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162 Posts authored by: Traci Gardner Expert

Screenshot of Jazz Jennings' Twitter Profile, on November 30, 2017Inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative, I am sharing a series of activities that ask students to examine how digital technology shapes literacy and the ways that people interact with others in my recent posts. So far, I have posted an activity on the definitions of digital native and digital literacy and an activity on digital literacy and online identity.

This week I have a collaborative research project that students complete to learn more about how online identities work. Depending upon the depth of research you ask for, this activity will take anywhere from one to two weeks of class sessions for collaborative work and presentations.

The Assignment

In this scenario-based assignment, your group has been hired by the manager of a public figure to assess the online identity of their client. The manager wants an honest and objective presentation on the client, showing both the good and the bad. Your group will present to the manager, the public figure, and other members of the figure’s inner circle. The manager will use the information your group shares to create a plan to strengthen the client’s online reputation and improve the client’s overall reception with the public.

Step 1: Set up group collaboration rules and decide how you want to share the information that you gather with one another. You might set up a shared folder on Google Drive, for example, so that everyone can access what you find.

Step 2: Choose a public figure to investigate. For the purposes of this assignment, a public figure can be someone such as a celebrity, artist, writer, politician, public official, or industry leader. The public figure you choose must be a living person. Do not choose a fictional character, for instance. Additionally, to avoid any potential invasion of privacy, do not choose any students on campus. Be sure that you receive approval for your public figure before you proceed to the next step of the assignment.

Step 3: Create a list of the online places that your public figure has posted information or where others post information in response to or about your figure. Include the name and the link. Additionally, spend some time assessing the reputation of the sites and consider whether each site is a positive, neutral, or negative impact on the figure’s identity. Check places like the following:

  • Social media sites (like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram)
  • Professional networking and job search sites (like LinkedIn)
  • Blogging sites
  • Personal and work websites
  • Video sharing sites (like YouTube, Vine, and Vimeo)
  • Hobby or special interest sites (places where the figure might post or comment)
  • News and current event sites (that might publish stories or interviews about the figure)

Step 4: Gather evidence of the public figure’s online identity. . Consider what the person chooses to put online (personally or through a proxy) and what others put online about that person by examining and collecting information like the following:

  • the words that the figure posts
  • the images that the figure posts
  • the facts that the figure posts
  • the opinions that the figure shares
  • the products and services that the figure endorses
  • the people that the figure recommends or mentions
  • the messages that the figure shares (e.g., retweets, forwards)

Step 5: Review all the information that you have gathered. As a group, look for patterns and connections that appear among the different sites, building an online identity for the public figure you have researched. As you draw conclusions, use the journalist’s questions to think through ideas:

  • who does the figure care about, talk about, appear with, and so forth
  • what does the figure do, use, care about, and so on
  • where does the figure go, visit, stay, and so forth
  • when does the figure seem to be active (what time of day? what days of the week? any special events?)
  • why does the figure share information online (what is the purpose or goal of the online identity?)
  • how does the figure share information online (posts personally, forwards a lot of information, has a PR manager to do the work)
  • how often does the figure share information online

Step 6: Use your research and analysis to create a seven to eight minute group presentation that describes the online identity of the public figure you have examined to the manager, the public figure, and other members of the figure’s inner circle. Share the conclusions that you have drawn about the strengths and weaknesses of the public figure’s online identity, including concrete details from your research as support. Conclude your presentation with some suggestions to strengthen the public figure’s online reputation and improve their overall reception with the public.

What’s Next?

After working together to investigate someone’s online identity, students should be ready to examine their own online identities independently—and that is the topic of my next posts. I will share some specific activities that ask students to examine their online identities and consider what they can do to improve their reputation as digital natives. If you have suggestions for activities or questions about how to talk about these issues in the classroom, please leave me a comment below.


[Photo: Screenshot of Jazz Jennings' Twitter Profile, taken on November 30, 2017]

Social Media Remote by Animated Heaven on Flickr, used under Public DomainLast week, I shared a critical thinking activity that asked students to explore the definitions of digital native and digital literacy. With my activity this week, I ask students to consider the idea of online identity. I cover several aspects of online identity, so I will share several posts on the topic. Today’s post focuses on an activity that shifts from digital literacy to the online identity that someone builds with those literacy skills. This activity should take only one class session.

The Activity

  1. Have students review the characteristics of the terms digital native and digital literacy, which the class established during previous sessions. Make any updates or changes that students want to the characteristics.
  2. With the characteristics fresh in students’ minds, explain that the class will apply the ideas by discussing the digital literacy skills that a public figure needs today.
    NOTE: Focus the discussion on particular public figures to ensure that you can complete the discussion during one class session. Consider the public figures in the instructions below as examples. Choose other public figures if they will work better for your class.
  3. Ask students about the digital literacy skills that a state politician or the school’s president needs and why those skills are needed. Ask them to consider the role rhetorical factors play—how do the audience, purpose, and context matter in terms of the necessary digital literacy skills? Record their responses on one side of the board or similar display.
  4. Once students have the basic characteristics determined, explain that you want them to think about how the digital literacy skills they expect would change (or not) if the public figure were a digital native, recording their answers on the other side of the display. Provide a concrete example such as the student government president or a class president. Encourage students to address the same ideas that they considered for the first public figure they analyzed. If new ideas come up for the digital native public figure, have students consider whether it applies to the older public figure (and if not, why not).
  5. With details recorded for both public figures, connect the conversation to online identity. Explain generally that online identity is the personality someone builds as they use their digital literacy skills. Provide only a brief definition. Students will have a working idea of what the term online identity means. The goal here is to ask students to record their preliminary ideas about the concept in preparation of deeper analysis.
  6. Arrange students into four small groups, asking two groups to consider the state politician or school president and the other two to consider the student government president or a class president. In their small groups, ask students to brainstorm a list of artifacts that they would expect to find if they investigated their public figure’s online identity.
  7. To get them started, you can offer the guiding questions below, but indicate these are just some opening questions. Groups can add many more questions of their own to these starting points:
    • What kind of social media accounts would you expect the figure to have?
    • What sites would you expect the figure to have logins on?
    • Where would you expect the figure to post comments?
    • Where would you find photos that figure posted online?
  8. Depending upon the amount of time left in the class, students can either present their brainstormed lists, combining the ideas to create one list for the state politician or school president and the other two to consider the student government president or a class president. If you have run out of time, ask groups to turn in their lists and combine the lists before the next session.
  9. End the session by explaining that you will use these lists as a starting point for a research project on online identity that you will begin during the next class session. Ask students to continue thinking about online identity, and to jot down any additional ideas they think of to add to their lists at the beginning of the next session.

