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.

How’s Your Writing Center Doing?

posted: 12.18.14 by Andrea Lunsford

A week or so ago, I  traveled to Miami University in Ohio to meet with the National Advisory Board for the Howe Center for Writing Excellence, a group that includes Kathleen Yancey, Marti Townsend, Chris Anson, and Steve Bernhardt along with Kate Ronald, Director of the Howe Center. I’ve been on this Board since the inception of the Center, so I’m always glad to visit and learn about what this exemplary Center is doing. As always, I came away impressed. Student tutorials have increased exponentially, as have the number of workshops offered for students at all levels. The Center sponsors many events, including a new writing prize for international students (a GREAT idea) and “Takeaway Tuesdays,” the day when students who come in for a consultation get a prize in return. Some of the consultants told me that they had noticed that Tuesday seemed to be their lightest day of the week—so they came up with the idea of small prizes as a way to encourage students to come in more often on Tuesdays. I also spoke with graduate students who help to coordinate the Center and loved hearing the passion in their voices when they talked about the work they were doing. I expect that these graduate students will be conducting some major research in the Center, research that can contribute a great deal to our field.

At my home university, the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking is also booming: more students than ever are using the services of this Center, and bringing in speaking and presenting has been a big success. During finals week, I spent a very profitable three hours in the Center, participating in a Program in Writing and Rhetoric 2 Conference, which brought students together in panels to present their research findings to an audience beyond their classmates. I managed to hear seven presentations, about topics from the relationship between agribusiness and health to “pretotyping,” a technique developed by Alberto Savoia while working at Google and currently being taught in Stanford’s red-hot d.school. (I’d never heard of it but was intrigued enough to do some digging after this presentation.) The student speakers were well prepared and articulate, and they all used slides very effectively. I thought back to the first years we were teaching PWR 2 and focusing on oral and multimedia presentations: these students are performing at a much higher level now—I was wowed!

In spite of this evidence of booming writing centers, I continue to hear about center directors losing their positions and centers even being closed. I can’t think of a worse idea. Especially at a time when students are facing larger and larger classes and higher and higher fees, a college writing center is one of the best things students have going for them. I’d love to hear how your center is doing!

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Casket or Coffin? The New York Times and Style

posted: 12.11.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In mid-November I was skimming headlines when this one caught my eye: “Please, Don’t ‘Decry’ the ‘Divorcee.’ Or Give Us Your ‘CV.” The Times Guide to Modern Usage.”  Intrigued, I clicked and read on.  In this brief piece, Susan Lehman, former deputy editor of the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, provides a “sampling of terms that should be used with care.” Lehman opens the column by saying:

We investigate subjects here.  We do not “probe” them. And no, none of the bodies here are buried in “caskets”; The New York Times Manual of Style prefers the term “coffin.”

Definitely not caskets, according to the New York Times.

She then goes on to list twenty-three words or phrases that are objectionable to the Times, from “access” used as a verb to “undertaker” which “may be used interchangeably with funeral director” and is much preferred to “mortician,” which should not be used.

I’ll admit to finding the list a bit strange, not to say peremptory: for example, “anchor is the preferred term for the chief reporter on a news broadcast.” Fine so far. But then the Guide goes on to say that “Anchorman and anchorwoman are acceptable, especially in direct quotations. Do not use anchorperson.” My jaw dropped at the “especially in direct quotation! OF COURSE those terms are acceptable in direct quotations: otherwise, the quotation would not be direct. As to “anchorperson,” it is surely grating to my ear, but I wouldn’t go so far as to ban it!

I’d love to know why the Times prefers “coffin” over “casket” or why it thinks the term “decry” “is stilted and archaic-sounding.” And while I agree with the Guide that “fondle” is an inappropriate term to use in descriptions of “rape, assault or unwelcome advances,” their acceptable substitutes (“grab” and “touch”) don’t seem especially appropriate either.

