Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.
Many teachers are turning to academic blogs in their classrooms to provide productive online writing spaces and places to archive student work. Writing teachers have defined and redefined what we mean by academic discourse. Digital formats give us new opportunities to revisit these definitions. Academic blogs are a great way for students to share ideas with others but they also provide a great place for critical reflection and the incorporation of multimodal components. The availability and ease of student commentary creates opportunities for dialogic discussion and interaction with a live audience of interested peers.
As I have become more comfortable with this form, I have found myself struggling to define these spaces within my classes. I use student blogs for different purposes across my classes. For years, I assigned regular exploratory essays (in most of my classes) and reflective research journals that encourage writers to try out their ideas and engage with outside sources. The blog format provides a new space for this kind of academic essay and, once again, has writers moving to explore new rhetorical situations that combine criteria for exploratory and research writing with digital writing for participatory, online contexts.
- To define academic writing for digital contexts
- To help students organize and draft longer research projects
- To create dialogic spaces for participatory learning.
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 St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 10, Preparing for a Research Project; Ch. 18, Communicating in Other Media
- The Everyday Writer or Writer’s Help 2.0 for Lunsford: Ch. 3: Multimodal Assignments; Ch. 15: Preparing for a Research Project
- Writing in Action: Ch. 6, Multimodal Assignments; Ch. 12, Preparing a Research Project
- EasyWriter: Ch. 4, Multimodal Writing; Ch. 38, Evaluating Research and Taking Notes
Exploratory Blog Posts
The term blessay, coined by Dan Cohen, describes a form that is longer than a blog post and shorter than an essay. It speaks to some of the conventions of academic discourse such as inclusion of other sources, critical reflection, and establishing authority through substantiation. Although this type of scholarly essay is generally written through the lens of curiosity and discovery for the writer, it is also shaped for both an academic and general audience. It blends academic and public writing and often includes images, links, graphics, and other multimodal components. Students share and comment on one another’s post inviting their ideas into dialectic conversation with others.
It is important for teachers to clearly define criteria for this kind of writing that takes the idea of a traditional paper essay and places it in this new rhetorical context. I have incorporated Cohen’s criteria for the blessay with my own work with exploratory writing to establish and define clear criteria for students so they understand the expectations of writing in digital contexts. I have included Exploratory Writing for Multimodal Blog Posts in which I explain the purposes, features and guidelines for this kind of academic writing in my classes.
Becca Tuck’s blog posts from January 2015 show several strong examples of this kind exploratory blog post. She does a good job of referring to the original reading from our textbook and successfully integrates it with outside sources through embedded links and multimodal components. Her writing is engaging and invites conversation. They demonstrate curiosity, understanding and the testing of intellectual ideas along with her own experiential connections to her subjects. They are interesting to read and they reflect a visual, rhetorical awareness.
Many of us work with students on long-term projects that involve research, reflection and drafting towards larger academic projects such as theses, dissertations, or extended capstone projects. For example, I worked with Liz Melendez, an Honors student completing her interdisciplinary thesis, Math as Text: Rhetoric As Reason, created a research blog for invention, inquiry and drafting. Although Liz’s research blog is password protected you can view the opening video (a multimodal treatment of her proposal and abstract; see below), her digital identity and her categories and sections.
This digital format creates a dynamic space in which the project is broken down into categories on the blog that include a collection of stand-alone essays (blessays) on particular ideas, archives for collected work, sources, and multimodal artifacts. I respond to the students’ developing ideas in this format both in writing and in face to face discussions. Eventually, we will go back to these essays and revise and expand them into the more traditional thesis format or other academic projects such as this Undergraduate Symposium handout she created for a symposium for student scholars on our campus or other academic conferences and scholarly presentations. She is simultaneously creating multiple documents and artifacts for different rhetorical contexts and purposes. As one of our digital writing students, she will also revise the blog itself and to act as a multimodal representation of the thesis that will accompany the more traditional library bound copy.
The purpose of this particular academic blog is for students to create a reflective research and curation space for the project. I ask them to shape a digital identity so the page establishes itself textually and visually and speaks to the overall purposes of their research project. It serves as an academic research blog in which students write and reflect upon their ideas, connections, sources, and a place to post their work. This format also provides an informal space for students to invent and discuss (with their professor or classmates) emerging issues and developing ideas that they eventually revise (or parts of it) into their final projects. Many students resist the feeling of the looming, large, high-stakes academic projects. This approach takes some of the pressure off and gives them an intellectual sandbox in which they can experiment, risk, and explore their ideas before they revise them for the more formal contexts.
I ask students to include at least the following categories (add more based on individual project guidelines):
- Research Proposal – Here students post their proposal for their projects. This portion can include research questions, timeline, possible sources and approaches. Students eventually revise this portion into their abstracts.
- Annotated Bibliography – Students can create lists of references or annotated bibliographies in which they review sources and connect them to the larger purposes of their projects.
- Exploratory Research Journal/Log/Entries – This is the place where students include a series of exploratory writings in which they synthesize sources material, analyze their results, and hypothesize and speculate on their ideas and conclusions. These writings are eventually revised into chapters for their final projects. These entries should include embedded links that connect to their sources.
- Multimodal Components – This area is a storehouse for related multimodal components of their projects. Students can remix versions of their research into contextualized projects that speak to their research in different ways (videos, infographics, illustrations, charts and graphs).
Reflections on the Activities
Once I shifted to academic blogs for exploratory writing and research projects, I found that students took on a strong sense of ownership and a strong desire to keep their audience engaged. They enjoyed reading each other’s posts and having their posts seen by others. Like everything I do with multimodal composition, I had to return to what I believe as a teacher and see it through these new lenses. One of the best parts of these kinds of projects is that they allow students to share and analyze different artifacts that represent ideas in the class I have enjoyed seeing strong examples of the class concepts substantiated through digital examples and cultural connections. I have added many of their thoughtful examples to my own storehouse of digital resources for future students. The response components allow for engaged conversations in which students are placed in real rhetorical contexts and bear the responsibility of speaking to and engaging their audiences in intellectual ways. This kind of participatory communication is redefining academic discourse and the ways we interact with and present ideas.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website Acts of Composition.
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