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103 Posts authored by: Traci Gardner Expert

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


What I Did

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


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


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


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


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


What I’ll Change and Why

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


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


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


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


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

Slack by Giorgio Minguzzi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseIn the online forums for my writing courses, I ask students to conduct peer review and feedback, collaborate on major writing projects, and discuss the readings and work of the course. Since I am teaching 100% online, online discussion takes the place of the conversations and interactions that would otherwise take place in a physical classroom. I hope it is easy to understand, then, that online discussion is critical in my writing classes.


Because online discussion is so important, I have been on a search for the right tool ever since I returned to the classroom. Thought I have tried a number of tools, none of them does quite what I want:


  • The discussion tool in Scholar (our installation of Sakai) typically confused students and felt awkward to me. Our university is sunsetting Scholar in May, so it is no longer an option.
  • I set up my own bulletin board system with phpBB. The site worked well, but I was completely responsible for the technology. I worried frequently about downtime or errors. I decided that I didn’t want the technical responsibility.
  • The discussion tool in Canvas (our new CMS) supports group discussion, but I found its threading capability difficult to manage. The tool always resulted in endless scrolling to find what I wanted.
  • I switched to Piazza, which describes itself as a Q&A platform. I liked the look of the tool, and I loved that it was a company founded by a woman engineer. Unfortunately, I was stuck on its setup for Q&A-style discussions. It is great for students to ask and answer questions, but it was limited for sharing drafts and feedback. Further, I had difficulty managing messages, frequently being unable to tell what I had read and replied to and what I hadn’t.


So my unending search brought me to Slack at the beginning of this term. What I like about Slack is its similarity to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels. Many of the same commands work, since the tool was originally based on IRC. I have used IRC for years, so Slack felt immediately comfortable and easy to manage.


Slack met all of my qualifications. It lets me set up groups easily as well as have private conversations with individuals or groups. The tool has built-in support for emoji, threaded discussions, and links to outside documents and images. Best of all, the free version has everything I need, so we can use a popular tool, endorsed by many companies, without any financial investment. I like Slack better than any of the discussion tools I have tried in the past four years. For me, it’s a great choice.


My students, on the other hand, are in full revolt against the tool. A vocal majority HATE it. A small group of students have mentioned that they appreciate the chance to use Slack before they enter workplaces that rely on the tool, but their numbers are dwarfed by those who are resisting the site.


Students’ biggest complaint is that they cannot tell when others are active in their channels. Since the class is online, they are never in the classroom, using the tool together. Instead, students visit the discussion channels whenever they have time, and they appear rarely to be online simultaneously. It is an understandable frustration: They cannot tell when others post something, so they don’t know when they need to login and respond. Several writing groups are so unhappy with Slack that they have rejected tool completely, setting up group text messaging on their own with GroupMe, even though the assignments and syllabus tell them to use Slack.


The students and I have come to an impasse. I want to stick with Slack, but for this term, I have given up on succeeding with student buy-in. Instead, I am taking notes on changes I can make to improve Slack discussions, and I have great hope for the future. During the next few weeks, I will share some of the specific challenges I have encountered and the strategies that I am planning to use to meet them in the future. Most of these issues could apply to any discussion tool, so I hope that you will find something you can use—and if you have suggestions for improving online discussion, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.


Credit: Slack by Giorgio Minguzzi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

Untitled by Neil Conway on FlickrI always spend the largest amount of time on the comments when I grade students’ writing. I can frequently tell with a quick skim what needs attention. The work comes in determining the best way to help the student understand, finding resources in the text or online to support them, and encouraging them to keep writing.


In my post about Explaining Labor-Based Grading to Student Writers, I found an idea that inspired me to make an immediate change by stopping my practice of writing end comments and long annotations. So this week, I am not only thinking about students’ labor, I am also focusing on the labor that I bring to the course.


Asao Inoue, whose research has inspired me, writes about the workload involved in assessing student work on their labor in his article “A Grade-Less Writing Course That Focuses on Labor and Assessing.” Inoue explains, “Since I only read the writing, and do not grade or even respond to most of it, weekly work goes smoothly and quickly . . . I’m only looking for patterns of issues and examples to use in class discussions” (91).


Students know about this practice from the beginning of the course. The contract that Asao Inoue used at Fresno State discusses the “culture of support” that the course will build as they provide feedback for one another. Inoue tells students, “Always know that I will read everything and shape our classroom assessment activities and discussions around your work, but you will not receive grades or comments directly from me all of the time.”