Reading this piece made me think about the need for teachers of writing to help students examine their choice of words and think carefully about appropriateness, but doing so without appropriating or taking over the student’s language. I was recently tutoring an older student who was writing about his experience in prison and about the changes he had undergone as a result of that experience. Throughout his draft, he used vivid descriptive language, some of which might be deemed inappropriate by some people. But to edit out that language seemed to me to diminish the power of the point he was making, not to mention interfere with or change the voice he was using to make that point.

So I’m glad that the Times Manual of Style and Usage is able to make such pronouncements about what is and is not appropriate with apparent ease. In the writing classroom and in tutorials, however, decisions aren’t always clear-cut, nor do they yield to hard and fast pronouncements from above.

[Photo: Coffins, Gondar by Rod Waddington on Flickr. Shown here cropped.]

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Multimodal Mondays: Wrapping it Up – From Digital Badges to E-dentities

posted: 12.8.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.

 I began my posts for this semester’s blog with a piece about e-badges, and how students develop their e-dentities through the production of personal e-badges.  As my students and I wrap up our semester, we are thinking about what it means to create and nurture our e-dentities.  We have developed and grown our e-dentities for the past few months on public domains, through an initiative led by the University of Mary Washington, Emory University, and this semester, at my school, Southern Polytechnic State University.

Called Domain of One’s Own, this initiative gives students the opportunity to host their own web domains.  Professors across participating campuses have utilized the tools provided through Domain to enhance students’ ownership of personal web spaces in innovative and diverse ways.  For me, blogs are a key element for students to demonstrate agency in their own public, digital writing spaces.   My students have used their personal web spaces this semester to develop and interrogate their multiple e-dentities.

Student agency in practice is an inherently organic and self-directed rhetorical process. When successfully accomplished in a first-year writing class, however, a few guidelines can help students, who are digital natives but not necessarily digital rhetoricians, discern what they want to produce, guide them in the accompanying multimodal textual productions, and help them revise their rhetorics to best reflect overarching goals for e-dentity productions.  What I present here is a DIY assignment that encourages students to produce and think critically about their e-dentity acts of composition.

Assignment Goals

  • Produce a biographical blog post describing your e-dentity(ies)
  • Employ multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
  • Achieve meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are ongoing 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.

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
Prior to assigning this project, the class discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourse communities. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and watch e-dentity explanations from fellow students: Jenkins on E-dentity; Mayfield on E-dentity; Finnigan on E-Dentity.

In Class and/or Out
After creating their badges (first part of the assignment), students Google themselves and write a brief, low-stakes analysis of what they find. Thinking then about personal, professional, and educational goals, students brainstorm their various e-dentities, or lack of them.  In groups and as a whole class, students discuss the invention of their desired e-dentities. Then, using the class-constructed Who I am Online guidelines sheet (feel free to make it your own), students begin the write-revise process with their blog posts that embody their e-dentities.

Students employ multimodalities in the forms of gifs, podcasts, visuals, Youtube videos, and word clouds in their blog posts to define and analyze their e-dentities. Instructors should Use an LMS or their own web spaces as community spaces for students to post links to their blogs.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
At the next class meeting(s), students discuss and show their e-dentity blog posts then justify the rhetorical choices they made in their textual productions. They evaluate their invention, style, and the Elements of Multimodalities. The entire community provides feedback before, during, and after the presentations, engendering synthesis of the elements of rhetoric for everyone.  One key component of this assignment is its residence in the genre of public writing.  From brainstorming to production to re-production, students perform their compositions within their class community and also for a wider audience that exists outside of university walls.  In fact, many students receive blog comments from readers who come across the blogs through a Google or similar web search.

This assignment requires instructors to straddle a fine line between experimental learning and critical guidance towards digital rhetorical productions. In my experience I have found that authentic student engagement grows out of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a composition course if they feel that they can exert their agency to affect writing and learning outcomes.  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 discourse communities.

Try this assignment and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: Student Blog Posts

Also, please leave me feedback at www.rhetoricmatters.org.

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 and www.rhetoricmatters.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. 

