"The Expos Five" is a 35 minute documentary that follows five college freshmen as they make their way through the only universally required course at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ: Expository Writing. Designed to prepare students for success in college writing, "Expos" (as it is familiarly known on campus) requires students to write five five-page papers during the course of the semester. Because it is universally required and notoriously difficult, "Expos" has a near mythical status among Rutgers students. Many hate it because of the pain it causes them; but most also learn to give it grudging respect for having truly prepared them for the rigorous demands of college. Relatively few high school students (in New Jersey or elsewhere) have written 25 pages of analytic expository prose during their entire high school experiences, let alone during the 15 weeks of a college semester. Few have been asked to revise their writing, yet most say they have always received high marks on their work. And when they come to college, most find it challenging even to write those first five full pages for Expos.
Over 6,000 students each year take "Expos" at Rutgers. Almost half fail the first paper. By the end of the semester, the majority are happy to have made it to the B level and fewer than 10% get an A. However, many struggle with the course, and over 10% fail -- many having submitted all of the work. Drawing on footage of interviews, round table discussions, classroom activities, and student-produced footage of their own writing processes (using hand-held "Flip" cameras), "The Expos Five" offers a compelling account of how five diverse students negotiated the challenges of moving from high school to college-level writing, discovering along the way how to write five pages or more of meaningful analytic prose and how to survive the triumph or tragedy of the semester grade.
"The Expos Five" is the most ambitious part of a larger project that we like to call "Expos: The Movie." This project will eventually be available online and will be comprised of 13 short films about Expository Writing, all developed for different audiences and purposes and together offering a complex view of how writing is taught at Rutgers. Most of the earlier work in this series is available online at the Rutgers Writing Program's website.
These films were made in the Plangere Culture Lab by the collaborative team of Michael Goeller (former Plangere Coordinator), Jessica Lipman, James Monahan, and Jacob Rasor.