Inoue’s ideas made me wonder why I was spending so much time on individual comments. Frequently, I was repeating the same basic ideas, as I wrote unique comments for each student. I was putting in a lot of work, and I wasn’t sure that students even read it carefully. Since my classes are all online, I couldn’t discuss patterns and examples in class, in the way that Inoue mentions. I realized though that I could accomplish the same thing with a grading summary post after I finished reading through students’ work on an assignment.


My first assessment summary was Grades on the Analysis of Writing Project. As with my end comments, I started out with comments on what students had done well and moved on to frequent errors and improvements that they could make. I don’t think it's the best advice that I will ever write, but I’m happy with it for a first try. In particular, I liked the fact that with the audience of the whole class (rather than one individual student), I could put the praise and advice in a broader context. Students were not alone in the additional work that they needed to do. They knew that others needed to make the same or similar changes.


I also used this grade summary page to outline the options for revision. Since I have not totally converted to a system of grades based on labor, I had a series of reasons that students might need to revise that ranged from forgetting to include the self-assessment checksheet and reflection to not turning in the assignment at all. Instead of writing specific instructions into an end comment for each student, I wrote one list that included the options for everyone.


I am still adding annotations with the SpeedGrader tool in Canvas (our CMS) to point out strong work and ask questions to help students revise, but I have stopped adding most of the end comments. I am saving myself a little time, since I don’t write all the individual comments. Better yet, I feel as if these comments to the whole class remind everyone about ways to improve their writing. I haven’t gotten much feedback from students yet, so I would love to hear what you think about this system. Please leave me a comment below, and let me know.



[Photo Credit: Untitled by Neil Conway on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license]

When Your Grades Are Based on LaborI have been working this year to shift my assessment practices toward grading students less on error and more on the labor that they bring to their writing for the courses that I teach. Ever since I heard Asao Inoue’s plenary on “Racism in Writing Programs and the CWPA” at the Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference last summer in Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew that I wanted to give the strategy another try.


It is a pedagogical tactic that I have been developing on and off since my first year of teaching. At this point, I am in an in-between place: I am currently blending in some of practices that Inoue describes, and I am developing resources for a more complete conversion by the fall.


Recently, I have been focusing on that ways that the grading system is discussed. The contract that Inoue used at Fresno State is long and, well, contractual. It’s a three-page document that outlines everything about how the work in the course is assessed, beginning with the approach and ending with details on requirements and logistics. As you would expect of a syllabus-style discussion of course requirements, it is explicit and detailed.


Obviously, courses need this kind of document, but I wanted to break the explanation up into a series of shorter pieces. To begin, I wrote When Your Grades Are Based on Labor, a webpage that introduces the key aspects of the system from a student’s perspective. As I explained last month, I have been using Infographics as Readings in an effort to align course materials with students’ reading styles, so I also created the infographic on the right to present the ideas.


My goal is to list the basic details in the infographic, with additional information explained on the webpage. I would love to get some feedback on whether I’ve succeeded in the comments below.


Additionally, if you would like to know more about this assessment strategy, read Inoue’s publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on his page.



Credits: Infographic was created on Icons are all from The Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license: report by Lil Squid, Fluorescent Light Bulb by Matt Brooks, analytics by Wilson Joseph, aim by Gilbert Bages, Switch Controller by Daniel, and Gym by Sathish Selladurai.

How to Succeed in this Online ClassThis week, I want to talk about why I developed the infographic on the right by converting the related webpage that provides more details. As we came to the peer review for the first major project in my online courses this term, I asked students to post their drafts in a discussion forum early in the week so that their writing groups could provide feedback by the end of the week. The weekly activity points checklist reinforced this timeline, asking them to provide links to their own draft and to their feedback to the members of their groups on Friday. In an ideal world, this structure would give them the weekend to revise their projects, which were due the next week.


Unfortunately, my classes don’t take place in an ideal world. Rather than following the plan that I intended, most students waited until Friday to post anything. Those who posted earlier on Friday then sent me frustrated email messages complaining that no one had posted drafts so they had nothing to respond to. I asked them to wait it out until later in the day. At the very last minute (of course), there was a flurry of activity with students posting drafts and giving one another generic, cursory feedback—“Good job.” “Nice work.” “Looks great.”


