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As a community college English instructor, I face an ongoing challenge of interrogating and dismantling stereotypes about our students and our curriculum.  Yes, a number of our students are pursuing applied or technical degrees or certificates, with a goal of entering the workforce as soon as possible. But an equally large number of our students plan to transfer to four-year institutions (and many want to pursue advanced degrees).  Neither target outcome should entail a lowering of expectations or a reduction in opportunities for learning.  We aren’t grade 13, the easy way out, bottom tier, or just a check in the box—or we shouldn’t be.


Writing about writing (WAW) pedagogy is, to me, a perfect match for the community college. It treats writing—and language in general—as an object of investigation. Students can focus their investigations in relevant and meaningful ways, writing about the very sorts of writing and language-related issues that will shape their academic and professional careers.


Over the past four years, I have explored a WAW syllabus for my second semester freshman composition course (and I’ve written about this in previous posts, here, here, and here). As part of that course, in the spring semester, I have encouraged my students to participate in our Humanities and Social Sciences Research Symposium, a juried poster session. We began the Symposium as part of a previous quality enhancement plan (QEP), and as it has continued, we have refined and improved the structure and parameters of the event with a goal of raising the bar, bit by bit, so that our students experience authentic academic conversations with judges, students, and college community members. At the Symposium, we want content—not a grade—to be king.


Raising the bar (and thus defying stereotypes about our students and their potential) has required some significant introspection on the part of our faculty, particularly as we developed the cross-disciplinary rubric used by judges at the Symposium. What do we value in academic research? How do we assess the quality of sources used by students? What do we value in primary research? How familiar should students be with scholarship on their topic? How much weight should we place on presentation? How can we capture what we value so that we can communicate it to students and judges alike?


For my students, I have required the symposium as one component for earning honors course credit, and I have also offered extra credit. But that extra credit comes with a contract of sorts: I don’t want students to show up with paragraphs from the papers taped onto a board. Instead, I present the Symposium as a rhetorical challenge. Students must discuss with me the affordances and potential drawbacks of the poster format, as well as the needs of the possible audiences at the Symposium (which could include a professor, the Title IX Coordinator, an administrator, students, or a member of the community).  They need to think about words, arrangement, images, colors, size, and copyright.


I am not convinced that we have fully achieved our goals for the Symposium. But we have made a great deal of progress. As coordinator, I have watched as students have interacted with judges, hesitantly at first, and then with growing excitement and confidence. Often, there is a single moment of epiphany: “This person thinks my topic is just as interesting as I do!” Voices rise in pitch, and hands begin to move in the air, highlighting the power of dialogue—of sharing and of thinking in the moment. More than once, I have had a student say to me, “I didn’t know it would be like this. I want to do it again.” Yes. Real learning—and real scholarship—is like that.


This year, two of my students took home prizes in the Symposium: a project on the viability of West African pidgin as an official language for West African nations, and a project on the history and structure of American Sign Language (with a focus on whether ASL should be used to fulfill a foreign language requirement). Both projects came out of my adapted Writing about Writing (and language) second semester freshman course. The students were honored at the college-wide awards ceremony at the end of the term, where their winning projects were displayed again for all college award recipients and their families.


Can first and second year students at community colleges engage in authentic—albeit novice—scholarly work? Certainly. WAW approaches to composition encourage this sort of scholarly initiation, and a Symposium validates their efforts; they aren’t just eavesdropping on the conversation but joining in. With the variety of people walking through, they may even find themselves in a position of relative expertise. That sense of knowing is powerful.


I am very grateful for an administration that supports our Symposium, with dollars and with attendance, and who support faculty scholarship and innovation as much as they can. I am also grateful for colleagues who resist the insertion of that insidious “just”: we are a community college, not “just a community college.”


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A screen for the fingers by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseLast week’s Chronicle article “Why We Dread Disability Myths” reminded me that I need to think about accessibility as I pursue my goal of improving online discussion. Slack’s iOS and Android apps are accessible, and the company is working to build further support into the tool. As an example, a company blog post explains how to change the tool’s settings to better support those with color blindness.


There’s more to accessibility than just having tools that are accessible, however. As I have written about in a previous post, Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements” on the Kairos PraxisWiki explains how much more can be done to provide students equal access. Following their ideas, I need to foreground accessibility information for Slack on the assignments and course website, much as I did when I worked on Improving My Accessibility Policy on my syllabus.


The Help with Slack page that I designed for my course doesn’t even mention accessibility. It should be readily available at the top of the page. As I revise the page for the next time I teach, I’ll add the information on using the iOS and Android apps for best accessibility, as well as the information on changing settings as needed to improve visibility on the site.


In addition, I want to create an Accessibility Statement for the website, which explains the accessibility goals for the site and how to contact me. There is even an Accessibility Statement Generator to make the process simple and easy.


Finally, I want to create an Accessibility Guide for the entire course, which includes details on Slack as well as the rest of the resources we use in the course. Inspired by the CCCC Conference Accessibility Guides (like this one from the 2017 conference), I will create a document that treats the course website and the tools that we use as places, explaining how to navigate and use the resources. I’m thinking more of something that explains how to walk through the resources, find what you might need, and locate the access aids that are available. I imagine that creating the document will be a lot of work at the outset, but it should be easy to maintain unless something major changes (like the campus CMS).


Overall, these are challenging goals, but they’re critical to making sure that everyone can take best advantage of the course. In fact, I hope that these changes will help all students. It can’t hurt for everyone to know how the different portions of the sites and tools that we will use work. What do you do to make sure that the resources in your courses are accessible? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.



Credit: A screen for the fingers by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

Ever since the 2016 election results rolled in, I’ve been talking with teachers and students about how polarized we are in the United States today—and, more specifically, what teachers of writing can do about it. I and plenty of others have written about the importance of listening, of being open to a wide range of opinions, and on working to establish common ground with those you may not agree with.


Enter Henry Tsai, now about to graduate from Harvard’s MBA program, who I’ve known since he was a member of my course on graphic memoirs when he was a sophomore at Stanford. Henry has been working to bring people together for good causes since his high school days: a talented artist as well as a strong and vivid writer, he wrote a senior thesis at Stanford that provided an illustrated study of Vietnamese community members who ended up in Houston (Henry’s home town) after Katrina. For this study, Henry interviewed a number of these people, who were doubly—sometimes triply—displaced, learned of their stories, and raised awareness about their current situation.


Crossing the divide - a hand with flowers reaches through a fenceAfter the election this past fall, Henry didn’t just wring his hands over the state of the country and its deep divisions. Instead, he and his friend Yasyf (described by Henry as “a computer whiz”) created an app called Hi From The Other Side. As you’ll see, this app aims to bring together pairs of people from different political sides (e.g., Trump, Clinton) to talk with and listen to one another. Anyone can sign up and answer some questions designed to weed out trolls or just troublemakers and then eventually be paired with someone from “the other side.”


