Stellar Stories by Jodie Childers, Tech Fellow 2017

For the past few years, I’ve been looking for an easy-to-use tool to create digital stories in the classroom. This past semester, I used Steller, an app that allows students to construct digital stories on their phones by easily importing photographs and video from their phones, Facebook, and Instagram accounts.

One goal of the project was to push students to maximize the capabilities of this tool. Steller is often used superficially to document vacations or to share streams of personal photos, and while I wanted students to consider how to write with images, I also wanted them to think about balancing images, videos, and text in a multimodal writing context.

As we prepared for the project, we viewed several Steller stories, and talked about their structure. One tendency we noticed was that most leaned too heavily on photographs with no explanatory text to contextualize the images. Other pieces, however, were filled with text and failed to compellingly hold the viewer’s attention. As multimodal writers, their goal was to find an effective balance among the various mediums and to consider how the mediums relate to one another.

Students chose a diverse range of topics. One student documented her trip to New York, but unlike most of the travelogues on Steller, she added historical context to the places, using her story not only to entertain but to inform the reader about the places she visited. Documenting her family’s tradition of cooking potstickers, another student took a more poetic approach, reflecting on the the tensions between simplicity and complexity, exploring the ways in which college students can navigate the stressors of finals by appreciating the simple things in life.

Here is the assignment sheet I gave my students:

Unit #4 Digital Essay

to engage and reflect upon the digital writing process
to gain awareness of rhetorical choices in multiple mediums & their effects on audience
to craft a voice/style tailored to a close audience (i.e., classmates)
to copy edit for audience

For this assignment, you will create a digital story on a topic of your choice using Steller, a platform that allows you to create visual stories.

Some possibilities for your narrative include:

a personal story
a persuasive essay on a topic that you are passionate about
an oral history or interview with a friend or family member
a how-to guide
an activist toolkit
a travel guide

As you decide on your topic for your digital story, consider not only exigence and audience but also the medium itself. In other words, choose a topic that allows you to play with both visual content and text.

The Writing Process

I also encouraged students to take original photographs for this project. We analyzed still shots, and I sent the students outside to compose their own photographs. I was impressed with how quickly they picked up on how to take photographs.

Annotated Bibliographies In The #fakenews Era by Tech Fellow Chris Ayala

As teachers, we often wonder how we can make our students more discernible citizens while adhering to a syllabus. Citizenry in our current moment is of the utmost importance and, as ENG112 instructors, we have a tool that can help us stay with the goals of our syllabus while helping our students become more discerning.

I’m talking about that Annotated Bibliography unit with a slight re-branding.

Reformatting Annotated Bibliography For News Summary:

This assignment came as a way to make my students read more. They started the semester joking about fake news and I used their humor as a way to pose the question: What is fake news?

None had an answer.

I told my students that, for extra credit, they should read one news article a day and talk about it with me. I had no idea how to track their progress, but I knew reading and about the news would make them more discerning with the right assignment. I remembered our Annotated Bibliography unit plan and reformatted that idea as a trackable assignment to help my students with this project.

Here were my terms:

  1. News link appears at the top (Dated).
  2. 20-25 words stating the links credibility and how they came to that conclusion.
  3. 20-25 words summarizing the article (NPR News summary was my example).
  4. A brief sentence or two saying what this article taught them.

This was the easiest way to make an assignment as far as format was concerned. Once these terms were laid out, my students went at it with a surprising vigor. On semester’s end, I was given an average of sixteen news summary pages, each entry more succinct than the last.

News Round Up And How To Make It Better:

The students who actively participated in this project made tremendous strides in their classroom participation and how they analyzed texts assigned. I noticed, too, the research paper and annotated bibliography lessons (from where the project format came) were easier to go over.

