Updating Your Word Cloud Tools

Word clouds can give writers helpful information as they revise their work. As I explained in my previous post Word Clouds as Revision Tools, “Word clouds highlight the most frequently used words in a text, using larger font sizes for the words used most often and smaller sizes for those used less often.”

Using Word Clouds

In the writing classroom, word clouds can help students identify words that they have overused or identify themes in their writing. In technical writing classes, I ask students to create word clouds from their job application materials and then evaluate whether the words that they use the most project the image that they want potential employers to see.

In classes that focus on reading, students can use word clouds to analyze passages from poetry, essays, fiction, and other readings. The resulting word clouds can help students identify themes and symbols in the texts, just as a concordance might. Here’s the word cloud for the 50 most frequent words in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

Word Cloud for T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

Once a word cloud like the one above is generated, students can talk generally about the frequently-used words, and then search for the words in the original text to see how they are used.

Problems with the Most Commonly Used Word Cloud Generator

So word clouds can be a fun tool to use in the classroom; recently, however, I have run into trouble when assigning word cloud activities. My go-to tool, Wordle, is no longer working consistently. When I follow their troubleshooting instructions, I end up finding this Java error:

Java error: The Chrome browser does not support NPAPI plug-ins and therefore will not run all Java content. Switch to a different browser (Internet Explorer or Safari on Mac) to run the Java plug-in.

Wordle has been my favorite and the tool that I have seen other teachers use most frequently, but with the end of Java support, I can’t rely on Wordle anymore. I need to find tools that students can use easily and reliably.

Word Cloud Alternatives to Try

After testing several options, I found three alternatives that seem useful:

These three tools create word clouds easily, giving the user the same basic settings. Word Cloud Generator (for Google Docs) is limited in the ways that you can manipulate the layout of the words. For instance, to switch to the landscape layout shown for The Waste Land example above, I had to open the image in Photoshop and rotate it. It’s not a hard change to make, but it is an extra step. Word Cloud Generator includes the unique ability to add a table of the most frequently used words and their frequency of use to the end of the analyzed document. To share this add-on with students, use the How to Create a Word Cloud in Google Docs video and instructions.

Pro Word Cloud (for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint) does allow you to change the layout of the words, giving you a range of options that includes Higgledy Piggledy. I love anything that offers me the chance to make things “Higgledy Piggledy.” This Word add-in falls short, however, since it has no option to exclude words from the cloud. There is a check box to “Remove common words,” but no option to customize the words that are removed. To share the add-in with students, you can use the Create a Word Cloud in a PowerPoint Presentation video and instructions. The instructions are generally the same to install and use the add-in in Microsoft Word.

WordClouds (for web browsers) is the best choice if the source text for your word cloud is a web page or PDF. You can upload a file or enter a web link, and the tool will make a related cloud. WordClouds also includes the largest number of options of the three tools. In addition to the customary settings for the color, font, and the layout of the words, you can change the shape of the cloud (e.g., a heart, an apple, a cat), set the distance between words (or the gap size), and add a mask. The shape option includes not only basic shapes, but also the ability to choose a letter or number as the shape of the cloud and the ability to choose a colorful icon (such as a rainbow). There’s even a sneaky way to track multi-word phrases (e.g., writing center). Just add a tilde (~) between the words (i.e., writing~center). While there is no page of instructions for WordClouds, students can use the Wizard on the site to get started and find the answers to any questions on the FAQ page.

Final Thoughts

I am always looking for more ways to use word clouds in the classroom. They are so easy to create, and they quickly reveal keywords and themes in the analyzed texts. I am working on some additional word cloud activities for next week’s post. If you have an activity to share, please leave me a note below, and be sure to come back next week for those additional assignments that use word clouds.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Crowdsourcing Your Video Captions

Ideally, every video that I upload to YouTube has closed captions and a transcript. Unfortunately, things are not always ideal in my world. When I have time, I have been using Screencast-O-Matic to add captions to the videos that I make for my students. Here’s an example video that I made to show students how a new blog commenting system works.