Um, how about “Not exactly what I’m looking for”? I know online courses work differently from face-to-face courses, but many students misunderstand the differences. They frequently underestimate the work that goes into an online writing course and the time management skills required. Many students assume that they can simply fit an online course in whenever they have time. The problem is that their other classes, their jobs, and their social and professional obligations tend to have set schedules. Students often run out of time and realize that they never did get to their online course work. They end up rushed as they try to complete all the work at the last minute.


Essentially, I need to help students understand that to succeed in an online writing course, they need to focus on consistent, regular interaction—with the course materials, with their writing group, and with me. That’s where this infographic comes in. I wanted to explicitly tell students what they need to do to succeed in my courses.


I began by writing out a list of ten that explained my tips for success, but the more I looked at it, the more it seemed in conflict with the ideas I wrote about last week in my post on Infographics as Readings. I was presenting students with a flat page of text. Sure, there is some bold text and a numbered list, but all in all, it's a boring page of text. I wanted to convert that information to the short, fast-paced style students are so familiar with in online texts to increase the likelihood that they would read and adopt the information. I narrowed the list, combined the similar ideas, and arranged the details into the infographic.


By applying the same ideas that I used when I converted to a more visual syllabus and began using Infographics as Readings, I hope students will be more successful when we begin the next peer review project. What do you think? Is the infographic more likely to convince students than the original page of tips? I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.




Credits: Infographic was created on Icons are all from The Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license: : book laptop by unlimicon, Coffee by Vladislava Barzin, schedule by Chameleon Design, group chat by Gregor Cresnar, and group brainstorm by cathy moser.

Traci Gardner

Infographics as Readings

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Feb 14, 2017

Detail from Communicating in the Modern Workplace: How Millennials and their Managers CompareI believe that students’ reading styles have changed. There is still a place for textbook chapters and journal articles, but students have become accustomed to short, fast-paced texts like Tweets, Tumblr posts, and YouTube videos. They’re more likely to share a pin on Pinterest or a gif on Imgur than recommend a textbook reading.


Given the chance, students can easily apply these literacy skills in class, and that is why I have been assigning relevant infographics this term as part of the course readings. The first week in my business writing classes and my technical writing classes I asked students to consider the following infographics, which present details about writing in the workplace:



After reviewing the infographics, students considered whether they agreed with the ideas, how believable the research behind the infographics is, and what information they might add to improve them. The result was a vibrant conversation on our Slack site. Rather than generalizing about the readings, students pointed to specific claims that the infographics made and addressed them from personal and professional perspectives. The infographics seemed to add something to the class dynamic that traditional readings didn’t always provide.


My guess is that the readings were successful because they were short and direct. Students didn’t need to search around for the important tidbits. Everything was clear and obvious. Further, the visual aspects of the infographics allowed them to communicate with words and images. The detail shown above, for instance, not only states “nearly 3 in 4 employers rate teamwork and collaboration as ‘very important’” but also illustrates that idea by graying out one of the human icons shown. Whatever the reason, the infographics worked, so I have continued to include at least one infographic each week along with the other readings.


Some days I daydream about creating an infographic-driven text for these classes, but I am not arguing that infographics should completely replace more traditional readings in the classroom. There’s room for both. What do you think? How would you incorporate more visual texts, like infographics, in your writing classes? Please leave me a comment with your ideas.



Credit: Detail from Communicating in the Modern Workplace: How Millennials and their Managers Compare

2009/365/342 Office on the Road, by Alan Levine on FlickrThis year, I want to improve the communication in my classes. Since my classes are all online this term, it’s critical that I find the best way for students to connect and collaborate. My students will never all be online at the same time and they will never all be in the same place. That reality makes it difficult to build connections and conversations.


In the Fall Semester, I relied on Participation Logs to ask students to take responsibility for how they interact in the course. The logs do build student agency, but I know I need to do more to encourage collaboration and interaction. Students checked off the bare minimum, and many waited until the last minute to work on their goals. I want to continue using the participation logs, but I have been searching for a complementary strategy that would build in more consistency and engagement.


My research took me to the Digital Storytelling course (ds106) at Mary Washington, a very popular and successful online course, which led me to the resources from Kris Shaffer’s online section for the course from Fall 2016. That’s where I found Shaffer’s Self-Reflection Template. Each week, Shaffer asks students to complete a number of activities related to the course. For example, they post their work, comment on the work of their classmates, and share ideas. Students fill out the Self-Reflection Template to report on the work that they have finished, adding links to their work where appropriate.


