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Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Law-Bohannon.Bohannon_Pic-150x150.jpg


Every week, I read Andrea’s Multimodal Mondays blog.  I am as much a consumer of the amazing material posted by colleagues as I am a producer of my own content.  Now that summer is upon us, I would like to use my space on the blog to explore expanding examples of multimodal composition, to ask “what counts,” as lessons, assignments, and writing opportunities for students. I also want to investigate how students themselves perceive their learning from multimodal compositions.

This week, I examine weekly discussion forums in my summer online graduate course.  At my university, we have a unique graduate program that offers an M.S. in Information Design and a certificate in technical communication completely in an online environment.  There is no formal cohort, but some students take courses in a loose order of offering each semester, taking courses in sequence but at their own pace.  Others pass in and out at varying intervals.  We are a large, comprehensive state institution, but many of my online students reside outside of Georgia, some as far away as Utah.  So, the importance of creating a community of scholars in a completely online environment is an important hurdle to overcome for both my students and me each semester. One of the foundational tools I use to create community is the Discussion Forum widget inside of my course management system.  At Kennesaw State most of us use Desire 2 Learn, but there are many other options out there, including open access programs like Canvas and Edmodo.


My summer Digital Rhetoric course is part of Kennesaw State University’s online graduate program in Information Design and technical communication. Throughout the course, students practice applying theory from texts to content creation praxis.  They demonstrate deep understandings of presented material by responding both their professor and each other in dialogic discussion forums.


Dialogic, multi-thread discussions in an online forum that encourages content understanding and evaluation, applicable for both graduate and undergraduate students.


Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Create rhetorical responses to a text
  • Synthesize content-meaning through critical responses to a text and to colleagues
  • Respond using dialogic methods to “keep the conversation going.”

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.


Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
Creating an academic dialogic requires some front-loaded preparation and design by instructors.  What I do is peruse our weekly reading and pick out my top ten keywords.  I then pair those keywords with Bloom's verbs, which help me frame and measure what I want students to learn from the discussion and help students understand what they should “do” to achieve the learning objectives. Students often report how much they like these explicit instructions, because the instructions are transparent.  Each week, we typically begin at the foundation, with comprehension and then build to analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  A good digital resource for Bloom’s verbs and Web 2.0 tools is available from Indiana State’s Samantha Penney.


In Class and/or Out
My online graduate classes run in modular form, from Mondays to Sundays.  Each week is a learning module with measurable outcomes, with readings divided into weekly chunks as well. I don’t place release dates on the readings or discussions themselves, so students can move fluidly between modules. I do, however, set end dates for the discussions, based on our weekly times.  I have found that graduate students require less structure, in terms of release dates and restrictions on responding in discussion forums, but I think part of that phenom comes from participating in a democratic learning environment, where instructors approach students as colleagues and not as novice learners.


Each week, I present keywords, framed with Bloom's verbs, and ask students to respond doing the same.  I then create the first discussion thread, giving my interpretations of the keywords and explaining difficult terms and theory, often using visuals.

Students respond to the initial keyword/Bloom’s query by mid-week, then to each other by week’s end using our course discussion model, 500 words in an initial thread, then at least 250 words in two separate responses to colleagues.  I include myself as a colleague in each discussion. By using keywords and Bloom's, we keep the conversation going during the week.


Students' Reflections on the Activity
Here are some excerpts from students regarding their experiences with discussions:

“Each discussion was perfectly planned and helped prepare us for the next one; each forum was relevant and timely, and none of the work felt like busy work. I enjoyed participating because I got to flex my creative muscles while learning something relevant to my field.”


“My classmates and I were mutually supportive and complimentary. Our e-discussions were great to generate conversations, but I miss the camaraderie that traditional classrooms afford. These types of dialogic discussions come really close, though.”


“I have taken other classes, with video lectures, but I like it better when the professor participates in the discussions with us. It makes me feel like I can actually say something.”

