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151 Posts authored by: Traci Gardner Expert

Grumpy Cat holding an ethernet cable
Protest Poster showing Grumpy Cat holding an Ethernet cable, with the message, “#NSA Killed My Internet. Now I have to build a GNU one.”

Sometimes a LOLcat is just a humorous comment on life. Other times, there is a specific social, political, or cultural message behind it. Take the Grumpy Cat protest poster on the right. The description on Flickr explains that the image is from “the ‘Freedom not Fear’ protest rally against global internet surveillance at 7.9.2013 in Berlin, Germany.”

This Grumpy Cat poster is part of a presentation I will give at the Computers and Writing Conference in East Lansing, Michigan this summer. To provide some background, the proposal for my session, “Making Memes that Work for Change,” explains:

Political messages in the news and on social media timelines frequently borrow from the strategies of familiar Internet memes, like the captioned images we see on Facebook and Twitter. The rhetorical choice of memes for these political messages enables their authors to respond pointedly to issues that affect them, for as Limor Shifman (2014) explains in Memes in Digital Culture, “[P]olitical memes are about making a point—participating in a normative debate about how the world should look and the best way to get there” (121). In short, political memes work to persuade, to engage, and to move the public to action, all as the authors work to communicate their views of the possibilities for the future.

In the case of this Grumpy Cat poster, a well-known Internet meme (Grumpy Cat) is used to communicate the protesters’ dissatisfaction with Internet surveillance. To kick off my presentation, I will ask participants to try the following scavenger hunt activity that I use with students, using the Grumpy Cat as inspiration. The goal is to provide a quick introduction to the political moves that are used in these memes and build a collection to use as the class (or presentation) explores deeper issues.

Political Meme Scavenger Hunt Class Activity

Find political image-based memes that feature

  1. An animal (cat, dog, bird, etc.)
  2. A new take on a well-known meme
  3. Puns or other word play
  4. A stock photo
  5. A still from a video (movie, tv show, YouTube, etc.)

Be sure that the memes you find are appropriate to share with the entire group. Aim for an image that would be appropriate for a PG-13 movie, and language that is no worse than an R-rated movie.

While you are free to share your political beliefs, what you share must align with the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. If you are unsure about any meme, ask me.

I’ve included details in this activity to avoid potential problems that can arise when students examine memes. First, I suggested five specific kinds of memes that students should find to keep them from searching endlessly. They need to find five, so they have to use their time wisely.

Second, I provided standards for the images and language that are acceptable. I want to avoid some of the gruesome memes I have seen, but I did not want to censor topics. For example, there are some graphic abortion memes that I find unacceptable for the classroom. I want to avoid anything of this sort that might trigger students. The movie rating system has always worked well for me. I do make sure that everyone is familiar with the system, as there are occasionally international students who are used to different ratings standards.

Finally, I don’t want to force students to approach topics from any particular stance. They should be free to share any position: pro, con, or somewhere in between. That said, there are some topics that are not appropriate. Students usually understand that things like hate speech are off limits, but my reference to the Virginia Tech Principles of Community reminds them.

I did not include details on how the memes will be shared in the activity. The particular class circumstances and resources determine what will work best. Options I have used include the following:

  • Share the memes in a discussion forum, especially if students are doing the activity for homework.
  • Post the images in a collaborative Google Document or Slides file, which is useful for small group work (give each group its own document).
  • Paste the images in an online white board, like Padlet or Note.ly, which is fun for real-time, whole-group discussion.
  • Email the memes to you (the teacher) and then choose those to share in class, which allows you to review the images beforehand.
  • Enter the link to and name/title of each meme in a Google Form, which will create a list of the memes that you can use later in the course.

Once the memes are collected, you can use them to discuss argument and persuasion, the underlying political messages, symbolism, language strategies, and visual rhetoric. They also provide the background knowledge for a meme-making assignment—and I will share resources for making memes next week, so be sure to come back! Meanwhile, if you have a suggestion or reaction to today’s post, please leave me a comment below.

Credit: Grumpy Cat by Frerk Meyer on Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

you make kitty scaredWriting a simple email message can turn me into an overthinking scaredy-cat. Am I using the right phrase? Do I sound like I’m apologizing too much? Am I oversharing? Am I being too vague? Ugh.

I end up evaluating, re-evaluating, revising, writing, and then erasing any time I have to send an important message. What should be an easy message telling someone my manuscript will be late or I can’t make a meeting becomes agony.

Imagine my joy when a friend shared Dani Donovan’s “E-Mail Like a Boss” matrix on Twitter. Even better, her “Write This, Not That” style suggestions are a perfect model for a classroom activity.

In the image below, Donovan (@danidonovan) concentrates the kinds of sentences I struggle with into short, direct ideas that avoid unnecessary apologies or padding:

E-Mail Like a Boss, by Dani Donovan

For students, this matrix can demonstrate two things. First, there is the obvious face value of the information: students gain some stronger ways to say things in emails and elsewhere. Second, each pair demonstrates the value of revision, showing stronger ways to phrase the same idea. To use the matrix in class, I would follow these steps:

  1. Students can work in small groups or as a whole class to discuss how the suggested alternatives improve on the original.
  2. Together, brainstorm other email sentences and messages that can be difficult to write. Students are sure to come up with some ideas immediately, such as telling a professor that they are ill and won’t be in class. While you will want to keep the scenarios they come up with appropriate for the classroom, try to push students to get beyond simple scenarios.
  3. If time allows, students can search their email for messages that they have struggled with and add those ideas to the list.
  4. As a class, review the brainstormed lists and identify nine situations to focus on.
  5. Assign each of the situations to a small group or pair of students. Ask students to create their own “Write This, Not That” style suggestions, using Donovan’s matrix as their model. The groups can record their suggestions in a shared class document if desired.
  6. Once all the groups have completed the task, ask groups to present their recommendations to the class, and arrange for everyone to have a copy of the suggestions for future use.