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Why I Value Conferences So Much

posted: 12.4.14 by Andrea Lunsford

A recent discussion on the WPA listserv about conferences—the pros and the cons—caught my attention. I read with great interest, particularly as Bob Yagelski described the writing program at SUNY Albany and the important role that conferences played in it. Bob’s comments reminded me of one of the great lessons we learned during the five-year longitudinal Stanford Study of Writing. In interviews during these five years, and in conversations since, students told us over and over that what helped them improve most in their writing was what research team member Paul Rogers dubbed “dialogic interaction.” Students spoke of such moments with near reverence, describing times when they were in conversation with an instructor—or a friend or family member—about their writing and suddenly a light bulb came on, they saw ways to change and grow and improve, seemingly all of a sudden.

Our study convinced us that such insights are nurtured through careful, often intense, conversation.  This is an example of a cognitive leap in writing ability that is stimulated by talk. As a result we emphasized purposeful working conferences even more in our curriculum (Stanford writing instructors meet with students at least three times in conference every term).

Of course many teachers have such large classes that frequent conferences aren’t possible. But instructors are coming up with ways to use technology to help in such situations—from holding online “office hours” to software programs that allow for real-time conversation. In writing about conferences at SUNY Albany, Yagelski referred to New Hampshire’s inimitable Donald Murray, who argued that he did the best (and really all) of his teaching of writing in conference. There are legions of former students out there who would support Murray’s claim. But such conferences need to be carefully prepared for by the student, who comes in with questions and ready to talk about a particular draft. The instructor too needs to turn on the rhetorical listening advocated by Krista Ratcliffe and be “on” throughout the conference, so as not to miss an opportunity for a moment of insight.

I came across the picture below just the other day, and it took me back several years to a series of conferences I had with a graduate student studying Shakespeare in China. This student, for whom English was a third or fourth language, was struggling with some very complex concepts, and we spent hours talking about them, with me doing a lot of hard listening and questioning—and the student trying out answer after answer, draft after draft. Very recently, I ran into a mention of this student and was thrilled to find that he is now a tenured professor.  I don’t know what he would say about the power of conferences, but I expect he is now using them in his own teaching!

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Multimodal Mondays: Composing Visually-Making Meaning through Text and Image

posted: 12.1.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Professor Kim Haimes-Korn.

We are all well aware that visual rhetoric has the power to communicate meaning on its own or in concert with text.  We interact with so many images every day that influence us, shape our perspectives and move our emotions. As teachers, we are usually comfortable engaging students in visual analysis where they participate in acts of interpretation. Multimodal composition offers students ways to extend those efforts and compose through visuals as well.

Generally, when students start composing visually they think primarily about the aesthetic appeal.  Although this is an important layer of visual impact, I encourage them to go beyond aesthetics and think about the ways composing with images is another rhetorical act in which we make choices about our purposes, audiences, subjects and contexts.  Our lessons about issues such as style. persuasion, voice, are still front and center in our writing instruction.

We learn that the bringing together the textual and the visual promotes more opportunities for meaning making. This is particularly true when we have our students composing in visual mediums because of the need to compose context and identity online. Digital and visual projects call for students to go beyond just drawing from context and allows them to create it as well.  Images have the potential to act on both literal and figurative levels and express meaning on their own or in conjunction with text.  I explain the ways students can go beyond the literal and compose representative images.  For example, if students are writing about travel experiences, they can take a picture of an actual place they visited or they can compose an image that represents their sense of place. Of course, once we put these compositions into the larger, public conversation, interpretation is communally constructed; but teaching visual composition and textual contextualization is part of writing in digital contexts.

Mobile technologies allow for us to easily compose visuals with built-in still and video cameras with good enough resolution to use in documents and on the web.  This technology (along with other photo-editing tools) offers us a variety of ways to easily integrate visual components into our assignments.   It is important to also remember that we need to teach ethical citation practices for visuals and to introduce students to copyright free image searching tools such as Creative Commons.  We can instruct students to introduce, reference, and situate their images and to compose purposeful captions that connect back to their texts.


  • To increase student awareness and engagement with visual rhetoric and composition.
  • To understand the relationship between the textual and the visual.
  • To emphasize parts of the writing processes such as invention, drafting, revision and editing.
  • To introduce document design.

