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I wanted to spend a couple of posts talking about the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly given the enormous human costs involved.  And I thought I would start with Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose drowning placed a disturbingly young face on this crisis. Photographs of Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach are stark and quite disturbing—perhaps too much so for a first year writing classroom.  I’d like to suggest, then, that one way to teach about Kurdi and the Syrian refugee crisis is to focus on the ways in which the world has reacted to the tragedy of his death.


Art is one powerful way to explore the impact of Kurdi’s death. You might start by having students use a search engine to locate images using the terms “Aylan Kurdi art.” Students can explore images that move them more closely through this approach while also getting a nice, quick overview of how people have represented this boy.  Be warned that even with a focused search some of the original images might appear in the results.

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Several essays in Emerging can frame this exercise.  You might also want to use the material on reading images and visual texts in the introduction.  Then, consider using


  • Arwa Aburawa’s “Veiled Threat: The Guerrilla Graffiti of Princess Hijab” explores the guerilla art of Princess Hijab and in particular the complex intersection of art and politics.  Though it’s never quite clear whether Princess Hijab’s art is politically radical or conservative, that the images can be read both ways enriches a discussion about the political circulation of visual images that could be then fruitfully brought to bear on the art around Aylan Kurdi.
  • Rachel Kadish’s “Who Is This Man, and Why Is He Screaming?” primarily focuses on the intellectual property rights of an image of Kadish’s cousin Noam Galai.  But that the image has circulated so widely—and again with such varied meaning—offers students additional tools to think about the ways in which the art around Aylan Kurdi circulates through social and electronic media and the ways in which those images are used for a variety of political purposes.
  • Steve Mumford’s “The Things They Carry” is one of Emerging’s visual texts, focused on war.  Mumford offers students a direct connection to the art around Kurdi and invites them to explore the ways in which art can contribute to peace.


These essays make a strong core focused on art and politics. If you’re looking for other readings that might work in such a sequence, consider Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice,” which focuses on the obligations each of us has in a hyperconnected world; Francis Fukuyama’s “Human Dignity,” whose central and titular concept provides an ethical framework for looking at Kurdi; or David Savage and Urvhasi Vaid’s “It Gets Better” and “Action Makes it Better,” which offer a model for moving from social media to social change.


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We sometimes display an encouraging if not particularly forceful approach to handbooks. We might require one, or recommend one, or recommend any of several, either at our individual course level or as a writing program policy. We tell students that “It’s there if you need it.” We might reinforce the “as you need it” model with our marginal comments on student papers, sometimes encouraging students to “Look it up in your handbook.” We then go about teaching our courses, with little structured use of the handbook either in classroom or out. Some students figure out it’s not really all that important, and what they need to know is on the Web anyway. Others buy it and wonder why, selling it back if they can at the end of the term and taking a loss.


I saw a very different approach when I visited the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign a few weeks ago and met with directors of the international writing program, a large program that delivers courses for an increasingly important population, international students, for whom English is a second language. Directors Jin Kim and Cassandra Rosado are faculty in the linguistics department. Linguistics divides teaching responsibilities with the English Department, which offers writing courses to native speakers. These program directors take the handbook seriously. As the author, I am thrilled they have chosen to use Writer’s Help, Version 1.0 and now, this fall, Version 2.0. But I am also impressed with their very methodical and intentional uses of a required handbook.


What’s different? They require students to buy the text, meaning, in this case, access to the online site, good for four years. They train their instructors in their pre-term workshops to use the chosen books effectively (and show them how easy it is to determine if students have purchased access). They’ve created an in-house Web site to support the use of Writer’s Help, with technical documentation and useful information about how to use the resource. They provide model assignments to their instructors and TAs, showing how to weave the handbook content into the syllabus and into specific assignments. They require several common assignments over the first few weeks that take students into the handbook, help them learn to search productively, and demonstrate the value of the resource.


Cassandra and Jin also take advantage of Bedford’s technical and instructional support staff to get the most out of the required text, customizing it for their specific program and their own students. They show instructors how the work of one semester and the creation of a syllabus and assignments can be carried over to the next term, and how they can use a source file for a course to build multiple sections. They have figured out ways as program administrators to create a standard syllabus, which can then be inherited by all the sections and customized at the section level by individual instructors. They seek analytics from Bedford, so they know what students are searching on, what is being emphasized in courses, and how to continue to create rich interaction among instructors, students, and the text. I used the terms methodical and intentional above. I think that captures their approach.


If we require students to pay for books and instructional resources, to my mind we have an obligation to show students the value of the resources. Toward that end, we should be methodical and intentional in our uses of course resources.


Bedford provides strong support for instructors who want to create the best value for students from Bedford products. You will find links throughout the Macmillan English Community to instructor resources.


My Bits coauthors and I always try to share best practices. Sure, we authors all love to sell books, but even more, we love to see our books used to good advantage. Check out these links if you want to keep thinking about “using the book.”


From me:

From Nancy Sommers:

From Andrea Lunsford:

Disability_symbols.svgLast month, I wrote about the importance of Bringing Up Accessibility as we plan and teach our courses. One of the things that I knew I needed to improve in my own course materials was the way that I talked about providing help for those who need it. After reading Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements” on the Kairos PraxisWiki I knew I had to do a better job.


The Original Accessibility Policy

Up until this term, I used this basic statement that covered my official obligations, telling students where to find support on campus:

Equal Access and Opportunity: If you need special accommodations in this course, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) in 310 Lavery Hall (above the Turner Place Dining Center) during the first week of the term to ensure that you have the resources you need. The procedures and forms you need are also available on the SSD website. I am happy to work with the SSD staff to make sure that you have the support you need. Documentation from the SSD office should be sent to me by the end of the first week of class.