To go beyond the original matrix, students can think about other writing situations that they encounter frequently, creating “Write This, Not That” suggestions for other tasks they complete, such as description, persuasion, and research essays. As another option, students can review their own drafts, identify sentences or phrases that they have struggled with, and then work together to create “Write This, Not That” alternatives in a group peer review activity.

Final Thoughts

If you use this “E-mail Like A Boss” image with students, be sure to share Donovan’s ADHD Explained Using Comics collection as well. Donovan explains these ADHD webcomics this way:

ADHD can be difficult to explain, and even harder to talk about. We're creative, friendly, and misunderstood by a lot of people. My hope is to help people with #ADHD feel understood and seen, and be able to share their experiences with others.

Her comics can inspire other writing activities as well as discussion of how to communicate ideas that readers may not be familiar with. If your class is exploring comics and graphic novels, this collection demonstrates how a comic designer has used the genre to share her message with readers.

If you try any of these activities, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment to tell me how it worked in your classroom or share other ways to use these resources.

Screenshot of Title Survey FormGoogle Forms make an easy task of collecting information from students for class discussion and writing activities. Just gather student responses your Google Form, and use the collected responses as the basis of class discussion and related activities.

All you need is a Google Drive login and one question, meant to gather information on the projects that students are working on or their recent reading assignments. For demonstration purposes, I’m using the question, “What is the title of your report?” I’ll suggest some other questions at the end of the post.

Once you log into Google Drive and have your question ready, it’s a matter of these three basic steps:

Step 1: Create Your Form

Set up a one-question survey that asks for no personal or identifying information. Since responses are anonymous, you avoid any FERPA complications.

  • Once you log into Google Drive, create a new blank form.
  • Give your survey a title, replacing the default “Untitled Form.”
  • Replace the default “Untitled Question” text with the question you want students to respond to.
  • Change the type of question to “Short answer” if Google does not change the type automatically. Note: Google tries to interpret your question and adapt the form, so it may make this change for you.

If desired, click the palette icon on the upper right corner of the page to change the colors and add a background image.

With your form ready to go, give students the link to your form. Click the SEND button in the upper right corner of the page to choose one of several options:

  • Send via email
  • Get a link to share
  • Copy code to embed the form on your page
  • Post to Facebook
  • Send out as a Tweet

Once you send out the link, all you have to do is wait for students to respond. You can look at my Title Survey to see an example of a student-ready form.

Step 2: Check the Responses

Once students have submitted their answers, spot check the questions to prepare for discussion and to check for any problems.

  • Log into Google Drive.
  • Open the Form you created.
  • Click “Responses,” as indicated by the red arrow in this screenshot:
    Screenshot showing the Responses link

The form will switch to show the responses that students have submitted. You can select the list and copy it, so that you can edit it in your word processor if you like. You can also have Google Forms show the responses in a Sheets spreadsheet.

Read the Response to determine the likely topics for class discussion and to remove anything that doesn’t belong. For example, the Responses to the Title Survey show that students would benefit from revising for length and wordiness and should review the rules for capitalizing titles. There is also a title that shows the student has chosen a topic that does not fit the assignment, so I would remove that response to avoid any embarrassment in class. I would write to that student privately before class.

Step 3: Lead Your Class Discussion

Kick off class discussion by sharing the Responses to the question. You can share a link to the responses or a link to the word processor document you created with the responses.

Give students several minutes to review the list, and then let their observations guide the discussion. Begin by asking students what they notice about the Responses. Encourage them to look for patterns and idiosyncrasies. Try sorting the answers alphabetically to group similar responses. As a class you can collaborate to revise Responses if appropriate.

Final Thoughts

I used this activity to ask students to examine and strengthen their document titles. You could use a similar Google Form to ask questions such as these:

  • What is your thesis statement?
  • What is your favorite sentence in the paper (or in a reading)?
  • What is the biggest question you have about the assignment?
  • What do you emphasis in your conclusion?
  • What is the first sentence of your document?
  • How would you summarize today’s reading?

In addition to asking student to respond to these questions by thinking about their own papers, you can have peer review partners respond with their observations as well.

This activity is simple but powerful. Students can quickly see how everyone has responded to a particular task, and then they can make observations about what works and what doesn’t. By asking students to add their information to the Form, you can concentrate on what you want to talk about, rather than the busy work of setting up the list of responses.

Do you use Google Drive in the classroom? Have you used Google Forms? Tell me about your experiences by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Traci Gardner

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 28, 2019

Playground Tic-Tac-Toe Board, showing random X and O choices.A couple of weeks ago, I shared my Daily Discussion Post (DDP) activity, which asks students to read materials that are related to the course activities and respond to them. This summer I plan to design some new ways for students to respond to these posts.

As I use the posts now, each one typically ends with a question meant to kick off student discussion. Some weeks, the questions seems repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to ask, “What do you think of this idea?”

On the other hand, I try to avoid asking such specific questions that there appears to be only one answer. I also want to steer clear of questions that only allow for one way of thinking or looking at the topic. I want to ensure that students have options for how they respond.

The first option I have designed uses a tic-tac-toe layout to provide a variety of response options for an entire week. The activity, included below, states the instructions, provides the tic-tac-toe board, and adds short descriptions for each of the nine options on the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion Challenge

This week, I challenge you to choose your DDP response strategies from the tic-tac-toe board below. Just as in a game of tic-tac-toe, your goal is to choose three in a row, three in a column, or three diagonally.