Participants are encouraged to meet in person if possible or by phone—in other words in real time and real life. The app provides guidelines for getting conversations started and sustaining them; it definitely does not have an ax to grind! As Henry puts it, “This wasn't an initiative from a political organization or anything, just people who care about being better listeners.”


You can read testimonials from people who have said “hi from the other side” on the link above, and you can sign up to receive their newsletter. And you can let your students know about this new app, one that may help them be better listeners and to talk productively with people on the “other side.”


Credit: Pixaby Image 1549399 by klimkin, used under a CC0 Public Domain License


One of the most common truisms about writing that circulates in culture is that you should always “write about what you know.”  Setting aside any problematic aspects of the saying (of which there are more than a few), the fact that FYC students bring this idea into the writing classroom, even if it’s just buried in their subconscious, presents another challenge to helping students generate writing.


This idea gets back to the question of authority I was discussing in an earlier post and I feel like it relates to the challenges I’ve seen students struggle with in relation to peer review, as well.  Students don’t feel like they know about the readings in the class, or about writing, or about how to offer good feedback.  So I have been thinking about how to help students know what they know.


One approach I often use is to bring the readings back to students’ lives.  For example, one of the advantages of using Graeme Wood’s “Reinventing College,” or any of the other essays in Emerging about higher education, is that—by definition—they are experts in being in college.  While this example is perhaps a bit “on the nose,” I find that most of the readings in Emerging have entryways to connect to students’ experiences and, thus, their knowledges.


Group work is also a great confidence builder, for while no one student may really “know” a reading, I find that having them pool their knowledge and skills helps them realize how much they do know collectively.  And that collective understanding travels back with students once they leave the classroom.  Building knowledge expands the base of what students know and thus empowers them to write about an essay.


One final strategy I use is getting students to write about what they know they don’t know.  I ask students to come into a class with a specific quotation or passage from the reading that they just don’t understand.  Working alone or in groups, they break these down into smaller bits and build an understanding.  Not only do students leave with a better working knowledge of the reading, but they also come to know they they know what to do when they know they don’t know.


So, write about what you know?  I guess. Thing is, in the writing classroom you’re always learning more and so always knowing more.


emoji on iPod touch by choo chin nian, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseWhat is the most important thing for the success of online discussions? Students need something engaging to talk about. I have spent the last month talking about my Goal to Improve Online Discussions. I have talked about providing more preparation, increasing low-stakes discussions, and getting more involved in the discussions myself. None of those strategies will work, however, if I don’t have strong discussion prompts and assignments. So, this week, I’m going to think through an assignment.


Purpose of the Assignment
The goal for this discussion is to talk about audience analysis and the impact of the choices writers make when they compose messages. I am designing the activity for students in technical and business writing courses, but it can easily be adapted for any course, which I will address at the end of this post.


Underlying Theory for the Approach
Students are language experts who have great skills at communicating. CCCC’s resolution on Students’ Right to Their Own Language (1974, reaffirmed in 2003) outlines the expertise that students bring to the classroom, including the details on the dialects and language variation that make their communication unique. In this activity, students explain their understanding and use of language and then work to align that understanding with communication in new settings and uses.


Specifically, smartphone-toting students love emoji, sometimes sending entire messages consisting of the images. They are experts in this visual language. In this activity, students talk about how they use emoji and then consider how the visual language works in other settings.


Background Readings for Students
Prior to the discussion, students will read about audience analysis, purpose, and emoji. For technical and business writing students, the chapter in the course textbook on audience and purpose is the obvious choice. Online resources are also available, such as the Purdue OWL Audience Analysis Overview.


Additionally, students read some resources about the use of emoji in professional settings, such as the following:


Discussion Prompts
For this activity, students will begin with a very specific use of emoji in the workplace. After this discussion, they will react to one another’s opinions and then create some guidelines for using (or not using) emoji in professional communication. Students will begin with this prompt:


Share an audience analysis of an emoji. Choose an emoji that no one else in your group has written about, and explain what the emoji means and how it is used. Consider the ideas about emoji in the workplace from this week’s readings as you make your selection. If you have trouble, think about how you use the emoji and how someone older might use it. Have some fun with this, but keep the explanations polite.


  • Go to the Slack channel for your group.
  • Choose an emoji that shows up in Slack (See emoji help in Slack).
  • Write a post that includes the emoji and explains how different audiences might interpret it. Provide some examples.
  • Discuss whether you would use the emoji in the workplace, explaining what audiences and situations it would be appropriate for as well as when it would be inappropriate.
  • Once you post your analysis, read through the posts by others in your group and add responses to at least three. You can write replies and/or use emoji


As I am by no means an emoji expert, I should easily be able to enter the discussion (in line with my goal to get more involved myself) by asking for clarification on the explanations that I don’t understand. To prepare for my interaction in the conversation, I have brainstormed some potential questions and responses that I can use. Here are some examples, which use “[insert emoji]” to indicate where I would add the emoji that the student was discussing:


  • I wouldn’t have guessed [insert emoji] had that definition. How do you think that meaning evolved?
  • Are there any nuances to using [insert emoji]? Is it always okay [or wrong]?
  • Would there be circumstances when you would use [insert emoji] differently?
  • What would you do if you used [insert emoji] in the wrong context or the reader didn’t understand?
  • It looks as if [insert emoji] and [insert another emoji] mean the same thing. What’s the difference?


I would also have some general questions ready to share, such as these:


  • How often do you string together emoji to express an idea? Are there any rules to using more than one? When are they used?
  • What can you do to make sure that everyone on your team understands the emoji you want to use in a message?
  • How does connotation work into what an emoji means?
  • What ethical considerations must you consider before using emoji in your communication?
  • How do global and intercultural issues influence decisions about using emoji?


Once the first round of discussion is over, I’ll ask students to collaborate on group guidelines for emoji use. At this point, the discussion will become turn to analysis of the conversation, synthesis of the ideas, and logistical considerations of the writing task.


Create guidelines for the use of emoji in professional discussions. As a group, write a single document that outlines the following information:

  • when to use emoji (and when not to)
  • what emoji to use
  • what emoji not to use and why
  • how emoji work in special contexts, such as with clients and customers or with international audiences
  • what to do if emoji use goes wrong
  • any additional tips or advice

The document that your group composes will guide your use of emoji in this course, so consider the students in this course as your audience for the guidelines. For examples of what your document can look like, see these resources from “the government’s internal design agency, 18F, about how they use emoji in Slack, including one on how they use emoji to document shared knowledge” (From the Profhacker post, Getting More Done with Emoji).


As students work on their documents in groups, I will take the role of coach in the writing groups, by providing encouragement, responding to questions, and suggesting ways to improve the document. This part of the discussion activity is parallel to the conversations what would happen in the classroom as students collaborate on a document. The discussion activities will conclude when students share their documents with the other groups in the course.


Customizing the Activity for Other Courses
To use this activity for other courses, just change the focus on business and technical writing to an area appropriate for your course. The simplest solution is to change the references to workplace writing to academic writing, asking students to think specifically about the use of emoji in the course throughout the discussion. Other options will depend upon the course. For instance, in a course on managing social media, students can focus the discussion on emoji that are appropriate for public social status updates.


