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119 Posts authored by: Traci Gardner Expert

Animaker LogoIn my last post, I shared Lumen5, a site that allows you to make short videos by pairing free-to-use images with the text from a webpage or handout. Today, I’m sharing another simple, free tool that you can use to make short videos for the classroom. Edify Animaker offers a suite of tools to create “Animated Videos, Done Right!” The tool boasts an impressive collection of Fortune 500 clients, including Google, Adidas, GE, FedEx, Ebay, and Walmart.

How Animaker Works

Its website describes using Animaker as a straightforward process: “Click and Choose. Drag and Drop. Edit and Play. That's Animaker.” That overview is a bit of an oversimplification, but the process is relatively easy to master. There are two broad ways to go about creating your video: (1) begin with a template for a specific genre of video, or (2) create a video of your own from a blank project file.

If you choose the template option, Animaker asks you to “Click and Choose” one of ten different video templates:

  • Explainer Video
  • Facebook Video
  • Cartoon Video
  • Advertisement Video
  • YouTube Video
  • Birthday Video
  • Christmas Video Greeting
  • Video Presentation
  • Lyric Video
  • Instagram Video

The alternative option begins with the video equivalent to a blank page. After you “Click and Choose” one of these options, you move on to the “Drag and Drop” portion of the project. Regardless of the option you choose, you next can “Drag and Drop” assets into your video, picking from a variety of included characters, properties, and backgrounds. In addition to the included assets, you can upload your own images and sounds (within certain file size constraints) to use in your production.

Finally, you move on to the “Edit and Play” part of the process, adding transitions, setting how much time the assets spend onscreen, and choreographing the various parts of the video. You can preview the video as often as you'd like. When you are satisfied, you export the video. The free option of Animaker allows you to export to Facebook and YouTube. Once the export is complete, you’re ready to share the video with students.

An Example Video

To test Edify Animaker, I created the video below, which addresses the question, What Is the Grace Period in Your Technical Writing Class?

Most of the copy for the video came from course documents, such as the general explanation of the grace period on the course syllabus. The Animaker video did take a bit longer to create than the Lumen5 video, as Animaker's tools are more sophisticated. While Lumen5 videos were a simple combination of background images and overlaid text, Animaker videos include options for backgrounds, characters, properties and text. Each of the assets in an Animaker video can be manipulated for time on screen and beginning and ending transitions.

Constraints of Animaker

Most of the constraints of Animaker are clearly outlined on the Pricing Plans page, which compares four plans (Free, Personal, Startup, and Business). The free plan creates only two minute videos in SD quality. Additionally, the free plan limits users to only five exports per month. As a result, if you use the free version, you must be careful to edit and preview completely before you export to ensure that you do not run out of resources.

Educators can take advantage of the Premium pricing on the Edify-branded version of Animaker. The Premium plan costs $ 0.20 / month for students and $10/month for teachers (billed yearly). The Premium pricing model increases the maximum video length to 30 minutes, allowing for Full HD, HD, and SD quality videos. Further, the Premium plan increases the number of exports to 200 (from five on the free version).

As is typically the case with free plans, Animaker’s most basic plan offers only a limited collection of image and sound assets. This constraint can easily be overcome by uploading your own images and sounds to supplement the basic library. The Premium plan for educators includes the highest number of assets (identical to the Business Plan).

While the free version does not allow you to download the video, savvy users can export the video to Facebook or YouTube and then download from either site in order to create a personal backup or edit with another program (e.g., Camtasia). These downloaded versions will not be as flexible as the project files on the Animaker site.

As was the case with Lumen5, students with visual impairments will need a transcript of the text of the Animaker videos. The text in the video is not readable by a screen reader. That said, downloading the video from the intermediary site may be necessary to customize closed captions and transcripts. YouTube can automatically create captions from the audio soundtrack; however, it will not be able to convert text that appears on the screen alone for the visually impaired.

Final Thoughts on Animaker

The free version of Animaker allows users to create more sophisticated videos than Lumen5 does, including the ability to upload a voiceover recording. Naturally, I prefer to use the free version as long as I can. If I found myself needing additional resources from Animaker, the Premium Plan for educators seems like a reasonable upgrade, for only $10 a month.

Much like Lumen5, Animaker is also simple enough for students to use. I would not use Animaker as students’ very first video production tool; however, once students have created some basic videos using their smartphones or animated slideshow presentations, they would have the skills to step up to the additional features that Animaker offers.

I encourage you to take an hour or two to try out Edify Animaker this summer. You should find yourself able to make a relatively polished video that you can use in the classroom, even with the free version of the tool. Once you try Animaker, come back and tell me what you think. I would love to hear what you think about the features that it offers and how you might use the tool to create resources for your classes.

This weekend, I have been exploring the capabilities of the online tool Lumen5, a web-based tool that you can use to convert any written text to a video. Lumen5 offers to “Transform articles into videos in minutes” on their company website. The end result, Lumen5 explains, is “Social videos made easy.”

How Lumen5 Works

To use Lumen5, you create a project and then begin producing your video. Lumen5 gives you three choices, shown in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of Lumen5 Options for creating a video

As the image shows, the interface is clean and easy to understand. You add the required information by clicking on one of the three options:

  1. You can use an article or blog post by pasting in the link to the document.
  2. You can copy and paste text from any document you have access to.
  3. You can start with an empty video and add text and resources as you go along.

For this post, I am going to focus on what happens when you choose the first or second option. Whether you have pasted in a link or the text for your video, Lumen5 next adds your content to a series of video panes, similar to slides in a slide deck. Each sentence in your content is displayed on a pane. If your sentence is long, it is divided into two panes.

In addition to sorting the text onto the panes, Lumen5 pairs the content with an image (either in public domain or free to use) based on the keywords it finds in the text. For example, if the text talks about writing a paper, Lumen5 will add a photo that shows something related to writing. It might be a photo of a person writing, an image of hands on a keyboard, or a picture of a notebook and pen on a table.

Once the first draft of your video is auto-generated, you can spend time editing the draft by changing the text on the panes and choosing a different image, video, or icon to represent the content. To change the text, you just click on the pane and type. For the images, you choose the media tab, and then you can either search the libraries available in Lumen5 for an image or you can upload media of your own. You can also choose from one of the free-to-use soundtracks or upload your own.

Once you are happy with your video, you click the Render button and wait about ten minutes for the video to process. Once the video is ready, you download the MP4 file and upload it wherever you’d like to share it with your students. Lumen5 even provides a help page on downloading and sharing your video to a various social networks.

A Sample Lumen5 Video

I decided to experiment with a digital handout on my course website that explains the labor-based grading system to students (See Inoue, 2014), paired with a tip-filled infographic on how to do well in the course. The result of my project is the following video:

All in all, I’m quite happy with the results. I spent about three hours on the video, most of which was spent being overly picky about images and the background music.

