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Andrea A. Lunsford

Island Hopping!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Mar 30, 2016

Just back from ten days of cruising around the Caribbean with my two sisters, soaking up sun and all the history and local culture we could manage. As always, I kept an eye out for teachers and students, and I learned a little about what constitutes public education—and how that differs from French West Indies to British Virgin Islands to U.S. Virgin Islands, and to those islands that are now independent entities. Discipline seemed fairly strict everywhere, and we saw lots of uniformed as well as high-spirited kids. The people with whom we spoke were all public school educated (“You have to pay to go to private schools,” which are mostly Catholic). And for college, some students go to France or Britain or the U.S., though there are many universities—and especially several highly ranked medical schools—in the Islands.


My favorite island remains Dominica, which is lush, green, and pristine, thanks to the fact that sugar cane couldn’t thrive there in the steeply mountainous and rocky terrain. Once there, a guide took a small group of us on an indescribably tortuous track some miles into the mountains to visit the Bois Cotlette “estate.” Bois Cotlette.jpgIt was a total ruins when it was bought some five or six years ago by an American who was looking to leave the hedge fund business in search of a sustainable life. With his wife and four children, he has now restored one of the original buildings which he uses as a welcome hall for visitors, though it was originally a large sleeping room for workers on the estate. He also has built a cabin for his family and, with the help of an historian and archaeologist, excavated parts of the other buildings. He is learning not only what they looked like and were made of but also what their functions were. So far, the estate is sustainable in terms of water and energy (solar), and they grow

cocoa plant.jpgmuch of their food as well as crops like cocoa and coffee. The children have been home- and online-schooled, though the 18-year-old heads off for college in the U.S. next fall and the 16-year-old will finish school in Miami. The whole family however, seems committed to building a sustainable lifestyle on this gorgeous and relatively unspoiled island. Another high point for me was visiting the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton on Nevis, sister island to St. Kitts. The tiny house is now a tiny museum in honor of Hamilton: I loved looking at the old photos and posters and news stories and reading about his boyhood before he moved to St. Croix. According to the museum, Hamilton wasn’t allowed to attend the local public school, since he was “illegitimate,” but he seems to have received some education at a Jewish school. I picked up a pamphlet about Hamilton, with a rip-roaring essay by Evelyn Henville, director of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society—“Alexander Hamilton for National Hero!” Henville’s enthusiasm for the first secretary of the U.S. treasury is infectious. She asks “How does a boy born on little Nevis end up on the U.S. $10 bill? And answers with ten reasons, from “He learned the importance of work” and “He learned about slavery and he learned about liberty,” to “He learned about smuggling, tax evasion, and truth” and “He learned to think.”


Having seen the megahit musical “Hamilton” this last fall and now reading the Chernow biography that inspired it, as Lin-Manuel Miranda says, by “changing my life” forever, I was especially keen to visit this spot and to think about the role of Hamilton and so many other immigrants whose lives and works have shaped these United States of America. Miranda speaks eloquently to this issue in his musical as well as in talks and writings. In a recent New York Times op ed piece, Miranda speaks of his own upbringing in Puerto Rico and calls on Congress to act in response to the huge economic crisis there—as it would if that crisis were a little closer, both figuratively and literally, to Washington D.C.


As I write this post, demagogic Presidential candidates are calling for building walls, for excluding immigrants, for surveilling citizens of the Muslim Faith. Alexander Hamilton would have been horrified—and ashamed—of these attempts and he would have spoken out in opposition, as many are doing right now. So Hamilton’s commitment to freedom and equality for all lives on, though it is certainly embattled. Alexander Hamilton for national hero!

Traci Gardner

Narrative Branding Remix

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Mar 29, 2016

I have been using a remix assignment as the major project in my Writing and Digital Media class for a several semesters now. I still like the assignment, but I have recently been trying to make the activity a little more demanding. Some of the options and the related tools don’t lead to the best work. For instance, the tools to create fake Facebook profiles and timelines show a dated Facebook interface and don’t match the functionality of Facebook timelines.


I was still exploring alternatives, thinking I might give up and just repeat the assignment as it stood, when one of my students shared a video that she made for her marketing class. Their project was to create a short personal branding video that could be used as part of a job search. They posted the videos on YouTube and incorporated them in personal profile websites, made using Strikingly. Here’s her video:



Hours after she showed me the project, I was still thinking about it and how I might use it in class. I wrote and asked if I could use her video in class for a short project, and with her permission, I began planning.


There are some limitations on what I can do. I am not teaching marketing or public relations, and I want to avoid wandering into another department’s territory. That said, we began the term with an online profile statement and talked about branding and how people represent themselves online. The idea behind this video would tie in nicely with that starting point and create some nice unity and closure for the course.


To maintain the digital storytelling and remix concepts from the original assignment, I decided to ask students to create branding statement videos not for themselves but for a fictional character or historical figure. So for the fictional side, I might see 60-second branding videos from Hester Prynne, Janie Crawford, Daisy Buchanan, Jane Eyre, Lady MacBeth, Sula, or Lena Younger (Mama). Animal characters and monsters would work as well, like Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web or Grendel’s Mother from Beowulf. For historical figures, I might see videos for Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth Blackwell, Helen Keller, Marian Anderson, Leslie Marmon Silko, or Mae Jemison.


Once I dreamed up a list of possible characters and people, I realized there was no reason to stick to characters and people. Why not add branding for a specific place, group, or cause? I would love to see branding videos for tours at Pemberley and for the latest designs from Folkspants, Unlimited (Miss Celie’s business). Students interested in a historical focus could focus on branding videos for topics like Victoria Woodhull’s presidential campaign or Ida B. Wells’s newspaper Free Speech and Headlight.


I’m excited about the many wonderful possibilities this assignment has. The branding videos will be one of several items students create in a multigenre narrative remix, but more on those ideas next month. Do you have any suggestions for the project? Can you share advice on using videos in the writing classroom? Tell me more by leaving a comment below.

US Supreme Court

The balance of powers among the three branches of the federal government has been one of the foundations of American politics from the beginning. The fact that members of the Supreme Court serve for life largely removes the threat that they will be unduly influenced by a single sitting president. Congress writes the laws that the Court must uphold; the president holds over Congress the power of the veto.


The choice of a Supreme Court justice is always controversial. Replacing Antonin Scalia has been even more so because of the timing. Obama has now announced his choice for Scalia’s replacement. Even before he did so, however, Republicans in Congress had decided not to approve him. How does this work as an argument?


There is a claim of policy on each side of the argument: President Obama, of course, is arguing that, because of his qualifications, Merrick Garland should be appointed a justice of the Supreme Court. The Republican leadership made clear early on that their claim would not be based on qualifications. That claim: No individual nominated by President Obama should be considered for appointment as Scalia’s replacement. 


According to the Constitution, the president "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court." The relevant article of the Constitution says nothing about the time frame. However, according to Michael Gerhardt, a professor in constitutional law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "not a single president has ever refused to make a nomination to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, regardless of its timing. No president has ever abdicated this authority, not even when they were lame ducks. In fact, six lame-duck presidents have made six Supreme Court appointments."


A case like this one can give students a chance to analyze the support on each side of a controversy. President Obama, in this instance, has an easier case to prove. He has proceeded with the nomination process as he would have at any other point in his presidency and has presented for consideration a candidate whose credentials he believes warrant the appointment. Republicans who do not want to consider any candidate nominated by Obama have a more difficult case to support because they are essentially arguing that the normal procedure for appointing a Supreme Court justice should not be followed in this case. To accept that argument, one has to be willing to accept their reasons. There are a number of reasons they do not want to support an Obama nominee. Your students can easily come up with these: They do not want another liberal on the Supreme Court. To add a liberal judge will give liberals on the court a 5-4 advantage in making decisions. They want the next president to nominate Scalia’s replacement, and they hope the next president is a Republican. None of these is support for not considering an Obama nominee.


The Republican leadership undermined their argument when they very vocally declared an unwillingness to even consider an Obama nominee. Had they instead quietly refused to approve Garland—or anyone else—it would have been impossible to prove that they were acting on anything other than the nominee’s credentials. When they started saying no to Obama’s nominee before that nominee was named, they opened themselves up to charges of partisanship.


[Photo source: David on Flikr]

On May 5, America is going to get entangled in another civil war.


Well, to be precise, Captain America is, along with Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther, and a lot of other Marvel superheroes in the latest installment of the never-ending Avengers saga. Captain America: Civil War, the thing is called, soon to be in a theater near you.


Not to be outdone in the civil war department, the DC franchise is set to release something called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the day after this blog is scheduled to appear. And while this movie is not explicitly identified as a civil war per se, what else are we to call something that pits America’s original superheroes (Superman, b. 1938; Batman, b. 1939) against each other in violent conflict?


