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Andrea A. Lunsford

Naming What We Know

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Jul 30, 2015

July 30, 2015 Naming What We Know_Photo 1.jpgThere’s been a lot of buzz lately about Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle’s edited collection, Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (Utah State UP, 2015), and with good reason.  In this timely and fascinating volume, the editors define “threshold concepts” as those that are “critical for continued learning and participation in an area or within a community of practice.” As Linda and Elizabeth make clear in their thoroughly useful introduction, this concept grows out of research in the UK on effective teaching and learning. Ray Land (who contributed the preface to this volume) and Jan H. F. Mayer used the notion to study what economists reported was essential knowledge in their field. What they learned led them to establish “threshold concepts” as central to learning in any field and provided an impetus for the present volume.


Following Land’s preface and a lively introduction by Kathi Yancey, Linda and Elizabeth lay out the project, explaining when and how they came up with the idea and the fairly elaborate process they followed in identifying and categorizing writing studies’s threshold concepts. Since I had the privilege of contributing three of the entries in the volume (1.2: “Writing Addresses, Invokes, and/or Creates Audiences”; 2.5 “Writing is Performative”; and 3.3 “Writing is Informed by Prior Experience”), I went through much of this process with the other authors, reading and responding to drafts and groupings, and honing my entries with the helpful responses of other authors. As Linda and Elizabeth say, in the beginning it felt like a big “crowd sourcing” effort, as some 45 people pitched ideas and responded to the ideas of others. And it was certainly collaborative through and through, a model, in fact, for one of the principal ways that “written knowledge” gets produced.


Beginning with a discussion of a “metaconcept,” that “writing is an activity and a subject of study,” written by Linda and Elizabeth, the volume continues with five threshold concepts:

  • Writing is a Social and Rhetorical Activity (10 essays)
  • Writing Speaks to Situations through Recognizable Forms (7 essays)
  • Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies (6 essays)
  • All Writers Have More to Learn (7 essays)
  • Writing is (Also Always) a Cognitive Activity (5 essays)


Following the discussions of threshold concepts—which to my mind are succinct and to the point, presented in just the right tone and register for those entering the field—is a second part on “Using Threshold Concepts,” showing how the concepts could interact productively with writing across the curriculum, writing centers, professional development, graduate education, first-year writing, and so on. The introduction (written by the editors) and the six essays that follow provide sound advice that I’m sure will be put to good use by writing teachers and administrators, as well as by those coming to writing studies for the first time.

July 30, 2015 Naming What We Know_Photo 2.jpgJuly 30 2015 Naming What We Know_Photo 3.jpg
















Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle


I’ve read bits and pieces of this book—some of them many times. But not until I received a copy did I have an opportunity to really take in its thematic structure. So I am starting at the beginning and intending to read straight through, keeping a log as I go of how my understanding of “threshold concepts” grows as I engage each contribution to this volume. Especially read in relation to a few other volumes, such as Key Words in Composition (1990), Key Words in Writing Studies (2015), and the older Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographic Essays (1987), Threshold Concepts provides a clear, cogent, and compelling introduction to writing studies. Brava, Linda and Elizabeth—and all contributors!

radley-yolo.jpg What would happen if Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus had Instagram accounts? One of the students in my Writing and Digital Media course decided to find out for her Remix a Story project.


I have talked about the remix project when I shared Tools for Faking Social Media earlier this year. In this project, I ask students to choose a story (fiction or nonfiction) and retell that story using digital composing tools. One of my students, Emily, has loved To Kill a Mockingbird since she first read the book in high school, so she decided to focus on the novel for her project. With To Kill a Mockingbird in the news recently, due to the publication this month of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, it seems like the perfect time to share her wonderful work, with her permission, of course.


The main portion of Emily’s project is published as Scout’s Instagram account, as shown below:

TKAM Instagram Project

Emily used photos from the 1962 movie for most of Scout’s Instagram photos, supplementing some drawings presented as the work of other characters from the novel. My favorite image is the YOLO (which stands for “You Only Live Once”) image at the top of this post, where Emily combined different photos from the movie with her own text, styled like a meme.


In addition to finding the images and arranging them so they posted in chronological order, Emily created Instagram accounts for Jem, Dill, and Atticus. She used these additional accounts to create comments and interaction on Scout’s Instagram photos. In the example below, Jem and Atticus like Scout’s post while Dill and Scout exchange comments (click on the image to see a larger version):

TKAM Instagram Project

In the stream of comments for the images, Emily refers to popular social media practices like selfies, Throwback Thursday, and hashtags.


