Category Archives: pedagogy

Assignment Guidelines

I introduced the Module 2 assignments to my Web Writing and Content Management course on Monday. They are creating a Landscape Analysis, Audience Analysis, and Content Recommendation report.

I’m so excited about these assignments. Students can do so many creative things, with very little work, and no design experience. So, I left page requirements, word requirements, general recommendations related to formatting completely off the assignment. I told students to refer to the course textbook which includes summaries, bullet objectives, graphics, and images to convey information as a guideline.

So reading Warner’s similar recommendation on Inside Higher Education was great. Similar to Warner’s discussion, I left off requirements because I want students to think about content design in their reports about content design. I told them this.

BUT, I still had questions about page length. While this is really not surprising – this is a Junior level course, these students are really good at being students – it is more difficult to help guide students through analysis of content applying principles from the reading while also asking them to apply those same ideas to their own document. The questions students asked about document length and formatting absolutely indicated the final ‘reports’ they imagined look like essays.

Next week when we meet we’ll briefly discuss content, so they use their analysis of Landscape and Audience to connect directly to content recommendations and content created. We’ll discuss how this is what they’re very comfortable doing with secondary evidence in writing that is familiar to them, and more reminiscent of writing they’ll complete in professional settings. Now, I need to further reinforce that they need to critically analyze the format of THEIR content as an ethos move.

I’m considering tweeting good and bad examples all week, but that would require so much work. How did I learn to consider document design as part of ethos, how do I help students to that metacognitive space?


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Media Literacy Institute

I am coordinating the Media Literacy Institute again!!!! This summer we will focus on Digital Citizenship. But not cyberbullying digital citizenship – deep discussions of what it means to be a public participant and global citizen in a technology world. We’ll also consider how to keep our understandings flexible so we can grow and adapt as technologies change, to support our own learner needs, and help others as we can.

First, visit my new course site:

Second, I’m way overthinking the design, information architecture, discourse community, and audience of my webspace. So I’m teaching Web Writing and Content Management this semester. I’m currently finalizing their first big project (1 of 2) and determining how to guide students to engage with these concepts as they analyze the existing space and offer recommendations.

As I’m building this course space, I’m now over analyzing it. I have 2 audiences, teachers who will enroll as students, and graduate students. For all students the major question (information architecture) is what do they think they need to be students in the course, to be actively engaged? What do I think they need – and how do I find a happy student in the mix between those two needs?

The teachers may only take the summer institute for professional development – so they won’t have long-term access to D2L – what are their unique needs? How can a course website serve their purposes?

If I keep using this space in future semesters – how will it need to be updated, shifted, changed – how will that affect the students from Summer 2018?

For now – I’m trying to keep navigation at a minimum to ensure students access the syllabus and understand the course requirements. I want them to see the freedom they have to decide on what elements will meet their needs, will support their learning, so they see the benefit to the course and register. But, I also want to push them – I want them to create digital or multimodal texts, I want them to push their learning. So there are elements of the syllabus I’m not publishing (ahem…….in class group work exploring how to exploit algorithms to support learning…….I’m so excited for this). So, in publishing this syllabus, am I demonstrating the openness of this course (with a content focus that can shift to meet learners where they are at, and where they need digital citizenship), am I showcasing how doable the course is, and am I building in time to push learners in new directions? I’m architecting so much learning, with guest speakers thrown in, that it’s no wonder I’m overthinking 🙂

As I’m brushing up on my digital citizenship theory i’m seeing tons of connections to composition theory. I’ll explore this in a future post 🙂

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What is ‘good’ writing?

As my students begin (hopefully) writing their Reflection essays this weekend (it’s due next Friday so this is possibly wishful thinking) – I’ve noticed I’ve discussed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing A LOT this week. Not just with students in my classes, but with former students, grad students, colleagues, and even at home.

As part of a faculty reading group in my department we’ve discussed teaching – especially teaching moments in online courses (and their relationship to design, assignments, assessment, etc.). So i’ve been contemplating how i’ll assess and comment on the drafts submitted next week. As I was thinking about this, I was told a story about a professor saying “since you struggle with writing, go to the Writing Center.” This reminds me of an elementary teacher telling my mom I’d always struggle with writing. In both these situations I would argue the professor/teacher is the culprit of ‘bad’ writing. Clearly there was a lack of audience awareness for the potential outcomes of such a statement. For me, I obviously set out to prove her wrong (HA! joke is on you teacher who I really do appreciate). For the other student, she’s rethinking how far she’ll continue in higher education and reducing her career goals because she obviously selected beyond her capabilities. NO!!!! Just no!