Both movies are sequels to previous films, carrying on story lines that began years before their up coming release dates, with the Avengers flick in particular picking up a comic book conflict from 2006. But I still find it significant that they are appearing now, as America continues its ever-more-alarming spiral down a rabbit hole of red state/blue state divisiveness, Fox News/Comedy Central shootouts, Tea Party rebellions, government shutdowns, rancher uprisings, and, most recently, a presidential campaign free for all in which it appears that everybody is against everybody.


Which is to say, that at a time when America’s great divide has suddenly widened to Grand Canyon proportions, it is not surprising to see the superhero syndicates jumping on board. What an opportunity! Not only do you get a guaranteed box office but you can leverage an already boiling-over cauldron of political passions into a frenzied demand to see cinematic justice done against those miscreants who just don’t seem to see things your way.


If you think it is too far fetched to see civil war allegories in a movie called Captain America: Civil War, just consider the premise of the thing: Captain America and his allies go to war against Iron Man and his allies, over the matter of government regulation. If that’s not enough to trigger obvious ideological associations, there’s the fact that Captain America’s entire shtick is to be a poster child for old fashioned, corn-fed American patriotism, while Iron Man’s deal is to be a sophisticated urban industrialist. Something very similar is going on when that small town farm boy who fights for “truth, justice, and the American way” goes after a slick urban financier with a bat fetish. I mean, they could have cast these things with nothing but elephants and donkeys.


The whole thing is like those professional wrestling theatricals, where the bad boys of the day stand for whatever is bugging the core audience, while a muscle-bound good guy fights for the right.


Of course neither movie, I gather, is going to take us all the way to Appomattox, because in films like this there is always someone worse in the room (or universe), who poses such a colossal threat to the fatherland that the heroes suspend their spat and start pulling together to defeat the larger menace. But reality, unfortunately, is a whole lot messier than that. If, fifteen years ago, al Qaida managed, albeit briefly, to pull America together, ISIS isn’t doing that at all this time around. Americans continue to face off against Americans in ever more non-negotiable combinations, and while the movies can make that sort of thing entertaining, they sure as shooting can’t bring it to an end.


  [Photo via: Election 2016 by DonkeyHotey, from Flickr]

This year’s election cycle is certainly the most bizarre in memory—though not yet as frightening as the 1968 race was (to me). That’s not to say it’s not scary in its own way, which it certainly is. I’ve been watching Town Halls, debates, and reports on rallies until I am practically blue in the face—with months and months more to come. We have seen some good commentary on language (Donald Trump’s spoken language is at third grade level—at best; Hillary Clinton doesn’t use as many “feminine” markers as does Trump). Each candidate has a signature phrase or two that keeps popping up like a jack in the box. But what has struck me most about both candidates and reporters is the contempt with which they use the word “rhetoric.” When a candidate lies, it’s “rhetoric.” When claims aren't anchored in any truth at all, it’s “rhetoric.” When reporters describe exchanges during debates, they almost always invoke “rhetoric” as getting in the way of reasonable, sensible language. Recently, one candidate said that Donald Trump’s “rhetoric” has incited violence at his rallies.


Of course, rhetoric has been tarred with the insincere/deceptive brush since ancient times (see Plato, for one). And down through the ages, rhetoric has often been compared to dialectic, seen as the scientific and worthy pursuit of Truth, while rhetoric itself is linked with doxa (common belief) and “little t” truth, or the best choice possible amidst many competing claims.


Of course rhetoric can be used for good or for ill: no one denies that Hitler was enormously effective as a persuader. We could name many, many others who have used language to deceive and to harm. That’s why I think it is so important to draw a distinction between the destructive use of rhetoric and its opposite. If students know the word “rhetoric” when they come to my classes, they have these negative associations with the word. Yet I am soon able to introduce them to my definition of rhetoric—the art, theory, and practice of ethical communication. This is the rhetoric Wayne Booth held up against what he called “rhetrickery,” the practice of deceptive, dishonest, destructive communication Hitler—and many other demagogues--practice.


It seems to me that candidates and commentators alike could use this concept of “rhetrickery” today, because it signifies what they are actually complaining about and does so with a very memorable label. They might then be able to compare that harmful rhetrickery with candidates who practice rhetoric as the art of ethical communication.


In any case, I hope that all teachers of writing are taking time during this campaign season to work with students to analyze the arguments being put forward by candidates. Once students understand that they can break a speech (or advertisement or news release) down into its claims and the support for the claims, once they know how to identify the tropes and stories a candidate relies on, once they can do fact-checking for themselves—they are exercising that part of rhetoric which is for self-protection, for seeing through deception and dishonesty clearly enough not to be harmed by them. Rather than being caught up in mob psychology, they can take a step back and differentiate rhetoric from rhetrickery.


As this seemingly endless campaign drags on, we need clear thinkers and ethical speakers more than ever.

Barclay Barrios

Emerging 3.0: On Art

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Mar 23, 2016

I’ve always felt it important to have a good, broad mix of readings in Emerging.  It’s important to address contemporary issues like technology, yes, but it’s equally important to ask students to think about what some might consider enduring issues, like art.  In fact one of my favorite essays in the first edition was “The Art of Collecting Light Bulbs” by Michael Kimmelman, which used unusual collections (such as a light bulb museum) to think about how collecting itself is a kind of art.


In this edition we’re introducing Rhys Southan’s essay “Is Art a Waste of Time?”  Southan is a screenwriter exploring the philosophical and ethical Effective Altruism movement, which has a fundamental goal of maximizing the amount of good each individual accomplishes in life. EA, as the movement is abbreviated, has some interesting implications, since it seemingly suggests that individuals should pursue careers that allow them to achieve the most good possible, which often means working hard to earn a lot of money so that you can give it all to the needy. In this context, Southan investigates, what good is art?


Art is not in itself incompatible with this approach to living, Southan finds, and yet he unearths the complex relationship between ethics and aesthetics, the good and the beautiful, creating and helping others. It’s a great piece not only for what it has to say about art but also because (like so many readings in Emerging) it has a lot to say about a lot of things, ranging from capitalism to career choice to utilitarianism to ethics.


I also think it’s the kind of reading that could prompt some vigorous discussion in class since it poses a fundamental question that students will need to answer for themselves.  I can’t say how they will answer it of course, but I do feel part of the goal of the FYC classroom is to encourage students to find (and support) their own answers.  To that end, this is a great reading to check out.


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Last week, I wrote about a Stock Photo Stereotypes Assignment that asked student to explore stereotypes in relationship to stock photography and then create their own satirical article, in the style of a Buzzfeed article. Now that I have had a chance to see all their work, I want to share some of their work with you.


Certain themes were repeated in their work, like the necessity of multitasking and the role of ramen in the student diet. One group focused exclusively on the fact that College Students are Addicted to Caffeine. There were several jokes about students not paying attention, with students focusing on Netflix and video games instead of whatever the class was doing.


  • #Facts About Student Life at Virginia Tech This group shares crucial realities such as ”Netflix has the power to erase time” and “Mom knows everything,” with some images that could easily be part of an iStockPhotos collection.
  • Our College Album Covers Not quite stock photography, the images this group created parodied album covers, replacing the original title with a stereotype about college students. Taylor Swift’s 1989 album cover became 1989 Thousand Dollars in Debt, with a weeping college student standing in for Swift in the Polaroid.
  • Traits of Exceptional College Students!!! These four students poked at racial and gender stereotypes by positioning themselves in roles like Chinese Student Exhausted from Math and Culturally Diverse African American Student.
  • College Kids: What Are They? This group included two drama majors, who hammed it up in front of the camera. While they were clearly having fun, they took on some tough topics: race, politics, political correctness, and the high cost of tuition. Rather than sticking to the minimum requirement, they included eleven photos, with pairs showing a storyline.


You can find more examples on the projects website for my course. They're all fun. Some could use a little revision, but our course calendar hasn’t allowed time to work on them further. I will definitely do the project again, possibly focusing on slightly different stereotypes. Stereotypes about college football could be a great theme for the fall term. I think I want to work on the project earlier in the semester as well. It did a great job building community, so working on it during the first weeks of the semester would help bring the class together.


Part of the success to this project was the small group work. Students had to collaborate and enjoyed getting to know one another. Do you have group projects that help build community? Please tell me about your projects by leaving a comment below.


[Photo: Nikon CoolPix S560 by slgckgc, on Flickr]

Dockter+Jason_Thumbnail.jpgToday's guest blogger is Jason Dockter (see end of post for bio).


When I teach the second semester course of the first-year composition sequence, an unofficial course goal of mine is to help students gain an understanding of their discourse community and what academic writing and research in their areas is like. I give each student the opportunity to focus the entire class on their individual academic discipline. Each student has great flexibility in terms of what direction the course takes. Throughout the course, students gain experience learning about genres of writing that are used within their discipline, how writing is used within the discipline, and what topics academics/professionals in their discipline have recently been writing about.