Assessment and Final Thoughts
As students work in these discussions, I will rely primarily on public comments that praise good ideas. These remarks should become models for others in the course. To help students who need to work on their ideas more, I will use the same kinds of comments that I would in face-to-face discussions, asking questions such as “Can you add some examples here?” and adding requests such as “Tell me more about this idea.” If I notice any students who are struggling or need extra help, I will send private messages.


I hope that by building on a topic students already know about, this activity will give them much to talk about. Furthermore, the activity allows everyone to build some a shared understanding of what is appropriate in our online discussions. If I’m lucky, I hope I will learn a bit more about emoji myself from the discussion. I would love to hear what you think about this topic. Please share your comments or advice below. I’d love to hear from you.


Credit: emoji on iPod touch by choo chin nian, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

Jack Solomon

Unintended Consequences

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert May 18, 2017

It could be argued that the biggest popular cultural phenomenon of our era has been the advent of digital technology and the Internet—a techo-cultural intervention at least as profound as television, in its time, and cinema.  To adapt the old McCluhan phrase from the pre-digital age, here the medium is indeed both message and massage, and there is no limit to the number of analyses of just what that message is.  But there is one angle on the significance of the Net that, while not entirely ignored, could use some deeper exploration, and that is the effect that it has had on the socio-economic and political situation in America today.

Timothy B. Lee's article, "Pokemon Go is Everything that is Wrong with Capitalism" (which will appear in the 9th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.), does a good job of showing how the economics of the digital explosion have redistributed American wealth into a small number of prosperous enclaves—like California's Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, along with Seattle and Boston-Cambridge—at the expense of much of the rest of the country.  Languishing at the margins of the new economy, such regions (which comprise most of the Midwest and the South) have stagnated—an entirely unintended postindustrial consequence that goes a long way towards explaining the popularity of Donald Trump in regions that were once considered safely Democratic strongholds, like Michigan and Wisconsin.  And so it is especially ironic that Donald Trump himself makes such use of digital social media (especially Twitter, of course) to build and maintain his power base.

But there has been another, related effect, that has received rather less attention.  This is the socio-economic effect that the digital era has had on those places where the new economy has taken hold.  I am particularly sensitive to this because I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and now live in Southern California.  The inflation that has been experienced in such areas—especially with respect to housing—is rendering it increasingly impossible for anyone but high income people to live there (this isn't whining: I purchased my present home 28 years ago and live in the sort of setting I prefer, but I would hate to be house hunting in my area today).  The result can be seen in the way that traditionally low income neighborhoods in, say, San Francisco and Venice, are being transformed, as young software engineers who want to live in the city and bicycle to work, move into the last areas where rents are affordable, thus driving up the rents astronomically, so that soon they will no longer be low income neighborhoods.


It is important for me to say that none of this was intended, and no individuals should be blamed (though a lot of such people are being blamed).  Young men and women who have worked hard to get their technological training—and simply want to live decent lives in which they can demonstrate their dedication to sustainability by choosing to live where they will not have to rely on their cars to get to work—are not culpable.  But the fact is that, whether we are looking at urban, suburban, or exurban neighborhoods anywhere in the vicinity of the great digital economic hubs, there is no place anymore for anyone but the upper-middle class, or those who already own there or are protected by rent control (an idea whose day is passing, by the way, under the same inflationary pressures).


It is also important for me to say that I cannot think of any solution to the problem.  To use that rather dismal verbal shoulder shrug, it is what it is.  If I had children of my own (I don't) I would feel compelled (with great reluctance) to tell them that if they want to live in a reasonably secure and pleasant manner, they are going to have to make plans to pursue high paying careers—not to be rich but simply to be able live in the middle class.  And that means, in all probability, STEM-related careers (including medicine), now that the Law (that economic mainstay of my generation of Humanities majors) has ceased to be a reliable escape hatch into the upper-middle class. 


That isn't the fault of the digital era, but it is a consequence of it, and we musn't try to conceal that fact.


Past and present directors of the Hume Center for Writing and SpeakingIn 2001-2002, with a “getting started” gift from Leslie and George Hume, we opened the Stanford Writing Center. The grand opening was near Halloween, and the deans, the vice provost, the provost, and the president of Stanford all attended: we took out a page ad in the Stanford Daily announcing “A new Stanford tradition: the Stanford Writing Center.” If you build it, they will come—and come they did. So many students appeared for the Center’s first workshop that we had an overflow out into the hallway and barely managed to pull it off. Still, with all of us working to get the word out, we conducted only about 800 tutorials during the remaining terms of that year. We were tucked away into a basement (naturally), and while the space was really nice (completely renovated), students had a hard time finding us.


Everyday People acapella group performing in the Hume CenterOn May 11 of this year, the renamed Hume Center for Writing and Speaking celebrated fifteen years of building and sustaining a culture of writing at Stanford. As of year, the Center will have tutored over 12,000 students, provided hundreds of workshops, and sponsored special events such as Writer’s Nights, Tea Parties for multilingual students, performances, and presentations. Now out of the basement, the Center has its own building on the campus quad: easy-to-find prime real estate, with a lounge/performance space, two classrooms, separate tutoring rooms, rooms for practicing presentations—even a kitchen. To celebrate the occasion, Interim Director Sarah Pit tock and her Hume Center team organized a panel about the Center, chaired by Wendy Goldberg (along with John Tinker, whom we miss every day, Wendy was first Co-Director of the Center) and featuring talks by people involved in the Center, past and present. Best of all, Zandra Jordan, who is joining Stanford this fall as Director of the Hume Center, was on hand for the occasion so that we all got to spend a bit of time with her and soak up some of her energy.


 I said a few words and told the audience, as I have told many others, that building the Center was the most fun and exciting thing I was able to do in my very long career. Designing the original space, establishing a staffing pattern that included our brilliant Program in Writing and Rhetoric lecturers along with undergrad and grad tutors, building outreach to the rest of the campus and far beyond, and spending time in the Center tutoring and working with tutors—that’s a good definition of “joy” to me.


After the panel, we all trooped across the street to the Center itself, where a grand buffet and anniversary cake were waiting, along with a program:


Hume Center for Writing and Speaking 15th Anniversary Celebration program

Marvin Diogenes, Tom Freeman's, and Clyde Moneyhun, The Composition Blues BandThe opening by Everyday People, one of Stanford’s stellar acapella groups, left us breathless, as did spoken word poetry performed by Mark Otuteye (a very early tutor in the Center and the founder of Stanford’s now legendary Spoken Word Collective) and Edan Armas (a current member of the Collective), just back from Nationals. Founded in 2001, the year we opened the Center, the Collective has met every week in the Center for the fifteen years of its existence, though their performances are now such hot items that we don’t have a space big enough to accommodate the hundreds of students who want to attend their performances. We also heard from former and current tutors, some of whom wrote in with special greetings and reminiscences. And we were inspired by Adam Banks, now Faculty Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who spoke eloquently about the role of writing in a 21st century university, and by Harry Elam, Vice President for the Arts and Senior Vice Provost for Education. Harry, whose field is drama and theater, was especially helpful in bringing Stanford’s speaking program into the Center, so that we are now prepared to tutor students on presentations and performances, whether spoken or written.