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • §  The St. Martin’s Handbook: Exploring a Topic (3a), Design for Writing (23a-b)
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Exploring Ideas (6a-f), Making Design Decisions (9a-b) 
  • Writing in Action: Explore and Narrow a Topic (5a), Making Design Decisions (8a-b)                    
  • EasyWriter: Exploring a Topic (2a), Designing Texts (2f), Planning Assignments (4a)
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) resource: Visual Rhetoric Overview – Background and Presentations
  • University of Houston’s informational site on Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling

4 Assignment Ideas for Composing Visually
Invention:  I often ask students to brainstorm through image search engines that allow them to search by topics or keywords.  They can highlight and pull the keywords from their written documents or from outside readings to increase their visual knowledge on a subject or follow a concept visually. This exercise can also introduce them the difference between literal and representative images.  For example, they might conduct image searches on keywords such as procrastination and time-management if they are researching this topic. Students can also generate words that get them to reflect back on experiences in their life with terms like high school or explore abstract terms such as change.  Google has a strong image searching tool but they can use other search engines as well.

Drafting:  You can pair writing and visual assignments. For each writing assignment have students compose six representative images that speak to the purposes and ideas in their written texts. A variation is to have them include them as visual sources within their papers. Eventually they have to thoughtfully incorporate them into their drafts and contextualize them with purposeful captions and citation information (if they are using images that are not their own). Teach document design and have them carefully consider and practice design issues such as color, size, font, pull quotes, and images. Introduce design principles such as contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity (See Purdue OWL resources on Visual Rhetoric).


A snippet from student Randy Brown, Jr. Click here to see his full project.

Digital Stories:  Have students take a series of images that tell a story in a sequence. This is a good time to reinforce ideas about narrative structure, arrangement and transitions. Sometimes I guide them with a prompt or just have them go on a photo journey in which they compose in ways that connect one activity or scene to the next. I ask them to tie these images together in presentations that can integrate text, narration and audio or stand on their own. Students can use digital storytelling tools and edit their stories or present them as a slideshow with presentation software.

Blogging:  Blogging is a good way to get students to understand the relationship between text and image. The form itself calls for students to represent themselves visually through connecting pictures to posts, shaping a profile, and composing their online identity. On my students’ exploratory blog assignments I have them insert an image along with a post. They design categories for their image gallery and create a place for future academic projects. Obviously, this is a great place for them to showcase the multimodal assignments they create in our classes.  Rhetorical issues such as audience, purpose, and context become very important in this format as students are shaping their e-dentity by communicating with audiences outside of the classroom.

Reflections on the Activities

I find that students are very comfortable working with visual composition as they are familiar with visual culture and communication. At first they see this as the job of professional writers, but they soon realize that the multimodal tools today allow for all writers to communicate visually. I also notice a stronger sense of ownership when they transform their work from the look and feel of an academic paper to something that has visual depth. It gives them a stronger sense of audience and helps them to understand the larger rhetorical situation and the complexities involved with communicating meaning. Visual composition opens their eyes to the possibilities for multiple acts of composition.  Any of the activities described above can extend existing print-based assignments through the multimodal lens of the visual.

I have linked to some of my students’ work in which they compose visually.  I included some of their  blogs-in-progress and some visual documents that demonstrate rhetorical uses of images and document design. Check them out at my Acts of Composition website.

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 visual composition assignments and some of her students’ blogs and visual compositions.  You can reach Kim at khaimesk@spsu.edu or at actsofcomposition.khaimesk.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. 

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On Giving Thanks

posted: 11.24.14 by Andrea Lunsford

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday of the year. My family was living in Tennessee, and our neighborhood was a real neighborly place. No store-bought costumes in those days: we dressed up in our parents’ clothes (many of us girls teetering around in our mother’s wedgie shoes) and went from house to house, where we were usually invited in for cookies or homemade fudge—or to bob for apples. My favorite night of the year.

