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Multimodal Mondays: Stepping Out with Virtual Reviews

andrea_lunsford
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andrea_lunsford_6-1613770163720.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

We have learned much from the pandemic, including flexibility, resiliency, and adaptation. Like many teachers out there, I had to look back on previously successful assignments and rethink them for this new context. I have learned that it is important that we see these modifications as value added rather than simply revisions made based on situational limitations. 

Terence Thomas' virtual review of YellowstoneTerence Thomas' virtual review of Yellowstone

One of these assignments is the Experiential Reviews and Immersive Experiences assignment which I wrote in 2019. been working for years now with the ideas of experiential reviews and immersive experiences—I am fascinated with the ways we can translate real, live experiences into virtual experiences that give readers a sense of being there. Digital and multimodal composition allow students to create these types of non-linear texts that represent reality and allow for interaction and broad exploration for readers. In this assignment, students immerse themselves into a physical environment and try to recreate that for their readers through embedded links, exploratory paths, visual images, and other microcontent. I ask students to go beyond description and provide a triangulated picture while also reviewing the location from their own perspectives. The review is a common digital genre and gives students opportunities to create engaging, non-linear content for public audiences.  

Our current “shelter-in-place” status had me return to this assignment and revise it to fit this new reality as a virtual review. At first, I was disappointed that I couldn’t do the assignment as it was originally designed as a physical experience, but I decided to modify it by adding virtual options for students to review. And in fact, our current at-home status created a stronger need and desire for these kinds of experiences in ways we have never before considered. I noticed in my media feeds that so many places and organizations were meeting this need through new virtual tours of their museums, parks, events, and other public spaces. With so many emerging options, it made sense for students to review these virtual tours, compare them and provide feedback on the quality of the experience, and recommend them to others. Again, something that started out as a compromise from the original assignment now felt more meaningful due to our current situation.  

 

Background Resources

 

Some Resources for Virtual Tours:

 

Steps of the Assignment:

  1. First, research – Students can search out their own locations for virtual visits, but I had fun researching options to give them ideas. There are many aggregate articles that list virtual experiences and can give ideas about categories for exploration. I included a couple in the resources section above but I like to have students brainstorm on their own and consider the range of possibilities before choosing their site.
  2. Once they have reviewed many options (and perhaps shared ideas with others), students choose a virtual experience to review. I encourage them to choose something that fits with their interests. Sometimes students choose something they have always wanted to see (“I was in Paris but didn’t get a chance to see the Louvre” or “I am curious about Yellowstone National Park” or “I wanted to see Washington, DC, and my grandfather’s grave in Arlington Cemetery”) or sometimes they choose a location that they never heard of before and discovered through their brainstorming. It is important that they choose a location that is immersive and allows for a true virtual experience rather than a static website brochure. Meghan Cobler's screenshot from the New England Aquarium’s livestreamMeghan Cobler's screenshot from the New England Aquarium’s livestream
  3. Students then go to the virtual location, “walk” around, and note specific perspectives and artifacts they see on their journeys. They should take notes and screenshots along the way to gather evidence that will help them represent this virtual space. I also encourage them to try out Google Street View, which enables them to explore the surrounding area of their locations to get a better sense of context. 
  4. Once students collect “field” data, they pull it together as a written review. I have students add these reviews to their course blogs, but they can also create them as documents that allow for links and images and some interactivity. We share resources on how to write a review, emphasizing that it is both a description of their location and recommendation, based on their individual perspectives. We look at samples of different kinds of professional and student reviews to get a sense of the genre.
  5. I require that they include purposeful embedded links, images with captions, an embedded Google Map, and references and related resources. We then share them with class members for peer review and live feedback aimed towards revision.
 

James Daniel’s virtual review of The LouvreJames Daniel’s virtual review of The LouvreReflections on the Activity

Students took on the challenge and visited a variety of places both locally and all around the world. They analyzed and produced interesting multimodal texts that speak to the quality of the experience and provide authentic reviews to an audience with a real need. I had students visit world class museums (The Louvre in Paris, The Smithsonian), zoos and wildlife spaces (the San Diego Zoo and Boston Aquarium), historic buildings, town squares, National parks, concerts, music venues, and other local and national events and spaces. Also, of particular interest, I worked with a visually impaired student who chose to visit several of these sites and review them for issues of accessibility and enjoyment for others with visual impairment. It is fun for students to share these experiences with others and realize the potential impact of this kind of writing that represents a live experience and helps us step out without leaving our homes.

I have included some links below if you want to see live versions of some sample virtual reviews:

Note: These links may expire, so please refer to the images throughout the post if you encounter a broken link.

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.