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Multimodal Mondays: A Low-Stakes Assignment for Understanding Blogs as Genre

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Gaddam.gifGuest blogger Amanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.

In my first-ever, first-year composition class, I posed the question “What blogs do you read?” to my class, which I felt confident would yield numerous responses and a fruitful discussion.  Instead, my question was met with silence and blinking.  It turns out that my students then—and most of my first-year composition students now—did and do read blogs, but they didn’t and don’t know that they’re reading them.  Fashion blogs, health and fitness blogs, music blogs, tech blogs, and even microblogs like Tumblr—all of these make appearances during students’ daily rounds on the internet, but they aren’t necessarily aware of the fascinating and specific rhetorical choices in arrangement and tone, nor can they identify (right away) the particular conventions that govern these texts.  

As Miller and Shepherd note in their 2011 article, “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog,” blogs make for interesting genre analysis discussions; because they rely so heavily on hypertextual, visual, and audio elements, they also provide for a unique multimodal assignment.  The following project and accompanying activities are designed as a low-stakes way to get students asking the right questions about the material they see everyday and recreating appropriate rhetorical choices in multimodal environments for themselves.  Low-stakes projects are particularly important for multimodal composing because most students, despite the technological proficiency that they might have, tend to be apprehensive about writing in unfamiliar genres and need the safety of a low-pressure composing environment to experiment with non-textual elements like video or audio.

ASSIGNMENT

Step One

I introduce the definition, concept, and purpose of genre analysis in a short lecture.

Step Two

Students complete an in-class, small-group genre analysis activity using the complaint letter as an example genre. Students consider four sample complaint letters using questions adapted from Bawarshi and Reiff’s Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy (all handouts available here).  As a follow-up discussion, students use what they have learned about the contextual factors and features of the genre to theorize their own approach to writing a complaint letter.

Step Three

I divide students into groups of four or five and assign each group a sub-genre of blogs.  Here are some examples of blogs I’ve assigned in the past:

Gaddam_assigned blog sub-genres.jpg

Students then use the questions from the in-class genre analysis activity to research the given example blogs and find one additional blog example from the Internet that fits within their assigned sub-genre.  One of their homework assignments is to bring their notes on these blogs to class in preparation for group work.

Step Four

Students share their findings from this inquiry with their group in order to come to a consensus about the common features, content, audiences, and contexts of their assigned sub-genre.  They use this information to plan a concept for a blog of their own.

Step Five

In cooperation with their groups, students create their blog and each compose individual blog posts that purposefully incorporate multimedia elements, like images, video, audio, and links to other content.  All rhetorical choices about content, arrangement, and style belong to the students.

Because first-year writing students at DePaul use Digication for their final ePortfolios, I require that the groups use Digication for this blog project and that they purposefully incorporate multimedia elements like images, video, audio, and links to other web content.  The opportunity to learn the various features of Digication without fear of compromising their grade and the chance to practice the skills of multimodal composing on this platform make for thoughtful and well integrated multimodal final assignments. However, this project could easily be completed using free platforms such as Wordpress or Wix.

Step Six

Students showcase their group blogs and individual blog posts and justify their rhetorical choices to the class in informal presentations.  Neither the blogs nor the presentations are graded at this time; the presentations serve as an opportunity for peer feedback and review before revising the project, and, if they choose, submitting it for a grade in their final ePortfolio.

I ask students to write a short analysis reflecting on the rhetorical choices they made for both the blog as a whole and their individual posts, and if they choose to submit the project for a grade, they present these analyses in their final ePortfolio.  I also find that they like to discuss this project in their end-of-term reflection letters, and they note that the collaboration, experimentation, and creativity of the assignment make it their favorite project of the quarter.

REFLECTION

Fortunately, I have found that students’ engagement with this assignment does not necessarily correspond to their technological acumen; rather, they use both the low-stakes occasion for experimentation and the collaboration with their peers as opportunities to learn something new about the more technical aspects of multimodal composing.  The fact that this assignment is low-pressure doesn’t mean that they don’t try.  In fact, without the stress of a grade, students are more likely to try new rhetorical strategies—and sometimes fail to use these strategies effectively—but their trials and errors show that they’re genuinely working through the best ways to approximate the genre.

STUDENT WORK

Check out some examples of what some of my students have created for their blogs in the past:

Gaddam_Blog1.png

The students assigned to tech blogs used the information they collected about the most common features and content to create this title, concept, and header image for their blog.  Their analyses indicate that they put a great deal of thought and conversation into selecting the colors, typeface, and imagery they deemed rhetorically appropriate.

Gaddam_Blog2.png.jpg

The students assigned to create a political blog noted that one of the most important features of blogs is the interactivity between readers and bloggers.  They approximated this element in their own blog by providing comments on each other's individual blog posts.

Gaddam_Blog3.png.jpg

This student recreated a common rhetorical choice in blog arrangement: the use of a lede accompanied by a hyperlink from the blog's homepage, which redirects readers to the full-length blog post.  In his analysis and in the informal presentation, the student and his group theorized that this choice forced readers to click further into the blog, exposing them to more content, and, in the case of for-profit blogs, more advertisements.

 

Click here for more examples, handouts, and descriptions of the assignment and associated activities. 

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment or be a guest blogger? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post.

7 Comments
Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Amanda Gaddam, this is fascinating.   The students did such a great job, even though they didn't know what a blog was at first.  Great assignment.

Migrated Account

Thanks, Karita--I continue to be impressed with the ways that they engage with the assignment!

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

I clicked through and looked at all of the 5 examples.  It's interesting--the students who did the individual blog almost had to work harder, since individual blogs lack some of the more obvious and easily imitated rhetorical signals that you find in something like a tech blog or a health blog.  Not that I mean to diminish the work done by those students, either.  They did their analysis well.  But the rhetorical conventions of individual blogs seem a more subtle to me. But perhaps not.  I need to think it through a little more!

Migrated Account

All students had to create individual blog posts in addition to working with their groups to collaborate on the overall concepts and arrangements for the blogs.  You're right, though--particularly in the drafting phase, they seem to initially struggle with identifying the conventions for the actual content of their posts.  Sometimes this gets resolved when they revise based on feedback, and sometimes they don't quite get there.  The conversations that we have, though, do reveal that they are attempting to isolate and recreate these features.   

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Ah, that makes sense.  Sorry, I apparently didn't read carefully enough.  This is such a good project; it really gets students engaged in analyzing genre conventions and rhetorical choices, but in a fun and familiar space, as it were.  I'll definitely recommend this assignment to folks I know, so thanks for sharing.

Migrated Account

I can't wait to use this with my freshmen in the spring.  For many of them, creating their own blogs is a "first," and they doubt their ability to do so or why they should bother.  (Usually I have them respond to readings and comment to initiate the genre.)  This assignment provides opportunities for analysis as well as for working with an interest in a different way to build motivation.  Thanks for another terrific way to engage writers using digital literacy.student motivation#rhetorical analysis

Migrated Account

Really a great Project. This one is great.

-Assignment Help Online

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.