But when I grew up and leaned into teaching, I began to look forward to Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, the time of the year for giving—and sometimes receiving—thanks. So I like to pause each year to think about what and whom I am most thankful for. I have a long list, beginning perhaps most obviously with the fact that I’m still here to enjoy another year, that I am in good health, and that I have an amazing group of friends and a small but endlessly loving family. Grandnieces Audrey and Lila, now 10 and 7, continue to fill me with joy and laughter, and this season means I will be visiting them in Chapel Hill, where we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and taking in Audrey’s ninth and Lila’s fifth Nutcracker, one of our special traditions.

I am thankful as well for having a job in a field I have loved for forty-five years and the best colleagues imaginable: rhetoric and writing studies is a special community, in my experience, welcoming and supportive and full of possibilities for creative intellectual work. I’ll attend my 44th CCCC meeting in March, and I know I’ll come away inspired by the research of a whole new generation of colleagues.

So I have a world of people and places and events to be thankful for, and the slings and arrows I’ve suffered (and who hasn’t?!) make the thankfulness all the sweeter. But I think writing teachers are also on the receiving end of a lot of thanks. In fact, it’s the gratefulness of students that sticks with me as a great gift. Just this week, I received a (handwritten!) letter from a first-year college student who received a small scholarship I funded when he was a senior attending the rural Florida school where my sister teaches (brilliantly). He wrote, “Without your scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the U of Florida without working and saving up for years. Now I see how amazing college really is: the people here are a lot more diverse and accepting and there’s a world of opportunities. I’m taking Japanese, a language I’ve always wanted to learn. I’m also taking an acting class. I’m majoring in computer science and might try for a dual degree with theater/performance as well. I suppose metaphorically that I opened this door, but you and the scholarship definitely unlocked it for me. Thank you!”

This letter (and notes like it from others over the years) makes my day, my month, my year and reminds me that I need to take time to thank those who have helped and supported me. I’ll start with thanking you for reading this posting and hope to make my giving of thanks this year worthy of the many gifts I’ve been given.

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Is Collaboration the New Normal?

posted: 11.20.14 by Andrea Lunsford

For thirty-plus years now, Lisa Ede and I (and others) have been resisting the notion that writing is a solo activity, rather insisting that writing is essentially collaborative, even when a writer is sitting alone staring at a screen or paper. Opposition to this notion was fierce, and nowhere more so than in the humanities where the image of the solitary writer struggling to create something new under the sun was held sacrosanct. Collaboration was suspect, sure to be “watered down” or “not real writing.”

But then came the digital revolution and with it technologies that not only enabled but demanded collaboration. The advent of  Web 2.0 technologies and its offspring—social media in particular—created what Henry Jenkins and many others refer to now as a “participatory culture,” now practically a commonplace, a household phrase. Young people writing in larger and larger groups to create online communities and texts and whole worlds.  Crowdsourcing solving problems faster than a flash mob can assemble. Re-tweets going viral, and changing policies and procedures and more.

Suddenly—and really, given my thirty years of hindsight, quite suddenly, the word “collaboration” is not only no longer despised; it is—well, it’s everywhere, from corporate handbooks to prime-time TV to magazine covers like the July/August issue of the Atlantic, which proclaimed “The Power of Two” and featured essays on creative collaboration across a number of fields.

Famous collaborators on the cover of the July/August Atlantic magazine.

As a researcher and writer, I am heartened by this newfound respect for collaboration. But as a teacher, I’m concerned to see radical individualism still resolutely inscribed in college curricula (where sharing is often seen as plagiarism) and grading procedures (the individual GPA is still the gold standard). Indeed, I still meet students who resist collaboration and who cling to the notion of deeply individual autonomous writing, even as they participate in collaborative projects online all the time.

So it seems to me it’s time for teachers of writing not only to assign collaborative writing projects and to collaborate ourselves but also to put these issues squarely on the table in our classes, engaging students in exploring the history of “single authorship” as a guiding concept and in defining the role and scope of collaboration and collaborative writing in their lives, especially their lives outside the classroom.

Along the way, we need to ask whether seeing collaboration as the new normal is a step forward, or not. Certainly, if it is presented as just “the way it is” now and practiced in an unthinking, uncritical way, it doesn’t seem necessarily seem like a step forward but rather more like a standing in place. Writing teachers are the ones who need to lead the way in making sure that the cultural embrace of collaboration is one we can endorse, one that we can explore, collaboratively, with our students.