I left campus positively glowing with energy and excitement and a sense of hope, which is in short supply in these dark days of the Trump debacle. As always, I am inspired and moved by the strength and commitment and brilliance of college students, who make me glad and grateful, every single day, that I have been able to spend my life among them.


Happy Anniversary, Hume Center, and greetings to all those who work to support writing centers across this country and far beyond. Good work. Ethical work. Necessary work. Keep it up!


Edan Armas and Mark Otuteye, spoken word poets, performing at the Hume Center


Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford

I say “Assessment” and you say . . . what? Did you involuntarily wince or utter a furtive moan? Like many of my colleagues, I often find the assessments required of us to be a waste of time and, on occasion, an insult to our professionalism; my colleagues and I are continually assessing, evaluating, refining, and improving what we know about writing and how we can best teach it. Our ongoing “assessments,” both formal and informal, reveal how complicated, nuanced, and messy the development of writing skills can be, and we resist mandated assessments that reduce that messiness to check boxes and quantities.


We may feel “imposed upon,” as Suzanne Buffamanti, Denise David, and Robert Morris, articulated in a 2006 article in TETYC.  At a recent scoring workshop for a college-wide critical thinking and writing assessment, however, my colleagues showed me how the imposition can become a boon of sorts, as it did for Buffamanti and her colleagues at SUNY.  At my college, a small group of cross-disciplinary faculty spent a full day scoring student performance on the Critical-thinking Assessment Test, a short-answer test developed through a National Science Foundation Grant at Tennessee Technological University.  The test probes students’ ability to read information and graphs, describe that information, interpret it without drawing unsupported conclusions, and consider additional evidence needed to clarify initial interpretations.


My college began to offer this test several years ago as part of a Quality Enhancement Plan on critical thinking, and we have continued biannually since then. The test is given to a sample of students in sections of ENG 112, our second semester FYC course, and it is scored by faculty according to a carefully structured rubric designed by the test developers (those who lead the scoring workshop must complete training before conducting a scoring session).  Scoring takes a full day, depending on the number of faculty raters and total number of tests.


If you are feeling a bit of repulsion, don’t stop reading. What was a mandate, an imposition, just one more “to-do” before vacation can really commence evolved into professional development of the very best sort: open-ended discussions of what we value and how the knowledge and skills we are trying to inculcate can be repurposed and applied in other courses that our students take. How did this happen? Quite simply, twelve faculty from various disciplines (including biology, EMS certification, business, education, history, and English) examined student writing together.  When we looked at how students read and interpreted graphs, for example, we talked about similar assignments and skills in our own courses, and we discussed the extent to which our instruction transferred from one context to the next. The test provided clear data to inform that discussion: skills taught in ENG 112 should apply readily to the context of the assessment instrument, and yet we saw time and again little evidence that students were actually transferring the skills practiced in class.  Examples of failure to apply target skills were discussed, analyzed, and (truthfully) occasionally used for some comic relief.  Conversely, rare instances of success were also shared, analyzed, and celebrated.  


Eventually discussion turned to how we as instructors in different areas can encourage our students to apply, to re-purpose, to connect. We delved into word choice, style, and clarity, along with awareness of audience and purpose. And in the context of those discussions, the value of this assessment was clear – not for what it told us about our students, but for the opportunity to talk rhetoric, language, transfer, and assignment design with instructors across the curriculum.  Our shared vocabulary may not have sounded much like a “Teaching for Transfer” or “Writing about Writing” session at the 4Cs, but the conceptual focus was similar.


Community college faculty rarely have the occasion to work across disciplines on substantive issues of pedagogy or theory; dedicated time to this sort of collaboration seems to me to be the best possible outcome for mandated assessments. And if the institution can offer a small stipend, a comfortable room, lots of coffee, and an amazing barbecue lunch as well, so much the better.  


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As I write this post, scientists around the world are marching in reaction to the political climate and in support of science.  One of the emerging issues around the march is the intersection of science and politics, with many scientists wondering just how political such a march should be.  Emerging offers a number of essays at the intersections of science and other issues, which can then serve as an entry point for thinking about the role of science in the world, which in many ways is at the heart of the march.


Sandra Allen’s “A World without Wine” looks at the cultural and economic impact of global climate change by examining threats to the world’s major wine producing regions caused by shifts in weather.  Wine grapes are enormously sensitive to climate; recent shifts in weather patterns in these regions risks a sea change in the wine industry as we know it, with serious economic and cultural repercussions.  Allen’s piece is a great way to think about climate change in practical terms and around a topic that might have some relevance to students.


“Ethics and the New Genetics,” by the Dalai Lama, instead examines the relation between science and ethics, specifically considering the rapid evolution of biotechnologies and the relative lack of a concomitant evolution in ethics.  It’s a useful essay for thinking about the ethical implications of technology.  The Dalai Lama issues a broad call for the development of an ethical framework, a call that students can begin to answer in their own work.


Richard Restak’s “Attention Deficit: The Brain Syndrome of Our Era” uses brain science to consider the impact of media on our attention and quite literally on our brains.  Restak believes that our propensity to multitask is actually breeding Attention Deficit Disorder.  His essay offers students a way of critiquing media and social media from the standpoint of science or, alternatively, an avenue for challenging science based on the lived millennial experiences.


Tomas van Houtryve’s “From the Eyes of a Drone” considers the intersection of science and imaging technology and the military by exploring the use of drones in military operations.  Given the long and complex relationship between science and the military, van Houtryve offers a useful primer for students.


Perhaps the most powerful essay for looking at these issues, particularly in the context of the Science March, is “Being WEIRD: How Culture Shapes the Mind” by Ethan Watters, which documents the work of Joe Henrich and his colleagues which has called into the question the universality of social sciences ranging from anthropology to economics to psychology.  Henrich and his co-researchers demonstrated that much of what is considered universal in these disciplines is in fact “WEIRD”: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.  Culture and environment thus, they show, deeply shape the mind and the science that attempts to account for it, calling into question the Truth-with-a-capital-T of science.  Given that the march was all about the sheer power of science in relation to fact, Watters’ essay can help students complicate that understanding.

Preparing for presentation by Bill So, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseNow that the semester is over for me, I can put more energy into my work to improve discussions in my online classes. As I have discussed in earlier posts, I plan to spend more time preparing students for discussion, and I intend to increase low-stakes discussions in an effort to encourage more conversation. This week, I want to consider what I need to do myself to improve students’ discussion.


Each week, I asked students to discuss various topics. Sometimes, they responded to webpages or infographics. Other times, they shared drafts and gave one another feedback. Just as I would do in the face-to-face classroom, I checked on all of the groups. Since the class was 100% online, I skimmed through their discussions, paying attention to who contributed and noting any questions that came up. Occasionally, I answered a specific question or left some emoji thumbs-up feedback.