My Reflection
Discussion forums like the one I describe here “count” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because they combine best practices like measurable learning outcomes with authentic student voices using digital tools.  Dialogic communication is tough to engender in online learning environments, but I think it’s important to keep trying, using new tech like VoiceThread to add voices and even faces to the convo.


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: and

In the days that have passed since the murder of nine worshippers at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have been able to think of little else. Nine lives offered up to white supremacist hatred. I will not write or say the name of the murderer. He doesn’t deserve the distinction.


Rather, these are the people I remember, honor, and take inspiration from:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lee Lance

Rev. Dapayne Middleton-Doctor

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Rev. Daniel L. Simmons

Tywanza Sanders

Myra Thompson


Like millions of Americans, I have wondered at the terrible ironies attending their deaths: the Confederate flag flying high in the South Carolina State house, the killer posturing with the flag, the NRA’s ongoing and unconscionable control of a Congress too weak to legislate common-sense gun control laws. And these nine Black lives—and countless others—Black Lives that Matter, paying the price of such cowardice and delusions.


Also like millions of Americans, I have been heartened by the words of love, hope, and resilience coming from the Emanuel AME Church, by the strength of its congregation, and by the expressions of forgiveness, given with a clear-eyed vision of what the sacrifice has been and continues to be.


But events like this, so often portrayed as the acts of a single deranged individual, do not come out of nowhere. They are deeply embedded in the culture of their communities, a product of their time and place.


And so as these awful events unfolded, I’ve been thinking about—no, fairly haunted by—an essay I read just two weeks before these shootings. “Memories of Freedom and White Resilience: Place, Tourism, and Urban Slavery,” by Kristan Poirot and Shevaun E. Watson, appeared in the most recent issue of the Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and I read it with great interest. In the essay, the authors report on field research they carried out in Charleston, along with reading in local historical archives, about what they describe as “the successful construction of the locale [Charleston] into a premier U.S. heritage tourism destination” (92). To write the essay, they spent quite a lot of time in Charleston, especially participating in numerous tours of historic sites, including plantations, and taking a very close look at Charleston’s “tourism imaginary—a manufactured version of the city that emerges from fragments of promotional materials, place narratives, and built environments” (93).


They begin by considering an event on February 15, 2014, when a monument to Denmark Vesey was unveiled after a long campaign and great controversy, eventually showing how the varying constructions of Vesey and his life (was he a freedom fighter and civil rights leader, or would-be mass murderer of innocents?) reflect the radical divide in Charleston, a divide that is covered over neatly in most of the city’s promotions of itself as a major tourist destination. As Poirot and Watson note,

As if to exemplify the uneasy balance between the historical truths of slavery and the entertainment demands of tourism, for example, one tour guide opened his Civil War-focused tour by stating plaintively that it could proceed ‘with or without slavery,’ invoking the participants’ preferences. Not surprisingly, most ‘voted’ for the tour to proceed ‘without slavery. . . .’ (103)


Through painstaking rhetorical analysis, Poirot and Watson capture the undercurrents (and often “overcurrents”) of denial and whitewashing that have created such a successful and pleasing portrait of a city, one that nurtured at least one murderer bent on eliminating the Black population of Charleston.


That characterization is mine, not the authors’, who were writing well before the events of June 17. Indeed, as ethical rhetoricians, they are judicious in their conclusions:

Like other critics, we believe that the pleasing and profitable construction of Charleston’s history offered through its tourism industry fails to provide a clear-eyed version of the city’s past. We also find, however, that the question of the rhetoricity of Charleston heritage tourism cannot be understood only in terms of historical accuracy, nor ought the issue be reduced to concerns of tourism as a profit-driven industry. Of course, both of these perspectives are valid; however, a deeper examination of place, memory, and tourism—of Charleston’s elaborate practice of publicly remembering urban slavery—highlights something beyond instrumentalism or deception as it demonstrates the profound rhetorical productivity of tourism imaginaries. These imaginaries shape and revivify historical narratives; they constitute the very historical memories on which they rely. Thus, critics ought to continue to develop ways to read these animations—these diffuse architectures of memory constructed through tourism—in order to broaden our understanding of those features of public culture that constrain and amplify the power to secure a variety of ideological commitments and economic interests. (112)