On reflection, I’m quite ashamed of that passage. Not only is it fairly legalistic in tone, it even ends with passive voice. Even worse, it was buried in the policies section of the syllabus (example from Summer 2015). Without question, I can do better than that.


Placement of My New Accessibility Policy

Gardner_Sep29_212_infobox.jpgThe first change I made was to move a short statement to the top of the sidebar on my course websites. No longer would a student have to search the site to find out how to get extra support in the course.


I decided to say, “I will try to provide what you need,” rather than “I will.” Not knowing what a student might ask for, I thought that the addition of “try to” would avoid making a promise I couldn’t keep.


The result of this new placement is that students see the statement at the top of every page on the site. I hope that foregrounding the policy in this way makes it clear that I am serious about helping them if they need assistance. Further, if something comes up later in the term, and they need assistance, they can easily find the link to more information.


An Expanded Accessibility Policy

My original policy stuck to the basics, focusing on sending the student to obtain official documentation. It provided no details on the things that a student in the course would really need. Students want to know the concrete details on how things work in my classes, things that the Services for Students with Disabilities office can’t tell them.


My revised policy is organized as a series of frequently asked questions. Some are questions that have come up in the past, and others are things that I realized I needed to add after conversations with colleagues this summer at the West Virginia University 2015 Summer Seminar: Access/ibility in Digital Publishing. Here’s the list of questions I have included:




Course Resources


Classroom and Building Access


Future Improvements to the Policy

I know there is more that I can do to ensure my policy covers the typical questions students have about getting help in the classroom. As questions or situations come up in the class, I am adding them to a list I’ll use when I revise the policies for next term. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I had a student show up on crutches, thanks to a badly sprained ankle. I realized that I needed to add some details about emergencies that come up after that first week of class.


With some additional observation and research on making classes accessible, I’m sure I can make these policies even better next term. Can you help me? What does your accessibility policy say? How do you ensure students get the support they need? Please leave me a comment below and let me know.



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Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon (see end of post for bio).


As regular readers of Andrea’s Multimodal Mondays know, I often like to disrupt traditional notions of instructor-student communication and create new dialogic opportunities for providing feedback on students’ writing processes. I am calling my post this week a “reverse assignment,” because it is intended for instructors to complete in service to students and to provide a different experience for students as they “read” feedback on assignments. I also find a great deal of pleasure in turning multimodal writing lenses back on us as instructors!


Context for Assignment
Multimodal Feedback Loop is a reverse assignment, completed by the instructor in an online class to create dialogic growth and community in a class.  As part of a graduate digital rhetoric course, students submitted a blog assignment and received multimodal instructor feedback in the form of narrated screen capture videos. The students also had the opportunity to tag the instructor in the feedback forum and “talk back” about their writing. 


Reverse Assignment
Students submit any digital writing assignment; my students submitted research blogs. Instructors use a screen capture to record feedback based on assignment guidelines.


Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Assess student writing using multimodal elements
  • Synthesize content-meaning through dialogic writing and shared semantics


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.


After the Assignment Is Submitted: Instructor Action
After students submit their digital writing assignments, instructors access the assignments and pull them up on a computer screen.  Using screen capture software or applications, instructors record their feedback as real-time audio accompanying mouse movements on students’ on-screen blogs. You may already have a screen recorder installed on your computer; here are a few free ones: Cam Studio (open source); Jing; QuickTime; TinyTake. There are many apps for smart phones as well. 

After recording feedback, instructors can either save the multimodal feedback and send it to students as files or upload feedback videos to a private YouTube Channel, where students can securely access them using their YouTube usernames or email addresses. I embed my feedback videos in our course learning management system (LMS), which offers a loop of electronic communication based on the feedback.

An example feedback recording that reviews a student's blog.

Reflections on the Reverse Assignment – Students

I have found that students appreciate my multimodal feedback, even though some of my initial videos were quite elementary.  Some of the comments I received included praise for differentiated communication and gratitude for the attempt to participate as a colleague in multimodal writing.  I have not yet received any negative feedback. Below are some student reflections:


I enjoy that I can pause and replay the video as many times as I want and that I get to hear my instructor's voice and watch her thought process as she clicks through the blog. It helps me see where I might need to make things more clear visually.  I've started recording screencast videos when delivering feedback to my own students. This method proves especially helpful in courses where my students create media such as videos/animations. I can pause their videos in specific spots and deliver feedback on those scenes in a clear visual and aural manner.

-- John Mindiola, III


I thought the audio feedback was great. I really appreciated the time you took to provide it. It was also great because as an online student, it's great to see your instructor "in the flesh" sometimes.  I responded well because it was easy to see how you really felt about the assignment. Also, it's easier to take "face to face" criticism/feedback because I can see your tone, rather than reading it.

-- Brandy Swanson


I perceived your audio feedback as better than written feedback. This was the first time I received anything other than written feedback in graduate-level courses, and I've completed six of them so far toward my master's degree.

-- Kris Spaddacia


My Reflection
I tried this instructor reverse assignment because I wanted to experience creating multimodal writing along with students and because I wanted to revise dialogic communication with my students, especially in an online course. While I did spend more time recording and uploading screen captures and audio, providing a multimodal feedback loop also gave me the opportunity to experience digital composing just like my students. My practice also encouraged me to reflect on my own writing practices and actively participate in community-driven, digital conversations about writing. Try this reverse assignment and let me know what you think!


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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

I just found out that I missed the Fifth Annual Boring Conference, held on May 9, 2015 in Holborn, England. What a bummer!


