Teacher to Teacher

Andrea LunsfordANDREA A. LUNSFORD is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.

Multimodal Mondays: Composing Identities with Literacies Experience Timelines

posted: 9.29.14 by Andrea Lunsford

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 multimodal visual timelines assignment and some student projects. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@spsu.edu or at actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org

“I felt that our Timeline project was the most intellectually involved assignment I’ve had in a long time. I felt more inclined to give my full attention, and express myself more than I would in a typical task. I especially felt free in not being afraid to show who I am” ~Jacob ~

Composition teachers have long used literacy narrative assignments to promote rhetorical awareness and critical thinking about the ways our literacy experiences shape our lives and academic work.  I extend on this assignment expanding our definitions of literacies to include all kinds of texts and discourse communities (both traditional and digital) that have impacted our lives.  Our class discussion focuses on the ways one is considered “literate” in this day and age.  In this Literacies Experiences Timeline assignment, my students explore and reflect on these types of literacy experiences and use a multimodal, visual timeline to help tell our stories.

The assignment asks students to place their literacy experiences on a digital visual timeline.   Most of the students use Dipity, an online timeline creator, but they can choose other timeline and presentation applications as well.   In the timeline creator, students place their experiences in chronological order and compose descriptive bubbles to accompany each entry.  Each bubble contains a description of the literacy experience along with a multimodal representative image (a photo, drawing, video, animation, podcast, screenshot, etc.).   I encourage students to move beyond mere information about their digital artifacts, explore the ways their own experiences overlap with the artifacts they described, and connect the artifacts to their overall messages and purposes.   The selection of the artifacts is important as it asks students to think critically and selectively about their literacy experiences.  They have to look at the design of their lives and realize which events were meaningful and which ones shaped their developing perspectives, decisions and identities.

After students create and revise their timelines (through peer feedback), they  compose a contextualized authors’ statement in which they describe their literacy experiences as a whole, analyzing the isolated bubbles on the timeline. The purpose of this part of the assignment is to consider a larger audience and to rhetorically contextualize their timelines (they will later embed these as part of their blogs).   In other words, they have to bring purpose, audience, voice, and perspective to their timelines to situate them in a different rhetorical context.  The assignment calls for them to bring together the textual and the visual in meaningful ways for this multimodal form.

Assignment Goals

  • Explore the broad definition of literacies including digital literacies and discourse communities.
  • Help students gain rhetorical awareness as they compose for different audience, purposes, genres and contexts.
  • Introduce multimodal peer responding techniques.
  • Engage students in ethical digital practices through online citation instruction and introduction to public domain and creative commons resources.

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: Ch. 21, “Online Texts”; Ch. 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Ch. 23, “Design for Writing”       
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Section 3a, “Plan online assignments”; Ch. 5, “Rhetorical Situations”;  Ch. 9, “Making Design Decisions”             
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 6, “Multimodal Assignments”; Ch. 4 “A Writer’s Choices”; Ch. 8, “Making Design Decisions”               
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 4, “Multimodal Writing”; Ch. 1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 2f, “Designing”
  • Timeline Creator: Dipity  (Note – we did find that this application worked better with certain browsers – another lesson in digital pedagogies)
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites
  • Mark Prensky, “Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives
  • The Idea Channel, Are there Internet Dialects? (video)

Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the concept of multiple literacies – traditional, digital and discourse communities.  Ask them to compose an exploratory writing in which they identify, define and give examples of their literacy experiences.  Encourage them to interact with the ideas of others, including their classmates and online sources.
  2.  After the class has shared ideas and discussed all kinds of literacy experiences I have them list as many of their own defining literacy experiences (traditional, digital, discourse communities) that they can recall.  I encourage them to think about experiences from their young childhood (reading aloud, learning to read, parents sharing stories, favorite books, television shows, magazines, etc.) and those that developed and defined themselves as they moved into adulthood (first phone, social media, video projects, music, impactful movies, important groups, etc.) .
  3.  Send students to a timeline creator tool such asDipity(or one of their choosing) to start adding the items from their list onto the timeline.   Have them select and focus on defining moments in this timeline to create a portrait of the ways they use digital literacies in their daily lives. For each of the entries they will need to add a short textual description that speaks to the source and why it is part of their literacy timeline.  They should include a multimodal, representative image for each of the selections. They should include both literal images and representative images in multiple modes.  The descriptions should include more than information and should also address their experiential overlay as they bring meaning and purpose to their selections.
  4.  This is a good time to introduce ethical citation practices for the internet.  Include introductions toCreative Commons and other public domain sites. 
  5.  Next, students work in peer response groups to give each other feedback towards revision.  As a class,  work to define and identify the rhetorical expectations of this mulitmodal composition.  Click this link to a sample multimodal rubric to see the one I used for this assignment.  After workshop, students revise based on feedback.
  6.  For the final step, have students compose an accompanying contextual author’s statement for their visual timeline in which they reflect on their literacy experiences as a whole.  Basically, they should write a narrative essay that includes some of the particular experiences (from their visual timeline) along with overall observations of what it means for them to be “literate” these days as a digital native.  Have them examine the connections between their experiences to create a portrait of the ways these experiences shaped them as people.  Ask them to reflect upon how their individual experiences have defined them, their communities, or their worldview.  In the end of this reflective piece, have students introduce their visual timeline and include the link to access the visual work.  This assignment works easily into a blog post and shows students how the visual and the textual work together to create context and meaning (I usually take these through a round of peer response and revision as well).
  7.  I always have students share finished projects with their classmates.  Bringing their ideas to a larger audience is a big part of this assignment. You can feature some for whole class or small group viewing and discussion. 