I think what’s hardest for me, and probably the reason Rhet/Comp resonated so much with me, is I could have been that statistic. One mis-directed comment could have derailed my educational plans, when that was completely unintended by the speaker/writer.

So coming back to assessment – how can we use the Teaching for Transfer key concept model AN view assessment feedback as a teaching moment so we don’t recreate ‘bad writing’ through our comments? And, how do we balance these teaching moments so students attend to the comments and transfer the learning to the next essay?

The easy answer is to keep the feedback short – right. So students will actually read it.

I use a 1 point rubric – which is as un-rubric like as you can get – which is why I love it. I break feedback down into “What you did well” and “where to improve”. So now I’m considering how I need to attend to each of the 4 key concepts (5 for Content Management) within this structure – to tie my assessment feedback to the core of my curriculum in an attempt to maximize transfer. So when I go through ‘how is purpose attended to in this essay’ in class – I need to better use that in my rubric.

I’m thinking:

Based on our class discussion, each key concept needed to be directly discussed in this Reflection, and considered as a rhetorical move within the text of the essay. Here are my comments for where you excelled and where there is room for growth:

What you did well:

Where to improve:

Since I have a week until I’ll need this structure it may change, we’ll see. Too formulaic?

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eportfolios and badges

On Saturday I attended the full day workshop on ePortfolios at AAC&U. In several different sessions, and by several different speakers, the idea of using ‘badges’ to support student learning through eportfolios was mentioned.

While I use games in my classroom I’ve never found good integration points for badges – I always see them as behavior driven, or skill-based. I don’t think writing is a skill – I don’t think certifying students in FYC who earn a C or better as “FYC Writing Skill” would carry significant meaning/weight.

I think the mentioning (and it was mentioning not full panel discussions – more ‘here’s another way to use eportfolios, digital badges’) of badges was to add a layer of cool, to point to recent innovations and further digital connections – the idea really stuck with me as a framework for approaching eportfolio design as my institution. In focusing on developing an online graduate certificate program for writing, the goal is to clearly communicate to potential students (and employers) the value of this degree. This is where eportfolios is a great connection – they allow professional writing samples and reflection on learning to raise student awareness of their writing practices and their understanding of writing.

If badges are system ‘awards’ that ‘certify’ learning – how can these be integrated to better demonstrate and exemplify learning outcomes of the program in a way that both attracts students and communicates meaningful information to employers?

I currently (and have for a long time) play Words with Friends (the newer edition). This game awards badges for completing points in a week, for creating a specific number of words using difficult letters like J, Q, Z, etc. The app is designed to force me to click through badges (good UX design to raise awareness for a new award system!), but beyond some coins or help, these badges don’t have any meaning. For me, these types of badges dilute the meaning of meaningful badges because they offer nothing to the player. They don’t support game learning, they don’t support learning of new words (the dictionary attachment with definitions is a great addition for on-demand learning!). What is the value of these badges.

So as I move forward with my difficult question of considering how to design program learning outcomes as badges to support a portfolio project in a graduate certificate (hahahaha that is quite the goal for the next month), I want to draw from meaningless to craft meaningful.

I do think that translating program learning outcomes to badges, then asking students to understand the learning outcomes by submitting portfolio quality papers to each area of the program is a great way to visualize learning goals that will help learners through the program, and help them communicate their own learning and expertise upon graduation. The first obstacle will be committee buy-in of the learning outcome translations I present to them……..

I am excited that there are meaningful ways to rethink badges – to use badges without even necessarily describing them with that videogame-based terminology that will support better student learning. Now to design that at the program level, then the course level………

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Nilson, Linda B. The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your course. Jossey-Bass, 2007.

I just finished reading Nilson’s work advocating for including graphic representations of course outcomes and learning. Nilson’s goal with the chapters and examples included is to further support student learning by using multimedia graphics (text and image mostly) to represent the overall flow and knowledge foundation of courses, so students can develop correct foundational knowledge.

I read the book because I wanted to do more with my syllabus. I was an easy sell for the content of this book. BUT, I found the HUGE variety of possibilities overwhelming. Nilson spends chapters on learning theory and multimedia learning to support her point, chapters on finding gaps when visually representing the syllabus, but I felt I needed more on visual organization ideas to support content. The problem with what I want is that a book can’t answer that desire for all faculty everywhere. How a faculty member demonstrates the connections can be unique even when the content is fairly similar. The graphics represent personality in the course, uniqueness of the students at the institution, and the learning goals of the course.

