I have my students use blogs to shape their digital identities and provide a space for them to share their work and ideas with others. I encourage them to go out into the world and critically examine their place within it through weekly exploratory blog posts. Many of these assignments are open ended and based on their observations and perceptions. However, I like to switch it up every once in a while and ask them to use a particular style or format as a rhetorical device to shape and deliver their ideas. I draw from ancient rhetorical strategies of heuristics — topics of invention to vary their discourse and provide different types of critical and visual arguments. It is this idea that led me to this assignment about “life hacking.”
- Teach students how to compose critical, textual and visual arguments.
- Teach an awareness of audience beyond the classroom.
- Use a heuristic structure to increase rhetorical awareness.
- Encourage students to understand how to balance narration and exposition.
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links. I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Sections 8a-e, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 24, “Writing to the World”
- The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Sections 13 a – d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 20, “Writing to the World”
- Writing in Action: Sections 10a-d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 17, “Writing to the World”
- EasyWriter: Sections 3b-3d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 29, “Writing to the World”
- Lifehacks Website: lifehack.org
- Creative Commons and other public domain sites.
Students compose this post using the “lifehack” format to deliver their ideas. The parameters define the requirements for them to include images along with a numbered entry in their list. The list must be substantiated with their numbered entries along with a textual explanation that supports their lifehacks and reveals their perspectives and ideas. According to Wikipedia, lifehacking refers to:
[A]ny trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot –in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner.
I send them first to the site lifehack.org to familiarize themselves with the format, style and language of the genre. Here is an excerpt from the Lifehack website that defines their purpose:
Lifehack is your source for tips to help improve all aspects of your life. We are widely recognized as one of the premier productivity and lifestyle blogs on the web. This site is dedicated to lifehacks, which is a phrase that describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently and effectively.
Once students are on the site, I guide them to explore and familiarize themselves with the voice, style, audience, format, and the ways the bloggers use visual rhetoric. When students look at individual posts, they will notice that all of the posts have a similar structure and purpose, but it is in the content and the composition choices the bloggers make to construct their critical and visual arguments that make the posts unique and interesting.
Students will notice that the lifehack.org sites have some things in common:
- They are ordered by number. They usually start with titles such as 16 Common Foods We Chronically Misspell.
- Content is generated from the pulling together of facts and tips from outside sources along with their own experiences or ideas. All of them, however, include the author’s own perspectives on subjects as they contextualize them within their own framework: 10 Harsh Things about Being an Adult.
- They are based on perspectives, experiences, and outside resources: 10 Unique and Totally Mind-Blowing Buildings from Around the World.
- They can take the form of recommendations: 77 books that Changed My Life.
- They use images and text to make their meanings known. Authors use both still images and animated videos – this example does both: 25 Secret Parenting Tips You Won’t Find in Typical Parenting Books.
As students compose their lifehacks, they follow the format on the site and must come up with an appropriate, engaging title, a purposeful introduction to their subject, and a list, which includes images and an explanation in which they overlay their own perspectives. It is not enough for them to just list and describe. Instead they must substantiate through the lens of their own experiences and demonstrate a strong sense of audience awareness. I have them compose visual images of their own photographs and also allow them to use copyright-free outside images and other multimodal artifacts (with attribution). Students then work in small group peer review sessions to gauge audience response and provide suggestions for revision.
Reflections on the Activity
Students really enjoyed this activity. It enabled them to connect with a familiar internet, multimodal format and engage in their own life learning through the lifehack mission. The assignment gives them a chance to take authority and describe things that they know to be true and shows them how to take information and ideas and overlay their experiences and perspectives. The peer review sessions help them develop additional criteria for revision that demonstrate their rhetorical awareness towards this act of composition. Students observed that many of them share similar experiences and that there is humor and wisdom in sharing these ideas with others.
Some of the students, like Phillip and Andrew, focused on the lives defined by their majors. I included both to demonstrate different perspectives and rhetorical approaches on the same subject. Others like Kyle explored a personal issue within a larger framework. Rafael, an exchange student from Brazil, chose to share some of his culture, and Asante chose a current topical issue to critique.
Check out these students’ lifehack projects on their blogs:
- 8 Things that Make you Hate Architecture - Phillip Sanders
- 10 Survival tips for Architecture Students – Andrew Mesa
- 7 most difficult things to deal with when you are over 6 ft tall – Kyle Lamb
- 7 Types of Brazilian Food You Have to Try by the End of this Year – Rafael Albuquerque
- 7 Reasons the US Should Not Be Petrified of Ebola – Asante Lloyd
Or, check them out on my teaching blog: Acts of Composition.
Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares her “lifehacking” assignment and some student examples. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or at actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org
Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to email@example.com for possible inclusion in a future post.