I liked that the strategy paralleled with the participation logs, asking students to track and report on their accomplishments in the course. Students could still summarize their best work in their participation logs, but they could track everything they did in weekly checklists, modeled on the one that Shaffer uses. Additionally, the strategy asks students to find and report on their work. I would not have the burden of finding and validating the work of all 90 students. They could turn in a summary of their work each week, giving me the luxury of spending more time engaging students and less time on bookkeeping.


Last week, I tried out the weekly activity points checklist for the first time. The blog post for the week outlines the activities that students need to complete. The last item students are to complete is to download and complete the 01/23 to 1/27 Template to submit details on their work for the week. As I have checked their work in the last week, I found that they had jumped into the online discussions immediately. Few waited until the last minute. So far, the strategy feels like a successful one.


I am hoping to see the same response this week, as students begin their first major writing project. I’ll let you know what happens. In the meantime, what do you do to encourage consistent engagement and communication in your classes? Leave me a comment below and let me know.




Photo Credit: 2009/365/342 Office on the Road, by Alan Levine on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

This week I am inspired by Daniel Rarela, an artist whose work I found highlighted in the News.Mic article “Artist creates ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ memes to stop people from whitewashing MLK” (found via Virginia Kuhn’s post on Facebook). Rarela’s memes juxtapose quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s text with images of King from the time period and with contemporary images.


Rarela’s image of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of my favorites. The meme pairs an image of Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem as a protest against racism with King’s comments on the purpose of direct action. Together, the words and image communicate a powerful message about Kaepernick’s direct action, about the on-going battle against racism in America, and about the timeless relevance of King’s words:


Daniel Rarela's Tweet of meme of MLK's statement on direct action


Beyond the message that Rarela’s memes communicate, they also make a great model for classes working with historical and literary texts. After discussing the visual argument strategies of Rarela’s memes, students can create their own memes, illustrating or commenting on quotations from the texts that they are reading.


Students can use use a free online tool like Canva or PicMonkey to edit their images. I would take time in class to demonstrate how to work with text and images. In particular, students need to understand how to create contrast between the image and their text that they add in the image editor that they use.


To demonstrate the idea, I created the two images below, matching comments from Coretta Scott King with photos taken recently. This first image pairs a photo of Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015 with a comment Coretta Scott King made on the Confederate flag:


On the Confederate Flag


My second image matches an image of the Women’s March on WDC by Mobilus In Mobili, on Flickr, with a comment Coretta Scott King made on the role of women in America:


Women as the Soul of the Nation


I’m pleased with how these images turned out. In addition to using this strategy for literary and historical texts that students are reading, I am considering how they might be used in other contexts. In a professional writing course, for instance, could students pair comments from a company’s mission statement or annual report with images of workers in the company or its products or services in action?


I think there are a lot of possibilities. What do you think? I’d love to hear about the texts you might ask students to concentrate on with this classroom activity. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Kitten touching a mirror, with the caption Time for ReflectionI kicked off this term by setting some New School Year’s Resolutions for myself, following the model of David Gooblar’s 4 Resolutions for the New Semester on Chronicle Vitae. Overall, my focus was on building more community (and by extension, participation) and improving assessment.


Now that I have reached the midpoint in my school year, it’s time for some reflection on what I have accomplished and what I still need to work on. I’ll address my ten goals from the fall one-by-one:


  1. Increase class participation. Oddly enough, the Digital Design Journals that I added to my course led to more interaction among students. I intended the journals to give students more practice in analyzing digital texts, which they did accomplish. Each student also presented a journal entry to the course, which led to great full-class discussions of rhetoric and design. I need to figure out how to accomplish the same engagement in my online courses.

  2. Give students more choice. I asked my technical writing students to Choose Their Own Projects, but I need to revise the assignment a bit. In particular, I need to make some Changes to My Coursework Proposal Assignment, which invites students to choose their assignments. I also need to do some work to ensure that they are stretching themselves with new genres they have no experience with.

  3. Switch to Pass/Fail grading. I did use Pass/Fail grading extensively in both courses I taught. The system isn’t perfect yet, however. Toward the end of the term, there was no time for revising, undermining the entire system. I wasn’t comfortable with failing students in the courses when their work didn’t achieve B-level standards. I have to build in more structure to ensure that students have time for revising failing work.