Naturally, Emily began her project by collecting the images and then creating a mockup, using resources from our class textbook, Writer/Designer. Her mockup was created as a PowerPoint slide show, with the different images each on a slide and with rough versions of the comments beside each image:

TKAM Instagram Project

If you compare the mockups to the final version, you will see minor changes, but the basic ideas are consistent from the mockup to the final version. Working the ideas through in the mockup was critical to arranging the ideas and maintaining consistency in voice and the social media practices that she incorporated.


So now you know what would happen if Scout had an Instagram account. Emily put in a lot of work on the project, and her love for the text really shows. I smile every time I look at this piece. What student projects make you smile? Share one with me in the comments below or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

Writing teachers today have good reason to concentrate on punctuation, as new possibilities appear (think emoticons) and combinations like ?! pop up every day. The semicolon, however, seems to get no respect, or very little. Some have long predicted its demise in English, arguing that it isn’t necessary to meaning and that English notoriously drops such items with regularity. Kurt Vonnegut famously said that the only use of a semicolon was that it showed that the writer had been to college. People seem so unused to seeing the little winking mark that its use caused a stir when it appeared in a New York City Transit public service placard urging passengers not to leave their newspapers behind: “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.” Pundits rushed to comment, calling the writer—Neil Neches, of the New York City Transit Authority’s service information department—“erudite” and “eloquent.” This use of the semicolon, opined Harvard’s Louis Menand, was “impeccable.”


In “The Secret History of the Semicolon,” Thomas Westland chronicles the rise and fall of this punctuation mark:



This divisive piece of punctuation has been around in something like its current form for about 500 years. Its use grew rapidly over the seventeenth century, before peaking around the turn of the 19th century, from which time it has suffered a sad, controversy-flecked decline in popularity.

Over the years, it has been the subject of violent disagreement. And the word “violent” is no mere rhetorical flourish: this thing has human blood on its hands. Well-known and oft-cited examples include a duel in 1837 between two French professors over a colon/semicolon disagreement, and the execution of the New Jersey murderer Salvatorre Merra in 1927 despite his counsel’s claim that a semicolon in the jury’s verdict should have spared his life. . .

So which is it? Useful, elegant way to syntactical clarity, or the tattoo of a sententious show-off? The problem is that the semicolon is the substitute teacher of punctuation: although it can serve in almost every role when the usual candidates aren’t available, it isn’t really purpose-designed for anything. Although the defenders of the semicolon argue passionately for its ability to convey nuance, it can, oftentimes, be replaced with a full stop, a comma, a dash or a full-blown colon without changing much of anything.


But not so, say those involved with the Semicolon Tattoo Project, a movement “dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.” On the organization’s website, they go on to draw an analogy, saying “A semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
Project Semicolon 2.jpg

Commenting on an Upworthy article, writer Parker Molloy sums up what the little symbol means to her:


I recently decided to get a semicolon tattoo. Not because it's trendy (though, it certainly seems to be at the moment), but because it's a reminder of the things I've overcome in my life. I've dealt with anxiety, depression, and gender dysphoria for the better part of my life, and at times, that led me down a path that included self-harm and suicide attempts.

But here I am, years later, finally fitting the pieces of my life together in a way I never thought they could before. The semicolon (and the message that goes along with it) is a reminder that I've faced dark times, but I'm still here.


I can imagine the Semicolon Tattoo Project and its website making for strong classroom discussion, especially if paired with a good reading about the relationship between writing and mental health. It would certainly provide a new approach to punctuation and its potential relationship to our emotional and our writerly lives. So hats off to the Semicolon Tattoo Project—and to the much maligned punctuation mark.


In drafting the assignment sequence for the fall semester basic writing course, Introduction to Academic Writing, I keep in mind one of Shaughnessy’s key questions from her essay, “Some Needed Research on Writing”: “What goes on and ought to go on in the composition classroom?” (Also see Teaching Developmental Writing 4e.) My response to that question always returns to the needs of the students and the primary goal of the course: to grow and develop as academic writers. 


With this goal in mind, the assignment sequence focuses on introducing students to two primary concerns in writing for academic growth and development: coping with cognitive dissonance and learning resilience.  Focusing on these concerns offers students an opportunity to move outside their comfort zones while practicing the processes and creating the products of academic writing.


This draft of the assignment sequence includes the three major writing projects required for Introduction to Academic Writing, and all of these writing projects ask students to concentrate on close reading to develop writing. The assignment sequence, with links to the major readings, is listed below. In a future post, I will address more incremental process work for invention, drafting, and revision.