Teaching and Reflecting Through the Multimodal Lens
Many times when I create multimodal assignments I move from the textual to the visual.  In this case, however, I reversed that idea and had students compose the visual first.  I think this is a product of that little voice in the back of our heads that still tells us that we should do the traditional writing first and then follow with the “fun” stuff.   As we move deeper into multimodal composition we recognize the recursive nature of revision—that we can revisit parts of the process any time during the process.  Multimodal composition teaches us that all of these modes of communication are on the same level but just require different rhetorical approaches and practices.  Textual and visual composition now work together to construct and communicate meaning.

It was interesting to notice that students engaged immediately with this project when starting with the visual.   They enjoyed learning about each other through the visual timelines and connected through common cultural references.  The fact that they shared experiences such as getting their first phone, reading Green Eggs and Ham, posting on Facebook or playing World of Warcraft helped them to reflect on the ways these experiences have the power to both define and invent.   Many also noticed connections between their early literacy experiences and their choice of major.  The timeline acted as both an interesting final product and also a dynamic tool for rhetorical invention and idea generation.   Students reported that the author’s statements (the literacy narrative portion) were much easier to compose because of the visual literacies timeline and saw these modes working in concert to communicate in ways they had not previously considered.  One of my students states it nicely:

 This assignment made me think about how literacy is in a lot more life experiences than I originally thought. It’s not just reading and writing — it is an understanding for certain things. We had to look back on our past experiences that have led us to learning and literacy, be it reading your first few books or sitting down to watch your favorite movie, and we organized it through internet media. The timeline was a visual representation of our ideas put into chronological order. Then our author’s statement just explained it a little more. I think the assignment was engaging and great for visual thinkers. ~ Alfredo

Check out the Assignment Shout-outs for more student feedback on the assignment.

Student Timeline Examples
My students generously agreed to share their visual timelines on my page.   Enjoy and share these samples with your students as they create their own Literacy Experiences Timelines. Check them out at Literacies Experience Timelines (Fall 2014 Composition I)

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Guest Bloggers
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal THURSDAY: It’s all Greek to me…until someone writes an e-mail

posted: 9.25.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Diantha Smith is a PhD candidate in English and the Teaching of English at Idaho State University. She teaches both online and face-to-face composition classes and loves incorporating a variety of media into both. In this post, Diantha offers a digital writing assignment to introduce students to rhetorical terms and concepts.

Many students are introduced to rhetorical terms in freshman composition courses, but whether or not they will remember, let alone apply these terms, is another story. After teaching for several semesters and receiving blank stares every time I said ethos, pathos, or logos, I realized that I needed to find a way to make these terms applicable to students’ everyday lives. I have found the medium of e-mail especially useful for helping students see how rhetorical appeals fit into both writing and revising. Although the assignment below is directed to an online class, it could be adjusted easily to fit a face-to-face course as well.

To introduce students to rhetorical terms (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, telos) and give them practice identifying these terms in others’ writing.

Background Reading

  • Everything’s an Argument, pp. 22-29, Audiences for Arguments, Appealing Audiences
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 20a, Composing Academic and Professional Messages
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 2e, Use Media to Communicate Effectively
  • Writing in Action, Ch 2f, Use Media to Communicate Effectively
  • EasyWriter, Ch 4a, Planning Online Assignments

The Assignment

Part 1: Rhetoric & E-Mail Writing
The principles of rhetoric are important in every kind of writing, even simple e-mails. Since our main medium of communication will be through e-mail, it’s important and valuable for you to see how rhetorical strategies can help you communicate effectively with me throughout the semester.

  1. Click HERE to watch a five minute overview of the rhetoric and e-mail. (For instructors: The Prezi version is available here.)
  2. Choose one of the sample e-mails below and write 50+ words about why it is effective or ineffective. Be sure to use some rhetorical terms (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, telos) in your post, and don’t forget to comment on at least two of your classmates’ posts. Click emails below to view a larger version in a new tab.

Part 2: Rhetoric & Revising
Some of the most important rhetorical choices we make in writing happen when we revise. Some examples include

  • ethos: may cause us to change way we present ourselves (i.e. personal vs. distant, first name only vs. full name and title, attention to grammar/mechanics)
  • pathos: may cause us to change tone by adjusting our word choice and punctuation (especially exclamation points) to communicate our emotions
  • logos: may cause us to adjust the format or style we use; may also cause us to include or exclude other media (pictures, video, etc.)
  • kairos: the timing of our message isn’t always under our control, but time may influence how much we say and whether or not we flag a message as “urgent”
  • telos: may impact the entire message as we ask ourselves “What do I want to accomplish?” and/or “What do I want to avoid?”

Watch the following video and see if you can identify the rhetorical moves the writer makes as she revises this e-mail to her crush.

Do one of the following:

  1. Choose 2-3 questions below and write 100+ words about what you notice about how ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and/or telos influence her revision.
  2. Choose one of the sample e-mails from part one and revise it. Then add a short summary (3-5 sentences) explaining how your understanding of rhetoric influenced your revision.

(To help students think about the overall rhetorical situation)

  • What reaction is the writer hoping to get from her audience? What is she hoping to avoid?
  • What other choices might she have made? What results might those choices have?
  • What can you tell about the writer of the e-mail? What evidence would you use to back up the personality/life you think she has?