In addition to the larger, more involved multimodal composition projects I include within my composition courses, I also find smaller, lower-stakes multimodal assignments to be valuable for students. Smaller assignments, such as this example, provide opportunities for students to experiment with multimodal composing. This way, students can take risks that they otherwise might not take with a larger project, but these attempts at different compositional techniques can offer students an increased range of approaches and tools to use when composing future multimodal projects.


The following  in-class activity helps students to learn about writing in their discipline and discourse community through learning about academic articles and genre conventions.



For students to develop an understanding of how academics in their fields work as writers, helping to familiarize students with expectations for writing in their academic areas.


Background Reading

The Everyday Writer provides a useful collection of readings in the “Academic, Professional, and Public Writing” section, spanning chapters 17-25. Specifically, in my class, I encourage students to read the one chapter that connects best with their academic field in addition to chapter 17, Academic Work in Any Discipline. Each student then reads two chapters. Most academic majors fit nicely into one of the following chapters:


  • Chapter 18, Writing for the Humanities
  • Chapter 19, Writing for the Social Sciences
  • Chapter 20, Writing for the Natural and Applied Sciences
  • Chapter 21, Writing for Business


Class Activity

This activity can take a variety of shapes and last multiple class periods, depending on how an instructor chooses to integrate it into the curriculum. The outcome of the project is for students to create a multimodal ‘How To’ guide for future students in their majors regarding writing in their academic major. In my class, I limit the scope of this to focus on the genre of the academic article, and accordingly, students’ work on this project focuses on that one type of writing as well.


I prefer to have students work in groups for this project, as it provides greater opportunity to converse about writing in a specific field, and also allows students to pool resources to complete the task. Once groups have formed according to related academic areas, students are tasked with determining the conventions associated with academic articles in their field and deciding how to collect that information and how to present it as a multimedia guide. I encourage students to conduct and capture interviews with professors from their discipline and to study multiple examples of the academic article genre and to connect their findings from both to specific concepts explained within The Everyday Writer chapter related to their field. Through their chapter reading and study of their academic articles, ensuing class discussions, and outside interviews, students identify key conventions and qualities of academic articles in their discipline.


From there, the real work of creating the guide begins, with students considering how to demonstrate the conventions and how to convey the importance of those discussions. While the focus for every group’s guide will be about the same type of writing, the decisions of what matters most and explanations of why will differ, as will students’ plans for how to present that information as a guide for future students to refer to as they begin their work in this major. They’ll collaborate on a specific organization of the content, on what media to employ, of how to capture their determinations about the genre conventions, and ultimately on how to develop their respective guides.


For instance, a group of nursing majors may develop a project that incorporates a presentation software, such as Prezi, Google Slides, or PowerPoint. Their focus would be on academic articles in healthcare, and they might choose to interview nurses, doctors, professors, or other healthcare professionals to get a general sense of how they use academic articles within their profession and what they value about this genre. Their presentation could be arranged by covering the general purposes for this genre and who uses the genre (both writers and readers). Some key points could be identified and then supported through clips captured (audio or visual) during their interviews. Other valued conventions could be identified through images taken of sample academic articles. For instance, the way an author uses outside research could be demonstrated through an image, or collection of images, of portions of an article to document the moves this writer made in blending research into her article. Students might also decide to illustrate a point through visual metaphor - perhaps a nursing student might include a diagram of a circulatory system to infer to readers the importance of connectivity throughout a text.  Altogether, these students might identify five key concepts and demonstrate them through various media and modes collected and presented through a presentation.


While we can easily discuss this genre of writing and agree upon important conventions, discussion alone limits the potential for students to firmly grasp the importance of these conventions. By having students create these multimedia ‘how to’ guides, not only do they get experience analyzing the sorts of work they’ll do later in this class, but they also get an opportunity to practice rhetorical thinking for how best to convey their message to future students in their majors.


Jason Dockter 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.

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What does it mean to think? And how do you know you’re doing it?


Let’s consider the question in three different scenarios: listening to a lecture; driving; writing a college essay. Is thought necessary in any of these scenarios? 


When I discuss these questions with my students, a consensus emerges that the mental activity in the three scenarios differs. In a lecture, one is passive, receiving the auditory data and processing it as best one can. Behind the wheel, the monitoring of the inbound data requires constant attention, so that one can react as the unfolding situations demand.  While thinking is possible in each situation, it is also possible to do each without actively making decisions. This is clearly the case with listening, as one can’t stop the sounds from entering one’s ears, but one need not attend to them. And, while it may seem that driving is of a different order altogether, the inability to recall huge chunks of a long drive suggests that, whatever mental activity turning the steering wheel and hitting the brakes requires, the vast majority of the experience is defined by routine. So routine, in fact, that drivers feel they can drive and text, drive and carry on phone conversations, drive and shave, etc.


Writing seems a different beast, doesn’t it?


When my students tell me that writing requires a different kind of thinking, I’m skeptical. With twenty-five years’ experience reading and responding to student work, I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Sure, you can’t write while shaving, but it sure seems like I receive a lot of writing that has been completed while watching streaming video or chatting or skyping. Writing that has emerged during the defining experience of our time: multi-tasking.


I press the point and a distinction emerges. Sure, driving involves a multitude of micro-decisions that leave no trace in memory, barring something cataclysmic, but writing seems to require a different kind of mental activity, as is evidenced by the fact that the micro-decisions that result in writing leave behind their traces for us to consider—as words on the screen or scratches on the notepad. We can use those traces to get a glimpse of what is going on in the writer’s mind.



In the final scene of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s loving evocation of the experience of aging, the film’s main character, Mason, is sitting with Nicole, a girl he’s just met on his first day at college. They’ve skipped freshman orientation, ingested some pot brownies, and driven out to Big Bend National Park to watch the sun set.


Nicole, leaning towards Mason, asks rhetorically, “You know how everyone’s always saying, ‘Seize the moment’?” Once Mason avers, Nicole says, “I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.”


In standard Hollywood fare, the scene would end with the two kissing.


But, that’s not how the movie ends.


Mason agrees: “Yeah. Yeah . . . I know. It’s constant, the moments, it’s just . . . it’s like always right now, you know?”


And Nicole says, “Yeah.”


Then there’s a few more awkward seconds of silence and the screen goes black. Credits.



On the threshold of adulthood, Mason is experiencing time as: now and now and now, ad infinitum. Those who haven’t seen the movie might be tempted to argue, based on the dialogue alone, that Mason is experiencing a version of enlightenment, but there’s nothing in the film to support this reading. Mason hasn’t been on a spiritual journey and he’s an especially thoughtful or remarkable young man. He’s just older than he was when the film started—twelve years older, in fact. His life as a thinking person, if he’s going to have one, lies ahead, on the other side of the rolling credits.


I asked students in my 21st Century Narrative class to reflect on the representation of time in Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood and any of the other texts we’d worked with in the course so far.


To a one, the in-class written responses connected Linklater’s film to one of the other texts via the word “and.”


This, despite the fact that Boyhood: is the only film we’ve watched in the class so far; was filmed with the same actors over a twelve year period, so as to visibly document the passage of time on screen; and has no sustained narrative action, but rather is a series of vignettes.


Somehow, the task of writing obliterated all the differences between Boyhood and the other texts we’ve encountered so far in the course, leaving behind a pile of responses showing that Boyhood and text X were both about time.


Is writing of this kind evidence of thought?



Instead of grading these responses, I came to class and wrote on the board:


Boyhood + text X = time


And then I said, “Having said this, what do we know that we didn’t already know?”

Not much, the students had to admit. Indeed, since the writing wasn’t going to be graded, we were free to wonder: could text X be any text at all and still support the observation that both were connected “because of time”? As long as the connection is kept at that level of generality, sure.

Is this thinking? In its most rudimentary form, yes. Like to like to like, ad infinitum.

It’s not the kind of thinking I am interested in, though. I’m looking for thinking that makes connections via distinction, qualification, nuance. I’m looking for thinking that delights in subtleties and complexity. And, although the initial written responses my students handed in didn’t evidence this, they know how to do this kind of thinking. They just don’t have much practice at it.


So, I start over.  Is the flow of time in Boyhood like the flow of time in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad? The short stories in George Saunders’ Tenth of December? The second season of Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast?  Not really.


To move beyond this observation, the students need to get into the habit of making connections that qualify and connections that offer alternatives. They need to start using “but” and “or” as the hinges of thought, so that they can move from thinking exclusively through similarity and begin to think through difference. And, as they practice making connections that qualify and that consider alternatives, they will be acquiring the habit of self-reflection—the habit of seeing that the way one first sees the world is not necessarily the only way to see it.

Many educational policies today, including elements of the common core, encourage active learning, deep learning, learning by doing. In many ways, such policies have circled back to John Dewey and his progressive philosophy, and they echo philosopher Gilbert Ryle (in The Philosophy of Mind) who argues that “knowing that” (that is, knowing about something) must be augmented and balanced by “knowing how.”


