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2019
Photo of Earth from space, showig the North American Continent

Image credit: NASA

If your students are creating projects that include images, video, and audio, public domain resources can contribute to amazing work that avoids many of the headaches of using copyright-protected assets. Since public domain assets are free of copyright protections, students can freely incorporate them into their projects without asking for permission or evaluating them for fair use.

Here’s an example: If a student needs an image of Earth for a project, going to the NASA site for the photo (like the one on the right) is the best choice. Because NASA is a government agency, its work is automatically in the public domain. The student will find hundreds of high resolution, free images that can be incorporated into any project without asking for permission. All she needs to do is provide attribution and documentation for the source. Likewise, if the student is creating a video and needs a clip of the planet, she can find everything she needs on the NASA Videos site. If anything, she will have difficulty choosing among the many options.

To encourage students to take advantage of the benefits of using public domain resources, I created a one-page overview of the basic details of what I see as the three most important questions people tend to have. I used the same model I did for previous resources on why you should use documentation and what needs to be documented. As in the past, I created the page below (shown as an image) on “Using Public Domain Assets.” The page is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide full accessibility to students.

Using Public Domain Assets in JPG form. Use Google Doc or PDF for accessibility to screen readers

This overview outlines the details that I hope will encourage students to search for public domain resources to use in their projects. Once we have reviewed this information, I would share places to find public domain resources as well as details on how to indicate credit for the creator and document their public domain sources in their projects. I’ll talk about those topics in future posts.

Do you have questions about encouraging students to use public domain materials? Do you have feedback on my one-page overview? I would love to hear from you in a comment below!

 

Photo credit: Taken with NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard the Terra satellite.

Hands of a white person using the trackpad on a Macbook AirEarlier this year, I shared my strategy to bribe students by offering extra points for those who turned in their work before Spring Break. I had some success, but there is still room for improvement. I am currently teaching a six-week summer session class, and I’ve accidentally found a strategy that encourages students to turn in work sooner, rather than later.

The challenge of a summer class is jamming fifteen weeks of work into six weeks. Every day in the summer needs to cover as much material and work as two and a half days in the fall or spring classes. My normal routine is to have a rough draft due one week and the final draft due the next week. That schedule allows me to provide feedback on the rough drafts so that students can use the information as they revise.

As I set up the schedule for the course, I realized I would be unable to keep that set-up in place. Realistically, I have to cover a new project every week, assigning the project on Monday and then asking for a rough draft due on Wednesday and a final draft due on Friday. My late policy gives students a three-day grace period, during which they can still turn in their work without any penalty.

I bet you can see the problem. I cannot push the rough draft any earlier in the week if I want to allow students time to process and work on their projects. I decided to tell students that I could not give them feedback on rough drafts that were turned in after Wednesday. Even with the small class size during the summer, it isn’t realistic to think students can turn in drafts later and still get feedback before the final draft is due. I added this paragraph to the assignment:

I will not provide individualized editing or revision feedback on rough drafts submitted after 11:59 PM on Wednesday, July 17. I will provide everyone with collective feedback that goes over the issues that I see in the drafts all members of the course submit. I may use excerpts from your draft to provide collective feedback to the class, based on the Anonymous Use of Student Texts policy.

There is no grade penalty involved. Students earn the same number of points no matter when they turn in their drafts. The firm deadline only relates to the individualized feedback involved.

The surprise for me came that first Wednesday night when I checked to see how many drafts had been submitted. Eleven of my fifteen students had turned in a draft! That’s an amazing 73% of the class, far outweighing the 31% who turned work in early during the spring term. Amazing!

I feel a little selfish about the policy. After all, my job is to give students feedback. Within the time constraints however, it was the only option that seemed reasonable. I never expected the policy to entice so many students to stay on track and turn work in on time.

It seems as though I have found a bribery strategy that is working. Will it last through the entire term? I’ll have to let you know after a few more assignments. I am certainly wondering whether I should try it in the fall as well. What do you think? Do you limit the feedback that students can receive from you? I would appreciate hearing from you. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: wocintech (microsoft) - 114 by WOCinTech Chat on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Virginia's Oldest Covered Bridge, Humpback Covered BridgeStudents typically know about design in their own career fields. Civil engineering majors, for instance, typically know what a good bridge, a well-designed intersection, or an efficiently designed airport looks like. They may not be able to design and build one yet, but they can tell the difference between a good design and a bad one.

This active learning strategy taps into students’ prior knowledge on design and then asks them to apply what they know to document design. The activity has two parts: first, students document their own knowledge, and second, they collaboratively draw conclusions about design and consider how the concepts apply to writing. The Individual Activity described below is presented as it would be to students while the Follow-Up Group Activities are presented as instructions for the teacher.

The Individual Activity

Before we begin our discussion of the principles of design that apply to writing, I want you to think about how design principles shape work in your own career field. For this activity, find an object related to your career field that demonstrates strong design principles and then prepare an informal presentation that explains the design principles to your group. Using the presentations from all your group members, you will reflect on what we can say about design across disciplinary and career fields.

Instructions

  1. Focusing on your career field, choose a well-designed object. A civil engineer could choose a bridge. A software developer could choose a program interface. A packaging science major could choose a reusable packaging system. A building construction major could choose a hand or power tool. Whatever you choose, be sure that you would say it is well-designed and that you are familiar enough with the object to talk about it.
  2. Brainstorm a list of features that demonstrate the object’s good design. Just jot down the features that come to mind. You will come back to this list later in this activity.
  3. Find information on your object that you can share in class. Ideally, find digital versions that you can incorporate into your presentation. Possible sources include the following:
    • Photos or screen shots
    • Drawings or illustrations
    • Instruction manuals
    • Schematic diagrams
    • Blueprints
    • Advertising materials
    • Demonstration or instructional videos
  4. Review the information you collected for additional features that point to the fact that the object is well-designed. As you find characteristics, add them to your brainstormed list.
  5. Create a chart that aligns characteristics that make the object well-designed with the evidence from the information you have gathered. For instance, you might point to details in a photo that demonstrate a feature that contributes to the design. You can add or remove features from your list as you work.
  6. Create a slideshow presentation to share the features you have identified as integral to a well-designed object in your field, following these guidelines:
    • Add a title slide that shows an image of your object and provides a title that identifies the object. For instance, you might use a title such as “Strong Design in the Humpback Covered Bridge.”
    • Add a slide for each characteristic of good design you have identified, following these suggestions:
      • For the title of the slide, use a word or two to name the characteristic.
      • Include the evidence that you found that demonstrates that characteristic.
      • Add a source citation for your evidence.
      • Do not add any more description or bullet points since you will explain the details to your group.
      • Add speaker’s notes if you like.
  7. Practice your presentation so that you are ready to share your well-designed object with your group. Aim to share your information in two to three minutes. Revise your presentation as necessary after your practice session.

Follow-Up Group Activities

  1. After students have their presentations ready, arrange the class in small groups and ask students to share their presentations with one another. Have students listen for similarities among the principles that are presented. Remind them that the same underlying principle or idea may not use the same name in every career field.
  2. Once students complete the individual presentations to their groups, ask them to identify five characteristics that transcend a single career field. Explain that students are looking for similarities among all the principles that have been presented. If students need additional help, suggest that they look at what the principles focus on. For instance, are there principles that focus on what the object looks like? Consider how they are similar.
  3. Have groups share their five characteristics by writing them on a section of the board, on a Google Slide, or on chart paper. Ask each group to explain their five characteristics briefly.
  4. Use a full-class discussion to look for patterns and similarities among all of the characteristics that have been posted. Ask students to share their immediate observations, and use questions to help them see any details that are less obvious.
  5. Display a well-designed document, or pass out copies for students to observe. You can also point to a document in your textbook. Ideally, choose an example related to an current or upcoming writing assignment.
  6. Invite students to apply the characteristics posted by their small groups to the example document. As necessary, ask questions that help students apply their career-field knowledge to the example. For example, ask students to apply design principles about an object’s appearance to the appearance of the example document.
  7. Synthesize student observations by listing the characteristics that apply to document design. Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce and discuss key principles of design (such as contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity) by connecting to the principles that students have identified.
  8. Follow this activity with one of the ideas from Examining Design Principles through Active Learning Tasks or ask students to apply the design principles discussed in the class sessions to the drafts they are currently working on. Alternately, students can apply the design principles to their presentation slides.

Final Thoughts

Writing and document design can feel alien to students whose area of expertise lies outside the writing classroom. This activity makes students experts in the classroom, telling us all about their career field and then applying that expertise to document design. Students work as active learners, building connections between what they know and the work of the writing classroom. How do you help students understand concepts in the writing classroom that may not seem obvious to them? Do you have classroom activities or assignments to share? I would love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: Virginia's Oldest Covered Bridge, Humpback Covered Bridge by Don O’Brien on Wikimedia Commons, used under a CC BY 2.0 license

In “The Importance of the Act of Reading,” Paolo Freire wrote: “Language and reality are dynamically intertwined. The understanding attained by critical reading of a text implies perceiving the relationship between text and context” (6). 

 

 Our own stories of reading and writing are significant-- and at the same time those stories do not exist in a vacuum. My thoughts this summer return to the literacy narrative assignment, and how to complicate that assignment for first-semester students enrolled in their first writing course in college. The writing project that I envision would combine literacy narrative and analysis, as described below. This combination allows students to understand the broader contexts of the literacy narrative, and to practice analysis of a model literacy narrative.

 

 Students would begin by reading Paolo Freire’s literacy narrative and lecture, The Importance of the Act of Reading. In Freire’s work, students are offered a model of analytic writing alongside a literacy narrative of reading, writing, language learning, and education inside and outside the classroom. After practice with the difficult language of this lecture, students are invited to analyze ideas from Freire’s lecture in concert with their own experiences of education.

 

Why Reading?

Reading offers students opportunities to grapple with making meaning from difficult language. Working together in class and in journals, drafts, and revisions, students practice the skills they will need to be able to make sense of language and ideas in STEAM textbooks, and other texts that require persistence for comprehension. For more thoughts on the significance of this pedagogy for first-year writing, see McBride and Sweeney's A Place For Reading Instruction in Our Writing Classrooms and this post about reading and writing about a lecture by James Baldwin.  

 

Supporting Class Activities

  1. Jigsaw Method: Jigsaw  “The Importance of the Act of Reading.” Divide the class into groups and assign each group a section of the reading to summarize and explain to the rest of the class. Students can use dictionaries and languages other than English to come to an understanding of their reading. An example of using the jigsaw method to discuss reading can be found here, with an appendix here
  2. Important Quotes: Using medium-sized post-it notes, invite students to choose important quotes from  “The Importance of the Act of Reading.” Post the quotes on the classroom walls and ask students to discuss how each quote relates to the main point of the reading.
  3. Unfamiliar Words: Ask students to select difficult quotes from the reading. Project the quotes on the screen, one at a time. Together with students, look up unfamiliar words and make meaning from the quote. 
  4. Topic Sentences: On the screen, project the topic sentences of each paragraph of the reading. Invite students to discuss how these sentences offer an outline of the reading. 
  5. Examples: Remind students that any of the course readings can be used as models for their own essays. 

 

Concepts for Reading and Writing

  1. Interpretation: Cite a specific quote, paraphrase, or summary from Freire’s lecture. What is Freire saying here? What are the meaning(s) of Freire’s words, in English or another language? To aid understanding, use the context of the paragraph and surrounding paragraphs where the quote appears. Also consider the context of the entire lecture. Does Freire present the same idea in other parts of the lecture?
  2. Analysis: What are Freire’s main point? What is the relationship between specific parts of the lecture to the main point of the lecture? Why would the specific parts or the main point be important to Freire’s audience of teachers and university students attending the Brazilian Congress of Reading? 
  3. Supporting Evidence: Supporting evidence comes primarily from Freire’s lecture. Additional evidence can come from your own experiences, songs or other popular or social media, national, local, or international current events, and/or research on references used in Freire’s lecture (such as Gramsci).

 

Suggested Prompts

Following are 4 suggested prompts for essays that could be written in response to Paolo Frerie’s lecture “The Importance of the Act of Reading.” Note that each assignment invites writers to keep the main focus on interpreting and analyzing the meaning of Freire’s lecture.Your own experiences may be used as supporting examples to help interpret and analyze Freire’s lecture. 

  1. Research: Who is Gramsci? What is counter-hegemony? Why do you think Freire referenced Gramsci at the conclusion of his lecture (Freire 11)? Does Gramsci’s work hold relevance to your current or previous education? Why or why not?  How do your own experiences inform your response?
  2. Language: “Part of the context of my immediate world was also the language universe of my elders, expressing their beliefs, tastes, fears, values, and which linked my world to larger contexts whose existence I could not even suspect” (Freire 7).What does Freire mean by a “language universe”? Describe at least two different settings that form part of your own “language universe.” Some examples of settings are: elders and peers, home and school, school and social media. What connections and disconnections do you find in language use in these settings? How do your own experiences inform your response?
  3.  Education: On page 5 Freire writes: “Reading the world precedes reading the word, and the subsequent reading of the word cannot dispense continually reading the world.” What does Freire’s statement suggest about education? Do you agree or disagree with Freire’s statement? How do your own experiences inform your response?
  4. Multimedia: Take a look at the gif “Writing is the hardest thing ever.” What details stand out to you in the gif?  Why do these details stand out? What quotes and ideas from “The Importance of the Act of Reading” support and contradict the gif? How do your own experiences inform your response?

 

Remember: Writing is the hardest thing ever -- and potentially the most rewarding.

Traci Gardner

Writing a Course Manual

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Jul 10, 2019

Cover page of Technical Writing Course Manual, featuring the document's title and a collage of photos of people writing in the workplaceI am currently revising my Technical Writing Course Manual, in preparation for my summer session course, and I want to share the document and how it has worked this week. I first created the manual, using a Google Document, for my spring courses to eliminate the dozens of web pages that I had created previously. The manual addressed several challenges that I had encountered in courses:

  • With the information chunked out in a series of web pages, students had trouble finding details when they needed them. Placing everything in one manual meant the information was all in one searchable place.
  • Students frequently needed a direct link to a specific policy, explanation, or detail in the course materials. The headings in the Google Document let me link to discrete information in the manual.
  • Previously, I used a separate website for the kind of information included in the manual, but students were sometime confused about the need to go to a separate place outside the course management system (CMS) to find course information. The Google Document was easy to embed within our CMS, so I did not need to use a separate website.

The manual proved successful during the spring term. Students consulted it it regularly throughout the term. Whenever I looked at the embedded manual on the course homepage in the CMS, I saw a collection of anonymous animals, from the Anonymous Anteater to the Anonymous Wombat. I came to value all those anonymous animals as evidence that students were going back to the course documents long after the first days of the course. I’ve never had that kind of validation with a traditional syllabus.

One issue to address as I revise is the length of the manual. It currently comes in at 34 pages, and I’m still tweaking things. Naturally, I don’t expect students to read and memorize the manual; but what seems obvious to me may not be obvious to students. I have added the section below to explain how I expect students to use the manual in the course:

How to Use this Manual

This course manual is a guide to English 3764, Technical Writing, as taught by Traci Gardner at Virginia Tech. The manual is arranged in three large sections: 

  • Syllabus and Basic Course Information: all the information typically included on a syllabus, including details on course assessment and the textbook.
  • Requirements: explanation of the work that is expected in the course.
  • Policies: all the guidelines that apply in the course, listed in alphabetical order.