Follow-Up Activities

Depending upon your course textbook, you might ask students to read an essay about establishing identity, whether online or not. The Bedford/St. Martin's title Acting Out Culture (4th ed, 2018) includes a chapter on “How We Identify” that offers a variety of relevant essays. If you want students to read specifically about online identity, Daniel Ruefman’s “Taking Control: Managing Your Online Identity for the Job Search” from Writing Commons frames the topic in terms that students can relate to personally.

Any Ideas to Add?

Let me hear your suggestions for talking about online identity and digital literacy in the composition classroom. Whether you have an assignment, a great reading, or another resource to share, I would love to see what you have to say. I might even feature your idea in an upcoming post!


[Photo: Social Media Remote by Animated Heaven on Flickr, used under Public Domain]

Digital Natives: An Infographic Series about Emerging Adults, from Oxford University PressVirginia Tech Libraries are embarking on a digital literacy initiative, which focuses on “support[ing] all learners in exploring, evaluating, creating, and sharing a variety of digital content, including data, information, and media.” This work matches much of the work I have been doing all along in the writing classroom when I talk about digital resources and digital composing.


For the next few weeks, I will share some relevant classroom activities and assignments that align with the digital literacy work on my campus. I’m starting my series with an activity that focuses on defining what it means to be a digital native and, by extension, what we mean when we talk about digital literacy. Establishing an understanding of these two terms provides the support for all the future activities in this series. Depending upon the length of your class sessions, you may break up the activity into more than one session.


The Activity

  1. Establish what students already know and think about the terms digital native and digital literacy. Ask students to write what they know about the terms, using whatever strategy they find most comfortable (e.g., freewriting, listing, clustering/mindmaps).
  2. Have students share their notes on the two terms in small groups, working together to identify similarities among the responses and the strongest ideas they have recorded.
  3. Ask each group to present the similarities and strongest ideas they have identified, writing notes on the board or presenting from a shared slideshow.
  4. With class input, group related ideas that have been shared, rephrasing and reducing as necessary to narrow down the list of characteristics. Identify this synthesized list as the first draft of characteristics of the terms for the class.
  5. Explain that the class will next compare the first draft to ideas that are presented in infographics about digital natives and digital literacy.
  6. Share my Digital Literacy board on Pinterest, or share your own collection of infographics. Preview each of the infographics briefly with the class. If desired, you may limit this activity to a single infographic or a small number of infographics.
  7. Assign each group a specific infographic to analyze. Alternately, allow groups to choose an infographic, first-come, first-served style.
  8. Ask students to return to their small groups and examine the infographic closely, using the following questions to guide their conversation:
    • What facts about digital literacy and/or digital natives are included in the infographic?
    • What support is given for the facts?
    • What is the source of the facts? Are the sources reputable?
    • Do you agree with the facts in the infographic? How well do they match your experience?
    • How do the facts in the infographic compare to those in the first draft that the class created?
  9. After students have discussed their infographics thoroughly, ask them to consider whether to change or add to the first draft of characteristics. Have groups identify their points generally, explaining that the whole class will decide on the specific details of changes or additions.
  10. Once small groups have finished their work, ask each group to share their infographic along with the basic points of their analysis of the infographic, relying on their answers to the questions in Step 8 to structure their presentation. Ask each group to end their presentation by explaining any changes or additions they recommend as a result of their analysis.
  11. Once the group presentations are complete, sort the changes and additions that have been suggested. Ask each small group to reconcile the relevant changes with an existing characteristic and/or to draft additional characteristics.
  12. Have groups submit their revisions and additions to you. Before the next class session, combine all the characteristics into a new draft. Make copies to distribute or create a slideshow of the revised characteristics.
  13. During the next session, pass out copies or share the slideshow with the class. Ask students to review the new draft, and as a class make any additional changes to the characteristics. Explain that this revised, new draft will be used in future activities.

Follow-Up Activities

Next week, I will share a follow-up activity that asks students to think about how their characteristics relate to the idea of online identity. If desired, however, you can use these alternative activities:


  • Ask students, working individually or in small groups, to create their own infographics that present one or more of the characteristics that the class has established.
  • Treat the class list of characteristics as a collection of hypotheses about digital natives and digital literacy. Have students, again individually or in small groups, research a characteristic, looking for supporting data. Ask students to prepare a formal oral presentation of their findings as well as any recommendations to change the characteristic they have investigated.
  • Have students write narrative essays that describe a specific incident from their own lives or that they have observed that relates to one of the characteristics. Students’ stories should support or refute the characteristic they focus on.

Any Ideas to Add?

I would love to hear some new ideas on discussing digital natives and digital literacy with students. Do you have ideas to share or infographics that I can add to my collection? Please leave me a comment below with the details, and come back next week for my follow-up activity that focuses on online identity.



Infographic Credit: Digital Natives: An Infographic Series about Emerging Adults, from Oxford University Press

ask first by Robert Jack 啸风 Will on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseHere is a typical scenario that might be used on campus for a discussion about resources on and responses to sexual harassment:

A student in your course tells you that a member of her writing group for the course has been making inappropriate gestures and comments to her for several weeks. She reports that last night the group had a meeting at the library. After the meeting, everyone split up. She went to the study area on the third floor. About five minutes after settling in at a table to do some work, she realized that the problem group member was watching her from the stacks on the other side of the room. She says that she felt uncomfortable, so she gathered up her belongings and moved to a different area on the 4th floor. Unfortunately, she was followed and was being watched again. A few minutes later, the other student blocked her in the corner and tried to grope her. She fought back and got away, but now she is reluctant to come to class and does not want to remain in the writing group. What resources can you suggest to help her? How do you handle the situation?

This scenario works for a discussion on campus. The problem arises when this kind of scenario is the only kind that is discussed. You see, academic communities often have limited vision when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment, abuse, and violence. It may not be the issue that first comes to mind, however.


What’s the Issue?

Let me share an excerpt from Virginia Tech’s “What to Do if You Have Been Assaulted in the Past 72 Hours” instructions (scroll down to the last section on the page):


  • You can have a PERK exam even if you do not make a police report. You will not be responsible for the cost of the exam.
  • If you think you want to make a report to the police, the hospital will do a forensic exam to collect evidence, and can then do a drug screen if you think you may have been drugged.
  • The hospital will contact the Women’s Resource Center of the NRV and an Emergency Advocate will meet you at the hospital to provide support and information. These services are free.
  • If you wish to contact the police at one of the numbers above both the Women’s Resource Center and the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech have advocates who will go with you to make the report.


Those details are presumably just fine for the student in the scenario above. They don’t make sense for every student who may want to report an assault, however. Let me explain why by beginning with some statistics on sexual assault. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports the following details on their Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics page:


  • “Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.” (Department of Justice)
  • “1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.” (Department of Justice)
  • “21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.” (Association of American Universities)
  • “4.3% of active duty women and 0.9% of active duty men experienced unwanted sexual contact in FY14.” (Department of Defense)


The RAINN page on Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics states, “Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.”