Constraints of Lumen5

There are some limitations in Lumen5. I used the free version of the tool, which allows you to create an unlimited number of videos in 480p video quality. The free videos do have a Lumen5 logo at the end. If you want to remove that logo or record in a higher resolution, you have to pay a hefty fee of $49/month. For the work that I would do, the free version will likely suffice.

Lumen5 does not allow for voice-over, only the soundtracks as background music. Since the finished video is downloaded as an MP4 file, it is easy enough to open the downloaded file in another program, like Camtasia, if you want to add a voice-over. As there is no voice-over, you do not need to add a closed caption file. All of the text is already on the screen.

Students with visual impairments do need a transcript of the text of the video however. The text in the video is not readable by a screen reader. I created a transcript for my video by copying the text out of Lumen5 and pasting it into a Word document. After applying formatting to make the file easy for a screen reader to navigate, I saved it as a PDF and uploaded it to my own website. Making the transcript took me less than ten minutes overall.

There are some other minor limitations. You have little control over the color of the content on the screen, for example, and it’s difficult to deal with awkward line breaks. Given that the slick tool is free, however, I find these constraints quite bearable.

Final Thoughts on Lumen5

If you are interested in adding some simple videos to your course, I encourage you to experiment with Lumen5. It was a simple enough tool that I would use it with students as well, if you are working on a video assignment. Go visit the Lumen5 website and give it a try; then, please come back and tell me what you think. I’m eager to hear your thoughts about this exciting tool!

Last week, I reviewed several word cloud generators and suggested a few ways that you can use word clouds in the classroom. This week, I am sharing some ways that you can use word clouds in your classes to engage students directly in the learning process. The ten active learning strategies below ask students to move beyond the absorption of ideas typical of a lecture-based class to deep engagement with the ideas and development of relevant content area and critical thinking skills.

1. 25-Word Summaries

With 25-word summaries, students summarize (or otherwise discuss) their reading in 25 words or less. Students must concentrate their ideas and make every word count. Once students submit their summaries, combine them in a single document, and generate a word cloud that reveals the 25 words that students mentioned most. For nonfiction readings, the resulting word cloud can show the main points of the reading, significant facts that are included, and key issues that stand out for students. For fictional readings, the word cloud can reveal significant features from the reading, such as themes and symbols.

The word cloud below is the collected response to the discussion question “What are the main themes in A Raisin in the Sun?” For accessibility purposes, include the table of word frequency, which screen readers will be able to read.

Word Cloud on the themes in A Raisin in the Sun

 

WordFrequency
family    21
african    16
people    14
dream    10
dreams    10
abortion      8
act      8
knowledge      7
raisin      7
africa      6

2. Icebreakers with Survey Responses

Choose your favorite icebreaker question: What’s your favorite food? What’s the last book you read? What kind of texts have you written in the workplace? Ask students to respond with online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter. Both of these tools allow you to present the survey responses in a word cloud, so you do not need any additional software. The cloud appears on the survey website as the responses are added.

3. Directed Paraphrase

Check students’ comprehension by asking them to paraphrase the most recent lesson or activity that the class has completed. Encourage students to put the content of the lesson into their own words, rather than parroting back what they have seen or read in the class. Collect all of the responses in a single document, and generate a word cloud of the most commonly repeated words. Share the cloud with the class and ask them to consider why certain words showed up and why others were missing. Be sure to ask them to comment on how well the word cloud represents the lesson or activity they paraphrased.

4. Prediction

Before students read the next section of an article or chapter of a book, ask them to suggest what they think will happen next. As with other activities, gather the responses in a single document and create a word cloud, which will identify the most popular predictions. Ask students to discuss why certain predications were popular, connecting to the available evidence from the reading they have completed.

5. Muddiest Point

Ask students to write down whatever is most unclear about the lesson, in a word or two, before leaving the classroom for the day. Collect students’ responses and assemble them into a single document, from which you can build a word cloud of the points that most students noted. Open the next class session with the word cloud, and address the concepts that students have identified.

6. Focused List

Build a focused list by asking students to respond to a question about a topic. This strategy can be used to stimulate prior knowledge by asking a question such as “What have you learned about the topic already?” Give students time to brainstorm a list of concepts that they recall, and create a word cloud of the ideas they have shared. Use the word cloud to extend discussion of prior knowledge by asking students to explain the concepts that appear in the word cloud.

7. Version Comparison

As part of a research project, ask students to find two articles on their topic, ideally two that focus on different perspectives. Have students make a word cloud for each of the articles and then compare the two clouds. Specifically, ask which words that the two versions have in common as well as what their most significant differences are. Have students determine which of the most frequently used words communicate facts and which communicate opinion. If there are terms in the word clouds that students have not found elsewhere in their research, encourage them to examine these words further as they relate to the topic.

8. Role Play

Again, set up a survey using online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter, but this time ask students to answer from another perspective. In literature courses, you can ask students to answer as they think one of the characters would respond. The activity can be used as a Prediction activity (#4 above) by asking students to predict what someone in a reading might do next or a decision the person would make. For any reading that students complete, they might respond as the author would. If you are studying argument, students can answer as someone on a particular side of the issue might. These role-playing surveys will result in interesting word clouds that reveal how well students understand whatever they are reading or studying.

9. Quiz-Style Games

For this activity, you create the word cloud yourself. You could choose keywords from a text and manufacture a cloud, or paste in the text of a reading to create a cloud. Ensure that your cloud does not include the title of the piece or other words that would make the source immediately obvious. The word cloud above for A Raisin in the Sun would work for this activity. Use the resulting word clouds to quiz students: By looking only on the cloud, can they identify the piece that the cloud represents? Students could work individually or in teams to propose their answers, similar to a game show. This activity would work particularly well as a review exercise before an exam.

10. List-Cloud-Group-Label

With this modification of the List-Group-Label strategy, you can stimulate prior knowledge as you introduce a reading, a unit of study, or a course theme. Write a word or phrase related to the subject area on the board. For instance, if the course will explore popular culture, you might focus on the word popularity or the phrase popular culture itself. Have students brainstorm related words and phrases using online survey software, like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter (or in an open Google Doc). Make a word cloud of students’ responses. Next, arrange students into small groups, and ask each group to examine the word cloud closely. Groups can add or remove words or phrases as well as decide on whether particular items on the list should have been larger or smaller in the word cloud. Once they have considered the words, ask groups to arrange the words into several related subtopics and to provide a label for each subtopic. Have groups present their subtopics to the whole class and explain their arrangement. The whole class can compare the different subtopics that groups have created. Later in the course, after you have begun your exploration of the reading, unit, or theme, ask students to return to the labeled groups of words and consider how well they relate to the topic as it has evolved during the course.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from these ten ideas, word clouds can be a versatile tool in the classroom. They can be used for analysis, description, summary, and more. Perhaps my favorite thing about these uses of word clouds is that the results are always different. Although my classes may study the same topic or readings from one term to the next, the way that they create and analyze word clouds is always unique—and every so often, they reveal an idea that surprises me.

What are your thoughts on word clouds now that you have seen some ways to use them? Do you have additional strategies to try? Would you complete one of these active learning strategies in a different way? Tell me your thoughts in a comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

Word clouds can give writers helpful information as they revise their work. As I explained in my previous post Word Clouds as Revision Tools, “Word clouds highlight the most frequently used words in a text, using larger font sizes for the words used most often and smaller sizes for those used less often.”

Using Word Clouds

In the writing classroom, word clouds can help students identify words that they have overused or identify themes in their writing. In technical writing classes, I ask students to create word clouds from their job application materials and then evaluate whether the words that they use the most project the image that they want potential employers to see.

In classes that focus on reading, students can use word clouds to analyze passages from poetry, essays, fiction, and other readings. The resulting word clouds can help students identify themes and symbols in the texts, just as a concordance might. Here’s the word cloud for the 50 most frequent words in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

Word Cloud for T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

Once a word cloud like the one above is generated, students can talk generally about the frequently-used words, and then search for the words in the original text to see how they are used.

Problems with the Most Commonly Used Word Cloud Generator

So word clouds can be a fun tool to use in the classroom; recently, however, I have run into trouble when assigning word cloud activities. My go-to tool, Wordle, is no longer working consistently. When I follow their troubleshooting instructions, I end up finding this Java error:

Java error: The Chrome browser does not support NPAPI plug-ins and therefore will not run all Java content. Switch to a different browser (Internet Explorer or Safari on Mac) to run the Java plug-in.

Wordle has been my favorite and the tool that I have seen other teachers use most frequently, but with the end of Java support, I can’t rely on Wordle anymore. I need to find tools that students can use easily and reliably.

Word Cloud Alternatives to Try

After testing several options, I found three alternatives that seem useful:

These three tools create word clouds easily, giving the user the same basic settings. Word Cloud Generator (for Google Docs) is limited in the ways that you can manipulate the layout of the words. For instance, to switch to the landscape layout shown for The Waste Land example above, I had to open the image in Photoshop and rotate it. It’s not a hard change to make, but it is an extra step. Word Cloud Generator includes the unique ability to add a table of the most frequently used words and their frequency of use to the end of the analyzed document. To share this add-on with students, use the How to Create a Word Cloud in Google Docs video and instructions.

Pro Word Cloud (for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint) does allow you to change the layout of the words, giving you a range of options that includes Higgledy Piggledy. I love anything that offers me the chance to make things “Higgledy Piggledy.” This Word add-in falls short, however, since it has no option to exclude words from the cloud. There is a check box to “Remove common words,” but no option to customize the words that are removed. To share the add-in with students, you can use the Create a Word Cloud in a PowerPoint Presentation video and instructions. The instructions are generally the same to install and use the add-in in Microsoft Word.

WordClouds (for web browsers) is the best choice if the source text for your word cloud is a web page or PDF. You can upload a file or enter a web link, and the tool will make a related cloud. WordClouds also includes the largest number of options of the three tools. In addition to the customary settings for the color, font, and the layout of the words, you can change the shape of the cloud (e.g., a heart, an apple, a cat), set the distance between words (or the gap size), and add a mask. The shape option includes not only basic shapes, but also the ability to choose a letter or number as the shape of the cloud and the ability to choose a colorful icon (such as a rainbow). There’s even a sneaky way to track multi-word phrases (e.g., writing center). Just add a tilde (~) between the words (i.e., writing~center). While there is no page of instructions for WordClouds, students can use the Wizard on the site to get started and find the answers to any questions on the FAQ page.

Final Thoughts

I am always looking for more ways to use word clouds in the classroom. They are so easy to create, and they quickly reveal keywords and themes in the analyzed texts. I am working on some additional word cloud activities for next week’s post. If you have an activity to share, please leave me a note below, and be sure to come back next week for those additional assignments that use word clouds.

Ideally, every video that I upload to YouTube has closed captions and a transcript. Unfortunately, things are not always ideal in my world. When I have time, I have been using Screencast-O-Matic to add captions to the videos that I make for my students. Here’s an example video that I made to show students how a new blog commenting system works.

Viewing Tip
Click the closed caption icon that is shaped like a box with lines of text in it, in the lower right band where the controls are, to see the captions on this video. The icon is shown in the image below, all the way to the left.

To make the captions on this video, I used the speech-to-text capability built into Screencast-O-Matic Pro. Unfortunately, you do have to upgrade to use the speech-to-text tool, but the cost is an economical $18 annually. The tool created a rough draft of the captions, but I had to go through and edit them by adding words and phrases that it missed and correcting things that it misheard.

The whole process took a little over an hour, which may not seem bad until you consider the length of the video. The video is only 3½ minutes long, so I spent about twenty times the length of the video to make the transcript. Now extend that time commitment to a 10 minute video, and you need to plan at least three hours. That’s quite an undertaking for something that will only result in 10 minutes of curriculum material.

Fortunately, YouTube includes a setting that allows a video creator to crowdsource the captioning for the videos that she uploads. From my perspective, it’s the most important setting on YouTube. Just follow the instructions to Turn on & manage community contributions and anyone can add captions to your video. The system allows you to review, change, or reject the captions.

I already have an assignment that invites students to crowdsource transcripts. This YouTube setting facilitates their contributions to the course smoothly, and as a bonus, it reduces the work I have to do since the captions are added directly to the videos. In addition, students can contribute by adding to existing captions if they notice a correction is needed. I still plan to create captions for all my videos, but it’s nice to know that these alternatives exist.

Do you have suggestions for improving the process of providing transcripts and captioning for video and audio content? I would love additional ideas and assignments. Please tell me about your ideas by leaving a comment below.

There are 60 million people with disabilities in the US banner by Yahoo! Accessibility Lab on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA licenseWhen students compose assignments, I expect them to pay attention to accessibility in addition to the usual issues of content and format. After all, even the most brilliant document will be unsuccessful if readers cannot access it.

When students are turning in PDF files, the basic process is to create the document in a word processor and then use that word processor file to generate a PDF. To guide this process, students can use any one of dozens of checklists and resources for help. In particular, the Checklist for Making Accessible Microsoft Office and PDF Documents from Johns Hopkins is thorough and includes links to additional information.

The information in such checklists can be overwhelming, however, especially for students who resist the additional step of ensuring accessibility. To simplify the process, I focus on these three steps in my instructions to students:

  1. Use built-in tools for document styles.
    Word processors have built-in style templates for a document’s title, headings, and lists. Screen readers  – software applications that assist sight-impaired users access what is on the computer by means that are not sight-dependent  – look for these templates as a key to the organization of a document. If the document has created its own style markers (say, using a bold, 12-point font for primary headings), the screen reader won’t recognize that information as headings. Beyond making documents accessible for screen readers, the built-in tools create a professional design without any extra formatting work.
  2. Choose meaningful names for hyperlinks.
    Screen readers read all of the links in a document in a kind of menu. These links are read without the surrounding text that provides their context. To ensure that your readers find the right hyperlink, use the name of the document that a hyperlink connects to, rather than vague text like “Click Here.” Because of the way that screen readers read the links, “Click Here” doesn’t make sense since the context is missing. Basically, readers have no idea where “Click Here” will take them.
  3. Use Save As PDF... and never Print to PDF.
    If a PDF does not include text (words and other characters), screen readers don’t know how to interpret the information. That’s the problem with the Print to PDF command: it saves an image of the document rather than the text. The resulting PDF may look the same to someone with sight, but the screen reader can’t use it. Additionally, any special features like embedded hyperlinks will be gone in a document created with the Print to PDF command. Instead, always use the Save As PDF command, which maintains text recognition and features like embedded hyperlink. For extensive information on how to save your documents, I recommend PDF Accessibility: Converting Documents to PDF from WebAIM. Microsoft also has instructions on how to Create Accessible PDFs.

There is much more that can be done to make a document fully accessible, but this bare minimum goes a long way toward ensuring that someone gets at least the basics of what the document is trying to communicate. For other ways that I address access, you can read details on how I tell students about accessibility in my courses as well as how I ask students to crowdsource accessibility documents for the course.

Do you have any activities or instructions that you use to talk about accessibility with students? Tell me about them in the comments below. I’m always eager to find new resources I can use in class.

 

 

Photo credit: There are 60 million people with disabilities in the US banner by Yahoo! Accessibility Lab on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA license.

Since I am currently teaching technical writing, progress reports are on my regular list of assignments this term, but I also use them in both my first-year composition (FYC) and my digital media classes. The assignment works well in the middle of a longer project, be it something like a research project in FYC or a documentary video project in a digital media class.

At its most basic, the progress report is a simple genre with an organizational structure that makes sense to students. I ask students to focus on three sections:

  • Section 1: Tell me what you have done
  • Section 2: Tell me what you still need to do
  • Section 3: Tell me how you will get the remaining work done and let me know about any of your concerns

Students can often accomplish the task in a quick one-page document. The activity works well as an in-class writing exercise, since it requires no research and has a set structure with clear requirements. When students work on progress reports outside of class, I can step up the expectations. For instance, I frequently ask students to include a calendar or a table that shows their remaining milestones or to add specific information that shows their progress.

One of my favorite additions focuses on using visual elements in their progress reports to demonstrate something about the work they have completed or the work they plan to complete. To explain the expectations for this visual addition to the assignment, I post the following description and example on the course website:

Visualize Your Progress

You can often show trends and comparisons with graphical elements better than with text descriptions. Consider the difference between describing the performance of a stock or a portfolio during the last year and showing that performance with a line graph. Here’s an example from the Student-managed Endowment for Educational Development (SEED) 2016 Annual Report [an investment portfolio managed by a student at Virginia Tech]. Which seems easier to read and process to you?

Text Description

The portfolio performed relatively in line or slightly below the respective benchmark until the final quarter, as shown in Exhibit 1. We included the Consumer Price Index as a preservation of spending power benchmark to monitor changes in our real returns. From mid-November to year-end, the portfolio significantly outperformed and finished 2016 with an active return of 5.13%. In order to calculate our risk-adjusted return, we incorporated our portfolio’s beta of 1.2 and historical average for yields on the 1-Year Treasury note (1.84%) in order to compute a CAPM-based implied alpha. This calculation resulted in an implied 2016 alpha of 3.11%.

Line Chart

SEED 2016 Performance

For my money (pun intended), the line chart is much easier to understand quickly. In many circumstances, you will include both a text description and a graphical representation, which helps ensure accessibility for all readers. The point of today’s post is that the graphical version is not just an illustration. It is critical to showing the reader information about the topic.

Think about how you can add graphical representation of information in your progress report. The infographic How to Think Visually Using Visual Analogies from Anna Vital to see a collection of charts and graphs you can use to communicate information. Once you explore the options, add a pertinent visualization to your progress report.

After this reviewing this information, students have improved their progress reports by adding visual elements like pie charts and timelines as well as photos and screenshots that show their work. It’s definitely one of my favorite class activities because it takes students from reflective text descriptions to considerations of visual rhetoric in just one class session. Have you tried an activity that teaches students to make and use visual elements in their writing? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I’d love to hear about what works for you.

 

Image credit: Graph from the Student-managed Endowment for Educational Development (SEED) 2016 Annual Report.

Word Cloud made from the pages of the Labor Resource CenterEarlier this month, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) premiered their Labor Resource Center. The site provides an amazing array of resources on labor equity and equality for both those working with and in writing programs and those researching writing programs.

Housed on Colorado State’s Center for the Study of Academic Labor website, the collection of resources grew from ideas exchanged at a pre-conference institute at the CWPA conference in 2013. Now, five years later, the newly launched center provides artifacts and materials that focus on the labor issues most relevant to writing program administration.

The Labor Resource Center includes example documents and guidelines that can help answer questions such as:

  • What is typically included in a job description for a director of first year composition?
  • What should I pay attention to if I am writing a self-evaluation of my work as a faculty member?
  • What examples are available for student evaluation of teaching?
  • What should a candidate keep in mind during a job interview? What should a search committee consider?
  • What position statements address working conditions?
  • What databases are useful for research on writing instruction and academic labor?
  • What should I read if I want to learn more about working conditions for composition faculty?

As the site explains on its home page, it is “(Always) In progress.” Its Forthcoming Pages/Projects link indicates that the site will ultimately include additional materials including an FAQ page, details on job negotiation, sample contracts, and research on class size.

Whether you are a newcomer to teaching in the composition classroom or an experienced administrator, you will find relevant resources on the CSAL website. I encourage you to visit and explore the already rich collection. If you have suggestions for materials to add to the collection, you can email Seth Kahn, who serves as the chair of the CWPA Labor Committee and is the primary administrator for the site.

 

Image credit: Word Cloud from the CWPA Labor Resource Center by Traci Gardner, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Traci Gardner

Checking the Checkers

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Mar 19, 2018

As teachers and writers, we know that spell checkers, grammar checkers, and style checkers have limitations. Students, on the other hand, sometimes succumb to the promise of accuracy and accept whatever these tools suggest. So how can we convince them to question the advice that they receive?

With my students, I introduce the topic with a discussion of an article that demonstrates the complications that checkers can introduce and a complementary article that discusses the value of accuracy. Here’s the prompt I use, which you are welcome to copy and customize for your classes:

Screenshot of autocorrect on a phone, with the image of a police officer riding a unicornWe all rely on grammar and style checkers to help us find the small errors in our writing. Anyone who has had autocorrect go wrong, however, knows that grammar and spell checkers are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes (as in the case of the unicorn-riding police officer in the meme image on the right) these tools can change our messages to say things we never intended.

In the same way that you must double-check the changes that autocorrect suggests, you have to pay attention to the grammar and style tools that are available in your word processors. Read the Slate.com article Microsoft Word’s Grammar and Style Tools Will Make Your Writing Worse for examples of how Word can suggest changes that will confuse your readers.

Compare the Slate.com piece to the BBC’s article on The true importance of good spelling, which discusses why correctness and accuracy matter by considering how readers react to errors in texts.

Be prepared to discuss the following questions in class:

  • Have you been in situations when you judged someone by their spelling or grammar OR when you were judged on your spelling or grammar? If you are comfortable with sharing, tell us what happened.
  • Have you been a victim of autocorrect gone wrong or an incorrect correction from a spelling or grammar checker? What happened? How did readers react to the autocorrected text?
  • How do your experiences and those that have been shared in class compare to the attitudes toward correctness and accuracy discussed in the BBC article?
  • In what situations are grammar or spell checkers likely to give incorrect advice? Why do these situations lead to mistakes?
  • What suggestions do you have to help people avoid taking bad advice from spell and grammar checkers? What can people do if they are unsure of the advice they are given?

To build on the discussion, follow up with “Mistakes Are a Fact of Life”: A National Comparative Study by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, which is mentioned in the BBC article. Either ask students to read the 2008 CCC article itself or to read some excerpts from the article that demonstrate ways that spell and grammar checkers lead writers to make errors. After reading, have students consider how the categories in the CCC article compare to the different situations they identified in which grammar or spell checkers are likely to give incorrect advice. Encourage students to consider how the categories from the article can help them identify inaccurate advice from spell and grammar checkers.

As students work on drafts for the course, I ask them to note times when they receive poor advice from their word processors. I invite them to share incorrect corrections in a discussion forum. They provide a screenshot of the correction and then explain why the advice is wrong. Ideally, they use the categories from the CCC article to indicate the kind of error that the advice would result in. The resulting examples help the whole class understand the importance of double-checking the advice that spell and grammar checkers provide.

How do you discuss spelling and grammar in class? What activities do you use to help students understand how to use spell and grammar check advice effectively? Please leave a comment below with the details. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Credits: Police Issue Unicorn from Autocorrect Fail. The Lunsford and Lunsford article is from CCC 59:4/June 2008, pp. 781–806.

Supercharge Your Teamwork! InfographicWhen students are asked to work in groups, they may not know what good teamwork looks like. Like anything in the writing classroom, models can help them understand how to collaborate effectively. The challenge is modeling the process for them. I can demo any number of writing strategies as well as provide step-by-step instructions on technology questions. Modeling group work, however, is not a one-person job.

 

Pop culture to the rescue! The infographic to the right analyzes the teamwork strategies of six pop culture teams. It describes the team, identifies the team members, outlines their strategies, and suggests some debriefing notes. It is long and detailed, so you need to click the image to read the full-sized image or view the original on the Inloox site.

 

As students begin working together in their writing groups, I share the infographic above and ask them to compare their own teams to those in the infographic. I invite them to respond to these discussion questions:

 

  • How accurate are the characterizations of the teams in the infographic? Would you change them?
  • Does your team match any of those in the infographic? How well does the infographic team compare to your team? Tell us how.
  • How do the characteristics of teams in the infographic relate to those in the readings for this week?

 

After discussing the infographic, I ask students to brainstorm a class list of other pop culture groups that they are familiar with. If they have trouble getting started, I offer some examples of television shows that feature a team of characters that works together to meet a goal, like NCIS, S.W.A.T, or SEAL Team. If students need additional inspiration, I throw out some categories like teams in anime, teams in movies, and teams in literature.

 

With a list compiled, the class can talk about how the various teams compare to those in the infographic and hypothesize why some groups are more successful than others. The ultimate goal is to find teamwork strategies that students can use as they work together, so I close the discussion by asking students to create a list of techniques to use in their own groups.

 

As an extension activity, students can apply their list of strategies by working in groups to choose a team from the class list and collaboratively design an image that presents the team, modeled on the infographic.

 

Do you have an activity to improve student group work? Please share your ideas in a comment below. I’d love to try your strategies in the classroom.

 

 

 

Infographic from InLoox

Traci Gardner

My Grading System FAQ

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Feb 27, 2018

Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseThis week I want to share an additional resource that I’ve written to help students understand how my labor-based grading system works.

First, though, I want to review the materials that students already had available. I explain the grading system on the course website, on the Requirements page (from the current semester). To help students understand how they are doing in the course, I have a page that outlines How Grades Are Recorded in the course grade book.

I also share two infographics to further the explanation. One describes what happens When Your Grades Are Based on Labor. Another provides a flowchart that shows How Project Feedback Works in a course with unlimited revision.

Even with these resources, students have told me in comments on course evaluation forms that the grading system I use can be confusing. To address the ongoing questions, I created the following FAQs that answer the questions directly:

Grading System FAQ

Why do you use a labor-based system?

I believe that a system that allows you to keep working until you get the results that fit the workplace is more humane than a system that punishes you if you aren’t perfect on the first try.

I know there are lots of situations in the workplace that require perfection. If you submit a bid to a client that has errors, for instance, you may not get a second chance—but that’s in the workplace. You are still in the classroom.

The labor-based system allows you the chance to learn and improve. You can make mistakes and try again. You can take risks, and if they don’t turn out, your grade will still be okay.

How does this system relate to the workplace?

I have worked in quite a few places, and in none of them did I ever receive a letter grade for the work that I did. Never ever. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, my writing was read by others I worked with. Sometimes it was good enough to go out to the intended reader right away. Other times it had to be revised first. Grades just weren’t part of the system.

In the workplace, you are assessed on how hard you work and what you accomplish. Managers expect you to show up, put in your best effort, and accomplish the goals that your company sets. If you do nothing or the bare minimum, you will be reprimanded or fired.

Grades in this course are based on a similar system. You earn your grade based on your labor—on the time and intensity that you put into your writing and collaboration. You are not punished for making mistakes as long as you work to improve throughout the term.

What’s the research behind this system

I adapted this strategy from Asao Inoue’s work on contract grading, labor-based grading, and anti-racist assessment strategies.

You can find additional publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on Inoue’s Academia.edu page.

Why is this system better for students?

The most important benefits of this system are explained in the When Your Grades Are Based on Labor infographic. To summarize those benefits, a labor-based grading system allows you to

  1. Focus on Ideas (Not Mistakes).
  2. Write for Yourself (Not for Me).
  3. Take Risks (Don’t Play It Safe).
  4. Have Do-Overs (No Penalty).

This labor-based system allows you to continue working on your projects until your work reaches the level that would be acceptable in the workplace. Your grade is not affected by what you haven’t learned yet, and you are free to try out ideas as you like.

Why is there no partial credit?

Work in this class is either ready to use in the workplace (and graded Complete) or it’s not ready (and graded Incomplete).

Think of it as a binary system. There can only be 1 or 0, Complete or Incomplete. There isn’t any middle ground, so there isn’t partial credit.

The thing to remember is that when a project is returned as Incomplete, you can always revise it until you do have a piece that is ready to use in the workplace. There is no punishment in the system if your work isn’t quite ready, but there’s no credit either.

How are labor logs part of this system?

You document the time you spend on activities and the level of intensity you put into your work in your labor log. You can think of tracking your work in your log as a parallel to tracking billing codes for what you do in the workplace.

I have no way of knowing what you are working on or even how much you are working in an online class. In a face-to-face classroom, I would see you working in the classroom. I could tell if you were working intensely, working at an average pace, or not working at all. Since I cannot see your work myself, I need you to tell me what you’re doing.

Additionally, you will use your labor log to gather details about your work when you write your final exam. Keeping track of what you do in your log is easier than trying to remember the details of what you did at the end of the term.

Why is there so much emphasis on peer feedback in this system?

In the workplace, you will find yourself reading and commenting on the projects of your coworkers frequently. The peer feedback activities you complete with your writing group give you the chance to learn more about that process. Writing in the workplace is as much about what you write as it is about how you help others with their writing.

Just as importantly, peer feedback helps you improve your own writing in two ways. First, and maybe most obvious, you get advice on your draft that you can use to revise your document. Second, by reading drafts written by your classmates, you can see strategies that will help you improve your own work as well as notice errors that you can later check your own work for.

Naturally, you cannot copy other people’s work; however, you can see useful ideas that you can make your own. For instance, you might read a draft that does a great job with headings. When you return to your own draft, those headings will stick with you, and you can use their example as you revise your own draft.

So what do you think? I haven’t added any details that are not included elsewhere on the site; but perhaps the question-and-answer format will help students find the information.

Do you have any suggestions for clarifying the system? How do you explain your grading system to students? I would love some suggestions from readers. Just leave me a comment below.

 

Image credits: Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

null by Beryl Chan on Flickr, used under public domainIn the workplace, employees write trip reports to document what happened during a business trip. Some companies use those reports to show how the goals for the trip were met. Others use them to share what happened with the rest of the organization. I use a Trip Report assignment in my Business Writing and in my Technical Writing classes, and it can be adapted into a website analysis assignment for a first-year composition or digital literacy course.

The trick to transforming the assignment is to rethink the idea of trips, making the excursion the writer takes into a visit to an online site, rather than a geographical destination or event. With those changes, the rest of the assignment needs only some minor phrasing adjustments.

The Assignment

This assignment is modeled on trip reports, which are used in the workplace to tell coworkers what happened or was achieved on a business trip. For this assignment, you will choose a website that you will share with everyone in the class and then report on your visit to that site by writing an online trip report.

You’ll begin the activity by deciding on a website and choosing a specific reason(s) to visit it. Think of your reason(s) to visit as your research question(s). Next, you will visit the site, looking for the information you identified as the reason for your visit. After you explore the site, you will write a trip report that explains how well the site is likely to meet the needs of people who visit it for the same reason(s) you did. You will share your trip report with the entire class. Your report will provide an analytical review or recommendation.

Step 1: Identify your search questions.

Brainstorm a series of questions related to your online visit. These questions will guide your project. Your research questions do not have to be complicated, but they should require more than a simple answer. You should be able to break the guiding question down into a series of sub-questions. Here is an example:

Instead of ThisTry This
Guiding Question
How much is admission to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?
Guiding Question
How much should I budget for a trip to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?

Sub-Questions
  • How much does it cost for admission?
  • How much does it cost to stay at a Disney resort? Are gratuities included?
  • How much should I budget for meals?
  • What special events will be taking place during the time I am thinking of visiting?
  • How much should I budget for special events?
  • How much should I budget for other expenses?

Step 2: Choose a website for your project.

Once you have your search questions ready, choose a site where you believe you will find the answers. You can choose any website that includes both visual and text content. Your site must meet the following criteria:

  • Appropriate for the classroom.
  • Free and open (no login required).
  • Professional (not a personal site).

Good choices for this assignment include these kinds of sites:

  • an official university site.
  • a university-related site (such as a club site).
  • a professional association’s site.
  • a nonprofit organization’s site.
  • a corporate site for a company you might work for.
  • a news media or journal site.

If you are unsure whether the site fits the questions that you have identified, skim through the site to determine whether it includes the kind of information that you are looking for.

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and format for your report.

Read the following resources for information on writing trip reports:

Additionally, read the details on memo format, since your project should look like a trip report from the workplace. You can also read about memo format in The Business Writer’s Handbook or The Handbook of Technical Writing.

Step 4: Go on your trip: visit the website, and gather information for your report.

With the preliminary work taken care of, you can begin work researching the questions you identified above in Step 1 on the website. Check out the pages linked to the site’s main navigation. Browse the information on the site, looking for the answers to your question and paying attention to the supporting details and other related information.

To provide evidence of the answers to your search questions in your trip report, you identify specific details. Take notes on what you find and gather any materials that you can use as you write your report. For instance, you might take some screenshots, copy important passages, and note important page links. Remember to keep track of where your information comes from so you can cite your sources in your report.

Step 5: Write your Trip Report.

Write your trip report in your word processor, using memo format. The length of your report will vary, according to your search questions and the information you found on the website. There is not a minimum or maximum page length. Write as much as you need to, but be sure to include all of the required information.

Your trip report should include the following information:

  • the goals for the trip (your website visit).
  • what you actually found during your visit.
  • the lessons learned from your visit:
    • What made the site a good (or bad) resource for your search questions?
    • What features on the site indicated that the creators were thinking of you as an audience?
    • What about the site worked well?
    • Would you recommend the site to someone with similar questions? Why, or why not?

Include concrete details from the notes you took during your website visit to support the information in your trip report. You can quote or paraphrase information from the site. Insert the screenshots you took to illustrate your points (be sure to crop out irrelevant information in the images).

Once you have a complete draft, check the information in your report to determine whether you have included the answers to your search questions and the information required for the report, listed above. When you are sure you have met the requirements, proofread your report and turn it in.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Closing Thoughts

This trip report assignment upgrades the basic analytical essay. Students will still complete an analysis project, but the trip report format adds interest for students already looking ahead to the workplace. Further, by asking them to work with a different genre, students necessarily get beyond the comfort of the five-paragraph theme.

You can further adapt this assignment if you ask students to take online field trips. For instance, you might ask students to explore a genre or period of art on an art museum website. They can report their findings in a trip report.

Do you have unusual writing assignments that work well for you? I would love to hear about what you have tried and what’s worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!

Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week, I wrote about Online Identity Revision Plans. Today, I want to share a focused activity that fits online identity revision as well as revision in any writing classroom. This activity is modeled on the 1–3–5 rule used in planning and to-do lists. The goal is to change revision from an overwhelming challenge to fix everything into a targeted plan to improve the document.

The 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists

Using the system, you divide your to-do’s into three categories:

  1. Simple tasks that are easy to complete.
  2. Medium tasks that take a little more work.
  3. Large tasks that take more time and require more effort.

As this Post-It Note article explains, “A small task might be washing dishes after dinner, while a large task might be preparing your garden for spring.” After you prioritize your tasks, you create a to-do list for the day that includes one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks. The Muse shares a simple template to structure the to-do’s in their article “A Better To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Rule.”

Applying the 1–3–5 Rule to Revision

It’s fairly straightforward to adopt the 1–3–5 rule as part of a revision activity:

  1. Ask students to prioritize their revision tasks into the three categories:
    1. Simple tasks
    2. Medium tasks
    3. Large tasks
  2. Choose tasks to complete: one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks.
  3. Focus on those nine tasks in your revision.

Easy-peasy, right? Students determine what counts as simple, medium, and large, and then they follow their plans to revise their drafts or online identity. As teachers, we know that what is simple for one writer may be quite large for another, so this system works well for differentiated instruction. Students are in control, choosing what fits their needs. With the same structure as the to-do list version of the rule, students can even use The Muse template (above) as a handout.

Customizing 1–3–5 Revision

If students in the writing classroom need more structure than the open version of 1–3–5 Revision provides, you can easily customize the activity to fit your course. Rather than simple, medium, and large tasks, describe kinds of revision. For instance, focus on the difference between surface-level changes and deep revision with this 1–3–5 Revision schema:

  1. Conceptual Change: Think about changes to your overall idea and development. You might change your thesis or supporting paragraphs. This change will require working throughout the draft to change the way the ideas are conceived.
  2.  
  3. Structural Changes: Consider how the document is put together. You might rearrange ideas or work on how sentences work together. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence variety in your introduction.
  4.  
  5. Surface Changes: Focus on style and mechanics. You might look at word choice or a particular comma rule.

Another option for 1–3–5 Revision activity focuses on where the revision effort is centered, like this example:

  1. Paragraph Level: Think about changes you can make to your paragraphing that will strengthen your draft. For instance, you could think about a way to unify your paragraphs or about a strategy that improves paragraph openings.
  2.  
  3. Sentence Level: Look at how sentences work together to improve the draft. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence length by combining sentences, or a goal to make the phrasing concise and direct.
  4.  
  5. Word Level: Examine the individual words in your draft with a goal to increase their effectiveness. You might consider whether the words in your draft are concrete and specific, and make changes to improve the phrasing, such as deleting filler words.

These custom versions simply help students with the process of prioritizing their revision plans by showing them which kinds of revision are valued and the amount of effort that they should apply. Surface changes should be simple tasks while conceptual change should be a large task. Like the 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists, the specific attention to prioritizing according to guiding categories should increase the effectiveness of students’ revision plans.

Keep Revision Active and Specific

No matter what kind of 1–3–5 Revision strategy you try, encourage students to keep their 1–3–5 plan active. ProfHacker’s “3 Ways to Makeover Your To-Do List” begins with the suggestion to “Start Each Task With a Verb.” This strategy stresses the action involved in the revision task rather than the end result or a need that should be met. Rather than adding “details” as the one large revision task, for instance, begin with a verb that says what to do about or with details. The actively-phrased task on the 1–3–5 plan might be “develop concrete details in the body paragraphs.”

Active phrasing has to be paired with specific and well-focused ideas. A writer might list “work on concise phrasing.” While that idea begins with a verb, the writer still has to figure out how to “work” on that phrasing. What exactly is she going to do? She could strengthen her revision plan by specifying exact strategies to apply to the draft, such as “delete unnecessary filler words, such as really and very.”

Final Thoughts

The 1–3–5 rule structures revision in a way that asks students to think more deeply about the work they need to do on their drafts. The strategy requires that students move beyond the idea of making corrections. It requires them to choose tasks that are more than simple editing and proofreading. While making the revision process move beyond surface errors in concrete ways, this 1–3–5 activity also makes the revision process specific and manageable. There are just nine tasks to complete, and at the end of the activity, the student should have the satisfaction of a checked-off list of to-do’s.

What do you think of this revision activity? Are you willing to give the 1–3–5 Revision strategy a try? Do you have revision activities that work well with students? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

Photo credit: Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia Commons, used under public domain.

Several years ago, I developed a revision plan assignment, based on information I first found on Kristin Arola’s website and that is also discussed in Writer/Designer, the textbook I was using for a multimodal composing course I was teaching at the time.

In my version of the activity, students wrote a revision plan for their websites instead of rewriting the sites. I certainly believe students benefit from rewriting and revising, but there are situations where it’s not practical or even possible to have students revise a project. This week, I want to discuss using this strategy to ask students to evaluate their online identity and make a plan to improve it.

Why Plan Instead of Revise?

In the case of online identities, students won’t have time to demonstrate concrete improvements to their online identity beyond simple and cursory changes. It takes a while to remove problematic photos, eliminate troublesome websites, and delete questionable social media accounts. The Internet has a long memory unfortunately.

Further, cleaning up your online identity requires an ongoing process, so students need to develop a plan to continue monitoring their online identities so that they can take action when necessary. Creating a long-term plan will be more useful than making a few short-term fixes.

Why Does Online Identity Matter?

Chances are that students already know that their online identity matters. If students completed the project to research a public figure’s online identity, they have already had a chance to think about how what they post online and what others post online about them shapes what people think about them.

You can use the infographic (full-size version) on the right, from kbsd, to review the importance of establishing a strong, positive online identity. Sections 1, 2, and 3 directly address why online identity matters and how it can affect a person’s career.

Once students understand the goal for the revision plan, they’re ready for the assignment.

The Online Identity Revision Plan Assignment

  1. Ask students to begin by assessing their online identities. If they mapped their online identities, they can return to their maps as a starting place.
  2. Have students explore their identities by using the tips in the “Stay on Top of Things” category of Section 4 of the infographic. The class can brainstorm additional online spaces to check.
  3. Encourage students to gather all evidence they find—the good, the bad, and the neutral. Everything they find will contribute to the plan they make.
  4. Provide the following brainstorming questions to help students gather ideas for their revision plans:
    • What are the strengths of your online identity that you want to be sure to keep?
    • What aspects of your online identity are problematic, and how can you change them to improve your reputation?
    • What is the balance among good, bad, and neutral information about your identity? What can you do to ensure there is always more good information than bad?
    • How secure are your accounts? Do you need to make changes?
    • What personal information is online about you that shouldn’t be?
    • What positive achievements have you made that you can add to your online identity?
    • How much is your online identity affected by family and friends? Do you need to work with others to improve your identity?
  5. Once students have assessed their online identity and worked through the questions above, ask them to write a revision plan that outlines how they will work to improve and/or maintain their online identity.
  6. Discuss possible organization structures as a class to help students get started, such as the following:
    1. Go site by site (e.g., Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram).
    2. Arrange the plan chronologically, focusing on immediate plans, short-term plans, long-term plans, and so forth.
    3. Organize the plan by kinds of information, like factual information on profiles, images, and subjective information in blog posts and status updates.
  7. Share expectations for the project with students to ensure they understand the project. Students are probably more familiar with actually revising projects than with creating revision plans. Emphasize these ideas:
    1. Students are writing a revision plan memo. They are NOT actually revising their online identity (though obviously, you should encourage them to take that next step in their own time).
    2. The best submissions will go beyond providing a cursory answer to the brainstorming questions. They will show a concerted effort to rethink their online identities and improve them.
    3. The best responses will talk not only about what changes are needed, but specifically how to change things.
    4. Students can include whatever makes sense for their revision plans (e.g., mock-ups, a revised online profile, a chart showing a new design or structure).

Any Ideas to Add?

How do you address online identity? What concerns do students share? Do you have activities to encourage students to pay attention to how they are represented online? Please leave me a comment below with the details. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Image credit: Infographic created by kbsd on the Visually site. Embed code and larger image available on Visually.

a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseBefore Winter Break, I began a series of activities on digital literacy, inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative. I first asked students to create definitions of digital native and digital literacy and to explore the relationship between digital literacy and online identity. With these basics taken care of, I challenged students to research a public figure’s online identity and then to map their own online identities. This week, I begin sharing writing assignments and activities that ask students to explore their personal connection to and perspectives on these ideas.

I particularly love writing activities that ask students to explore and share their backgrounds as writers because they allow me to learn so much about what students need to succeed in the class. Similar activities that ask students to tell us about their backgrounds with digital literacy can teach us volumes as well.

When we think about how students adopt and interact with technology, we can easily be tricked by stereotypes and general beliefs rather than exploring the diversity of strategies and practices that students employ. In this week’s activity, I ask students to share their beliefs and experiences with digital literacy creatively by choosing metaphors that represent their use of digital literacy tools and then explaining themselves in an extended digital literacy narrative that focuses on that metaphor.

Discussing Extended Metaphors

I know composition students are familiar with metaphors from their previous English courses, but they will do better with this assignment if we spend some time exploring how the symbolism works with these figures of speech. An easy introduction is the famous Forrest Gump bus stop scene, where Forrest explains that “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” A short clip of the scene is included below:

The clip should quickly activate students’ prior knowledge of metaphors and how they work. The Purdue OWL’s Using Metaphors in Creative Writing provides a summary of how metaphors work with examples from literature. You can continue the conversation about metaphor, if you like, with a classic literary example, such as these poems:

Choosing Digital Literacy Metaphors

Once students are confident about how extended metaphors work, they can begin thinking about their own metaphors. Here are the steps I use:

  1. Begin in one of the following ways. If students are not comfortable writing about their own experiences, ask them to write about their general impressions or about the identity or experiences of someone they know or have heard about.
     
    1. If students mapped their own online identities, you can begin with their maps, asking students to identify information on their maps that could be represented by metaphors. They can think about the way that they work in or interact with others in one or more of the places they have mapped.
    2. Ask students to brainstorm about places they go online and the ways that they (or others) work or interact in these places. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about how they might represent the work, interaction, or places with a metaphor.
    3. Have students brainstorm about specific interactions or experiences they have had in digital spaces. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about metaphors they might use to represent these experiences.
  2. Consider the ways that metaphors are typically used to discuss our use of digital technology. The following articles provide useful observations for your discussion with students:
     
  3. To inspire students, share these categories of metaphorical comparisons, emphasizing that any metaphor will work as long as students support the comparison with specific details:
     
    1. an animal (such as a cheetah, a chameleon, a panda, or a shark)
    2. a pet (such as a bulldog, a kitten, or a betta)
    3. a vehicle (such as a tractor trailer, a backhoe, a hybrid car, or a bicycle)
    4. a sports-related object (such as a snowboard, a bowling ball, a softball bat, or a
    5. a sports event (such as a basketball game, an Olympic competition, a NASCAR race, or a triathlon)
    6. an everyday action (such as cooking a meal, cleaning out a closet, playing a game, or weeding a garden)
  4. After you share some of the basic comparisons above, invite students to brainstorm additional categories and comparisons of their own. Once they finish gathering ideas, students should have plenty of options to choose among for their project. Naturally, encourage students to feel free to make their own choices as well. Emphasize that they are not limited to class list.

Writing about Digital Literacy with Metaphors

Once students have explored how metaphors work and collected a list of possible metaphors, ask students to create a project that explains or presents their metaphor to readers. Students might pursue any of these options:

  • an academic paper that explains the metaphor
  • a poem that presents the metaphor
  • a collection of quotations from news outlets, pop culture resources, and other media that invoke the metaphor
  • a fable that tells of an event, interaction, or experience, using the metaphor
  • a child’s picture book that explores the metaphor
  • an infographic that presents the metaphor
  • a mythic creation tale that describes how the writer learned about a digital literacy practice
  • a series of Instagram posts that explores the metaphor
  • an online museum display that demonstrates the metaphor
  • a movie trailer that teases viewers about a feature presentation of the metaphor

The class can brainstorm additional options if desired. Alternately, you might narrow the options available to focus the assignment more tightly. Whatever option you choose, encourage students to explore their own understanding of digital literacy and their experiences in digital spaces.

Any Ideas to Add?

I would love to hear how you would try this activity with students. Please tell me! Just leave a comment below with the details, and come back next week for another writing activity that explores digital literacy.

 

Photo credit: a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license