Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.
As I wrote in my recent post, this semester has been a reflective opportunity for me, in terms of re/vising multimodal writing assignments and how we can apply multimodal composition across genres and contexts. In keeping with my theme of re/mix, I want to discuss how a multimodal composition looks when applied to a graduate school context. Most of us have taught or currently teach first-year writing. Accordingly, we discuss our pedagogies that apply to those classes, which provides a wealth of sharable information for our peers. Too often, however, I think we anchor composition pedagogies to first-year experiences only. This week, I offer a re/mix of multimodal blogging, contextualized for an online graduate course in information design. The re/mixed blogging project could also be easily re/vised to work in most writing or technical communication courses.
Online courses offer their own rhetorical challenges for certain, and an online graduate course frequently compounds them. As praxis-ioners of critical composition, however, we can still employ many of the strategies from our face-to-face teaching. I also believe that students in these online spaces are grateful for multimodal writing opportunities that have “real-world” connections to their lives. I teach a mix of students, some digital natives and some who are return-to-college learners. Our motley crew, as one of my students dubbed our online community, sometimes requires additional resources to engender success in digital literacies. The entire crew, however, appreciates and even seeks out multimodal writing opportunities because this type of assignment stimulates critical thinking and critical production of public texts.
A DIY blogging assignment that encourages students to construct multimodal technical writing (how-to and step-by-step posts) in digital spaces, using rhetorical cues from composition praxis
Assignment Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives
- Apply multimodal composition strategies to technical writing
- Use multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
- Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts 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.
- The Everyday Writer: Chapters 5-11, “The Writing Process;” Chapter 20, “Writing to the World”
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6a, “Collaborating in College”; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
- Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
- EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in Ch.1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, Section 3a, “Reading Critically”
- Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students
Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
I run this project early in the semester. Prior to starting this project, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students, Popular Media Writing Tips, Writing Better Blog Posts, Rhetorical Considerations for Blogs to prepare us to build our blogs.
In Class and/or Out
“In-class” is an interesting experience in an online learning environment. In my online courses I blend asynchronous discussion forums with synchronous class meetings. Many of the Handbook readings for this assignment are reviews for both content and rhetorical strategies that many of my graduate students need to re/mediate. In most cases, we read, respond, and discuss, either in Blackboard Collaborate or on our class forums. Our online community requires members to post an initial 500-word response to my thread by the third day of each class week, with ensuing 100-word posts at least once to each course member by the end of the week. Our motto is “post early and post often.” By the end of each week, students have written more than 1,000 words!
We spend one week (module) reviewing rhetorical terms and applying them to our course objectives. Then, in the next weekly module, I introduce the blogging assignment. We talk in our forums and in Collaborate, providing each other with additional resources and rhetorical support. We read draft posts and offer feedback based on organization, content, ideas, syntax, and style.
After using our drafting exercises as sites for collaborative feedback, students take the next weekly module to finalize and publish their four blog posts, each containing at least one visual and/or audio component per post.
Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
This assignment asks students to balance rhetorical invention with public technical writing. When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here’s what they said:
“I enjoyed making this blog. It gave me a chance to take a big part of my real life, and share it with others. I really had to think about my writing, and how it corresponded with some of the multimodalities included.”
– Allison Feldman, Allison’s DIY Wedding Blog
“[The] assignment definitely allowed for creative expression. Not only were the ideas flowing, but I had to work with different technologies, and to make them work properly. I love the fact that this assignment pushed me to think about how effective blogging can be. I’m hopeful to use these strategies to drive traffic to the site.”
– Jeffery Jackson, Jumper Jacks Essay Contest
This assignment works especially well in graduate courses, where students evaluate and compose rhetorics for professional portfolios. I have found also that graduate students often need to review composition conventions, for which “how-to” blogs serve as excellent, low-stakes writing opportunities.
Across courses and academic levels, students are far more likely to engage in authentic rhetorical performances, if they feel that they can exert their agency to improve their writing and meet learning outcomes. For us as instructors, a vital part of our teaching is our ability to let go of our authority and guide students towards enduring understandings of content, which they research, design, and construct. When we re-focus our efforts around digital, authored performances in these environments, we facilitate rhetorical growth for our students, helping them develop informed voices as they become fluent 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: DIY Blogs
Also, please leave me feedback at rhetoricmatters.org.
Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical 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 informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: Jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.org