The Boring Conference began in 2010 after the cancellation of The Interesting Conference. The one-day conference opens at 10:30, and “things start to get boring” very soon afterward; it’s all over by 5:00 and attendees (over 500 this year) are encouraged to get on with their lives. At this year’s meeting, a 7-year-old kid stole the show with his disquisition on elevators (“lifts” to him). But there were many others, like George Egg, who coached listeners on how to compose a meal using nothing but what can be found in motel/hotel rooms. Or there was the presentation on the joys of sleeping out on a British roundabout (merry-go-round). The Boring Conference website provides additional examples: People have talked about sneezing, toast, IBM tills, the sounds made by vending machines, the Shipping Forecast, barcodes, yellow lines, London shop fronts, the television programme Antiques Road Trip and the features of the Yamaha PSR-175 Portatune keyboard.” The Shipping Forecast sounds like a winner to me.





Since I’m a teacher of writing, my mind immediately goes to how we could make use of this concept in our classes. I have a colleague who assigns “elevator speeches” to her students, and sends them out to elevators in small groups to see if they can really deliver a compelling overview of their projects between floors. Why not a contest for “most boring elevator speech”? I can also imagine the “boring” concept applied to Pecha Kuchas, to two-minute speeches, to thesis statements – the sky’s the limit!


Of course many of my students would say that they have already listened to Boring Conference winners in many of their college classrooms and lecture halls. So what about a new category on Rate My Professor with an award to “most boring teacher ever?”


My guess is that some of such events would actually end up being interesting, even fun and engaging. So if I try this with my students, I would like to get them to define the line where something interesting swerves into boring, and vice versa. And what are the stylistic and even syntactic characteristics of truly boring prose/speech? Now . . . this is getting interesting!

Recent events have starkly highlighted the disturbing prevalence of rape culture on college campuses. I would hope that this might be an issue of particular importance to students.  Here are some ways you might teach this topic.




Offensive banners promoting rape culture get ODU fraternity suspended. Source:



Sabrina Rubin Erdely, “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire.”  The case of Kiki Kannibal offers a broad grounding to the ways in which rape culture operates, with a particular context on online identities and social media.  By following Kiki’s story, students can see the complex ways that various levels of violence effect young adults generally and women especially.


Mara Hvistendahl, “Missing: 163 Million Women.”  Hvistendahl’s essay looks at the serious global consequences resulting from different cultures’ preference for male children.  I would want to use it in this context to give students a global perspective on the way women are devalued and also to help them think about some of the real consequences that come from that.


Rebekah Nathan, “Community and Diversity.”  For sure this sequence would demand Nathan.  Her essay about her experience as a first year student at the college where she is in fact a professor reveals serious fractures between colleges’ ideals of community and diversity and the reality of student life.  Though Nathan focuses more on race than gender, I still think it would be vital in helping students further dissect the gap between projected ideals and lived realities.


Kenji Yoshino, “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights.” Yoshino offers two useful lines of analysis for looking at campus rape culture.  The first, covering, can help students think about the ways in which the identity and behavior of women is necessarily limited. The second, civil rights, might offer students strategies for changing rape culture while also underscoring some of the problems that come from trying to generate any social change.


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Susan Miller-Cochran

Why WID?

Posted by Susan Miller-Cochran Expert Sep 21, 2015

9780312566760.jpgNext month, the book I co-authored with Roy Stamper and Stacey Cochran, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, will be released. The three of us will be blogging in our new Bits blog “Teaching Writing in the Disciplines” about how to teach with a writing in the disciplines (WID) approach in foundational writing courses, which is the approach of the text. We hope this blog can be a space where we explore methods of teaching and practical classroom activities and approaches.


When I first arrived at North Carolina State University nine years ago, I joined a First-Year Writing program that was launching a relatively new curriculum that focused on writing in academic disciplines. I had never taught first-year writing as writing in the disciplines (WID), and I was skeptical: how could a teacher with a background in English teach writing in other disciplines? I was no expert in writing in biology or nursing or math or psychology or any other field other than rhetoric and composition. What in the world would I teach my students?


We talk about imposter syndrome a lot in academia. I experienced a pretty severe case of it at that moment. Not only did I feel unqualified to teach the first-year writing course, but I was supposed to start directing the program the following year.


I began thinking of all of the reasons why a WID approach seemed challenging:


  • Faculty comfort level: Wouldn’t many of the writing faculty feel uncomfortable about teaching writing in other disciplines, just like I did?
  • Challenges of transfer: How would students transfer knowledge into their other classes? Would they be transferring inaccurate knowledge about genres in other disciplines?
  • Stigma as a service course: Would teaching a WID approach make first-year writing even more of a service course with no real rhetorical, disciplinary content of its own?


What I didn’t realize at that moment was that the most effective ways of teaching a WID approach in a first-year writing course do not solely emphasize mastery of various disciplinary genres. Rather, they draw on the disciplinary expertise of the writing faculty teaching the courses, focusing on rhetorical principles and understanding the context for writing. The rhetorical context in a WID-focused course just happens to be writing in different academic disciplines. Students are engaged in close, rhetorical reading of writing in different disciplinary areas.


They aren’t memorizing formulae for writing across the college or university. They’re learning to ask smart, rhetorically-focused questions about what writing conventions are followed in a specific field, how arguments are shaped, what evidence is used, what questions are asked, and what methods of inquiry are most common.


Students would leave my first-year writing class better prepared to write in contexts outside of my class because they would know what to pay attention to—even as they encountered contexts we never discussed in my class. And as the icing on the cake, if I could help them understand what they were learning in my class and how it would help them in the future, I could imagine an increased potential for student motivation.


Once I realized that I could take what I knew about writing and rhetorical context and apply it to a WID context, my list of reasons not to teach a WID approach were immediately countered by arguments for why it was a great idea:


Why not?


Why WID?

