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This blog was originally posted on March 9th, 2015.


As the semester progresses, it’s tempting to dive into the deep end of the multimodal pool. That is, it’s tempting to build increasingly complex assignments as our students’ skills grow, full of new technology and fascinating online resources that create new ways of composing.


Of course, I’m fully supportive of creating these opportunities! But as the semester workload grows, it’s also important to remember that introducing multimodality into the composition classroom can happen in small doses, and with everyday activities that are the building blocks of good writing.I’m reminded of one of our Multimodal Mondays posts from last year. Guest Blogger Molly Scanlon wrote about using email to introduce the academic environment at the beginning of the semester. We all rely on email at this point, but what’s important as using the tools right in front of you to get students thinking and composing in different environments.


Speaking of Molly, she’ll be attending the Multimodal Showcase at 4Cs in Tampa this year (3:30-6:30 on Friday in Ballroom B at the Convention Center) and showing off some of her students’ work. Will you be there? I’m looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful multimodal work instructors are doing in their classrooms this year.

This blog was originally posted on February 3rd, 2014.


Today’s multimodal assignment comes to us from Molly Scanlon, an Assistant Professor of Writing at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


Shanti Bruce, Associate Professor of Writing at Nova Southeastern University, found that her colleagues were turned off by the informal and unprofessional writing in student emails, so she designed an assignment that would be taught in all composition courses in the first week of classes each semester. I embraced this assignment and combined it with some of the email writing tips I’d shared with students in the past. Making professionalism a habit of student writing can be difficult. For incentive, I give a “professionalism” grade, which measures whether they come to class regularly and on time, collaborate well with colleagues, and conduct professional correspondence throughout the term–all habits which will be useful no matter which field they enter after graduation.




Distinguish between professional and informal writing with an email assignment.


Background reading before class


  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, section 20a, “Composing academic and professional messages”
  • The Everyday Writer, section 2e, “Use media to communicate effectively”
  • Writing in Action, section 2f, “Use media to communicate effectively,” pp. 18-19
  • EasyWriter, section 4a, “Interactive digital communication,” pp. 46-47


In Class


Lead your class in a discussion about how composing an email is a rhetorical situation like any other, requiring writers to think about their audience, purpose, and context.


As a class, develop a list or chart with examples of informal writing devices and academic or professional writing strategies. Then, discuss why each of these is a rhetorical choice the writer makes to appeal to his or her audience. Here is an example:


Key Differences:

You may also want to address practical strategies for sending professional emails that can be accomplished by adjusting e-mail settings. For example, students should ensure their names are displayed professionally so that when people receive an email from them, it displays the full name, not “jd420” or “QTpie2014.” Or, suggest that students create an automatic signature.


One-and-Done: Email Settings


These tips can be consulted and fixed in one trip to the email account settings.  Since email providers vary, ask a student to show you the interface for their email account and walk through the steps before presenting them to the rest of the class.


From: YouMadBro?
Ensure your name is displayed professionally so that when people receive an email from you, it displays your full name, not “jd420” or “QTpie2014.” Usernames can come off as incriminating and extremely unprofessional. This is particularly important if you use an email account for both personal and professional business.


Kim Anthony, Furby Collector:
Include a formal signature below your name that includes your vital contact information: Full name, title, organization/school, phone number, email address. While it may seem silly to include your email, your message may be forwarded to another recipient and may lose the metadata of your message in transit. It’s helpful to provide your email just in case.



Ronald Weasley
Auror Major
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Phone: 1234567890




Develop a professional email-writing checklist for yourself that identifies elements of a good email and explains why each is important to your ethos as a writer. Molly Scanlon provides the following as an example.


Professional Email-Writing Checklist
Every time you write a professional email, consult this checklist:


Make sure you have the correct email address of the recipient. I once thought that a colleague was ignoring my requests for an interview. There was really no need for this drama; I had misspelled her email address!