Reply to three different DDPs, choosing three different kinds of responses from the board (a different one for each DDP). Additional information on each option is listed below the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Response Board

Cite the textbookCritique the ideasQuestion for the author/speaker
Demonstrate the idea with your projectRelate to a prior experienceCite another DDP
Make a recommendationCite another studentShare a related website

Details on the Response Options (listed alphabetically)

  • Cite another DDP
    Connect the post you are responding to with another post. Be sure to link to the other post and explain the connection fully.
  • Cite another student
    Connect to another student’s comment on the original post, OR to another student’s comment on some other post (be sure to link to it). Either way, be sure to explain the connection completely.
  • Cite the textbook
    Add a quotation from the textbook that relates to the post. It can support the idea or challenge it. Tell us why you chose it, and explain its relationship. Include the page number where you found the quotation.
  • Critique the ideas
    Think about the ideas in the post, and tell us what you think—What good ideas does it share? What bad ideas did you notice? Provide specific explanations for how your opinions on the post.
  • Demonstrate the idea with your project
    Write a before-and-after reply. Take a passage from your project as it is, and then show it after you revise to apply the idea in the post.
  • Make a Recommendation
    Advise someone on the topic the post considers. Recommend whether to follow the advice in the DDP, and provide supporting details that show why someone should follow your recommendation.
  • Question for the author/speaker
    Imagine sitting down with the author of the video or article linked in the DDP. Tell us what you would ask the author/speaker, explain why you’re asking, and suggest how you think the person will reply.
  • Relate to a prior experience
    Explain how the ideas in the DDP relate to a personal experience that you have had in school, in the workplace, or somewhere else. Your experience can match the post or be different.
  • Share a related website
    Tell us about a web page you have found that talks about the same ideas as the post. Include the name of the page, and provide a link.

Assessment

  • You will report the three replies you completed from the Tic-Tac-Toe board in your journal.
  • You will earn credit for your replies by indicating you have completed this task on the Weekly Self-Assessment Quiz.

Final Thoughts

The assessment plan for the activity places the burden of the work on the students. After all, they know where their three responses are and which squares they intend them to correspond to on the Tic-Tac-Toe board. If I had to search out the posts for all 88 students I teach in a semester, the activity would take my time away from giving students feedback on their projects. Letting students report their work makes the activity easy to manage.

Do you have effective discussion activities that you use with your students? I plan to create some additional activities before classes start again in the fall. Will you share your ideas in the comments below? I would love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Playground tic-tac-toe and square by Sharat Ganapati on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

African American woman working on a World War II dive bomberGood visual assets can take a digital project from average to awesome. Add the photo on the right, which shows an African American woman working on a World War II dive bomber, to a research project on the role of African American women in the war effort, and the project goes from simply talking about the vital role these women played to showing them in that role.

Students usually understand the value of adding such images. Their challenge is finding images that are free to use and that do not violate intellectual property rights.

Earlier this month, the Library of Congress shared collections of assets that are perfect for student projects, all available for easy download. Free to Use and Reuse Sets from the Library of Congress offers collections of images on topics like these:

  • African-American Women Changemakers
  • Civil War Drawings
  • Women's History Month
  • Gottleib Jazz Photos
  • Presidential Portraits

For students working on video projects, there is even a collection of Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry. There are even collections of images of Cats and Dogs.

In addition to these custom collections, students can browse the millions of items in the Library’s Digital Collections, which includes photos, scanned pamphlets, and audio and video recordings. The items in the Digital Collection will give you a chance to talk about what makes an asset “free-to-use” so that students can learn how to determine whether they can use the resources they find.

The Library of Congress’s teacher resources provide examples for Citing Primary Sources, which you can use as you discuss documentation and attribution. The teacher resources also include Themed Resources and Primary Source Sets, which may provide even more resources for students to use in their projects. 

Finally, in case students think they’ll find nothing but dry historical resources on the site, you can use the 1914 photo below to talk about the evolution of LOLCATS.

Four kittens entangled in yarn

I’m sure you will find something delightful that you can use on the Library of Congress website. Tell me what you find and how you’ll use it in a comment below; and if you have free-to-use resources to share, post those too! I’m always eager to add to my collection of resources for students to use.

Photo: [1] Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee, by Palmer, Alfred T., photographer, Available at https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsac.1a35371/; [2] The entanglement, by Frees, Harry Whittier, 1879-1953, photographer, Available at https://www.loc.gov/item/2013648272/. Both images from the Library of Congress, and used under public domain.

Traci Gardner

Daily Discussion Posts

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 14, 2019

Asian woman working on laptop at StarbucksFor several semesters now, I have made Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) a key feature in my courses. At the beginning of the term, I explain that these posts meet three goals:

  • to highlight information directly related to projects students are working on.
  • to cover topics important to workplace writing that we are not covering elsewhere.
  • to share resources that help with workplace writing generally.

Originally, I devised these posts to meet another goal. My courses are entirely online. We never meet in the classroom. I found that students were checking in on the course website only once or twice a week. Predictably, the fewer times students checked in, the more trouble they had getting their work of the course done.

I considered punitive measure and complicated check-ins to solve the problem, but I don’t like negative enforcement strategies—and I certainly didn’t want to make more work for myself in order to track those solutions. These daily posts give students a reason to come to the site every week day, meeting my goal of encouraging more frequent engagement with the course materials.

Logistics for the Daily Discussion Posts

Every Tuesday through Saturday during the term, I post advice articles, how-to webpages, and other resources that supplement the textbook. I ask students to respond to the posts with significant, well-explained comments.

I emphasize that these posts are not the place for “yeah, I agree” or “me too” kinds of comments. Instead, I ask students to contribute ideas, engage with others, and extend the conversation.

Structure for the Daily Discussion Posts

I organize the Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) around the series of hashtags explained in the table below. Note that Mondays are reserved for the Module Overview that outlines the work students need to complete for the week.

