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In Chapter 5 of An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, my coauthors Susan Miller-Cochran,Stacey Cochran, and I explore some differing rhetorical contexts for which academics must sometimes write, including their own scholarly communities as well as some more popular communities. As part of that exploration, we provide annotated examples of a couple of the kinds of texts scholars sometimes write for their peers (journal article) in addition to those they may occasionally write for a more popular audience (press release).


One of our aims, of course, is to illustrate for students how different writing situations call for different types of writing, and how, as writers, we craft texts while remaining mindful of the needs of our target audiences. An assignment I’ve mentioned in earlier posts and would like to explore further in this one engages students directly—and explicitly—with this kind of audience-based rhetorical decision making: the translation project.


The Assignment

The assignment I’m using in my current first-year writing course asks students to translate an academic text, a peer-reviewed journal article (of their own choosing) from a natural science journal, into a more popular genre, a press release. I strategically place this assignment near the beginning of my course because it serves well as a bridge between the popular domains with which my students are often already quite familiar and the more discretely academic domains we explore as the real heart of my WID course.


Some Notes on the Process

A crucial part of supporting student success, based on my experience with this project, is spending ample time helping students read and understand their chosen journal article. If students haven’t engaged such texts previously, then they’ll need substantial support navigating the form of scholarly articles. Guided explorations of the conventional expectations (how they are typically structured, how they use reference material, etc.) for scientific journal articles can go a long way toward helping students identify the information they need to repurpose such scholarly texts for a more popular audience.


Some Natural Science Journals

Stamper_01_29_16_LR.PNGSources: The Astrophysical Journal; American Journal of BotanyJournal of Applied Geophysics


For many students, understanding a press release can be just as removed from their experiences as an academic journal article. As such, it is equally important that students have some initial guided experiences with the genre, that they spend time reading and exploring various examples of press releases.  Those of us who teach at research-intensive institutions may be able to pull examples of press releases designed in response to research conducted at our own institutions. At NC State, for example, I frequently direct students to the university’s news website, where they can find press releases issued daily. Additionally, there are a number of online clearinghouses for scientific press releases, including EurekAlert!,where students can explore additional examples.


I typically spend a couple of class sessions examining examples of the target translation genre. As part of our reading and discussion of these sample texts, I guide my classes to construct a substantial list of the potential conventional expectations for the genre.  We explore language-level concerns, like how to deal with jargon as a writer of a press release, as well as how other writers of press releases deal with referenced materials, for example.


In addition to producing an actual press release, I also sometimes have my students write brief reflective analyses about their products. As part of these reflections, I ask students to explain what they did as part of the translation process, or to identify specific features of the scholarly article that they had to adjust, or translate, for the audience and genre of the press release. The reflective piece challenges students to identify choices they had to make as a writer, whether those choices concerned structural, reference, or language features of their text. More importantly, the reflective analysis allows students to explain why they made the decisions they did. In doing so, I believe, the reflection supports students’ metacognition and thereby enhances the transferability of a rhetorical approach to engaging with and composing texts.

Brief Reflections

There are host of other reasons why I’m particularly drawn to the translation assignment:

  • For most students, the project is different from anything they’ve done before.
  • The project effectively “eases” student focus from popular to more focused academic domain explorations.
  • The project engages students with an authentic academic text in the form of a scholarly journal article.
  • In the process of repurposing an academic text for a public audience, the assignment supports audience awareness a critical part of text production.
  • Student engagement with and excitement for the project is usually quite high.  Although academic articles can be challenging reads, most students enjoy the process of designing and composing their press releases.
  • Students’ final products are actually fun to read.


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Andrea A. Lunsford

On Procrastination

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Jan 28, 2016

Recently, Jerry Nelms posted a very interesting comment on procrastination to the WPA listserv. In it, he reviewed some research on procrastination and recommended Eric Jaffe's "Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination," published in Observer 26.4 (April 2013).


I expect as many teachers procrastinate as do students. I am certainly not a procrastinator (described in the literature as people who chronically put things off even though they know doing so is harmful). But I have had my moments: I vividly remember having an assignment to review Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations shortly after it came out. I was still in graduate school and awed at the opportunity to review a work I greatly admired. In fact, I felt intimidated, and these feelings led me to put off and put off and put off. Eventually, I recall giving myself a stern talking-to and deciding that I would not allow myself to do a single thing until I had written five pages of the review. It took me more than eight hours and I was sweating it all the way through, but I sat at the typewriter until I had those pages.


In his WPA listserv post, Jerry points out that he sees students procrastinate out of such intimidation, or out of fear that they won’t do a good enough job. These students may not be “official” procrastinators—the twenty-some percent of us who are chronic procrastinators—but even occasional procrastination in high-stakes circumstances can be a serious challenge. In J. R. Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done (2010), he recommends several ways to combat procrastination, including offering rewards for those who get things done early rather than punishments for those who are late. He uses the tax deadline as an example, saying that even procrastinators might get their taxes in early if they had a financial incentive. This strikes me as a sensible idea that could easily be adapted to the classroom: for major assignments, students could get a bonus of some kind for early submission. Better yet, individuals could offer themselves an incentive: a special treat if they get the assignment done ahead of time.



In his post, Jerry Nelms recommends putting the topic of procrastination front and center in the classroom, talking through some of the research on it, pointing out that chronic procrastinators often don’t do nearly as well on assignments as their non-procrastinating peers, and asking students to join in conversation about their own putting-it-off habits, and how to overcome them. When my students are working on a major project, we almost always break it into smaller parts or tasks, so that the deadlines are less intimidating and hence easier to meet. In addition, I ask students to make a term calendar, working backwards from the due dates of all their assignments (we try for all classes) and then figuring out when the assignment needs to be started in order to get it in on time (or earlier). Many students keep electronic calendars, though I still see a good number who like to hold onto a paper copy—or who keep both an electronic and a paper calendar. I first started keeping such a calendar in my first year of college: my week-at-a-glance book was always with me, and it served me very well. The transition from high school to college, where students must take charge of their own time, is a difficult one for many, as it was for me. An assignment calendar can help!


Research shows that for chronic procrastinators counseling can be valuable, and such help is usually available on college campuses. But most conclude that in the long run, dealing with procrastination is a matter of failing to self-regulate. That’s something most people can do a little work on, and it’s worth discussing with our students.

It has been a grim couple of weeks for rock-and-roll. First Motörhead’s Lemmy, then David Bowie, then Glenn Frey, and (just this morning as I write this), Dallas Taylor have all passed and gone. Let us hope that no new names appear between now and my Bits blog deadline and posting dates.


But as is often the case when a major pop music icon joins the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven” (Alan O’Day actually composed that song, and he’s there now, too, along with Bobby Hatfield), an opportunity for cultural reflection arises, and when it comes to Bowie and Frey that moment is especially significant. Because David Bowie and Glenn Frey were, in their very different ways, not simply mega-selling musical superstars, they were both shapers and reflectors of the profound cultural changes that, with the benefit of a lot of hindsight, reveal how the 1970s formed a crucial transition between the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s—revolutions that continue to do battle to this day for the possession of America’s soul. In short, there’s a lot to think about right now.


In looking at the cultural legacies of Bowie, Frey, and the 1970s, we will not be concerned with matters of aesthetic quality nor even aesthetic influence. Nor will we be concerned with the surprisingly complicated history of David Bowie’s personal politics (you may be astounded to learn that this pioneer of gender b(l)ending got into a good deal of hot water in the 1970s for some unambiguously pro-fascist—even pro-Hitler!—pronouncements). Rather, we are only concerned with the music, and what that music tells us.