I have always understood literacy to be about actions, about doing, about embodying and being. Perhaps that's one reason why I'm such a fan of the current food literacy programs I see popping up all across the country. I've written before about the magnificent Food Literacy Project in Louisville, Kentucky and about the exciting collaboration between Brent Peters, who has turned Fern Creek High into an “edible campus,” and Rex Lee Jim and students from Window Rock High of the Navajo Nation (dubbed theNavajo Kentuckians”). The students in these schools and communities are developing as writers and readers, to be sure, but they are doing so in the context of gardening, of farming, of tending the earth and its nourishment. I have seen firsthand how such programs impact an entire community, as the students teach their friends and relatives about how they can better control their lives by controlling their diets. I can only imagine what such a program in every community could do to address major health issues such as childhood obesity, diabetes, and eating disorders.


I recently learned of the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, where they are teaching “low-income elementary children cooking and nutrition to improve our health, environment, and economy. And I've been following Kirk Bergstrom, Executive Director of Nourish Initiative. In one of his postings, Bergstrom chronicles his own journey to food literacy:


Growing up in Colorado, the last thing on my mind was the story of my food. It came from the grocery store, of course. Or a fast food joint. I was enamored with anything that the astronauts might eat or drink, which meant highly processed food. One of the few memories I have of eating fresh, local, seasonal food was at a nearby cherry orchard. Wow, the burst of flavor still lingers in my mouth. Like many people, I went from meal to meal without ever asking the most basic questions: Where did this food come from? How was it grown? How did it reach me?


In a nutshell I was food illiterate. Not until I moved away from home did I begin to question my relationship to food and the larger food system. Gradually, I began to reflect on the ecological and social implications of my food choices. I discovered the joy of shopping at a farmers market. And I cherished the act of cooking and eating with family and friends. As my food journey unfolded, I found myself become more food literate. I saw food and

agriculture as powerful levers for constructive social change. How many spheres of human  activity—if you design with intention—can create more vibrant communities, help solve

global warming, and restore fiscal sanity?


This powerful engagement with the story of my food led me to produce a PBS special

entitled Nourish: Food + Community and develop a companion educational initiative.

More and more, I'm intrigued with the question: What is food literacy and why does it matter?



At Nourish, Bergstrom and his colleagues define food literacy as “understanding the story of our food from farm to table, and back to the soil.” You can check out Nourish online and take a food literacy quiz.


Looking back on my childhood, I realize I grew up in a fairly food literate family. While my dad and some of my aunts and uncles had “day” jobs in offices or factories, they were country people. All my uncles and aunts had large vegetable and fruit gardens; they grew most of what we ate. They churned butter. They milked cows. And they kept pigs and chickens, and caught fish, for us to eat as well. So we knew where our food came from (in fact, I was often sent to the garden to “scrabble” for small new potatoes or to pick cucumbers and tomatoes for salad, and after dinner I got to collect all the scraps and feed the pigs, a task I absolutely loved). But that was then. Most kids today are like Bergstrom; for them, food comes from a grocery store or a fast food place; they have no such direct connection to what they consume. I am hoping that my grand-nieces Audrey and Lila will have access to a food literacy program so that their food literacy can match the other literacies they are developing. I wish the same thing for every other young person.


Among college students, I see a growing awareness of food-related issues and a growing commitment to eating local and to sustainability. When we offer first-year courses on any of these themes, they are always fully subscribed. So I'm wondering what writing programs, and writing teachers, can do to help further the food literacy movement. Certainly we can introduce our students to the movement and engage them in doing research about it. But I wonder if we could go further: could writing centers, perhaps, adopt a garden space and plant and maintain it? What might come of such an enterprise in terms of traditional literacy? My bet is that such a program would lead not only to learning by doing in the garden but by a lot of very rich talk and writing and research about the experience.


  So—how about a gardening across the curriculum movement?


[Photos via: USDA, on Flickr, and Masahiro Ihara, on Flickr]

Sexualities and gender have always played an important role in Emerging. As a gay man, I have a vested interest in these topics, more so now that I am also serving as the Interim Director for Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. We’ve added some great new readings on these issues in the new edition of Emerging. In this post I’d like to highlight three of them.


First, I’m quite happy to have Julia Serano back in the book. Serano is a transgender writer and activist who appeared in the first edition of Emerging. This time we selected her essay “Why Nice Guys Finish Last,” a complicated engagement of men and rape culture. I’m particularly happy to include a reading that engages the problems of our current sex/gender system for men and I am also happy we have a reading that can broach the troubling issue of rape culture.


Roxane Gay’s “Good Feminist?” is similarly complex and reminiscent of Ariel Levy’s “Female Chuavinist Pigs” in that it requires students, to some degree, to read against the grain to unearth the real argument. In this case Gay is arguing for an expanded definition of feminism by detailing all the ways she is a “bad” feminist given current, limiting definitions of that term.


“Complicated” is the theme here as Ruth Padawer’s “Sisterhood is Complicated” (as its title would suggest) also presents sexuality and gender as a deeply complex issue. Padawer examines the challenges presented by transgender men attending all-female colleges such as Wellesley. It works great, too, in any series of assignments on higher education, but in this context it underscores the ways in which shifting notions of gender and gender identity challenge our comfortable norms.


Of course these aren’t the only essays in the book that investigate these themes, but I think you will find they’re all great new inclusions.


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Gardner_Mar15_217.jpgSometimes the best assignments are borne of the worst situations. Virginia Tech’s installation of WordPress became hopelessly slow recently. It was taking over 60 seconds for a page to load. Sometimes the pages timed out. It was happening in the classroom and off campus, no matter what Internet connection or machine students were using.


I ultimately decided that it was unfair to ask students to continue working on a project when the technology wasn’t performing properly. I turned in a technical support request and began looking for a short-term project to fill in while WordPress was being fixed.


In my collection of assignment ideas, I found the Mashable article “Vince Vaughn ingeniously promotes new film with stock photos and the Hubspot article “13 Hilarious Examples of Truly Awful Stock Photography.” That gave me my inspiration: students would explore stereotypes in relationship to stock photography and then create their own satirical article, in the style of a Buzzfeed article.


Step One: Discussion of Stereotypes

I began by asking students to brainstorm stereotypes about college students, without explaining how we would use the lists. I only promised that we would use them later in the class. We used a shared Google Doc in each class to collect students’ ideas:


With their lists complete, I asked students to discuss the Vince Vaughn stock photos and the 13 Hilarious Examples of Truly Awful Stock Photography. Next, we looked at some stock photos of college students on iStock and Shutterstock, and then discussed how the images relied on stereotypes much like the business photos we had looked at. Looking back at their brainstormed lists, students talked about how some of their ideas were represented in the photos and why other ideas were not there. Finally, we went over the assignment as a class, including looking at some additional stock photography articles. A perfectly-timed NPR article on the Rent-a-Minority website led to lots of discussion.


Step Two: Group Photo Shoots

Working in small groups, students reviewed the stereotypes and chose a focus for their project. They collected props and decided on wardrobe. Those who did not want to be in the photos didn’t have to be, but everyone had to participate in the project. We devoted a full 50-minute session to the photo shoot. I set some ground rules, which included the following:


  • If the groups went too far from our classroom building, they had to tell me in advance.
  • If the groups had questionable props, they had to let me know so I could come to their rescue if necessary. [There were some empty beer bottles and red Solo cups.]
  • At least one person in the group had to write down the phone number for the classroom phone to use if something went wrong and they needed me.


Students scurried off, while I watched their belongings in the classroom and helped them. One group wanted to take photos in the bathroom, but because they were mixed genders they were worried about getting in trouble for being in the “wrong” bathroom. I served as their escort. There was much giggling that class session, and during every section at least one student proclaimed this “the best assignment ever.”


After taking their photos, I asked each group to upload their photos to a shared folder and to make sure that everyone in their group had access.


Step Three: Collaborative Writing

With their photos complete, during the next two sessions, groups worked on editing their photos and writing the accompany Buzzfeed-style article. We discussed the expectations for the article before groups began. Each article needed to do the following:


  • incorporate the group’s stock photo images.
  • provide commentary or analysis on the images.
  • uses layout and design choices to make the document easy to read.
  • be written and shared online.


Their pieces were published on a class website, without students’ names attached to the pieces. Since the photos show stereotypes, they could be misconstrued by someone seeing them out of context. I want to avoid having these photos and articles coming up when some future employer does a Google search on their names. In addition, students individually wrote an assessment of their group’s work to let me know how each member contributed to the project.



I think we were all a bit disappointed to have to go back to the WordPress portfolios when the stock photo project ended. Students were highly engaged in critical thinking and webmaking, and they had a great deal of fun at the same time. I’m still grading their work, but what I have seen so far is nicely done. I hope to share some examples in the future, but for now, I need to focus on giving everyone feedback.


Have you worked with stock photos in the classroom? This project worked well, so I am looking for ways to improve on it. If you have some advice, please leave me a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.


