Writing a Course Manual

Cover page of Technical Writing Course Manual, featuring the document's title and a collage of photos of people writing in the workplaceI am currently revising my Technical Writing Course Manual, in preparation for my summer session course, and I want to share the document and how it has worked this week. I first created the manual, using a Google Document, for my spring courses to eliminate the dozens of web pages that I had created previously. The manual addressed several challenges that I had encountered in courses:

  • With the information chunked out in a series of web pages, students had trouble finding details when they needed them. Placing everything in one manual meant the information was all in one searchable place.
  • Students frequently needed a direct link to a specific policy, explanation, or detail in the course materials. The headings in the Google Document let me link to discrete information in the manual.
  • Previously, I used a separate website for the kind of information included in the manual, but students were sometime confused about the need to go to a separate place outside the course management system (CMS) to find course information. The Google Document was easy to embed within our CMS, so I did not need to use a separate website.

The manual proved successful during the spring term. Students consulted it it regularly throughout the term. Whenever I looked at the embedded manual on the course homepage in the CMS, I saw a collection of anonymous animals, from the Anonymous Anteater to the Anonymous Wombat. I came to value all those anonymous animals as evidence that students were going back to the course documents long after the first days of the course. I’ve never had that kind of validation with a traditional syllabus.

One issue to address as I revise is the length of the manual. It currently comes in at 34 pages, and I’m still tweaking things. Naturally, I don’t expect students to read and memorize the manual; but what seems obvious to me may not be obvious to students. I have added the section below to explain how I expect students to use the manual in the course:

How to Use this Manual

This course manual is a guide to English 3764, Technical Writing, as taught by Traci Gardner at Virginia Tech. The manual is arranged in three large sections: 

  • Syllabus and Basic Course Information: all the information typically included on a syllabus, including details on course assessment and the textbook.
  • Requirements: explanation of the work that is expected in the course.
  • Policies: all the guidelines that apply in the course, listed in alphabetical order.

Do not feel compelled to read the manual cover-to-cover. This guide is a reference you should review at the beginning of the course and then return to throughout the term as necessary. 

At the beginning of the course, you should skim through the entire manual. Read the information that provides key details on the class carefully, such as the “Tentative Course Schedule” and the “Late Policy.” Pay attention to the kind of information that is included in the manual as you skim. 

During the course, check this manual for the answers to your questions first. You can check the Table of Contents as well as use the Find command to search the manual. Most general questions about the course are answered here.

I’ll emphasize these instructions the first week of the course as well, when I point out some of the key details students should review. I’m looking forward to a second term using the manual, and I hope it will be a positive experience this term too. As you check out the document, note any questions or suggestions you have and leave them below as a comment. I’m planning to use the document again for the fall semester, so I can use your advice and feedback!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Political Memes from the Internet to Protest Posters

As I have written in my last two posts, I presented on the ways that image macro memes (the memes that usually consist of an image and a text caption) at the Computers and Writing Conference in June. Specifically, I focused on political memes and how these memes are a form of activism as the people who make and share them spread their message.

As Limor Shifman explains in her book Memes in Digital Culture (2014), memes are a way of expressing opinions in political conversations, undertaking advocacy and grassroots action, and participating in political movements. Given these functions, political memes are perfect for the classroom: They ask students to use critical analysis, persuasion, and argument in authentic conversations.

Encourage students to think about the use of memes beyond Internet sharing by examining this version of the Distracted Boyfriend meme, updated to focus on gun control:

Distracted Bodyfriend Gun Control Meme

The meme was shared in a Tweet from @rachel_handler. It shows the distracted boyfriend with the object label “Trump,” looking back at the woman in red who is labeled “NRA,” while his girlfriend who is labeled “Our Lives” looks at him in disgust. Under the meme, the political protest poster states, “We call BS!” The text of the Tweet provides the context where the meme was shared: “great sign my little sister sent me from today’s #nationalschoolwalkout pic.twitter.com/i0WqRMdaDF.”

What interests me about this image is that the Internet meme is no longer bound by the Internet. Instead, as was also the case with the Grumpy Cat protest poster I shared previously, the meme has been recreated in an analog world, printed out in this case and glued to a piece of poster paper with an additional line (“We call BS!”) to emphasize the message.

The shift from Internet meme to protest poster seems a natural one. What works for political advocacy online can make a similarly strong message in an analog situation. While some Internet memes would not translate to nondigital messages (think of animated gifs and memetic videos), image macros make the transition smoothly. For more examples of memes on protest posters, check out the Medium post “Teens March With Memes.”

After students examine a meme that has crossed from the Internet to an analog existence, ask students to consider these questions:

  • Why would someone use a meme on a political protest poster?
  • How would the purpose of a political protest influence the kind of meme someone would choose?
  • What audience(s) would a political poster using a meme target? Consider specific posters and the memes they use.
  • Why do you think the poster maker made the choice of the specific meme for that specific poster?
  • What underlying messages does the meme on a particular protest poster communicate? Think about the assumptions and “unspoken” messages in the poster.
  • What existing meme template would be a better (or worse) choice for this message?
  • Why would someone use this Internet meme on an analog poster? What can you say about how it transitions from the Internet to a poster?
  • What guidelines would you propose to help someone choose and customize a meme for a political protest poster?

As you may guess, these question work students toward creating a rubric for effective memes, which can then be applied to their own political memes. My post last week offered a range of online tools that students can use to create memes.

Do you have ideas for using memes in the classroom? Do you have questions that you would like me to consider in an upcoming post about memes? Just let me know by leaving a comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Image Macro Meme Makers

LOLcat defining Politics, with the captions, Politics: n - frum Greek. Poli - many, tics - blood sucking parasites
LOLcat defining Politics, with captions, Politics: n – frum Greek. Poli – many, tics – blood sucking parasites

Last week, I shared a Political Meme Scavenger Hunt activity, one of the resources that I also shared at the Computers and Writing Conference in East Lansing, Michigan last week. My session focused on how political memes work and strategies for using them in the classroom. Today I am sharing another resource from the session: online meme generation tools.

The tools listed below all create image macros, the kind of meme that consists of an image and usually some text caption. An image macro can also include an emoji or other drawing as part of the message. The LOLcat on the right is an image macro.

Constraints of Online Meme Makers

The meme generators I collected are free and offer many options. Those strengths come with a down side however. The sites appear to do little review of the memes that are generated and posted. Since the sites are free, they are wide open to anyone who wants to create an image-based meme. Some of the memes on the sites are problematic. You will find images that are racist, sexist, and graphic. Some of the meme templates are also problematic, relying on stereotypes or questionable images.

You will also find that trolls can attack a site, either making it inaccessible or overloading the site with questionable content. The screenshot below shows the recently created memes on the Meme Generator site at the time I was writing this post:

Attack on Meme Generator Homepage

The page was flooded with a pencil meme and text that taunt the website managers. The top left meme includes the caption, “The entire main page will be nothing but this meme.” Other messages on the page continue the theme, criticizing the website and boasting about the attack.

This example demonstrates the problems what you may encounter with using these sites. To address these issues, I suggest the following guidelines:

  • Review the site(s) you want to use well, and then narrow the list down. Choose the site(s) that best match your needs and local expectations for classroom appropriateness.
  • Recognize that these sites can and do change in a matter of seconds. A site that may have been fine when you checked the night before class could have a flooded homepage, like the Meme Generator site shown in the screenshot above.
  • Have a backup plan. If a site is down or has problem images when class meets, have an alternative ready.
  • Before asking students to make memes, discuss the nature of the site(s) with students so that they will not be surprised if they encounter problematic content. Explain the ground rules for your class use of the resources—what students should do if something problematic appears on their screens, and what kind of content is appropriate for their own memes.

Generators for Specific Memes

One way to avoid problematic meme templates is to send students to specific generators that match the topic you are discussing and that do not begin with an inappropriate image. All of the generators listed here could be used by those who attended my conference session to make political memes:

Meme Generators

These links take you to templates with a range of options. Some of the images may be inappropriate, but these sites give students the widest number of options. Another way to avoid problematic meme images and templates is to choose one of the sites that allows the upload of students’ own images. Students will need to take photos or find images to use, but avoiding the templates does limit the likelihood of encountering inappropriate content.

Final Thoughts

Image Macro Memes give students a chance to combine social media and cultural knowledge with visual rhetoric. To be effective, the image and text have to work together to communicate their message. Students typically have experience with the genre. They know what makes a meme successful and what makes one fail, so their prior knowledge make image macros a strong tool for introducing the design and visual composing strategies that build upon their expertise.

Have you used memes in the classroom? Do you have advice to share or examples that you love? Add a comment below to tell me more. I’d love to hear from you.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Political Meme Scavenger Hunt

Grumpy Cat holding an ethernet cable
Protest Poster showing Grumpy Cat holding an Ethernet cable, with the message, “#NSA Killed My Internet. Now I have to build a GNU one.”

Sometimes a LOLcat is just a humorous comment on life. Other times, there is a specific social, political, or cultural message behind it. Take the Grumpy Cat protest poster on the right. The description on Flickr explains that the image is from “the ‘Freedom not Fear’ protest rally against global internet surveillance at 7.9.2013 in Berlin, Germany.”

This Grumpy Cat poster is part of a presentation I will give at the Computers and Writing Conference in East Lansing, Michigan this summer. To provide some background, the proposal for my session, “Making Memes that Work for Change,” explains:

Political messages in the news and on social media timelines frequently borrow from the strategies of familiar Internet memes, like the captioned images we see on Facebook and Twitter. The rhetorical choice of memes for these political messages enables their authors to respond pointedly to issues that affect them, for as Limor Shifman (2014) explains in Memes in Digital Culture, “[P]olitical memes are about making a point—participating in a normative debate about how the world should look and the best way to get there” (121). In short, political memes work to persuade, to engage, and to move the public to action, all as the authors work to communicate their views of the possibilities for the future.

In the case of this Grumpy Cat poster, a well-known Internet meme (Grumpy Cat) is used to communicate the protesters’ dissatisfaction with Internet surveillance. To kick off my presentation, I will ask participants to try the following scavenger hunt activity that I use with students, using the Grumpy Cat as inspiration. The goal is to provide a quick introduction to the political moves that are used in these memes and build a collection to use as the class (or presentation) explores deeper issues.

Political Meme Scavenger Hunt Class Activity

Find political image-based memes that feature

  1. An animal (cat, dog, bird, etc.)
  2. A new take on a well-known meme
  3. Puns or other word play
  4. A stock photo
  5. A still from a video (movie, tv show, YouTube, etc.)

Be sure that the memes you find are appropriate to share with the entire group. Aim for an image that would be appropriate for a PG-13 movie, and language that is no worse than an R-rated movie.

While you are free to share your political beliefs, what you share must align with the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. If you are unsure about any meme, ask me.

I’ve included details in this activity to avoid potential problems that can arise when students examine memes. First, I suggested five specific kinds of memes that students should find to keep them from searching endlessly. They need to find five, so they have to use their time wisely.

Second, I provided standards for the images and language that are acceptable. I want to avoid some of the gruesome memes I have seen, but I did not want to censor topics. For example, there are some graphic abortion memes that I find unacceptable for the classroom. I want to avoid anything of this sort that might trigger students. The movie rating system has always worked well for me. I do make sure that everyone is familiar with the system, as there are occasionally international students who are used to different ratings standards.

Finally, I don’t want to force students to approach topics from any particular stance. They should be free to share any position: pro, con, or somewhere in between. That said, there are some topics that are not appropriate. Students usually understand that things like hate speech are off limits, but my reference to the Virginia Tech Principles of Community reminds them.

I did not include details on how the memes will be shared in the activity. The particular class circumstances and resources determine what will work best. Options I have used include the following:

  • Share the memes in a discussion forum, especially if students are doing the activity for homework.
  • Post the images in a collaborative Google Document or Slides file, which is useful for small group work (give each group its own document).
  • Paste the images in an online white board, like Padlet or Note.ly, which is fun for real-time, whole-group discussion.
  • Email the memes to you (the teacher) and then choose those to share in class, which allows you to review the images beforehand.
  • Enter the link to and name/title of each meme in a Google Form, which will create a list of the memes that you can use later in the course.

Once the memes are collected, you can use them to discuss argument and persuasion, the underlying political messages, symbolism, language strategies, and visual rhetoric. They also provide the background knowledge for a meme-making assignment—and I will share resources for making memes next week, so be sure to come back! Meanwhile, if you have a suggestion or reaction to today’s post, please leave me a comment below.

Credit: Grumpy Cat by Frerk Meyer on Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Write This, Not That: A Class Activity

you make kitty scaredWriting a simple email message can turn me into an overthinking scaredy-cat. Am I using the right phrase? Do I sound like I’m apologizing too much? Am I oversharing? Am I being too vague? Ugh.

I end up evaluating, re-evaluating, revising, writing, and then erasing any time I have to send an important message. What should be an easy message telling someone my manuscript will be late or I can’t make a meeting becomes agony.

Imagine my joy when a friend shared Dani Donovan’s “E-Mail Like a Boss” matrix on Twitter. Even better, her “Write This, Not That” style suggestions are a perfect model for a classroom activity.

In the image below, Donovan (@danidonovan) concentrates the kinds of sentences I struggle with into short, direct ideas that avoid unnecessary apologies or padding:

E-Mail Like a Boss, by Dani Donovan

For students, this matrix can demonstrate two things. First, there is the obvious face value of the information: students gain some stronger ways to say things in emails and elsewhere. Second, each pair demonstrates the value of revision, showing stronger ways to phrase the same idea. To use the matrix in class, I would follow these steps:

  1. Students can work in small groups or as a whole class to discuss how the suggested alternatives improve on the original.
  2. Together, brainstorm other email sentences and messages that can be difficult to write. Students are sure to come up with some ideas immediately, such as telling a professor that they are ill and won’t be in class. While you will want to keep the scenarios they come up with appropriate for the classroom, try to push students to get beyond simple scenarios.
  3. If time allows, students can search their email for messages that they have struggled with and add those ideas to the list.
  4. As a class, review the brainstormed lists and identify nine situations to focus on.
  5. Assign each of the situations to a small group or pair of students. Ask students to create their own “Write This, Not That” style suggestions, using Donovan’s matrix as their model. The groups can record their suggestions in a shared class document if desired.
  6. Once all the groups have completed the task, ask groups to present their recommendations to the class, and arrange for everyone to have a copy of the suggestions for future use.

To go beyond the original matrix, students can think about other writing situations that they encounter frequently, creating “Write This, Not That” suggestions for other tasks they complete, such as description, persuasion, and research essays. As another option, students can review their own drafts, identify sentences or phrases that they have struggled with, and then work together to create “Write This, Not That” alternatives in a group peer review activity.

Final Thoughts

If you use this “E-mail Like A Boss” image with students, be sure to share Donovan’s ADHD Explained Using Comics collection as well. Donovan explains these ADHD webcomics this way:

ADHD can be difficult to explain, and even harder to talk about. We’re creative, friendly, and misunderstood by a lot of people. My hope is to help people with #ADHD feel understood and seen, and be able to share their experiences with others.

Her comics can inspire other writing activities as well as discussion of how to communicate ideas that readers may not be familiar with. If your class is exploring comics and graphic novels, this collection demonstrates how a comic designer has used the genre to share her message with readers.

If you try any of these activities, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment to tell me how it worked in your classroom or share other ways to use these resources.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Using Google Forms to Create Fast Class Activities

Screenshot of Title Survey FormGoogle Forms make an easy task of collecting information from students for class discussion and writing activities. Just gather student responses your Google Form, and use the collected responses as the basis of class discussion and related activities.

All you need is a Google Drive login and one question, meant to gather information on the projects that students are working on or their recent reading assignments. For demonstration purposes, I’m using the question, “What is the title of your report?” I’ll suggest some other questions at the end of the post.

Once you log into Google Drive and have your question ready, it’s a matter of these three basic steps:

Step 1: Create Your Form

Set up a one-question survey that asks for no personal or identifying information. Since responses are anonymous, you avoid any FERPA complications.

  • Once you log into Google Drive, create a new blank form.
  • Give your survey a title, replacing the default “Untitled Form.”
  • Replace the default “Untitled Question” text with the question you want students to respond to.
  • Change the type of question to “Short answer” if Google does not change the type automatically. Note: Google tries to interpret your question and adapt the form, so it may make this change for you.

If desired, click the palette icon on the upper right corner of the page to change the colors and add a background image.

With your form ready to go, give students the link to your form. Click the SEND button in the upper right corner of the page to choose one of several options:

  • Send via email
  • Get a link to share
  • Copy code to embed the form on your page
  • Post to Facebook
  • Send out as a Tweet

Once you send out the link, all you have to do is wait for students to respond. You can look at my Title Survey to see an example of a student-ready form.

Step 2: Check the Responses

Once students have submitted their answers, spot check the questions to prepare for discussion and to check for any problems.

  • Log into Google Drive.
  • Open the Form you created.
  • Click “Responses,” as indicated by the red arrow in this screenshot:
    Screenshot showing the Responses link

The form will switch to show the responses that students have submitted. You can select the list and copy it, so that you can edit it in your word processor if you like. You can also have Google Forms show the responses in a Sheets spreadsheet.

Read the Response to determine the likely topics for class discussion and to remove anything that doesn’t belong. For example, the Responses to the Title Survey show that students would benefit from revising for length and wordiness and should review the rules for capitalizing titles. There is also a title that shows the student has chosen a topic that does not fit the assignment, so I would remove that response to avoid any embarrassment in class. I would write to that student privately before class.

Step 3: Lead Your Class Discussion

Kick off class discussion by sharing the Responses to the question. You can share a link to the responses or a link to the word processor document you created with the responses.

Give students several minutes to review the list, and then let their observations guide the discussion. Begin by asking students what they notice about the Responses. Encourage them to look for patterns and idiosyncrasies. Try sorting the answers alphabetically to group similar responses. As a class you can collaborate to revise Responses if appropriate.

Final Thoughts

I used this activity to ask students to examine and strengthen their document titles. You could use a similar Google Form to ask questions such as these:

  • What is your thesis statement?
  • What is your favorite sentence in the paper (or in a reading)?
  • What is the biggest question you have about the assignment?
  • What do you emphasis in your conclusion?
  • What is the first sentence of your document?
  • How would you summarize today’s reading?

In addition to asking student to respond to these questions by thinking about their own papers, you can have peer review partners respond with their observations as well.

This activity is simple but powerful. Students can quickly see how everyone has responded to a particular task, and then they can make observations about what works and what doesn’t. By asking students to add their information to the Form, you can concentrate on what you want to talk about, rather than the busy work of setting up the list of responses.

Do you use Google Drive in the classroom? Have you used Google Forms? Tell me about your experiences by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion

Playground Tic-Tac-Toe Board, showing random X and O choices.A couple of weeks ago, I shared my Daily Discussion Post (DDP) activity, which asks students to read materials that are related to the course activities and respond to them. This summer I plan to design some new ways for students to respond to these posts.

As I use the posts now, each one typically ends with a question meant to kick off student discussion. Some weeks, the questions seems repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to ask, “What do you think of this idea?”

On the other hand, I try to avoid asking such specific questions that there appears to be only one answer. I also want to steer clear of questions that only allow for one way of thinking or looking at the topic. I want to ensure that students have options for how they respond.

The first option I have designed uses a tic-tac-toe layout to provide a variety of response options for an entire week. The activity, included below, states the instructions, provides the tic-tac-toe board, and adds short descriptions for each of the nine options on the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion Challenge

This week, I challenge you to choose your DDP response strategies from the tic-tac-toe board below. Just as in a game of tic-tac-toe, your goal is to choose three in a row, three in a column, or three diagonally.

Reply to three different DDPs, choosing three different kinds of responses from the board (a different one for each DDP). Additional information on each option is listed below the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Response Board

Cite the textbook Critique the ideas Question for the author/speaker
Demonstrate the idea with your project Relate to a prior experience Cite another DDP
Make a recommendation Cite another student Share a related website

Details on the Response Options (listed alphabetically)

  • Cite another DDP
    Connect the post you are responding to with another post. Be sure to link to the other post and explain the connection fully.
  • Cite another student
    Connect to another student’s comment on the original post, OR to another student’s comment on some other post (be sure to link to it). Either way, be sure to explain the connection completely.
  • Cite the textbook
    Add a quotation from the textbook that relates to the post. It can support the idea or challenge it. Tell us why you chose it, and explain its relationship. Include the page number where you found the quotation.
  • Critique the ideas
    Think about the ideas in the post, and tell us what you think—What good ideas does it share? What bad ideas did you notice? Provide specific explanations for how your opinions on the post.
  • Demonstrate the idea with your project
    Write a before-and-after reply. Take a passage from your project as it is, and then show it after you revise to apply the idea in the post.
  • Make a Recommendation
    Advise someone on the topic the post considers. Recommend whether to follow the advice in the DDP, and provide supporting details that show why someone should follow your recommendation.
  • Question for the author/speaker
    Imagine sitting down with the author of the video or article linked in the DDP. Tell us what you would ask the author/speaker, explain why you’re asking, and suggest how you think the person will reply.
  • Relate to a prior experience
    Explain how the ideas in the DDP relate to a personal experience that you have had in school, in the workplace, or somewhere else. Your experience can match the post or be different.
  • Share a related website
    Tell us about a web page you have found that talks about the same ideas as the post. Include the name of the page, and provide a link.

Assessment

  • You will report the three replies you completed from the Tic-Tac-Toe board in your journal.
  • You will earn credit for your replies by indicating you have completed this task on the Weekly Self-Assessment Quiz.

Final Thoughts

The assessment plan for the activity places the burden of the work on the students. After all, they know where their three responses are and which squares they intend them to correspond to on the Tic-Tac-Toe board. If I had to search out the posts for all 88 students I teach in a semester, the activity would take my time away from giving students feedback on their projects. Letting students report their work makes the activity easy to manage.

Do you have effective discussion activities that you use with your students? I plan to create some additional activities before classes start again in the fall. Will you share your ideas in the comments below? I would love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Playground tic-tac-toe and square by Sharat Ganapati on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Free-to-Use Visual Assets for Digital Projects

African American woman working on a World War II dive bomberGood visual assets can take a digital project from average to awesome. Add the photo on the right, which shows an African American woman working on a World War II dive bomber, to a research project on the role of African American women in the war effort, and the project goes from simply talking about the vital role these women played to showing them in that role.

Students usually understand the value of adding such images. Their challenge is finding images that are free to use and that do not violate intellectual property rights.

Earlier this month, the Library of Congress shared collections of assets that are perfect for student projects, all available for easy download. Free to Use and Reuse Sets from the Library of Congress offers collections of images on topics like these:

  • African-American Women Changemakers
  • Civil War Drawings
  • Women’s History Month
  • Gottleib Jazz Photos
  • Presidential Portraits

For students working on video projects, there is even a collection of Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry. There are even collections of images of Cats and Dogs.

In addition to these custom collections, students can browse the millions of items in the Library’s Digital Collections, which includes photos, scanned pamphlets, and audio and video recordings. The items in the Digital Collection will give you a chance to talk about what makes an asset “free-to-use” so that students can learn how to determine whether they can use the resources they find.

The Library of Congress’s teacher resources provide examples for Citing Primary Sources, which you can use as you discuss documentation and attribution. The teacher resources also include Themed Resources and Primary Source Sets, which may provide even more resources for students to use in their projects. 

Finally, in case students think they’ll find nothing but dry historical resources on the site, you can use the 1914 photo below to talk about the evolution of LOLCATS.

Four kittens entangled in yarn

I’m sure you will find something delightful that you can use on the Library of Congress website. Tell me what you find and how you’ll use it in a comment below; and if you have free-to-use resources to share, post those too! I’m always eager to add to my collection of resources for students to use.

Photo: [1] Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Tennessee, by Palmer, Alfred T., photographer, Available at https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsac.1a35371/; [2] The entanglement, by Frees, Harry Whittier, 1879-1953, photographer, Available at https://www.loc.gov/item/2013648272/. Both images from the Library of Congress, and used under public domain.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Daily Discussion Posts

Asian woman working on laptop at StarbucksFor several semesters now, I have made Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) a key feature in my courses. At the beginning of the term, I explain that these posts meet three goals:

  • to highlight information directly related to projects students are working on.
  • to cover topics important to workplace writing that we are not covering elsewhere.
  • to share resources that help with workplace writing generally.

Originally, I devised these posts to meet another goal. My courses are entirely online. We never meet in the classroom. I found that students were checking in on the course website only once or twice a week. Predictably, the fewer times students checked in, the more trouble they had getting their work of the course done.

I considered punitive measure and complicated check-ins to solve the problem, but I don’t like negative enforcement strategies—and I certainly didn’t want to make more work for myself in order to track those solutions. These daily posts give students a reason to come to the site every week day, meeting my goal of encouraging more frequent engagement with the course materials.

Logistics for the Daily Discussion Posts

Every Tuesday through Saturday during the term, I post advice articles, how-to webpages, and other resources that supplement the textbook. I ask students to respond to the posts with significant, well-explained comments.

I emphasize that these posts are not the place for “yeah, I agree” or “me too” kinds of comments. Instead, I ask students to contribute ideas, engage with others, and extend the conversation.

Structure for the Daily Discussion Posts

I organize the Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) around the series of hashtags explained in the table below. Note that Mondays are reserved for the Module Overview that outlines the work students need to complete for the week.

Hashtag Explanation Example*
#TuesdayTutorial These posts demonstrate something or tell students how to do something. #TuesdayTutorial: Convincing a Reader to Read Your Text
#WednesdayWrite Each post asks students to consider how you would handle a specific situation in the workplace or in the course. #WednesdayWrite: Share Your Workplace Writing Secrets
#ThursdayThought Every post presents an infographic or similar graphic about communication and writing in the workplace.

#ThursdayThought: Know Your Sources

#FridayFact These posts shares a specific fact about writing in the workplace, which students can compare to what they know about their career fields. #FridayFact: Informative Headings Help Readers
#WeekendWatch Every weekend post presents a video relevant to what we are covering in class or something else related to writing in the workplace. #WeekendWatch: Crafting Strong Email Messsages

*Because of the way our course management system (CMS) works, I cannot link to the examples.

Assessment for the Daily Discussion Posts

Students grade their own interaction with the Daily Discussion Posts by completing a weekly self-assessment, set up as a True/False quiz in our CMS. The self-assessment questions ask students to indicate what they have read and how many replies they have made. They also confirm that they have completed the self-assessment in accordance with the university’s honor code. When they submit their self-assessments, the points are recorded in the CMS grade book automatically.

I spot check students’ work, but I trust them to ensure that they record their participation honestly. In the semesters that I have used this system, I have only found one student who made a false claim. These self-assessments let me focus my attention on giving students feedback, rather than assigning letter grades.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, these posts required a lot of work the first term that I used them. Writing five different posts a week took an hour or two each day. Now that I have a collection of posts, however, all I have to do is update and revise the posts. I can usually set up the entire week in an hour.

All in all, these Daily Discussion Posts give students extra resources and a chance to interact in a timely manner, and even more importantly from my perspective, they encourage students to check in on the course frequently.

What strategies do you use to engage students and motivate regular participation in your classes? I would love to hear your ideas. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: Detail from “a cold, rainy night at Starbucks” by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

A Simple Resource to Teach Documentation Requirements

In February, I shared a resource I designed to Persuade Students to Think Visually with Infographics. I was taken with the “Thinking Visually” features in the Bedford/St. Martin’s textbook Practical Strategies for Technical Communication by Mike Markel.

This week I’m sharing another resource inspired by the “Thinking Visually” feature. The infographic shown below focuses on one basic idea related to documentation and citation—the answer to the question “What Do I Need to Document?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide screen-reader accessible versions.

image

The infographic is a brief version of the information from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources” (p. 620). I designed the resource to concentrate on just one concept related to documentation and citation (what to document). The information as it is presented in the Appendix is part of a complete explanation of the relevant topics. Students sometimes miss the key details when so many ideas are being explained. Essentially, I am combating students’ information overload.

I have paired each category to document with a single icon from The Noun Project. Here, I am hoping that the icons will help students remember the categories:

  • Quotation marks represent quoted material.
  • Light bulb represents the ideas of others that are paraphrased or summarized.
  • Graphic icon represents multimedia resources, like photographs or video clips.

The images should be especially useful for students who lean toward visual ways of thinking and learning—which is, after all, the point of a “Thinking Visually” resource.

I would love to know what you think of this resource. Is it something you could use with students? What other key ideas would you like to see in a “Thinking Visually”-style resource? Leave me a comment below and tell me more about your ideas.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.