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Multimodal Mondays: Video Game Vlogcasting

posted: 11.17.14 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.

Many of my students are gamers. They define themselves by the characters they embody in RPGs (role-playing games), by the interactions between characters who are also their peers, and by their own “mad” gaming skills. Accordingly, the amount of time they spend in digital gaming spaces outdistances the time they spend studying. Students often hyper-identify with these digital spaces, so I asked myself if I was missing an opportunity to reach out to them in their e-world and use their embodied identities as rhetorical learning tools in the p-world (physical world). In an effort to meet students where they reside, I developed a multimodal assignment that asks them to choose, play, and analyze their favorite game; record themselves doing so; upload their videos to YouTube; and present their findings to their course mates.

Assignment Goals:

  • Produce YouTube videos as multimodal arguments
  • Learn to effectively use video software as a meaning-making tool
  • Produce transcripts as texts that guide elements of essay writing
  • Learn to rhetorically analyze video game play as text
  • Achieve meaning through critical delivery of digital texts on-screen
  • Evaluate oneself and others for rhetorical delivery and invention

Background Reading for Students and Instructors:

Acts of reading and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are ongoing 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.

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation

Prior to assigning this project, the class discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourse communities. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and watch examples of videos from YouTube (Idea Channel) and TEDTalks (John McWhorter on Texting). Then, using our Pod/Vlogcasting Guidelines, we analyze the rhetorical techniques used in the videos and evaluate them based on elements common in writing, such as introductions, arguments, evidence, and conclusions. After the group is comfortable with both terminology and product, we choose our individual games for analysis. Students may choose either digital or board games, with or without rating limits on their choices. The class chats about the methods for making and uploading videos to YouTube. We brainstorm possible video-makers and test them out in low-stakes collaborations.  Google offers a helpful file converter that also lists YouTube-compatible files: Is My Video YouTube Ready? A foundational component of this assignment is the community-building aspect. Although each student produces her/his own video, we all spend class time working out “technology issues.” Most of our digital natives are proficient in e-consumption; some are fluent in e-production. The mix of expertise levels makes this assignment different each time!

In Class and/or Out:

Students choose and work through how they will play their video game, in terms of the Guidelines and Aristotle’s Triad of Appeals. They develop an outline that begins with an introduction, flows into an argument with evidence, and ends in a YouTube conclusion. In vlogcasting, authors/hosts sign-on to establish their ethos, present their material, then sign-off. The outline will become a transcript that students write before they record their vlogcast.

Finally, after producing the morphemic texts, students record their videotexts and upload these as vlogcasts to YouTube. They may adjust privacy settings and send their vlogcasts to me via e-mail as well, and I can then upload the videos to my channel.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity:

At the next class meeting(s), students present their vlogcasts and justify the rhetorical choices they made in their analyses. They evaluate their delivery and the Elements of Multimodalities. The entire community provides feedback after the video presentations, engendering synthesis of the elements of rhetoric for everyone.

This assignment requires instructors to be a bit tech-savvy. You need to know what movie-making programs your students have access to (most likely Windows Movie Maker and iMovie). However, you don’t necessarily need to know how to use these programs. You can run this assignment using the Help Pages from various websites. You can also run parts of this assignment both in-class or out. Try it and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: Vlogcast Student Examples. Also, please leave me feedback on this page!

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

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Do you have student pen pals in other countries?

posted: 11.13.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Some 18 months ago, I spent three weeks lecturing in Beijing. I didn’t want to lecture, but they—quietly and patiently and persistently—insisted. So I delivered ten lectures on rhetoric and writing, most of them to the faculty. But on one occasion, my hosts took me to the large undergraduate campus, and I had a chance to speak to students—an intimidatingly large group that day. I talked about the history of rhetoric as an art of action, and about the power of language in our lives. I knew only a few words of Mandarin, and so I was careful to speak slowly and enunciate my English words as carefully as I could, and I was grateful to the students for listening and for responding, delighted when question after question came my way. After the lecture, I reflected on the fact that while those in the audience were primarily male, the majority of the questions came from young women, a number of whom stayed after the lecture to talk. Indeed, I began to notice some of these young women in the lectures I was giving to faculty, which meant that they had taken a very long bus ride from their campus to attend. So I began looking out for them and eventually met with three who came most often.

Though they never said as much, what I felt was that they wanted contact with an older woman who held agency, at least in their eyes. As we talked, they asked me about my teaching career, about how one “advanced” in that career, and eventually they asked whether I would write to them when I got back to California: “we want to work on our English writing,” they said.  “Yes,” I said, wondering if I would hear from them again.

I did hear from all three, but one of them, “Angela,” I’ll call her, has kept up frequent contact, writing first to ask if she could tell me her “stories” and “dreams.” I have read and re-read these emails, reading of the anguish and conflict she feels between what she thinks she may want and what her parents want (insist on) for her. She recently wrote that she believes millions of young women in China are struggling with the same tensions: their families want them to be educated, but as they grow more educated and more open to new ideas, they begin to question some traditional values (such as “marriage to a successful businessman,” which Angela says is absolutely expected)—and then their parents are very displeased with them. “I feel in a trap,” Angela wrote, and “cannot know to go one way or the other.”

So rather than helping improve fluency in English, I have found myself trying to respond to my pen pal’s questions and dilemmas—and her dreams, which lately are leading her to contemplate more autonomy, more agency. It’s a dangerous game she’s playing, and she knows it. Indeed, she knows it is not a game, but her life and future, and so do I. I received another long message about her attempts to make friends with a small group of Japanese students, about the language barriers they are struggling with, and about whether she will be allowed to be “really great friends” with one of the male students. I am struggling with barriers of my own, trying to find ways to respond with empathy and careful listening but without imposing my own values on her narrative.

I’m wondering how many other writing teachers out there are in similar cross-cultural conversations. My guess is that students like Angela turn more often to us than to teachers of math or science or philosophy, first because we form a bond through writing itself, and second because we are more likely to practice rhetorical listening than those in other fields. So I will continue to weave the written thread that connects Angela and me, even as I worry that the weaving I am doing is clumsy at best. If you have advice or experiences to share, I’m all ears!

[Photo: Chinese Mailbox by Michael Lusk, on flickr]

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Multimodal Mondays: The Mapping Instinct: Orientation and Exploration through “Maps of the Imagination”

posted: 11.10.14 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 mapping assignment and some student projects. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@spsu.edu or visit her website: actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org

“I map therefore I am.” I read these words in the introduction to Katharine Harmon’s book on mapping, and they helped me realize my lifelong fascination with maps. Although I have always been fascinated by maps, I have always considered myself among the directionally challenged. I have an impressionistic memory and usually remember experiences more than locations. It was actually the connection between these two things—experience and location—that I found most interesting as I read Harmon’s work. She helped me understand mapping as a metaphor that demonstrates our connectedness to larger things, people, places, experiences, and ideas.

It was through this line of inquiry that I started infusing mapping into my composition classes. Mapping, as I have come to see it, is about locating or orienting yourself within some larger framework. It is about the associational nature of thinking and the ways that experience overlays landscapes. It embraces connectivity, association, and exploration—all things important to the teaching of composition.

This assignment focuses on Katharine Harmon’s book, You are Here: Personal Geographies of the Imagination (2003), which contains over 150 maps. Although some of these are traditional maps that attempt to objectively define place, most of the maps in her book are what she calls, “maps of the imagination.” In her words, they use “word and image in a combination to explore psychological and social landscapes” (180). All of the maps included in the book “transcend the norm because of the mapmaker’s personal viewpoint, or sense of humor, ingenuity, or all of the above” (181). Harmon suggests that people have a mapping instinct—a fascination with maps as a way to help “locate themselves and to understand their relation to other people” (181).