I focus on this essay at such length because it points up the role rhetorical analysis can play in learning—and perhaps in opening minds. If teachers of writing and their students take up such projects of rhetorical analysis, tracking the construction of local memories and putting them in context—it can offer one means not just of understanding how such memories get constructed but also of changing them. And that would be one way of honoring the nine members of the Emanuel AME Church—as well as the church itself and its ongoing work to secure liberty and freedom for all.

Gardner_Jun23_206-300x210.jpgLast week, I proposed a compass-based activity for Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing classes. This week I’m sharing ten scenarios to use with last week’s ethical compass. Most of the scenarios have alternative solutions or choices that you can discuss beyond the simple choice of where the situation falls on the ethical compass.


Ten Ethical Scenarios

    1. You need an illustration for a pamphlet you are designing. You have saved the perfect image of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, but you cannot remember the source and do not know whether the image is free to use under Creative Commons or in the public domain. You decide to use it anyway and hope for the best. Is the choice right?
    2. Your colleague has written a progress report that indicates the project is on schedule and on budget. The report does not mention that the colleague has been substituting cheaper, generic supplies, rather than ordering the brand of supplies that the client requested to avoid going over budget. The supplies meet safety requirements, and it’s likely that the client will not notice the change. Is the colleague doing the right thing?
    3. The marketing department has asked your supervisor for screenshots to illustrate the forthcoming features that will be added to the app you are developing. When you tell your supervisor that the features are not programmed yet, he tells you to fake something in PhotoShop. Is your supervisor choosing the right solution?
    4. The disposable knives, spoons, and forks that your company manufactures are not recyclable. Though they are made with 10% recycled materials, they go to the landfill, not the recycling bin. A customer has asked on your company Facebook page whether the spoons are eco-friendly, and the social media manager has replied that they are. Has he made the right choice?
    5. Your department has just learned of a significant security flaw in the shopping cart software the company markets. The director of software development is not releasing details on the flaw to the public, leaving millions of users’ personal information at risk. She wants to avoid giving hackers information that could lead to security breaches. Your team is working overtime to fix the flaw, and the director plans to send out a press release on the flaw when the fix is ready. Has she made the right decision?
    6. You are writing specifications for a project your engineering firm is designing. You confess to your supervisor that you are behind schedule, and he suggests that you copy several sections from a similar specification that a colleague in the office wrote for another project. Is the supervisor suggesting the right solution?
    7. You are preparing a resume for an entry-level job. Your friend tells you to change the details on your active membership in the military reserves to suggest that you are no longer serving. He explains that some employers may be concerned about your military service causing you to miss work. You know it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of military service, and you are proud of your service. You include the information against your friend’s advice. Did you make the right choice?
    8. An intern who worked in your department has asked you to fill out a recommendation form for a scholarship application. You agree, but when you review the form, you notice questions about the intern’s religious affiliation and her commitment to her faith. You do not feel it’s appropriate to answer these questions, so you write, “I do not have enough information to answer this question” in that section of the form. Did you make the right decision?
    9. Your company has been taking shortcuts with quality control, resulting in the manufacture of food products that barely meet health and safety requirements. You create anonymous accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and you post evidence of the quality control issues on the accounts, tagging the corporate accounts. Was your action right?
    10. You wrote an extensive manual for using petroleum drilling equipment that your company manufactures. To save money, an editor pared down the manual, removing 2 pages of information overall. You review the changes and restore half of the information, which consisted primarily of important safety warnings. Your supervisor is unhappy about the cost, but you stand firm that the information must remain in the manual. Have you made the right decision?