(To help students consider specific rhetorical strategies)

  • Why does the writer worry about correctly writing “your or you’re” in this message?
  • When and how does the writer edit highly emotional content? Why?
  • Why are the greeting and closing parts of the e-mail changed multiple times?

One of the most important points that comes out of this activity/discussion is the importance of knowing and understanding the intended audience. Most of the best/worst sentences in the sample e-mails can be directly tied to the writers’ (lack of) awareness of what a teacher expects. In the YouTube clip, the writer is constantly thinking about her intended audience (to the point of obsession) and her prediction of the audience’s reaction causes her to make huge changes in her writing.

Part 3: Composing
The writing assignment below allows students to demonstrate what they’ve learned about rhetoric by writing an e-mail to their instructor. After explaining the assignment in class, I encourage students to ask any clarifying questions (i.e. What title do I prefer? Dr.? Ms.? First name only? How formal do I expect their language to be? Why do I want to know about my students and their expectations for the class? What will I do with this information?).

Based on what we’ve learned about rhetoric and e-mail, and based on what you know about me from our class discussion, you should have a pretty good idea about how to address me in an e-mail. I would like to get to know you better, too. Please write me an email where you:

  1. Briefly introduce yourself
  2. Tell me about your strengths/weaknesses in writing
  3. Let me know about your expectations for this class. Please be specific about what you would like to learn, what concerns you have (if any), and feel free to include any questions.

You will be graded on how well you meet the criteria in the five parts of the rhetorical arch. If needed, please feel free to refer back to the video.

Overall, I love using this assignment to introduce rhetoric because it helps students to understand that when we write and revise—whether a short e-mail or a ten-page persuasive research essay—we also need to be very aware of who the audience is and how we can best appeal to their needs, wants, and values. The more students see rhetoric in their everyday lives, the more they will apply good rhetorical strategies in all of their writing.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Tweet Me, Tweet You: Using Twitter and Storify to Build Classroom Community in a Flipped First-Year Composition Course

posted: 9.22.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at jbohanno@spsu.edu.

In the field of composition, digital and multimodal tools have become useful means in facilitating rhetorical growth of digital natives.  The key to engendering student engagement, however, is more complicated than simply assigning Prezis and asking students to produce work in digital spaces.  As a praxis-sioner of critical pedagogy, I believe that the foundations of democratic learning pair exceptionally well with multimodal acts of composition and the community-building, digital tools both we and our students use to attain new literacies.

Community-building is a vital component of any digital tool, because humans synthesize texts of all kinds using social constructionist behaviors to make meaning and produce knowledge.  Community in learning environments also creates a sense of togetherness, a space where we collaborate, both students and teachers, as equal participants in the drive to both consume and produce rhetorics.

In my writing courses, we use Twitter as a basic tool throughout the semester for diverse purposes, both in low and high stakes writing opportunities.  For class discussions, our community seeks to achieve understandings of each others’ means of persuasion and also authentically evaluate each other’s styles of rhetorical delivery.  Twitter provides us with a means towards these goals, as an invention tool.   A flipped classroom model provides us with the method to achieve our learning goals.  Finally, experimental learning gives us the freedom and motivation to participate in organic conversations.

For the assignment I describe here, students discover how to articulate an author’s argument and methods of persuasion, as well as explain their own meanings to their peers using a self-chosen text.  Students also practice evaluation and feedback methods as they discuss these elements among their community members in an open atmosphere.

Assignment Goals

  • Learn to effectively use Twitter as an invention tool
  • Learn to effectively use Storify as an archival tool
  • Engage with others on diverse topics chosen by students for students
  • Articulate and evaluate meaning from multi-genre readings AND the organic discussions arising out of them

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of readings and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are on-going processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts.  You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapter 5, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate”; Sections 12a-d, “Critical Reading”
  • Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in Ch.1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, “Collaboration”; Section 3a, “Reading Critically”

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
At the beginning of each semester, my students and I brainstorm possible topics for discussion, based on interests, academic majors, etc. [I teach at a polytechnic university, so the topics usually center around game theory, engineering of various sorts, current events, and popular culture.] As students categorize our suggestions on a whiteboard, the community argues, debates, and reaches consensus on overarching genres for discussion topics.  I facilitate by outlining a few requirements:

(1) A text for discussion may come from any trade publication, TED Talk, mass publication, podcast, or video – as long as said article is available in electronic format.  Any article, video, or podcast found in our university’s library database is also fair game.

(2) Each student chooses her/his text and tweets it to me a week prior to class discussion.

(3) Each student must respond to at least two tweets on a given text in order to participate and receive credit.

 A few days prior to class, I tweet out the article tweeted to me by a student.  We use hashtags, so students may choose whether or not to “follow” each other on Twitter.  Each class has its own hashtag.  After I tweet the article, students read it and respond using the same hashtag.  A few hours before class, I compile the tweets in a FREE archive program called Storify and send the link out to the community.  Students bring their archive to class, make notes if they wish, and prepare for discussion.  Now, we’re ready to go.