Writing Project 1: Forming and Transforming Stereotypes

For Writing Project 1, you are invited to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story.” Then you are asked to write an essay that considers the following questions, based on Adichie’s talk: How and why are stereotypes formed and transformed? Does Adichie’s theory of single or multiple stories hold implications for college students? Are you persuaded by her theory? Why or why not? 



Writing Project 2: Education as Problem/Solution

In Writing Project 1, you considered stories and stereotypes. Build on this knowledge and learn new theories for Writing Project 2 as you read and write about problems and solutions associated with education. In doing so, you will take part in a conversation that has engaged and concerned our country for generations. To being the discussion read “Our Universities, the Outrageous Reality” by Andrew DelBanco. Then, based on the article, consider an issue that poses a potential problem in education for your generation. Why would your generation consider this issue a potential problem in education? What practices, experiences, or solutions would you suggest to ameliorate this issue so that future students do not encounter the same potential problem? Why would this solution work to address the problem?


Writing Project 3: Define and Foster Resilience

This semester we have considered forming and transforming stereotypes, and solutions to potential problems in education. Writing Project 3 invites you to create a policy or program designed to build resilience for first-year year students nearing the end of their first semester in college. First, read the suggestions offered in the two articles from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “The Science of Resilience” and “Public Policy and Resilience.” Then, based on the articles, write an essay that offers your own definition of resilience and creates a program or policy to foster resilience for first-year college students nearing the end of their first semester in college.

time-cover.jpgAs I grade multimodal projects, I’m always frustrated when I find errors that demonstrate that a concept didn’t stick with students. I ultimately spend about half my grading time wondering if the errors I find are my fault. Even though everything is explained repeatedly in assignments, course blog posts, and in the classroom, I fail to communicate some ideas to every student.


As an example, consider the multimodal course that I teach, Writing and Digital Media. Most of the students in course are English majors or minors. They enjoy writing and are usually fairly good at it, as the screenshot on the right from one student's final project shows. When I begin talking about multimodal composing however, they can struggle to follow the concepts, even though they are well explained in the textbook that we use, Writer/Designer, and we go over them repeatedly in class.


As I am planning the course for the fall term, I am thinking of directly addressing these ten issues that I hear students ask questions about most often:


  1. Multimodal does not mean digital technology. Multimodal texts engage multiple modes of communication. You don’t need digital technology to do that. An illuminated medieval manuscript is just as much a multimodal text as a YouTube video is.
  2. It doesn’t mean multimedia either. A multimodal text may use multimedia (multiple media, like photos, animation, words, sounds), but it doesn’t have to.
  3. Everything in the composition classroom is multimodal composing. It’s impossible to write a text that engages only one mode. Take a traditional essay, printed out and stapled in the upper left corner. That text includes the linguistic, spatial, and visual modes of communication at a minimum.
  4. People have been learning about multimodal composition for centuries. Since everything in the writing classroom is multimodal composing, it’s not surprising that teachers have always taught about more than one mode of communication. When you learn how to use layout and design to make the words stand out on a page, for example, you’re learning multimodal composing techniques.
  5. What’s important isn’t how, but when and why. How to use multiple modes of communication when you compose is the easy part. What’s important is learning when to engage the different modes of communication and why they bring meaning to the text.
  6. Using every mode doesn’t necessarily make a text better. Use all five modes if they help you communicate your message, but don’t add modes just because you can. Make sure that they add to the meaning of the text.
  7. Communicating with the visual mode isn’t limited to using photos. Sure photos can be part of it, but you’re also using the visual mode when you add bold text or change the size and color of a font.
  8. The gestural mode includes both body language and movement. The word gestural does make you think of gesture, but gestural mode isn’t limited to things that people can do, like smile or wave their arms about. Any kind of movement that communicates with a reader uses the gestural mode.
  9. It’s easy to compose a multimodal text. It’s actually impossible not to create a multimodal text. When we add words to a word processing document, for example, we may not think about the multimodal communication we are using. We add visual elements when we choose specific fonts, when we add emphasis by changing a font to bold or increasing its size, and when we indent the words to signal the start of a paragraph or a blocked quotation.
  10. It can be challenging, however, to compose a rhetorically effective multimodal text. It is easy to compose a text that uses multiple modes of communication, but it takes work to make sure that the different modes contribute the intended meaning to the text. As you compose multimodal texts, think constantly about your intentions and make sure that the different elements that you add to the text help you say what you intend to.