  4. Give feedback more quickly. The Pass/Fail system helped me out with my speed. I zipped through grading for all in-class work and weekly writing activities. Using mini-conferences more in my face-to-face class helped me provide lots of feedback as students quickly needed it. I need to figure out how to bring that dynamic to the fully-online courses.

  5. More formative feedback. I am doing better on this goal. When students did turn work in early enough or consulted me on drafts, I worked on providing constructive criticism and challenging them to improve their work. I need to do more for this goal, though. The timing complicates things—when I don’t receive work until the last minute, formative feedback is useless. There’s no time for revision, so students won’t use the advice.

  6. Ask students to track their own work. I added a participation log assignment to ask students to spend more time Tracking Their Participation. In addition, I developed a Participation Log Analysis Assignment to help them evaluate their participation in the course.

  7. Encourage more (or better) reflection. I need to spend more time on this goal in the spring. I asked students for reflection statements when they turned in their major projects; however, I haven’t done much to improve the process. I am going to work on integrating reflection more with the structures that encourage students to turn drafts in earlier.

  8. Add videos to online courses. I started the Fall Term with a WebEx session where I walked students through the course website and answered some basic questions. Only two students were present during the video, not surprising given that we share no common time when we can meet. Worse yet, I never managed to edit the video and post it online, so only those two students benefited. There are definite challenges. For example, I need to find $170 to buy Camtasia, so that I can edit footage properly. I think the videos are worth it, but it is a harder goal to achieve.

  9. Add an AMA session. I added an Ask Me Anything session, to all my classes this fall, as I explained in my Inviting Students to “Ask Me Anything” post. The discussion went really well. Seeing the questions students asked probably told me as much about them as my answers reveals about me. I’m definitely going to keep it as part of the beginning of all my courses.

  10. Encourage community. Around mid-October, I tried Organizing Online Writing Groups for my classes. I asked them to connect with one another for feedback and support as they needed it. The strategy still needs work. The biggest problem has been that students waited until the last moment to post to each other. The assignment led more to checking off a requirement than connecting and building community. I think it can be successful, but I’ll need to do more work to make it happen.


Overall, I accomplished a lot during this fall. There are still several places where I need to do more, but I’m happy with my progress so far. How about you? Was your fall term successful? What are you looking forward to doing next term? Leave me a comment below and let me know.



Credit: Kitten Meme created on the ICanHazCheeseburger site

Juliet by Colleen A. Bryant, on FlickrWhen I began teaching, I printed out every call for proposals, chapters, and articles. I carefully highlighted the relevant due dates in neon orange and arranged them in due-date order in a wire basket on my desk. That was the last time that I looked at them until the end-of-the-term purge, when I sorted through all the passed calls and tossed them into the trash.


Decades later, I was following the online version of this process. I dragged every call for proposals, chapters, and articles to a “CFP” folder in Gmail and then at the end of the term, I dragged them into a subfolder I named DEAD. I did try some experiments along the way. I made a “Maybe” folder, for the CFPs that I thought had potential, and there was a “Not Likely” for CFPs that I liked, but didn't think I could respond to. All those CFPs ultimately ended up in the “DEAD” folder too.


I tried organizing things in Evernote. I tried printing them out again. I tried pinning them on Pinterest. I tried pasting notes about them in online sticky notes on my desktop. I tried real sticky notes hung up all over my office. I tried everything I could think of, but somehow nothing worked for me.


I let scores of CFPs pass by, unanswered. Honestly, I felt like quite the failure. Academics all over the world manage to keep track of their CFPs and even replied to them, while I only seemed to figure the calls out too late to respond.

In late September, I added a couple of CFPs that I was interested in to my Google Calendar. Since I look at my calendar several times a day, I saw those CFPs frequently. After a few days of seeing those CFPs, I realized that I had come up with a solution that actually worked for me. I went through my inbox folders and added all the relevant CFPs in rhet/comp, technology, pedagogy, and professional writing. I ultimately added calls for nominations, awards, and association positions, as well.


Once I added all this information, I decided to make the calendar public in case it could help any colleagues. This week, I’m inviting you to take advantage of the calendar as well. You can find my calendar of CFPs by visiting In addition to visiting the whole collection on my website, you can follow simple instructions to  add the entire calendar to your Google calendar and to add individual calls to your Google calendar. I update the calendar about twice a month, adding any CFPs that are posted on the listservs that I subscribe to. If you have a CFP that I missed, you can email it to me.