Carbon Copies and Reply ALLs:
Be conscious of forwarding, CCing, or the career-killing “Reply All” button when corresponding over email. If you choose to copy (CC) someone on an email, double check that the messages contain no sensitive information. Some email providers chain emails together so you may think you are forwarding a single message when really you are sharing an entire back-and-forth with someone. Lastly, always acknowledge a CC: “Thank you for answering my questions regarding this group project, Dr. Concannon. I have CCed the other group members on this email so that they can benefit from this explanation as well.”


(no subject):
An informative subject line can help to catch the attention of your receiver. Be brief but specific: “Request for Recommendation,” “Question Regarding Journal #4,” or “Setting an Office Hours Meeting.” These provide information that the reader can use to anticipate the purpose of the email as well as its contents.


“Hello Mr. Bond,”
Begin with a respectful and professional salutation such as “Dear Dr. Vanguri,” “Hello Ms. Doeringer,” or “Hi Professor Ekoniak.” If you are unsure if your professor has a Doctorate, then you can always use “Professor.” This is a formal title that denotes respect and doesn’t require you to know their credentials.


“I have a question.”
State the reason for your e-mail concisely and accurately. Remember that people in some positions receive hundreds of emails each day. Long form emails may get starred to read later and then buried under the next day’s influx, only to be forgotten for days or even weeks. Be respectful but direct in stating your purpose for writing.


The 411:
Be sure to consider any information your recipient might need to understand and respond to your email. For example, at the beginning of the semester, before I have mastered each student’s name, I ask that they include which class and section that they are in. Since I teach four courses, this saves me time from consulting my roster and allows the student to get their questions answered more quickly.


End with a formal closing such as “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” “Best regards,” or “Best.” This is the last opportunity it make a good impression to your recipient. Make it count.


Sent Mail:
Each time you send a professional email, check your Sent Mail folder to ensure that the message was processed and, if you attached a document, that it accompanied the message.


Consult the syllabus for the course. Using the checklist you developed, send your professor a professional email in which you confirm your understanding of an upcoming assignment or reading and pose a related question or two.


Reflection on the Activity


Ask students to reflect on the activity, using questions like these as prompts for discussion or writing:

  • How did you develop your checklist? Did you use past experience with online communication?
  • Was it difficult to adjust your writing to a professional tone?
  • Is it easier to ask your instructor questions in person or by email? How do you change your approach accordingly?
  • How would your writing have differed if you were sending this email to a classmate? To a different professor?
  • Describe your revision process. How much did you reread the email before sending it? What elements or words did you revise?


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

This blog was originally posted on March 6th, 2015.


A few months ago Nick Carbone pointed out one of the most interesting and sophisticated examples of student work that I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel format, “What is Engineering?”  by Mallory “Mel” Chua, who blogs at


In a Skype interview, Chua provided some of the context that inspired her to create this dazzling graphic essay. “Visual rhetoric is something I can’t stop doing. I’ve been a visual thinker for a long time. I wanted to be an art major in high school, but my parents wanted me to study engineering instead. Fortunately, I liked it… and now I draw comics about engineering, so that worked out.” Chua has no formal art training, but has been informally experimenting with graphical communication for many years; a scan of her high school physics class notes shows a similar comic-book sketch style:

During her years in industry, Chua used her visual skills to insert herself into team conversations. “I would be the first to go to the whiteboard and start sketchnoting what we were doing, and people would start telling me things and explaining things because they wanted me to draw them. It was a strategy to keep myself in the loop, to get people to teach me what was going on, even if I was the most junior engineer in the building.” A good deal of her work involved international collaboration, and the visuals translated well across language boundaries. “It’s just the way I think,” she observed, “even though I am usually supposed to translate myself into words afterwards.” She described her typical approach to a writing prompt as being “doodle doodle doodle, then reluctantly think about writing the real paper. It never occurred to me that the sketches could become the real paper. What if you didn’t have to translate things into words to have them count?”


“What is Engineering?” was written during Chua’s first semester of graduate study at Purdue’s School of Engineering Education in a course on the History and Philosophy of Engineering Education, which she described as her “first delving into social sciences” in which they were asked to write papers defining “engineering,” “education,” and “engineering education.”  Rhetoricians, familiar with the concept of an “argument of definition” will recognize the assignment as an ancient one, of course.