Faculty comfort level


Rich, meaningful application of rhetorical principles

Challenges of transfer


Potential for transfer when taught from a rhetorical approach

Stigma as a service course


Student buy-in and motivation


What I can claim after directing a program for eight years that used this approach is that students understood the potential for transfer of what they were learning. When they saw the curriculum, they understood that they would be learning something different from (but hopefully building on) what they learned in high school. Faculty invented a range of ways to approach teaching WID that emphasized some of their passions and interests. And best of all, our program assessment demonstrated that students were mastering the rhetorically-based student learning outcomes for our first-year writing course. A program director can’t ask for much more than that.


What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?

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The September issue of the Atlantic features an article that makes a strong claim: college campuses today are so focused on not offending anyone, ever, that they increasingly stay away from anything controversial. The authors, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, call this phenomenon “The Coddling of the American Mind” and argue that “in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. . . . Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and likely to worsen mental health on campus.”


Lukianoff and Haidt offer a number of startling examples in support of their claim:  law students at Harvard are asking the faculty not to teach rape law because it may traumatize some students; the University of California system’s schools identified “America is the land of opportunity” as a potentially offensive statement that should be avoided; Indiana University—Purdue University deemed a student who was reading Notre Dame vs. the Klan guilty of racism.  Particularly troubling to the authors of the essay is the proliferation of “trigger warnings,” “alerts that professors are supposed to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.”

warning-trigger-warnings.jpgLukianoff and Haidt aren’t the only ones disturbed by what they see as a harmful trend. Others have written about a raft of “disinvitations” issued to people who had been invited to speak on campus; the institutions withdrew the invitation when students, parents, or anyone else protested against the invitee.  And in late August, Inside Higher Education reported on student protest at Duke over a suggested (not required) reading of Alison Bechdel’s award-winning graphic memoir, Fun Home. This protest is especially surprising to me given that I have taught Fun Home for years at Stanford without the slightest ripple of anything other than admiration for Bechdel’s gorgeously drawn and written coming-of-age story, which has since gone on to become a highly-acclaimed musical that took in numerous Tony awards this year. 


Like most campuses, Stanford prides itself on its openness to ideas, as a campus that encourages intellectual curiosity and debate. So I haven’t experienced the kind of disinvitations or “trigger warnings” that the authors of the Atlantic article write about first hand.  Stanford students aren’t shy about expressing their opinions – and they are ready to protest if necessary. Some years ago, after learning that President Bush was making an “unannounced” visit to the Hoover Institute on campus, they quickly massed over a thousand students to block the motorcade in protest of the President’s war policies.  But I can’t think of a person who was invited to campus and then “disinvited” because the University feared that the speaker would offend some students or faculty.


Lukianoff and Haidt go on to argue that openness to alternative opinions and to controversy are hallmarks of strong critical thinkers, citing Aristotle, Buddha, and Marcus Aurelius among others.  Further, they argue that “coddling” or protecting students from contentious views actually harms rather than supports mental health.  Those in rhetoric and writing studies would be quick to agree, pointing out that attending carefully to alternate points of view (Dissoi Logoi) is part of what it means to be an effective rhetor/writer/speaker/thinker.  Perhaps it’s more important than ever to stress this aspect of rhetorical thinking and performing in our classes, and to invite students to explore the delicate (sometimes treacherously so) balance between protecting free speech and respecting the right to protest against speech that is truly dangerous to the University and its community.  Surely, though, it isn’t necessary to “coddle” students rather than to engage them in exploring and maintaining that balance.

Driving to work this morning I spotted the following billboard, promoting a new television series, which is set to debut on September 27. 


Blood_and_Oil_Poster_Key_art_blog_embed.jpgNow, whether or not Blood & Oil is a commercial success or not, this billboard contains a great deal of information, not so much about the show itself (which, of course, has not yet been aired) but about American attitudes towards wealth, social class, and feminine beauty.  


A semiotic analysis of the billboard begins with a description of its fundamental denotation: what it shows or contains.  We see four human figures, two men and two women, standing next to each other, all but one appearing as young-adult-youthful, the fourth as well preserved middle-aged.  All are dressed in black evening wear, and they are surrounded by black, some of it displayed in a drip pattern from the top of the image, and some displayed at the bottom, looking like a kind of sea in which the figures are standing. 


The image is also set up in a kind of chiaroscuro effect by which the models’ faces, hair, and, most strikingly, the backs of women (strategically placed at the center of the image) stand out. Also standing out, just below the center, are the words “Blood & Oil,” in gold lettering.


Our semiotic analysis seeks to move from the denotation of the image to its connotation—that is, to what it suggests or signifies—but this is not a simple direct step.  Our goal is a cultural interpretation, but to get to that we first need to look at the visual codes employed by the image.  Black evening dress, for example, tends to be codified as a signifier of high status in America, and so the image suggests that these figures belong to the upper class.  Their facial expressions support this connotative impression: the man on the left (some of you may recognize Don Johnson here) wears an angry, domineering expression, suggesting someone used to power.  The man on the right wears an aloof expression, with an eyebrow slightly raised, hinting at total self-assurance.  The women look over their shoulders (in a classic eroticized posture) with expressions that are at once daring and self-satisfied, and the way that they are placed in relation to the men suggests that each is the “trophy wife” of the man next to her.  All the figures, though one can detect subtle age gradations, are physically attractive according to America’s dominant beauty values.


This first level of interpretation is supported by the gold lettered words, which suggest both family (blood) and wealth (oil). (It is also an allusive pun, alluding to the Nazi credo of “blood and soil,” thus hinting at a story about human evil.)  Indeed, my first reaction when I saw the billboard, at forty miles an hour, was “Oh my goodness, they’re bringing back some sort of Dallas clone!”  (Turns out I was right.)


The words “Blood & Oil” on the image also clarifies what all that black is: it’s oil, dripping down to fill a sea of goo.  And while oil connotes wealth (if you own the source), it also connotes pollution, filth, and the fact that the models are standing in it helps lead to the next level of interpretation.