Because I am teaching online, I plan on using the scenarios throughout the term, posting two or three each week on our online discussion forum for students to respond to. I’ll try beginning with an anonymous poll on each scenario to gauge where the class stands before discussing the nuances of the situation and possible alternative responses. In the face-to-face classroom, I think I’d have students work in groups to propose ways to deal with the situation and then as a class work to a solution we all feel ethically deals with the scenario.


This activity grew from conversations during the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education. Where do you find your ethical discussion starters? Do you have resources to share? Let me hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument by Kevin Dooley, on Flickr]

Haimes-Korn_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.


We value collaboration in our classes and with digital tools we can involve students in meaningful communication and community building activities.  With the support of digital tools and spaces, teachers can draw upon collaborative theories and practices to design engaging assignments and involve students in participatory learning.  Google Drive and other online spaces allow students to communicate, manage teamwork and collaboratively revise documents and presentations.  However, like all multimodal platforms, it is not enough to have the tools, we must teach students how to use them effectively and articulate their group processes for future successful collaboration. 


Many of us already assign reflective narratives in which we ask students to evaluate and describe their models and processes of collaboration.  It is through these kinds of reflective assignments that students come to understand their roles, conflict management strategies, interpersonal dynamics, and the paths of their projects.  Reflective narratives give students the opportunity to step back and articulate the ways the processes of collaboration are as significant as the goals and results.


I have used reflective assignments of all kinds for years in all my classes. I usually include regular in-class and online collaborative activities and at least one collaborative project in all of the courses I teach.   In this multimodal extension of a collaborative project (any one will do), students create infographics that represent their collaboration models and processes.  Like many multimodal assignments, I require them to use both text and image to communicate meaning.



You will find infographics used to communicate information in all aspects of life.  Some consider cave drawings an early form of the infographic but they also have worked their way into personal, educational, and professional settings.   Digital representations are particularly present on the internet and across other multimodal genres. – an excellent educational tool that has over 75,000 tech definitions and references, defines infographics as


A representation of information in a graphic format designed to make the data easily understandable at a glance. People use infographics to quickly communicate a message, to simplify the presentation of large amounts of data, to see data patterns and relationships, and to monitor changes in variables over time.


Infographics (also often referred to as data visualization) include charts, graphs and diagrams that visually represent ideas, information, concepts and relationships.   They can be used on their own or to support or summarize ideas from larger documents or presentations.  Although often used to represent data, students can also use them to interpret texts, communicate complex information and give us insight into our communication, processes, obstacles and achievements.    Basically, infographics bring together text and image to communicate meaning.



  • To introduce students to online tools for collaboration and revision
  • To encourage students to reflect on their collaborative processes
  • To represent their collaborative processes both textually and visually


Background Reading for Students and Instructors

Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.



The Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to have students reflect on their processes of collaboration, including a description and analysis of their online collaborative space.

  • I start by introducing definitions and examples of infographics and data visualization and then send students to the Web to look for examples and ideas.  Sites such as Daily Infographic website offer great categorized clearinghouses of infographics for all kinds of purposes, audiences, and contexts. Students can work together to discuss ideas, observations, and rhetorical criteria that make up this genre. 
  • I have each team compose a collaborative process reflection as part of their project.  Once again I turn them to their Google Drive space to collaboratively compose and revise this document as a team. The real time revision tools allow students to discuss, draft, revise, and edit their documents. I ask them to explore, in writing, their processes of collaboration, negotiation, and composition for a public audience to explain their group experiences to outsiders.  They should reflect upon the group dynamics, processes of collaboration, and project results.  Students also compose a similar, individual reflection - this time with a teacher audience in mind to submit in their evaluation folders. In these individual reflections, they also evaluate their team-members group performance and assign each person a letter grade along with a justification of their teammates’ roles and contributions (I average these together and include them as a substantial part of their grade on their projects – along with other components and criteria. See Group Processes and Evaluation Assignment and percentage breakdown.).
  • Once the draft is completed teams compose a multimodal infographic that represents their processes.  The visual/infographics should describe and illustrate their collaborative processes and the organization of their online team space as they represent the different ways they communicated as a team.  The challenge is to visually represent their processes of collaboration, including invention drafting, revising, and editing along with the processes, goals, and interpersonal dynamics of their group. They should also include a written explanation for their infographics.