As Chua explained, “I sketched and sketched as I thought, but could not find a way to translate my thoughts into writing. Before I knew it, the paper was due the next day, but the visual format was too important to my thoughts. I sat down and inked out the written pieces in my sketchbook so I would at least have something to turn in. I thought for sure I would fail the assignment, that my professors would say it wasn’t written properly.” Instead, she was surprised at the positive reaction to the piece, which has since been downloaded thousands of times from around the world. “My advisor went to South Africa and mentioned the names of her students, and another professor reached into their bag and pulled out my comic. We were stunned.”


Despite the spontaneous character of the work’s initial composition, she acknowledged the need to reflect and consider many of the aspects of doing nonfiction work in a graphic format. “How to I cite things? What tools do I use? I didn’t know anyone else did this, so I thought I had to invent all the visual rhetoric devices on my own. And validity. I worried so much that the approach wouldn’t be seen as serious or valid, so I came up with defensive arguments for everything.


In response to a question about how eyeglasses were an important visual motif that ran through “What is Engineering?” and “other frames, lenses, and viewfinders” that she might have been conscious of deploying, Chua laughed about how she had initially overlooked the importance of the trope as an assistive technology. The use of the eyeglasses metaphor was not a “rhetorical or political decision,” according to Chua, although she also says that “the personal is political.” “We use the word ‘lenses’ to describe our theories all the time, so I just drew them –remember, it was 2am the day the paper was due, so I wasn’t thinking too hard about it. The visual metaphor worked, so I kept using it as I continued to draw the piece. There can be many kinds of engineering eyeglasses, and they can coexist with other disciplines. I might wear my engineering eyeglasses, my anthropology hat, my journalism coat, and my social activist boots all at the same time.”


Chua admitted that drawing diversity – age, race, gender, and disability – into the engineers portrayed in “What is Engineering?” was important for broadening the perspective of engineering students. She added that there are many other kinds of diversity that aren’t as easy to draw. In thinking about “disability as a site for engineering education work,” Chua wonders in hindsight if she could have chosen a different sort of visual rhetoric, especially since many engineers have disabilities that are hidden or invisible. “The wheelchair has become the handicapped poster symbol. I might think about it differently if I redrew the piece, try to mix it up a little.”


Using engineering graph paper as a choice of medium was completely accidental. “The assignment was due in 10 hours, and that was the paper I had on hand, but it was a nice effect for this particular piece. I have worked in other mediums since then, but they’re all pretty primitive – it’s usually an ordinary writing pen on printer paper or in my notebook, or sketching on my phone.” When asked for her ideas about how to best design a graphic assignment for engineers, she emphasize the importance of formative assessment. “Drawing is an unfamiliar and intimidating language for lots of people. It has to be okay to get out these awful, incomplete, sketchy things to think with. We work with prototypes of machines and drafts of papers all the time, but there’s not a lot of examples out there of draft sketches outside of art class – of what visual thinking in other disciplines looks like before it becomes the polished, final piece.” Fortunately, this format also has “a different sort of hermeneutics built in… it’s more generative, more expansive, and supportive of more divergent ideas, once people are accustomed to doing dialogue with pictures rather than words.”

This blog was originally posted on March 6th, 2015.


Language has made the headlines once again. We teach our students that word choice affects their arguments. President Obama has drawn criticism over the last few weeks, mostly from Republicans, for being what some critics consider overly cautious. He has chosen to carefully avoid use of the word “Islamic” in referring to ISIS terroristswho have horrified the world by beheading individual British, American, and Japanese captives, by burning alive a Jordanian pilot, and by beheading en masse twenty-one Coptic Christians.