HashtagExplanationExample*
#TuesdayTutorialThese posts demonstrate something or tell students how to do something.#TuesdayTutorial: Convincing a Reader to Read Your Text
#WednesdayWriteEach post asks students to consider how you would handle a specific situation in the workplace or in the course.#WednesdayWrite: Share Your Workplace Writing Secrets
#ThursdayThoughtEvery post presents an infographic or similar graphic about communication and writing in the workplace.

#ThursdayThought: Know Your Sources

#FridayFactThese posts shares a specific fact about writing in the workplace, which students can compare to what they know about their career fields.#FridayFact: Informative Headings Help Readers
#WeekendWatchEvery weekend post presents a video relevant to what we are covering in class or something else related to writing in the workplace.#WeekendWatch: Crafting Strong Email Messsages

*Because of the way our course management system (CMS) works, I cannot link to the examples.

Assessment for the Daily Discussion Posts

Students grade their own interaction with the Daily Discussion Posts by completing a weekly self-assessment, set up as a True/False quiz in our CMS. The self-assessment questions ask students to indicate what they have read and how many replies they have made. They also confirm that they have completed the self-assessment in accordance with the university’s honor code. When they submit their self-assessments, the points are recorded in the CMS grade book automatically.

I spot check students' work, but I trust them to ensure that they record their participation honestly. In the semesters that I have used this system, I have only found one student who made a false claim. These self-assessments let me focus my attention on giving students feedback, rather than assigning letter grades.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, these posts required a lot of work the first term that I used them. Writing five different posts a week took an hour or two each day. Now that I have a collection of posts, however, all I have to do is update and revise the posts. I can usually set up the entire week in an hour.

All in all, these Daily Discussion Posts give students extra resources and a chance to interact in a timely manner, and even more importantly from my perspective, they encourage students to check in on the course frequently.

What strategies do you use to engage students and motivate regular participation in your classes? I would love to hear your ideas. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: Detail from “a cold, rainy night at Starbucks” by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

In February, I shared a resource I designed to Persuade Students to Think Visually with Infographics. I was taken with the “Thinking Visually” features in the Bedford/St. Martin’s textbook Practical Strategies for Technical Communication by Mike Markel.

This week I’m sharing another resource inspired by the “Thinking Visually” feature. The infographic shown below focuses on one basic idea related to documentation and citation—the answer to the question “What Do I Need to Document?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide screen-reader accessible versions.

image

The infographic is a brief version of the information from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources” (p. 620). I designed the resource to concentrate on just one concept related to documentation and citation (what to document). The information as it is presented in the Appendix is part of a complete explanation of the relevant topics. Students sometimes miss the key details when so many ideas are being explained. Essentially, I am combating students’ information overload.

I have paired each category to document with a single icon from The Noun Project. Here, I am hoping that the icons will help students remember the categories:

  • Quotation marks represent quoted material.
  • Light bulb represents the ideas of others that are paraphrased or summarized.
  • Graphic icon represents multimedia resources, like photographs or video clips.

The images should be especially useful for students who lean toward visual ways of thinking and learning—which is, after all, the point of a “Thinking Visually” resource.

I would love to know what you think of this resource. Is it something you could use with students? What other key ideas would you like to see in a “Thinking Visually”-style resource? Leave me a comment below and tell me more about your ideas.

Today I have a classification activity that asks students to use visual design as they compare items by creating categories based on the visual qualities of the items they classify. The activity builds on designer Haik Avanian’s classification of 2020 presidential campaign logos, shared a few weeks ago by my colleague Shelley Reid.

In his Twitter update on the classification, Avanian explains that the logos are “loosely organized by visual qualities.” The original image included an incorrect logo for Tulsi Gabbard, so I have included the revised version (click the image to see an enlarged version):

Presidential campaign logos sorted by visual qualities

Share the image with your class to begin the activity, asking students to consider the categories and their effectiveness for organizing the logos. Encourage students to think of other visual categories that would fit the logos. The point is not to focus on the politicians behind the logos. Have students look at the designs and categories only. Naturally, if your class is discussing political issues, you can ask students to consider how political issues influence the logo choices as well.

Make Updates

Have students update the images as possible. Several of the campaigns have alternative versions. In particular, you will find color versions for most of the logos that are shown as black and white only. Students can consider whether the color versions fit the existing categories, making changes to the categories as appropriate.

Evaluate the Logos

Expand the discussion by sharing some of the replies that appear on Avanian’s Twitter update. Avanian analyzes some of the logos further in the replies, declaring Cory Booker the winner of the logo competition. In reply to a question, Avanian also explains this definition of visual qualities in art: “Visual qualities are essential elements that an artist uses in his art work. These are qualities that are visible and are used to express or convey the artist’s idea of his work. Visual qualities include color, shape, texture, form, etc” (emphasis Avanian's).

Expand to Other Political Campaigns

Finally, show students the collection of 2018 U.S. Congressional campaign logos from The Center For American Politics And Design. While the collection of logos is useful as it stands, the filters on the site allow students to narrow the collection by design features such as logo color, iconography, and font, as well as by features such as political party and the state represented. Using the site, students can assemble their own custom collection of logos and then create their own classification systems for the logos.

Move Beyond Political Logos

To extend the activity beyond political campaigns, ask students to apply these same analysis and classification strategies to other logos they encounter. Since nearly every business has a logo of some kind, students can likely find a focus that relates to their personal interests. Here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • Professional sports logos
  • Restaurant logos
  • Department store logos
  • Bakery logos
  • Extracurricular club logos
  • Sporting goods logos
  • Technology company logos
  • Automobile logos
  • Game app logos
  • Television network logos

Alternatively, you can ask students to ignore what item or organization the logos relate to by collecting logos that share a design feature, such as red logos or logos featuring a typography. Once they have their collection of logos, students can work to classify their logos, using some of the same ideas that were applied to the political logos.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages of this activity is its flexibility. You can use it to talk about visual design principles, advertising, politics, and classification systems. Adapt the activity further by looking at changes to logos over time (e.g., how a corporate logo has changed), and consider why the logos have changed. Have students look at political campaign logos from another country, and ask students to consider how culture influences the logo design.