Because what this billboard is indicating is a story about oil barons and their women, and the barons aren’t going to be heroes.  Situating the image into a system that includes Dallas, but also the film There Will be Blood, reinforces this connotative impression of a new series about a glamorous but evil oil clan.


I knew all this before I could get to my office and look the new show up.  And indeed, “Blood & Oil” is a kind of Dallas reprise, but with a sympathetic working-class couple (not included in this billboard image) standing as foils to the rich oil barons this time around.


Now, what does all this tell us at the cultural level?  First, we see here the fundamental middle-class perspective on social class in America as reflected in popular culture.  This view could be called a love/hate relationship with wealth, one that is at once fascinated by the rich, and yet also in need of feeling morally superior to them.  Consider such programs as My Super Sweet Sixteen, which lavishly displays the privileges of the very rich while also making them look ridiculous.  Viewed by a mass audience of middle and working-class viewers, such shows satisfy the desire to see what the rich have while reassuring viewers of their moral superiority to such people.  Dallas, Falcon Crest, Knott’s Landing, most “Real Housewives of .  .   .” programs, and innumerable other TV shows and movies do the same thing.


We also see a display here of what counts as feminine beauty in America, worthy of being possessed by wealthy men: slim, slinky bodies, blonde hair, high cheekbones, delicate facial features.  Male beauty (though less precisely codified than female beauty) is also represented in the image.  But the physical attractiveness of the men and women in the image is compromised by their facial expressions.  The women are smug; the men are either domineering or too cool by half, reflecting the middle-class view that the rich are physically beautiful (men as well as women), but their beauty is of an inhuman sort, enviable but ultimately repugnant.


The fact that this show features working-class protagonists (again, not indicated in the billboard) is a very interesting addition to the Dallas narrative, however, reflecting the blossoming of class consciousness in America in the wake of the Great Recession.  Described (from my online sources) as a soap opera, Blood & Oil will clearly pit the working-class couple against these evil but glamorous oil barons and their wives in a soapy dramatization of what is happening today as the 1% (really the top tenth of a percent) increasingly swallow up most of the wealth in the world.


I wonder if the show will survive the pilot.

The Black Lives Matter movement continues to be an active and relevant force and one certainly worth teaching.  The saturation of violence against black people in this country demands careful thought and consideration.  Several essays in Emerging can offer you and your students tools for thinking about this campaign.




By The All-Nite Images [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation and The Primacy of Practice.”  In the first part of this selection Appiah makes it clear that cosmopolitanism is as much a problem as a solution.  That is, the answer is not just “let’s all get along.”  Instead, that we live in an interconnected world demands that we pay careful attention to how to get along.  The second part of this selection is also useful since it is about the processes of social change in relation to values.  Appiah, then, can offer students strategies for thinking about how to achieve the change imagined by Black Lives Matter and also can help them evaluate the movement as it exists today.


Francis Fukuyama, “Human Dignity.”  Human dignity is in some ways central to the concerns of Black Lives Matter.  Why is it that black lives seem to be less valued? What are the consequences when any human is denied a basic level of dignity?  Fukuyama’s dense text offers students complex theoretical grounds for examining social violence in relation to human rights.


Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change.”  Gladwell’s essay is perhaps particularly apropos to the Black Lives Matter movement. Gladwell looks at the relation between social media and social change by drawing from the lessons of the civil rights movement.  His arguments about the kinds of connections necessary for real social change are perfect for thinking about this campaign and how to realize its goals.


Steve Olson, “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples.” Olson’s essay makes it clear that there is no longer any biological basis to race.  He also hints at some of the reasons that race nevertheless persists (and powerfully so). 


Leslie Savan, “What's Black, Then White, and Said All Over?” Savan’s essay offers a larger context for violence against black people by examining the pop cultural appropriation of black langue.  Her essay can offer students a broader context for looking at the ways that black lives and culture are devalued.


Peter Singer, “Visible Man: Ethics in a World Without Secrets.” Singer suggests that a world saturated in surveillance may allow us to watch the watchers.  Given Singer’s example of the Rodney King beating, and given the role that video has played in many recent case of violence against black people, Singer perhaps offers students tools to think about how technology can combat this racial violence.


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Haimes-Korn_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn (see end of post for bio).


Community-based projects work well because they allow students to actively engage in real-world activities that make a difference.  They give students a chance to investigate ways to build and enhance community.  I have students create action projects in which they must find a need within their communities and come up with something that results in some sort of action.  Over the years, students have taken on this challenge to help non-profits, create campus events, raise funds, and help others and create community awareness.  I have found that the level of ownership and motivation with these kinds of projects goes way beyond classroom assignments because the stakes are real. 


Part of this project involves students in creating a social media presence that encourages community participation and informs the public of its mission.   Understanding the ways that students can put the social – in social media is important.  Many students use these formats for their daily communication and social relationships but this project helps them understand the ways they can use them in different ways that promote community engagement. 


Although there are many tools out there, I ask students to organize their interactive work teams through Google Drive.  This type of project also teaches students group management and how to communicate on interactive work teams.  These kinds of activities engage students in all types of writing and organizational skills: email, real-time chats, video hangouts, professional presentations, and multimodal components. 



  • To engage students in community-based learning projects
  • To introduce students to tools for digital collaboration
  • To have students create multimodal messages and documents for a variety of rhetorical purposes, audiences and contexts


Background Reading for Students and Instructors

Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are ongoing learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few background readings and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.