Viewing Tip
Click the closed caption icon that is shaped like a box with lines of text in it, in the lower right band where the controls are, to see the captions on this video. The icon is shown in the image below, all the way to the left.

To make the captions on this video, I used the speech-to-text capability built into Screencast-O-Matic Pro. Unfortunately, you do have to upgrade to use the speech-to-text tool, but the cost is an economical $18 annually. The tool created a rough draft of the captions, but I had to go through and edit them by adding words and phrases that it missed and correcting things that it misheard.

The whole process took a little over an hour, which may not seem bad until you consider the length of the video. The video is only 3½ minutes long, so I spent about twenty times the length of the video to make the transcript. Now extend that time commitment to a 10 minute video, and you need to plan at least three hours. That’s quite an undertaking for something that will only result in 10 minutes of curriculum material.

Fortunately, YouTube includes a setting that allows a video creator to crowdsource the captioning for the videos that she uploads. From my perspective, it’s the most important setting on YouTube. Just follow the instructions to Turn on & manage community contributions and anyone can add captions to your video. The system allows you to review, change, or reject the captions.

I already have an assignment that invites students to crowdsource transcripts. This YouTube setting facilitates their contributions to the course smoothly, and as a bonus, it reduces the work I have to do since the captions are added directly to the videos. In addition, students can contribute by adding to existing captions if they notice a correction is needed. I still plan to create captions for all my videos, but it’s nice to know that these alternatives exists.

Do you have suggestions for improving the process of providing transcripts and captioning for video and audio content? I would love additional ideas and assignments. Please tell me about your ideas by leaving a comment below.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Three Steps to Better PDF Accessibility

There are 60 million people with disabilities in the US banner by Yahoo! Accessibility Lab on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA licenseWhen students compose assignments, I expect them to pay attention to accessibility in addition to the usual issues of content and format. After all, even the most brilliant document will be unsuccessful if readers cannot access it.

When students are turning in PDF files, the basic process is to create the document in a word processor and then use that word processor file to generate a PDF. To guide this process, students can use any one of dozens of checklists and resources for help. In particular, the Checklist for Making Accessible Microsoft Office and PDF Documents from Johns Hopkins is thorough and includes links to additional information.

The information in such checklists can be overwhelming, however, especially for students who resist the additional step of ensuring accessibility. To simplify the process, I focus on these three steps in my instructions to students:

  1. Use built-in tools for document styles.
    Word processors have built-in style templates for a document’s title, headings, and lists. Screen readers  – software applications that assist sight-impaired users access what is on the computer by means that are not sight-dependent  – look for these templates as a key to the organization of a document. If the document has created its own style markers (say, using a bold, 12-point font for primary headings), the screen reader won’t recognize that information as headings. Beyond making documents accessible for screen readers, the built-in tools create a professional design without any extra formatting work.
  2. Choose meaningful names for hyperlinks.
    Screen readers read all of the links in a document in a kind of menu. These links are read without the surrounding text that provides their context. To ensure that your readers find the right hyperlink, use the name of the document that a hyperlink connects to, rather than vague text like “Click Here.” Because of the way that screen readers read the links, “Click Here” doesn’t make sense since the context is missing. Basically, readers have no idea where “Click Here” will take them.
  3. Use Save As PDF… and never Print to PDF.
    If a PDF does not include text (words and other characters), screen readers don’t know how to interpret the information. That’s the problem with the Print to PDF command: it saves an image of the document rather than the text. The resulting PDF may look the same to someone with sight, but the screen reader can’t use it. Additionally, any special features like embedded hyperlinks will be gone in a document created with the Print to PDF command. Instead, always use the Save As PDF command, which maintains text recognition and features like embedded hyperlink. For extensive information on how to save your documents, I recommend PDF Accessibility: Converting Documents to PDF from WebAIM. Microsoft also has instructions on how to Create Accessible PDFs.

There is much more that can be done to make a document fully accessible, but this bare minimum goes a long way toward ensuring that someone gets at least the basics of what the document is trying to communicate. For other ways that I address access, you can read details on how I tell students about accessibility in my courses as well as how I ask students to crowdsource accessibility documents for the course.