What ideas do you have for using this logo activity? I’m sure there are many more options, and I would love to hear what you could do with these resources. Share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

Rough outline of a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Cote on FlickI have asked students to informally outline all of their projects this term. I am not strict about the form of the outlines. They can use jot lists, topic outlines, tree structures, or any kind of map that shows their plans. I never use strict sentence outlines myself, but I believe that all writers can benefit from at least jotting down the plans for their documents.

As they begin work on their final project of the term, students will create visual outlines by designing their own graphic organizers as part of their work. Students are familiar with outlining and graphic organizers from their experiences before college. Both teaching strategies are widely used in K–12. After reviewing their prior knowledge on the topics, students are ready to create their own visual writing tools, as described in the activities below.

Background Readings on Outlines

Background Resources on Graphic Organizers

Class Activities

Think, Pair, Share, and Compare

This activity is a customized version of the active learning strategy Think-Pair-Share, which will help students recall their prior knowledge. Divide the class into two groups. Working independently, have individuals in one group think about and take notes on what they know about outlines while the individuals in the other group focus on graphic organizers. After students have had time to gather their thoughts, have them pair with someone who worked on the same topic. In their pairs, have students review their notes together and talk through their thinking.

Draw the class together as a whole and invites pairs to share their thoughts on how outlines work and then to share their thoughts on how graphic organizers work. Note their ideas on the board. Once all of the ideas have been shared, ask the class to reflect on the information and then compare the two strategies (outlining and graphic organizers). Encourage students to draw conclusions about how the two strategies connect to writing.

To strengthen their understanding of outlining and graphic organizers, ask students to read and review the background readings and resources listed above.

Design Graphic Organizers

Ask students to examine example graphic organizers (linked above) as a class or in small groups and to identify the features of the genre. In particular, encourage students to determine how shapes are used (like text boxes), how lines and arrows are used, and how labels and instructional text is used. Their prior knowledge about graphic organizers should allow students to gather this information in five to ten minutes.

With this information about graphic organizers established, students create graphic organizers for the kinds of writing that they are working on. Ask students to consider what they know about the kind of writing by examining examples and background material about the genre. Students can create graphic organizers independently, or you can walk them through some basic steps by asking questions such as the following:

  • What are the primary sections of the kind of writing you are examining?
  • What are the typical features of those sections?
  • What kind of information usually belongs in the sections?
  • How do the sections relate to one another?

Students can sketch out their graphic organizers on paper, and then use a tool like Canva to create final versions of their organizers. Note that Canva does have a number of existing graphic organizer layouts that students can use as models. Students can also create their graphic organizers in a word processor using the shapes and text box tools.

Do limit the time students spend creating their graphic organizers. The purpose of this activity is to learn more about how a kind of writing works, not to spend hours on images and design.

After students finish their graphic organizers, they can share them with the class for feedback as well as to create a library of graphic organizers that everyone can use. The organizers can be used both for writing projects and to organize the analysis of readings.

Final Thoughts

In my course, students are focusing on different kinds of writing, depending upon their majors and career goals. There is little to no overlap in the graphic organizers they are creating. With a more homogeneous class, students could design graphic organizers in small groups. They might work on the same task or on different aspects of the writing task, such as creating graphic organizers for gathering ideas, research, and beginning a draft.

This activity uses active learning strategies to get beyond customary pen on paper (or text on screen) strategies. Do you have similar assignments that break out of the traditional writing activities? I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below

Photo credit: Page 01: Idea for a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Coté on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

If you attended CCCC last month, you probably heard a land acknowledgment statement, which offered respect to the indigenous peoples upon whose lands the conference took place. For example, Asao B. Inoue began his #4C19 Keynote (video) with this statement:

To open, I humbly make a land acknowledgment I would like to recognize and acknowledge the indigenous people of this land: the Lenni Lenape, Shawnee, and Hodinöhšönih (hoe-den-ah-show-nee)—the six Nations, that is, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora (tus-ka-roar-ah). We are gathered today on Jö:deogë’ (joan-day-o-gan’t), an Onödowa'ga (ono-do-wah-gah) or Senaca word for Pittsburgh or “between two rivers”: the welhik hane (well-ick hah-neh) and Mënaonkihëla (men-aw-n-gee-ah-luh). These are the Lenape words for the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which translate to the “best flowing river of the hills” and “where the banks cave in and erode.” While a land acknowledgment is not enough, it is an important social justice and decolonial practice that promotes indigenous visibility and a reminder that we are on settled indigenous land. Let this land acknowledgment be an opening for all of us to contemplate a way to join in decolonial and indigenous movements for sovereignty and self-determination.

Virginia Tech Land Acknowledgement PosterI recently added a similar land acknowledgment statement to my course materials, thanking the Tutelo/Monacan people upon whose land Virginia Tech stands. Inspired by a graphic from Northwestern University, I also created the draft image (shown on the right), which I intend to add as a poster on my office door after I receive feedback on whether it is appropriate. I admit it has taken me too long to add these statements to my course materials.

Angela Haas, from Illinois State University, shared the first land acknowledgment statement I ever heard at a Computers and Writing Conference session several years ago. I was impressed by the statement and wished I could add one to my own work. At the time however, I wasn’t sure how to construct a land acknowledgment statement, so I didn’t try. I was and am ashamed of my behavior. I let my privilege as a non-indigenous person serve as an excuse, telling myself it was better to say nothing than to piece together an acknowledgment I wasn’t sure was appropriate.