Doyle McManus has written clearly and succinctly about the wisdom of Obama’s choice in an LA Times article entitled “’Islamic’ extremists or ‘violent’ extremists? The president is mincing words and there’s a reason for that.” McManus quotes Ted Cruz (R—Texas): “The president and his administration dogmatically refuse to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ You cannot defeat an enemy if you refuse to acknowledge what it is.” McManus lets Obama explain in his own words why he is doing what McManus calls “walking on semantic eggshells”: “Al Qaeda and ISIL [Islamic State] and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said. “[They] do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith.” His main point: “We are not at war with Islam.” If the battle against ISIS is to be won, it will be with the help of Muslim-led countries that do not share the radical beliefs of ISIS. Cruz may be right that you must acknowledge your enemy to defeat it, but you do not want to lump together under the same label that enemy and those who share your horror at what is done in the name of religion.


We teach our students that it may be necessary to stipulate the meaning of a term in the context in which they are using it. If communication is to take place, a reader or listener has to understand how a term is being used if there is to be any hope of reaching common ground, starting with agreement about what key words mean. Sometimes terms that seem to be cut and dried are the basis of heated argument. Is a child a child from the moment of conception? If not, when can that term be applied? Such questions affect legal and moral decisions. Is passive euthanasia equivalent to murder? Again, there are profound legal and moral implications.


By choosing NOT to use the term “Islamic,” Obama is making a conscious decision not to group the brutal members of ISIS with the much larger group that is all Muslims. We teach our students that the destructive power of stereotypes is the fact that they lump all members of a group together, in spite of individual differences. Cruz stated, “You cannot defeat an enemy if you refuse to acknowledge what it is.” What Obama is refusing to do is to suggest that all Muslims are America’s enemies. Whatever our students’ politics, they need to understand word choice as part of rhetorical strategy.


Source for photo: [Bird Eye, "Muslims in Mumbai protest against terrorism" on Flikr]

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


When I say I am a teacher of writing to a new acquaintance, I often get the response no doubt familiar to you: “Oops; better watch my language.” This stereotype of the English teacher as a nit-picker extraordinaire is widespread and seems to be deeply ingrained in the national psyche as “Miss Fidditch.” This character’s name seems to have been coined by linguist Henry Lee Smith in the early 1950s—though H. L. Mencken had earlier referred to “old maid schoolteachers who would rather parse than eat.” So the stereotype is surely an old one.


I became familiar with Miss Fidditch, however, when I read a book on style, Martin Joos’s The Five Clocks: a Linguistic Excursion into the Five Styles of English Usage (1967). Joos’s book (along with a brilliant and witty introduction by Albert Marckwardt) left a lasting impression on me, introducing me to the notion of contextual appropriateness and convincing me that where English is concerned, there is never one solitary right way to proceed: everything depends on the rhetorical situation and the intended purpose. Joos describes five styles: intimate, casual, consultative, formal, and frozen or formative, the last the kind of language that needs to remain the same in all situations: a phrase from the Bible, for example.


Apparently, Joos was inspired to write this book when he was teaching a grammar course to a group of teachers. When he asked them to respond to a short passage, they set at it with a vengeance, marking it up in every direction and finding it woefully lacking. Joos then had to tell them that it had been written by a Pulitzer prize winner (!). What he also no doubt told them was a lot about the importance of purpose and situation in style, from the intimate language appropriate to spouses or partners to the formal writing of the business world—and everything in between.


You may have run into Miss Fidditch in the work of Ken Macrorie or Peter Elbow, for she makes appearances there. But it’s worth going back to Joosas well; his is an important work in understanding how to talk to young writers about style.


Miss Fidditch was (is) no doubt a “comma queen,” a phrase that Mary Norris applies to herself in “Holy Writ: Learning to Love House Style,” which appeared in the February 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Norris is a grand stylist herself, straightforward, witty, self-deprecating in just the right way, and friendly: she takes us on a journey through her life, from “foot checker” at a local swimming pool, to milk truck driver, dishwasher, mozzarella cheese packer, and eventually as a minor clerical worker in the editorial library of The New Yorker. There she has remained, working her way up from one job to the next and honing her love of style—and especially of the comma. She began reading everything as if she were copyediting it, and commas were her special territory: she could spot an errant one a mile away. But she learned to control her ardor, remembering that commas don’t bow to hard and fast rules but are situational and contextual. Backing up a bit, she tells us that