I am thinking of sharing the list itself, creating an accompanying infographic, or maybe making some memes and posters. If I can convince students of those ten concepts during the first weeks of class, I think they will have an easier time as they work on their projects. I hope so anyway.


What are the ten things that you most wish students knew about the topics you teach? How do you communicate those issues to the class? Share a strategy with me by commenting below or connect with me on Facebook and share your experience.

Bohannon_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon.


I am teaching a five-week late summer composition class right now, which as my readers already know, is a break-neck race to the finish.  For classes like this one, I am on a continual search for innovative (i.e. quick and dirty) ways to engender students’ metacognition and rhetorical growth. In today’s post, I will describe how I take the concept of a flipped classroom and model it to fit a low-stakes, high cognition learning activity in creating deep understandings of classical rhetorical concepts.


My five-week English 1102 class is populated by a diverse group of students, as summer courses usually are. I share my course with first-year early adopters, transient enrollees from other universities, and a few non-traditional students who are returning to school after varying degrees of hiatus. We meet face-to-face twice a week, with online homework another two days per week.  Together, we had to figure a way to maximize critical reading and writing opportunities, while utilizing the hybrid course model of f2f and online.


Flipped classroom model, using digital discussion forums and new media visual rhetorics to encourage students’ metacognition of logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos.


Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Create rhetorical digital responses to peers
  • Demonstrate content understanding through community-driven, flipped content model
  • Apply understandings of kairos, ethos, pathos, and logos


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. In addition to using Lunsford’s The Everyday Writer this semester, I am using Liz Losh and Jonathan Alexander’s Understanding Rhetoric.

Lunsford Handbooks.PNG


Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
Creating an academic dialogic requires some front-loaded preparation and design by instructors. For example, if the class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays face-to-face, we need to frontload content into discussion forums prior to the first weekly meeting to create the chance for independent content meaning-making and a post-forum to reflect on the week’s learning. For their part in the flipped model, students should be briefed at the beginning of the semester, and reminded frequently, of how to meet expectations of reading and posting. I have listed resources at the end of this post to help clarify the model for students.


In Class and Out

Understanding Rhetoric_Ch 2 Splash Page.PNGChapter Two in Understanding Rhetoric asks students to strategically read and explore the foundational classical terms, logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos. I want students to be able to also synthesize these concepts and apply meaning to personal and professional experiences to encourage a deeper knowledge.  Here’s what we do:

  1. I post the keywords and the reading assignment from the chapter in the week’s first discussion forum.
  2. Students define the keywords and use examples from their life experiences to demonstrate deep understandings.  Students also post visuals (such as ads) that demonstrate good or poor use of the four keywords.
  3. Students respond to each other in the forum, bouncing meanings and guiding peers, who may need extra community support. We use a course model of 300/100X2Q, which means that a student’s initial response in a forum should be around 300 words, and also that students should respond to at least TWO coursemates in 100 words or more, asking a question each time.  I have found that this model keeps the online conversations moving.
  4. In the next F2F class, students take turns leading our community talk of the keywords, using their textual posts, the visuals they posted, and the keywords themselves in their discussions.


Reflections on the Activity – Students

Here are some excerpts from students regarding their experiences with flipping:


“The flipped class exercise we did with the ads was very interesting. I enjoyed hearing people explain why they chose the images they did and how they interpreted different forms of rhetorical technique, because I saw different examples than those people pointed out. It was more interactive than just reading a post online and replying to it.” –

Roberta Bansah, Biology Major


“Well at first it was a shocker. Coming into this class I was thinking: English was one of my worst subjects, writing a lot of essays, which I was dreading… But the flipped class made me change how I actually saw English and how it could be different. I actually want to participate in class. This approach changed my attitude towards writing. I can see myself doing assignments in other classes.” – Eriol Saavedra, Engineering Major

My Reflection

Flipping a class and flipping authority to create metacognition opportunities “count” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because they encourage students to use digital tools to become active stakeholders in their own learning and active participants in community-driven, new media conversations.


For more resources on flipping your classroom, check out Michele Houston and Lin Lin’s 2012 article, this Edutopia video, and an Educause White Paper.  


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 and



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

Andrea A. Lunsford

Emotions R Us

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Jul 16, 2015

Aristotle, the ancient Greek teacher, philosopher, and mapper of human knowledge, handed down to us many remarkable insights about how people think, remember, and communicate. But in one respect (at least) he was not quite on the mark. Defining humans as “rational” animals and positing logos or appeals to logic as most important to rhetorical persuasion, Aristotle relegated emotional appeals to the sidelines, wishing for a state in which people did not need such appeals to elicit agreement.