In Class
The student who originated the article for discussion is the lead-student and has the Storify archive in hand. S/he begins her/his delivery as a dialogic or as a monologue.  Then, using Storify as a guide, the conversation grows organically, based on student-to-student interactions.   The lead-student is accountable for driving the discussion towards the required elements to reach our rhetorical goals.  Depending on personalities, this process can flow as a winding stream, as chaotic river rapids, or as a stagnant pond.  For me, any of these movements develop rhetorical skills in students.  We learn as much from the rich debate as we do from the silence.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
After the discussion, our community de-briefs in the last 5 minutes of each discussion session.  We assess using questions like the following:

  • How well did we articulate rhetorical invention?
  • How might we improve the activity for future class talks?
  • How could we apply the invention and archival strategies we learned by using Twitter and Storify to future projects?

The lead-student and I both record feedback and post it on our course blog for everyone to read and respond.

The key to authentic student engagement is the practice of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course and achieve learning goals if they feel that their voices are heard and validated.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we are able to step away from the center and let our students take the lead, we facilitate their growth as rhetors and scholars, helping them develop informed voices as they enter into multi-discursive conversations.

I welcome and value all feedback.  Please visit my blogs: http://rhetoricmatters.org/ and http://growthb4grades.edublogs.org/.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

How many spaces after a period?

posted: 9.18.14 by Andrea Lunsford

I bet many of you saw Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog posting, titled “Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period!” accompanied by this image:

Gonzalez, who is over 40 herself, went on to explain where the “two spaces after a period” rule came from, which has to do with the monospacing of typewriters and the little bit of extra space often needed to make letters fit.  Enter the proportional spacing practice of computers and word processors and that extra space isn’t needed: in the example below, the proportional spacing can accommodate 12 letters to monospacing’s 10:

I was really glad to read Gonzalez’s post and to realize there are a lot of other people out there trying to unlearn what was drilled into us: two spaces after end punctuation.

But unlearning turns out to be hard.  If you look closely, you’ll see that I put two spaces after end punctuation in this post until I got to this point. And remembered. ONE space will suffice.

In the meantime, Jennifer Gonzalez’s message has been tweeted and re-tweeted, stirring up quite a conversation online, with many people seeming to think Gonzalez is being deprecating to those over 40. (“Is being over 40 shameful in your world?”)

I have noticed that when I’m doing email on my phone, if I put two spaces after a period and it comes at the end of a line, the next line will be indented one space, which I do not want; so that’s a little feature of my smart phone that is giving me a bit of a reminder. And Gonzalez seems right about the age thing: when I ask students about this issue, they look at me in mystification. ONE space after a period, they say.

Comments: (1)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Newbs R Us!: A New Year and New Multimodal Opportunities

posted: 9.15.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest bloggers Jeanne Law Bohannon  and Kim Haimes-Korn are Professors in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. 

Excavating the Piles

“I remember a day not so long ago as I was going through old files in my office.  It was a trip down a memory lane as I reflected on former students, article drafts and student writing – lots of student writing.  As I looked back I realized that I have been teaching writing through a mulitmodal lens for many years.  I laughed to myself as I remembered including “photo development” and film as part of my syllabi.  I remember having students create radical revisions and visual representations long before multimodal composition became household words for teachers of writing.  Our students now compose in complex digital spaces and we now have the affordances of technology to create limitless opportunities for what we call acts of composition.” – Kim

As trained compositionists, all of our assignments were deeply grounded in composition pedagogy and critical theories of composition. It is when we pulled these theories together with digital and multimodal composition that we get a framework for teaching.  We have come to realize that, as teachers, it is our role to engage students through “Critical Digital Pedagogy” in which critical theories of education and learning connect in active, thoughtful ways to new digital sites of thinking, learning and communicating.  We need to look for meaningful integration of these tools that connect to student learning and teach effective rhetorical strategies in this participatory world in which communication happens with and through many mediums and genres.

It is in this spirit that we have reshaped our composition program and our department – Digital Writing and Media Arts – to reflect these goals.   We now place Critical Digital Pedagogies front and center in our comp program and continually explore the ways we might integrate this overarching concept into our curriculum.  

Doing Multimodal

When we surveyed our peers, both veteran and new faculty, what we heard is that so many folks are “doing multimodal,” but they just don’t know it.  Here are some sample answers and ways in which our peers are already doing multimodal:

“My students blog during the semester, but that’s it. I don’t really do digital stuff.” (Blogging is TOTALLY D-Ped)

“I host read/write days for my students, were we meet in online discussion forums instead of meeting face-to-face.  Does that count?” (Yes and YES!)

We realized, as did our peers, that many of us already employ critical-digital pedagogies in our composition courses.  But what about our colleagues who are just beginning to think about digital as doable in their courses?  What about this survey answer?:

“I want to integrate digital pedagogy into my class assignments, but I’m not sure how.”

We asked ourselves: how do we bridge that gap?  After performing our own version of the Vulcan Mind-Meld, we concluded that the solution lay in our relationships with our peers.  What might seem at first look to be another task for already-busy new faculty needed to become an opportunity for collaborative peer mentoring and meeting our colleagues in their D-Ped comfort zones.   We found that teachers can extend their traditional, tried and true assignments through adding a digital component.   It can be as simple as adding images to documents for visual, rhetorical emphasis or coupling genre analysis projects with students’ own compositions in these multimodal genres.  We encouraged our colleagues to start small, meet their students in similar spaces, and work a bit of digital literacies magic.   