The comma as we know it was invented by Aldo Manuzio, a printer working in Venice, circa 1500. It was intended to prevent confusion by separating things. In the Greek, komma means “something cut off,” a segment. (Aldo was printing Greek classics during the High Renaissance. The comma was a Renaissance invention.) As the comma proliferated, it started generating confusion. Basically, there are two schools of thought: One plays by ear, using the comma to mark a pause, like dynamics in music; if you were reading aloud, the comma would suggest when to take a breath. The other uses punctuation to clarify the meaning of a sentence by illuminating its underlying structure. Each school believes that the other gets carried away. (Paragraph 21, if I counted correctly in the article, which you can find here.)


A corps of commas ready to serve comma queens and comma commoners alike


Later, Norris tackles the question of the use of commas in a series (often referred to as the “Oxford  comma”), coming down on the side of those who advocate putting that final comma in, before the final item. I’ve always told students that putting that last comma in is easiest because then they can be consistent, not having to stop and think whether they need it there or not. Norris agrees, as indeed does New Yorker house style, and she gives some goofy examples to prove the point that leaving that last comma out can indeed sometimes produce confusion, consternation, or worse:

“We invited the strippers, J.F.K. and Stalin.” (This has beenillustrated online, and formed the basis of a poll: which stripper had the better outfit, J.F.K. or Stalin.)“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

The example I always use is “She ordered several sets of colorful socks:  banana yellow, turquoise, magenta, orange and lime.” Did she order four sets—or five? The comma makes the difference. Later in the essay, Norris tells readers of her fascination with comma usage in the work of James Salter, who uses a comma where she ordinarily would not put one, as in this sentence:

“Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach.”

Eventually, Norris runs across a number of such usages in Salter’s work, enough to let her know that they are intentional uses of the comma. She frets about this for some time and eventually writes to him. He gives a response that underscores how individual comma usage can be and especially how tied to purpose and situation it is:

As I had suspected, with the comma in “Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach,” [Salter] was trying to emphasize the contours of the stomach under the dress. “It wasn’t a thin burgundy dress,” he wrote. “It was a thin dress, burgundy in color. I wanted the reader to be aware of the thinness.”

Across the decades of my teaching career, I’ve met students whose comma use ranged from the “sprinkle in a few for effect” to as carefully chosen and deployed commas as the ones in Salter’s fiction. And I have certainly talked with students about the need to choose all punctuation with an eye to what is appropriate and effective in their particular rhetorical situation: which one of Joos’s five clocks they are telling time by. But I don’t think I have spent enough time demonstrating to students the full range and power of the lowly comma. Maybe I can be a “comma queen” without turning into “Miss Fidditch”!


[Image: a row of commas by Moira Clunle on Flickr]

Jack Solomon

Cinderella... Again

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 9, 2015

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


So Disney is returning once again to that old standard, the story of Cinderella, doing it over but with live action this time.  And therein lies a semiotic tale.


Because the Cinderella story provides a very good occasion for teaching your students about cultural mythologies, and the way that America’s mythologies often contradict each other.  In the case of Cinderella, one must begin with the fact that it is a feudal story in essence, one in which a commoner is raised to princess status, not through hard work but through a kind of inheritance: her personal beauty.  Such a narrative very much reflects the values of a time when social status was usually inherited rather than achieved.


Thus the fact that the Cinderella story (and don’t forget Pretty Woman) has been told with popular success again and again in post-feudal, bourgeois America, is significant.  As I noted in my blog on Frozen, what makes the reprise of such stories meaningful is the way in which they contradict the bourgeois mythology that links social status with hard work—something that sociologist Max Weber called the “Protestant Work Ethic”—while simultaneously contradicting the American mythology of social egalitarianism.