The Assignment

For this assignment, student teams complete the following steps:

  • Choose a community-based action project – something that they want to accomplish that will yield some kind of results.  Ask students to research and analyze other successful community based campaigns online.
  • Create a Google Team space in which they manage their teams, conduct online meetings, compose and contribute data and information, compose and revise documents and presentations, and record minutes.
  • Engage in planning, composition of a social media campaign that informs others and builds community support for their projects.  They must include a distribution plan and multiple modes of communication to encourage support and participation.   Students are also responsible for analyzing their social media results.
  • Plan and implement the project.  Teams are self-governing and are responsible for weekly updates with the instructor. 
  • Create Community/Public Service Video -- a short, 2-3 minute video directed to a public audience in which they communicate ideas, purposes and results to others so they can learn about the project.  Students embed this video into their actual social media campaign and include it in their classroom presentation and report.
  • Teams are required to submit a professional presentation and report that details their processes, results, and digital media projects.  They also create a multimodal infographic on their group processes (See my earlier post on Infographic Process Reflections).
  • Each student also submits an individual folder that details their own group processes and a written evaluation of their team-mates.
  • For more information , see a full explanation of this Action Project and Presentation, Report and Deliverables Guidelines


Reflection on Activities

This project involves students in a range of multimodal and collaborative activities.   It engages them through collaboration on interactive work teams and demonstrates how to create, plan and implement real-world projects.  Students come to understand their decision making processes, successes and failures, and ways to engage communities through communication.


11149528_343456422519570_3715406212789861362_n.jpg11129824_338769796321566_4226287877799689144_n.jpgBecause the stakes are real, students often exceed their own expectations for the projects because of this level of investment and origination.  For example, I had one student group who completed a time capsule project.  Their purpose was to represent and preserve a past history and institutional identity through a university consolidation.  They started their idea with a small home-made capsule to be buried on campus and opened in the future.  They created a social media presence through a Facebook page and Twitter hashtag along with other supporting components.  The initial artifact donations exceeded their expectations and the original size and plan would no longer work.  They also generated such strong interest in the project that other organizations at the university got involved and funded an expensive, professional time capsule to be housed in the library and become part of the university archives. 

10941879_890749050988275_6950040038728165857_n.jpgThe project also brought them outside the university framework as they had to learn the conventions of time capsule archiving and registered the capsule with the International Time Capsule Society who will manage its records and assure its reveal in the year 2050.  Students had to learn how to record and document the contents according to the conventions of the field. The university also supported a ceremony to officially seal the time capsule and honor the student project. These students successfully engaged their community and grew the project to have a significant impact on their campus.


One thing I know for sure: students, when given the opportunity to participate in real-world, experiential projects will exceed expectations and extend beyond obstacles to achieve unknown possibilities.


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. 


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On Tuesday, September 1, 2015, Google introduced a new logo:


I noticed the change the minute I booted up my laptop, which has Google set as its home page. Well, not exactly. I didn’t notice the change; I noticed something different, something not quite what I’d been looking at since 1999.  (You can see changes to the logo across time on Google’s official blog). Since then, the web—and Twitter particularly—has been abuzz with response, with some loving the move, some hating it, and a lot of folks in between.


The new typeface is clean, simple, sans serif. Dubbed Product Sans, it’s reported to have been inspired by schoolbook lettering, yet there’s no old-time feel to it, at least to me. Moreover, in Margaret Rhodes’s take on the changes (in WIRED), Google has also “introduced a suite of sub-logos, like a four-color ‘G’ icon that’ll dot the Google app on phone homescreens, and a microphone icon that guides you through voice search. It’s a self-described “simple, friendly, and approachable” design.” Overall, the new design set aims to come across not as an “all-knowing, all-powerful entity, but as a benevolent guide to this new world—one that considers humans, not machines, the most important thing.” This in spite of the fact that Google exercises enormous power over us and knows more about us than we would like to think.


If there were ever any need for proof that style matters, this would be it. Google—with 70% of the search engine market share—is working overtime to create and recreate its brand image, knowing that there’s a strong relationship between that image and the company’s continued success. We could say the same for Apple, Microsoft, Walmart—or the 2016 presidential candidates, most of whom are struggling to get name—let alone face—recognition in a very crowded field. What Richard Lanham argued in The Economics of Attention (2007) is even more true today: in an age of instant and constant information, what can get and hold our attention wins the day. And that’s all about style.


What this means for teachers of writing has been clear for some time: students need to be able not only to recognize and analyze the stylistic moves others make (such as Google’s change of logo) but to create messages that can gain attention and to build credible ethos for those messages. For me, this means spending more time on rhetorical stance—really interrogating the personae that students create in their digital lives—and on the nitty gritty details of style, including sentence structure, word choice, rhythm, and image. It seems clear that one of the fallouts of the process movement—which made such a productive turn from an obsessive focus on the final, absolutely correct, written product—was a loss of attention to style. We focused so much on gaining fluency and on nurturing the processes of student writers that there was little time for attending to style. But that was then. Today, teachers of writing are inviting students to join them in considering questions of style, of just what elements can attract reader and viewer attention. One good way to start might well be with analyzing Google’s changing logos over the years and what those changes say about the values and image the company wants to project.

Another year and I’m once again humbled by our new TAs—how intuitive WAW work is for them, the ideas they contribute to our program for teaching WAW approaches, the possibilities they see for it. Concurrently, our second-year TAs have come back to their third semester of teaching with tweaks, new assignments, and ideas for how to better teach existing assignments. Last spring, a group of our senior adjunct faculty held an 8-week salon series on developing WAW pedagogy. Everyone’s ideas for where to take their courses were different.


On other fronts, I’ve been peer-reviewing a number of journal submissions, as well as drafts for an edited collection, that in one way or another focus on WAW. It’s both wonderful and amazing to see some of the emerging scholarship making its way to print, especially the breadth of approaches to WAW being described. Elizabeth and I have also begun developing the third edition of Writing about Writing.


Amongst all this intellectual fecundity, occasionally—both in my own program and in the literature on WAW—a troublesome question arises: “Is what you’re describing really ‘writing about writing’?”