Do not feel compelled to read the manual cover-to-cover. This guide is a reference you should review at the beginning of the course and then return to throughout the term as necessary. 

At the beginning of the course, you should skim through the entire manual. Read the information that provides key details on the class carefully, such as the “Tentative Course Schedule” and the “Late Policy.” Pay attention to the kind of information that is included in the manual as you skim. 

During the course, check this manual for the answers to your questions first. You can check the Table of Contents as well as use the Find command to search the manual. Most general questions about the course are answered here.

 

I’ll emphasize these instructions the first week of the course as well, when I point out some of the key details students should review. I’m looking forward to a second term using the manual, and I hope it will be a positive experience this term too. As you check out the document, note any questions or suggestions you have and leave them below as a comment. I’m planning to use the document again for the fall semester, so I can use your advice and feedback!

As I have written in my last two posts, I presented on the ways that image macro memes (the memes that usually consist of an image and a text caption) at the Computers and Writing Conference in June. Specifically, I focused on political memes and how these memes are a form of activism as the people who make and share them spread their message.

As Limor Shifman explains in her book Memes in Digital Culture (2014), memes are a way of expressing opinions in political conversations, undertaking advocacy and grassroots action, and participating in political movements. Given these functions, political memes are perfect for the classroom: They ask students to use critical analysis, persuasion, and argument in authentic conversations.

Encourage students to think about the use of memes beyond Internet sharing by examining this version of the Distracted Boyfriend meme, updated to focus on gun control:

Distracted Bodyfriend Gun Control Meme

The meme was shared in a Tweet from @rachel_handler. It shows the distracted boyfriend with the object label “Trump,” looking back at the woman in red who is labeled “NRA,” while his girlfriend who is labeled “Our Lives” looks at him in disgust. Under the meme, the political protest poster states, “We call BS!” The text of the Tweet provides the context where the meme was shared: “great sign my little sister sent me from today’s #nationalschoolwalkout pic.twitter.com/i0WqRMdaDF.”

What interests me about this image is that the Internet meme is no longer bound by the Internet. Instead, as was also the case with the Grumpy Cat protest poster I shared previously, the meme has been recreated in an analog world, printed out in this case and glued to a piece of poster paper with an additional line (“We call BS!”) to emphasize the message.

The shift from Internet meme to protest poster seems a natural one. What works for political advocacy online can make a similarly strong message in an analog situation. While some Internet memes would not translate to nondigital messages (think of animated gifs and memetic videos), image macros make the transition smoothly. For more examples of memes on protest posters, check out the Medium post “Teens March With Memes.”

After students examine a meme that has crossed from the Internet to an analog existence, ask students to consider these questions:

  • Why would someone use a meme on a political protest poster?
  • How would the purpose of a political protest influence the kind of meme someone would choose?
  • What audience(s) would a political poster using a meme target? Consider specific posters and the memes they use.
  • Why do you think the poster maker made the choice of the specific meme for that specific poster?
  • What underlying messages does the meme on a particular protest poster communicate? Think about the assumptions and “unspoken” messages in the poster.
  • What existing meme template would be a better (or worse) choice for this message?
  • Why would someone use this Internet meme on an analog poster? What can you say about how it transitions from the Internet to a poster?
  • What guidelines would you propose to help someone choose and customize a meme for a political protest poster?

As you may guess, these question work students toward creating a rubric for effective memes, which can then be applied to their own political memes. My post last week offered a range of online tools that students can use to create memes.

Do you have ideas for using memes in the classroom? Do you have questions that you would like me to consider in an upcoming post about memes? Just let me know by leaving a comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.