Do you see the issue now? If the student looking for help is one of the 5.4% of undergraduate male students who experiences rape or sexual assault, does support from the Women’s Resource Center and the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech make sense? What if you are one of the 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) students? The issue, of course, is that far too many of the campus resources available discuss sexual harassment, assault, and violence as if they only happen to women.


This limited vision ignores any student who does not identify as a woman. As if being the victim of sexual assault is not traumatic enough on its own, these students are at least implicitly treated as if their experience couldn’t have happened. After all, there is no relevant suggestion for the support they will receive. Beyond what the absences in this policy say to male students, they suggest that we can only address the issue of sexual harassment with a binary definition of gender identity. We can do better.


Taking It to the Classroom

The first step to improving our campus discussion of sexual harassment may well be taking it to the classroom by going through the steps I discussed above:


  1. Begin by asking students to read a campus statement on sexual assault or harassment, like Virginia Tech’s “What to Do if You Have Been Assaulted in the Past 72 Hours.”
  2. Ask students to identify the audience and purpose for the instructions.
  3. Share the statistics on sexual assault from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
  4. Go back to the campus statement, and ask students to identify who counts and who is left out of the statement, relying on the statistics for support.
  5. Have students compose a document in response, such as one of the following:
    • Rewrite the statement to make it more inclusive.
    • Write individual letters or a group letter to the office on campus that is responsible for the campus resources and ask them to revise their materials to be more inclusive.
    • Write a class letter to the editor of the campus newspaper, outlining the issue and asking for action to revise the materials.
    • Create a campus campaign that calls for revision and/or outlines available resources and support for victims of sexual assault and harassment.
    • Have students dig through other, related statements and resources on the campus website, such as the materials on Title IX; and then ask students to report their findings to the class.
    • Ask students to research sexual assault and harassment on campus. Have students use their research to create infographics that communicate the information to readers. The infographics can be used as part of a campaign to improve the available resources on sexual assault and harassment.


Final Thoughts

Like several other posts I have shared recently, the idea for this post grew from my participation in an inclusive pedagogy cohort, but I have to admit that it’s a topic that has been simmering for a few years. I had not noticed the limited view of sexual assault on campus until I attended an employee orientation in 2013. As part of the sessions, a police officer came in to tell us all about what the women could do in case of violence. I’m not sure what the men in the room thought. I guess they were supposed to be taking notes on how to help damsels in distress.


I wasn’t amused, but I was too nervous about my new job to speak up. Now, not only am I willing to speak up, but I am also willing to ask students to speak up with me.


What issues inspire you to speak up on campus? How do you explore inclusive communities with students? Do you have ideas or questions about inclusive pedagogy? Please tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.


Credit: ask first by Robert Jack 啸风 Will on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

Tutoring Writing by Jake Mohan on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseEach week, the inclusive pedagogy cohort that I am a member of posts on a specific topic. Recent posts have focused on food or housing insecurity, religious observances, military veterans, gender identity and expression, and cognitive diversity. Even when I knew about the resources included in these posts, their scenario-based approach has helped me to think about how I would react in response to these topics.


Each weekly post opens with a specific scenario that a teacher has encountered. Here’s an example from the message on supporting LGBTQ students:


Our class is discussing topics and writing opinion pieces related to same sex marriage legislation. There’s a wide range of viewpoints on the subject. Last week, a student revealed in his opinion piece that he is gay and is very uncomfortable with some of the perspectives being expressed—especially since very few people know his sexual orientation. How do I support this student?


The scenarios outline a situation that a teacher has encountered that results in the teacher needing support and additional resources to know what to do next. The posts continue with an explanation of possible resources and end with available campus resources. I particularly like that these messages aren’t asking me to play a game of “Guess the Right Answer.” Instead, they give me answers and model exactly what I can do next if I am ever in a similar situation.


Because of the effectiveness of this strategy, similar scenarios could be useful with students. Rather than describing situations from the teacher’s point of view, scenarios could be described from the student’s perspective and then matched with responses and campus resources that can help students. In particular, students could benefit from scenarios that explore resources students would be unlikely to know about otherwise, such as services that the Writing Center provides beyond basic tutoring sessions or how to get support from the university library. Further, I can talk about these resources without connecting them to any specific student in the class.


Using this strategy, I can give students more than name of a place or a brief explanation of its services. I can share a narrative students identify with, helping them build stronger connections to the information. What do you think? Can this scenario-based discussion of campus resources help students? How would you use the strategy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.



Credit: Tutoring Writing by Jake Mohan on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Coexist [bumper sticker] by Patrick Byrne on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseAs I mentioned in September, I am a member of a year-long cohort that focuses on inclusive pedagogical practices. Each week, we have discussion questions to consider, and I thought I would share one of the recent questions and my response with everyone this week.


The Questions

How do you prepare for religious diversity in your class? How does religious diversity intersect with the particular nature of your course or discipline?


My Response

Since I teach professional writing courses, the content matter of my classes has little to do with religious matters. There are ways that we can focus on religious diversity (more on that below), but you can easily teach a writing class without discussing religion with students in any depth or detail. Nonetheless, religion does come into the class because students often have religious practices that can impact the activities that we complete. I’ve broken my discussion into three sections: at the beginning of the term, as holidays occur, and religion in writing assignments.


At the Beginning of the Term

I try to model openness about religious matters by addressing religious holidays specifically in my class policies at the beginning of the term. I use the following statement on my syllabus:

Religious Holidays: Please take advantage of the grace period explained in the Late Policy section above if the due date for any work in this class coincides with a religious holiday that you celebrate. Please let me know before the holiday if the grace period will not be adequate, and we will come up with an alternative plan.

The grace period I mention is part of my late policy. To explain briefly, I announce a due date for each activity, but I also allow a grace period during which students can still turn in their work with no penalty. The policy is explained in more detail in a Bits post from 2013, Due Dates, Deadlines, and My Late Policy. I have varied the length of the grace period from three days to a week. Even the shorter three-day grace period takes care of most holidays and religious events.


As Holidays Occur in the Calendar

When a holiday draws near, I address it directly by reminding students to let me know if they need more time than the grace period allows. Occasionally, I also extend the grace period, when it seems likely that students may need more time.


I use class announcements to update students on holidays and class work. I see these announcements as serving a dual purpose: reminding students to think about time management, and educating the class on holidays that they may not know about. For instance, for Yom Kippur, I posted the following information:

I have extended the grace period for the Labor Log due on Friday, September 29, by one day. The grace period now ends at 11:59PM on Tuesday, October 3.


Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. I know that some of you may be traveling home to mark the holiday with family or participating in special events here in town. As a result, I wanted to give anyone who needs it extra time so that the assignment does not interfere with your religious holiday.


If you need more than one day, please email me to arrange what you need.

It would usually be off-topic for me to talk about religious holidays at length, so I like this compromise that lets me provide a bit of information in contexts that fit with the course. Additionally, these reminder announcements take care of any extensions students may need. I’ve found that being up front and accepting of students’ needs allows me to avoid any complications.


Religion in Writing Assignments

Religion can come up naturally during class discussions of audience analysis. Just as students consider demographic categories like race, class, and gender, they can explore how an audience’s religious affiliation and practices influence a writing situation. In many business writing and technical writing situations, the reader’s religion isn’t relevant. A technical description of a chemical process, for example, won’t change because of the religion the reader follows.


There are rhetorical situations and writing assignments where religion of the audience does influence the work students do. Likewise, there are situations where religious practices directly effect the writing topic itself, not just the audience. Here are some examples:


  • Compose an internal memo, to be distributed on December 1, that explains the company’s policy on holiday decorations in the workplace. The student writing such a memo has to consider how coworkers’s religious beliefs and practices will influence their acceptance of the policy.
  • Write a leave policy for your company’s employee manual. Your company has paid holidays for all major U.S. holidays. Generally speaking, if the post office closes for the holiday, so does your company. Your policy needs to outline the holidays that the company observes, sick leave, family leave, bereavement, and any other situations specific to your industry. The company’s owner strongly believes in supporting employees’s religious beliefs, so she has asked you to draft a policy that proposes how employees can observe the holidays of their faith if they are not covered in the list of U.S. holidays when the company is closed.
  • You work for a regional collective of farms that wants to expand into food processing and sales. Up to this point, the collective has only sold their produce to manufacturers. Because of the regional popularity of your fruits and vegetables, many of the farm owners are interested in testing the production of simple food products that can be made with local ingredients. For instance, the collective includes a number of apple orchards, and there has been interest in manufacturing locally-sourced applesauce, apple butter, and apple cider. The collective wants to maximize sales opportunities by creating a product that meets the needs of a wide customer base. You have been asked to conduct a research project that investigates how religious requirements affect food processing and packaging. Once your research is complete, write a report that explains your findings and makes recommendations for practices the collective can adopt to ensure that their products meet the needs of customers from a variety of faiths.
  • Your company has always focused exclusively (and quite successfully) on domestic business. Because of the recent popularity of a new product, to which your company owns all patents, the board of directors has called for research on expansion into international markets. Choose a country and investigate the possibility of manufacturing and marketing products there. You can decide what your product it. Using your research on your country, write a recommendation report to the board of directors that explains the requirements for manufacturing and marketing your product in that location. Your report should include information on financing in the country, any specific regulations, taxes, or fees that would apply to your product, how the country’s population would respond to the introduction of your product, including consideration of how race, class, gender, cultural norms, and religious practices in the country would be likely to impact manufacturing and sales. Conclude your report with a recommendation on whether the board should consider the country further as a potential market.

Final Thoughts

Working through these ideas, I still believe that religious considerations need not be a large part of a professional writing course; however, there are certainly options for including religious diversity. It’s imperative for my class policies to support students’s religious practices. Students should also be asked to consider the religion of their audiences when they complete audience analysis of rhetorical situations. Including specific assignments that incorporate a religious dimension seems less of a requirement however. It’s doable, as the example assignments above demonstrate; yet it would need to fit the overarching goals of the course and fit into the progression of assignments. I would not add an otherwise unrelated or unnecessary assignment simply to add religious content to these writing courses.


That’s my take on the topic. How do you prepare for religious diversity in your class? How does religious diversity intersect with the particular nature of your course or discipline? Can you suggest writing assignments or class activities that incorporate religious diversity? Please leave me a comment below to share your ideas.



Credit: Coexist by Patrick Byrne on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Las Vegas Mandalay Bay by Anthony Quintano on Flickr, under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Image Long Description: Color close-up photo of the iconic lighted "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

I stayed up all Sunday night into Monday afternoon, listening to the radio traffic from the Las Vegas police. Somehow it seemed more truthful than the repeated loops of phone videos on CNN, videos that seemed primarily to show jostled phones rather than anything informative. I couldn’t tell everything that was going on, but I could hear the active work to care for the safety of the people in Las Vegas. At a time when I didn’t (and still don’t) have the ability to actively work against the tragic events, it was somehow soothing to hear the voices of people who could and were doing something.


As I write this now, colleagues on the discussion list (WPA-L) of the Council of Writing Program Administrators are talking about whether to address the shooting with students and if they do address it, what they should say. Their discussion thread has the subject line Responding to Las Vegas in Class? Teachers are weighing in there with advice and strategies.


For my students, I wish I had a magic ability to know what to say to make it better, but no one can take the tragedy of it all away. My students are juniors and seniors, taking business writing and technical writing. The shooting doesn’t really connect to the subject matter, but I want to give them space to talk if they need it.


As I considered how to set up a place for their conversation, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote for NCTE ten years ago, in the aftermath of another tragedy. I shared a slightly revised excerpt on the WPA discussion list, and I want to share it here with you as well. While this piece refers to a middle-school journal, the idea is relevant for all levels.


Stories of Tragedies

Revised from the April 17, 2007 post of the NCTE Inbox blog


In his Voices from the Middle article “Difficult Days and Difficult Texts,” Bob Probst talks about the value of stories. “Stories,” he tells us, “will save us, if anything will” (50). Writing of the events of September 11, but just as applicable to the events in Las Vegas, Probst explains, “Part of the problem with understanding . . . was that we had an event, but didn’t yet have a story. All we had at that point was an image, a happening” (53). No matter how old the students we may interact with are, our job as teachers is to help them find the stories:


  • stories of their connections to people in Las Vegas,
  • stories of their own reflections on the events,
  • stories of police and rescue workers who responded,
  • stories of political reactions and implications,
  • stories of the social networks supporting them,
  • stories of the news media’s coverage,
  • stories of their own outrage, sadness, and horror,
  • stories of their fears and where they have found security,
  • stories of how such a thing could happen, and
  • stories of how we all can and must continue on.


As we meet with students and difficult events come up, the most important thing we can do is invite stories and respond to them as empathetic and encouraging readers. As Probst says, “Stories will save us, if anything will.”


The Tragedy of Needing This Post

 There are too many tragedies, as we all know. I have had to share a version of this post three times now—after the shootings at Virginia Tech, after the shootings at Newtown, and now, after the shootings in Las Vegas. I would love to never revise it again, but the reality of today’s world leaves me little hope.