We also suggested some multimodal ways for teachers to jumpstart their classes.  A foundational and mindful rhetorical task that we often ask our students to perform is to identify and present their identities, or voices, in their writing.  What if we turned that act of composition and performed it ourselves, adding a sprinkle of digital literacies to the process?  We introduced the idea of a Badge Assignment.  Badges have been used across fields of inquiry and in diverse places of learning to define achievements met by individuals for specific activities.  For this assignment, however, we consider badges to be visual and textual representations of a person’s multiple identities in specific discourse communities.  Simply put, badges can represent important aspects of you.  Badges also serve to build community between you and your students, because they are a meta-language that allows for collaborative analysis and different perspectives across varying levels of rhetorical expertise.  We can use badges as both process and product, as rhetorical acts and as ice-breakers to create a sense of class community.

Community-building is a vital component of any digital tool, because building shared meanings helps us collaboratively produce knowledge.  Community in learning environments also creates a sense of togetherness, a space where we collaborate, both students and teachers, as equal participants in the drive to both consume and produce rhetorics.

For the assignment we describe here, we, as instructors, discover how to integrate a foundational and accessible digital tool into our practice and then use that tool as a jumping-off point for connecting with our students during the first week of class. This assignment also gives us a chance to reflect on our individual comfort zones in regards to critical-digital pedagogy and offers us an opportunity to try some D-Ped on our own terms.

Assignment Goals:

  • Identify effective visuals that represent your identity in a specific discourse community
  • Learn to navigate one photo editing website
  • Produce a rhetorically-effective representation, or “badge”
  • Use your badge as an ice-breaker to build classroom community

Background Reading for Students and Instructors:

Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, we have listed a few foundational texts and suggested reading.  You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • Everything’s an Argument: Ch. 2, Arguments Based on Character: Ethos, Ch. 14, Visual and Multimedia Arguments
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 23, Design for Writing; Section 9c, Making Ethical Appeals; Ch. 24, Writing to the World; Ch. 7, Reading Critically
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book:  Ch. 9, Making Design Decisions; Sections 14c-14e Establishing Ethos; Ch.20, Writing to the World; Ch. 12, Critical Reading
  • Writing in Action:  Ch. 8, Making Design Decisions; Sections 11c-e, Establishing Ethos; Ch. 17, Writing to the World; Ch. 9, Reading Critically
  • EasyWriter: Section 2f, Designing; Section 3d, Establishing Ethos; Ch. 29, Writing to the World; Section 3a, Reading Critically
  • “Collage and Photo Editor”: www.picmonkey.com
  • “What is Multimodal for Students”: www.rhetoricmatters.org

Before Class: Instructor Preparation (Creating Your Own Badge)

First, choose a photo-editing program.  We chose PicMonkey, because it’s free, intuitive, and you don’t have to sign up or sign in to edit an uploaded photo.  (If you have a favorite photo-editing program, please let us know in the comments below this post.  We would love to explore new options for our students!)

Next, take a photo or use a self-authored photo that represents the part (or parts) of your identity that you choose to showcase in your course.  Then, upload it to your chosen photo editor.  After editing the photo for visual appeals, add text to complement your visual identifier (your photo).  We have included an example here.   The text should say something about you and have meaning for your specific pedagogical approach to your course.

After you are happy with your visual and textual representation (i.e. after you have finished playing with all the neat tools), publish it in a course space.  Now, it’s time to invite your students to participate in the fun.


In Class:

Introduce yourself to your students using your badge as a departure point.  If you like, talk about D-Ped and what it means to “do multimodal.”  Jeanne has a visual on her blog, What is Multimodal?, that can help both you and your students articulate what multimodal means to you.   The idea here is to talk from your comfort zone, because doing so increases your personal ethos and builds community between you and your students.   You can access student badge examples here: Examples of Student Badges.  If you want to explore this activity with your students, visit the Student Badge link for a step-by-step badge assignment sheet. Please feel free to edit it and distribute to students. If you use it, give attribution, please ;)

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity:

If you are lucky enough to teach in a computer lab, or even if you have access to one, you can use such a learning space to create badges in class and to have students explain their personal rhetorical choices in creating their individual badges.  If, like many of us, you have to beg, give blood, and amputate an arm to get computer lab access, you can still assign the badge as an out-of-class activity and incorporate a class discussion and presentation of badges as an icebreaker.

In our experience we have found that authentic student engagement grows out of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course if they feel that their voices are heard and validated.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we re-center ourselves around our class community we facilitate rhetorical growth for us and our students, helping them develop informed voices as they participate in multiple discourses.

We welcome and value all feedback.  Please visit us at: http://rhetoricmatters.org/, http://educate.spsu.edu/jbohanno/index.htm, http://educate.spsu.edu/khaimesk/

Jeanne believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at: jbohanno@spsu.edu or www.rhetoricmatters.org

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. Reach Kim at: khaimesk@spsu.edu or www.actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Guest Bloggers
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Can Writing Be Taught?

posted: 9.11.14 by Andrea Lunsford

I’d be hard put to count up the number of times I’ve been asked this question, by parents who don’t want their children to have to take a “required” writing course, by administrators who don’t want to pay for writing programs, by colleagues in literature who often assume that writing arrives courtesy of the muse, and by students who think that they have learned all they could possibly need to know about writing in high school.

To these—and to Rivka Galchen and Zoë Heller, writing in the August 19, 2014 New York Times Sunday Book Review—I have a one-word answer. YES. Yes, not only can writing be taught but it has been taught for millennia and is now being taught across this country and, indeed, around the world.


