Multimodal Mondays: Media and Revision in the Technical Writing Classroom: The Video Résumé

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Cassandra Stephens Bishop.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Cassandra Stephens (Bishop), a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she is writing her dissertation on an empirical classroom study. Her project combines an identity theme and a quest narrative essay format in a research writing course; the model was designed to bridge potential disconnects between narrative writing and formal academic writing. Her academic interests also include tutoring and teaching ESL students, mentoring graduate students, and advising undergraduate students.  The study described in this blog was presented at the 2015 CCCCs in Tampa. Contact Cassandra at

During the fall of 2013, I taught a technical writing course in which students collectively requested to try something innovative.  My developing interest in digital media and multimodal literacies led me to propose that we incorporate video résumés as a tool for the revision of the students’ written résumés.  I obtained IRB approval from my university and proceeded with a formal study. A comparable alternative assignment was offered to students with concerns regarding videotaping. One student chose to complete the alternative assignment.

Learning Objectives

  • To become familiar with current technological practices in the student’s field of study.
  • To encourage a reflective written revision of documents through visual presentation of the student’s résumé content.
  • To have the student complete and assess a visual artifact of his or her current presentation style so that he or she possesses a digital tool that allows him or her to hone strengths and practice areas of weakness for future interviews and presentations.

Origin of Idea as a Visual Teaching Model

The idea originated after I recalled a television sitcom and its use of the video résumé; the concept had a resonating appeal, and I was certain that it had a place in the classroom.  That particular episode titled “The Possimpible,” from the popular television series How I Met Your Mother, aired in 2009.  Robin Scherbatsky, one of the lead characters, distributes her flamboyant video résumé to potential employers. It is a desperate effort to quickly find a job and maintain her visa status; it works.

The episode references a real life dissemination of a video résumé that did not end quite so well. In 2006, a Yale graduate, Aleksey Vayner, distributed his “over the top” video résumé titled “Impossible is Nothing” to prospective Wall Street employers. Instead of setting him apart from other candidates, the video went viral on the internet, leaving Vayner widely ridiculed and ostracized from Wall Street. While the approximately seven minute video is still available on the internet, it tends to change locations. (You can likely find a version by doing a quick YouTube search.)

As it turns out, Vayner may have just been a bit ahead of his time. After all, he was the catalyst that inspired a television show episode, which in turn may have had an effect on the manner in which many job seekers market themselves to employers through media. In 2010 and 2011, career websites offering to host video résumés attained a larger internet presence.  However, while many multimedia career websites utilizing videos are operational, they have not yet gained a strong grounding or reputation due to affirmative action concerns and other liability issues.  Even with reservations regarding current market viability, these videos still offer students the opportunity to approach their writing and revision in a multimodal manner that encourages the use of digital rhetoric as a valuable tool for revising their essays.

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Ask students to prepare for class by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:

Classroom Application of Video Résumé Overview

After reviewing and revising their graded written résumés, students planned one to three minute presentations for the filming of their video résumés. They were encouraged to capitalize on information from their written résumés in designing their oral presentations and were reminded to remain focused on an audience of potential employers. The university’s Center for Teaching Excellence staff offered to film a professional recording; however, some students chose to film their own, using computer or cell phone cameras. 

  • First, students rehearsed these presentations and decided on a style, either formal or creative, before they recorded their monologue, designing video résumés that would only be used for their own personal benefit and only viewed by myself or other academics interested in further research. Thus, students felt comfortable being as imaginative as they wanted without fearing that their videos might become viral on the internet. 
  • The video recordings were returned to students, and they watched and reflected on the differences between the visual representation and the written version of their credentials. Students were asked to address what changes they would make to their documents and video; they also were asked to examine how their perceived strengths and weaknesses  of their video presentation affected their overall assessment of the project.
  • The students then revised their original written résumé and cover letter or statement of purpose as the last step of the video résumé project.
  • For the final exam, students completed a post-write reflection on their experience with the project in which they were asked to elaborate on any changes that they made to their written materials, specifically highlighting how the changes in medium altered their rhetorical choices.

Scaffolding of Major Assignments and Group Work

The first assignment required students to complete a written résumé.  The final assignment was a threefold project that included a video résumé, a revised hardcopy résumé, and a reflection on any changes in perspective or presentation of the written résumé after creating and viewing the video résumé.  The course design allowed the students separation and incubation time away from their written résumés after the first round of revisions while they moved on to other projects.  

The interim assignments included

  • A semester long group project in which students were grouped by majors to research, compile, and present information on the prevalence of digital hiring methods in their fields e.g., Skype or video résumés. Students divided up the 20-page written paper requirement, depending on the number of people in their group, typically four or five, and they then collaboratively prepared and executed the presentation component of the group project at the end of the course.
  • A cover letter or statement of purpose, written to a particular job ad or degree program of each student’s choosing.  This was a practical assignment since most of these students were either in the midst of applying for part-time work, full-time work, or to graduate school.
  • An interview with advisors, professionals, or teachers in their fields of study.  Students attached those transcripts to their completed prose document.

Recommended Guidelines for Recording Sessions

  • Limit edited video résumé time to 90 seconds.
  • Encourage students to memorize an outline of their talking points.
  • Ask students to dress as they would for an interview in their field.
  • Suggest that students participating in a formal recording session provided by the school become familiar with the selected recording location.
  • Prepare students for the awkwardness of speaking to a camera and of viewing themselves on tape by encouraging them to practice during the weeks preceding the formal filming.

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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.