Today we know that emotions are central to how people make decisions and think about/interact with the world. From the work of cognitive scientists Luiz Pessoa, Antonio Demasio, and Steven Pinker to affective scientists like Giovanna Colombetti or Constance Pert, we are learning how deeply intertwined cognition and emotion are in the human brain and how emotions are distributed throughout the body.


Now Pixar director Pete Docter brings us Inside Out, a stunning animated film that explores some of these scientific findings. Docter apparently consulted scientists widely in developing the film, which is based on his observations and memories of his daughter’s emotional states when she was 11 years old. Two of these scientists—Dacher Keltner from Berkeley and Paul Ekman from UC San Francisco—recently wrote about their experiences with the film and its take on the five emotions (anger, joy, sadness, fear, and disgust) that vie for control of Riley, the main character:


First, emotions organize—rather than disrupt—rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.


But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation. For example, studies find that when we are angry we are acutely attuned to what is unfair, which helps animate actions that remedy injustice.


They go on to say that emotions organize rather than disrupt the social lives of people as well, illustrating how the five animated emotions in Inside Out interact and direct Riley’s thinking and her relations with others. In another article, Professor Keltner says in terms of accuracy the film earns “a nine out of ten.”


Riley's emotions in Pixar's Inside Out (Source: Pixar/Disney-Pixar, via Associated Press)


In commenting on the chaotic emotions Riley grapples with, scientists also have pointed out that the brains of people her age are still actively developing; indeed, parts of the brain aren’t fully connected until the mid to late 20s, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is the home of deliberation, planning, and decision making.


At this point, I can’t help but think of writing and its role in cognitive and emotional development. Because writing enables us to articulate, synthesize, and reflect on our own thoughts, it is often connected to mental and emotional health. Writing, it turns out, is literally good for you. What if Riley took up extensive journal keeping, getting all those voices in her head onto the page? Might she find ways for her emotions to “speak” to and through her differently?

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.



In an earlier post, I talked about the ways teachers are radically revising their writing classrooms through multimodal lenses. I was interested to see how other teachers took on this challenge and have come to see traditional assignments in new ways. In another post, I wrote about the concept of Lifehacking. As I explain in that post, lifehacking is a phrase that “describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently, effectively” or in a way that addresses everyday problems or issues in an “inspired or ingenious manner.”  Like the concept of radical revision, teachers have had to find hacks that help students re-see their ideas through the lenses of multimodal composition and digital culture. Although some teachers are hesitant to make these shifts because they feel hard pressed to let go of the tried and true, I have talked to many teachers who have revised their writing classrooms through teaching hacks in which they radically revised their assignments through simple digital and visual extensions and multimodal projects.



I ventured out to gather “comp-on-the-street” perspectives and talk to my awesome colleagues about their best teaching hacks for enriching their curriculum through multimodal assignments and digital literacies. Although some of these assignments involve multiple steps and processes, for this project I was looking for quick, radical revisions that can help teachers shift their perspectives and easily integrate digital forms and thinking into their classrooms. I asked each participant to submit a short paragraph or two – written for the lifehack format that calls for short, efficient methods. I didn’t have to go far to find creative teachers hacking their traditional classrooms. I asked each participant to submit a hack in which they referenced the original assignment and the way that they “hacked” it to become a multimodal assignment. All of these assignments productively blend the creative and the critical through simple shifts that demonstrate radical revision in its truest sense. Here is what I turned up so far . . .


5 Teaching Hacks for Multimodal Composition


Nancy’s Hack – Visualizing Writing Processes: Many of us ask students to look at their writing processes and write up reflective memos in which they detail the components of these processes.Nancy Reicherthacked this assignment through asking her students to visualize and visually represent their writing processes in a slideshow. After brainstorming, students had to combine text and image and create at least 5 slides that represented their processes of writing. They could create their own images, use clip art, video or use other internet resources. Each slide should represent just one part of their process that makes up the whole in the presentation. Students had to visually represent and correctly cite the images incorporated into their presentations – learning appropriate conventions in digital contexts -- and submit a letter of reflection in which they assessed how well their writing processes worked for them. Check out a student sample and Nancy’s website for more information.