In effect, we find a striking contradiction here between ideology and desire.  Most Americans, I believe, would still claim a powerful allegiance to the ideologies of hard work and of social equality: those mythologies are very much alive.  But at the level of desire, Americans flock with their children, again and again, to feudal Cinderella stories that neither challenge a world of princes and paupers nor question a happy ending of social status achieved through... small feet.


Widening the cultural-semiotic system in which the Cinderella story functions, we can see that America has a lot of high cultural literary productions that openly challenge the ideology of the work ethic, but from a very different angle.  From The Rise of Silas Lapham to The Great Gatsby,The Rise of David Levinsky to An American Tragedy, we find tales of the corruptive effect of social success achieved through effort.  The pursuit and possession of wealth in these stories is presented as spoilers of what America should be about.


So, we have a tradition of high cultural questioning of a crucial American mythology (an “American Dream” achieved through hard work), and a string of highly profitable low cultural appeals to glamorized feudalism (and don’t get me started on The Lord of the Rings, a story that I adore but which is, nonetheless, one long paean to the divine right of kings).


But it gets even more complicated when we bring gender codes into the analysis.  Because it is no accident that the feudal fantasies involved in the Cinderella story invariably involve girls and women as the rising protagonists, while the literary critiques of the money-corrupted capitalist always involve men.  So from a gendered point of view, all these Cinderella narratives are telling the little girls who are taken to see them that what they should work on is their personal beauty and personality, and some “prince charming” will take care of the rest.


Little boys, on the other hand, are being told, in effect, to ignore the warnings of Fitzgerald and Dreiser, because what matters for men is to achieve princely (meaning moneyed) status.  In short, the most conservative of gender coded behaviors are being promoted through the endless reprising of the Cinderella story, and this matters a lot at a time when the most probable real-world avenues to economic success in America involve hard study and hard work in technical disciplines that are traditionally coded as male.


It’s the same old story.

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


Work on Emerging 3e is, thankfully, coming to a close.  Don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you that writing a textbook is easy.  It’s much more work than I ever imagined.  Right now I am working on the new sequences.  We’re going with eight brand new sequences, touching on every reading in the book and including two new research-based sequences.


What’s on my mind is the nature of intellectual labor, particularly in relation to teaching.  You know, one of my colleagues pointed out that when someone asks us about our work we’re likely to talk about our research, but the truth is that the bulk of the actual work we do is connected to teaching.  For me, working within composition, pedagogy, and writing program administration, the relation between my research and my teaching is even stronger.


My passion and my intellectual labor—my work—is deeply connected to teaching: to the classroom, to the design of courses, and to the shaping of assignments.  I’m not sure the depth of this intellectual labor is always recognized by departments or the institution, which is a real shame.


I will say that crafting each sequence for Emerging involves re-reading each essay I plan on using, thinking about the ideas of each, thinking about the ideas of each in relation to each other, considering how these ideas sequence, carefully wording assignments to guide students to explore those connections, crafting questions to prompt students’ thinking, integrating work from other assignments connected to the readings.  That’s a lot of thinking.


So much has been written about the status of composition and its laborers within the institution.  I can’t help but think that if we continue to foreground not the work but the intellectual work we do then perhaps we can begin to shift the conversation and then the culture.


Or maybe I am being totally unrealistic.  Thoughts?

This blog was originally posted on March 3rd, 2015.


We had a faculty development workshop at UD over three days in early February, where we welcomed keynote speaker Ann Hill Duin from the University of Minnesota. Ann is in technical and professional communication and has held various administrative positions at UM, especially focused on teaching and learning with technologies. Ann’s talk was about how central connections, connectivity, and connectionist theory relate to learning.


An activity she suggested is likely to have high value in one or more of the classes you teach. She suggested having students draw a personal learning network (PLN), a diagram of where a person’s learning connects to resources, groups, situations, individuals, experiences. She helpful suggested two tools: and Both are free and simple apps that support drawing networks—nodes and connectors.


My colleague, biochemist Hal White, and I started drawing Hal’s PLN—connections to research labs and fellow scientists, to people at the National Science Foundation, to journals and books, to editorial and review roles he plays, to online communities to which he belongs, to conferences and symposia. The act of drawing triggered engaging conversation about where and when and from whom we learn. We started talking about Hal’s students and what their PLNs might look like.