For now, I will do what I can by asking students to share the stories they want and need to and to work together to find ways to move beyond the tragedy. It doesn’t feel like the active work that we need as a society to stop these tragedies from occurring, but it’s what I can do and what students need. That has to be good enough for now.


If you have a response to the tragedy that you can share, particularly advice on how to talk with students, please leave a comment below to help all of us do what we can to help students move forward.



Credit: Las Vegas Mandalay Bay by Anthony Quintano on Flickr, under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Accessibility Lab by Bill Scott on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license

Image Long Description: Color photo of a white sign, indicating the location of an Accessibility Lab, on the side of a frosted glass wall. The sign shows the accessibility icon of a white human symbol in a blue circle. Below the image the location name is written in Braille, which shows as black dots on the white background.

In the best of all possible worlds, my course materials would include a variety of media, intended to support the many learning styles that students bring to the course. Every one of these resources would be accessible in multiple ways. Every video would have closed captioning and a transcript. Every image would have an alt attribute and, when appropriate, a long description. Webpages would have high contrast alternatives and never show errors when analyzed with the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool.


Unfortunately, I do not live in the best of all possible worlds. I know that there are gaps in my course materials. I am eagerly attending workshops this term to improve the accessibility of my online materials, and I am a member of a year-long cohort that focuses on inclusion and diversity. The problem is that I only have so much time, and it can be challenging to add all the resources that are needed. I try my best to ensure that whatever I produce is accessible, but some of the outside resources I include, like infographics and videos, don’t have captioning, transcripts, or other accessibility features.


So what to do? I decided to involve students themselves in the solution. Grades in my professional writing courses relate to the labor that students put into the course, following Asao Inoue’s anti-racist assessment model (2014). To explain very briefly, students must try a number of specific tasks that range from simple log entries to major writing projects. If they put in the effort and try the required activities, they can earn a B in the course. To earn a grade higher than a B, students must take an ongoing leadership role by helping to teach the class new things and significantly adding support to the writing community. I provide students with a list of ways to contribute. You can read more about the course arrangement on the Requirements page for this semester.


With the need to provide options for adding to the course in mind, I added an activity that invited students to create the missing transcripts and text descriptions for resources used in the course. Here is the assignment that I am using:


Optional Accessibility Transcript Activity

Ideally, everything in this course should be accessible to everyone. For instance, videos and audio recordings need transcripts, and images need alt attributes and long descriptions that explain what they show.


The goal of this activity is to create the transcripts and descriptions that are missing for some of the resources used in the course. Your work will focus on accurately presenting the words from the original as well as applying document design principles to ensure that the transcript is easy to read and navigate.


These resources provide how-to information and tips:


How The Activity Is Graded

The transcript activity is completely optional. If you create a transcript, I’ll check it for accuracy to the original, standard correctness, and good document design. If necessary, you can revise a transcript until it is usable for the course. Your transcript will be graded either Complete or Incomplete, meaning you can revise.


If you are working toward a grade higher than a B in the course, you can create a transcript as part of the extra work you do to build community in the course and share ideas. This transcript activity is just one of several options available to you.


How To Participate

Creating a transcript is an independent activity. You won’t interact with anyone other than me, unless you ask your writing group to give you feedback. Here’s the process you’ll follow:


  1. Choose a resource that is missing a transcript. They will usually be things that are posted in our Daily Discussion posts.
  2. Email me with the details on the resource you want to work with. I will check your request to make sure the task is not too big or too small. After I check it, I will send you an approval. Wait for that approval before you begin your work.
  3. Use the resources above for tips on how to create your transcript.
  4. Use a word processor to type and format the text from the video or image that you have chosen.
  5. Submit your transcript in Canvas in the Optional Transcript Assignment once you have finished.
  6. If your work is finished, I will mark it Complete in Canvas Grades, add it to the course website, and credit you. If it needs to be revised, I’ll mark it Incomplete in Canvas Grades, and you can revise and resubmit.


To make the assignment work smoothly, I add a note on every page that I publish that indicates which elements already have transcripts or and which need accessibility support. In the month that the activity has been available, several students have volunteered to create the missing materials. As a result, I now have support for resources that I had no time to take care of myself. 


I particularly like the multiple benefits that grow from this activity:


  • Students gain a better understanding of the needs of those with disabilities.
  • Students learn how to create accessible documents.
  • Students participate in an authentic writing and document design activity, with a concrete purpose and audience.
  • Students can focus on on editing and design skills, since the content itself already exists.


All that and I get resources that make my course materials more accessible too. This activity is definitely a keeper.


How do you talk about accessibility with your students? Do you have any assignments or classroom activities to share? Please leave a comment below with your comments or questions.


Credit: Accessibility Lab by Bill Scott on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license.

Ilford 1973 by Jussi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseThis academic year, I am a member of a learning community that is exploring strategies for inclusive pedagogy. As a result, I’m thinking about ways to include issues of diversity and accessibility in my teaching. Most recently, I have been developing materials that address racial discrimination, particularly ethics and race. I shared three scenarios and a moral compass technique September 5th, and three more scenarios last week. This week, I’m sharing the last four ethics scenarios for discussing race and discrimination, completing a serialized list of ten.


The Scenarios

  • You have been asked to create a diversity policy for the use of images in your advertising materials. There have been recent complaints about racist and sexist images, so your company is especially interested in ensuring that all ads in the future celebrate diversity. After examining the problematic images, you decide that it will be best to describe the best kinds of images to use, rather than to list everything that would not be acceptable. Your coworkers disagree. They worry that without an understanding of the specific things to avoid, employees will continue to choose inappropriate images. Despite their feedback, you decide to go with your own feeling. You believe that listing all the possible wrong images would be impossible and that it could easily offend employees. Did you make the right choice? Is there a better strategy?
  • Your company encourages employees to dress in costumes for Halloween every year. Last year, some employees wore inappropriate costumes that offended other employees and clients. Most of the problem costumes generically adopted culture as costume (e.g., Native American princess, Mexican bandito, geisha). While your company’s executive director is all for Halloween costumes and a bit of fun, she is worried about a repeat of the inappropriate costumes from last year. She emails all employees an announcement of a Halloween party during the company’s afternoon break. She invites everyone to wear costumes to work. To address the inappropriate costume issues, she adds this information to her email: “Please remember to choose an appropriate costume. If you are worried that your costume may not be okay, ask someone in HR about it.” Did she choose the right way to handle the situation?
  • The employees from your division go out for lunch to celebrate a coworker’s birthday. While you are all waiting for your orders, the group is chatting about family and plans for the weekend. Doug speaks up, saying, “You know that reminds me of a joke.” He then tells a racist joke. Most members of your group laugh outright. A couple appear bothered by the joke. You consider speaking up and pointing out that the joke is inappropriate and that Doug should not share such things at work. It appears though that most people did not notice that the joke was offensive. You decide to avoid the issue and say nothing. Everyone is out to have fun, and you don’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. Did you make the right decision? Is there a better way to handle the situation?
  • You handle customer service through your company’s social media accounts. The company has launched a series of television and online commercials that show diverse families enjoying their products. In response, protesters are complaining about these depictions on social media in posts filled with stereotypes. Some protesters admit they buy your company’s products but will find alternatives if the diverse images are not stopped. The large volume of protests is distracting you from your main task of providing customer service. You tell your manager about the situation, and she instructs you to block and report all protesters. You disagree with her, arguing that the protesters are still customers and that blocking will bar them from getting support. You disagree even more with reporting these protesters, who you believe have the right to complain. Your manager is not convinced. She states that you can block and report the protesters or she will find someone who will to take over your job and assign you elsewhere. You bow to her request and begin blocking and reporting all protesters. Have you made the right decision? Has your manager?