[Photo: vaTechonline by USDA, on Flickr]

profile-image-display.jspa?imageID=2353&size=1000Today's guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn (see end of post for bio).


Teaching rhetorical concepts is time well spent in our multimodal classrooms because it helps students become critical consumers of information and images around them.  Many are familiar with teaching the classical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos towards rhetorical analysis. I also find it helpful to introduce the additional concept of Kairos and its relevance to writing and visual rhetoric. Ancient rhetoricians talked about two concepts of time: “Chronos – linear, measurable time – the kind that we track with watches and calendars and Kairos to suggest a more situational kind of time, something close to what we call opportunity.”


This is important for our multimodal writers to understand, particularly with the impact of participatory communication, social media and the currency of information. Writers must understand kairotic moments that will make their writing more persuasive and engaging through drawing upon current issues, commonplaces, and ideologies of the rhetorical time in which they are writing. 


In their book, Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students (2012), Crowley and Hawhee discuss the situatedness of arguments in time and place and the particulars of given rhetorical situations. Effective writers must not only understand their own opinions and beliefs but they must also include the “opinions and beliefs of their audiences at that time and place as well as the history of the issue within the communities that identify with it” (48). This means that in order to understand an issue, students must understand chronos – the history of the issue – along with the way particular communities view the issue as well. “In short, the rhetor must be aware of the issue’s relevance to the time, the place and the community in which it arises” (48).


Students can research the history and perspectives of issues to determine kairos and other rhetorical appeals. These concepts are easily applied to digital and visual rhetoric as students analyze visual and textual artifacts to understand both the history and ways ideas and images are situated in particular communities and time periods.


The Assignment

For this assignment, I ask students to compose a digital analysis of the history and progression of a particular product or industry through advertising artifacts (print or video). They can easily access these artifacts through image and video searches. Starting early and working their way up to current contexts, they detail how kairos and other rhetorical appeals change along with the historical time periods and connect to the culture in which they arose. In a digital blog post students analyze the images and embed them along with proper citation and documentation.



  1. Choose a particular product or industry to analyze.
  2. Conduct image searches in which they locate advertisements (print or video) from different historical time periods. For example, advertisements, automobiles, 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc.
  3. Choose 4-5 images that start in the past and work their way up to current times.
  4. Analyze, in writing, each visual artifact including the rhetorical appeals, context and kairos.
  5. Post to their blogs and present to the class.


Reflections on the Activity and Student Samples

My students came to understand the concept of visual rhetoric and kairos through their thoughtful analyses and historical progression of a variety of products and industries.


  • Kendra chose to look at the evolution of Levi’s Blue Jeans. She started her analysis back in the 1900’s when the clothing was directed towards an audience of cowboys and miners who “needed durable clothing that could withstand lengthy stretches of time in harsh environments.” She traces the history along with different kairotic moments that involve patriotism, rebellion, work ethic, and finally, its most recent campaign that encourages wearers to “go forth” and “uses images of independence and freedom to appeal to a young, hip crowd who values living life to the fullest.” Along the way, she also includes embedded links that connect us to documents and timelines that help us understand the way the time period situated the artifacts.


  • Jordan chose to explore Ford automobile advertisements and starts us in the 1940’s where he states that “Ford Motors” was trying to appeal to families, suggesting that their vehicles were affordable to middle-aged working folks.” He brings in the kairotic impact of the great depression as a reason for this particular audience focus. He takes us through time, recognizing the shift in the 70’s towards a younger generation and images of sexy, hip people in a culture of more exposure and freedom. He includes ads that focus on the concerns of baby-boomers of the early 2000’s and beyond, recognizing that “Ford knew that the middle-class were more interested in safe cars rather than fashionable or affordable ones.”


  • Finally, I offer Caitlin’s post in which she looks at the Cultural Evolution of the Bra. She links her ideas to gender equality and traces the transformations in “construction and marketing.” She starts with early versions (1920’s) in which women were entering the workplace and includes the conical bras of the 50’s and 60’s that emphasized a sculpted “hourglass figure.” She takes us through impressions of women imagining themselves in male gender roles through the more natural, soft woman in the Victoria Secret Ads. She ends her analysis with the “Apocalypse Bra” in which women are portrayed as powerful and athletic and “feature women in strong roles.” She includes other connected multimodal artifacts that speak to the kairos of these issues in relation to the progression of gender equality.



Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee. Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, Longman, 2012.


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.

Kim Lilienthal.pngGuest blogger Kim Lilienthal is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research interests include co-curricular writing, reflection assessment, and service learning in composition.


Emily Jo Schwaller.jpgGuest blogger Emily Jo Schwaller is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research areas include digital reading experiences and communities, feminist literacy, and composition feedback practices.


The First-Year Writing (FYW) classroom is an ideal space for community building because of its often smaller class size, student-centered focus, and process-based models of learning. For first-year students, building a community of peers and social support networks is essential to their holistic development at a new university, as “involvement creates connections...that allow individuals to believe in their own personal worth” (Schlossberg, 1989). Kinesthetic activities facilitate this community building and involvement because they require students to work together outside the scope of a traditional classroom environment.


Further, kinesthetic activities allow students to engage their bodies and become involved with the knowledge making process because minds and bodies are always linked (Fleckenstein, 1999). In a Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) program, it is important to help students see writing as similar to other learning processes (e.g. labs, experiments, conferences). In this blog post, we suggest various ways we engage our students in active learning in order to emphasize WID principles and to reinforce how writing is present and important for everyone.


Note: Each activity contains a hyperlink to detailed instructions and materials.



Activity Idea: Rhetorical “Infomercials”


In this unit, students apply rhetorical concepts by creating infomercial skits. Each group advertises a silly product, such as a “mustache glitter” for “wizards who want to appear magical,” to an imagined audience. The audience determines which infomercial is the most rhetorically effective based on the appeals they learned. Once each group has judged the infomercials, we discuss why certain appeals or rhetorical moves were effective and how similar moves can be incorporated into writing. This activity helps introduce the rhetorical analysis assignment, reinforce rhetorical concepts, and build a community.



Activity Idea: Paper Airplanes


In this unit, students accommodate a scientific journal article into an article for a popular magazine. To help students understand how to translate scientific methods for the general audience, they develop instructions for paper airplanes and then exchange with other students. We test which airplanes go the farthest, and not surprisingly those with diagrams and clear language always win. This allows us to debrief about how images and clarity enhance audiences’ understanding of complicated scientific processes.


Business Writing

Activity Idea: High Intensity Interval Writing


Inspired by high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, designed to provide maximum physical activity in minimum time, high intensity interval writing allows students to practice several writing skills in a short amount of time. In this unit, students write a recommendation report for an imagined community partner organization with suggestions on how to improve their website’s rhetorical effectiveness. They rotate among stations, completing a small component of the report based on the evidence provided to them. At the end of the activity, each team has a skeleton of a recommendation report to use as a guide for their own reports. We debrief by discussing the skeleton reports’ level of success.


Social Sciences

Activity Idea: Living Burkean Parlor


To help students overcome the barrier of “entering the scholarly conversation” as individuals, we create a Living Burkean Parlor so students find themselves physically inside the abstract idea of an unending conversation. Students are divided into groups and one person from each group volunteers to leave the room. Each group receives a conversation topic or question to spark vigorous discussion, such as “If you get away with committing any crime, what would you do?” After conversation is rolling, the people who left the room return to their groups. Without knowing the topic, and without being explicitly invited into the discussion, they attempt to contribute something new to the conversation based on what others are saying. To debrief the activity, we talk about the challenges of joining a conversation without knowing the topic, the strategies used to join the conversation, or whether the conversation ended up changing. From there, we introduce students to the idea of Kenneth Burke’s unending conversation, and prime them to enter it themselves in their next assignment.


Concluding Thoughts

Kinesthetic activities allow students to socialize while building knowledge fundamental to their success in the collaborative classroom and workplace settings they will encounter.


Students’ anonymous feedback on such activities has been consistently positive:


  • I got to bond with my classmates, which helped me feel comfortable and allowed me to have a better learning experience.”
  • “Making the class more interactive, like the activity of making the commercials for different audiences, helped me learn.”
  • “The [HIIT] stations activity was one of the most important pre-writing activities I did; it gave me a lot of new ideas.”




Fleckenstein, K.S. (1999). Writing bodies: Somatic minds in composition studies. College English, 61 (3), 281-306.


Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5-15.



What kinesthetic activities do you include in your classroom? Join the Macmillan Community to tell us in the comments below and start a conversation!

Andrea A. Lunsford

Is coding writing?

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Mar 10, 2016

Among the students who participated in the Stanford Study of Writing, which followed 189 Stanford undergrads through five years, were a number of computer science students, and I had a chance to interview several of these students multiple times.  One student in particular made the case, over and over, that computer coding was a form of writing; in fact, this student spoke at a CCCC meeting about how the two are related. 