The infographic should cover their processes of collaboration, including


  • Group Roles and structure
  • Connection to collaborative theories and models.
  • Collaborative Writing and Revision Processes
  • The story of their collaboration


Reflections on the Activity

I have included excerpts from each team’s reflective process statements. They provide insight into what students were trying to communicate through their infographics. I also have visual examples of each team’s projects on the Digital Collaboration page of my website.


Team_1_Infographic_SP15.pngTeam 1 used Adobe Photoshop to create their infographic. They explain the structure of their project,


“Our infographic can be divided into three parts: introduction, collaboration process and the data diagram. “About the action project” is the general introduction about our action group. We convey our project time, location, goals and perspectives. The very right vertical column shows each group member’s Gmail pictures and names.”


This team also indicates that the infographic is divided into two parts – the upper that explains the flow of the process and the lower that designates the roles of the members.  They include a “data diagram” in which they reveal communication statistics about their project such as social media postings, emails and other forms of communication.


Team_2_Infographic_SP15.jpgTeam 2* attempted to show organization and structure.  And, since everything did not go on “without a hitch” they wanted to represent some of their team’s conflicts and resolutions.  They reflect on the connection between communication and integration.


“Without communicating we would've never branched out, or solved any of our problems. In fact this project would not have been done if we did not work together. It would have been too much for one individual to handle alone, and do well. We needed each other to each build each block to make this work and make the project a success. We want those who look at this infographic to know if you truly work together to solve issues, and communicate they can accomplish anything.”


Team_3_Infographic.pngTeam 3 believed that infographics should present complex information quickly and clearly to the viewer. They refer to Edward Tufte from his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; one of the main objectives of an infographic is to “induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production.”  Their infographic reflects this philosophy.


*Note: Both Team 2 and 3 used Piktochart, an online infographic generator.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw 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.  You can reach Kim at or visit her website Acts of Composition 

I first met Brent Peters, English teacher from Fern Creek Traditional High School in Kentucky, when he was pursuing a Master’s degree at The Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, and I knew at first glance that I was talking to someone very special. As I got to know him better, I learned about the food literacy initiative Brent and colleague Joe Franzen were undertaking at their school. As Brent put it in an essay for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Journal:

Last year [which would have been 2012], we approached our principal, Dr. Houston Barber, and our forward-thinking administration at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky. . . . They granted us one Food Lit class for one trimester to see if students, many of whom were already struggling in their English classes, could identify with a food theme and show academic growth. Fortunately for us, students who stayed after school to work in the garden, cook, share, enjoy a meal, laugh, talk, think, and debate food-related issues in Mr. Franzen’s Cooking and Environmental Clubs were already making the case.

     We knew that students were interested in food. We did not foresee the immense potential the class would have to bring down walls: walls between school and home, school and community, between academic disciplines, and between students and their social classes. When our class went to the school garden, we naturally started talking about botany and agriculture. Seamlessly, the conversation moved to include chemistry, history, mathematics, global issues, social justice, language, geography, and nutrition. We also noticed that students who were not talking in class became very vocal outside the classroom, and students who may not have talked to each other in class were laughing together as they were planting rye as a cover crop or picking cabbage worms off winter cabbages.