So, here is my first attempt at graphically representing the connection in my Freshmen Composition syllabus in an effort to develop a deeper understanding of foundational knowledge of writing, and the connection the essays/assignments have to supporting student writing development (with disciplinary and work writing in their future). We’ll see how it goes 🙂

I started with a free Piktochart template (thanks Piktochart for awesome free basic templates). Then I built it up from there. I saved as an image to my syllabus, and as a stand alone image for students to reference.

ENGL 110 Learning Outcomes

What do you think?

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Supporting Learning – Student Outreach

Fall 2018 my department will launch a 100% online Graduate Certificate in Writing. This certificate program has been approved on campus for a number of years, but there has been no advertising, no support, no enrollment. To launch this program officially, it needed an overhaul, it needed curriculum to meet the needs of 21st century learners. So my recommendation to the committee was to streamline the courses to be completed, and deliver them 100% online in a year time frame.

In shifting to the online platform, many of the faculty in my department are nervous about teaching graduate courses (especially never before taught graduate courses) through the online platform. So I asked to lead a faculty reading group to support faculty in discussing teaching composition online – or Online Writing Instruction (OWI). We’re reading Applied Pedagogies: Strategies for Online Writing Instruction edited by Daniel Ruefman and Abigail G Scheg.

So far (I’m reading chapter 6 of 11) a question/concern regularly raised is “how to succeed in an online course”. Some chapters raise approaches to support student learning in online courses while others focus on instructor success (yes, teaching an online class SHOULD be different than teaching a face-to-face!). What’s important about these conversations is the student-centered focus on success in an online platform BOTH success with the online delivery (finding things) and with learning (content).

One of the automated ways of refocusing students in the digital classroom (even in f2f delivery) is student outreach. When students don’t submit assignments, when students don’t access pages, have the system automatically email.

CAVEAT: some students print everything! There are ways in some LMS systems to automatically print files in a module folder that don’t register a student having accessed specific pages. Setting up automatic student outreach may be overkill for EVERY page because there is no guarantee students haven’t accessed in print.

I’m also reading through The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your course which emphasizes showing students the larger structures of organizing content knowledge so they know how to model the background knowledge you’ve created, where individual module pieces fit in, etc.

So, I want to combine these two ideas – to support a learner-centered classroom, how can I use automated messaging to support student content learning so they know how to make sense of their learning AND recognize learning? Instead of using Student Outreach messages as “hey, I see you didn’t submit the thing, how can I help” what if they focused back on learning “this assignment fits here on the learning map” (I default to pirate themed designs as we’re marauders – aka land pirates). The message could be tailored then to students who submitted and students who didn’t. If all students realize they are being direct messages in support of their learning, will they be more active agents in their own learning?

At this point – while still reading both books and prepping Spring 2018 syllabi – i’m still considering how these ideas come together to support students learning. But, I think it’s important to note – OWI offers new ways to be teachers, new ways to be students, we should consider how these new ways shift our questions and our focus. We should keep addressing questions like “how to succeed in the online classroom” but I think the focus should be more positive, even more positive learner-focused (growth mindset and/or mindfulness ideas would help me flesh this out here, but I’m trying to keep my findings more brief than that). How can these new tools, seemingly designed to track student submissions and engage students with things in the course, be used to teach students how to learn in was that positively effect learning AND engagement?

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Theory of Teaching

I’ve shifted the focus of my Freshmen Composition courses to focus on key concepts and theories of writing. At the beginning and end of the semester students are asked to write Reflection essays developing their own theory of writing (they struggle with the idea of writing about their own writing, and using I – fun questions to respond to). To support this development we work through composition-based readings and themed readings (digital rhetoric related). After the initial reflection, while we focus on themed readings and develop an approach to reading and writing analysis at the college level, students are asked to revisit the key concepts as anchor terms for their learning. My approach is heavily based on Teaching for Transfer, Writing about Writing, Transfer research, and learning research. My goal with this curricular approach is to empower students through awareness of their own learning.