That was over a decade ago, and the years since have seen a concerted “learn to code” or “coding for all” movement in the United States, and I’ve been thinking about what this movement may mean for teachers of writing everywhere.  Annette Vee, who teaches in the rhetoric and composition program at Pittsburgh and is a leader in the CCCC Caucus on Intellectual Property, has written extensively about the relationship among coding, writing, and literacy (see her article “Understanding Computer Programming as a Literacy”). She has also written a book, Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing the Terms of Writing, which is, I think, forthcoming from MIT Press. Vee reviews the history of the “learn to code” movement and connects that history to major studies in literacy and its history, arguing that understanding and exploring the history and practices of writing and reading can be of help in understanding computer coding (or programming) today. programming-1009134_1280.jpg Viewing literacy in this new way, she argues, makes literacy a much broader concept and adds to the range of communication practices available to students.


I found Vee’s arguments provocative and engaging and even-handed, especially in recognizing that literacy (and computer programming) have both liberatory and repressive potential.  (In other words, she is no starry-eyed enthusiast, either for writing or coding; rather, she seeks to contextualize both in ways that will be mutually illuminating.)  Yet she is persuasive in arguing that the ability to code gives access to a crucial form of literacy, and she understands what is at issue in that concept of access. Just as access to traditional literacy was long denied to certain groups of people, so access to the potentialities of coding are denied (directly or indirectly) to many, including women and people of color.  (Adam Banks examines issues of access in his Race, Rhetoric, and Technology).


I have only the most minimal, rudimentary ability to program--one reason I am so interested in Vee’s work and want to understand what it means to include coding in what we label “literacy” today.  I agree with Vee that “We need to understand how programming shapes our composition and communication environments.”  She goes on to say that


This does not mean we need to acquire the source code for every program we use as an ability to read it or write it, but we do need to learn how the procedures implemented I code shape and constrain the ways that we compose and communicate:  what assumptions about information, texts, and people are embedded in the software programs in which we compose? What control do software programs wrest from us through their collection of our data? 


These are powerful and important questions, and we need robust answers to them.  That will mean, I think, that writing teachers everywhere now need to understand how programming works and be at least minimally able to program themselves—so that we can make sure that all of our students have access to such abilities.  As Vee says, “Because programming is intertwining itself with writing in our composition environments . . . it appears to be changing what it means to be literate in the 21st century.” 


During my 50 years in the field, I have watched our understanding of “literacy” expand and shift, and it is certainly doing so again.  I have also, more than once (!), had to start at ground zero in learning new material and new skills.  In fact, it seems to me that teachers of writing have had to make such leaps to acquire new knowledge much more than teachers of other disciplines. So I have confidence that we can and will make this latest leap:  in fact, many writing teachers have already done so and they serve as an inspiration for me.  In the meantime, I am grateful for scholars like Annette Vee for leading the way.

Just to take a break from politics for a moment—deep breath now—I thought I'd return to a popular cultural subject that looks to be completely meaningless, but isn't. And if the subject isn't particularly compelling, the point is that in teaching popular cultural semiotics, it behooves us to show just how significant the most trivial things can be.


So without more ado, let me return to a subject I tackled a few years ago on the Bits blog site: running shoes.


At that time I focused on what was then a new fad in the industry: the minimalist running shoe. Minimalist shoes sought to recreate the sensation of running barefoot, the attraction of which was that barefoot running forces a runner to land on his or her forefoot when running, rather than heel striking. The idea was that with less material (especially less cushioning) built into the shoe, a runner would avoid landing on that unprotected heel and toe strike instead. The advantage of this is that toe striking puts much less strain on the knee than heel striking does, and thus can help avoid the almost inevitable knee injuries that not only hobble runners but eventually become so serious that they have to quit running for good. On top of this, the minimalist shoes were celebrated for the fine feel of the ground they afforded, thus helping avoid falls and promoting trail running stability.


What struck me at the time was that I was already a toe striker and I certainly didn't need to buy a special product to get myself to run in a biomechanically sensible manner. Minimalist shoes were not only unnecessary, they were a bad buy because they not only do not provide the kind of protection that a middle-aged runner really needs, they also wear out very quickly due to their rather flimsy construction. This mattered because, as the latest sneeze in running technology, minimalist shoes were very expensive.


Thinking as a semiotician, however, rather than as a runner, I realized that the minimalist running shoe fad is a signifier of a consumer society, a sign of the way that rather than disciplining themselves, Americans tend to choose consumer goods to perform the discipline for them. Consumption über alles.


But that was then, as they say, and this is now. And I am looking at the brand new Spring 2016 edition of the RoadRunner Sports catalog. And guess what? There is page after page of shoes promising to "Crank your cushion way up!" And "Attack daily runs in plush support." And "Get effortless, cruise control, cushion and support." And "Get out the door more in awesome cushion!" And "Get hooked on cutting-edge cushion!"


Get the picture?


1012619-DBTB_2.jpg?sw=432&sh=350&sm=fitClearly running shoes have done a 180, going from minimalist to maximalist. The minimalist shoes are now mostly all on clearance, making way for the running shoe equivalent of a trampoline. The game changer here is the Hoka One One ™ line of running shoes. Originally designed for older runners, the Hoka shoes are massively cushioned, providing the kind of support that aging legs need. All the major brands are making them now, and they look like just the sort of thing for me. Except that there's a hitch.


Because when I "test drove" a pair of Hokas I found that while they have a lot of cushioning all right, they have so much, and in all the wrong places, that I can't toe strike with such contraptions at all. Rocking my feet backward towards the heel, they at once force heel striking while perching me so far off the ground on a mound of "plush" that they practically guarantee that I will twist my ankles on rocky mountain trails. So if I bought a pair, it would only be a question of which injury struck first: a disastrous ankle sprain, or wrecked knees from heel striking.


OK, enough with the running shoe review and on to the semiotics. What has happened here is once again a signifier of a consumer society. The whole thing is like planned obsolescence, or the annual changes in the fashion industry: the new product is designed to make consumers think that what they have isn't good enough and they must run out and buy the new fashion. So you get these pendulum swings—in this case from minimalist to maximalist running shoes. But wait, it's not just running shoes. Haute couture's glamorous runways this year are filled with baggy, even tent-like replacements for the skinny jeans of not-so-yore, a pendulum swing that has already reached the masses by way of such Spring fashions as J. Jill's new line of "Chino Full Leg" pants. Goodbye skinny, hello baggy . . .once again.


The solution to the situation is simple: ignore the fads and go with what works for you.


And buy it on sale.

In my last post I highlighted a legal conflict related to technology in the standoff between Apple and the FBI regarding iPhone security.  In this post, I thought I would highlight more of the readings in Emerging useful for discussing technology, especially the many new ones we’ve added.

It’s a particular challenge to include readings about technology in a textbook simply because technology changes fast and textbooks don’t. It’s not a problem with a ready solution, though our approach all along in assembling Emerging has been to select readings with ideas since those are more likely to persist as technology evolves.


For this edition, in addition to the readings about video and photography I discussed in Emerging 3.0: Thinking about Photography,  we have four new readings that discuss some of the issues around technology in our world today. 

  • Chuck Klosterman’s “Electric Funeral,” for example, examines the inexorable pull of futurity in relation to notions of villainy, specifically examining two controversial figures, Kim Dotcom and Julian Assange. Klosterman is a wonderfully engaging writer who draws from his work as the ethicist for The New York Times Magazine. The reading is very approachable while prompting students to unpack the notion of “villainy” in relation to technology.
  • Maria Konnikova’s “How Many Friends Can We Have?” is similarly approachable, with some good concepts and ideas that students can test through their own lives. Konnikova investigates the applicability of the Dunbar number to social media. The Dunbar number, proposed by anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar, suggests that there are very particular limits to the numbers of friends we can have, a fact challenged (or perhaps confirmed) by social media.  I love the way Konnikova applies this concept to technology, and love, too, that students can perform their own evaluation of the continued relevance of this concept by browsing through their friends lists on social media.
  • Hanna Rosin, in “Why Kids Sext,” similarly examines the intersections of technology and youth culture but with a darker twist. Rosin explores a recent teen sexting scandal from Virginia to highlight not simply the challenges of growing up in today’s world but also the startling ways in which our laws have not kept pace with either technology or culture. 
  • Finally, Graeme Wood’s “Reinventing College” is a great essay for students as well, as it examines one possible future for higher education: the online university. As with Konnikova and Rosin, Wood’s essay offers a great entry point for students since, as students, they can speak to higher education from very grounded experience.


These essays join others from previous editions, including not only Peter Singer but also Bill Wasik and Richard Restak to offer you a number of ways to help students think critically about technology in the world and in their lives.  I hope you will check them out.