These moments make me squirm, for two reasons. First, the question gestures toward a “core” of principles underlying the purposes and configurations of WAW approaches. Having to ask if an approach is “really” WAW suggests those deep values are somehow being confounded. Second, and more uncomfortable, the “really WAW” question foregrounds ownership: who gets to call what WAW? If an approach is inconsistent with the core that most instructors of writing-about-writing would recognize, do we really have grounds to say “this isn’t that”? Does it matter? Does having a name risk creating a diversity-crushing monolith?


What distinguishes writing-about-writing, across the hundreds of programs and instructors using some version of it, seems to be

  • Purpose: teaching declarative knowledge about writing in order to enhance metacognition, vocabulary, and writing processes and behaviors—for the purposes of shifting conceptions of writing to more accurate and effective ones, strengthening learning transfer to future writing scenes, and shifting epistemologies (particularly in relation to sources and contingency).
  • Methods: reading scholarship in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies; creating writing projects whose themes interrogate various aspects of the same subjects; intensive, iterative reflection on students’ own literacy and writing experiences ; and, frequently, conducting primary research projects on questions related to writing, literacy, and rhetoric.


This is a quite small set of limits on what “counts” as writing-about-writing; these scripts are what making a given instructional approach recognizable as writing-about-writing. It seems to me that the only reason this name—or any other for these approaches—matters is because of the function of names as shorthand, a “handle on a briefcase,” for identifying the underlying philosophy of instruction. In the moments where it occurs to anyone to ask “You’re calling this approach writing-about-writing, but is it really?” part of the concern is simply, if someone looks at what you’re calling writing-about-writing, will they think that WAW is something other than these purposes and methods?  Is what your students are writing actually about writing? And if not—why bother to call the approach something it’s literally not?


Ultimately, though, the name simply offers a reminder to ask what the focus and purpose of a given course truly is. What is truly neat to see is the wealth of ways people are expanding on those very basic scripts to do WAW.

Barclay Barrios

Teaching Trump

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Sep 9, 2015

As I write this, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He’s also a lightning rod for all kind of criticism across multiple fronts.  One thing is for sure: people are talking about Donald Trump, good and bad. Of all of his polarizing remarks, Trump’s statements about immigration seem to have provoked the strongest reactions. I thought I would offer some insights on how to teach Trump, with a focus on immigration.


By Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Julia Alvarez, “Selections from Once Upon a Quinceañera.” Alvarez’s essay is a useful antidote to some of the notions about immigrants circulating out in the ether.  Her portrayal of the economic challenges of the quince offers a particular understanding of immigrants in relation to work and economics.


Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation and The Primacy of Practice.” Central to Appiah’s notion of cosmopolitanism is the idea that in a very crowded world we will need to find a way to get along.  Appiah reframes some of the challenges around immigration and, in particular, suggests that isolationist maneuvers (wall building, literally and figuratively) really are no longer realistic given how interconnected the world is today.


Manuel Muñoz, “Leave Your Name at the Border.”  Muñoz is a great shorter piece for considering the forces of assimilation that face immigrants.  He helps students think about the costs and benefits of fitting in as an immigrant.


Jennifer Pozner, “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas.”  Given Trump’s experience with reality TV, I think Pozner would be a particularly interesting choice since her work examines the intersection of reality TV and ethnic/racial stereotypes.


Thomas Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention.” Friedman’s essay is useful for thinking about global economic connections, which explains (for example) why the line of suits with Trump’s name on them is manufactured in Mexico. Friedman’s central point is that global economics and global politics are centrally linked; Trump is an interesting test case for further examining Friedman’s ideas.


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Two years ago, I began the Multimodal Mondays series on this blog as a way of suggesting practical classroom activities and course assignments that engage the many tools and strategies available for multimodal writing. One of the most exciting things about the series is the guest bloggers, who are doing fascinating work and contributing wonderful multimodal compositions from their students. Well done!


Multimodal Mondays is meant to be activity-driven: an in-class activity and/or homework assignment (with opportunities/questions for student reflection) that you can easily grab and incorporate into your lesson plan or use to develop into a longer assignment down the road. Here is our basic format:


  • A clear learning objective applicable to a general writing or composition course
  • The assignment idea
  • Any specific instructions for students necessary to complete the assignment
  • Any specific in-class guidelines for instructors; these may include examples and/or questions for discussion
  • Examples of student work (provided the student has granted permission to share the work and the institution allows instructors to do so)


As we move into our third year of the series, I want to know: Are you using the activities and assignments suggested? Should the guest bloggers and I present our methods differently? What would you like to see more of?


Please write in and let me know what works and what you suggest for improvement. One easy way to share your thoughts is to Join the Macmillan Community (it’s free, quick, and easy) to comment directly on this post, or take this quick survey.

I don’t think it would be too much to claim that the publication this summer of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has been the literary event of the year, but it isn’t the novel’s literary value that makes it so significant.  Rather, Lee’s new (old) novel is a cultural signifier of profound importance, and it is as such that I wish to approach it here as a topic for semiotic analysis.


Of course I am writing this after much of the dust has already settled on the matter.  It has been widely explained that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird but is actually an earlier draft.  And it is quite well known that the Atticus Finch who appears in Watchman is hardly the saintly hero of Mockingbird.  In fact, he is someone who is a far more likely representation of mid-twentieth-century small-town southern (white) opinion, especially on racial matters, than is the Atticus that we have come to know and love so well—a nod to realism that might have been applauded by historically-minded reviewers.  But that, of course, hasn’t been the dominant response at all. Instead, the reaction has been one of more or less shocked betrayal.  Gregory Peck, Peck’s own son has intimated, may just be rolling in his grave.