Pete’s Hack – Collaborative Writing: 100 Word Project: Pete Rorabaughwanted his students to understand collaborative writing differently. He crafted an experience that harnessed Google Docs to cultivate online, real-time, collaborative composing behaviors. Outside of class, students composed, on their own, a writing response of exactly 100 words to a focused question on a class reading. When students met again as a group, they all copied and pasted their responses into a Google Doc that everyone could edit. Before students read through the document together, they talked about different kinds of jobs that happen in a writer’s brain -- from making up words to researching to proofreading to combining similar ideas to choosing a rhetorical strategy. Students practiced doing one of those functions/roles (combiner, quote finder, introducer/titler, paragraph shuffler, new idea generator) while watching the others happen. Students had to generate and agree upon a collaboratively revised draft that included their perspectives and roles. For detailed instructions to this assignment, check out Pete’s blog post on this activity.



Molly’s Hack: Digital Scripts: Splitting Voices/Splitting Perspectives: Molly Brodak hacked a straightforward movie analysis of an argument from traditional essay to a digital script for a discussion between characters. She reimagined this assignment to encourage students to incorporate multiple perspectives in their traditional essays and to broaden their approach beyond analyzing the movie as an argument. Students created personae and gave voice to multiple perspectives and approaches to their analysis of the movie’s claims, and they met course objectives by incorporating a wide range of research from both primary and secondary sources. These digital scripts allowed for multimodal elements and embedded hyperlinks (images, websites and videos) to contextualize the characters and create multiple dimensions for the reader. Student performers could also read the script aloud, adding another layer to the experience of approaching analysis with multiple voices rather than just one. Here is a sample of one of Molly’s students’ digital scriptsCheck out Molly’s website for more.


Charles’ Hack – Literary Interpretation Game App: Charles Thorne hacked a literary research based essay with documentation and sources. He was looking to design an assignment to support and facilitate a shift to learner-centered teaching and a learner-centered classroom. He gave students the option to radically revise their research papers through multimedia presentations, graphic essays or a program or game design based on their majors. Game design students created apps that drew upon elements and their understanding of the literary text. The program or game was accompanied by a two-page reflective rationale that explained their rhetorical choices. Check out the game screen shot and rationale statement.


Jeff’s Hack – Creative Interactive Fiction (or Choose Your Own Adventure Stories): In a recent writing course,  Jeff Greene tasked his students with developing a branching narrative using Inklewriter, a free, web-based application produced by Inkle Studios (the developers of games such as 80 Days and Sorcery). Inklewriter is an incredible tool that assists in producing web-based, interactive stories that are reminiscent of Bantam Publishing’s Choose Your Own Adventure series from the 80s and 90s. Although he utilized Inklewriter strictly for producing interactive fiction and game books, there are many applications for the platform in other classes. For example, literature sections could use it to retell short stories with alterative choices and endings, and composition sections could use it for multimodal, interactive writing projects. Check out this student sample, Intertwined.


Keep on Hacking

As writing teachers, we are all still deep in the process of understanding what it means for students to compose in these new contexts and the ways we can meaningfully integrate digital literacies into our curriculum. These hacks show us that our transitions can start with simple steps and that we have many tools now that open up possibilities that we could barely imagine even several years ago. Composing is much more dynamic, alive, participatory and present in our students’ lives than ever before. Student composers regularly blend critical and creative expression through multimodal composition. Although we will continue modify our assignments and approaches, we need to make sure that we are not so seduced by the tools that we forget what we deem important -- to teach writing as acts of composition that encourage student learning. Now, more than ever, our students can benefit from rhetorical approaches to communication and learn to compose for multiple contexts, purposes, and audiences. As you continue to radically revise your own classroom, keep your eye on your course objectives as you open up possibilities through multimodal composition and  . . .keep on hacking.


I would like to thank my colleagues for their generous contributions.


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.


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

Gardner_Jun30_207 (2).jpgCan Clippy replace Three Mile Island? Ethics analysis in professional writing classes usually focuses on well-known case studies, like the Three Mile Island meltdown, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the Exxon Valdez grounding, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. These are splashy examples that seem to have obvious answers. While they offer some room for conversation about the communication involved in the cases, they are well-worn at this point, having been discussed for years.


In my search for ethics case studies for professional writing, I have been looking for new scenarios that offer the opportunity to talk about not just the communication choices, but the underlying struggle between what’s best for business and the most ethical choice. And that brings me to Clippy (officially Clippit), the annoying animated paper clip that was a part Microsoft’s software from 1996 to 2007.


Recent stories (listed below), based on a new documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, reveal that focus groups reacted negatively to Clippy during the design process. Women, in particular, felt Clippy was overly masculine and made them uncomfortable. This case study activity asks students to consider whether ignoring those focus group responses was ethical. The activity would take place after students have explored the codes of ethics for their fields and for technical communication in general.