As far as critique and implementing this as a full on project, checking progress and unpacking where the information was coming from as well as how they were interacting with the material would be paramount to further success. For an extra credit assignment, I am happy with the work my students have done and the strides made toward being more discerning citizens.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phone by Tech Fellow Emily Hunerwadel

So. You’re a new TO, and if you’re anything like me, you are panicking right now as you read this sentence. There is so much to worry about in crafting a teaching persona and managing a class. Will you be the suit wearing, quiz stickler? The yoga-pant-wearing, cross-legged desk sitter? What about when your munchkins start coming in 10 minutes late? And, for god’s sake, what will you do about texting, twitter, insta, facebook, snapchat and the millions of other blinking platforms that serve as a carnival-esque distraction from your teaching curriculum? Don’t worry, baby girl, I got you.  

While I can’t tell you what to wear or how loud to talk in front of your class, I can say I’ve had some success with phones in my classroom. I know, I know, there actually is something to be said for the addiction narratives we assign to social media usage, and it is sometimes easier to be the “everyone-put-your-phones-in-this-basket” kind of teacher. But Shhhh. Let me convince you of the cell phone’s virtues in the following quippy listicle:

  • Stop iPhone-Forbidden-Fruit Syndrome

This is probably the most obvious and easily-debatable points, but forbidding phones in the classroom does not get rid of the distraction. In my own experience as a student, being told I could not look at my phone only made checking it more tantalizing. Even if I was a good little girl and kept my phone in my bag, I would often find that, as the class topic/discussion became more boring or unappealing, I would daydream of who was messaging me, liking my cat-child instagram pics, or sending me snapchats of their morning wake-up hair.

And that’s the crux of the problem: It’s not an issue of cell-phone usage; it’s an issue of engagement. An uninterested student will find a way to disengage with your class, iPhone or no. One needs no tools to daydream, and, as all teenagers (and biblical characters) know, telling someone “no” is a great way to create temptation. While it’s easy to blame technology for the waxy looks in your students’ eyes, banning phones eliminates so many possibilities of using this tech as a teaching tool while not solving the actual problem.

  • Exemplify Context: IRL Self v. Online Self

Yep. I said it. The Writing Program buzzword: context. Social media is a great tool for explaining and teaching the rhetorical concepts of Unit 1. While your youngins might not have much experience writing a personal essay, they tend to have a good amount of exposure to an online presence. In my experience, they come into class with at least some understanding that what they choose to share and how they choose to express themselves changes between social media platforms or between their virtual and physical “selves.” Pointing this out in the classroom setting is a great way to scaffold to related ideas of context and audience.

“The IRL Fetish” in Opening Conversations is obviously a great text to get them thinking and ready to discuss these concepts. This semester, I paired the Jurgenson essay with an activity stolen from Elizabeth M:

As students came into our second class, I told everyone we would be doing a social IRL experiment and to turn their phones and computers’ volume up as loud as possible.

As we started to discuss and debate the Jurgenson text, pings and bips abounded. Each time a phone rang, the responsible student’s face would blush red and often they felt the need to apologize. This is where the questioning and context exploration began. I turned the conversation to why each student felt so embarrassed when their iPhone-bell-tones perforated our discussion, and, after pondering, students replied saying they weren’t used to iPhones being ok in a class.

They were used to being reprimanded when their phones sounded in a classroom, so by being in the context of the classroom and hearing the sound, they expected some sort of trouble like a labrat trained that cheese=electric shock. I then asked if they would have the same reaction to the sound of their iPhone if alone in their dorm room or at a party or on the sidewalk, to which, they all agreed, would probably warrant different responses. The noise had a different meaning in a different space. In a different context!

By having a small physical example of context, they were then more ready to accept that they, in fact, have different ways of being in different situations, that context affects their sense of self and ways of acting. We were able to have a very worthwhile discussion about how our writing changes based upon context, branching to the differences between their online and embodied selves. I ended the class with generative writing comparing their virtual and IRL selves, which I noticed filtered into some of the Unit 1 essays.