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Gardner_Mar08_218.jpgI had a hard time deciding on the title for this piece. Most of the ideas that came to me seemed a bit too bitter:


  • Making Students Read the Directions
  • I'm Tired of Searching for Student Work
  • There for a Reason: Please Use the Rubric
  • No, Really, You Should Follow the Instructions


These alternatives definitely communicate my frustration. No matter what I try, I cannot seem to communicate assignment requirement to students effectively. Either because I’m doing something wrong or they aren’t paying attention, students end up missing key aspects of their assignments.


The Problem of Missing Information and Materials

Let me give you an example. I require reflection comments with the major projects that students submit. The comments are like those that might appear in a draft letter. They tell me about the audience and purpose, anything the student wants me to notice or comment on, and so forth. The reflection comments are meant to give me some framing information on the project before I grade it and to ask the student to do some self-assessment and reflection. I have tried everything to get students to all include these comments:


  • I have told them that they help me grade their work by giving me useful information.
  • I have tried to frame it from their perspective by telling them that it's their chance to help me understand their writing choices and strategies.
  • I have explained that the comments are worth 10 points of their grade on the project.
  • I have said, “You are throwing easy points away if you skip this part of the assignment.”
  • I have added big pull-quotations in the assignment and submission instructions to remind them to add them (shown in the image above).


Recently, it feels like the only thing I haven’t tried is interpretive dance. Nothing is 100% effective. There are always a few students who don’t include the comments.


I suppose I could live with that situation. If students cannot read and follow directions, they should get lower grades. The problem is that I have similar problems with the required elements listed in writing assignments and rubrics, too. Currently, students are working on WordPress portfolio sites, and they are required to include some specific content on their sites (e.g., an About page, two blog posts, two writing samples). The details on these requirements are included in the assignment, demonstrated in class, part of the peer review activities, and listed in the rubric. Despite all that, there are students who fail to include all of the elements. Even when I provide submission checksheets, portions are still missing for some students.


Restructuring Student Submissions

As I was setting up submission for the project last week, I decided something had to change. In the last month, I read somewhere about the value of asking students to fill out the rubric for their own work before submitting it. I’ve forgotten the source, but the idea is that students reflect on the work and assess it themselves. The teacher then uses each student’s rubric to frame the comments and grade on the work. I like that idea, but logistically I haven’t found a way for students to fill out the rubric for their own work in Canvas, our CMS.


After some thinking and experimenting, I decided to try something completely different. In the case of these WordPress portfolios, I previously used the Assignment tool in Canvas and asked students to give me (1) the link to the homepage of the portfolio, and (2) their reflection comments. I can only ask for those two things because of the limitations of the tool. I realized that I needed something that let me ask a series of questions and that would still let students upload files if needed. I decided that the Quiz tool in Canvas might be the solution.


I took the rubric for the WordPress Portfolios and converted each requirement into a question in the quiz. In the case of this project, there are a lot of elements that students need to include on their sites, so I asked students to provide me the direct URL to each element. Not only does this process force them to check that they have the required elements on their sites, but it should also simplify the grading process for me since I won’t have to look for the elements or guess what they intend each page to count as. To help students, I created a WordPress Portfolio Worksheet with all the submission questions, so that they can gather their answers before opening the Quiz tool in Canvas.


I haven’t had a chance to get much feedback on this new system from students. They may hate it. First impressions seemed good though. When I went over the system in class, there was a lot of nodding, more than normal. Maybe I’m on to something. I will have to let you know once I have a chance to grade their work and ask them their opinions.


How do you use rubrics and checklists to ensure students meet all the requirements for an assignment? What works for you? How do you get around the limitations of your CMS? Share your strategies in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.

Gaddam.gifToday's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam (see end of post for bio).


Social media represents a large percentage of the reading and writing that first-year students do outside of the classroom, so it makes sense to acknowledge and even take advantage of it inside of the classroom. In my DePaul WRD 102 Basic Writing course, we use Instagram throughout the quarter to document various stages of their writing processes in unique and interesting ways, to provide a centerpiece of an in-depth rhetorical analysis project in the middle of the term, to facilitate conversations about audience, context, and purpose, and to create a multimodal final reflective essay with their course ePortfolios.  For basic writers in particular, using Instagram to create a gallery of their writing successes and challenges throughout the quarter has proved especially beneficial in boosting the amount of evidence and analysis final reflections.


Background reading

The following handbook sections provide useful questions for not only writing a final reflection for an online platform such as Digication, but also for selecting content and captions for photos taken throughout the quarter:


The Assignment: We Did It for the ‘Gram


1. I ask students to create an Instagram account (if they don’t already have one) and post at least five pictures with a hashtag unique to our class.  Most students have an Instagram account prior to my class, and those who don’t are able to sign up in less than two minutes.  Some students choose to create second Instagram accounts rather than post school-centered images to their personal or private accounts. I try not to give too many instructions about the content of their pictures; rather, I encourage students to think about their own writing processes—their challenges, habits, strategies, and resources—in order to take photos that reveal new or tacit knowledge about how they approach writing tasks. And, in the interest of fairness, I post photos to Instagram using the hashtag, too.


2. I engage the class in informal reflections and discussions in class about their rhetorical choices for composition, content, and editing.  By midterm week, students are required to have at least two photos posted to their Instagram accounts so that we have something to reflect on and talk about in class (weekly reminders to take pictures help students remember and meet this deadline). I ask students to bring in their photos, either in print or digitally, for a free write about rhetorical choices—why they chose to capture that particular moment, as well as the intended rhetorical effects of chosen filters, compositions, editing, and captions.  The results of the free writing jumpstart a discussion about cultivating personas, audience, and exigence. 


3. I introduce the final reflection assignment about two weeks before the end of the quarter. As far as final reflection assignments go, my reflective essay prompt is fairly standard—I ask students to think about new strategies that they tried throughout the quarter, the challenges they faced as writers, and progress toward personal goals or course learning outcomes. I encourage them to use the Instagram photos they have taken over the quarter as evidence of the activities or processes they discuss in their essays because as we’ve no doubt discussed by this point in the term, evidence is crucial to support their claims. 


4. I use a reflection worksheet to help students connect the actions or strategies depicted in the pictures to the course learning outcomes and their ongoing development as writers and students. Effective reflective writing is challenging; asking students to talk about the past often elicits simple reports of tasks they’ve accomplished rather than in-depth discussions on how they accomplished those tasks and what they’ll take away from the experiences.  To help students think about past, present, and future in their reflections, I ask them to complete the following worksheet in class:


What you did

How you did it

Learning outcome

Future applications














I have students fill out the two columns on their own and talk to a partner to discover learning outcomes that the experiences can map onto and future applications for the knowledge or skills they have acquired. 


5. Students write and present final reflections and their Instagram galleries to showcase the writing strategies they employed throughout the quarter. Digication ePortfolios are required of all students in every first-year writing course at DePaul, so students have the means and opportunity to create a multimodal reflective essay that informs the rest of their showcased work.  Most students choose to use the photo gallery function available on Digication, which allows viewers to scroll through the photos and read accompanying captions.


Students' Images

Below are some examples of photos taken by my students (and me). View more images on Instagram with #depaulwrd102.

Gaddam 3-7-16 1.PNGGaddam 3-7-16 2.PNG

Gaddam 3-7-16 3.pngGaddam 3-7-16 4.png


This assignment is an easy way to start talking about multimodality in the classroom because the platform is free and most students are experts walking into the classroom, which means they have a lot to say from the very beginning! Analyses of Instagram photos come naturally to most students, and they have very little trouble understanding how images can be read as texts.


Finally, as a result of this assignment and the associated class activities, I have received some truly introspective and evidence-based reflections that were mostly free of report-like language and superficial appeals to my vanity as a teacher. Asking students to use their own images to reflect on their writing gets them thinking about how writing and media can complement, inform, and even complicate each other.


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.

Recently I had an opportunity to speak to a group of two-year college writing teachers in Texas. The topic very much on their minds: guns in their classrooms.  As I learned, the Texas legislature has passed a new law, which takes effect this coming August.  Here’s what it says:


Effective Dates:  August 1, 2016 for all state 4-year colleges and universities; August 1, 2017 for all state 2-year and junior colleges.


The new Texas law will permit individuals who have obtained a concealed handgun license (CHL) to carry their loaded, concealed weapon in college and university buildings.  Each college and university may determine certain sensitive areas and buildings* where concealed weapons will continue to be prohibited. Each college and university must publically display campus policies on the official school website, as well as widely publicizing it among correspondence with the institution’s faculty, staff, and students. Previous laws permitting the concealed carry with a license on open campus grounds and in locked vehicles in parking lots will remain unchanged….

(You can read more at  This site also has a petition to keep guns off campuses.)


The teachers I talked with are enormously concerned about this new law and what it will mean for their teaching and for their students’ learning.  More than a few of them described “training” they are taking to help them prepare for and deal with the new law:  they are warned to “be very careful” not to introduce topics that might upset students.  And if a shooter appears in their classes, they are to face the shooter and shield their students. 