So, I invite you to heed the call with me. Look through the calendar and find a call that you can respond to. It's a perfect time to make a New Year’s resolution to publish something. I hope you find something that fits you perfectly.



Credit: Juliet by Colleen A. Bryant, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Quality Journalism Means an Informed Citizenry, by Mike Licht, on FlickrI grew up seeing sensational stories teased in commercials for the National Enquirer and similar tabloids on television. The claims about UFO invaders, scandalous affairs, and celebrity drama taught me long ago not to believe everything that I read.


Like most writing teachers, whenever I teach research skills, I cover the importance of evaluating your sources before including the information they present in research projects. I have even written a lesson plan on how to conduct Inquiry on the Internet.


I was a little surprised, then, when fake news became such big news after the presidential election. A simple search yields stories covering the influence of fake news like these:



Predictably, these stories and the circumstances that inspired them led to suggestions on how to tell the difference between news and fake news. The NBC News story “How to Outsmart Fake News” (below) features Massachusetts professor Melissa Zimbdar explaining how to identify and avoid questionable news stories:



Zimbdar’s handout on False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources includes the full list of tips. The Washington Post’sThe Fact Checker’s guide for detecting fake news” offers a similar list of suggestions.


Students can use these tips to consider the validity of news sources, but I want them to think about why people believe these stories in the first place by exploring questions like these:


  1. What persuasive strategies make fake news seem to be true?
  2. What topics are likely to be the focus of fake news?
  3. Why are some topics better than others?
  4. What makes a topic a good choice for fake news?
  5. What kind of details need to be included?
  6. What kind of details would probably be left out?
  7. What audiences are likely to believe a fake news story?
  8. What circumstances would make a fake news story more believable?
  9. How does cultural background effect whether an audience believes fake news?
  10. What personal experiences could effect whether an audience believes fake news?


Before using these questions, I would ask the class to discuss some historical situations where fake news had an impact. Fake news has a long history. If you include opinion columns in your discussion, you can point back to Swift’s Modest Proposal and then jump to contemporary pieces. If you want to explore the difference between satire and misinformation, Swift is a strong starting point. Once students think about the situation that led to Swift’s satirical commentary, you might talk about The Borowitz Report, The Onion, and The Daily Show.


I like to start with the hysteria caused by Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds from October 30, 1938 (MP3 recording and broadcast script). For the purposes of classroom discussion, the Wikipedia article on Public Reaction to the broadcast provides adequate details on the extent and causes of the panic that ensued in response to the fake new updates of a Martian landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Because of the distance students have from the events, they usually quickly understand how personal experiences and world events misled listeners who believed the updates were true. Once students explore The War of the Worlds broadcast, I ask them to think about the extent and causes behind the current fake news stories, using the ten questions to get discussion started.


Class discussion can also take up the recent Wall Street Journal article, “Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds.” After considering the reasons that people believe fake news stories, students can have a strong conversation on whether they accept the findings of the Stanford study that the article discusses. With such articles appearing in the press, it’s an important topic for students to explore.


Are you talking about fake news in the classroom? How are students responding? Do you have strategies to share? Please leave me a comment and let me know what you’re doing.



Credit: Quality Journalism Means an Informed Citizenry, by Mike Licht, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 License

Bakken / Dakota Access Oil Pipeline by Tony Webster, on FlickrDuring the last weeks of November, I like to share this quotation from the Autobiography of Mark Twain that focuses on Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it.

When I ask students to brainstorm things that they associate with Thanksgiving before they read this quotation, they discuss things like family, turkey, football, friends, pie, parades, and shopping. When they turn to more abstract concepts, they talk about tradition, patriotism, and thankfulness. Twain’s take on Thanksgiving forgoes all these feel-good ideas and zeros in on some ugly facts about the treatment of American Indians.


Twain’s syntax is complex, so I start by breaking down Twain’s passage and unpacking the words. I ask students to look in particular at the word choice Twain is using to communicate his opinion on the meaning of Thanksgiving:


  • It’s a function, rather than a holiday or celebration. 
  • The pilgrims are “those people.”
  • The function marks “exterminating their neighbors.”


There’s no whitewashing in Twain’s account of Thanksgiving. He uses tough words, and his meaning is clear. Thanksgiving for Twain is not about a harvest festival, family, or the good old days. It’s about “the white man” exterminating American Indians—and constructing a scenario where the Lord approves and should be thanked for this accomplishment.


