Guest 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.
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:
- 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)
- 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)
Here’s how the assignment works:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.