Of course we talked about other things—primarily about how to help all of our students develop into confident and competent writers. But these conversations about guns in classrooms are what have stuck in my mind.  Every. Single. Day.  Many teachers I spoke with seemed fearful but resigned:  “This is Texas,” they said.  Maybe so, but I came away thinking about the havoc this new law can have:  we all know that college students are at a vulnerable time in their lives, that many of them are suffering from anxiety and depression. Research also shows that college-age students’ brains have not fully developed, especially in the area controlling split-second decisions.  These facts make having guns in classrooms seem counterproductive, at the very best. In addition, this law is almost certainly going to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and on one of the foundations of higher education:  the opportunity to encounter ideas across the spectrum, including those that may be difficult to understand or accept. 


I am fortunate to have taught at a university without guns, and I hope that will continue to be the case.  What I would like to do, though, is join a national movement of teachers, especially those who teach on campuses where guns are allowed in class, to declare that we will not teach in an atmosphere of grave danger.


Arriving at the Bush International Airport in Houston on my journey home, I was met by a large red sign on the outside door: 


guns in class post.png

Would I meet a person carrying a concealed licensed firearm?  In fact, I did not—at least not that I know of—but I was more cautious than usual.  It was a long day, and I hated concentrating on people with guns rather than thinking about students and their learning.


Incase app for iPhone

Every week on Criminal Minds, computer whiz Penelope Garcia hits a few keys and in seconds provides any information the Behavioral Analysis Unit needs to find and put away the criminals. The good guys use technology to get the bad guys. Any criminal worth his salt knows to use a burner phone and to get rid of it immediately after using it. Think of all the incriminating evidence the police or FBI could pull off of his cell phone about his actions and potentially about the actions of other criminals.


Then along comes the case of the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI have his cell phone because he and his co-conspirator wife, Tashfeen Malik, died in a police shootout on December 2, 2015, after killing fifteen people and wounding twenty-one others at a Christmas party at a center for the disabled in the deadliest mass shooting in the country since Sandy Hook. There is no doubt that the pair were terrorists. So call in the FBI’s real-life version of Penelope Garcia. What could be simpler?


The small matter of a cell phone’s security code has become the center of a raging legal battle. Farook’s phone, like most, has a four-digit security code that prevents anyone besides the owner from accessing the data stored on it. In the world of James Bond, there would be a program that would input thousands of possible combinations of numbers until it hit the right one, but the phone is programmed to lock after ten unsuccessful attempts. The logical next step was to ask Apple to break the code on the phone. That’s when the legal battle began. Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to state his company’s resolve to fight a court order delivered in February that would force Apple to develop a new customized operating system firmware to remove the passcode lockout on the seized iPhone.


This case provides practice in applying argument theory to real life. The claim being made by each side is clear. Each is a claim of policy. One side argues that Apple should develop the means of breaking the security code. The other argues that the company should not. Consider the support being offered on each side of the argument. Apple executives have called the new OS a “government OS” and argue that the court order violates Apple’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.  They fear setting a dangerous precedent. If they come up with a code to break into Farook’s phone, is the security of other phones in jeopardy? On the other side of the battle is the Department of Justice’s legitimate concern for national security. Officials have even admitted that there is probably no useful information on the phone. Farook and Malik destroyed other phones before their crime, and the phone in question was a company phone that Farook used on the job. All but the most recent data on it has already been downloaded from the Cloud. Government officials also worry about precedent. If Apple will not help in this case, what would happen if there were vital information on a phone in the future that could possibly prevent a major terrorist attack?


The argument appeals to some of our most basic fears: threats to our liberty and threats to our feeling of security. Which side of the argument you find more convincing depends on how much of a threat to the privacy of innocent Americans you feel is posed by developing a means of breaking the phones’ security code and, on the other hand, how much of a threat to national security is posed by Apple’s refusal to develop a “government OS.” The battle is far from over. One reason that both sides are taking it so seriously is that any legal ruling on the issue could have far-reaching effects.


[Photo Source: Incase on Flikr]

I wanted to take a quick break from our tour of the third edition of Emerging to discuss how to teach the current controversy between Apple and the FBI.  As I write this post, the standoff between the two continues, with the FBI attempting to force Apple into helping them to gain access to the iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, whose shooting spree killed over a dozen people in San Benardino, and Apple resolutely refusing to cooperate.


Teaching Apple and the FBI.jpg

To provide students some background on the issues involved, you might ask them to read the letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook, which stakes out Apple’s position and its perception of what’s at stake, as well as the statement from FBI Director James Comey, which presents the FBI’s position on the matter.  These two documents are useful texts for analysis in and of themselves, played out as they are on national media stages.  And it’s also useful for students to consider the ways in which the specific positions of each side have been managed, marketed, repackaged, and flattened into simplistic questions of privacy and security.


Emerging does offer a fantastic reading to help students explore this issue: Peter Singer’s “Visible Man; Ethics in a World without Secrets.” Singer’s essay has a bit of theoretical weight to it, opening with Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon and invoking the concept of “sousveillance” as well.  At the heart of Singer’s essay, though, is the question of privacy in relation to changing technology and questions of security—the very questions at the heart of the Apple v. FBI debate.  For Singer, the solution to some of these issues is for the watched to watch the watchers.  WikiLeaks is his example in that case.  And while that probably isn’t a solution in this current case, Singer’s thinking nevertheless foregrounds these vital issues and offers students tools to think through the complexities.


Give it a try.  I think you’ll find it works great.


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Yuppie? by JeffK, on FlickrLast week, I discussed The Logistics of Online Discussions, how I set up discussions and why I use the techniques that I do, in response to a question from a colleague in South Carolina. Even the most perfect technology and logistics fail if you do not ask the right questions, though. That’s why this week I turn my focus to the prompts I use for online discussions.


Using the Discussions for Introductions

I usually begin each course with an assignment that asks students to write biographical profiles. Students post their work in the online forum so that everyone in the class can read everyone else’s profile. One of my underlying goals for the Professional Bio Assignment Professional Bio Assignmentis to help students build community. Without this activity, students only see one another’s names in the discussion forum. I hope they will learn a bit more about each other, and they can look back to read more details later as they discuss other topics.


Using the Discussions for Peer Review

I ask students to post their rough drafts for their major projects in the discussion forum as well. Canvas has a slick feature that assigns partners for peer review, so I can automatically arrange peer review with little effort on my part. Before Virginia Tech adopted Canvas, I used a strategy that Bedford/St. Martin's Nick Carbone Nick Carbonetaught me: I instruct students to look through the forum and provide feedback to one student whom no one has replied to and a reply to another student who has received only one response. Responses from me don’t count. This process works smoothly, too.


The additional benefit of having the peer review work done in the online forum is that all the students in the course have access to all of the drafts that have been turned in. Seeing how 21 other people have completed an assignment helps students think about new strategies they can try and new content they can add.


Further, I can point students to one another’s drafts to demonstrate strengths. If one student is struggling with using specific details, I can ask her to read the draft of another and look for how details are used. This practice allows me to share an authentic model while also praising the author of the model. In cases where several students in the class are working on the same issue, I have shared a student sample with everyone in the class by pointing to the draft in the online forum.


Using Discussions to Explore Issues and Ethics

Finally, I use the discussion forum to carry on the discussion of issues and strategies that are typical for the writing classroom. For the forum prompts, I borrow from the textbook when I can. I'll take an exercise from the end of a chapter and turn it into a discussion prompt that students will respond to. While I copy over the question from the e-text (and usually edit it), I do not copy over the sample work that sometimes accompanies it. Instead I ask students to look it up in their copy of the textbook.


I also have forum questions that share links to related writing advice and examples of texts that are similar to what they are writing, and I ask them to discuss what they see and what they can take away. For instance, for the bio assignment I mentioned above, I give students links to the biography pages of local businesses and various campus groups to analyze:


Post a reply that tells us what biography statements you read. For instance, you might say you read some bios from the Corps site and some from the Campus Automotive site. After you identify the sites, tell us what you could tell about the audience and purpose from the information that was included and the way the bios were written.


You can use these audience questions from Chapter 4 of Markel to decide what kinds of details to talk about, but don't feel like you need to answer the questions specifically:

  • Who are the readers?
  • Why is the audience reading the document?
  • What are the readers’ attitudes and expectations?
  • How will readers use the document?


End your post either by talking about something you found that you can apply to the bios you are writing OR by raising a question that one of the bios brought up for you.


In addition to discussion of examples and writing strategies, I ask students to consider a series of ethics situations, which I wrote about last year (Ten Ethical Scenarios for Professional Writing). I ask students first to indicate how they would respond to the situation and then to explain their position. The situations lead to some lively conversations, since every student has an opinion and there is no clear right or wrong answer.



If you use online forums in your class, whether it’s face-to-face, hybrid, or online, please tell me about the strategies that you use in the comments below. What discussion prompts have worked best for you? Have you had prompts that bombed? Let me hear from you!


[Photo: Yuppie? by JeffK, on Flickr]