Yesterday I was reading an Inside Higher Ed article on the need for educators to also develop their own theory of teaching. Unlike the Teaching Philosophy which often approaches teaching from a more abstract philosophical and theoretical view of teaching, this theory of writing should be the more practical ideas that aid teacher excitement, which aids student learning. Their learning focus, similar to my learning focus in curriculum design, aims to support student learning as the ultimate end goal. If we approach teaching from cognitive and content bases – but focus our theory of teaching on cognitive skills and practices that support content learning and maintain our enthusiasm students should learn better.

I love this idea. And immediately began to consider how can I use this. Also, what groups would benefit from this discussion an exercise. During the summer I teach a Media Literacy Institute geared toward K-12 educators. This year I’m focusing specifically on Digital Citizenship for 6-12 educators (although K-6 are also welcome).

As I’m exploring contemporary ideas of digital citizenship, I’m seeing a significant amount of teaching ‘digital citizenship through positive reinforcement.’ This typically means the teacher should use ONE positive social media example per day in the classroom as course content is discussed and explored. For instance, to move into a discussion of remix, I’d mention “A friend from my doctoral program knows we’re focusing on remix as a key concept, so she forwarded me this video on Facebook. I’m sending it to you all on Twitter to support your reading and discussion about Article X for class”. In this way, I’ve mentioned positive uses of technology, i’ve related that use directly to classroom and content learning so students begin to reinforce positive social learning with their use of digital technologies to reinforce positive use of technology. Overt instruction on digital citizenship practices is also helpful – but this positive approach seems to be the key.

Here’s where I see the connection to a theory of teaching. As educators we often measure learning through tests and essays where points are deducted or earned to form a grade. Positive reinforcement of digital citizenship requires connections to learning, but no formal assessment, and few to no negative stories of misuses, dangers, epic failures. The goal is not to scare students into good citizenship, but to teach students positive approaches to using the spaces. This doesn’t always align with contemporary high standard testing practices – so how would educators develop a theory of teaching that included positive reinforcement of digital citizenship across the curriculum? How can cognition and learning better support positive approaches to teaching so incorporating digital citizenship as part of existing curriculum tied directly to individual theories of teaching seems more doable immediately?

As I continue to grapple with the feasibility of these ideas, I realize I need to write my own theory of writing before assigning this idea so I have a working example – so look forward to that future post 🙂

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Kairos and Power

There is a story in Smith’s Rhetoric and Human Consciousness about Marin Luther causing an uprising months after he published a paper in an unexpected area. The Printing Press was very new technology, authors hadn’t considered circulation and kairos because circulating texts had been difficult and expensive so very few were circulated.

Today I read a post on Chronicle of Higher Ed about recent identity politics issues. While these are important discussions, what struck me were the examples of social media critique that stopped movements. Without self-reflection on the influence of our own subject positions, arguments may carry bias. With the internet publication cycle (anytime, anywhere), this can cause power issues in addition to the expected circulation issues.

As I’m beginning to formalize my plans for Web Writing and Content Management, this idea struck me as especially important today. In a course focused on the circulation of text, the plans to structure communication in meaningful ways, how do I address issues of power as they relate to the content.

Web Writing and Content Management is a course closely related to Technical Writing and Business Writing. While the impact of text and document design is briefly discussed by these fields (in textbooks – I’m focusing specifically on textbooks here not scholarship), it’s still just a brief discussion. Yet, Universal Design for Learning, Document Design for Social Justice, and the power of unconscious bias in text are important conversations directly related to all the assignments created for such a course.

In my current Advanced Writing course, the Document Design for Social Justice article resonated the most with students, but after the course conversation, most chose not to continue with this discussion in the papers they submitted. How do I not just design accessible content, but focus on teaching accessible content design, the importance of accessible content design as a primary concern?

In my composition courses I’ve begun to structure them based on key concepts, as an approach to learning composition through threshold concepts (organizing learning structure to support transfer and recall). What will this look like accounting for UDL and potential content bias? What key concept can support critically engaged thinking while teaching approaches to writing and structuring content in meaningful ways? What can a Content Management course look like structured by learning-based writing concepts modified to support content management specific writing so writers consider UDL and power?

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The New Twitter

Recently I posted on the value of Twitter in the classroom. As Twitter has fully embraced the extension to 280 characters, I’m wondering how this changes my use in the classroom.

In my last post I walked through my 5 “why I use Twitter in the classroom” ideas. Of those 5 reasons, brevity made my list at #5 with “focus on communicating the message”. Even at #5, and even as I mentioned, 280 characters is brief! For instance, this paragraph is 280 characters.