Currently, American Indians from many nations are coming together to protest the pathway of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Tribe. As I consider the protesters’ fear that the pipeline will contaminate their water supply, I have to wonder if Mark Twain would see the situation as yet another moment in America’s history focused on exterminating American Indians. It’s a question that I want students to take up in their discussion by exploring the facts that are reported, those that are not mentioned, and the language that is used to discuss the protesters and their fight to protect their community.


The idea of discussing Mark Twain’s perspective on Thanksgiving is one that I originally explored in a 2010 post from my personal blog. Sadly, his commentary on treatment of American Indians is still on point if the situation in North Dakota is any measure.


How are you talking about political issues and current events with students this term? Please share your ideas in the comments.



Credit: Bakken / Dakota Access Oil Pipeline by Tony Webster, on Flickr, under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

Traci Gardner

Talk about Tolerance

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Nov 15, 2016

tolerance by ambar stefania, on FlickrThe events happening in the United States during the last week motivated me to talk about tolerance and intolerance today by updating a post from November 2010. That post reminded me that tomorrow, November 15, is the International Day for Tolerance.


Established by UNESCO in 1996, the event is based on 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”


If there were ever a time when we need to promote tolerance, that time is now. One effective, but simple, way to explore tolerance is to look at the ways people talk about the concept during some class sessions this month and then produce projects that share their exploration with others on campus. Here’s one way to accomplish that goal through in-class discussion and collaboration.


Session One

  1. Ask students to record their understanding of tolerance. They can record personal experiences, working definitions, and responses to events in the news. The goal is to create a touchstone that they can return to later. There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone in a community can talk about tolerance for the values and actions of others.
  2. Move to UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Article 1 of the Declaration specifically addresses the “Meaning of tolerance.” Ask students to read the entire Declaration, paying particular attention to that section.
  3. Discuss the definition in the Declaration and how it compares to students’ own understanding. Explore the language that is used in the document specifically. Unpack the complex words, and note how the document attempts to be inclusive.
  4. If class time allows, students can work in groups, each taking one point of Article 1 and rewriting the explanation using less formal language. They can imagine themselves writing for younger students or writing sound bites for a general audience.
  5. After discussion of the Declaration, ask students to record how the document relates to their earlier notes on the concept either in class or for homework.

Session Two

  1. Review the definition(s) of tolerance from the previous session, explaining that the class will spend time this session comparing to the ways that tolerance is discussed publicly.
  2. Share news stories about tolerance, intolerance, and bullying with the class. You can use local examples or these recent pieces:
  3. Ask students to begin by separating objective details and material from subjective details and material. Have them note when objective details are used and when subjective details are used. Talk about how purpose and audience influence the information and the language that is used to present it.
  4. Have students apply their definitions of tolerance to the articles, considering these discussion questions:
    • Do the articles specifically use the word tolerance or intolerance?
    • Are other words used to describe tolerant (or intolerant) attitudes?
    • How does the perspective shift if you rephrase the pieces to use the antonym?
    • How does the discussion in the articles align with the UNESCO Declaration and their own understanding?
  5. Finish the project by asking students to write about how one or more of the articles relates to their own or the UNESCO Declaration’s understanding of tolerance. Ask students to draw conclusions about how tolerance is discussed (implicitly or explicitly) and defined.
  6. Alternately, move the project toward sharing students’ exploration of tolerance outside the classroom. Ask student groups to create a text that explains tolerance and urges others to promote and practice tolerance every day. Check with your school’s office of equal opportunity office, student affairs, or residence life for help distributing students’ work to the campus community. Students can work on projects like these:
    • create posters that are displayed on campus.
    • write letters to the school or local newspaper.
    • produce video or audio podcasts that share their messages.
    • arrange a flash mob on tolerance.
    • design an infographic that presents details on tolerance.
    • create a playlist of songs that reflect tolerance, with notes on why they were chosen.
    • curate a display for the library or student center.
    • assemble a class photo essay to display on digital sign boards on campus.
    • write flyers, pamphlets, or brochures to distribute on campus.
    • post a meme-style campaign on social media, modeled on the photos in the image above.


Troubling actions and disturbing words have been commonplace during the political campaigns this year, and the last week has shown me that students need an opportunity to slow down and think about the issues. Many are scared, uncomfortable, or sad. Creating space and time in the classroom to contribute toward a safe, tolerant campus community seems like one of the best ways we can respond.


