About the Mini-Project
The mini-project is an assignment that has been used by us (and many others) as a way to teach technology within the context of a writing class in a way consistent with the goals of a writing class. In other words, teaching some technology is always necessary, but the burden of teaching the technology is too much for the teacher alone (besides some of our students know more than us anyway). Furthermore, lecturing students about how to use computer technologies is a poor way to teach them. So we use the mini-project as a way to share the burden of technology teaching and learning and to do so in a way that makes the process itself a writing project. Students are expected to learn a technology and produce a handout and oral presentation to teach the technology to others in the class (in fact, it is not uncommon for new employees, particularly those who are new university graduates, to teach a new technology to employees, a function of the technology lag in most workplaces and the perception that new graduates know new stuff).
The mini-project is typically a collaborative project. It is typically assigned during the UD drill case, as close to the beginning of the semester as possible (once you feel the students are comfortable with the UD case). Students, again, produce a short piece of documentation (1-2 pages). The purpose of the documentation is not to exhaustively teach the technology; its purpose is to guide others in the process of teaching the technology to themselves. Similarly, the presentations should be quite short (5-7 minutes). This project is a good place to introduce oral communication issues and skills.
So what do we mean by a technology? We use the term here to describe a wide range of activities. Both a computer and "how to use Microsoft Word" are too large for this project, but "how to use the spell checker" is about right (a common one in first year composition classes). Often, students will want to know how to use PowerPoint, so one presentation might be an introduction to the PowerPoint Wizard. In order to choose the technologies your class will learn, ask them. But you should also keep an eye on what technologies are necessary for students to be successful in the course. For example, if you plan on teaching Web pages, then one or two of the projects should focus on HTML and related technologies.