Do you have any activities or instructions that you use to talk about accessibility with students? Tell me about them in the comments below. I’m always eager to find new resources I can use in class.

 

 

Photo credit: There are 60 million people with disabilities in the US banner by Yahoo! Accessibility Lab on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Asking Students to Visualize Their Progress

Since I am currently teaching technical writing, progress reports are on my regular list of assignments this term, but I also use them in both my first-year composition (FYC) and my digital media classes. The assignment works well in the middle of a longer project, be it something like a research project in FYC or a documentary video project in a digital media class.

At its most basic, the progress report is a simple genre with a organizational structure that makes sense to students. I ask students to focus on three sections:

  • Section 1: Tell me what you have done
  • Section 2: Tell me what you still need to do
  • Section 3: Tell me how you will get the remaining work done and let me know about any of your concerns

Students can often accomplish the task in a quick one-page document. The activity works well as an in-class writing exercise, since it requires no research and has a set structure with clear requirements. When students work on progress reports outside of class, I can step up the expectations. For instance, I frequently ask students to include a calendar or a table that shows their remaining milestones or to add specific information that shows their progress.

One of my favorite additions focuses on using visual elements in their progress reports to demonstrate something about the work they have completed or the work they plan to complete. To explain the expectations for this visual addition to the assignment, I post the following description and example on the course website:

Visualize Your Progress

You can often show trends and comparisons with graphical elements better than with text descriptions. Consider the difference between describing the performance of a stock or a portfolio during the last year and showing that performance with a line graph. Here’s an example from the Student-managed Endowment for Educational Development (SEED) 2016 Annual Report [an investment portfolio managed by a student at Virginia Tech]. Which seems easier to read and process to you?

Text Description

The portfolio performed relatively in line or slightly below the respective benchmark until the final quarter, as shown in Exhibit 1. We included the Consumer Price Index as a preservation of spending power benchmark to monitor changes in our real returns. From mid-November to year-end, the portfolio significantly outperformed and finished 2016 with an active return of 5.13%. In order to calculate our risk-adjusted return, we incorporated our portfolio’s beta of 1.2 and historical average for yields on the 1-Year Treasury note (1.84%) in order to compute a CAPM-based implied alpha. This calculation resulted in an implied 2016 alpha of 3.11%.

Line Chart

SEED 2016 Performance

For my money (pun intended), the line chart is much easier to understand quickly. In many circumstances, you will include both a text description and a graphical representation, which helps ensure accessibility for all readers. The point of today’s post is that the graphical version is not just an illustration. It is critical to showing the reader information about the topic.

Think about how you can add graphical representation of information in your progress report. The infographic How to Think Visually Using Visual Analogies from Anna Vital to see a collection of charts and graphs you can use to communicate information. Once you explore the options, add a pertinent visualization to your progress report.

After this reviewing this information, students have improved their progress reports by adding visual elements like pie charts and timelines as well as photos and screenshots that show their work. It’s definitely one of my favorite class activities because it takes students from reflective text descriptions to considerations of visual rhetoric in just one class session. Have you tried an activity that teaches students to make and use visual elements in their writing? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I’d love to hear about what works for you.

 

Image credit: Graph from the Student-managed Endowment for Educational Development (SEED) 2016 Annual Report.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

New Resource on Academic Labor and Writing Programs

Word Cloud made from the pages of the Labor Resource CenterEarlier this month, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) premiered their Labor Resource Center. The site provides an amazing array of resources on labor equity and equality for both those working with and in writing programs and those researching writing programs.

Housed on Colorado State’s Center for the Study of Academic Labor website, the collection of resources grew from ideas exchanged at a pre-conference institute at the CWPA conference in 2013. Now, five years later, the newly launched center provides artifacts and materials that focus on the labor issues most relevant to writing program administration.