I want to share some resources readers can use to add a land acknowledgment statement to their publications, events, and course materials.

  • Check your campus for an existing land acknowledgment statement. Check with American Indian and Indigenous Studies student groups, cultural centers, and departments. If such resources do not exist, contact your office of diversity and inclusion. A research librarian at your school can also help. If you are working in Canada, such a statement is likely to already exist, so check with your colleagues.
  • Take advantage of existing resources if you plan to write your own land acknowledgment statement. If a statement does not exist, use the Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgments for Cultural Institutions from New York University and the #HonorNativeLand Guide from U.S. Department of Arts and Culture to get started. Again, a librarian at your school can also help you find relevant resources.
  • Review land acknowledgment statements from other institutions. Check peer institutions your school uses for benchmarking purposes. Also look for examples from schools and cultural centers from your geographical area, which likely share the same tribal lands you do. These Example Land Acknowledgment Statements demonstrate the range of details and styles used in the genre.
  • Learn how to pronounce the names of the indigenous peoples included in your statement. As Kyllikki Rytov pointed out on the WPA-L listserv, “[I]n terms of erasure, getting names right is paramount.” Land acknowledgments must include pronouncing names with respect. The #4C19 statement above includes parenthetical pronunciation information, which can serve as a model for your own statement. If you are unsure how to pronounce a name, check with local tribal members or with campus American Indian and Indigenous Studies cultural centers, student groups, or departments. Your library’s research staff can also help you find pronunciation information.
  • Ask local tribal members or other experts to review your work. As I suggest in relationship to my image above, you need to check any land acknowledgment statements you create to ensure your words and images are appropriately representative of and respectful of the tribe(s) whose land you are acknowledging. If you have an American Indian and Indigenous Studies cultural center or department, ask them if they can give you feedback.
  • Once you have a land acknowledgment statement, use it and encourage others to use it as well. Open your events with your land acknowledgment statement. Add a land acknowledgment statement to your research and other publications. Include a land acknowledgment statement on your course materials.
  • Remember that a land acknowledgment statement is only the first step. It doesn’t immunize you against social injustice or colonial practices. Examine your reading lists to ensure they include indigenous authors. Include indigenous issues in your discussions. Invite students to explore indigenous readings and events in their work. Encourage them to add land acknowledgment statements to their own projects. Call out actions that demean native peoples. Make the arts, cultures, and concerns of native Indian and indigenous visible in your courses, research, and events.

I hope these resources will help you add a land acknowledgment statement to your work. The documents from the second bullet point include details on why land acknowledgments are important. You can use these resources to help students understand why you use the statements and help them learn strategies to make their work diverse and inclusive.

If you have a land acknowledgment statement you would like added to the Example Land Acknowledgment Statements document, please share it in a comment below. If you have other suggestions for acknowledging indigenous people, please let me know.

Asian woman pointing out information on a laptop during a College of DuPage Poster SessionLast week, I shared a series of active learning strategies focused on design principles, related to a research poster project that students are working on this month. That activity inspired me to consider how I could rethink active learning strategies to discuss design and visual rhetoric.

The result is my new versions of three activities, suited for analysis of a visual document design or a visual artifact (such as a poster). For each task, I explain how the original learning task is used, and then I follow with the prompt that I created for my twist on the strategy.

Active Learning Tasks

Muddiest and Clearest Points

Original: Muddiest-point and clearest-point tasks ask students to reflect on recent information from the class and identify the relevant ideas or concepts. The muddiest point is the idea or concept that the student understands least while the clearest point is the idea or concept that the student understands most fully.

The Twist: Examine the image or document and identify the muddiest point and the clearest point in the visual design. For the muddiest point, identify the place in the visual where the image, the text, or other aspects are hardest to identify and understand. It might be a place where the image is blurred, faded, overexposed, or in shadows. It could be a place where an element is small, cropped off or otherwise incomplete. Once you identify the muddiest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it is minimized in comparison to other aspects of the image or document.

For the clearest point, look for the opposite place, where the image, the text, or other aspect is clearest and easiest to identify and understand. It might be a place that it larger, sharply focused, brighter, or highlighted in some way. Once you identify the clearest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it stands out so clearly in comparison to the other aspects of the image or document.

Four Corners

Original: This active learning strategy relies on the physical layout of the classroom. The teacher sets up a station—with a discussion topic, problem to solve, or issue to debate—in each of the room’s four corners. Students are divided into four groups and rotate through the stations, or they visit only one station and then share the corner’s discussion with the full class.

The Twist: Focus on the four corners of the image or document you are examining. Label them as Top-Left, Top-Right, Bottom-Right, and Bottom-Left. Think about what appears in each corner—text, color, drawings, photographs, shadows, and so forth. In addition to considering what appears in each corner, reflect on aspects such as the size of the elements. Take into account how the content of the four corners relates to the rest of the image or document and how the corners relate to one another. After your analysis of the four corners, hypothesize what the corners contribute to the overall visual design.

Background Knowledge Probe

Original: Background knowledge tasks can take various forms, from freewriting about a previous lesson or experience to a scavenger hunt. The teacher either asks a question that will trigger students to recall prior knowledge about the topic, or the teacher can set up situations that require prior knowledge to complete a task. This strategy tells the teacher what students already know, so she can avoid reviewing information unnecessarily. Further, it helps students recall concepts and ideas that a new lesson will draw upon.

The Twist: Take the idea of a background knowledge probe literally. Examine the image or document, and focus on the background of the design. How does the background differ from the rest of the image or document? Does it complement the foreground? Does it provide a contrast? Is it a simple, blank canvas, or does it add information to the message? Based on your examination of the image or document, explain how the background contributes to the overall visual.