At the end of the week, students reported on their work by completing a weekly checklist that provided links to their Slack posts and replies. I used my spot checks of the discussions and the weekly checklists to gauge the success of the discussions. I hoped that feedback on the previous week’s contributions would improve the conversations during the next week. Unfortunately, discussion stayed rather flat, with students completing only the bare minimum to meet the requirements.


During the last weeks of the course, students were working on a large group project. There should have been a lot of discussion in Slack to coordinate drafting, feedback, and revision. I decided to ask them directly, using a version of this question in each team’s channel:

How are things going with your project? I see several of you have posted recently, but I know there are 11 people in the group. I'd like to hear from all of you so I can tell that you’re on track!

Students began responding almost immediately, telling me what they had accomplished, asking questions about their work, and sharing plans for finishing their project. The Slack channels were alive with conversation for a few days that week, and I suddenly realized my own failure in making our online discussions successful.


In the face-to-face classroom, students know you are there watching them. Although I was constantly reviewing what students were posting in my online classes, they had no idea that I was there. While I answered questions and added some happy-face feedback, I wasn’t doing enough. I needed to engage students with questions, feedback, and encouragement more frequently. In retrospect, it seems completely obvious. I wasn’t talking to students. Why would they talk to each other?


Going forward, I realize that I need to get much more involved. The best option is to add comments frequently that respond to students. Those comments will depend upon the context of the discussions, so it is hard to guess the exact comments to add in advance. To prepare, I have gathered some potential discussion starters that I can customize when the time comes:


  • Ask students to check in and tell me how their work is going
  • Respond to a specific student (e.g., What do the rest of you think of Pat’s analysis?)
  • Request details on current projects (e.g., What questions do you have about the assignment? Anyone need help?)
  • Ask for clarification and explanation (e.g., Can you explain this idea more?)
  • Call for examples (e.g., What are some examples from the document? Can you show me what you’re talking about?)
  • Request synthesis after students share ideas (e.g., Okay, how can we tie all these ideas together? What’s the take-away?)


There are more discussion starters in the article “50 Questions To Help Students Think About What They Think” While the article focuses on younger students, the questions can work for any level. To prepare even further, I want to take all these discussion starters and organize them into potential scenarios (like questions for peer feedback or questions for responding to an infographic). That project is on tap for another week. For now, I feel like I’m making good progress. I would love to know what you think. Please leave me a comment on how you engage students or what you use as discussion starters.



Credit: Preparing for presentation by Bill So, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

At the end of spring semester, which is also the end of our year-long Stretch Writing program (English 101 stretched across two semesters), I request that students respond to the question: “What is your philosophy of writing?” These brief responses serve as an introduction to students’ e-portfolios and are separate from the longer reflections required in the final section of the e-portfolio. The writing presented here is divided into two sections: philosophies of processes for writing and philosophies of motivations for writing. Happy summer, everyone!


Philosophies of Processes for Writing

Writing helps you take a subject and digest it by synthesizing it to get a better understanding.


When it comes to my writing process I do my best to follow an outline. My outlines to my paper then, follow a series of facts, or points related to whatever topic I am discussing in my essay. In addition, to making sure I write in an outline I make sure I use language that  can allow me to connect and relate to my audience who is reading whatever work I have produced. I find that with these two simple concepts I am able to create great works of writing.


The philosophy for writing i have is to always pick a topic that you truly love, otherwise the writing project will not be enjoyable to you. Once you are done writing always keep writing at least another paragraph this when great essays or stories are formed.


My writing projects all are based around the same theme and that is find the truth in the story.


Philosophies of Motivations for Writing

We need writing for us now and for the future. Just like speaking, it is a way of interacting for us.


I believe that writing is important because without it people would not have an outlet to express themselves. Also writing is crucial for documenting important events.


Writing is significant to the world because it allows an individual to express themselves and tell their story. Writing is an opportunity to be creative and express ideas, beliefs, and personality.


Writing is important because it is good to get what you are feeling out in the world through the power of word. It shows others what you see because the world it a complex place that no two people see the same way. This is why I enjoy writing; it shows you the world.


I believe writing is important for our society in order to communicate ideas and thoughts. With our great technologies and advancements, it could be all due to our development in communication.


I believe that writing is a form of free expression that not necessarily has to be shared with everyone. I think that writing helps a person find freedom within themselves and learn much more about their individual character than they thought.


I believe that writing is important because it helps each individual to grow and change. Writing in a sense helps you discover who you really are.



[Photo: Screenprinted Patch – Write Everywhere, by ofcourseyoucan]

If you check the International Writing Center Association (IWCA) website, you’ll find a section on K-12 writing centers that includes a map noting writing centers in the United States. The northeast has the largest cluster of centers, though there aren’t many states that don’t have at least a couple of schools with writing centers. This is all good news—and the result of very hard work on the part of the IWCA as an organization, as well as individual teachers across the country. In my years of teaching at the Bread Loaf Graduate School of English, I have helped many teachers found writing centers in their middle- or high-schools (and even one in an elementary school!).


Last summer I met another such teacher, and one fairly close to me here in California. She teaches at a public school in Santa Rosa, and we’ve kept in touch this year as she thought about the possibilities of a center at her school. Then just a week ago, this teacher and a colleague drove down to Stanford with six fabulous sophomores to visit Stanford’s Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. After welcomes, our director, Sarah Pittock, led us all in taking a “writing inventory,” answering questions such as:


  • Do you require particular conditions to start writing or continue writing?
  • How much planning do you do?
  • Do you write in multiple drafts or revise as you go along?
  • Do you seek input from readers as you write?
  • What are the biggest obstacles you face when you write?
  • What do you like about writing?


We all wrote for twenty minutes or so and then shared our findings. As always, I was fascinated by what these students had to say. Some needed utter silence in order to focus on writing; others needed “white noise” or music. Some revised painstakingly as they went along; others blasted out a draft and then began revising. All did some planning, from scratch outlines or notes to more complete blueprints. And all sought response from other readers, though when they did so differed: some liked to have a “pretty good draft” before sharing it with anyone else, while others called in outside readers from the get-go. All had experienced procrastination “issues,” and a couple of them had experienced serious blocks—but they had strategies (everything from running or other physical exercise, to cooking, to talking to parents or friends, to reading what they had been able to draft out loud.) And they all liked to write—I was surprised to find that several of them much preferred to write on paper rather than computer screen. Said one: “I find it engages me more so I do my best work on paper.” And: “When I write for fun, I almost always write on paper because of the easy access. I can always find paper and a writing utensil around me!”


What bothered them were constraints put on them by what they regarded as often rigid prompts or “rules” they must adhere to (they all talked over one another when describing a teacher that insisted they have SIX quotations in every paragraph!). Nevertheless, as they continued reflecting, they could see value in some strictness, saying it gave them confidence that they could produce text under such conditions. Nothing particularly new here, but I was struck by the maturity of these sophomores, by their thoughtfulness, and by their willingness to work hard and their understanding that writing well is hard.