Related Screenshot for Background Information

The average college student is probably too young to have used Clippy, so share a screenshot like the one below and talk about how Clippy worked:


Share the various animations for Clippy with the Clippy.JS software, which adds Clippy to a website.


Relevant Articles


If desired, you might add Microsoft’s ‘Clippy’ a security nightmare? from ZDNet to discuss the software design and ethics.


Discussion Questions

  1. How are the problems with Clippy related to the way that the animated virtual assistant worked (the functionality of the feature)?
  2. How do the problems relate to the script (the questions and answers that appeared on screen) for the feature?
  3. How do the problems relate to the images used for the feature?
  4. How are the codes of ethics you have explored relevant to this situation?
  5. How would you the feedback from women about the feature relate to codes of ethics?
  6. How would you categorize the decisions related to Clippy as bad business decisions, unethical decisions, or both?
  7. Are there aspects of the decision that might fall into some other categories?
  8. When would it be appropriate to ignore focus group feedback and why?
  9. How does Clippy compare to other animated assistants, like Siri or Cortana?
  10. What ethical considerations would you take away from the Clippy situation if you were working on a design, script, or images for a tool like Siri or Cortana?

Assessment and Conclusion

In assessing student’s discussion of this case study then, I want to look for places where students point to their codes of ethics and explain how the codes relate to their analysis of the situation. Further, I want to hear them make clear explanations of which aspects of the case are clearly ethical matters, which are not, and which are ambiguous.


This activity is another in the series that grew from conversations during the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education. As this case study relates to the Virginia Tech Pathways curriculum, the focus on balancing what’s best for business with the most ethical choice asks students to “identify ethical issues in a complex context” (Indicator of Learning 2 for the Ethical Reasoning Integrative Learning Outcome).


I hope to identify several more ethical scenarios and case studies that I can use with students. If you have a suggestion or have a case that has worked for you, please share it with me. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: remember clippy by Daniel Novta, on Flickr]

The other week I wrote about the murders in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and about the urgent need for writing teachers everywhere to engage students in both the active pursuit of understanding, peace, and justice—of making something good happen in the world through their own writing and speaking—and in rhetorical analysis of the context and discourses surrounding such events.


Then came the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and President Barack Obama’s eulogy, at the conclusion of which he sang “Amazing Grace.”




If you have not watched the funeral and the eulogy, I urge you to do so now. I expect that teachers and students will be watching this eulogy for a long time to come: it is arguably one of Obama’s most powerful orations ever.


And then came many commentaries on and responses to the President’s eulogy, including that of writer, journalist, and correspondent for The Atlantic James Fallows, with an analysis entitled “Obama’s Grace” (June 27, 2015).


Fallows’s analysis, along with President Obama’s eulogy, makes the beginnings of a terrific lesson in rhetorical power and rhetorical performance. As Fallows says, students need to watch and hear Obama’s oration rather than read it: here, the spoken word is crucial, allowing us to follow the oral rhythms, the pacing, the pauses, the crescendos, the depths and pinnacles of tone the President achieves. As they did in ancient Greece, the performative aspects of the eulogy—which are very strong and very instructive—link perfectly with the President’s message; in fact, they deliver that message as much as the words themselves, and perhaps even more.


As Fallows points out, Obama chooses grace as the unifying motif and theme of the eulogy, a “stroke of genius” on his part. In his analysis, Fallows traces the use of that word and allusions to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” showing how Obama carefully frames his remarks, even on policy, in light of that concept (rather than “justice” or “equity”). “We don’t earn grace,” said the President; “We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway.”  Thus Obama gestures toward the act of forgiveness the survivors offered, rather than rate or hatred. “God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.” (Indeed, Obama uses what comes after those words in the hymn—“but now I [or we] see”—as a drum beat throughout the eulogy.


Fallows also attends to the cadences of the President’s speech and especially to the way he switches registers, or code-switches between African American and white ways of speaking. As Fallows puts it, “Sometimes he spoke almost as if he were an A.M.E. preacher, . . . [and sometimes as a] neutrally professional-class-white-American,” shifts that “illustrated his own bridging potential” for bringing people together.