Final Thoughts

Like the active learning strategies that I shared last week, the three active learning strategies above ask students to look at the design of an image or document from different perspectives. By focusing on a specific area of the visual message, students isolate how the various parts of the visual contribute to its overall message.

Do you use active learning strategies in the classroom? How do you ask students to examine the way that visual design contributes to a message? If you have classroom activities to share, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below to tell me about your strategies.

 

 

Image credit: See Writing Differently 2018 7 by COD Newsroom on Flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Open design sampler demonstrating the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximityMy students are beginning research posters this week, so the course is returning to information on effective design and in particular the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. In today’s post, I’ll share the active learning tasks I’m using to ask students to recall prior knowledge and give them hands-on work with the design principles.

Active learning tasks ask students to engage directly in their learning process by “involving [them] in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison 1991).

A simplified explanation of this teaching strategy compares students' minds to sponges and to mechanical gears. Passive learning strategies, such as lectures, treat the student’s mind like a sponge, ready to absorb ideas as it creates a repository of information. It aligns well with Paulo Freire’s banking model of education. Active learning strategies, alternately, engage the student’s brain as if it were a machine made of interlocking gears, turning and churning as it tests hypotheses and creates knowledge.

The series of tasks I describe below asks students to recall what they know about the design principles, to apply the principles through several analysis activities, and to forecast how they will use the principles in their research posters.

Background Readings and Resources

Basic Activity Logistics

The course includes weekly writing and revision activities that students complete individually and in groups. Discussion prompts and related activities are posted as weekly activities. Since I teach a fully-online course, this work is submitted as a discussion post to me in the course management software. These tasks are much like the in-class activities that would be part of a face-to-face course.

The tasks below give you the short version of the prompt. I add more specific details on how to post, share, and reply to one another in the assignments shared with students.

Active Learning Tasks

Design Principles Scavenger Hunt

Go on a hunt on campus or online for a good or bad visual. It can be any kind of visual—a digital sign, a full-page ad in a magazine, a billboard, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be a research poster. Here’s one way to find a visual for this discussion: Find a bulletin board on campus. Stand across the hall from it, and identify the one piece on the bulletin board that grabs your attention.

Take a photo of the visual you find or save the visual if you found it online. Add a paragraph that tells us why it is a good visual or a bad one. Use the ideas from the textbook to support your ideas.

Design Principles Prescription

You are the Design Doctor. Choose a visual from the Design Principles Scavenger Hunt or one that you have found elsewhere, and consider how well the visual uses the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Respond in three parts:

  1. Describe how the visual uses the design principles.
  2. Diagnose the design shortcomings of the visual.
  3. Prescribe solutions that will improve the visual.

Positive Application Task

Choose a visual from a previous project in the course or one that you are planning to use in your research poster. Annotate the visual with details on how you have used the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Label features of the visual with arrows that pair with related descriptions and explanations of the design principles. Use Figure 11.1 on pages 251–52 of Technical Communication as the model for your response.

Research Poster Design Plan

Based on what you know about the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, create a design plan for your research poster.

  1. Brainstorm a list of ideas you want to emphasize in your poster.
  2. Apply design principles to the ideas, indicating strategies you can use to highlight the content on your poster.
  3. Create a style sheet for your poster, outlining the design decisions you have made. For instance, your style sheet should cover information such as the following:
    • What font and font size will you use for regular text?
    • What font and font size will you use for Level 1 headings? Level 2 headings?
    • What colors will you use on the poster, and where will you use them?

Final Thoughts

These four active learning activities seem relatively simple on the surface; however, they build on one another to lead students to recall how the design principles work and then apply those principles to their own work. What strategies do you use to encourage students to apply composing and design strategies to their own work? Please tell me by leaving a comment below.

References

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED336049.pdf

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (30th Anniversary edition; M. B. Ramos, trans.). New York: Continuum.

 

Photo credit: The Open University Brand Design Guidelines by DAMS Library, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

African American woman scientist, reading a book, with lab equipment in the background
African American woman scientist, with lab equipment in the background

I tried an experiment in my online classes this week. Spring Break begins this weekend. Students are working on recommendation reports, the major research document of the term. Their work on these reports is spread over four weeks. The week of Spring Break falls in the middle, as shown in this schedule:

Week ofActivities
February 25Begin research for recommendation report
March 4Finish research and sketch plans for report
March 11Spring Break
March 18Create rough draft of report
March 25Finish and submit final version of report

I ask students to complete a Progress Report before they leave for Spring Break. The assignment requires them to take stock of the work they’ve completed and the work they still need to do. When they return to their projects after break, their progress reports help them know where to resume their work on the project.

The progress report assignment is due the Friday before Spring Break starts, so March 8th this year. The three-day grace period for the assignment creates a challenge, however. I don’t count the days of Spring Break, so the grace period ends the first day students are back on campus, March 18 this year. While I intend for students to complete the progress reports before they leave, the grace period ensures that their grades are not harmed if they wait until they return.

Over the years, I have tried various ways to entice, encourage, and, let’s face it, beg students to complete their progress reports before they leave. I argue that the strategy will make their work easier and more efficient when they return to classes, but the lure of leaving early for that week off from classes wins out. Typically only five or six students turn the report in ahead of time, and a few more will turn it in during Spring Break. Most students submit it when they return.

This week, I tried a different strategy by appealing to their interest in higher grades. In short, I tried a bribe. If they turned in their progress reports by 11:59 PM on Friday the 8th, they can earn up to 125 points. If they turn in their report any later, they can earn no more than 100 points. The course is graded on accumulated points. The extra points matter, but no one is punished for using the grace period.