The scenarios above are phrased for technical and business writing classes (since that is what I am currently teaching). They could be used “as is” in first-year composition, or they can be customized. For instance, students could consider a diversity policy for images used on the university’s website and in printed promotional materials.


This week, I also tried to create scenarios that could turn into writing assignments. After discussing the first scenario, students can write their own diversity policy for the use of images. For a business or technical writing course, students can focus on company documents, such as the use of images in advertisements, slideshow presentations, and website resources. First-year composition students can create policies for clubs or groups they are involved with, for the university, or for the texts they write for the course. Whichever kind of policy they compose, students will have to balance specific explanations of the policy with persuasive strategies that will convince readers to follow the guidelines.


I hope you find the ten scenarios I have shared this month useful. If you have questions or suggestions about them, please leave me a comment below.



Credit: Ilford 1973 by Jussi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Black Lives Matter by Tony Webster on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseLast week, I attended After Charlottesville: Having Difficult Conversations in the Classroom, a workshop open to everyone in the university community that resulted in an active conversation about what we can and can’t talk about in the classroom and who can and can’t have a platform for speech at the university.


The Guidelines for Discussing Incidents of Hate, Bias, and Discrimination, from the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, were shared in the session to provide ways to be proactive about the issues of hate, as well as suggestions for what to do if something unanticipated happens.


As my continuing focus on discussing racism, I am outlining three more scenarios that ask students to confront racism through discussions of ethics. I provided three scenarios last week and also discussed a moral compass technique that helps students discuss ethical scenarios in more nuanced ways.


The Scenarios

  • Your company sells a variety of canned food products under the brand name Old South. The product labels and advertising depict pre-Civil War plantation scenes. A recent social media campaign is demanding that your company eliminate the racist images used in these product labels and advertisements. The company CEO has decided to do “what’s best for business.” He doesn’t believe that the images are problematic since they are based on historical drawings, but he is worried about the impact on sales. The CEO has asked the marketing department to rebrand, but has given them at least a year to make the necessary changes, including redesign, focus group tests, soft market launches, and, ultimately, a highly-publicized national launch. Your manager has asked you to write a press release that explains the company’s plan to customers and protesters. The CEO demands, however, that the company neither apologize or admit any problems with the current designs. He believes that doing so could cause customers to avoid the product until the redesign is launched. Is the CEO making an ethical decision? How would you write the press release?
  • You need to write a quarterly update to stockholders and the public about the company’s financial performance and current initiatives. Your manager interviewed the CEO for some comments in support of the information in the update, and gives the audio recording to you. The CEO is Japanese, and her English is not perfect. You listen to the recording and note a number of errors. In some places in the recording, her accent is strong, and you cannot determine what she is saying. The update must be released by 8AM tomorrow, so there is no time for back-and-forth with the CEO to talk about corrections. Rather than including what she said in the interview verbatim, you have corrected some minor errors and completely rephrased other comments to state what you think she means. You release the quarterly update to the public without having the CEO review your changes to her statements. Was your decision to rewrite the CEO’s comments ethical? Are there other ways that the situation might have been handled?
  • One of the employees in your department has a racist tattoo on his right arm. It is usually covered by his shirt, but recently he had on a short-sleeved polo shirt, which allowed half of the tattoo to show. Several employees noticed the tattoo and reported to HR that they found it offensive. HR asked you to tell the employee to cover the tattoo with a bandaid. To ensure that the issue does not come up again, you and managers from other units write a policy document that covers problematic tattoos—whether racist, sexist, or offensive in some other way. You and the other managers create a policy that forbids showing any tattoos, regardless of what is shown in the image. Tattoos are to be covered fully by clothing, a bandaid, or makeup. There is strong opposition to the policy. Many employees have tattoos that are in no way problematic (e.g., stars, flowers, Harley Davidson-themed, military logos). They say that they are being discriminated against just for having tattoos. You and the other managers stand by the policy, because you do not want to be in a position where you must judge whether tattoos are acceptable. Have you and the team of managers made the right decision? Are there any other ways to address the situation?


Next week I will share the final four scenarios for confronting racism with discussions of ethics. If you have suggestions for a scenario, questions to ask, or an idea to share, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.


Credit: Black Lives Matter by Tony Webster on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseDuring the next few weeks, I will continue my series on racism in the classroom by sharing 10 scenarios that confront racism through discussions of ethics. The teaching strategy for these class discussions is simple:


  1. Students are presented with a scenario.
  2. They decide on their ethical stance on the issue in the scenario.
  3. They examine a summary of responses from their class.
  4. They discuss the various stances and work toward deeper exploration of the issue and, if possible, consensus on how to deal with the situation.


In step two, students choose their ethical stance using a strategy that I outlined two years ago for Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing, though the strategy would work for any course. Using this strategy, decisions are chosen on a digital compass. As explained in the Learning & Leading with Technology article “Developing Ethical Direction” by Mike S. Ribble and Gerald D. Bailey, students choose among these 8 options:


  • Right
  • I am not sure it’s wrong
  • Depends on the situation
  • As long as I don’t get caught
  • Wrong
  • What’s the big deal?
  • It’s an individual choice
  • I don’t know


To simplify the process of tallying responses for the course, have students respond to the scenarios with a Google Form, or use one of the online polling tools, such as Poll Everywhere, SurveyMonkey, or Top Hat. Before beginning class discussion of the scenarios, prepare students for the issues that you will introduce. You can use the ideas I shared in my post last month, Preparing to Explore Racism and Racist Events in the Classroom.