Cicero practicing and practicing

In ancient Rome, Cicero taught that the ability to speak and write well required three things: a modicum of natural ability, a fair amount of excellent instruction, and practice, practice, and more practice. I find Cicero’s insight as compelling today as it was over 2000 years ago. I have been teaching students (and myself) to write since the mid-sixties, and while I have encountered recalcitrant students (like the young man who assured me he was “above the paragraph”) and deeply challenged students (like a young woman who had suffered brain damage that impaired her ability to write and read) and uninterested students (like the football player who was sure he would NEVER need writing)—I have never encountered a student I could not help develop as a writer (the young woman with the brain injury worked with me for two years and eventually became a reporter for the school newspaper).

Galchen and Heller are of somewhat different opinions in their “Can Writing Be Taught” bookend essays, with Galchen musing that

The question of whether writing can be taught for me metamorphoses into the question of why it is, when thinking about writing, we are disproportionately detained by the question of teachability. Is it just that it’s somehow flattering to feel one’s endeavor is more gift than labor, and are writers more in need of such flattery than others? Possibly.

And Heller worrying that no one is teaching her school-aged daughter not to use lots of adverbs, concluding that “writing can be taught, but it deserves to be taught better than [it is].”

I’d love to hear how other experienced teachers of writing answer this question. In beginning an answer of my own, I often begin by quoting Stephen North who reminds us that “writing is hard, and it takes a long time.”  But it can be taught!

[Image: woodcut from Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, public domain]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: “Getting to Know You” with Student Introduction Videos

posted: 9.8.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Stephanie Vie is an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She researches digital identities in social media spaces and is particularly interested in how social media technologies impact literate practices both within and beyond the classroom. Stephanie works closely with the academic journal Kairos and the Computers and Composition Digital Press. In this post, Stephanie describes building an online learning community with an early multimodal assignment for an online or hybrid course: student-created videos. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @digirhet


At the University of Central Florida (UCF) where I teach, online education is a growing component of our pedagogy. Our Center for Distributed Learning notes that in Fall 2012, nearly 29,000 UCF students enrolled in a fully online or video-based course and over 6,200 took only online classes. And while UCF might be one of the largest institutions in the country, we’re not alone in showcasing an emergent interest in online education: Nationally, an estimated 6.7 million students are enrolled in online courses.

Given this increase in online educational opportunities, chances are you may find yourself teaching an online or hybrid course in the future—if you aren’t already. One of the largest concerns for teachers of writing in online courses is creating a sense of community among the students in the class; just as we work to sustain a community of writers in our face-to-face courses, students in online courses learn best within online learning communities, “groups of people, connected via technology-mediated communication, who actively engage one another in collaborative, learner-centered activities to intentionally foster the creation of knowledge, while sharing a number of values and practices” (Shea 35). These kinds of communities help students feel like learners engaged in the construction of shared knowledge rather than simply individuals working to check off assignments in a correspondence course.

The assignment described below is an easy way to begin your online or hybrid course with an eye toward building community from the very start. Although this assignment works particularly well for online courses, it can also be adapted for use in a traditional face-to-face course, especially if the instructor would like students to begin thinking about multimodal composing from the beginning of the course.


To have students introduce themselves to each other and begin building an online learning community, and therefore to carefully consider their composing choices and reflect upon them the week after they have submitted their video.

Background Reading

  • Everything’s an Argument, Ch 14, Visual and Multimedia Arguments
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 22e, Using Webcasts
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 3a-3b, Multimodal Assignments
  • Writing in Action, Ch 5a, Multimodal Assignments
  • EasyWriter, Ch 4a, Multimodal and Digital Writing

The Assignment

Explain to students that you would like for them to compose a brief video introducing themselves to their classmates and the instructor. Let students know about your expectations for creating an online learning community throughout the course; I explain to them that we’ll be working closely together as a community of writers throughout the semester, so the video introduction is one of their first opportunities to tell the class (including me) more about themselves. Students will also be expected to view each other’s videos and respond to them. This is one of their first chances to learn more about their classmates and get to know them better while at the same time viewing the range of multimodal composing options that their classmates’ videos display.

I give students specific guidelines—rhetorical constraints—to direct them as they construct their introduction videos. For example, I specify a 3-5 minute length for their video: between s long, which I explain makes it possible for every student to view everyone else’s videos without making that burdensome. Similarly, I remind students that this is a multimodal assignment and thus their video should have both sound and image. They can incorporate music in a soundtrack if they like or splice still images into their video clips; these options depend on the student’s comfort level with multimodal composing.

I leave it up to students to decide how they will compose the video itself. However, I am careful to offer a variety of options in case students are unsure how to begin:

  • Use the built-in camera on a laptop or computer.
  • Use a handheld camera or smart phone.
  • Utilize the resources available on campus. For example, at UCF, our Technology Commons has equipment and hands-on assistance for students as they create this—and other—multimedia projects. They can also check out video cameras and iPads at the John C. Hitt Library. Your institution may have similar lending programs, workshops for students, and other resources related to multimodal composing.
  • Use a free online service to mix together video clips, music, still images, and other assets to create a video. I’ve recommended WeVideo, a free cloud-based video editing system, successfully to my students in the past.

If you prefer the videos to look and sound similar, you may wish to set additional constraints. For my purposes, and because my classes often enroll a variety of learners (including non-traditional students and distance education students), I leave the requirements fairly open. This means that I receive a diverse set of introduction videos from students, but I also find that reflects the natural diversity of our online learning community anyway—plus, it’s fun for me to see what students come up with when given some, but not too much, guidance in composing multimodally.

I’ve included clips from two student examples to illustrate some possibilities for students’ videos (below).