Let’s start with the very well known facts, beginning with Glenn Frey. With Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Clarence White, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Frey and the Eagles pretty much invented the musical genre of country rock. And while the new genre did not at all represent any particular political attitude (being nothing more than an aesthetic exploration for its creators), rock critics at the time recognized the essential political retreat that this genre represented. For after a decade when rock-and-roll became not only the background music to, but a voice for, the political upheavals of the 1960s, the “Peaceful Easy Feeling” of 1970s country rock was all too apparently a reflection of a widespread cultural pullback from the storm and stress of the preceding decade. Along with pop cultural fads celebrating such country icons as 18 wheeler truck drivers (yes, there was both a pop tune and a movie, both called “Convoy,” celebrating those long haulers and their CB radios in the days before cell phones), coal miners’ daughter (also a movie and a song), and good country people (I swear, lots of people really liked The Waltons), country rock, a new kid in town indeed, took the roll out of pop music even as America began to settle down into a sort of nostalgic traditionalism. No wonder country rock was often associated with “soft rock.”




But popular culture is a very complicated thing indeed, and at the same time that country rock was softening up rock-and-roll, David Bowie and his Glam Rock pioneers were manufacturing a very different sort of music, one focused on transgressive gender expression. Surely we should see this as a counter-gesture to the mild conservatism of country rock. But somehow, with its transparent manipulations of sexual identity for commercial and aesthetic ends, Bowie’s glam phase has a more postmodern than political appearance. Indeed, even Bowie’s singing voice, which was always powerful and versatile, often sounds like he is singing in postmodern quotation marks—that is, drawing attention to the fact that he is, after all, performing a role—an impression that especially comes across in his pastiches of lounge-singers. Against the sixties’ quest for authenticity, Bowie opposed a chameleon-like non-identity (something in which he anticipated Madonna by a number of years) in the service more of art than idealism.


One way or another, by the end of the 1970s the spirit of the sixties was finished in popular culture (punk’s role in this is a whole ‘nother blog). Then the counter-attack began, setting the stage for the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s and the dismantling of a half century of New Deal progressivism that popular music (in the decade of Duran Duran) had almost nothing to say about beyond the occasional outburst of a Bruce Springsteen and or Neil Young.


So, while David Bowie and Glenn Frey by no means should be seen as intending what happened, they were dynamic figures in a vast cultural movement to the right. Though the decades since (the nineties, the aughts, the twenty-teens) have presented their own popular cultural politics and perspectives, the seventies increasingly appear to be a hinge upon which American history has turned.

In this series I’m looking at some of the features and readings we’ve added to the third edition of Emerging as well as thinking about some ways to approach teaching with it. In this post, I wanted to focus on a new feature we’ve introduced that might be useful for anyone interested in Writing Across the Curriculum / Writing in the Disciplines (WAC/WID).


It’s always seemed to me that the fundamental challenge for any reader focused on WAC/WID is the fact that writing in the disciplines is usually also writing for the disciplines. That is, a reading from biology would use terminology that would only make sense to biologists. How then do we incorporate disciplinary writing into the FYC classroom?


Quickly perusing some WAC/WID texts from different publishers, it seems that the answer to that question is 1) talk more generally about how writing happens in terms of genre or disciplinary conventions; 2) use readings that emerge from but are not for a discipline; or 3) both. For example, one text I looked at included Barbara Ehrenreich for Business and Economics and Mahatma Gandhi for Government and Political Science. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine that either author was writing for either economists or political scientists. But what each author does is communicate disciplinary issues to a wider audience. And that’s a very good thing. After all, once students enter their disciplines and then their careers they will be called on to communicate issues from their field to other audiences all the time: clients, managers, marketers, grant committees, and more. I don’t know that the FYC classroom will ever be a perfect place to teach students how to write in their disciplines, since we’re compositionists and not physicists or sociologists or architects. But the FYC classroom is a great place to teach students that disciplines write in certain ways (and to have them think about how and why) and it’s a super great place to have them practice communicating complex ideas to a general audience.


That sense of communicating complex ideas to a general audience is very much at the heart of Emerging. And for that reason we always thought the book would be useful in some WAC/WID contexts. But of course that’s not immediately apparent when looking at the table of contents of Emerging, particularly since we chose to go with an alphabetical listing of authors. The text has always included a number of alternate means of thinking about, connecting, and organizing the readings—through tags and paired readings and a thematic table of contents—but in this edition we’re making the WAC/WID connection explicit with a table of contents that groups all of the readings into a series of disciplinary conversations, so that you can quickly see all of the readings that are from or deal with issues in a particular discipline.


Here’s a snapshot from the book:

Disciplinary Conversations_1-13-16.PNG


I was actually wonderfully surprised to see the range of disciplines we cover in the book, especially since we didn’t set out to make anything like a WAC/WID reader. And yet we have series of readings from Art, Education, the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and more. We end up representing a broad spectrum of disciplines. Of course, none of the readings is writing in the disciplines in the strictest sense, which is really to say writing for those in the discipline. But if you subscribe to a more generalized approach to WAC/WID, one in which you try to introduce students to conversations within disciplines and in which you give them practice joining those conversations and their attendant modes of thinking, then you might find Emerging useful. If nothing else, it’s another tool for thinking about how to organize the readings and your assignments. Of all the features we’ve added to the apparatus this time around, it’s one of my favorites. I hope you will enjoy it.


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I will be visiting the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in early February to work with their writing programs. The campus is an enthusiastic adopter of Writer’s Help, currently using Version 2.0. The campus is working to realize a vision we have held for Writer’s Help since our initial discussions: Wouldn’t it be great to have one writing text that could accompany a student all the way from first-year composition through college and graduation and into the workplace? Since 2003, we’ve been developing Writer’s Help with that goal in mind.

Digital_WH.jpgAs author, something I have worked hard to do is to make the advice, models, examples, and exercises reflect the many kinds of writing found not just in first-year comp, but in all classes and in workplaces beyond college. The original author of Bedford/St. Martin’s Writer’s Reference, Diana Hacker, was great at understanding how to offer advice and examples to students in a first-year writing context, where academic essays and library research papers were the dominant genres. We worked from her strong base to address more broadly the many genres of contemporary writing in both printed and electronic modes.


When I visit La Crosse, I should have a chance to meet with instructors from various disciplines, so I am looking forward to hearing about their experiences. Do we have the right coverage and depth? Are they able to integrate the resource with their teaching goals? Is it enough to say “Use Writer’s Help when you need it” or are there more intentional strategies?


If called upon to offer advice, here is a first pass at what I would say:

  • As you create your writing assignments, look at the sections of Writer’s Help that show students how to read and interpret writing assignments. Make sure you clearly establish a purpose and audience for writing, and that you set expectations and constraints for writing in a particular genre. Make your assumptions explicit.
  • See if there are good model papers in your chosen genre. If you are asking for an annotated bibliography, or literature review, or field report, be sure to explore the models in Writer’s Help and point students in that direction.
  • Call attention to those aspects of writing you care most about (i.e., strong argumentative thesis, supporting data, inclusion of charts and graphs, documentation according to APA style). Include suggested links in your assignment.
  • Consider how to stage an assignment effectively, by requiring some in-class time for discussing topics, doing some brainstorming, and organizing ideas. Consider intervening at various stages while the papers are in development, perhaps in conference. Set aside time in class for peer review of drafts. Have a proofing and editing session for final drafts. Spend less of your time responding to final papers and more while work is in progress. Make the work more social and collaborative. Writer’s Help has good advice on all these activities.
  • Use your class management system to post drafts, gather peer or instructor feedback, and expose students to the work of others. Doing so will raise the bar for performance.


In short, think about how best to use an available resource to support your teaching strategies and learning goals. Make Writer’s Help a valued resource for being successful in your class.


Do you have tips, strategies, or assignments for using Writer’s Help in your class? Please comment below!*


* To offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post, join the Macmillan Community  (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Gaddam.gifGuest blogger Amanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.


One of the classes that I teach at DePaul University is frequently referred to by students as “the research paper class.” This moniker has some truth to it; WRD 104 Composition and Rhetoric II, the second half of a required two-course, first-year writing series, has traditionally been centered around academic research and argument, so in most iterations of the course, the main assignment is a lengthy research paper. The learning outcomes for the course, however, extend beyond the academic research paper; they dictate that we need to be teaching students to compose in electronic environments and create multimodal texts. The push to create these multimodal arguments makes sense, given that the researched arguments that students encounter outside of school, in newspapers and other publications and periodicals, very often contain multimodal elements that both inform and complement the texts.


One of the ways that I get my students thinking beyond the Word document during their quarter-long research process is through the annotated bibliography remix assignment. Students collect, organize, and categorize scholarly sources in a typical annotated bibliography format, but then I ask them to spend time representing the relationships between their sources in other non-textual ways.


Background Reading

Instructors in the first-year writing program at DePaul University use the St. Martin’s Handbook as a required resource, and it has some useful and practical advice for students as they create both the traditional annotated bibliography and the remix assignment:


  1. Chapter 12 “Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes,” is a detailed introduction for students who have the sources but may not know how to use and analyze them effectively.  For this assignment, Section 12c “Keeping a working bibliography” not only defines the annotated bibliography with an example, but it also makes a good case for why the genre is useful to students. (Corresponding readings from other Lunsford handbooks: The Everyday Writer Ch. 14; Writing in Action Ch. 14; or EasyWriter Ch. 38)
  2. Chapter 16 “Design for Print and Digital Writing” and Chapter 18 “Communicating in Other Media” work well together for the remix portion of this assignment; Chapter 16 provides a review of the principles of visual rhetoric, while Chapter 18 gets students thinking about the format that their project might take and the unique rhetorical considerations that accompany each new medium.  (Corresponding readings from other Lunsford handbooks: The Everyday Writer Ch. 22, 24; Writing in Action Ch. 8, 4; or EasyWriter Ch. 2f, 1)


The Assignment

Here’s how the assignment works:


  1. Before I introduce the assignment prompt, I spend some time talking to and talking with the class about the academic conversation and their roles in it. Most, if not all, of the students are familiar with finding sources and using them to support an argument in writing, but often their experiences in high school or previous writing courses have been limited to writing a pro/con paper. Talking about the complexity of topics beyond just the pros and cons helps break down this binary, inspires them to look for and utilize a wider variety of sources, and prepares them to write a paper centered around a complex argument. Some of my DePaul colleagues introduced me to the multi-voiced New York Times “Room for Debate” feature, which has been very helpful in demonstrating the nuances of scholarly debate. I assign a “Room for Debate” reading for homework, and we spend part of the next class identifying how the different voices relate to each other and how we might insert our own voice into the conversation.
  2. I present the more traditional annotated bibliography assignment to the class alongside a discussion about the purposes and conventions of the genre itself. In the past, I’ve asked students to annotate their sources in two different ways: some classes have created two-paragraph annotations summarizing and analyzing each source, and I’ve asked other classes, particularly those that are short on time, to create five-sentence rhetorical précis for each source.
  3. Students research scholarly sources for their final research project, create annotations for a minimum of eight sources, and categorize them by sub-topic in an annotated bibliography format. If I have extra class time, I like to do a mini-peer review so that students can make sure that their annotations make sense and are capturing the most relevant information.
  4. I introduce the second half of the assignment, comprised of a multimodal remix and short reflection.  The remix asks students to find creative, non-textual ways of representing the relationships between their sources and their own working argument for their final research paper, not just the content of the sources themselves. Asking students to remix their annotated bibliographies in this way deepens their understanding of how scholars are responding to and building off of each other’s arguments, and it also helps students visualize where they fit into the academic conversation.
  5. Students write a short—usually one-page—reflection justifying their rhetorical choices and reflecting on how the remix process helped them see their research in new ways.


Student Compositions

I’ve had some incredible low-tech and high-tech responses to the remix assignment. Many students choose to create Prezi presentations or visual flowcharts with images and video. One student, for a project about the ethics of GMOs, created a hamburger with all the fixings out of different colored poster boards and wrote representative quotations from each of her sources on each element of the hamburger (tomato, lettuce, bun, etc.). She stacked the quotations according to how each source agreed or disagreed with each other, and the quotation on the meat section presented fundamental beliefs that all scholars seemed to agree with.



Another student, writing about white appropriation of hip hop culture, wrote a short summary of the relationships between the scholars and presented an audio recording of it, only each word was taken from different hip hop songs.


A particularly tech-savvy student (pictured to the right) created an animated robot battle to simulate opposing viewpoints fighting each other for a project on the economic and political consequences of developing artificial intelligence.


Reflection on the Assignment

Despite the fact that it has very little impact on their final grade (I grade the remix as a completion grade only), I find that they do get invested in finding creative ways to share their work. One of the best things about this project is that the medium is completely up to the students—they can stay within their technological comfort zone but still experience the benefits of piecing together their research in new ways. It’s also a good project for teachers who want a traditional deliverable but still want their students to experiment with a nontraditional genre, and it fits easily into an existing research project course structure.

The gap between the study of comics and the study of serious literature within academia has been shrinking in recent years, as campuses include more graphic novels in their first-year composition courses and in “one book” programs.  The “highbrow”/”lowbrow” divide has also been diminishing as works in comics format win prestigious literary prizes and rave reviews.  This year at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association a dozen sessions were devoted to panels on comics and graphic novels, including a panel held in a guarded room about the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons satirically depicting the prophet Mohammed.


For those teaching writing courses, the session I participated in on Developments in Comics Pedagogy drew a particularly lively crowd, despite its early morning slot on the first day of the conference.  The panel had been organized by Derek McGrath of Stony Brook University, who has been championing comics in his regional MLA NEMLA for many years.  You can read the way he frames the session here: Primer for “Developments in Comics Pedagogy.”


McGrath opened the session with a discussion of two-way communication with fans that seems to be central to the cultural conversation about manga, comics produced in Japan or in the style of Japanese comics. He noted that the process of “scanlation” encourages rich forms of engagement in which readers of comics may develop or enhance story lines as they participate in the scanning, translation, and editing of comics from one language into another language, as in the case of an issue from Soul Eater. He also talked about the way that comics functioned as “tangible objects,” even as the rise of e-books might dematerialize the text.


Co-organizer Keith McCleary of the University of California, San Diego, showed several impressive examples of comics developed by his students, and he emphasized how instructors needed to manage the “high anxiety” that students have about performing as artists and how digital retracing and other computational tools might assist students worried about reproducing unrealistically dexterous production.  Those interested in McCleary’s comics pedagogy can check out his online teaching portfolio, which is packed with prompts and examples. He also chortled about his own naiveté in underestimating “the very strong political feelings that they had” and the frankness of opinions that students might express, even about superhero comics like Batwoman: Elegy and Marvel’s Civil War:   “I thought we would be on the same page.” But he acknowledged that comics helped them engage in more substantive political debate and grapple with real disagreements more than they might otherwise.  McCleary warned that too often college courses assigned the same “politically correct” memoirs in graphic novel formats, which might enforce uniformity in classroom discussion.


Nick Sousanis of the University of Calgary continued the theme of ameliorating student fears, particularly among undergraduates who might identify as “non-drawers.”  Sousanis has been getting a lot of attention of late for his innovative graphic dissertation, Unflattening, which is now available from Harvard University Press.  He has been praised by luminaries such as Cathy Davidson for producing a document pointing toward avenues for completely reinventing the deliverables of a Ph.D., and by Andrea Lunsford for advancing multimodal composition.  Like McCleary, Sousanis showed the prolific work of his own students, particularly as a venue for health graphics, including a publication-worthy comic on depression.   He noted that emphasizing a full range of narrative techniques could be important and praised Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story as a useful pedagogical graphic text.  In talking about the value of sketch notes and visual analysis and annotation, he also showed the results of assigned exercises for using tracing paper atop a comics layout as a way to demonstrate graphically “how much they can notice.”  As an instructor, he characterized his task as helping students to “figure out what they don’t know that they know.”


Susan E. Kirtley of Portland State University described some of the unique challenges that she faced as an administrator developing the PSU post-baccalaureate Certificate in Comic Studies and her successes recruiting faculty from multiple disciplines to teach elective courses such as Jewish comics or manga that rounded out a curriculum requiring rigorous preparation in theory and history.  She observed that participation from the local comics community had also enriched the program.  Kirtley also laughed about a student initially querying if “you want to get fired?” She credited the program’s continued good health to “speaking the administrative language” and navigating “the sheer amount of red tape,” as well as benefiting from wise counsel from peers in similar positions championing the academic value of comics, such as Ben Saunders of the University of Oregon.


Maria Elsy Cardona of Saint Louis University talked about teaching Spanish literature with comics and the benefits of advertising courses with disarming cartoons.  In addition to using comics as a means to introduce students to Spanish Literature, she uses comics to address difficult issues of social justice such as gender discrimination.  In her course "Between Laughter and Tears, Gender Stereotypes in Spanish Comics"—a cross-listed course with the Department of Women and Gender Studies at SLU—she uses Spanish comics to talk about issues of gender discrimination. The course, thus, looks at gender inequality both at the local and the global level.


As an expert in children’s literature, Joe Sutliff Saunders talked about the value of a comparative exercise with comics and picture books in a graduate course. He noted the value of teaching a comics course not firmly within the established body of knowledge, but at the edge of disciplinary exploration.  Eventually he dedicated a whole course to examining comics and picture books alongside each other and asking how the theory of each illuminated the other. 


Elizabeth “Biz” Nijdam of the University of Michigan, who has taught writing with Understanding Rhetoric, described a variety of uses for comic books in the college classroom.  She argued that teaching history with comics could be an extremely effective way to use them pedagogically, particularly in the case of covering photographic and visual representations of the Holocaust.  Like Cardona, she has used comics for teaching a foreign language, and like Sousanis and McCleary she has found herself attending to lowering classroom anxiety about artistic competence.  She plugged the online software package Pixton as a helpful tool and distributed one of her own comics to attendees.


In the question and answer portion of the panel there was a wide-ranging discussion that covered everything from questions about assessment (and a possible answer in contract grading) to questions about containing textbook costs.  Of course, given the intensive review and production processes of traditional textbooks, there can be plenty of sticker shock to go around. Given this lively panel, I am pleased to have McCleary on board for the instructors’ manual of the forthcoming edition of Understanding Rhetoric.

A few teachers have asked me what the best way is to use An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Kate Lavia-Bagley, an NC State Senior Lecturer and the author of the Instructor’s Manual for An Insider’s Guide, maps out a few different approaches and includes possible syllabi to use for courses. What I’ve found over the years, though, is that various approaches to first-year writing courses that focus on disciplinary writing really boil down to two options. Both can be very effective depending on the expertise of the teacher and the objectives of the writing program in which the course is taught.


  1. Writing in the Disciplines: practicing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts
  2. Writing about the Disciplines: analyzing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts


A teacher using the first approach, writing in the disciplines, might have students walk through the disciplines, writing something from a humanistic perspective, a social science perspective, and a scientific perspective. Students might practice common genres found in a particular discipline and imitate the conventions they discover. Jessica Saxon’s blog posts about her experience teaching WID for the first time generally follow this approach as she has her students try out writing in different disciplinary areas.


A teacher using the second approach, writing about the disciplines, might focus more on analysis of disciplines and disciplinary writing. Students might write a rhetorical analysis of a scholarly article, or they might compare scholarly and popular articles about the same study. They might write an academic literacy narrative or compare articles on the same topic from different disciplinary perspectives.


Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Some of the best first-year writing courses I’ve seen combine these two approaches in innovative, imaginative ways. Here are two assignment sequences that illustrate the back and forth nature these courses can take:


  1. Academic Literacy Narrative
  2. Analysis of a Scholarly Article
  3. Writing a Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity


  1. Research Proposal
  2. Interdisciplinary Annotated Bibliography
  3. Research/Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity


I’ve used the second approach several times with great success, sometimes adding a comparative rhetorical analysis. Are there other approaches you’ve considered for teaching a WID-based curriculum? 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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Some of the terminology used in discussing argumentation is centuries old, but its applications are as timely as today’s headlines, as the title of this blog suggests. When we listen to presidential candidates, for example, we respond to the logic of what he or she says, we are moved—or not—by their appeal to our emotions, and we evaluate both the ideas and their effects on us in light of how ethical we perceive the candidates to be. We may not consciously analyze logos, ethos, and pathos, but these ancient concepts are behind our thinking.


We may not explicitly ask ourselves, “What claim was Trump making about Cruz in his speech?” or “What support did Obama offer for his confidence in the state of the union in his recent speech?” but when we try to become better at presenting a reasoned argument or analyzing someone else’s, it helps to know the terms claim and support.


In our everyday lives we tend to use the term argument to refer to a verbal fight between individuals. The more formal definition of argument, though, goes back to Aristotle’s concept of argument as all available means of persuasion that one can offer in support of a claim. A critic may argue that African Americans were slighted in the nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards, for example, and may offer as evidence the lack of nominations for Straight Outta Compton and for Michael B. Jordan.


The effectiveness of that argument depends on the audience and on the extent to which the critic and his audience share common ground—in this case, the extent to which they use the same criteria for judging the worth of actors and the films they appear in. This is the concept that often makes progress in negotiations possible because it is the shared common ground that two opposing parties can meet on in order to move toward a solution to a problem.


A formal study of argumentation also helps us to see the flaws in logic that appear all around us. We can all see the fallacy—and the humor—in a statement like this one made on Facebook: “If Donald Trump is elected, I’m leaving the country! I’m moving to Alaska!” Most people who have made it into the public spotlight, however, tend to make logical errors that are a bit more subtle. Attacking another person’s character may get attention, but it can detract from the issue of how well a person may do her job. Presenting only two options, “my way” or disaster, is a fallacy known as the either-or fallacy. Judging all of any group on the actions of one or a few has led to the tension that exists in many neighborhoods between law enforcement and the citizens they are supposed to protect.


If we are to act responsibly when we vote or when we take a stand on a public policy issue—or even when we enter into an argument with a friend, we have to think about the logic of what we are saying and hearing. The vocabulary itself is not what is important. What is important is being conscious of how a writer or speaker is trying to move us, for good or ill.


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Sometime in mid-June 1977, I queued up with a whole lot of others in the Ohio State Stadium to receive my Ph.D. I had my first post-Ph.D. job—at the University of British Columbia—and the summer ahead to pack, move across the country, and relax.


But first, I had a bit of catch-up reading to do, like the May issue of College Composition and Communication, featuring Janet Emig’s “Writing as a Mode of Learning.” It’s a short article, and I remember reading it straight through and then straight through again. I knew Emig’s work, of course, and admired it (and her) tremendously. But this brief essay summed up so succinctly and so well the powerful connection between writing and learning that it practically took my breath away. In Emig’s view, writing “involves the fullest possible functioning of the brain.” With writing, she says, “all three ways of dealing with actuality are simultaneously or almost simultaneously deployed” (10). Those three ways, “enactive,” (learning by doing), “iconic,” (learning through images), and “representational or symbolic,” (restating in words) encapsulate the active, participatory, originary, collaborative view of writing that we celebrate today. But Emig wrote this almost forty years ago. I’ve gone back to that essay a number of times over the years, particularly to rethink what she says about speaking and listening. But as for writing and its deep interconnection with learning: she nailed it.


Much more recently, I’ve read with great interest Paul Anderson, Chris Anson, Robert Gonyea, and Charles Paine’s report on The Contributions of Writing to Learning and Development,” a study conducted in collaboration with the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). This study draws on data collected from some 30,000 frosh and 40,000 seniors at 80 U.S. undergraduate institutions. These individuals responded to special questions added to the NSSE survey, questions about writing and about learning, based on twenty-seven effective writing practices identified by a panel of WPA members. In analyzing the student responses, the research team confirmed many of Emig’s insights, eventually naming three factors that are particularly related to higher-order, integrative learning: interactive writing practices, meaning-making writing tasks, and clear writing expectations.


“Interactive writing practices” reflect the participatory, give-and-take ways of learning that the students in the Stanford Study of Writing identified as THE most important factor in their development as thinkers and writers. So learning by doing, as Emig noted, is crucial. In the recent study, writing assignments turn out to be crucial as well: those that call for rote response or for a paint-by-the-numbers approach do not forward student development in the ways that those asking them to make meanings of their own do. Another echo of Emig. I don’t remember Janet talking about clear expectations explicitly, but the protocols she used with the twelfth grade writers certainly embodied such expectations.


Teachers of writing will immediately recognize the importance of the factors identified in “The Contributions of Writing to Learning and Development.” Some may, along with me, hear echoes of earlier work, including that of Janet Emig. But what the current research team has done is to provide “hard” empirical evidence for the relationship between these factors and student learning, evidence that is extremely useful to all of higher education but especially to those who are struggling to build and sustain rigorous writing programs in a time of huge pressure to slash budgets. So I am very grateful for the work of Anderson, Anson, Gonyea, and Paine, and look forward to their ongoing work. If you haven’t already read it, check it out!

9781457697968.jpgI’m so excited: the third edition of Emerging is now available! In this series of posts I will go over some of the new readings and offer suggestions for teaching with the new edition. But I wanted to start by talking about what makes a new edition “new.”


I think we all agree that textbook pricing is a serious challenge for students today. One recent report suggests that prices have risen over 1,000% since 1977 and there has been a lot of press on the issue and a lot of finger pointing. One prominent finger often points to publishers and the cycles of new editions, with the suggestion that publishers make modest or insignificant changes to an edition just to rake in cash.


I think this problem is complex and I think many fingers can point to many places, but in this post I’d just like to share what went into this new edition. It doesn’t do much to resolve the debate but I hope it will offer some insight on this particular textbook.


The consistent message I have gotten from my editors when thinking about a new edition is that we need to change the book to make it better. My experience of textbook edition cycles, then, has not been about profits but about what feels to me like a very familiar writing process: publish, get feedback, revise, publish, get feedback, and so on. This may be particularly true for a reader like Emerging, with its focus on very contemporary readings and current issues but I suspect it may be more generally true. The field changes and evolves, as do the teachers who teach these courses and the students who take them. When we work on a new edition, those are the issues at the heart of our process.


To begin revising the book, we think about both emerging trends (digital literacy, writing in the disciplines, researched writing) and current issues (environment, emerging adulthood, transgender, social media). We also ask instructors who are using the book what’s working and what isn’t. We rely heavily on that feedback (which I think of as a form of peer review) to help guide us in considering what essays to take out (because they don’t work or they’re not used), what topics to put in, and what other features will make the book more effective.


This is an extended collaborative process. My editor and I spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off each other. We also continue to consult with instructors—in particular I ask teachers using the text here at Florida Atlantic University to help us locate new and relevant readings. I have at least one meeting with a whole team at Bedford/St. Martin’s to discuss changes in the book, particularly ways we can improve the apparatus that supports teachers and students.


I never realized how much work went into a textbook until I first started this project and, continually, I am amazed (and daunted) at the amount of work it takes to revise a textbook. We’ve worked very hard to make Emerging a better book. I’m not sure if you will agree, but your response to what we’ve done will form a foundation for our decisions the next time around. In this sense, the book itself is a collaborative process. I have a particular vision for what Emerging can and should be, but that vision is in turn shaped and refined by what you want and need it to be.


Looking at the bare facts for the third edition, we took out 26 readings and put in 21 new ones. We scrapped the e-readings. We expanded the introduction and added more about researched writing. We totally revamped the sequences and added research sequences. And we added additional table of contents to help different instructors find a way into the book. And I can tell you this, not one of those changes (in my experience) was motivated by profit.


I’m not denying that there is a serious problem with textbook pricing. I’m not denying that publishers are out to make a profit. But when it comes to this new edition, a lot more was motivating it and a lot more went into it. Next post, I’ll go into some details on just what’s new.


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


Over the semester break, I had a chance to relax and re/engage with some of my favorites tomes.  This was such a rare treat for me, and I thoroughly relished the time to sit with these works and spend time with them. As a new semester is now upon us, I want to share a serendipitous moment from my in situ biblio-experience.  I was reading “Arts of the Contact Zone, which is a foundational text for me in my teaching.  My spouse asked me what I was reading, and I mistakenly said "arts of the comfort zone" instead of the actual title. At the time it seemed like small matter, probably as a result of sugar shock of the malted milk variety. 


As I was prepping my syllabi a good week later for the upcoming semester, I thought again about comfort zones and how we all practice our own pedagogies in a multiplicity of them, based on geography, time, and venue.  [Here's that serendipitous moment I promised] –what if we approach critical-digital teaching and its multimodal compositions as shared practices, with each of us providing expertise from our own "zones of comfort" while learning from our colleagues who operate in their own zones? Mary Louise Pratt suggests that learning sites can be spaces where meaningful challenge and dissent can create consensus and growth.  Andrea Lunsford suggests further that these spaces may be enriched when they are both digital and public. I suggest to you that our Macmillan Community is such a space, and that we should take this new year as an opportunity to follow each other's work in the Community as well as comment, play, and experiment with our individual and collective ideas in other social media spaces where we practice, such as Twitter and Facebook, and


For me, "doing" digital teaching is about helping learners gain deeper understandings that lead to producing situated knowledge(s) and challenging dominant ways of knowing.  I think that when learners authentically experiment and play with knowledge they empower themselves and their communities to affect change both with-in and with-out traditional learning environments.


These ideas, and their associated learning activities and outcomes, are what I bring to the Community.  I am excited to start this year by talking with my colleagues about how they embrace digital pedagogies within their own comfort zones.  I am really excited to talk about challenges and disruptions to teaching writing that can meet us in and maybe even draw us all out of our comfort zones.


Here's your mission: connect with me in the Macmillan Community and let's talk about how we teach writing through critical-digital lenses. Send me direct messages, tag me in a blog post or discussion, and/or use the tag talkteaching2016 in any of your postings.


Here's my mission: I will spend the next 15 weeks research-teaching, gathering, and posting some of my best and worst attempts at critical-digital strategies, along with some reflections from my students, so that we have some additional departure points for conversations. Wanna get started?  




Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where learners become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and constructionist learning theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. In addition to the Macmillan Community, please reach out to Jeanne at: and


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In nearly thirty years of teaching and writing about Basic Writing, I have observed that one significant theme remains the same. Institutions that offer courses called Basic Writing, or other developmental courses like Stretch or ALP, have marked a select group of students as “different” or “other,” based on test scores, directed self-placement, or some other process or measurement or academic sorting.  Students often resist this label, and many respond with frustration that can derail even the most carefully planned course and the most compassionate of teachers.


Once I learned of my ADHD diagnosis and researched lifelong impacts of ADHD, my own ages-old identification with difference began to make more sense. In mourning the death of David Bowie, I grappled with his influence on my conceptions of difference, and I considered how to foreground those conceptions in the spring semester Stretch course.


When David Bowie died, social media exploded. Like me, some commentators had experienced deep loneliness in isolated 1970s suburbs, explained the impact of David Bowie’s music in our lives.  “He made it okay to be different,” Madonna explained to her fans at a concert in Houston, as she introduced her cover of his iconic song, “Rebel Rebel.”   



“Rebel Rebel” debuted at 85 on the Top 100 Billboard Charts on June 1st, 1974, at the end of my disastrous sophomore year in high school. My geometry teacher had promised me a D- if I agreed to never again take another math class. I kept that promise. In 1974, geometry was the highest math I would need for college, and the D- would show up as a pass grade because I had elected to take the course pass/fail.


I also failed driver’s education. That summer, while other teenagers were earning their driver’s licenses and making plans for the freedom that would come from commandeering their parents’ cars, I looked forward to a summer of babysitting, reading whatever I could get my hands on, and writing my heart out whenever I could. But I had no mobility and my social life was nonexistent.  The 1970s did not provide sex and drugs for all of us. But then there was rock and roll. Top 40 AM radio saved me, as it did many others.


“I was weird,” I explained to my Stretch classes. “My teachers told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wasn’t living up to my potential.”  It would take more than three decades to learn about my ADHD, which had a different name in 1974, and which was not often diagnosed in girls. Instead we were told we daydreamed too much and needed to pay more attention.


David Bowie offered an alternative that I could dance to. It was “Rebel Rebel.” Here are the lyrics:

You've got your mother in a whirl

She's not sure if you're

A boy or a girl

Hey, babe, your hair's all right

Hey, babe, let's go out tonight


In the chorus, his love spoke directly to my broken heart:

                         Rebel, rebel, you've torn your dress

Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess

Rebel, rebel, how could they know

Hot tramp, I love you so


As a young girl with undiagnosed ADHD, I had found my lifelong anthem. Thirteen years later, in the autumn of 1987, when I taught my first basic writing class, I would find my calling. All these decades later, the music reminds me to dismiss deficit models, and instead to honor differences— including my own— as deep sources of resilience and of strength.

It will be a number of months before Sonia Maasik and I begin work on the ninth edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. but, given the continuing evolution of American popular culture, I am always watching and assessing the current signs in anticipation of whatever new directions the next edition of the book will need to take.  So I was rather taken this morning by an L.A. Times headline to the effect that Mad Max: Fury Road stands to "lead the pack" with as many as ten Oscar nods, when the nominations are announced on the day this blog is scheduled to appear .


And, no, I am not going to make any predictions about the matter myself in this blog.  That isn't what popular cultural semiotics is about.


What I find so striking about this successful return of the Mad Max franchise is how it reflects a continuation and, perhaps, intensification, of a popular cultural trend that receives a good deal of attention in the current (eighth) edition of Signs of Life.  This is the phenomenon explored in Chapter 3, "Video Dreams," of the "new Westerns" that have been appearing in both television and the cinema.  Such entertainments as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones reset the stage of the traditional Western while maintaining the basic situation: an endless battle for survival conducted by armed men and women in a lawless wilderness.  When you add to this the predictable (and predicted) mega-blockbuster success of the latest Star Wars episode—which, with its desert settings and echoes of the very first movie in the series (remember that famous saloon scene?), may well qualify as a new Western as well, especially in its vision of a world permanently at war—a fairly obvious, yet nonetheless important significance appears.


As we put it in the current edition of Signs of Life, the new Westerns (and related fantasies) "appeal to a society suffering from an apparently eternal threat of terroristic violence and economic malaise.  As individuals we may feel helpless in the face of such forces, but as audiences we can find in the new Westerns an imaginary freedom to resist, while at the same time being reassured that everyone is as badly off as we are."  (There is also the possibility, I must add, that the imaginary prospect of a life filled with the constant excitement and stimulation of perpetual combat—no boring cubicles or bills to pay here!—is also one of the big attractions of the new Western.)


Thus, there is a significant difference between the Westerns and war stories of the past and those of the present.  Sure, The Lord of the Rings is about a war: but that war ends, decisively, with the destruction of the Ring.  And certainly, the American cinema is awash with war stories—especially with respect to the Second World War.  But those stories too portend an end to the violence.  In High Noon Marshal Will Kane confronts the bad guys, blows them away, and that's that.  But the new stories make it a fundamental premise that the violence not only has no ending, it really has no interruptions.  Each of Tolkien's ages of Middle Earth end in a climactic battle (implying future wars, of course), but at least the wars are thousands of years apart.  But in Mad Max—which is a new Western if there ever was one—the whole point is that battle is all that there is, and no victory is ever complete in the Star Wars, Walking Dead, and Thrones sagas.


What with the rise of ISIS/ISIL, the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, and the continuing evisceration of the American middle class, the conditions that helped foster the new Western have only been intensified since Sonia and I addressed them for the eighth edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.  The return of Mad Max is a sign of this continuation and intensification.  America appears to be stuck in a very bad place.  The preface to the eighth edition begins with the words, "The more things change, the more they .  .  .  intensify."  I am beginning to suspect that the ninth edition will be composed under similar conditions.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Vive le Framework

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Jan 14, 2016

Although I refer to it often and have been very grateful for the work of NCTE, WPA, and NWP in creating the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, I have never posted about it, which I regret. This document, and the eight habits of mind it describes as integral to the deep learning of our students, has been enormously beneficial. Drawing on rhetorical theory as well as the best work in contemporary writing studies, the document sees writing development as a thoroughly rhetorical process, one that can be guided but not acquired by rote or by learning rigid “rules.” Rather, the document puts emphasis on students’ writerly choices and on embodying habits of mind: curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition. Developed in 2010 and released in January 2011, the Framework responds powerfully if indirectly to the Common Core Standards, which were drawn up without consultation with college teachers and scholars. To my mind, the Framework is a valuable and necessary addition to the Common Core, or even a substitute for it in terms of writing development.


Recently I’ve had an opportunity to read a collection of essays called Applications for the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing: Scholarship, Theories, and Application. Edited by Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Nicholas Behm, and Duane Roen, this volume (forthcoming from Parlor Press, so watch for it!) comprises sixteen chapters—five on scholarship, four on theory, and seven on application. Essays help to put the Framework into historical and pedagogical context, situate its principles within the theory and practice of rhetoric, and provide practical, detailed advice about how to integrate the Framework into varying curricula. Perhaps most important, this volume adds to the growing critical mass of scholarship growing out of and supporting the Framework. As such, it’s a very timely addition: I found it a thoroughly good read and a fine way to start off 2016.

Creed.jpgGuest blogger Daniel Creed is a PhD student in the Comparative Studies program at Florida Atlantic University and teaches first-year composition and sophomore level literature courses for the English department. His current research focuses on genre fiction, mythopoesis as postcolonial healing in twentieth century literature, and theoretical constructions for reading fantasy literature. His work has been featured in The Explicator and North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies and is under review in three other journals.


I’d like to begin this post with a confession. I have read everything in the Emerging textbook more than once. I’ve taught most of them more than once, and for years (and multiple editions of the textbook), Francis Fukuyama’s “Human Dignity” has flummoxed students. The essay is one of the longer ones in Emerging, and it is full of complex thoughts and ideas that many first-year composition students have difficulty grasping with any depth of understanding. It was a nearly impossible first reading in my courses, and often still confused students when I placed it at the end of a sequence. The essay, like all of the essays in the textbook, leeches out into various ideas and subjects, but what has been most promising with regards to my students has been focusing on ideas of human exceptionalism and exceptional humans with the text.


In “Human Dignity,” Fukuyama asserts the idea that one of the greatest dangers to civilization is the future of biotechnology and the movement towards transhumanism. It is an idea that he extended in an interview where he cites the social and economic inequalities that could arise from artificially enhanced human beings in our near future. Within the context of the interview, he argues that Western society is less likely to develop these technologies because of the Christian morality that dominates social thought, noting the same passage in Genesis that situates humans above the animal kingdom that Jacques Derrida cites in “The Animal that therefore I am (more to follow).”


This originally led me to create an activity for students where I crated small slips of paper with different dollar amounts on them which the students blindly pulled from a sealed container. The students were then given a worksheet that gave them categories of “enhancement” (for make believe children) and the corresponding costs for doing so. As students filled out their sheets, allocating their very limited or nearly limitless wealth, they began to shy away from those not like them. Their self-segregation was furthered when I asked each of them to locate a mate for the “pretend child” they had created with their dollar amounts. In a perfect parallel to Fukuyama’s teachings, the genetically wealthy mated their children and the genetically poor were forced to mate theirs. This allowed them to see how generational pairings would further increase the stratification until the idea of human would either need to have multiple meanings, or cease to have meaning for one group or another.


It is the explanation of this moment through their own experience that allows them to clearly understand Fukuyama’s ideas regarding biotechnology and transhumanism, which begins the conversation regarding whether the highly modified or less modified beings are the “true humans” and what social problems those ideas could result in for future generations. This conversation works well with the following essays:

  • Brian Christian, “Authenticating” – discusses transhumanism and cyborgification
  • Patricia Churchland, “Networking: Genes, Brains, and Behavior” – looks at genetic causes for cooperative traits and the roots of morality
  • The Dalai Lama, “Ethics and the New Genetics” – considers the need for a rethinking and balancing of ethics regarding biotech
  • Tom Vanderbilt, “Shut Up, I Can’t Hear You” – discusses how cyborg identities and mechanization can be linked to aggression


However, the conversation also opens into ideas that have little to do with how we determine humanity and more to do with how we participate in human exceptionalism. This conversation leads into a sequence that could include David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” Michael Pollan’s “Practicing Complexity,” Elizabeth Dickinson’s “The Future of Food,” and Hal Herzog’s “Animals Like Us.”


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Dockter Jason_Thumbnail.jpgToday's guest blogger is Jason Dockter, who teaches first-year composition at Lincoln Land Community College. He completed his Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. His research focus is primarily on rhetoric/composition, with specific interests in online writing instruction and multimodal composition.


I primarily teach online writing courses, and for the first time in four years, I am teaching a face-to-face (f2f) class.. Returning to the physical classroom, I realize that the students I’ll have in class are far different than the students I worked with four years ago. They have different expectations, different needs, and different experiences that they’ll all bring to the classroom. These thoughts bring me back to the document that helps to communicate the teacher’s vision of the class to the students: the syllabus. As I prep for the beginning of the spring semester, I keep coming back to a gripe that I hear from my colleagues who teach f2f: students don’t read the syllabus, or if they do read it, they don’t refer back to it for answers to their questions. However, I don’t think the format for a traditional, print-based syllabus goes far enough in creating a text that helps students to comprehend and retain the information presented within a syllabus. As Traci Gardner pointed out in her blog post on redesigning a course syllabus with a graphic, students not reading or retaining information on a syllabus is very much a rhetorical problem. In fact, even if students have read the syllabus and retain the info, there’s a realistic possibility that the meaning students made from the syllabus doesn’t align with the meaning the teacher intended.


Many online teachers are creating alternatives to a print-based syllabus; do a YouTube search for “video syllabus”, and you’ll see what I mean.  This semester, I am designing a multimodal syllabus that is designed to utilize the affordances that a web text can provide in hopes that the syllabus will better communicate with my students, helping them to more accurately make meaning that is similar to my intended meaning. Also, I want to start the semester off by challenging the existing notions that students have of what a text is—what writing is—to demonstrate that writing, and the writing they can expect to do, can look differently from what we’re all used to seeing.


Context for a Syllabus

While a traditional syllabus is developed to function within the very specific context of a f2f class, the teacher presenting that syllabus is an embedded part of that text in that situation. The teacher’s delivery of the syllabus is a crucial component and a unique aspect of the text that helps students to shape a particular meaning from the syllabus. Within the moment, a teacher and student collaborate to develop a shared understanding of the course syllabus. Creating and emphasizing this context is one reason why an unofficial “syllabus day” exists at the beginning of many courses. A usual moment during this “syllabus day” is the refrain to review the syllabus later that night or over the next few days.


However, if students revisit the syllabus on their own, the teacher is no longer a part of that text, and students are left to reinterpret the syllabus alone, developing their own understanding of the complexities of assignments and policies. A syllabus that embraces a web-based design and emphasizes modes beyond the linguistic and spatial can better help to communicate course information to students. Not only is the text design more accessible because of the familiarity students have with web-based texts, but the additional modalities will provide additional ways through which meaning can be made.


An additional bonus for me, within the context of my first-year composition course, is that I can demonstrate for students the idea of remixing texts. My multimodal syllabus can be compared to a traditional, print-based syllabus, providing the impetus for a beginning discussion about multiple modes, design, remix, rhetoric, rhetorical choice, and even genres of writing. 


The Multimodal Syllabus

The multimodal syllabus can take on many different forms, but the key aspect of this format is to avoid relying primarily on a single modality as the communicator of information. For me, moving beyond a paper-based syllabus provides opportunities to create something that lives where most of today’s information is shared: online. My syllabus is presented through the blog medium, as that’s a format that I am familiar with (but a multimodal syllabus could be designed through a variety of technologies such as Prezi, Thinglink, Softchalk, ExplainEverything). Perhaps other publishing formats would work better or provide greater opportunity to emphasize additional modalities, but my own and my students’ familiarity with blogs, essentially basic websites, requires little explanation about how to navigate the site. This familiarity will be helpful for students, allowing them to concentrate on the information. Familiarity with blogs makes the navigation obvious, but this can also be introduced to students through a post that quickly explains the text and its design.