 Although we think of maps generally as objective pictures, they actually show perspective: ideas and relations embedded in the design as the mapmaker integrates their experiences into the landscape—whether this landscape is a place or a concept. Some of the maps in Harmon’s book show perspective overtly, such as A New Yorker’s Idea of the United States of America,in which the city is shown as larger than all the other states including California. Other maps, such as the 1960’s heart-shaped map from McCall’s magazine entitled Geographical Guide to a Man’s Heart, address psychological and social rituals. Some are completely of the imagination, such as A Dog’s Idea of the Ideal Country Estate. Still others provide a more personal perspective, such as the map that labels physical and emotional scars on a body.

Geographical Guide to a Man’s Heart with Obstacles and Entrances: by Jo Lowrey for McCall’s Magazine, 1960; featured in Katharine Harmon’s book You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination; image found on streetsofsalem.com



Above all, mapping initiates associational thinking in which students recognize connections between their ideas and experiences.

 The Assignment: Maps of the Imagination

 Goals of the Assignment

  • To introduce mapping as a tool for critical thinking and associational inquiry
  • To engage with online mapping tools
  • To consider metaphorical and visual representation as acts of composition
  • To demonstrate the ways we overlay landscape and experience

Background Reading for Students and Instructors:

Steps to the Assignment

Preparation: Before I move to the “maps of the imagination” assignment, I explain the concepts of mapping, location, and orientation. I introduce mapping as an intellectual activity in which one idea connects to another. Students can conduct image searches with the terms maps of the imagination and personal geographies to see sample maps. We talk about the ways we live and participate in networked cultures, webs of communication, and discourse communities. We discuss how our life narratives are influenced by these personal, intellectual, physical, and virtual journeys that map and overlap with our experiences and perspectives.

Invent: Teachers have long used invention techniques that draw upon the mapping instinct such as mind mapping, clustering, and brainstorming. Visual representations of this associational thinking are easily incorporated into the writing process as we select subjects, find connected examples, and create opportunities for critical thinking. Students can hand draw these mind maps, use multimedia collage, or use one of the many online tools such as Mindmap, Coggle, Freemind, or Poplet that help them visually generate, connect, and organize ideas. Some applications allow students to insert pictures that represent their associational thinking. Have students conduct an image search for mind map samples.

Create: To demonstrate the relationship between “experience and landscape” I send students to Google Maps. Here they can play around with the mapping tools and see actual places from both aerial and street views. They can choose to look at their neighborhood or the campus community or any other place on Earth. They can also explore with varying perspectives and look closely at particular places or zoom out to see them in a larger context—their house, the neighborhood, the town, the state, the continent, etc. At the street-level view, they can virtually tour their neighborhoods and walk around. I ask them to write about their experiences in relation to these interactive maps.

Next, they create customized maps of their own in which they “overlay landscape and experience.” They use their exploratory writing along with a free map creator application to create visual representations of their ideas. These apps allow users to work with existing maps and customize through the lens of their own experiences. They can use this tool to mark favorite/significant places, draw lines to highlight paths and areas (connecting experiences), add their own text, photos, and videos, and share their map with others. Here is a tutorial on creating customized Google Maps.

Extend: “Maps of the Imagination”: This part of the assignment takes students to higher levels of abstraction as we move from mapping associations to mapping as metaphor. I ask students to visually compose a “map of the imagination” of their own. They might focus on a particular idea or location, such as the neighborhood in which they grew up, or create a psychological or social map, such as the ones described in Harmon’s work. They can incorporate humor, personal perspective, and cultural critique. Their maps should include both textual and visual cues along with a written description that explains their rhetorical choices, metaphors, and meanings. I either have students present their maps individually to the whole class, show them in small groups, or display them gallery style and have students walk around and discuss them.

Reflections on the Activity

This activity gets students to think deeply about connectivity and metaphor and helps them to critically examine and represent their experiences. “Maps of the imagination” encourage them to extend these ideas through visual rhetoric. Once exposed to the concept, students composed maps that spoke to their perspectives, psychological and social rituals, experiences, concepts and cultural topics, and conversations. This activity is easily transferred to other acts of composition, as students can use it to generate ideas, develop their subjects, and analyze the connections between ideas—which is at the center of all good academic writing. It is the connections between subjects and the development of their own informed perspectives that lead to strong thinking and writing.

Check out some of my students’ maps on my Acts of Composition site.

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