Next Steps

After students have composed and uploaded their video introduction to the course management system, they are required to watch each other’s videos and respond. I encourage them to respond to students with whom they might have a connection or may wish to work with (as peer reviewers, for example) over the course of the semester. Students embed their introduction video into a discussion forum thread and respond to each other. Last semester in a class of nineteen students, the online learning community began to emerge almost immediately. Two women who were recently engaged began sharing wedding tips and websites with each other, for example, and multiple students who enjoyed playing board and role-playing games shared local resources.

Given the number of fully online degree programs we offer at UCF, there is a substantial cohort of students who have taken online classes with each other but have never seen or heard each other before. In last semester’s class, one student responded to another, “Nice to see a face—we had [instructor’s name] together for Rhetorical Theory last semester.  …  I just wanted to tell you that I was always impressed by your posts last semester.” She replied, “This is actually one of the first classes that has required a video, and even though I hate recording myself, I must admit it’s nice to put some faces and voices to the names.”

Reflection on the Activity

The final step is for students to reflect on the rhetorical choices they made as composers. You may wish to incorporate this into the discussion post where students respond to each other’s videos or as a separate discussion post or blog. You could even require it as cover memo or similar document required when turning in the video. I push students to think about three levels of production in their multimodal texts, which I detail below:

Level One: [personal understanding and experience]

  • Why did you choose to create your multimodal project the way you did? Why do you think it’s interesting, unusual, exciting, fun, etc.?

Level Two: [contextual, factual information]

  • What kind of text did you create? How might it fit into a previously understood genre? What technologies did you use to create this text? What other texts does your text borrow from, play off of, reflect, echo, etc.?

Level Three: [rhetorically aware production]

  • Authorship: What parts of this text are mine alone and what parts are borrowed or adapted from others? Have others who contributed to the creation of my text been adequately and ethically compensated?
  • Appeals: What do I hope people will learn, understand, or notice about my text and its message? How is the structure, shape, format, and pacing of my text dependent on its message? What appeals have I incorporated—ethical, logical, and/or emotional? What stands out most about my text and its message?
  • Audience: How do I understand my idealized audience? How might my text be interpreted differently or incorrectly by different audiences? Have I considered issues of difference—age, race, ethnicity, language differences, religion, etc.—that might cause my audience to view my text differently than I anticipate?
  • Message: What do I hope viewers will take away from my text? Is there anything I have left out or should leave out?
  • Purpose/Exigence: What is my intent? What do I hope viewers will do after viewing my text? Why have I presented my text via the medium I have chosen?

This list of questions is not exhaustive and can be modified to fit multiple multimodal assignments for your class. The purpose, however, is to move students away from simply producing an introduction video to thinking specifically about why they produced it the way they did—and what they might do differently in their next multimodal composing opportunity.


As one student illustrated in her final reflection about the course, these initial moments meant to set up an online learning community can have lasting and significant results:

“The greatest impact this course had on me was the idea of being introduced into a community of writing.  Although, initially I did desire direct and specific instructions … I realized that the most important thing I could learn in this classroom is how to adapt to new environments of writing.  Every single new job or writing situation is an opportunity to adapt to a new ‘community of writing’ and although the technique is important to learn, a classroom cannot teach you what is appropriate in every single situation.”

Even a simple, low-stakes assignment such as an introduction video at the beginning of your online, hybrid, or face-to-face class can introduce students to meaningful concepts such as the creation of a community of writers and the rhetorical choices at play in multimodal composition. I hope that this assignment and these examples have given you some ideas for how you can modify the introduction video for your class—and if you choose to adapt this assignment, I’d love to hear about it! Write me in the comments below, or find me on Twitter.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Multimodal Mondays
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Splendid failures?

posted: 9.4.14 by Andrea Lunsford

William Faulkner considered The Sound and the Fury (1929) a failure, albeit a “splendid” failure. As he said in a 1957 interview:

I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section One. I tried with another brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more passionate to see her through somebody else’s eyes, I thought. And that failed and I tried myself—the fourth section—to tell what happened, and I still failed. (From Faulkner in the University, eds. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph Blotner. Excerpt posted here.)

I thought of this statement when I read “Next Time, Fail Better” by Paula Krebs in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary. In it, Krebs—then a professor of English at Wheaton college—recounts her experience of sitting in on a colleague’s computer science classes and being amazed, and then impressed, with the degree to which students in those classes expected to fail at many or even most of their attempts:

A computer program that doesn’t run is a failure. A program that produces no usable data about the text it was set up to analyze is a failure. Why don’t those failures devastate the developers? Because each time their efforts fail, the developers learn something they can use to get closer to success the next time.

Krebs goes on to think about her own students in the humanities: they fear and shun failure, she writes. They “aren’t used to failure” and want to get everything right the first time. So Krebs thinks we should take a page from the sciences and teach students to learn from failure:

That’s what we should be teaching humanities students—to look at what went wrong and figure out how to learn from it. OK, that didn’t work. But my next try isn’t then going to be a complete ground-zero beginning. I’ll be starting with the knowledge that my last try didn’t work. Maybe it worked up to a particular point, and I can start over from there. Maybe it didn’t work because I took on too much, so now I will start smaller. Maybe it can’t work at all, and I need a new text from which to begin—a text in a different genre or a text in combination with something else.