The result is that 26 students turned in their progress reports before leaving town, significantly more than the typical five or six. There is still room for improvement, as those 26 students represent only 31% of the enrollment. I’m making progress though, so bribery seems like it was a good choice.

What do you do to convince students to make the best choices? Have you tried bribing them? Do you have other strategies that work? I would love to hear from you. After all, I need to convince that 69% of the classes who didn’t turn in their progress reports. To share your ideas, just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: “African American woman, half-length portrait, facing left, reading book,” Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Two students working at a table near bookshelves in a libraryLast week, I shared an activity encouraging students to move beyond using a Google search to find research. This week’s activity asks students to check the resources they have found for variety.

As was the case last week, Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg’s 2010 article “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students” inspired the activity. Head and Eisenberg found that students typically searched only for the kinds of sources required by the assignment. For instance, if the assignment asks students to find two books and an online source, students find only those items.

Instead of prescribing sources for students’ work, this week’s activity asks students to look for variety in their sources and provide brief annotations that explain how they will use the sources.

In the activity as shown below, I removed some information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. The five kinds of research sources came from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your course textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Checking for Variety in Research Sources

Review the information in the section on “Types of Secondary Research Sources” (pp. 123) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication. The section discusses the following five kinds of sources:

  • Books (including ebooks)
  • Periodicals: Journals and Magazines
  • Newspapers and online news sources
  • Government documents
  • Websites and social media

Checking for Variety

  1. For each type of research sources above, list the sources you have found so far that fall in the category, using the example to guide your answers. Include the following information for each source:
    • Bibliographic citation, using whatever format is appropriate for your field (e.g., Electrical engineers use IEEE).
    • A one-sentence (or fragment) summary of the information included in the source.
    • Details on how you plan to use the source in your project.
  2. Once you list all of the sources that you have found, evaluate whether your sources show variety, using the following questions:
    • How many different kinds of sources you have found? If a type of secondary research source is not appropriate for your project, explain why.
    • How varied are the sources in each category? Consider the author(s), publisher, publication date, and other relevant factors.
  3. Review your audience analysis for the project, and state the kinds of research sources your readers will expect in your document. Explain how your sources meet the audience’s expectations.
  4. Explain whether the research sources you found show variety, using specific details.
  5. If your sources do not demonstrate variety, set additional research goals to find more secondary sources. Specifically state the additional kinds of sources you will look for in a paragraph or list.
  6. Review your answer to make sure it uses business-appropriate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Students are still working on this activity, so I don’t have results to share. I hope students will develop a habit of examining their research for variety. By having them include annotations that indicate how they will use the sources, students should move beyond variety simply for the sake of variety. Their choices have to be useful to their projects. I’m looking forward to reading their responses.

I would love to hear your responses to the activity too. Please leave me a comment below telling me your thoughts or sharing strategies that you use when teaching research projects.

Photo credit: A place to study. by San José Public Library on Flickr, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Overhead shot of a white woman doing research on a library computerWhen I create an assignment, I intend the information I include about research requirements to suggest starting points and to encourage exploration. Instead, students probably use that information to determine the bare minimum required, doing only the research described instead of jumping off into deeper exploration.

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg (2010) examined “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students,” finding that students use assignments less as a guide and more as a road map. If the assignment handout calls for three sources, students use only three sources. Directed by the assignment handout to use at least two books and an online site, students meet the requirement and find little or no more.

In an earlier study, Head and Eisenberg (2009) reported that “Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first for course-related research assignments. Likewise, Google and Wikipedia were the go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent” (3).

I’m left with a conundrum: I want students to look beyond the course textbooks, Google, and Wikipedia, but I don’t want to prescribe the kinds and number of resources they should consult. My ultimate goal is to teach students how to thoroughly research a topic on their own, choosing the best tools to use and gathering relevant sources for their research projects.

I designed the following activity to kick off students’ research. In it, I ask students to evaluate the available research tools and then plan how to use those tools to conduct their research project.

The activity below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. I took the six kinds of research tools from a list from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your own textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Finding Useful Research Tools for Your Project

The section on “Understanding Research Tools” (pp. 121–122) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication discusses the following six kinds of resources you can consult when you conduct research:

  • Library catalogs
  • Online databases
  • Newspaper and periodical indexes
  • Abstract services
  • Web search engines
  • Reference works

For each of the six research tools, provide the information below. Your answer will map out how you will conduct research for your project.

Step 1: Determine the Usefulness of the Research Tools

Indicate how each of the six research tools is (or isn’t) appropriate for your research project by responding to the following questions.

  1. What specific research tools in the category are available for your topic? For example, name the online databases that are appropriate for your topic.
  2. What kind of information are you likely to find using the particular tool?
  3. How relevant is the information to your research project?
  4. Based on your evaluation, how appropriate is the kind of tool for your research project?

Step 2: Plan Your Use of the Research Tools

For each tool that is appropriate for your research project, explain specifically how you will use the tool.

  1. What keywords will you use with each tool?
  2. What kind of research sources will you look for with each tool?
  3. How will you manage the sources that you find? In other words, indicate how you will save or borrow the sources.

The answers to these questions may be similar for the different research tools. Try using a table to organize the information to simplify your response. You do not need to use full sentences for Step 2.

I’ll supplement this activity with links to some specific resources from the campus library, such as these Research Guides for Various Subject Areas. I will also suggest that students consult a librarian for help.

I think my assignment meets my goal. It encourages students to research beyond the familiar sources like their textbook and Google. At the same time, it guides students toward easily accessible resources without telling them exactly what to do. Next week, I will share a follow-up activity that asks students to report on the specific resources they have discovered.

Do you have an activity to share that helps students engage in deeper exploration when they conduct a research project? I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

Photo credit: All She’s Armed With Is Research. by Markus Binzegger on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.