Social media represents a large percentage of the reading and writing that first-year students do outside of the classroom, so it makes sense to acknowledge and even take advantage of it inside of the classroom. In my DePaul WRD 102 Basic Writing course, we use Instagram throughout the quarter to document various stages of their writing processes in unique and interesting ways, to provide a centerpiece of an in-depth rhetorical analysis project in the middle of the term, to facilitate conversations about audience, context, and purpose, and to create a multimodal final reflective essay with their course ePortfolios. For basic writers in particular, using Instagram to create a gallery of their writing successes and challenges throughout the quarter has proved especially beneficial in boosting the amount of evidence and analysis final reflections.
The following handbook sections provide useful questions for not only writing a final reflection for an online platform such as Digication, but also for selecting content and captions for photos taken throughout the quarter:
1. I ask students to create an Instagram account (if they don’t already have one) and post at least five pictures with a hashtag unique to our class. Most students have an Instagram account prior to my class, and those who don’t are able to sign up in less than two minutes. Some students choose to create second Instagram accounts rather than post school-centered images to their personal or private accounts. I try not to give too many instructions about the content of their pictures; rather, I encourage students to think about their own writing processes—their challenges, habits, strategies, and resources—in order to take photos that reveal new or tacit knowledge about how they approach writing tasks. And, in the interest of fairness, I post photos to Instagram using the hashtag, too.
2. I engage the class in informal reflections and discussions in class about their rhetorical choices for composition, content, and editing. By midterm week, students are required to have at least two photos posted to their Instagram accounts so that we have something to reflect on and talk about in class (weekly reminders to take pictures help students remember and meet this deadline). I ask students to bring in their photos, either in print or digitally, for a free write about rhetorical choices—why they chose to capture that particular moment, as well as the intended rhetorical effects of chosen filters, compositions, editing, and captions. The results of the free writing jumpstart a discussion about cultivating personas, audience, and exigence.
3. I introduce the final reflection assignment about two weeks before the end of the quarter. As far as final reflection assignments go, my reflective essay prompt is fairly standard—I ask students to think about new strategies that they tried throughout the quarter, the challenges they faced as writers, and progress toward personal goals or course learning outcomes. I encourage them to use the Instagram photos they have taken over the quarter as evidence of the activities or processes they discuss in their essays because as we’ve no doubt discussed by this point in the term, evidence is crucial to support their claims.
4. I use a reflection worksheet to help students connect the actions or strategies depicted in the pictures to the course learning outcomes and their ongoing development as writers and students. Effective reflective writing is challenging;asking students to talk about the past often elicits simple reports of tasks they’ve accomplished rather than in-depth discussions on how they accomplished those tasks and what they’ll take away from the experiences. To help students think about past, present, and future in their reflections, I ask them to complete the following worksheet in class:
What you did
How you did it
I have students fill out the two columns on their own and talk to a partner to discover learning outcomes that the experiences can map onto and future applications for the knowledge or skills they have acquired.
5. Students write and present final reflections and their Instagram galleries to showcase the writing strategies they employed throughout the quarter. Digication ePortfolios are required of all students in every first-year writing course at DePaul, so students have the means and opportunity to create a multimodal reflective essay that informs the rest of their showcased work. Most students choose to use the photo gallery function available on Digication, which allows viewers to scroll through the photos and read accompanying captions.
Below are some examples of photos taken by my students (and me). View more images on Instagram with #depaulwrd102.
This assignment is an easy way to start talking about multimodality in the classroom because the platform is free and most students are experts walking into the classroom, which means they have a lot to say from the very beginning! Analyses of Instagram photos come naturally to most students, and they have very little trouble understanding how images can be read as texts.
Finally, as a result of this assignment and the associated class activities, I have received some truly introspective and evidence-based reflections that were mostly free of report-like language and superficial appeals to my vanity as a teacher. Asking students to use their own images to reflect on their writing gets them thinking about how writing and media can complement, inform, and even complicate each other.
Guest blogger Amanda Gaddamis 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.