  • Demonstrate Genre Conventions and Form

My first semester, I tried to teach these concepts through my Unit 4 assignment, in which we together made a class magazine. I brought in different online or physical magazine-type articles and tried to demonstrate how the addition of a picture or different typography affected the reading of the text. However, our final class magazine had only one essay that deviated from a typical essay format, which was slightly disappointing. Looking back, I think I did not incorporate enough exercises that modeled form or genre into my lesson plans, and so, in the final paper, they still did not feel comfortable taking those kinds of risks.

In reworking my lesson plans for this semester, I thought about ways to make the concept of genre and form more reachable and realized that perhaps, here again, they have more experience editing their writing for different social media platforms.

As a way to tap into that experience,I crafted a lesson plan tweak of a Writing Program Database favorite—“Short Long Short.” You can find a description of that activity here I’ve found that students LOVE this exercise and that it really gets them thinking about revision techniques while giving them the confidence to experiment with descriptive language.

In my class, I brought in my blue typewriter as our object (which they got a kick out of). I had them complete the activity in the normal way described, allowing them to distill their long descriptions into 50 words. After we discussed what exactly they’d done in the revision, I broke the class into smaller groups and asked them to choose one 50 word description and mold it into three separate social media posts, allowing them to choose which platforms to use (i.e. twitter, instagram, etc.)

We then analyzed how the templates of these social media platforms affected the content. We talked through questions like: How did the curation or picture-based quality of instagram change how you wrote the caption? How did your post need to change in particular to fit the more ephemeral medium of snapchat?

It was fairly obvious to most students how their Facebook post would need to change in order to be more appropriate for Twitter, and by teaching these differences as the “genre” of Facebook or the “form” of a tweet, I was able to help my students apply this vocabulary to their writing.


Writing is Always Multimodal by Sharanya Sridhar

Hello Everyone,

I am Sharanya Sridhar, a first year PhD student in literature. I also teach College Writing. During my masters program at Boise State, I taught first-year writing with a different curriculum that introduced me to critical conversations about multimodal composition.  The opportunity be a Tech Fellow this spring allowed me to talk about my evolving ideas about multimodality with my peers. It’s been incredibly helpful to have a community of first-year teachers with whom I could ruminate my excitements as well as anxieties about using technology and pedagogical practices. What follows is a snapshot of my project for Tech Fellows and a related activity. Hope you enjoy it!

Overarching context: My project for Tech-fellows this spring involved thinking about ways to incorporate multimodality and digital rhetoric in classroom conversations. I have also been thinking about ways to frame interesting theoretical concepts from composition studies as classroom activities so it becomes accessible and useful for first-year writers. The following activity speaks to both these goals.  

Immediate Goal(s): To introduce students to certain threshold concepts in writing, to get them to think about different shades of meaning the term ‘text’ could take, to understand that writing is always multimodal.

Preparatory Reading Assignment: As a preparation for this activity, students read 5 threshold concepts (I picked out the ones I wanted them to read) from “Writing is a Rhetorical and Social Activity”, Naming What We Know and pick 2 favourite concepts

In Class Activity: Based on the concepts they picked as their favourite, I put them in 4 different groups. Each group had to visually represent the concept they picked. Some made mind maps or roadmaps while some represented their concept with a series of sketches. Each group presented their visual representation and explained the concept but also talked about their own choices in representing their chosen concept.

Follow up Discussion: We talked about how we use different mediums to write, to make meaning, and to communicate our thoughts. We also talked about how writing gets interpreted differently based on how readers interpret it and the mediums readers use to interpret a piece of writing.

Follow up freewrite:  Based on the activity and our discussion, I asked them to write about their definition of text and it might be different from their previous conceptions of the term. I also asked them to give examples of certain texts that they hadn’t thought of as texts before.

Their responses to the activity and the freewrite was a positive one. It helped me set the the tone for the second unit (Interacting with a Text) and allowed them to explore multimodal texts like Ted Talks for their unit essay.