Within my multimodal syllabus, I am using the same headings that I would within my paper-bound syllabus: Instructor Info and Contact Info, Course Info, Course Assignments, Grading Breakdown, Class Policies, and a Course Schedule. The blog platform works especially well because I can categorize the content areas of the syllabus by assigning each a unique category name and subsequent tag, such as Instructor Information, Class Policies, etc. These categories create specific links to unique areas of the text, which will be convenient for students who might want to review a specific policy without having to search through the entire syllabus to locate it. Or, the use of tags lets me tie multiple components of the syllabus together with a common tag. This easily lets students find everything associated with a specific tag or category, so they do not have to search through the entire text. 


Perhaps most excitingly, the blog format enables me to easily integrate other technologies, such as video, audio, and image elements into each post. Through this variety of media, my syllabus embraces a variety of communication modalities. I opt to incorporate alphanumeric text in addition to a video because students have the choice of reading the info or watching and hearing it. While both information media communicate the same info, the choice is the student’s in terms of how they want to be presented with the information and how they want to engage with it.


Through this choice, students might gain knowledge of the instructor or the course that is unintended, but quite valuable. For instance, students may learn more about the instructor based upon the background of any videos recorded and shared (for instance, learning that an instructor enjoys working from a local coffee shop or a bit about an instructor’s interests based upon pictures that might hang in the background of her office). A student might not easily recall a specific policy from a cursory read of alphanumeric text, but that same student might recall how a teacher spoke of a policy from a familiar coffee shop on campus, prompting a recollection of the policy. The richness of multiple modes offers possibilities for students, and through these communicative possibilities, reading and retention of course information is more likely.


     To see my syllabus, follow this link.


     Here are the first two videos featured in the syllabus, which introduce me to students and explain how the blog syllabus works:


Since 1991, the American Dialect Society (ADS) has been choosing a “word of the year,” one that is “significant to the happenings of [the year], indicative of public discourse and national preoccupations in [the year].” Last year’s word was #blacklivesmatter, and was, I believe, the first hashtag to be so honored. This year they are considering legions of nominations, including “deconfliction,” a word John Kerry used to describe avoiding airspace conflicts, and “unicorns,” startups valued at over a billion dollars, as well as “schlonged,” the vulgar Yiddish term used infamously by Donald Trump in reference to Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2008 Democratic nomination process.


The ADS will announce the 2015 Word of the Year at their annual meeting, which takes place in mid-January. In the meantime, I asked a group of college students what they would nominate. Several offered up “terrorism” and one said “radical Islam.” Other nominations were “global warming,” “Ferguson,” and “May the Force be with you.” One student nominated “refugee,” though qualified it by saying it should really not be the word alone, but “refugee” alongside the image of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, which surely captured the world’s attention and put a huge exclamation point on the refugee crisis.


I’ve thought a long time about my word of the year, and for me it would also be connected to an image: I would like to honor the “student activists” across the country who have been drawing attention to the need for colleges and universities to work much, much harder on diversifying their student bodies, faculty, and staffs—and at working to ensure social justice for all. In a year of so much horror and despair, these students embody some of our highest and best ideals.


I’ll be looking forward to reading about the word or words the American Dialect Society chooses as especially emblematic of 2015. But Oxford Dictionaries has beaten them to it and already announced their choice—and it’s not a word at all, but an emoji known as “face with tears of joy.”




Apparently, this symbol was used most by people around the world in 2015, accounting for 20% of all emojis in the UK and 17% in the US. Who knew??


So Happy 2016 to all emojis—and here’s to your word of the year!

Urmi.jpgTahmina Urmi, our guest blogger this week, is an MA student at Florida Atlantic University who loves English in all its forms. She hopes to further her education while working on her goal to break down walls, ceilings and boundaries through her presence as a modern Muslim woman in classrooms. Although her degree focuses on Shakespeare, her passion lies in advocating change through written and spoken words while donning colorful hijabs in place of a red superhero cape.


When students meet me on the first day of class, the first thing they notice, and sometimes are confused by, is the scarf on my head. I always witness a wide range of reactions: some whisper quietly to their classmates while looking nervously at me, others avoid eye contact, and some are simply disinterested. At first I thought I felt this way because of the nervousness many instructors feel in the beginning of the semester until I started noticing a pattern—as soon as I went out of my way to discuss my cultural background and mention that I am, in fact, a Muslim woman living in the land of the free who made the active decision to wear the hijab, many of the students look less tensed and less guarded. I have actually had several students tell me, “I am so glad you said that. I wanted to ask you but didn’t want to offend you!”


This confused me at first. Why would asking me a simple question regarding my headscarf offend me? In recent years, women adorning the hijab have been splashed all over the news, in both good and bad light, so the students may have had some idea of its significance. But then I began to understand; although they might have seen it discussed on the news, the ones who talked about it always had political reasons for doing so. Many times, these very same people had little understanding of the cultural and religious significance of certain symbols, such as the bindi and dreadlocks, and were called out for “stereotyping” or being “ignorant” about another culture and accused of attempting to divide citizens of the United States. It dawned on me that because of reasons like these, these students were growing up in a culture in which people were becoming culturally hypersensitive as a result of always wanting to be politically correct (PC). Although at face value it might seem like it is better to have a society of people who were trying to avoid conflict, what it really means is that, although the ones who wanted to be PC avoided asking questions, the ones who were ill-informed have no issues being loud and perpetuating incorrectness.


For this very reason, I think it’s that much more important to talk about cultural diversity in our classroom in a way that goes beyond the traditional and cliché. Currently, universities do have activities that cater to “(Insert Race) Heritage” month, but these only discuss surface level topics, like food and clothing. There are several selections from Emerging that can help facilitate this conversation to transcend the politically correct. 

  • In “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples,” Steve Olson looks at the stereotyping and racism in communities even as mixed and diverse as Hawaii. This can open up the floor to a discussion of what the current practices are of distinguishing the different races we see in our own communities and question how logical and sound these methods of distinction are.
  • An in-class activity can include students going through the entries in “Portfolio of Postcards” by PostSecret and create postcards of their own about questions regarding race, religion and culture that they are too afraid to ask or voice.
  • “Leave Your Name at the Border” by Manuel Muñoz would be helpful when discussing how something as simple as a name can cause unwanted reactions, which can be tied to what Yang says about the higher expectations from Asians.
  • Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” can be used to talk about the different stereotypes that are in circulation.
  • Leslie Savan’s “What’s Black, Then White, and Said All Over” can then be used to discuss the reasons behind the uproars mentioned earlier. Students can learn not only about cultures beyond the surface level, but it’s then that the students can, hopefully, start to understand what “appropriation” and “assimilation” really mean and why they can be upsetting.
  • Finally, Rebekah Nathan’s “Community and Diversity” talks about the sense of togetherness amongst college students. This essay can help start the discussion of what makes a group of people a “community.” Each semester, I’ve seen students come up with their own definitions of “community” that sometimes varied even within a group of friends. This particular reading can then open up a discussion on how we can celebrate our differences while still belonging to and being an active member of a community.


To try to make students more comfortable asking questions without worrying about offending people, more complicated and uncomfortable topics need to enter the classroom. Giving students a platform to discuss different stereotypes and cultural matters without having to be PC provides an opportunity for both the instructor and students to respect each other’s differences while still attempting to create a unified community.


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