So, as promised, I am writing to follow up on the experience of incorporating a brief, low stakes, in-class, digital assignment into my first-year composition course today! Students submitted their final draft of a personal narrative/argumentative essay today that we had been drafting for several weeks, and then we moved into a new unit/major writing assignment, the theme of which is writing processes. When introducing this unit in the past, I’ve had students draw their process and then we discuss their depictions and experiences of process. So, today in class, I asked that they represent their process visually through some sort of digital media. I had prepared a visual
representation of my own writing process using Comic Life and provided that for students as an example, and then encouraged them to use ComicLife or whatever program they were familiar with or preferred to visually represent their own processes. Most of my students used Comic Life, a few of them used Prezi, and one student made a video.
- Students asked a lot of questions about composing, saving, exporting, and sharing their compositions. We were all able to answer these questions together without any awful, uncomfortable, scary de-centering classroom authority Apocalypses of any kind. Some students had a more difficult time navigating the program than others and a few students expressed a lot of frustration, but approaching the assignment as low stakes and entirely in-class helped to alleviate any full scale freak-outs.
- We were able to discuss a broader range of processes than just “writing” processes and we were able to expand our notions of what constitutes a “text”. We had briefly discussed this expanded notion of a “text” before in class (with the help of the rhetorical situation), and today’s digital/visual in-class activity helped to reinforce and demonstrate that lots of compositions, not just text based compositions, involve processes, authors/speakers/composers/designers, audiences, and contexts.
- Things got real meta real fast. We first discussed how students were representing process in their visual compositions: what images they had chosen and why (with the help of some terms from Sorapure’s article), what arguments those images they had chosen were making about processes, if their current representation of process had changed at all from an earlier written description of their process composed weeks before. Then, we discussed the process of composing the visual artifact and compared that process to the one they had hoped to represent (this is where we introduced the expanded notion of “text”).
Some things I would do differently:
- Warn my students to bring their laptops instead of assuming they would have them (only one did not, she used mine) or better still reserve a room on campus with access to campus computers with a wider variety of programs for composing visual texts.
- Devise, ahead of time, a better way for each student to share their composition with the entire class. About halfway through class I realized we would need a way to share and see each others’ visual compositions (a problem I had not anticipated when I was creating my model alone and not needing to share it. Classrooms are social spaces, duh). So, I had students upload them to shared files on Google Drive that they had used for small group peer review, but this meant that each student could only access three visual compositions instead of everyone seeing everyone’s work. (That too would have been easy to fix in the moment too, but my laptop was being used by a student).
- Assign some out of class reflection or response to carry the assignment and our discussion of it outside of our one hour and twenty minute class meeting.
As you can tell, the successes were more substantive than the mishaps in this instance, and I will probably repeat (and update) this activity for future composition courses. Yay!!