What Krebs is describing, of course, is the way most writing teachers approach the production of texts—as a laborious process that encounters many roadblocks and wrong turns and re-starts. Yet I think we can still learn from Krebs and her computer science colleagues, for far too many students come into our classes with the expectation that if they can’t do well right away they will never do well.  It’s up to us to get that attitude out on the table for discussion on day one, and to keep returning to it throughout the term: success can and often does lie at the end of a string of failures.

When I started teaching at the University of British Columbia in 1977, I found that over half of the students in my classes were what they called “ESL” students,  even though for most of them English was not a “second” language but perhaps a third or fourth. These were terrific students—bright, eager to learn, extremely hard working. And they made great progress. But if they knew one thing, it was that their successful path toward fluent academic English would be strewn with failure. In a conference with one of my students (first-generation Canadian who spoke Mandarin at home and just about everywhere but in college), he said “it’s just that the alphabet doesn’t go down low enough for me.”  “What?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “it only goes down to F: I wish it went at least to M: then when I got to F I could see that I’d made a lot of progress, not that I was a FAILURE.”

Those words have always stayed with me, and when we’re teaching student writers, we need to remember them: the “failures” this student experienced were in fact important steps on his way to fluency. Not to be experienced with shame or fear and loathing but with the confidence that they would lead to success. If only the alphabet had gone down just a little bit farther.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Whither the Apostrophe?

posted: 9.1.14 by Andrea Lunsford

People have been predicting the demise of the apostrophe for some time now, but when I began seeing cartoons about this little piece of punctuation, I began to think the end may indeed be nigh.  Just this week I ran across a cartoon depicting several people clustered around a large sign pinned to a wall.  The sign held one word—ITS—and in front of the sign stood a blindfolded person holding aloft an apostrophe with a pin through it. The caption:  “The games get pretty crazy at English teachers’ parties,” suggesting, of course, that the only people interested in apostrophes are . . . English teachers.

The same day I ran across that cartoon, I read a piece by Joe Pinsker in the July/August print issue of The Atlantic (p. 21) titled “Punctuated Equilibrium.”  Pinsker describes a “battle” being waged over the poor old apostrophe by two online groups, the Apostrophe Protection Society (a UK group) and Kill the Apostrophe.  Into this mix, Pinsker introduces the question of autocorrect and wonders whether or not it will “save” the apostrophe.

I’m aware of the autocorrect function every time my smart phone inserts an apostrophe for me, sometimes when I don’t even want it or it isn’t appropriate.  Of course, when I want to insert an apostrophe on my own, I have to switch from the message I’m writing to another page to insert the apostrophe and then back to the message page, which slows me down and is cumbersome, to say the least.

Meanwhile, students seem to be ready to give up on the apostrophe: I seldom see the punctuation mark in their social media writing, and even in their college work it often seems as if they sprinkle in apostrophes as sort of an afterthought.  Pinsker reports that a 2005 study strongly suggests that “our brains seem to become less vigilant when we know a grammatical safety net will catch us” and that students in the study with high verbal scores “missed twice as many errors” proofreading a document in Word with the software highlighting a possible error as they did when the program was turned off.

Pinsker concludes that “our devices seem likely to nudge us even further in the direction of language preservation” and uses as an example Nuance, a company that is working on autocorrect software “capable of grammatical changes like verb conjugation.”  That means, Pinsker says sardonically, “that we could soon be texting like the grammarians our software wants us to be.”

Such an outcome might make lots of people happy—but what about you?  Would you like to see autocorrect programs that could take over most of the proofreading functions?  Why or why not?

[Photo: apostrophe by Tom Magliery, on Flickr]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Blogging as Pedagogy

posted: 8.21.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Colleague Adam Banks and students in our Bread Loaf summer course on Writing, Technologies, and Digital Cultures gave me a link to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog, Langwitches, and specifically to a posting in which she argues for the pedagogical value of blogging.

As I travel around the country visiting teachers and students, I find that a lot of them are blogging—both for classroom work and out of school.  And in a recent informal poll of students at my own university, I found that almost all of them followed at least one blog—and that a majority of them kept a blog of their own.  Of course, as the students pointed out, some blogs are “too stupid for words,” and “not worth a minute of time.”  But that’s true of all forms of communication and it doesn’t seem to stop students from pursuing those blogs that do make a lot of sense to them.

So Tolisano’s posting on the pedagogical importance of blogs struck me as being right on target, but not overstated in that rah-rah way that some use for advocating technologies of various kinds.  In it, Tolisano says that no matter what the grade level, blogging can enhance learning in classrooms in four key areas:  reading, writing, reflecting, and sharing.  She goes on to explain what she means in each instance.  Writing on a blog, for example, is about more than words, allowing students to use sound and images to create their messages.  In addition, bloggers write for particular audiences, which builds a sense of community, and bloggers can create conversations and inspire other interactions.  Finally, writing on a blog allows for hyperlinking and other activities that give writers practice in participating in the digital world.

 Blogging as Pedagogy by Silvia Tolisano on Langwitches

Tolisano offers equally compelling ways in which blogging enhances reading, reflecting, and sharing.  And while she doesn’t mention anything that I hadn’t already thought about in terms of the efficacy of blogs, she puts all of it in such clear and succinct form that I found myself nodding in agreement at the end of the post.  So check out what she has to say and perhaps you may decide to comment on her statement—or to follow her blog.

I’ve been keeping this teacher-to-teacher blog for three years now, and I’ve recently had a great time looking back over entries that I still like a lot.  So I plan to keep blogging away . . . and wonder if you are blogging too??

Comments: (1)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford