I got my assignment for teaching courses next semester. I’m teaching four sections of a course that I have not taught in two years: the research essay. I’ve composed my themes (two, because I’m an overachiever): Conservation and the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, two of my research and teaching loves. This next semester is particularly rough because right now I’m teaching the course just before the research paper course, and those students who choose to take my course again are going to call me on my every move and complain that I “did that last semester.” I need to shake things up, and LaunchPad can help with this.
When I was teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, two librarians, Vicky Lebbin and Dave Brier, taught a 50-minute class to first-year composition students on the research question. In that workshop, they asked students to draw (artistically) their research question or thesis (depending). The theory, Dave explained to me, is that if the student can’t draw it, it isn’t concrete or specific enough. I’m taking that one step further and having them storyboard their research essay.
A storyboard is frequently used in the film industry as a planning tool to describe or demonstrate a television episode or film. It is also used in larger graphic novels. These storyboards set the tone for what is to come. Unlike the film storyboards, however, the storyboards I assign are not complex and not drawn or pasted on some type of sturdy material. They do, however, serve the same function. I will have students post up their storyboards on LaunchPad in Powerpoint form, allowing other students to view them. Viewing other people’s work helps students to increase their self-efficacy because viewing success in others can lead to a student saying, “I can do that!”
In the way I’m describing, the storyboard acts as an outline to the research essay. The PowerPoint slides can be arranged any way a student wants, allowing a student to play with organizing an essay in different forms, giving him or her the opportunity to branch out of tried and true ways (think five-paragraph essay, which while having its place, really won’t work for every type of writing students will encounter while in college). Having peers review the storyboard helps a student to refine what he or she wants to present to a reader and provide him or her with yet another tool to help piece together a fully fleshed-out idea of what that final research product will look like. Yet another benefit to the storyboard is that a student can then self-identify what areas of the essay need more support or to tighten the focus and to eliminate some sections of the proposed essay altogether.
One of the things that I love about LaunchPad is that I can use it as an archival database. If I start to notice trends or want to check to see if a method or modality works, everything is contained in one place. I can go back to test my theory to see if it has merit. Because I teach using multimodality and digital tools, my students ultimately benefit from LaunchPad, too. Through the use of LaunchPad to upload the assignments on to a discussion post, the students then have an archive to turn to, to view different ideas of presenting material--it’s another tool in the proverbial toolbox, and it’s a tool with many examples. Keeping the storyboards in one place also allows me to demonstrate previous successes to a new group of students every semester that I teach this course. I can access previous courses easily and quickly through LaunchPad’s dashboard, and those storyboards I show to students can create a new generation of storyboards that are even better than when I first created this assignment.
For me, having easy access to digital assignments is helpful in multiple ways. College freshmen need to see successful examples, and LaunchPad can provide me with the digital archive that helps me to not only teach courses, but to keep previous assignments, refine those assignments, and ultimately (if I choose to go down this route) to write a publication on the assignments and trends that I’ve noticed. It all adds up to a more robust classroom that I can access any time to help me design, refine, and demonstrate.