The Fern Creek Food Literacy program has grown exponentially. Most compelling to me is the partnership formed between the Fern Creek group and Rex Lee Jim, former Vice President of the Navajo Nation, Evelyn Begody, and other members of the Window Rock School District. Out of this partnership grew the Navajo Kentuckians, who have exchanged views, vistas, and visits, who came together at a 2013 Food Literacy Conference held at Middlebury College in Vermont, and who together presented their program and its results at the 2014 NCTE conference. In their work together and in their individual schools, these students are learning about nutrition and sustainability, about planting and harvesting, about “good” and “bad” foods, about managing crops and money. They are making a difference in their own choices of food and they are influencing their family and friends, often to change habits of a lifetime. And they are reading and writing in their own notebooks and journals about all they are learning in their “food lit” classes and in their gardens and markets.

What the students say about their experiences is insightful and inspiring. Last spring, the Navajo Kentuckians traveled to Montana for the International Indian Health Service Conference, where they presented their work and listened and learned from others. Here’s what Courtney Jones, a student at Window Rock High School, wrote to participants after the conference:

As always, good things have to come to an end. Now, I don’t feel sad–The Navajo Kentuckians left Billings with a change of heart and new ideas. We left with new knowledge to teach our communities about positive change relating to health. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this trip, and this is why I’m writing this to you all now. I’ve come to a conclusion or final thought that no matter the age, ethnicity, gender, who you know or who you don’t know is NOT AN EXCUSE or reason to stop you from wanting or helping your community, your people, and even yourself as a person. . . .

  You can see photos and listen to students at this conference and at other events on the Navajo Kentuckians website. And check them out on YouTube. I think you will be as inspired as I have been.

Gardner_Jun16_205-300x192.jpgLast week, I posted an activity where students compared codes of ethics from different disciplines. Today, I’m sharing an activity that asks students to apply those codes to some simple scenarios. It’s a bridge activity between examining the codes and discussing more detailed and complex case studies. Like last week’s post, this activity grew out of the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education.


My inspiration is the ‘90s Parker Brothers game A Question of Scruples. When the game was popular, some colleagues used the cards from the game in the classroom to talk about ethics. When playing the game, people read short scenarios that end with a question that generally asks, “Would you do it?” For instance, one card in the game asks, “You make long distance calls as part of your work for a middle-sized firm. Do you make private calls if you know they cannot be traced?”


The classroom activity uses the questions as discussion starters. The teacher or a student reads a scenario. Students answer with the yes, no, or depends cards from the game and then talk about their answers. Teachers and students can write their own scenarios, based on readings or issues the class is exploring. The customized game provides a simple way to introduce and discuss ethical situations.


Instead of using Scruples, I am planning to use a digital compass activity, as explained in the Learning & Leading with Technology article “Developing Ethical Direction” by Mike S. Ribble and Gerald D. Bailey. In this activity, students choose a response from a compass image, which offers these 8 options:


  • Right
  • I am not sure it’s wrong
  • Depends on the situation
  • As long as I don’t get caught
  • Wrong
  • What’s the big deal?
  • It’s an individual choice
  • I don’t know


As with the game Scruples, the teacher or a student reads a scenario, and students respond by choosing a direction on the compass. I will probably gather responses anonymously using a Google Form, which can also calculate the totals for each scenario in a friendly bar graph.


After making their choices, students will consider how the codes of ethics for professional writing and for their fields support (or don’t) the choices of the majority for each scenario. As the activity relates to the Virginia Tech Pathways curriculum, students will “articulate and defend positions on ethical issues” (Indicator of Learning 3 for the Ethical Reasoning Integrative Learning Outcome) by discussing the responses and the ethical principles behind them.


That’s my plan for the activity. Next week, I’ll share a list of ten ethical scenarios students will respond to, and I’ll discuss how the ethical principles relate to other goals for the course. Meanwhile, if you have ideas for talking about ethical reasoning in the writing classroom, please leave me a comment, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+. I’m looking for ways to explore ethical reasoning throughout the entire course, so I would love some advice.