The Scenarios

  1. You are in a meeting with the marketing team. Your manager (a black woman), her manager (a white man), and four other people (2 women and 2 men) are present. During the meeting, whenever your manager makes an assertion about the best direction for the team to take, her manager interrupts her or talks over her. Several times, he stops her and asks one of the other men in the room to clarify or explain the ideas. Your manager is frustrated, but remains silent to avoid confrontation with her own manager. Is your manager making the right choice? After making your decision, consider what actions you might take in the meeting.
  2. You are joining colleagues from the team of developers (4 men and 3 women) you manage for a barbecue on Friday to celebrate the launch of the program you have been working on for the past year. You arrive about 30 minutes late, because of a meeting with Accounting, and notice that everyone seems to already be in the backyard, laughing and having fun. You walk out the back door and scan the yard. You immediately notice that Haruka, a Japanese-American woman on the team, is not present. You approach Jeff, who owns the house and has taken command of the grill. You ask him, “Hey, looks like nearly everyone is here. When will Haruka get here? I want to share some feedback from Accounting with everyone.” Jeff looks a bit puzzled, but explains, “Oh, we never invite her. She’s so quiet. Makes everyone uncomfortable. She probably wouldn’t come anyway.” Is Jeff’s decision right or wrong? As the manager, how should you handle the situation?
  3. You are in an all-employee meeting of the food production company you work for. Every division provides an update on current projects and forecasts future projects and issues to consider. The Warehouse division, led by Sherry, has been working on a service project to provide food for those at the local family shelter. To share their work with everyone, they have developed a two-minute video that shows employees from the division unloading contributions along with testimonials from the shelter staff and people temporarily living there. About half-way through the video, a male person in the meeting room audibly makes a derogatory comment about the people living in the shelter. The comment includes racial stereotypes and a specific ethnic slur. Sherry looks unsure what to do and fidgets a bit as the video plays out. Once it finishes, she asks everyone to congratulate her team on their hard work and then sits down while employees applaud. Asked about her decision not to address the derogatory comment, Sherry explains that she had no way of knowing who made the comment, so it was best to just ignore it. Did Sherry make the right decision? If you were in Sherry’s position, what would you do? If you were sitting in the meeting, would you do anything? Why or why not?

Customizing the Scenarios

I’ve written the scenarios for use in a Business Writing or Technical Writing course. By changing the basics of the scenarios, you can convert them for use in another class, like first year composition.


For #1, change the scenario to a meeting of a small group working on a group presentation. Drop the references to managers, and talk about group members instead. To make the scenario easier to talk about, add specific first names. Obviously choose names that aren’t members of the course.


For #2, again, change from colleagues from the development team to members of a small group that is celebrating submission of a major project.


For #3, rather than an all-employee meeting, change the situation to a class meeting. Rather than divisions, have small groups, which are presenting their projects to the class. Sherry becomes a student from one of the groups.


Final Thoughts

Ethical scenarios like those above and those I’ll share in the next weeks can yield strong class conversations. While students may have strong convictions about the situations, there are rarely easy answers. Students must weigh alternatives and negotiate with one another to arrive at consensus.


Next week, I’ll be back with more scenarios. In the meantime, if you have any questions or want to share a scenario of your own, please leave me a comment below.




Credit: Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Cover of the book Bad Ideas About WritingIf you teach writing, you have certainly heard scores of misconceptions about writing, like these:


  • America is Facing a Literacy Crisis 
  • Official American English is Best 
  • African American Language is not Good English 
  • Teaching Grammar Improves Writing
  • Formal Outlines are Always Useful
  • The Five-Paragraph Essay Transmits Knowledge
  • Machines can Evaluate Writing Well
  • Texting Ruins Students’ Grammar Skills
  • Anyone Can Teach Writing


Sometimes they’re uttered by administrators or repeated by politicians. You may hear them from colleagues in other departments who ask you for help. Occasionally you hear them from other writing teachers. Students parrot them, repeating what they have heard from family, parents, and their high school teachers. It’s possible that you may have even thought them yourself at some point.


The next time that you hear one of those misconceptions, head directly to Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball (co-author of Bedford/St. Martin’s Writer/Designer) and Drew M. Loewe, for a myth-busting counter-argument, ready to share with that misled colleague, administrator, or student. The collection includes over sixty essays, divided into eight categories ranging from “Bad Ideas About What Good Writing Is” to “Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers.” The text includes essays from a number of Bedford/St. Martin’s authors, including Elizabeth Wardle (Writing about Writing), Susan Naomi Bernstein (Teaching Developmental Writing), and Beth L. Hewett (The Online Writing Conference, and Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach).


Elizabeth Losh, co-author of Bedford/St. Martin’s Understanding Rhetoric, praises Bad Ideas About Writing, explaining that it “offers its readers a wealth of good ideas for countering the dangerous myths, harmful stereotypes, unfounded folklore, romantic delusions, and fanciful thinking that too often surround questions about how best to improve written expression.”


Bad Ideas About Writing provokes discussion and debate as it meets each misconception with constructive criticism and related research on writers, writing, and how writing is taught. As Ball and Loewe, the editors, explain in the book’s introduction, “We hope that the collection is a conversation-starter, not a conversation-stopper, and we hope that it provides a catalog of support for productive conversations about how and why to stop the bad ideas about writing and start the good”—and that’s why I think it’s a good idea to download this book!


Bad Ideas About Writing is published in whole by the Digital Publishing Institute at WVU Libraries and is free to download.

Detail from Kansas City by Dean Hochman on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseLast week, I offered some suggestions for how to prepare and manage discussions about racism and other difficult topics with students. Inspired by a conversation with Lillian Mina on Facebook this afternoon, I’m following up with a classroom activity with a real-world scenario that involves racism, rather than a fictional situation.


Naturally, there is plenty of room for fictional scenarios and the safety net they provide when we discuss these issues. I plan to share some fictional cases in the coming weeks, in fact. The problem is that those fictional scenarios sometimes feel a bit fake to me. Still, I recognize that they have a purpose. Students can maintain a certain distance when the scenario isn’t real, even though it is based on and likely similar to experiences that students have had, seen, or heard about. A real-world scenario, on the other hand, brings authenticity into the conversation and asks students to consider the real consequences of their discussion and their decisions.


This activity focuses on the scheduled CCCC Convention slated for Kansas City next March and the Update from CCCC on Kansas City, which was sent to CCCC members yesterday. For those not in the know, the Executive Committee of CCCC is searching for the best response to the NAACP travel advisory, warning against travel to and in the state of Missouri. The dilemma focuses on the safety of CCCC members attending the convention, the demands of some members to respect the travel advisory to protect members and protest the conditions that led to the advisory, and the significant financial impact that the association will face if the convention is canceled or relocated.