The question for cultural semiotics, however, is not why Lee changed the character of Atticus Finch so much between drafts (though this is a fascinating question for literary history, possibly involving the emergence of another Maxwell Perkins); the cultural semiotic question is, why is the change so important?  Why have so many readers been so shaken?


In answering such questions I can refer back to a blog I wrote here a few years ago in which I noted that, lovely and heartwarming as To Kill a Mockingbird is, there is an uncomfortable hitch in it which lies in the way that the novel basically shifted the responsibility for southern bigotry away from the upper and middle classes onto the shoulders of the lower classes, the “white trash” to which such clans as the Ewells belong.  Living the life of a modest middle-class lawyer (who is actually descended from an old plantation family), Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch joins his middle-class neighbors and colleagues (the town Sheriff, the local Judge) in resisting the lynch mob mentality of people who are clearly identified as “red neck” troublemakers.   While it is true that Atticus Finch’s sister, who still lives on the family plantation at Finch’s landing (but who does not appear in the movie), is also no paragon of racial tolerance, it is the patently evil Bob Ewell that readers are going to remember as the face of southern bigotry.


Thus, Atticus Finch performed a service for white middle-class Americans when he first appeared in the midst of the turmoil of the Civil Rights era.  While images of identifiably middle-class southerners could be seen on TV screaming in the faces of black school children being escorted by federal marshals onto the grounds of newly desegregated school campuses, the upright figure of Atticus Finch, who was a southerner to boot, stood as a reassuring symbol of a fundamental human decency.  No nobler man has appeared in American fiction, and when that man is portrayed by Gregory Peck, one of Hollywood’s most magnificent specimens of manhood and character, you have the makings of a really profound cultural icon with extraordinary powers of healing.


But now, at a time of intense racial uneasiness, the prospect of Atticus Finch falling off his pedestal threatens to undo all that. I suspect, however, that America really can’t afford to lose the good Atticus, and so will protect him from his earlier avatar through the simple device of isolating him within the confines of the work of art called To Kill a Mockingbird, leaving the Atticus of that rather inferior work of art called Go Set a Watchman to literary historians, set aside as an aesthetic curiosity but not taken as a credible threat to a fictive man that Americans continue to need to be real.


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Andrea A. Lunsford

Found Arguments

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Sep 3, 2015

I recently spent a joyous day with colleagues and students at Appalachian State, where the first-year writing curriculum focuses on argument. We had fun exploring various definitions of argument and especially student understandings of the term. (One father of a one-year-old and a three-year-old corroborated what Tom Newkirk has often said: that the first form of discourse children acquire and practice—with gusto—is argument. His older child, he said, has already figured out how to offer his parents two choices, both completely acceptable to him, rather than make a single demand!)


We agreed that the pervasive view of argument in our culture is still of agonistic contention, noting the 2016 campaign “debates” already under way. We also agreed, however, that this is an impoverished definition and view of argument, one that puts obstacles in the way of any possibility of coming to agreement or compromise. We spent some time remarking on how deeply the tradition of agonistic argument and winning is ingrained in our language. We make war on drugs, poverty, cancer. We deliver stinging rebukes; we demolish opponents. And we could easily trace the history of such attitudes back to ancient times.


But we spent even more time exploring contemporary alternatives to agonistic argument, especially the invitational approach developed by Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin. The goal of this approach is not winning at all cost or vanquishing an interlocutor, but understanding. It is based on deep respect for others and on an openness to varying points of view. And it calls for listening—the kind of rhetorical listening so clearly articulated in the work of Krista Ratcliff: in invitational settings, the rhetor is not the center of attention but a member of a group, a listener as well as a speaker. We worked through some hypothetical arguments, including one put forward by a six-year-old Chinese lad, to see how different approaches to argument—from Classical to Toulmin to Rogerian to Invitational—could yield different forms of analysis and different ways of engaging others. And we concluded that our students need to understand all these approaches, and others, and be able to use them ethically and effectively.


BUZzlo5CEAAxEjH.jpgToward the end of our time together, I described an assignment I like to use early in a term’s work, perhaps in the second week. After we’ve worked at broadening our definition and understanding of argument, I bring in several “found arguments,” and we ask what makes them arguments and just how they work. I’ve brought in old sneakers, Monsanto seed catalogs, Gumby, Cheerios, and even a sign I saw in a bathroom at the British Museum that read “Please do not eat the urinal cakes” (!). And we analyze the arguments such objects make or have the potential to make. The fun really begins when we start our “found argument collection,” to which everyone contributes throughout the term. In my experience, students outdo themselves, coming up with amazingly thought-provoking found arguments. By term’s end, we put up an exhibit and invite friends to join us for a celebration of the range of arguments we’ve discovered. I find that this little exercise does more to help them come to a deeper and more expansive understanding of the pervasive (and often constructive) role that argument plays in our lives.


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Welcome back!


I can’t believe it’s fall already.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the summer goes. At my school we’re already halfway through the second week in the semester.  Wow!


9781457697968.jpgThis year I’ll be focusing this blog on strategies for teaching the various readings in Emerging.  I hope to offer some insight on what works well with what, both within the text and also with things happening out in the world.  With the presidential election starting to gear up, it’s a particularly good time to connect the readings in the book to the lives of students in ways that will help them think about how to make a difference in the world around them.


The third edition will be coming out some time late this fall, so I’ll also be giving you all a detailed rundown of some of the new features and readings.  It’s going to be a very exciting edition, and I want to provide you a good sense of what you can do with it before it hits your desk.  We have some great new readings and a couple of awesome new features.  I look forward to sharing it all with you.


I’m so thrilled that the book has moved into another edition and so grateful to all of you and everyone at Bedford for helping to make that happen.  It’s already a bustling semester but I am hoping you all have a wonderful start to the year…


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