What strategies are you using to address students’ post-election feelings and teach about tolerance? Please tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.



Credit: tolerance by ambar stefania, on Flickr, under a CC-BY 2.0 license

I'm not a liar, by Tristan Schmurr, on FlickrWith the presidential election coming to a close today, I want to update a post from November 2010 that offers some great discussion opportunities for the week after Americans cast their votes.


The original post was based on the Psychology Today article “Clues to When CEOs and Politicians Are Lying to You” by Todd B. Kashdan, which summarizes a working paper that analyzes the language use of CEOs and CFOs during quarterly earnings conference calls. The researchers found three ways that language betrayed the truth of the speakers on the calls:


  1. They avoid personal references, using “we” rather than “I,” for instance.
  2. They overuse “over-the-top glowing positive statements.”
  3. They never hesitate. Their language shows “absolute certainty.”


These findings can easily be applied to texts that students read in the classroom or as part of a research project. In the aftermath of the election and the political maneuverings that are sure to follow, students can also apply these findings to the various statements by candidates, their supporters, political action groups, journalists, and pundits.


To try the activity in the classroom, I’d follow these steps:

  • Spend some time discussing each of the clues that Kashdan identifies and brainstorming examples of the kind of language that each refers to.

  • Talk about the audience and purpose of the phone calls in Kashdan's article. While these strategies may point out liars and lying in some rhetorical situations, they wouldn’t be markers for every text. Students could brainstorm rhetorical situations where a healthy amount of plural personal pronouns (e.g., we, our, us) would not necessarily denote lying.

  • Analyze a specific political document for rhetorical indications that the author may be stretching the truth. Students can look at recent political speeches, campaign ads, and media coverage.

  • Ask students, given this context, to consider the practice of live fact-checking, which has emerged as a media strategy this election cycle.

  • To extend the conversation, students might explore any of these articles:


No matter how the election turns out, I’m sure there will be lots to talk about in the classroom. Please use the comments below to tell me about your ideas for talking about liars and lying this political season.



Credit: I'm not a liar, by Tristan Schmurr, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Log on, by Wesley Fryer, on FlickrThis week, I want to talk about assessment and the Participation Logs Assignment that I posted about several weeks ago. Students have been tracking their participation since September in their logs. They note contributions to online and in-class discussion, paying attention to both small-group and full-class contributions. These logs are a critical part of the final exam assignment, a report that analyzes the participation logs and recommends the grade that the student should earn for participation in the course.


It may seem a bit early to talk about the final exam. We still have six weeks before it’s due, after all. Because the final exam is an assessment of the work that students do during the course of the term however, I think it’s crucial to talk about the Completion Report Assignment now. Knowing the requirements of the final exam should give students the motivation to participate effectively in class and online as well as to track that participation in anticipation of their report.


The assignment is similar to one I have talked about in the past. The overview explains the basic requirements:

For your final exam, you will write a completion report that explains what you have done and provides a self-evaluation of your participation. You will propose the grade you should receive and then use information from your participation log, attendance, and project portfolio to provide data to support your recommendation. In the workplace, this report would be similar to a self-evaluation for a performance review.


To help students find the pertinent information in the work, I have given them this set of guiding questions:

  • What have you done to participate consistently during the entire term?
  • Have you completed all journals and in-class work by the end of the grace period?
  • Which Discussion posts demonstrate that you have contributed high quality work?
  • What in-class discussion and small group actives demonstrate your best contributions?
  • Did you attend all class meetings? Did you provide health services or Dean of Students documentation for any absences?
  • Did you invest your best effort in the course?


Finally, to provide some structure for the report itself, I suggest the information that it should include to meet the requirements of the assignment:

  • details on your overall participation, which addresses the following:
    • your attendance
    • your timeliness
    • your readiness
    • your contributions (in class and online)
    • your effort
  • a comparison of your accomplishments to the course expectations
  • a recommendation on the grade you should receive for the participation portion of your course grade


I think students need this final exam assignment by midterm to do their best work. Sharing the assignment with them so early allows them to see what they need to produce and (I hope) reduces some of the anxiety about the participation grade. The extra bonus for me is that the final exam is already written and posted—no last minute scrambling to get that task done!


Have you used similar self-assessment activities in your courses? What have you done to ensure their success? Please leave me a comment, and tell me about your experiences (or ask a question).



[Photo Credit: Log on, by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr, used under CC-BY-SA 2.0 license]