This situation serves as the backdrop for the activity, but it seems unfair to ask students to choose the best solution. The CCCC Executive Committee is struggling with the decision, and they have been working for weeks even though they have a thorough understanding of the issues at play. Students are unlikely to get beyond a gut-level response in the time devoted to the activity. That kind of superficial decision trivializes the situation and the underlying issues. For that reason, this activity focuses instead on analyzing and revising the Update from CCCC on Kansas City, following these steps:


  1. Ask students to read the document thoroughly prior to class, noting any places that they find confusing or that they have questions about.
  2. Begin the class session by asking students to discuss the situation described in the document and finding answers to any questions that they have. The goal of the conversation isn’t to find answers or weigh the options, but to ensure students have a strong understanding of the situation.
  3. Have students identify the audiences and goals of the document. To start, ask students to share what they can tell from their reading. Provide students additional information about the association, the people who attend the convention, and the reasons that they might attend. Encourage students to look for secondary and tertiary audiences and goals.
  4. Arrange students in small groups, and ask them to consider how the document design fits the goals and audiences for the document. If students need more structure for this conversation, provide these scenarios or similar ones patterned on the audiences and goals they identified:
    • an untenured faculty member of CCCC who submitted a proposal to the convention and only a few minutes between classes to look at the message.
    • a former member of the CCCC Executive Committee who sympathizes with the current members and wants to know how they are proceeding.
    • a graduate student member of CCCC who is planning on going to the convention and wants a fast overview of the important details without having to read the full document in depth.
    • a CCCC member who is concerned about safety at the convention and advocates respecting the travel advisory.
    • a book publisher’s sales representative who is scheduled to exhibit books at the convention.
    As students consider these readers and others they have identified, encourage them to think about how race and gender identity influence how people read the document.
  5. Close the discussion session by asking student groups to share their conclusions and save notes for the next session.
  6. Begin the next class session by reviewing the information from the previous session, and introduce the revision project students are to undertake: Working in small groups, students are to rethink the document thoroughly and make changes to the document design that will help it better fit the needs of a particular audience. Emphasize that students should present the information from the original document with sensitivity to the issues it covers and attention to sharing the details accurately.
  7. You can leave this document design work open, or provide specific revision projects like these:
    • Compose an abstract or executive summary that communicates the main points of the document to a reader who doesn’t have time to read the full document immediately.
    • Chunk the document into an online-friendly series of pages (rather than one giant wall of text) that use document design to increase readability.
    • Convert the document into a slideshow presentation, keeping in mind the TEDblog’s 10 tips on how to make slides that communicate your idea, or the information on slideshow presentations from your course textbook.
  8. Allow groups the remainder of the course session (and additional sessions as needed) to complete their document redesigns. Monitor groups and provide support as necessary.
  9. Once students’ redesigns are complete, have a presentation session, where each group shares the redesign student members have created with the class, explaining their goals and how they changed the document to meet them.


What I like about this activity is that students must engage with the racism, the potential for violence, and the concerns for safety that the document concentrates on. They cannot ignore the situation that brings the document into being, but they aren’t tasked with solving the problem. Instead, they must develop strategies to discuss racism with compassion, fairness, and honesty—and that’s something that the world needs right now.


Next week, I’ll return with some of those fictional scenarios that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Until then, if you have suggestions for talking about racism with students or resources to share, please add a comment below.



Credit: Detail from Kansas City by Dean Hochman on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Multiculturalism by Pug50 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseCurrent events in the U.S. focus far too regularly on activities driven by racist (and antiracist) views and actions. These events are nothing new. Racist acts happen every minute of every day in the U.S. What is perhaps new is the wide media coverage that some events receive. With the rise of citizen journalism, events that would never have made it out of local newspapers become high profile examples of the state of racism in America, and they come not just with first-person accounts, but also with images, videos, and audio recordings that document the prejudice and, frequently, the accompanying violence.


As I reflect on the summer’s events, I am acutely aware that I haven’t done enough to counter and fight against the prevalent racism that I - that we - see every day. With my post today and others over the coming weeks, I hope to begin correcting that shortcoming. To do so, I have been brainstorming writing and discussion projects that ask students to critically examine racist events or racist artifacts and actions. In future posts, I’ll share some of those ideas, but this week, I need to say two things about preparing to explore these issues in the classroom.


First, though we may wish to, we cannot force students to accept and support a particular viewpoint. We cannot require an ideology, but we can ask questions and encourage analysis that persuades students to consider the issues more clearly. The activities that I will share in the future ask students to consider the factual aspects the issue they are exploring, but not to judge the facts or their presentation as good or bad.


Second, when we introduce such topics, we have to recognize that some students will not share our perspective, that they will fall on the “wrong” side of the issue. We have to be prepared then to guide students through fair but honest discussions in ways that avoid emotional or highly-charged confrontations. These resources suggest strategies to manage these conversations:



The most important suggestion these resources make is to be sure that you are well-prepared for the conversations and that you have prepared students as well. Specifically, create classroom discussion guidelines and practice following them in less contentious conversations before moving to more difficult subjects. You cannot guess everything that can go wrong, but you can have classroom management strategies in place that will help you defuse problems before they spiral out of control.


Finally, I want to recommend the AAUP article “Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms,” from the November–December 2016 Academe. The article offers a candid outline of typical ways that racism appears in higher ed as well as some concrete suggestions for self-examination. It urges readers to “recognize your implicit biases and remediate your racial illiteracy,” to “meaningfully integrate diverse cultures and peoples into the curriculum,” and to “responsibly address racial tensions when they arise”—excellent suggestions all. These recommendations are supported by climate studies the authors conducted at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s short and well worth your time.


That’s all I have for this week. Next week, I will be back with some classroom-ready activities on these issues. In the meantime, if you have questions or suggestions about discussing racism in the classroom, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’ll see you next week.




Credit: Multiculturalism by Pug50 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Grumpy Cat dislikes your exclamation pointsAdmittedly, I am guilty of using too many exclamation points in my personal emails and text messages. I do try to avoid them in the email messages that I write to students and my colleagues, however.


I have been even more self-conscious about exclamation points since my summer school class had a discussion about what you should and shouldn’t do in email messages at work. Turns out, there are some pretty strong feelings about whether to use exclamation points at all, where to use them if you must, who you can use them with, and exactly how to use them.


I thought it might be fun this week to share some of the resources the class explored as background readings for the discussion:



Everyone’s favorite was the Hubspot piece. It ends with a somewhat satirical flowchart that suggests you definitely shouldn’t use exclamation points. It’s a fun flowchart, so I want to share it. Click here to see the full-size version.


Should I Use an Exclamation Point? Flowchart from Hubspot


I particularly like the alternative suggestions included in the flowchart. It goes beyond just telling readers to avoid the exclamation point by telling them what they can do instead. It doesn’t hurt that students found it humorous but truthful as well.


Do you have any fun resources for talking about punctuation in the classroom? Please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!—exclamation point intended :)



Credit: Grumpy Cat meme from Meme Generator