Hal’s Personal Learning Network


Hal has always been a big mind-mapper, having students draw connected understandings of some specific biochemical phenomena, some cellular or molecular process, or some complex system, like blood chemistry. He uses mind maps to figure out what his students know, where their concepts are faulty, and what he should be teaching. He also uses mind maps as semester exams because he can see what students understand.


I used a similar approach in a “rhetoric of the professions” course, having students create a knowledge network on the first day of class. I collected their work, put it away until the end of term, and then had them re-do their network diagram to show what they had learned about rhetoric and what they understood to be the important connections and relationships. It was a fine way to see (some portion) of what students had learned. It also helps students reflect upon and consolidate what they know into an organized space.


My thinking here is influenced by a recent Bits posts by Traci Gardner’s on digital identity mapping. Read her post—it’s all about having students map themselves, with a focus on how they live digital, connected lives. Traci’s approach provides a nice alternative to literacy narratives, a genre covered in Writer’s Help.


It’s not hard to think about how a class or sequence of classes ought to extend a student’s PLN, or their digital identities, or their understanding of blood chemistry. In all cases, students ought to be better learners, better researchers, with more connected and complex networks for learning what they need to know. They ought also to be more self-aware of what they do when they need to learn something. That’s one outcome worth measuring.

This blog was originally posted on March 3rd, 2015.

Meme showing grandmother at computer with the text 'Grandmaster Flash'Last fall, the Tumblr account Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash made a splash with its humorous screen captures of autocomplete gone awry. If you use Facebook, you know that the site has an autocomplete feature for user’s names. As you type a status update, the feature pops up suggestions of user names that it thinks you are typing, with a built-in link to the person’s Facebook profile.

The feature simplifies the process of connecting users on the site. Unfortunately, it can also change Grandma into Grandmaster Flash, as the Facebook feature guesses that if you type Grandm, you might want to tag Grandmaster Flash in your status update.The results are humorous status updates like this one:

Example of Autocorrect Text: asf

Just read a few entries from the website in class, and students are sure to giggle. You can use the site in any class to talk about the value of editing and proofreading. The site can also launch a discussion of doublechecking the corrections that spellcheckers or grammar checkers suggest.

I used the site last week to engage students in my Writing and Digital Media course in a conversation about affordances and constraints. Nearly every student will have an experience with autocorrect or autocomplete going wrong, so students have personal experience to tap as they participate in the discussion.

Before class, students read chapter 1 of our textbook Writer/Designer, which covers the concept of affordances. Students also read a Rolling Stone article about Grandmaster Flash and Grandmas, and a recent New York Times article on time “When Autocorrect Goes Horribly Right.” In class, we read through a few of the examples on the Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash site.

I reviewed the concepts of affordances and constraints, and then students opened up one of the Padlet boards linked below, where they brainstormed affordances and constraints of autocorrect and autocomplete:

As you can see if you look at either of the Padlets, students posted some strong observations. After we discussed their ideas in class, I used the activity as a springboard for their next assignment, which asks them to analyze a web-based tool for, in part, its affordances and constraints.

The classroom discussion was a perfect intro for the work they are doing now—and to think we have Grandma and Grandmaster Flash to thank for it! Do you have a particularly successful to introduce a topic in class? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below.

This blog was originally posted on October 24, 2013.


Prezi.  Either you love it, hate it, or have no idea what it is.  If you’re in the last category, go check out  Me? I’m in the first category.  I love its Web 2.0-ness, its fluidity, its boundlessness, its exploration of virtual space.  But haters hate and not without reason.  I’ve had more than one colleague complain about “Prezi-sickness” from endless zooming and swirling.  I point out that dismissing Prezi because of bad Prezis is akin to dismissing PowerPoint, which is almost always bad.


I’m thinking about the question now because the Dean needs a snazzy presentation for a donor event.  “Prezi!” I say.  “No!” my colleague says.


And what say you?