[Photo: Compass Study by Calsidyrose, on Flickr]

TAGS: Activity Idea, Business Writing, Ethics, Professional Writing, Technical Writing

Andrea A. Lunsford

The LOPRA Awards!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Jun 11, 2015

For the last couple of years I’ve posted during late May or early June about “why I love spring term.” And now even though I am officially retired, I still love spring term, because it’s the time of so many celebrations of student accomplishments. A couple of weeks ago, Stanford had four celebrations for student writing—one for outstanding writing in the first-year course, one in the second-year course, one in the Writing in the Major course, and one for writing of students in the fairly new Science Writing notation program. In my view, we can never give too many awards, can never celebrate too much for the work our terrific students are doing.


But now in the interests of full disclosure: my absolute favorite award is the one for students in our second-year course: The Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Award. I was completely surprised—and honored and humbled—seven years ago when this award was announced, and I am honored and humbled right now as I think back over those years and remember all the students who received the award.


This second course is the one in which students focus on multimodal composition and especially on “translating” a text meant to be read into one to be heard and seen. Though this is a required course, students consistently rate it as one of their best Stanford experiences, and they do magnificent work in it. So every term, instructors are invited to nominate a student for the award, which yields three winners and (usually) three honorable mentions a year. But all nominated students are invited to the celebration ceremony, held in late spring, and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) lays out a buffet of goodies for students to enjoy while we all mingle and talk. I love it!


This year, the witty and wonderful Marvin Diogenes, Acting Director of PWR, was emcee, announcing the winners and calling on their instructors to say a little about what made the students’ work so outstanding and then to present the winning student with a check, a certificate, and a book (or two!) specially chosen by the instructor for the student. This year, the winners also received another gift—a flash drive with the winning presentations on it, in the shape of a golden key. Marvin had everyone laughing as he engaged in a bit of rhetorical hyperbole, saying he was certain the students would keep this key forever, bringing it out to show when they graduated from Stanford, when they finished grad school, got their first jobs, went into retirement, etc., etc., etc. Here are a couple of photos of this event:

June 11, 2015 The LOPRA Awards _Photo 1.jpg                              June 11, 2015 The LOPRA Awards _Photo 2.jpg

Students arriving for the LOPRA celebration                                             Award winner Jinhie Skarda presenting "The Star of Interstellar: How Art Informs Science


And that’s (part of) why I love spring term!

Gardner_Jun09_204.jpgThis week, I want to talk about an activity for a professional writing course that explores the ethical principles that apply to professional writers. Students will return to these principles throughout the term. This idea grew from work I did last week at the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education.


One of the learning outcomes in this new curriculum is the inclusion of ethical reasoning in core courses. To meet this goal in a professional writing course, students will begin by reading the chapter on ethics in the course textbook. After reading the chapter, students will compare the general information in the text to specific codes of ethics from associations for professional communication, such as the following:


In class discussion, students will identify the ways the codes overlap, noting the language and ideas that they have in common. As they compare the codes, they will also draw connections to the textbook. If necessary to help students understand, we will explore some simple scenarios to illustrate the codes, but applying the codes to specific cases will take place in another activity (more on that in next week’s post). 


At this point, students will have experience looking at ethical codes and thinking about how they apply to the work of professional writers. The problem is that most of the students I encounter in the technical writing course do not think of themselves as professional writers. Many understand that there are some expectations for writing in their fields, but they think of themselves as engineers, biologists, and software developers.


To help students understand how the ethical principles for professional writing apply to their own disciplines, I will ask students to locate codes of ethics for their own professions. For instance, an electrical engineer would focus on the IEEE Code of Ethics, and a biologist might focus on the Code of Ethics for the Society for Conservation Biology. Once they identify the principles for their fields, students will look for overlap between codes for professional communication and the codes for their own fields, addressing questions such as the following:

  • Where do you find principles related to writing or communication in the code of ethics for your field?
  • Where are there explicit connections to the same principles included in the codes for writers? Where are connections less obvious?
  • What ideas from the codes for professional writing are not mentioned at all? Why do you think they are excluded?
  • Is there anything else in your field’s code that stands out by comparison to the codes for professional writing?


