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Multimodal Mondays: Micro Content and Low-Stakes Writing Assignments

andrea_lunsford
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KHK.pngToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition

Overview

As our field shifts and changes, we ask students to write for multiple purposes, audiences, and contexts. Multimodal composition has clearly moved out of exclusively academic settings into a variety of writing and reading opportunities. As we prepare students to write in our world today, we can help them realize the ways that content creation is part of the work of the writing classroom. Lisa Dush reminds us in her 2015 article “When Writing Becomes Content” that the field of writing studies is changing and encourages us to bring this relevancy to our classes through the content metaphor and reconsider the ways we discuss and teach writing. She says,

“The real danger is in ignoring content: if content has indeed changed the rhetorical game, composers who ignore it risk failing in their rhetorical attempts, and a field that ignores it risks marginalization and missed opportunities for growth.” (193)

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As writing teachers, we have embraced this challenge and students now compose blogs, videos, tweets, and other kinds of content that is shared and repurposed across the web and into many interactive formats. I include a range of content variations in my classes and always focus on acts of composition within a rhetorical framework. In my previous posts, I have shared examples of longform assignments that are similar to academic texts, except that students now learn to write non-linear, interactive texts that include links, exploratory paths, and multimodal components. Recently, I have been thinking about the value of including low-stakes, micro content assignments.

The term micro content was first credited to Jakob Nielson (2017) who defined it as “a small group of words which can be skimmed by the reader to understand the wider message of the article.” It can take the form of small fragments, phrases, or descriptions that can be added to longer pieces, provide information, or create audience engagement. He points out that micro content generally stands on its own without context and provides a way to skim texts for quick meaning. We have expanded this definition to include a variety of “bite-sized” or “digestible” chunks of information that now include multimedia, mini-content such as photographs, mini-videos, memes, tweets, graphics, gifs, lists, Instagram posts, TikToks, and other small form content. Although this micro content stands on its own, it also engages readers to further explore ideas as they click through and go deeper into long-form or other related content. In other words, these content artifacts work cooperatively to create content packages in which micro content fits together to contribute to larger pictures, ideas, or articles. Micro content is particularly important since our attention span is decreasing and we now get much of our information and entertainment through our phones and consume it in “small bites.”

 

Resources

 

Steps to the Assignment

As writing teachers, we already scaffold our assignments and integrate low-stakes writing into our courses at all phases of the writing processes. I combine these two ideas and design low-stakes micro content assignments either as quick, turnaround assignments; as parts of scaffolded, larger assignments; or as stand-alone micro content activities.

  1. Background: I find it beneficial to help students define the concepts and terms (content, micro content, long-form content). I present concepts, definitions, and examples of micro content. I often have them read Dush’s article “When Writing Becomes Content” and other definitional articles that explore the nature of content and the shifting roles of writers.
  2. Have students search the web to identify and analyze different types of micro content and create a collaborative class list to show the range of artifacts and their variations. You can also have them post links with short descriptions to a discussion post. Share with the rest of the class in a full class discussion.
  3. Next, have students choose a particular type of micro content and write a reflective analysis in which they compare and cite examples and discuss the genre conventions of their choice (length, style, links, images, etc.).
  4. Challenge students to compose micro content and scaffold these low-stakes assignments into your existing course assignments. Here is a quick list of some of these assignments I have tried in my own courses. Many of these are described in some of my earlier posts:
    • Quick image assignments that combine text and image such as a digital, visual series or short slideshows
    • Longform content rewritten as micro content
    • Memes
    • Mini-videos
    • Researching trending topics and creating micro content based on topics
    • Gifs and emojis
    • Curation on a particular theme or subject area—quotes, articles, sharing of other content
    • #hashtags
    • Infographics
    • Polls or questions—research and survey data
    • Pinned maps
    • Podcasts
  5. An optional extension of this work is to have students incorporate their micro content into another long-form artifact created in the class. For example, they might include an infographic to help visualize data in a research article or essay, or embed a short video in a blog post.

 

Reflections on the Activity

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Longform content and detailed academic texts will always have a place in our writing classes and in other world contexts. Students will still engage in a range of rhetorical and research practices as they shape their ideas. However, including low-stakes micro content assignments encourages them to reframe the ways they understand their roles as writers who write for many rhetorical contexts. The teaching of micro content communicates to students the ways we can pull together multiple content artifacts to create engaging multimodal writing.

 

Works Cited

Lisa, Dush. “When Writing Becomes Content.” NCTE, 2015, library.ncte.org/journals/CCC/issues/v67-2/27641.

Loranger, Hoa, and Jakob Nielson. “Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines.” Nielsen Norman Group, 2017, www.nngroup.com/articles/microcontent-how-to-write-headlines-page-titles-and-subject-lines/.

 

Image Credit: “Digital Literacy Clipart 1560126” from WebStockReview, used under a CC BY 3.0 license; “Water Drops” from PxHere, used under a CC0 license

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.