Students at the Hume Center for Writing and SpeakingWe talked some about the pleasures and challenges of peer tutoring (they loved the idea of not having to be a judge and of having a chance to help others) and explored the logistics of their school—issues of space and time and a little funding—but most of them seemed hopeful that they could pull off a center. I concurred and hope that I can visit their school next year and find it up and running.  


If you have stories about a high-school writing center, I would very much like to hear them. In the meantime, here is a photo of our visitors in one of the workshop rooms at the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking.


Credit: Photo by Andrea Lunsford

Barclay Barrios

Finding Voice

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert May 10, 2017

One thing I find students often struggle with is locating a voice in their writing.  Because the FYC courses at our school focus on academic discourse, students have trouble stepping into a voice of authority, a challenge well explored by David Bartholomae in “Inventing the University.”  Their attempts to craft that voice often lead to writing that is stilted, choppy, and awkward.  I’ve tried approaching the problem by moving the register to the oral, explaining how their writing voice can sound just like their voice in class discussions.  But, I don’t know that it’s an approach that works as well as I would hope.


I’ve been thinking about what creative writing might offer, as well.  In our program, we have a number of GTAs who are pursuing their MFAs in creative writing and I know that a number of them have deployed small creative writing exercises in the classroom, such as open free writing, just to get the juices flowing (so to speak).  Surely, bringing elements of craft into the classroom could be a boon, but to do so would require a grounding in what is a contiguous but not continuous discipline.  To do so would also be to try and squeeze one more thing into a very crowded course.


It so often feels like a race to help students achieve proficiency in critical reading and writing in a scant 16 weeks that paying more attention to writing feels nigh impossible.  Ironic, of course, that I should be so troubled about teaching writing in a writing course.  But I wonder how others approach issues of style in the context of the FYC course.  Do you find ways to teach not just academic writing, not just correct, writing, but also good writing?

01.Sweetgreen.LoganCircle.1471P.NW.WDC.28April2011 by Elvert Barnes on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA licenseThis summer, I plan to work on structures and resources to improve the online discussions in my writing courses. Last week, I talked about Improving Online Discussion with More Preparation. This week, I’m concentrating on some of the discussions themselves.


Several of the class discussion topics were low-stakes activities. For instance, students posted a professional bio and discussed four infographics early in the term. This work was graded on completion. As long as students put in the effort and did the work, they got points in their weekly activity grade. I also included optional discussion topics, like my AMA discussion, which many students participated in.


After that first week, however, I turned to the specifics of the major writing assignments. Students had little motivation to chat beyond answering specific questions about their writing strategies and progress. As a result, I think I harmed the community building that was underway. Next time, I want to include more low-stakes discussion opportunities to engage students, and I want these discussions to last through the term.


I found an infographic on 10 Tips To Make Slack Even Better For Your Company that inspired me to add these semester-long channels to the Slack team next term:


  • #suggestions—for improving the course
  • #kudos—for praising anyone in the course
  • #extrapeerreview—for feedback outside of writing groups
  • #resourceshare—for links or details on professional writing how-to’s and advice
  • #inspire—for examples and things you wish you made
  • #hokiespirit—for discussion of campus events, athletics, etc.


The conversations in these channels will be open to everyone I am teaching. The other discussions that students participate in will be small writing-group discussions, where students work together to improve their own writing and collaborate on group documents.


I am also thinking of adding a #dailycreate channel, modeled on the assignment in ds106 courses. My idea is to give students a daily workplace challenge to respond to. Of course, my worry is that it is a DAILY create. Can I come up with enough prompts for every day? While I try to figure out the answer, what suggestions do you have for on-going, low-stakes discussions? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.



Photo Credit: 01.Sweetgreen.LoganCircle.1471P.NW.WDC.28April2011 by Elvert Barnes on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA license

Today's guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

This project is truly the motherlode of multimodal projects and is best implemented at the end of a semester. Throughout my class, students learn the discreet skills and genre conventions of many multimodal projects that prepare them to create content for multiple audiences, purposes, and contexts. This project asks students to return to those skills and genres and remix them into a single, interactive format that demonstrates this knowledge.

Project Overview
Subject of Experience: The theoretical and content focus for this project involves the subject of experience in which students focus on the layers that define a sense of place. Each student chooses a place to explore and describes the richness of this particular place along with their perspectives. Students map the associational connections between things and explore the ways experience overlays landscape in a particular community or place.

Interactive Feature Format: For this final project students create an interactive document that demonstrates their skills as rhetoricians and content creators. The project is composed in the form of an interactive feature article that is written in a non-linear format and allows audiences to explore it on their own terms. The format consists of a series of mini-features that make up the whole and includes research, embedded links and original multimodal content variations. In order to complete the project, students collect research and images to create a database to remix into original digital and visual content.

Steps of the Assignment

Part 1 - Research and Content Development

  • Content Collection and Curation: Encourage students to immerse themselves in a place that is accessible with enough possibilities for exploration and research – one that will reveal many layers of experience. They will likely have to visit it several times to triangulate their impressions. Have them write up these observations and their impressions as an early draft of the project. They will remix and repurpose this database of content for the sub-projects.
  • Primary and Secondary Research: Students research their place through primary sources (physical immersion and qualitative data) and secondary sources such as history, culture, context and related ideas and angles (that become embedded links in their document). I have them submit a list of annotated links that they will also incorporate later.
  • Images: Compose/take at least 50 digital images that reveal the place and include students’ perspectives and experiences (personal, communal, cultural). They will use these to learn more about their place and create a database of images from which to select and repurpose for future content pieces. Have them focus on both micro and macro impressions as they shift their lenses from the specific details to the larger landscape.


Part 2: Interactive Feature Article and Content Remix Variations – each of these variations employ different rhetorical situations.

  • Interactive Feature: Students compose a formatted digital feature article that includes original images and embedded research links. Rather than presenting as a linear document, students compose and crosslink in dedicated sections (mini-features and content variations) to enhance interactivity.
  • Image Gallery: A collection of composed images that reflect a visual sense of place (a static gallery or self-advancing, embedded photo montage).
  • Digital Story: Reflects a sense of place and tells the story of the place through the lens of students’ individual perspectives and relationship to the community (See Digital Storytelling post).
  • Immersive Experience: A review, interview or other live experience in which students engage specifically with something in the community.
  • An Infographic: A data visualization of students’ experiences – a visual mapping of the connections discovered through their place research.
  • Resources: A curated, annotated collection of embedded and resources, links.
  • Self-Selected Content: An additional content creation of students’ own choosing.

Reflections on the Activity
Although this project has a lot of moving parts, it is a great way to get students to expand and demonstrate a range of multimodal composition skills. It teaches them rhetorical agility as they create a database of information and remix it for different audiences, contexts, and purposes.