While I don’t love the decision, I liked how hard 140 characters made communicating (and I worry how much more drama will be possible with 280 characters), I want to shift the conversation to the possibilities for pedagogy.

This semester I worked on developing assignments that asked students to engage with analysis in their writing – to analyze articles in class, to extend conversations, to find the ongoing conversation, to add their own ideas and opinions. Getting students to extend conversations means hoping they read the article well enough that we could begin the conversation with a brief overview, then extend begin analysis. There were good days and bad days with the initial reading expectations with students. As we move into the later portion of the semester, the reading and willingness to discuss has decreased further.

This is where I think the 280 characters might actually add to pedagogy – where the additional length might serve educators.

First, I should begin with quizzes. I know a lot of faculty who give various reading quizzes. Basically, check-ins to ensure the students completed the reading to support discussion in class. I like this idea, but I hate quizzes.

Second, I know a lot of faculty who require written reading summaries. I hate building all the assignment submission links for students to upload summary writing. I feel I have to undo so much summary writing work to teach analysis in writing if I require these summaries regularly.

In the Fall semester I required students to post Summary Tweets (ST:) before class began – in addition to the required tweets for class – to facilitate discussion. For the most part this was successful, it increased engagement with the materials because an assignment was attached to the reading. The downside, students read conversation posts for the gist of the reading without actually reading the assignment. This is both good and bad:

  • Good: students read for conversation. Even if they didn’t read the article, in browsing through the posted summary tweets, students were able to read for conversation to determine the main themes of the reading. As a reading skill that will support good writing – this is amazing.
    • While I didn’t use the summary tweet approach this semester I want to investigate how this reading can support awareness of these reading. Can students summarize AND reflect on reading/writing practices now that Twitter has allowed for more writing?
    • Can students analyze and development mindful awareness of their writing when reflecting on the readings?
  • Bad: students didn’t read the assignment.
    • Students who did read the assignment struggled more with differentiating their post from peers than on engaging with the materials.
    • Students who did read the assignment read to post a summary, not to engage with the materials.
    • Can all of these bad be overcome with the mindfulness and reflection that could help students learn writing?

Ultimately, my major concerns are students need to read the assignments, but students also need less practice with summarizing the articles. Yes, summarizing, quickly, author points in essays is an important skill. But, analysis and doing something with that information is so much more important. How can the increased character count in Twitter support better writing about the readings?

I really think the key is in mindfulness and reflection. Having students not just tweet the summary, but reflect on why that part, how they read and found that section, why they find it important, what they learned about analyzing that information. In this way, students will be responsible for demonstrating their learning (less important), and be responsible to their own learning (super important).

Now, to actually develop an action plan for implementing this……Spring 2018 with Twitter at 280 character, here I come 🙂

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Twitter in the Classroom

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education post, Jason B Jones discusses Heather Froehlich’s steps for using Twitter. These pro-Twitter discussions inspired me to write a “why I assign Twitter in the Classroom”.

  1. Finding the conversation: in using a course hashtag students build consistent conversation, and students join ongoing conversation. A consistent place to find class discussion, and practice wading through who they choose to follow to find the content conversations builds so many important critical thinking and media literacy skills directly related to writing and composing!
  2. Entering the conversation: one of the key features of Twitter is public writing, all the time. In learning to join that conversation in productive ways for a composition course, students develop awareness of entering ongoing conversations. Again, a key learning feature of composition courses.
  3. Public writing: students often enter higher education with varying social media accounts. As younger generations continue to find digital tools that older generations don’t understand (hello Snapchat), the tools will change. Selecting a social media tool that students curate public intellectual writing for the duration of the semester could help them in their futures.
  4. Community building: the 140 (or 280 in new Twitter) character limit shifts the composing practices of students. It’s rare that students will use their 140 characters to communicate something inane like “I agree with what you’re saying here #coursehashtag”. I think the combination of entering ongoing course conversations (thanks course hashtag)
  5. Focus on communicating the message: Twitter only allows 140 characters! Even if the 280 trial run extends to all users, 280 characters is not much space for communicating clearly.

While students may push back a bit, or require some time to become accustomed to public conversations, the use of Twitter has real benefits for students too. Their public writing is practice for the public nature of the internet, and a space that allows students to curate their public social media profiles in meaningful ways for future employers. They can highlight the engaged ways they interact with others in a real social media archive. They can lock down other profiles, leaving just their course related public writing visible to potential employers – showcasing their writing strengths and ethos development.


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