The Labor Resource Center includes example documents and guidelines that can help answer questions such as:

  • What is typically included in a job description for a director of first year composition?
  • What should I pay attention to if I am writing a self-evaluation of my work as a faculty member?
  • What examples are available for student evaluation of teaching?
  • What should a candidate keep in mind during a job interview? What should a search committee consider?
  • What position statements address working conditions?
  • What databases are useful for research on writing instruction and academic labor?
  • What should I read if I want to learn more about working conditions for composition faculty?

As the site explains on its home page, it is “(Always) In progress.” Its Forthcoming Pages/Projects link indicates that the site will ultimately include additional materials including an FAQ page, details on job negotiation, sample contracts, and research on class size.

Whether you are a newcomer to teaching in the composition classroom or an experienced administrator, you will find relevant resources on the CSAL website. I encourage you to visit and explore the already rich collection. If you have suggestions for materials to add to the collection, you can email Seth Kahn, who serves as the chair of the CWPA Labor Committee and is the primary administrator for the site.

 

Image credit: Word Cloud from the CWPA Labor Resource Center by Traci Gardner, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Checking the Checkers

As teachers and writers, we know that spell checkers, grammar checkers, and style checkers have limitations. Students, on the other hand, sometimes succumb to the promise of accuracy and accept whatever these tools suggest. So how can we convince them to question the advice that they receive?

With my students, I introduce the topic with a discussion of an article that demonstrates the complications that checkers can introduce and a complementary article that discusses the value of accuracy. Here’s the prompt I use, which you are welcome to copy and customize for your classes:

Screenshot of autocorrect on a phone, with the image of a police officer riding a unicornWe all rely on grammar and style checkers to help us find the small errors in our writing. Anyone who has had autocorrect go wrong, however, knows that grammar and spell checkers are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes (as in the case of the unicorn-riding police officer in the meme image on the right) these tools can change our messages to say things we never intended.

In the same way that you must double-check the changes that autocorrect suggests, you have to pay attention to the grammar and style tools that are available in your word processors. Read the Slate.com article Microsoft Word’s Grammar and Style Tools Will Make Your Writing Worse for examples of how Word can suggest changes that will confuse your readers.

Compare the Slate.com piece to the BBC’s article on The true importance of good spelling, which discusses why correctness and accuracy matter by considering how readers react to errors in texts.

Be prepared to discuss the following questions in class:

  • Have you been in situations when you judged someone by their spelling or grammar OR when you were judged on your spelling or grammar? If you are comfortable with sharing, tell us what happened.
  • Have you been a victim of autocorrect gone wrong or an incorrect correction from a spelling or grammar checker? What happened? How did readers react to the autocorrected text?
  • How do your experiences and those that have been shared in class compare to the attitudes toward correctness and accuracy discussed in the BBC article?
  • In what situations are grammar or spell checkers likely to give incorrect advice? Why do these situations lead to mistakes?
  • What suggestions do you have to help people avoid taking bad advice from spell and grammar checkers? What can people do if they are unsure of the advice they are given?

To build on the discussion, follow up with “Mistakes Are a Fact of Life”: A National Comparative Study by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, which is mentioned in the BBC article. Either ask students to read the 2008 CCC article itself or to read some excerpts from the article that demonstrate ways that spell and grammar checkers lead writers to make errors. After reading, have students consider how the categories in the CCC article compare to the different situations they identified in which grammar or spell checkers are likely to give incorrect advice. Encourage students to consider how the categories from the article can help them identify inaccurate advice from spell and grammar checkers.

As students work on drafts for the course, I ask them to note times when they receive poor advice from their word processors. I invite them to share incorrect corrections in a discussion forum. They provide a screenshot of the correction and then explain why the advice is wrong. Ideally, they use the categories from the CCC article to indicate the kind of error that the advice would result in. The resulting examples help the whole class understand the importance of double-checking the advice that spell and grammar checkers provide.

How do you discuss spelling and grammar in class? What activities do you use to help students understand how to use spell and grammar check advice effectively? Please leave a comment below with the details. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Credits: Police Issue Unicorn from Autocorrect Fail. The Lunsford and Lunsford article is from CCC 59:4/June 2008, pp. 781–806.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Using Pop Culture to Inspire Group Collaboration

Supercharge Your Teamwork! InfographicWhen students are asked to work in groups, they may not know what good teamwork looks like. Like anything in the writing classroom, models can help them understand how to collaborate effectively. The challenge is modeling the process for them. I can demo any number of writing strategies as well as provide step-by-step instructions on technology questions. Modeling group work, however, is not a one-person job.

 

Pop culture to the rescue! The infographic to the right analyzes the teamwork strategies of six pop culture teams. It describes the team, identifies the team members, outlines their strategies, and suggests some debriefing notes. It is long and detailed, so you need to click the image to read the full-sized image or view the original on the Inloox site.

 

As students begin working together in their writing groups, I share the infographic above and ask them to compare their own teams to those in the infographic. I invite them to respond to these discussion questions:

 

  • How accurate are the characterizations of the teams in the infographic? Would you change them?
  • Does your team match any of those in the infographic? How well does the infographic team compare to your team? Tell us how.
  • How do the characteristics of teams in the infographic relate to those in the readings for this week?

 

After discussing the infographic, I ask students to brainstorm a class list of other pop culture groups that they are familiar with. If they have trouble getting started, I offer some examples of television shows that feature a team of characters that works together to meet a goal, like NCIS, S.W.A.T, or SEAL Team. If students need additional inspiration, I throw out some categories like teams in anime, teams in movies, and teams in literature.

 

With a list compiled, the class can talk about how the various teams compare to those in the infographic and hypothesize why some groups are more successful than others. The ultimate goal is to find teamwork strategies that students can use as they work together, so I close the discussion by asking students to create a list of techniques to use in their own groups.

 

As an extension activity, students can apply their list of strategies by working in groups to choose a team from the class list and collaboratively design an image that presents the team, modeled on the infographic.

 

Do you have an activity to improve student group work? Please share your ideas in a comment below. I’d love to try your strategies in the classroom.

 

 

 

Infographic from InLoox

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

My Grading System FAQ

Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseThis week I want to share an additional resource that I’ve written to help students understand how my labor-based grading system works.

First, though, I want to review the materials that students already had available. I explain the grading system on the course website, on the Requirements page (from the current semester). To help students understand how they are doing in the course, I have a page that outlines How Grades Are Recorded in the course grade book.

I also share two infographics to further the explanation. One describes what happens When Your Grades Are Based on Labor. Another provides a flowchart that shows How Project Feedback Works in a course with unlimited revision.

Even with these resources, students have told me in comments on course evaluation forms that the grading system I use can be confusing. To address the ongoing questions, I created the following FAQs that answer the questions directly:

Grading System FAQ

Why do you use a labor-based system?

I believe that a system that allows you to keep working until you get the results that fit the workplace is more humane than a system that punishes you if you aren’t perfect on the first try.

I know there are lots of situations in the workplace that require perfection. If you submit a bid to a client that has errors, for instance, you may not get a second chance—but that’s in the workplace. You are still in the classroom.

The labor-based system allows you the chance to learn and improve. You can make mistakes and try again. You can take risks, and if they don’t turn out, your grade will still be okay.

How does this system relate to the workplace?

I have worked in quite a few places, and in none of them did I ever receive a letter grade for the work that I did. Never ever. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, my writing was read by others I worked with. Sometimes it was good enough to go out to the intended reader right away. Other times it had to be revised first. Grades just weren’t part of the system.

In the workplace, you are assessed on how hard you work and what you accomplish. Managers expect you to show up, put in your best effort, and accomplish the goals that your company sets. If you do nothing or the bare minimum, you will be reprimanded or fired.

Grades in this course are based on a similar system. You earn your grade based on your labor—on the time and intensity that you put into your writing and collaboration. You are not punished for making mistakes as long as you work to improve throughout the term.

What’s the research behind this system

I adapted this strategy from Asao Inoue’s work on contract grading, labor-based grading, and anti-racist assessment strategies.

You can find additional publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on Inoue’s Academia.edu page.

Why is this system better for students?