The most difficult part of the assignment is getting students to understand interactivity the ways composing takes on new shapes in digital contexts.  Media theorist Timothy Garrand offers a basic starting place for this conversation, “In short, interactive media is computer delivered media or modes of expression (text, graphics, video, etc.) that allows users to have some control over the manner and/or order of the media presentation” (2006). Students are so used to presenting material in linear formats and the assignment challenges them to compose through the lens of interactivity to create depth and audience participation in online settings.  Interactive components can take the form of text, links, video, audio, images, animation, etc.

The form of the Interactive Feature Article is just one of many emerging genres for composers in digital spaces.  You can find many sophisticated examples on the web that take on different shapes and approaches.  I thank my colleague Jeff Greene and his student Jake Turner for sharing ideas and examples as I was building the assignment.  

Student Examples of Interactive Feature Articles

As usual, my students took to the task.  Check out a couple of these examples from the class:

Anna Maxwell’s Sweetwater Creek Park

Monty Montgomery’s  Lenox Mall  

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the English 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.

Donna Winchell

Documentation in Flux

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert May 8, 2017

As I revised Elements of Argument recently, for the first time I had to take a close look at the new MLA documentation guidelines. I found the use of the new term container a bit clunky, if perhaps useful. I can imagine a group of bibliographical scholars sitting around a conference table saying, "There has to be a better word for the . . . CONTAINER the documented information comes from." Apparently their conclusion was that there isn't. 


I can remember back in the old days holding a book or journal and telling my students, "Give credit to the source that you held in your hands." That seems like an old-fashioned idea these days, indeed. For those of you who have avoided looking too closely at the new MLA,  the container is the book, journal, or magazine that ideas or wording comes from, but it also has its electronic forms. The container can be a web site or an online newspaper or a television series. The MLA was attempting to set up guidelines based on core elements that could be used for bibliographical entries, no matter what the source, rather than depending on numerous examples of any form that source might take. The generic term container makes it easier to provide a consistent format, even though the container varies widely from one citation to the next.


I can understand my students' confusion with the old MLA guidelines regarding how to cite some types of sources. An article, for example, appears in the New York Times, but the student reads it on The article is the same (usually), but the container is different. The availability online  of so many sources is making parenthetical documentation less useful than it used to be because seldom are there page numbers. The line is even less clear, though, when there are, because then we may have a journal article that appeared in hard copy merely reproduced on the screen, page numbers and all. The new MLA doesn't solve that problem. It may help, though, for students to think about which container they accessed. 


Hyperlinks to the sources they used would perhaps make more sense in our digital world. However, sites come and go and change, so a link that works today may not work tomorrow. In preparing essays for inclusion in my textbook, I ironically find myself more and more having to replace hyperlinks with old-fashioned parenthetical citations. 


The changes in the 2016 MLA are an acknowledgment of the complexity of dealing with documentation in a cyber world and a step in the right direction.



In the early years of the Internet, one of the most commonly heard slogans of the time was, "information wants to be free."  This ringing affirmation of the uninhibited flow of speech, knowledge, and news was one of the grounding values of that heady era when the Net was known as the "electronic frontier," and was regarded as an unfenced "information superhighway."  Those were the days when the web log (better known in its shorthand form as the "blog") was born, and the opportunities for virtually unfettered communication opened up in ways that the world had never experienced before.


That was twenty and more years ago now, and while a superficial glance at things would seem to indicate that nothing has really changed, a closer look reveals quite something else; deep down, the Internet has been fenced, and the superhighway is becoming a toll road.


 To see how, we can consider the history of the blog itself.  Yes, blogs still exist, but they have often morphed into what were in the past called "editorials," as online newspapers slap the label onto the writings of pundits and even those of news feature writers.  What you are reading right now is called a "blog," though it is really a semi-formal essay devoted to professional musings and advice, rather than being some sort of online diary or journal.  The blogs that still hew to the original line of being personal and unrestricted communiques to the world still exist, of course, on easy-to-use platforms like WordPress, but most have been abandoned, with their last posts being dated years ago. 


Where has everybody gone?  Well, to places like Facebook, of course, or Instagram, or Reddit, or whatever's hot at the moment.  But this is not a mere migration from one lane of the information superhighway to another; it is an exit to a toll booth, beyond which some of us cannot go, not because we cannot afford the cost (the toll is not paid in dollars), but because we are unwilling to make ourselves the commodity that "monetizes" what now should be called the "electronic data mine."


Thus, I have seen personal blogs that I used to follow because I was interested in what I learned about their writers, fall fallow because they had moved on to Facebook.  For a long time, some such pages could be accessed by the likes of me if their authors chose to make them public, but they have now all been privatized by Facebook itself.  When I try to visit even the pages of public organizations, a moving barrier fills my screen, ordering me to open an account.  A free account, of course: all I have to do is sell whatever last shred of privacy I have left in order to sign on.


Yes, I know that Google is following me, even if I am not using its search engine: it gets me when I visit a site.  But signing on to Facebook (Google too, of course) involves an even deeper surrender of privacy.  This is demonstrated by the fact that Facebook feels that it cannot get enough data on me simply by noting that I have visited one of its subscriber's pages.  And I am not willing to let Facebook have whatever that extra information on me it wants.


I realize that I may sound here like someone who is demanding something for free.  I don't mean to sound like that: I realize that the Internet, like commercial television, has to be paid for somehow.  But I'd rather watch an advertisement (indeed, the ads are often better than the programs) to pay for my access than present to corporations like Facebook private information that it will sell to anyone who is willing to pay for it.  And I mean anyone, as one of the new readings in the just-completed 9th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. (with a publish date of November 2017) reveals: Ronald J. Deibert's "Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy, and the Dark Side of the Internet."


Not that I am missing much, I think.  The thoughtful blogs that folks used to write have vanished into Facebook personal news bulletins—more like tweets and Instagrams than developed conversations.  It is not unlike what has happened to email, which I gather, is very uncool these days.  Much better to text—a non-discursive form of shorthand which, paradoxically, one does have to pay for in hard cash.

Since Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as its word of the year for 2016, I’ve been checking on what other new words have entered the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) updates its entries four times a year, in March, June, September, and December. In the latest update (March 2017), they report adding 500 words, phrases, or “senses of words” to the dictionary—which could add up to as many as 2000 a year, or more! How many of these words will I know or recognize—or want to learn?


As the OED’s Katherine Connor Martin explains:

In keeping with the OED’s broad scope, the list of new entries include such disparate items as hate-watch, a 21st-century verb meaning ‘to watch (a television programme, etc.) in a spirit of mockery, as a form of entertainment’; pogonophobia, a jocular term for a strong dislike of beards that was coined in 1857 but may be more relevant than ever given the current proliferation of barbigerous hipsters; and heliopause, the astronomical term for the very outer edge of the solar system beyond which the solar wind is undetectable, a boundary traversed by the touch of humanity for the first time in 2012, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft crossed it to enter interstellar space.


Who knew “barbigerous”? I certainly didn’t, though I intend to use the word as often as I can now, as in referring to the Houston Rockets’ James Harden as “both a barbigerous and a dangerous player.”


