lower-order skills does not detract from our ability to teach and evaluate higher-order skills. A concern we hear about the courseware is that the quizzes just do not relate to the work the students are actually doing in class. This perception is not accurate: every quiz question in the modules aligns to specific skills, objectives, and learning outcomes. They target the three lower tiers of Bloom’s taxonomy. This is by design: when we designed the courseware, we wanted to focus on lower-order skills. We already know that student writing itself is the best way to measure high-order skills. Nobody would try to replace reading and responding to student writing with multiple choice quizzes. Rather, these modules serve to measure skills that we were not otherwise looking at explicitly. Previously, we assessed this foundational rhetorical knowledge through assumption and guesswork. All the quizzes do is provide actual data about how students understand basic rhetorical skills.

Take a look at the chart below. It breaks down one of the WRIT 100/101 rubric categories into specific outcomes and traces how the courseware skills align to those outcomes. Notice how the rubric targets the top of Bloom’s taxonomy while the courseware skills target the bottom.