The most important benefits of this system are explained in the When Your Grades Are Based on Labor infographic. To summarize those benefits, a labor-based grading system allows you to

  1. Focus on Ideas (Not Mistakes).
  2. Write for Yourself (Not for Me).
  3. Take Risks (Don’t Play It Safe).
  4. Have Do-Overs (No Penalty).

This labor-based system allows you to continue working on your projects until your work reaches the level that would be acceptable in the workplace. Your grade is not affected by what you haven’t learned yet, and you are free to try out ideas as you like.

Why is there no partial credit?

Work in this class is either ready to use in the workplace (and graded Complete) or it’s not ready (and graded Incomplete).

Think of it as a binary system. There can only be 1 or 0, Complete or Incomplete. There isn’t any middle ground, so there isn’t partial credit.

The thing to remember is that when a project is returned as Incomplete, you can always revise it until you do have a piece that is ready to use in the workplace. There is no punishment in the system if your work isn’t quite ready, but there’s no credit either.

How are labor logs part of this system?

You document the time you spend on activities and the level of intensity you put into your work in your labor log. You can think of tracking your work in your log as a parallel to tracking billing codes for what you do in the workplace.

I have no way of knowing what you are working on or even how much you are working in an online class. In a face-to-face classroom, I would see you working in the classroom. I could tell if you were working intensely, working at an average pace, or not working at all. Since I cannot see your work myself, I need you to tell me what you’re doing.

Additionally, you will use your labor log to gather details about your work when you write your final exam. Keeping track of what you do in your log is easier than trying to remember the details of what you did at the end of the term.

Why is there so much emphasis on peer feedback in this system?

In the workplace, you will find yourself reading and commenting on the projects of your coworkers frequently. The peer feedback activities you complete with your writing group give you the chance to learn more about that process. Writing in the workplace is as much about what you write as it is about how you help others with their writing.

Just as importantly, peer feedback helps you improve your own writing in two ways. First, and maybe most obvious, you get advice on your draft that you can use to revise your document. Second, by reading drafts written by your classmates, you can see strategies that will help you improve your own work as well as notice errors that you can later check your own work for.

Naturally, you cannot copy other people’s work; however, you can see useful ideas that you can make your own. For instance, you might read a draft that does a great job with headings. When you return to your own draft, those headings will stick with you, and you can use their example as you revise your own draft.

So what do you think? I haven’t added any details that are not included elsewhere on the site; but perhaps the question-and-answer format will help students find the information.

Do you have any suggestions for clarifying the system? How do you explain your grading system to students? I would love some suggestions from readers. Just leave me a comment below.

 

Image credits: Screenshot Excerpt of Canvas Grade Book by Traci Gardner on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Online Trip Report Assignment

null by Beryl Chan on Flickr, used under public domainIn the workplace, employees write trip reports to document what happened during a business trip. Some companies use those reports to show how the goals for the trip were met. Others use them to share what happened with the rest of the organization. I use a Trip Report assignment in my Business Writing and in my Technical Writing classes, and it can be adapted into a website analysis assignment for a first-year composition or digital literacy course.

The trick to transforming the assignment is to rethink the idea of trips, making the excursion the writer takes into a visit to an online site, rather than a geographical destination or event. With those changes, the rest of the assignment needs only some minor phrasing adjustments.

The Assignment

This assignment is modeled on trip reports, which are used in the workplace to tell coworkers what happened or was achieved on a business trip. For this assignment, you will choose a website that you will share with everyone in the class and then report on your visit to that site by writing an online trip report.

You’ll begin the activity by deciding on a website and choosing a specific reason(s) to visit it. Think of your reason(s) to visit as your research question(s). Next, you will visit the site, looking for the information you identified as the reason for your visit. After you explore the site, you will write a trip report that explains how well the site is likely to meet the needs of people who visit it for the same reason(s) you did. You will share your trip report with the entire class. Your report will provide an analytical review or recommendation.

Step 1: Identify your search questions.

Brainstorm a series of questions related to your online visit. These questions will guide your project. Your research questions do not have to be complicated, but they should require more than a simple answer. You should be able to break the guiding question down into a series of sub-questions. Here is an example:

Instead of This Try This
Guiding Question
How much is admission to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?
Guiding Question
How much should I budget for a trip to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?

Sub-Questions

  • How much does it cost for admission?
  • How much does it cost to stay at a Disney resort? Are gratuities included?
  • How much should I budget for meals?
  • What special events will be taking place during the time I am thinking of visiting?
  • How much should I budget for special events?
  • How much should I budget for other expenses?

Step 2: Choose a website for your project.

Once you have your search questions ready, choose a site where you believe you will find the answers. You can choose any website that includes both visual and text content. Your site must meet the following criteria:

  • Appropriate for the classroom.
  • Free and open (no login required).
  • Professional (not a personal site).

Good choices for this assignment include these kinds of sites:

  • an official university site.
  • a university-related site (such as a club site).
  • a professional association’s site.
  • a nonprofit organization’s site.
  • a corporate site for a company you might work for.
  • a news media or journal site.

If you are unsure whether the site fits the questions that you have identified, skim through the site to determine whether it includes the kind of information that you are looking for.

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and format for your report.

Read the following resources for information on writing trip reports:

Additionally, read the details on memo format, since your project should look like a trip report from the workplace. You can also read about memo format in The Business Writer’s Handbook or The Handbook of Technical Writing.

Step 4: Go on your trip: visit the website, and gather information for your report.

With the preliminary work taken care of, you can begin work researching the questions you identified above in Step 1 on the website. Check out the pages linked to the site’s main navigation. Browse the information on the site, looking for the answers to your question and paying attention to the supporting details and other related information.

To provide evidence of the answers to your search questions in your trip report, you identify specific details. Take notes on what you find and gather any materials that you can use as you write your report. For instance, you might take some screenshots, copy important passages, and note important page links. Remember to keep track of where your information comes from so you can cite your sources in your report.

Step 5: Write your Trip Report.

Write your trip report in your word processor, using memo format. The length of your report will vary, according to your search questions and the information you found on the website. There is not a minimum or maximum page length. Write as much as you need to, but be sure to include all of the required information.

Your trip report should include the following information:

  • the goals for the trip (your website visit).
  • what you actually found during your visit.
  • the lessons learned from your visit:
    • What made the site a good (or bad) resource for your search questions?
    • What features on the site indicated that the creators were thinking of you as an audience?
    • What about the site worked well?
    • Would you recommend the site to someone with similar questions? Why, or why not?

Include concrete details from the notes you took during your website visit to support the information in your trip report. You can quote or paraphrase information from the site. Insert the screenshots you took to illustrate your points (be sure to crop out irrelevant information in the images).

Once you have a complete draft, check the information in your report to determine whether you have included the answers to your search questions and the information required for the report, listed above. When you are sure you have met the requirements, proofread your report and turn it in.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Closing Thoughts

This trip report assignment upgrades the basic analytical essay. Students will still complete an analysis project, but the trip report format adds interest for students already looking ahead to the workplace. Further, by asking them to work with a different genre, students necessarily get beyond the comfort of the five-paragraph theme.

You can further adapt this assignment if you ask students to take online field trips. For instance, you might ask students to explore a genre or period of art on an art museum website. They can report their findings in a trip report.

Do you have unusual writing assignments that work well for you? I would love to hear about what you have tried and what’s worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

A 1–3–5 Revision Activity

Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week, I wrote about Online Identity Revision Plans. Today, I want to share a focused activity that fits online identity revision as well as revision in any writing classroom. This activity is modeled on the 1–3–5 rule used in planning and to-do lists. The goal is to change revision from an overwhelming challenge to fix everything into a targeted plan to improve the document.

The 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists

Using the system, you divide your to-do’s into three categories:

  1. Simple tasks that are easy to complete.
  2. Medium tasks that take a little more work.
  3. Large tasks that take more time and require more effort.

As this Post-It Note article explains, “A small task might be washing dishes after dinner, while a large task might be preparing your garden for spring.” After you prioritize your tasks, you create a to-do list for the day that includes one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks. The Muse shares a simple template to structure the to-do’s in their article “A Better To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Rule.”

Applying the 1–3–5 Rule to Revision

It’s fairly straightforward to adopt the 1–3–5 rule as part of a revision activity:

  1. Ask students to prioritize their revision tasks into the three categories:
    1. Simple tasks
    2. Medium tasks
    3. Large tasks
  2. Choose tasks to complete: one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks.
  3. Focus on those nine tasks in your revision.

Easy-peasy, right? Students determine what counts as simple, medium, and large, and then they follow their plans to revise their drafts or online identity. As teachers, we know that what is simple for one writer may be quite large for another, so this system works well for differentiated instruction. Students are in control, choosing what fits their needs. With the same structure as the to-do list version of the rule, students can even use The Muse template (above) as a handout.

Customizing 1–3–5 Revision

If students in the writing classroom need more structure than the open version of 1–3–5 Revision provides, you can easily customize the activity to fit your course. Rather than simple, medium, and large tasks, describe kinds of revision. For instance, focus on the difference between surface-level changes and deep revision with this 1–3–5 Revision schema:

  1. Conceptual Change: Think about changes to your overall idea and development. You might change your thesis or supporting paragraphs. This change will require working throughout the draft to change the way the ideas are conceived.
  2.  
  3. Structural Changes: Consider how the document is put together. You might rearrange ideas or work on how sentences work together. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence variety in your introduction.
  4.  
  5. Surface Changes: Focus on style and mechanics. You might look at word choice or a particular comma rule.

Another option for 1–3–5 Revision activity focuses on where the revision effort is centered, like this example:

  1. Paragraph Level: Think about changes you can make to your paragraphing that will strengthen your draft. For instance, you could think about a way to unify your paragraphs or about a strategy that improves paragraph openings.
  2.  
  3. Sentence Level: Look at how sentences work together to improve the draft. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence length by combining sentences, or a goal to make the phrasing concise and direct.
  4.  
  5. Word Level: Examine the individual words in your draft with a goal to increase their effectiveness. You might consider whether the words in your draft are concrete and specific, and make changes to improve the phrasing, such as deleting filler words.

These custom versions simply help students with the process of prioritizing their revision plans by showing them which kinds of revision are valued and the amount of effort that they should apply. Surface changes should be simple tasks while conceptual change should be a large task. Like the 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists, the specific attention to prioritizing according to guiding categories should increase the effectiveness of students’ revision plans.

Keep Revision Active and Specific

No matter what kind of 1–3–5 Revision strategy you try, encourage students to keep their 1–3–5 plan active. ProfHacker’s “3 Ways to Makeover Your To-Do List” begins with the suggestion to “Start Each Task With a Verb.” This strategy stresses the action involved in the revision task rather than the end result or a need that should be met. Rather than adding “details” as the one large revision task, for instance, begin with a verb that says what to do about or with details. The actively-phrased task on the 1–3–5 plan might be “develop concrete details in the body paragraphs.”

Active phrasing has to be paired with specific and well-focused ideas. A writer might list “work on concise phrasing.” While that idea begins with a verb, the writer still has to figure out how to “work” on that phrasing. What exactly is she going to do? She could strengthen her revision plan by specifying exact strategies to apply to the draft, such as “delete unnecessary filler words, such as really and very.”

Final Thoughts

The 1–3–5 rule structures revision in a way that asks students to think more deeply about the work they need to do on their drafts. The strategy requires that students move beyond the idea of making corrections. It requires them to choose tasks that are more than simple editing and proofreading. While making the revision process move beyond surface errors in concrete ways, this 1–3–5 activity also makes the revision process specific and manageable. There are just nine tasks to complete, and at the end of the activity, the student should have the satisfaction of a checked-off list of to-do’s.

What do you think of this revision activity? Are you willing to give the 1–3–5 Revision strategy a try? Do you have revision activities that work well with students? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

Photo credit: Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247’s Image Wizard, on Wikimedia Commons, used under public domain.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.