One of my favorite additions this time around is “sticky-outy,” about which the OED says:Percy Grainger

The charmingly colloquial adjective sticky-outy means ‘that protrudes or sticks out’, elaborating upon the form of the synonymous earlier word sticky-out by adding an additional –y. The OED’s first citation comes from a letter written by the Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger to his mother in 1921, lamenting ‘My hair has taken a wild fit, all sticky-outy in ends.’ Indeed, Grainger’s hair was notable for its sticky-outiness, as photographs of him from this period attest.

(Check out Grainger’s music here!)


Other new terms include “genericide,” which indicates a trademark term that becomes generic for its product, as “Kleenex” to refer to any tissue, and “skitch,” which refers to “holding on to the back of a moving vehicle so as to be pulled along while riding on a wheeled device like a skateboard or bicycle.” If you want to read about the other 490+ additions, you can find the whole list at “New words list March 2017.”


Or you can check out Dennis Baron’s most recent post on his Web of Language blog, “Dictionaries are Trending.” I look forward to Baron’s postings and always learn from them (and often get a good laugh as well). In this post, Baron tells us that “Dictionaries are kicking a** and taking names” and citing this tweet from editors of Merrriam-Webster.


Tweet from Merriam-Webster editor: "If you get on the bad side of @KoryStamper and me, we WILL make snarky anagrams out of your name." @SteveKleinedler

For a long time, I’ve thought of librarians as heroes, given their support of fair use, their refusal to disclose the names of people who check out books, and their willingness to tell truth to power. Now I plan to add dictionary editors: Who would have thought?


Credit: Public Domain

Barclay Barrios

Teaching Advocacy

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert May 3, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy.  In part because the current social and political climate seems to demand it.  In part because I have a long-standing investment in helping students see the FYC course as something relevant and real and not just a requirement to get through so that they can move on to courses which are more important and fun.


I’ve had the good fortune of teaching an upper-division course centered on advocacy a couple of times.  Here’s the course description I used:


This class will focus on advocacy, which we will define as rhetoric that does something.


To start, pick something you believe in—anything you believe in.  It might be a charity or cause that’s important to you (autism awareness, breast cancer, gay marriage) or it might be something you’re just passionate about (a local band, your homemade jam, hummingbirds, surfing).  The goal of this class is to teach you how to advocate for what you believe in through written, oral, and visual communication.


This class will teach you how to create change in the world around you.


The central project of the course was an “advocacy event” which combined written, oral, visual, and research components.  Students practiced these skills using “class-facing” projects intended for consumption by the class—including a design plan and an oral presentation—and “public-facing” projects intended for the world outside the class, including designing an awareness ribbon for their cause but most importantly the advocacy event itself.


I was always encouraged by the range of projects, all of which reflected students’ interests and commitments.  One student worked on bone cancer awareness, having lost her grandmother to the disease.  Another focused on a book drive for a literacy campaign.  And one promoted a friend’s band.  Some students clearly “played along,” choosing something they figured I would expect them to be interested in (you can’t win them all) but at the end of the day it remains one of the best courses I’ve ever taught because I felt like students learned how to use a range of composition skills to make a change in the world.


I’m hoping to teach that course again soon.  I’m also starting conversations with a colleague about a textbook centered on advocacy.  I’ll keep you apprised on both projects, but if you’ve had success with this kind of FYC focus, please let me know.  I’d love to hear how others have managed to get students to engage the world in very real ways.

DiscussionImageFinal by Rabin Pamela on Flickr, used under a CC-0 license (Public Domain)As I wrote last week, I want to improve online discussion in my courses and increase students’ acceptance of the online discussion tool Slack. The first thing I want to do is rethink how I prepare students to use the technology, as well as how I prepare them for discussion and collaboration.


What I Did

At the beginning of this term, I provided students with some documentation that outlined the basic commands and features that I thought they would need. My Help with Slack page included all of the following:


  • instructions on signing up
  • information on choosing a username
  • tutorials on the Slack site and on (free for students at our university)
  • links on how to format posts and use emoji
  • details on how to link to posts
  • directions for sharing documents in Slack channels


I focused on making the instructions short and simple, relying on existing resources on the Slack site rather than writing my own documentation. I assigned the help page during the first week and asked students to complete activities that would rely on those instructions (like creating a username and writing some posts).


Assuming that these materials would adequately prepare students to use the technology, I moved on to preparing them for discussion and collaboration. My strategy was one I have used for years: I asked them to jump right in and post on a number of topics. Specifically, I asked students to participate in an AMA discussion, post a professional bio, propose how to arrange groups, and discuss four infographics. My plan was to get them chatting immediately so that they would learn how Slack worked before we moved on to doing group work.


We ran into trouble almost immediately. The usernames that students chose didn’t match the guidelines that I had set. Posts ended up in the wrong channels. Students emailed in confusion when they were asked to turn in links to their work. There was little interaction, but lots of single posts that worked to meet the requirements. Looking back, it isn’t surprising that things went wrong. I had 90 people attempting to have conversations in five different channels, and only two or three had ever used Slack before. Things could have gone more smoothly if students had read all the technical documentation, but even with that, I asked them to do too much too fast. My dual-pronged preparation plan didn’t work.


What I’ll Change and Why

The first, and possibly most important, thing is to arrange students into small groups on the very first day of the course. Discussion is bound to be smoother with ten students, rather than 90. I delayed setting up small groups to give students input on how the groups were arranged. Based on their input, I let them arrange their own groups. Some from the same major wanted to work together; others wanted to have eclectic groups. The groups ended up wildly uneven, ranging from four members to twelve. In the future, I will create groups randomly in Canvas (our CMS), and use those random groups to set up channels in Slack. Working in these smaller groups from the first week will better prepare students for the collaborative peer review and feedback that they will begin a couple of weeks later.


Next, I need to explicitly introduce students to the ways that they can connect to Slack. After all, you have to have the tool in order to use it. My Help with Slack page told students, “You can access Slack in your browser. If you like, you can also download a desktop or mobile app.” I thought that would be enough for students to embrace the mobile apps and access Slack notifications in real time, all the time. I need to include the link to the apps in the resources list on the course syllabus and tell them that it’s required. I hope that requirement and frequent references to the apps during the first week will keep students from defecting from Slack and moving to GroupMe text messages.


Finally, I need to prepare them to use the features of the technology. There’s no way to force them to read the documentation, so I need to devise a system where they want to find the information. In ways, the commands in software are a lot like grammar rules. You only learn them when you need them; and they only make sense to you in context. With that notion in mind, I am going to try to think of situations where they need the features. I imagine I need to create a game-like series of challenges that will lead them to finding and learning to use the different commands.


It will take some research and work to figure out this last part of the preparation, so I will leave the gaming-inspired idea there for now and come back to it later this summer. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for teaching students the commands in the online tools that they use or anything else to help me with the preparing students, please leave me a comment below. I would love to hear some of your ideas!


Credit: DiscussionImageFinal by Rabin Pamela on Flickr, used under a CC-0 license (Public Domain)