What I’d like to do is work with students to listen and respond to Obama’s eulogy; then to read and respond to Fallows’s essay; and then to go back to the speech, listen to it again, and carry out their own rhetorical analysis. They can begin by looking closely at the elements Fallows discusses: the theme of grace, the shifts in register, and the use of religion, which Fallows says may open even those who hate him the most to the “grace of such a presentation.” But as teachers of writing and rhetoric know, there is so much more to be noted in this speech: the use of anaphora and other figures of speech; the bringing together of emotional, logical, and ethical appeals in connecting not only to the congregation in the church but to people around the world; the power of orality/aurality throughout, and especially in the conclusion, as he pauses long—and then begins to sing, slowly, “Amazing Grace.”


So, out of the horror and tragedy inflicted on the Emanuel AME Church, the Black community of Charleston, and throughout the country, this eulogy offers students of writing and speaking an opportunity to see how an attempt to change the national discourse actually works, and to examine their own discourses as well. That is one of the ultimate gifts of rhetoric: the ability not only to analyze the words and acts of others but to turn that same analytical power on ourselves and use what we learn to become better writers, better speakers, better people.

How many times have you said or written “It’s on the syllabus”? I’m tempted to dismiss those exchanges with a frustrated laugh. Those darned kids, right? But I’m a writer, so I can’t just ignore that implicit feedback from my readers. When students ask these questions, they are either letting me know that


  1. they didn’t read the syllabus.
  2. they can’t find information on the syllabus.


Those are both rhetorical problems. I’m not communicating with my audience. I never hear them say it, but I am pretty sure that when they see the wall of text that is my course website, they think, “tl;dr.” That’s “too long; didn’t read,” for those of you not up on textspeak.


In response, I am rethinking the site and adding more visual cues. I already had lots of headings, bulleted lists, and the like. That’s not enough. Students are still stumbling around, unable to find the information. I decided to try more of an infographic-style, with charts, framed pull-outs, and related images.


Here’s a before-and-after version of the page I have put the most time into so far. This is the design for the Assignments overview page from Spring semester:


This is the new design for the Assignments overview page for my Summer II section:

Kind of a big difference, huh? I am still struggling a bit with the design and layout. I am working with HTML and CSS to make the layout, so what might be a simple layout arrangement in Word or InDesign is a bit more challenging to pull off in a WordPress post. Beyond that, there’s the time requirement. I have spent at least a day reworking that page, tweaking things and trying different options. I think it’s worth it, but I am not sure I will have time to revise the entire site before classes start on July 7. I’m working on it though, and I’ll keep you posted on student response.


I would love to hear some feedback from you as well. Do you have suggestions for improving the site? What strategies do you try for making you syllabus and course information more reader-friendly? Share some ideas by leaving me a comment or dropping by my page on Facebook or Google+.

Now that my grandnieces Audrey (11) and Lila (7) are out of school for the summer, they are engaged in all manner of activities: Camp (the sleepover kind!), hip hop and tap, volleyball, and, of course, reading. Their school has a voluntary summer reading program, and for the last few years, Audrey has been one of the top readers, gaining mysterious points for every book read. This year, Lila will be joining her, and she’s reading up a storm too. As near as I can tell, their public school offers suggestions, but pretty much lets them read whatever they want. They both love the Dork Diaries books, and Audrey is deeply into The Babysitter volumes while Lila any books about animals.

Such programs are going on all over the country in elementary schools. But there are also dozens (if not hundreds) of beyond-school programs to get kids reading. It seems like everyone—from public libraries, to Barnes & Noble and Half Price Books, to Chuck E. Cheese, Pizza Hut, and Pottery Barn—is offering some kind of activity (online or in-person) for kids who want to read—or who can be cajoled to read. My little girlies are at camp right now but have promised to send me their summer reading lists when they get home. In the meantime, I’m wondering how much writing they are going to be doing along with their reading—and I wonder too if writing is involved in the programs listed above. I hope a lot. I have found some programs that focus on writing as well as reading, such as Scholastic, on whose site teachers offer writing activities, including the use of Kidblog, daily writing prompts, and writing journals. The Summer Reading at New York Public Libraries offers “Reading and Writing Fun,” where kids are invited to become storytellers, reporters, and more; and Start with a Book balances the focus on reading with writing activities like Create a Poetree, Review It, Explain It, and Write to Your Favorite Author.

Perhaps schools across the country are inviting and encouraging young students to write as well as to read over the summer. If so, I’m very glad, since we all know that writing muscles atrophy just like any others if they’re not used. If Audrey and Lila don’t seem to be writing a lot, I plan to cook up some fun writing activities and games for them. So if you have any to recommend, or any information about outstanding summer reading AND writing programs, please let me know.