Visual Rhetoric Assignment(s)

After presenting a particular textbook’s approach to images as a typical essay assignment about reading, rather than creating images (a point he has made a multiplicity of other times within the text), Rice in The Rhetoric of Cool asks,
Why don’t these authors ask students to write their own set of images? (152)

Possible Prompts
Rice suggests possible prompts to use with or instead of the reading image assignment in the book:
“compose with a series of iconic gestures” in a similar way to the ad presented
“critique the ad through your own ad”
“complicate the ad’s ..message by juxtaposing new images which challenge the ad’s stance”
“use the ad’s logic of juxtaposition to create your own series of ads” (152)

wordpress-icon“[A]ssemble iconic imagery into a space like a Web site … in order to construct an argument, present a position, express an idea, or perform any other rhetorical act” (152).

“[A]sk students to compose an autobiographical statement only with visual icons” (152).

For an example he presents the Absolut Vodka ads (which I have seen often in visual rhetoric presentations at PCA and SCMLA).
“These juxtapositions work with familiar icons” (153).
“[S]tudents use them as models in order to construct a series of iconic self-portraits, advertisements for themselves” (153).

Digital Presentations This Semester

The digital presentations are an important component of the writing classes I teach as they offer the students an opportunity to present information they have gathered (from the research paper for fyc) or created (for the commercial analysis for fyc).

They are also important components in my literature classes where they review what we learned in class (as students present their digital presentations on a work or aspect of a text that we read for class, where the videos serve as a unique review for the comprehensive final exam for British literature) or introduce students to an additional work (Old English Readings). They are rhetorically remixing and composing with a real-world medium.

These digital presentations have always been opportunities for the students to learn new technologies and to master information they have already been exposed to, but this semester, particularly, I have been delighted to see the students’ creativity as they have taken the assignments and used their particular giftings to make them phenomenal.

One of the students in my Old English readings course created all the images for her digital explication of the Harrowing of Hell (an Old English text that she read out of class and was introducing to her classmates). Whoo too!

One student in fyc created the video to parallel her research project out of a series of twenty interviews she filmed with teachers, administrators, and students at her high school alma mater regarding the soon-to-be-implemented school uniform policy. Last semester I had a journalism major who regularly interviews people for a television show and whose final project for Business Writing was a video; while it was good, this freshman project is another level beyond it.

One freshman student’s research was on the various forms of child abuse and the signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Her video was particularly poignant, with students commenting on her incredible invocation of pathos through text, images, and sound. I had written in my notes that the music was perfectly aligned—in both rhythm and meaning—for the presentation topic; soon after the presentations were shown I learned that she created and performed the music for her digital presentation.

Digital presentations are a different type of composition and aren’t specifically “writing” as we have known it. These compositions, however, add a strong rhetorical component to the writing classes, allow for introduction and recall of texts for the literature classes, and add the possibility of students showing their creative gifts, in addition to encouraging students to develop the skills to use the types of media they watch and interact with all the time.

Web 2.0 Collaboration in Bus Comm

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0Beuchler, Scott. “Using Web 2.0 to Collaborate.” Business Communication Today 73 (2010): 439-43. Web. 15 January 2014.

Beuchler added a blog to the final report project, which is a collaborative assignment. Group photos, the class naming the blog, required postings, and the information for those posts were part of the assignment. Teams of students related by industries they examined were required to create a video, which was also posted to the blog. After five companies made it to the finals, based on classroom voting and recommendations, students had to read posts on the five companies and add a comment arguing for the company they would choose to support. Beuchler found that the blog facilitated group decision making, allowed students to demonstrate their ability to use technology, and reinforced the responsibility of ideas.

typingThis is a fairly simple addition to the final report project, but apparently Beuchler had great success with it. Following the work of Cardon and Okoro, however, it indicates a use of technology not common in the business world. However, despite Cardon and Okoro’s arguments, learning an additional technology–even if it is not used in work–can be a positive benefit as students recognize their ability to learn and use technology and can claim facility with it as a skill on their résumé.

When I first read the summary, I thought the article would be a waste of time. However, I have been considering creating a blog (on my own website) that students would have access to and could add the information that they create for the freshmen. Then I could offer my own students (and others) the opportunity to peruse the website and use the information they find there. That is still a possibility for implementation in spring 2014 and is certainly doable by fall 2014.


Assessing New Media Compositions

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0Sorapure, Madeleine. “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions.” <em>Kairos 10.2 (2005). Online journal. Web. 6 November 2013.

Since computer use changes the writing experience, the article argues that assessment must also change and suggests that the litmus test should be the effectiveness with which the modes (image, text, sound) are combined. Discussions of assessment indicate the importance of new media, but many assessments are based on the print component. The strategy of borrowing from other fields to teach and assess, Sorapure argues, decontextualizes the guidelines from their own field and puts rhetorical theory at risk of marginalization. Sorapure constructs a definition of new media as a combination of modes and the combination both creates and defines the “coherence in digital texts.” She then argues that metaphor and metonymy are two primary meaning-making activities. Her presentation of the student assignment is straightforward: create a collage illustrating Ginsberg’s quote on controlling the image to control the world using Photoshop. Visually all of the work is pleasing, but as a multimodal composition activating both metaphoric and metonymic relationships between verbal and visual is the most effective; Sorapure provides student examples and her assessments. She then introduces a second assignment (with links) and assesses them in the same way.

The argument for multimodal assignments to be assessed beyond the written is strong. The inclusion of specific examples and developed narratives of assessment is helpful. Problematically the assessment is not quantitative and is only one element, which Sorapure discusses. She mentions technical or aesthetic challenges as possible other elements. This assessment model is insufficient to stand alone, but does add depth to multimodal assessment.

This assessment could be added to my assessment rubric for digital storytelling without difficulty. It would add a level of complexity to the assessment which could possibly allow the better videos to be more accurately described.

“Metonymy designates a relation based on combination; modes can be metonymically related when they are linked by an association, as when lines from a poem are combined with a melody from a song. It is a relation based on contiguity between elements in different modes.”

RrNm Ann Bib

Considering Creative Projects

I am considering assigning creative projects as part of an upper division course in Old English Readings (in translation). –Actually the course is Brit Lit up to 1700, but we are ending in 1385 and concentrating on Old English.

I want to do this because it has been a while since I’ve had a creative project and I know they turn out well. (See The Best Final EVER for evidence.)

Zummara_Medieval dueling musicians WC pdThings I have considered as possibilities (to offer students an option) include:
a quire of hand-written magical incantations based on readings about definitions of licit and illicit magic and the few charms we are reading
an illuminated manuscript of a short poem–with poem and illumination provided by student
a needlepoint of a scene from Bayeux Tapestry (saw one done by a high school student who had been failing before his imagination was fired up!)

Then I thought about how much I enjoyed learning medieval weaving at Maker Faire and creating a chain mail bracelet and a viking weave bracelet. So, I followed the suggestions of my spouse, and got on YouTube to renew my acquaintance with something interesting. I found three very different presentations of the viking knit using craft wire:
without words
Blue Kitty’s Creations
Potomac Bead Company version
Beadaholique’s version, which though I like their videos, this seems a little too much “use our product–which doesn’t seem easier than doing it yourself
and a useful, but annoying because it gives all the product numbers, version from Jewelry

I thought about creating my own creative projects as examples.

I have lots of medieval costumes. I could stage a fashion show and do a video to present to the class.
I found some amazing Viking miniatures on ebay and if I were endlessly rich I would purchase many and some Celtic miniatures and Roman, etc, and stage a map of England through the ages with the miniatures being the different people groups. Then I would do a photography timeline.
My husband has hundreds of incredible images from RenFair and other shoots. I have dozens. I could put those into some kind of digital presentation with an appropriate narrative or a selection of medieval music or both.
I could cook a medieval feast and serve it on pewter dishes (for the rich) or bread trenchers (for the rest of us).
I could pull out my collection of medieval stories and saints’ lives and create kid-appropriate versions.
I have already created slideshows of illustrations of Judith and Beowulf. Perhaps I could use those somehow.

What would the parameters of the assignment be? How would I make sure that the students all did commensurate work and did not (as I know one student did the last time I tried something like this) write a poem five minutes before class and get an A, because they were an excellent poet?

Digital Presentations

I teach an early British literature course for sophomores.

When I arrived at my university, I was told that we were encouraging technological involvement as part of the classroom experience. As part of that, I created an iBook for the course. Also as part of that, I began requiring a digital presentation.

In its early iterations the digital presentation was part of a longer assignment. The students chose a character from the readings of the semester and created a musical playlist for that character. They wrote an essay explaining how each song related to the character. Then they created a video using audio, text, and images to remind the rest of their classmates about the character. They were supposed to use the songs they had come up with for their playlist as part of the audio.

This semester my British literature class decided to follow the class plans of two of my colleagues and we had weekly literary analyses as well as an increased number of exams. There were no longer essays required. When I introduced the digital presentations, I showed examples of the earlier iterations students had presented.

At some point, very early in the assignment (after I showed examples, but while we were still in class being taught how to use iMovie), one of the students asked if they had to focus on the music for their videos. I said no, particularly since we didn’t have the playlist assignment.

The great thing about the digital presentation assignment is that we watch these the final week before exams (so we just finished them this week) and the students have a great review for the final.

The range of videos I received this semester was impressive. A lot of them, probably even the majority, still followed the previous classes’ model. However, there were some that were very different.

One student covered Sir Gawain using Joseph Campbell’s mono myth, which I had introduced in the class during the Old English readings.

One student wrote out a script for Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and told the story of the play from Miranda’s point of view. Even better, she explained what life was like as the future queen of Naples/Italy, having grown up almost alone on an island.

Another student looked at Gulliver’s Travels using the Neoclassical exam question on Lilliput and Brobdingnag and compared Gulliver’s experiences in living accommodations, with royalty, and with showing off for and being shown off by his hosts.

One student made a video and did a modern rendition of Everyman using Death and Everyman as the only characters, but talking about quite a few of the other characters–so that the audience was able to reconnect ideas.

A different student presented a video on The Dream of the Rood with pictures that at least one student said helped them understand the poem for the first time.

Several students chose sonnets to read and illustrate. –One even managed to finagle one of my colleagues into being the reader for the poem, so that the student’s voice wasn’t on the video!

One student compared the values of the Old English and Middle English periods, using Judith and Sir Gawain as her examples.

Another student told The Wife’s Lament in a modern explanation, with amazingly beautiful images. The rendition she gave actually combined two of the scholarly readings of the poem. (There are at least three.)

One student took video clips off of and added text and music to explain “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales. The other students really liked her use of video rather than still images to create her presentation.

Since I had 48 students in those two classes, there were lots of other examples.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this iteration of the assignment even more than the playlist version. While many of the students created a playlist digital presentation, they weren’t limited by that in scope and so their creativity was expressed.

Two Texts Essay: Song Lyrics v. Music Video

Yesterday I was checking my email and discovered an email I had missed from last month.

The author wrote:

I am an adjunct at a community college. I am gearing up for my Fall semester and have been searching the web for new essay ideas for my FYC class. I came across your blog and was wondering if you would mind elaborating a bit on your assignment posted back on May 8th of this year. I am interested in the Lyric and Video comparison essay. I guess I am just wondering since most videos follow their song’s stories what they were comparing–were their contrasts as well as similiarities? Also how long was this essay? … I was just hoping you could give me a little more information.

Oops! I hadn’t seen it. I sent her an email yesterday, but I thought I would post here so that others who might be interested could see the information.

She was referencing a retrospective post that said this:

Thankfully I have an amazingly gifted colleague, Dr. Mikee Delony, who shared her assignment for this paper. She came up with the idea of comparing the lyrics of a song with an official music video for the work.

I introduced the idea using Tata Young’s “Cinderella” and Randy Travis’ “I’m Going to Love You Forever.” An interesting aspect of these two sets of lyrics, which was serendipitous, was that they both have a “they say/I say” aspect—which is the name of our new text for the course and a focus for the class. “Cinderella” says “My momma used to read me stories…. I’m going to rescue myself.” Excellent way to begin this discussion! Then Travis’ song says “They say that I’m … I’m no longer one of those guys.” That allows us to talk about reputation and change, something that students in a residential college setting may well have to deal with.

The assignment was very successful. The students enjoyed it because they were allowed to pick any music and the videos, it turns out, were sometimes quite bizarre. I think some of the students went looking for really odd videos to start with!

HeadphonesThe students don’t have any trouble at all finding videos that aren’t exactly like the lyrics or that are unexpected. A lot of music videos don’t follow the song as well as one might think. Yes, the creators knew the song when they put it together, but they didn’t necessarily design it in an expected manner.

As I mention, I start with two examples. We use Randy Travis’ “I’m Gonna Love You Forever.” We read the words of the song and talk about what we would expect from the music video. Older folks might think of Grease. There should be a young man singing to a young woman, or maybe even starting out they are young but then later they are middle aged and old. It should be about a couple. It should mostly have only them in it. It might have some shots of old men and old women sitting around talking.

Then I play the music video. It’s a guy singing at his sister’s wedding. Not what you are expecting, though there are some definitely sweet moments. “Honey, I don’t care. I ain’t in love with your hair. If it all fell out, I’d love you anyway” accompanies a shot of a woman kissing her husband’s bald head. Turn about is fair play.

Then we look at the words for Tata Young’s “Cinderella.” What do you expect? This is a song about someone not being a captive. It is about an empowered woman who is taking charge of her life. I would expect video of a woman whose life is filled with connection: friends with whom she meets regularly for coffee or meals, family with whom she stays in contact, a job that she is good at and is obviously respected in.

Then we watch the music video. Do you expect a girl in a bed? In very frilly girly clothes? A bed like a cage? No, so we talk about the rhetoric of the video.

After students find the song and video they are going to use, they take their song and list out lines, what they expected to see from that, and then what the video showed. Sometimes this is very different and sometimes it is not. I would hope that the students would write their expectations down first, but I am sure some students did not do that.

Two examples of the pre-writing exercise:
Blown Away Carrie Underwood
We are never getting back together

The second song actually has two videos, both official as far as I can tell. One has strange animals showing up at regular intervals. It is definitely unexpected as the animals are never explained and, while we tried, neither the student nor I could come up with a rational explanation that showed why the animals needed to be there or how what types of animals were chosen.

Honeymoon Inn musical cover WCThen the students wrote the paper.

The paper is 3 to 4 pages long.

Students enjoyed reading the papers that others wrote during the peer review process and for fun you might add a class period where everyone watches each other’s music videos and writes down things that they see in it. (After the student has done the prewriting.) This gives more ideas and might add depth to the paper. I haven’t done that for this particular assignment, but I have for a different one and it worked out well.

Just in case you are interested, here is the Two-Texts Essay Rubric I use to grade the final essay.

FYC, 2nd Semester, Retrospective

New Class, Again
Having moved to my university just last year, and having had to adjust to teaching totally different sources and works, I was not pleased to hear that the class was changing (again!—for me, but for the first time for everyone else). I was going to have to follow a common syllabus. I could not teach any introduction to literary analysis. The work on RAs (rhetorical analyses) that I spent so much time on last year was basically worthless.

Creative Commons image, by Equazcion
Creative Commons image, by Equazcion
I was not happy.

After a semester of working with the common syllabus, despite the fact that I am still upset about a common syllabus and am not allowed to add or change any major papers, I am less frustrated. The new coursework has definite advantages.

The Major Papers

PeopleResearch retrospective:
First, there is a research retrospective, a reflective essay, for the students. It requires them to think about and articulate what they have learned about research in previous classes. This is useful because it ties work they have already done in college (and perhaps in high school) into the work we are doing in this particular English course.

This is the only optional paper in the series and I talked to my students about what I had intended to do and how I had considered handling the paper. Then I allowed the class to vote on whether we would write the paper or not. (Research suggests/shows that giving students control over their coursework can improve outcomes.)

Both of my classes decided that they would take the research retrospective and make it an extra credit option. I like this idea because it still gets a lot of people to think and it gives me a low stakes introduction to the students’ abilities to write. I gave it four homework grades (content, development, organization, and grammar/mechanics) and students got ahead on their averages long before most homework assignments were even listed.

What I liked about the research retrospective was that it gave me an introduction to the better writers in my classes—since those are the ones who typically do the early extra credit assignments—and I could find out what experience those students had with research. I also liked the fact that the extra credit boosted their grades. (I assign a LOT of homework grades and make it a significant portion of the coursework. I think a writing class should be about writing and this allows me to keep them writing at a fairly steady rate.)

Ossian songs 1811 (Roman dreaming) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres WC pdTwo texts analysis:
The next paper was a two texts analysis. Thankfully I have an amazingly gifted colleague, Dr. Mikee Delony, who shared her assignment for this paper. She came up with the idea of comparing the lyrics of a song with an official music video for the work.

I introduced the idea using Tata Young’s “Cinderella” and Randy Travis’ “I’m Going to Love You Forever.” An interesting aspect of these two sets of lyrics, which was serendipitous, was that they both have a “they say/I say” aspect—which is the name of our new text for the course and a focus for the class. “Cinderella” says “My momma used to read me stories…. I’m going to rescue myself.” Excellent way to begin this discussion! Then Travis’ song says “They say that I’m … I’m no longer one of those guys.” That allows us to talk about reputation and change, something that students in a residential college setting may well have to deal with.

The assignment was very successful. The students enjoyed it because they were allowed to pick any music and the videos, it turns out, were sometimes quite bizarre. I think some of the students went looking for really odd videos to start with!

steampunk_vampire_slaying_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d54eetjCasebook essay:
The second major assignment was a casebook essay. The department suggested doing these as a class, using topics in the They Say/I Say text and developing them from there. Since I wasn’t too excited about doing sports, I went looking for some good videos to suggest other topics. We watched a TED Talk “Your Brain on Video Games” and a medical video on zombie brains, among others.

I allowed students, again, to vote on the topics for the classes. One class decided to do the American Dream and sports, both of which are in our text, and neuroscience. The other class chose monsters and video games. This meant that even though multiple students were working on the same topic, I was not terribly bored by the 700th rendition of whatever.

For the casebook essay, I provided at least two sources (obviously the ones from the book were easy) and then each student had to provide one scholarly source and one video source. The class got links for all of these, as well as the citations for them. Students had to create an RA for these two and these were also shared with the class. That meant that the class had multiple sources for each topic and different ways of approaching the subject. All told, the students had to have two scholarly sources, two video sources, and one popular source for the casebook essay.

One thing I did which I thought would be very helpful was to have students do annotated bibliographies for these five sources. (The assignment after this one requires them.) I thought they would help the students get focused, because the reading would have to be done ahead of time and students would have to at least project an avenue of thought for their paper.

I still like this idea but I would change two things. First, I would make sure the unofficial annotated bibliographies matched exactly the format for the official ones. That way the students would simply be able to use them for the annotated bib OR would be drilled in how to do them correctly, even if we switched topics. Second, I would clarify very specifically that the paper was not supposed to be simply a summary of the sources. I received many (ten perhaps out of forty) papers that introduced the topic and then summarized each source in order. I do not want that to happen again.

male studying computerAnnotated bibliography:
After the casebook essay, which really went in different directions, we worked on the annotated bibliography. Students did peer reviews on their classmates’ casebook essays, so they had seen all their sources and how the students used them. This gave everyone an opportunity to see other sources that they might have missed.

For the annotated bibliography I only required eight sources. Three had to be scholarly articles. Two had to be videos. The rest could be either of those or popular sources.

This was a problem because the students had already written their casebook essay on the topic (which is not the normal procedure for the course) and then they went and found additional sources. However, they did not find sources which added significantly to their knowledge base. What that meant was that when they went to write the researched long essay, the next paper, they really did not have sufficient sources to “lengthen” their casebook essay.

typingResearched essay:
After having “completed” their research and annotated bibliography, students ended up having to go find other sources after this and do annotated bibs on the new sources, since a complete annotated bib for each source was required for the research paper.

I liked using the same topic for the casebook essay, the annotated bibliography, and the researched essay. It allowed students to learn a lot about a single area and really develop their thoughts.

In addition, students have a university-required course which created an annotated bibliography the previous semester and, if they desired, the students could write their researched essay on the topic of that annotated bibliography rather than over the topic of their casebook essay. Only one student took advantage of that option and the paper was not particularly well done. I am not sure if that was an artifact of the quality of the annotated bib required in Core or the student’s own abilities/work.

(It turns out that even though all Core students are required to do a twelve text annotated bibliography, the level of quality varied based on teachers of the course AND at least two professors did not require it—even though it is the major assignment for that class.)

The students were frustrated after they wrote their casebook essay and annotated bibliography to discover that they had already used all the information in their sources and needed to find other sources on tangential or related topics in order to expand their essays to the length required for the researched essay. This is definitely something that I will discuss/present next time I teach the course. While I know that, I am not sure how I will present it to ensure that students understand the importance and are able to adjust their research search appropriately.

CalendarDue Dates
The annotated bibs and research essays were due a week before the other professors’ deadlines. This was not a popular decision with the director of composition, but it gave me time to grade them before finals—which means unless I am ordered not to do that, I will have a similar deadline next year.

One thing that I think will be important, which I did not expect would be necessary, is having student conferences over their research papers. The quality of the research papers was significantly reduced from the casebook essays this semester. I want to avoid that next year.

With so much work already done for the researched essay ahead of time, the level of incompleteness in the researched essays came as a surprise. I did not—and will not—assign/allow time for revision of this essay, especially when it is the third in the sequence building on the same topic. However, I think I will have to introduce/include student conferences for this paper next semester.

I also had one week where we wrote practice finals on an old topic the week before the research papers were due. The director of composition was particularly critical of this and, while I don’t see why it should be a problem, I am willing to agree that it was a problem. Therefore, next year, I will not do that but will instead use that week for conferences.

video from roughly drafted dot comDigital Presentation
Since I required a digital presentation over the research topic (and these were generally very good in content), I may also require that they bring their videos to the conference for critique. Many of the students lost points for not including the URL list for the photography and music as well as for not having a title frame on the video. These are very basic aspects of the digital presentation which should not have been missed by students.

Last year something I did in fyc was to have students bring their videos and have a peer review of the digital presentations. This worked very well. I may want to incorporate that into this course as well. It will add a bit of difficulty to the schedule, but maybe I can figure it out….

Those last two will definitely change the time available in the course. (Especially at the end.) That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Best Things
The best things about the course as structured were:
the two-texts analysis using the video and song lyrics
having multiple topics for the casebook essay, ann bib, researched essay
assigning and spending the last week before the final preparation watching digital presentations, with goodies brought in.

CelebrationNote to remember: Students eat a lot less at these things than I expect. Maybe make my own sausage balls next time? And also maybe tell them there will be food.