By the end of the comparison activity, students should be able to identify and explain how ethical codes apply to the writing they will do in their fields. To demonstrate their understanding, students will create posters that explain ethical communication principles of their discipline to others in their fields.


As a class, we will explore posters from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (like the “Expose & Disclose” poster shown above), noting how they focus on one aspect of the federal code of ethics. To simplify production, students can use an online tool like Canva. The posters will be shared with the class, and if possible and appropriate, printed and posted in a public space where others in the same field can see them (like bulletin boards in their departments).


As it relates to the Virginia Tech Pathways curriculum, the goal of this project is for students to “explain and contrast relevant ethical theories” (Indicator of Learning 1 for the Ethical Reasoning Integrative Learning Outcome). As a professional writing instructor, I am also hoping that it will help students gain a better understanding of how writing and communication play a role in their disciplines. Do you have projects that explore ethical reasoning in the writing classroom? I’m looking for assignments and classroom activities, so please leave me a comment, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

480px-Snapchat_Logo.pngRecently, I read an article in the New York Times about Snapchat, the video messaging app that has barnstormed its way toward valuations in the billions of dollars. The article’s title, “Snapchat: A New Mobile Challenge for Storytelling,” caught my attention and got me looking around the Snapchat site and watching some of their “stories.” The ones I watched were mostly reportorial, with someone giving information accompanied by images. But they got me wondering about other kinds of stories and how they might be told and circulated via Snapchat.


One aspect of the app—its claim that snaps are deleted after 24 hours and can’t be retrieved—has been challenged by some who say that nothing on the Web is completely irretrievable, and by others who object to the cursory nature of snaps. Privacy issues aside, I like the idea of the ephemeral nature of Snapchat postings since it seems to open a special space for experimentation and creativity. I’m much more interested in this aspect of Snapchat than in the ability to “follow” people (aka celebrities), as detailed in a Time article on viral Snapchat stars.


I also like the way this app demands multimodality—telling stories with words and images. And I’d particularly like to hear whether Snapchat is being used in classrooms. So, if you have any information on this topic, please let me know!

Traci Gardner

Who's Doing the Work?

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Jun 2, 2015

At my presentation at the Computers and Writing Conference last week, I shared ten narrative remix assignments and related student work (example shown in the picture on the right). When it came time for the Q&A session, someone asked, “How do you know that students are doing the work?”


When I heard that question, there was a moment when I stopped and panicked. What if they were cheating? What if it wasn’t their work? Who was doing the work? How did I know for sure?


What caught me off guard, I think, was the fact that it never occurred to me that students might be cheating. I just knew, in that way you know in your gut. So when I was asked the question, I found myself constructing an answer for why I knew.


First, I explained that I know because I see them work. I walk around the classroom and pay attention to what they are doing. I use microconferencing to talk with students frequently about where they are on the projects and to provide feedback on whatever they show me. So I see their work and I see them working.


I also ask them to write about their work in dialectical blog posts at the end of class. Their entries are organized around two headings: What I Did, and Why I Did It. When I review their posts, I see a running list of the things they are doing. When relevant, they include links to drafts or related artifacts of their process. So I see them talking about their work.


That’s where I left the topic in the presentation. I’ve realized as I thought about the question since Friday, however, that there’s something more. I know because of the assignment students are working on. It asks students to choose something a topic that is a passion project and to take a risk. I encourage them to choose something that they want to learn or know and to make that part of the work they will do.


With those parameters, they are all deeply engaged in the projects. They eagerly call me over to look at what they are doing before class even starts. I have found them in the hallway outside of the classroom sharing their prototypes with anyone who will watch. There are times when I have to force them to stop working and leave the classroom so that the next class can come in. That’s not the behavior of students who are doing dishonest work. So, yes, I know students are doing their own work.


How about you? How do you know that students are turning in multimodal projects that are their own work? What do you do to ensure academic honesty? Let me know by leaving a comment below or dropping by my page on Facebook or Google+.