Author Bio

Multimodal Mondays: “Getting to Know You” with Student Introduction Videos

posted: 9.8.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Stephanie Vie is an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She researches digital identities in social media spaces and is particularly interested in how social media technologies impact literate practices both within and beyond the classroom. Stephanie works closely with the academic journal Kairos and the Computers and Composition Digital Press. In this post, Stephanie describes building an online learning community with an early multimodal assignment for an online or hybrid course: student-created videos. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @digirhet

Introduction

At the University of Central Florida (UCF) where I teach, online education is a growing component of our pedagogy. Our Center for Distributed Learning notes that in Fall 2012, nearly 29,000 UCF students enrolled in a fully online or video-based course and over 6,200 took only online classes. And while UCF might be one of the largest institutions in the country, we’re not alone in showcasing an emergent interest in online education: Nationally, an estimated 6.7 million students are enrolled in online courses.

Given this increase in online educational opportunities, chances are you may find yourself teaching an online or hybrid course in the future—if you aren’t already. One of the largest concerns for teachers of writing in online courses is creating a sense of community among the students in the class; just as we work to sustain a community of writers in our face-to-face courses, students in online courses learn best within online learning communities, “groups of people, connected via technology-mediated communication, who actively engage one another in collaborative, learner-centered activities to intentionally foster the creation of knowledge, while sharing a number of values and practices” (Shea 35). These kinds of communities help students feel like learners engaged in the construction of shared knowledge rather than simply individuals working to check off assignments in a correspondence course.

The assignment described below is an easy way to begin your online or hybrid course with an eye toward building community from the very start. Although this assignment works particularly well for online courses, it can also be adapted for use in a traditional face-to-face course, especially if the instructor would like students to begin thinking about multimodal composing from the beginning of the course.

Goal

To have students introduce themselves to each other and begin building an online learning community, and therefore to carefully consider their composing choices and reflect upon them the week after they have submitted their video.

Background Reading

  • Everything’s an Argument, Ch 14, Visual and Multimedia Arguments
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 22e, Using Webcasts
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 3a-3b, Multimodal Assignments
  • Writing in Action, Ch 5a, Multimodal Assignments
  • EasyWriter, Ch 4a, Multimodal and Digital Writing

The Assignment

Explain to students that you would like for them to compose a brief video introducing themselves to their classmates and the instructor. Let students know about your expectations for creating an online learning community throughout the course; I explain to them that we’ll be working closely together as a community of writers throughout the semester, so the video introduction is one of their first opportunities to tell the class (including me) more about themselves. Students will also be expected to view each other’s videos and respond to them. This is one of their first chances to learn more about their classmates and get to know them better while at the same time viewing the range of multimodal composing options that their classmates’ videos display.

I give students specific guidelines—rhetorical constraints—to direct them as they construct their introduction videos. For example, I specify a 3-5 minute length for their video: between s long, which I explain makes it possible for every student to view everyone else’s videos without making that burdensome. Similarly, I remind students that this is a multimodal assignment and thus their video should have both sound and image. They can incorporate music in a soundtrack if they like or splice still images into their video clips; these options depend on the student’s comfort level with multimodal composing.

I leave it up to students to decide how they will compose the video itself. However, I am careful to offer a variety of options in case students are unsure how to begin:

  • Use the built-in camera on a laptop or computer.
  • Use a handheld camera or smart phone.
  • Utilize the resources available on campus. For example, at UCF, our Technology Commons has equipment and hands-on assistance for students as they create this—and other—multimedia projects. They can also check out video cameras and iPads at the John C. Hitt Library. Your institution may have similar lending programs, workshops for students, and other resources related to multimodal composing.
  • Use a free online service to mix together video clips, music, still images, and other assets to create a video. I’ve recommended WeVideo, a free cloud-based video editing system, successfully to my students in the past.

If you prefer the videos to look and sound similar, you may wish to set additional constraints. For my purposes, and because my classes often enroll a variety of learners (including non-traditional students and distance education students), I leave the requirements fairly open. This means that I receive a diverse set of introduction videos from students, but I also find that reflects the natural diversity of our online learning community anyway—plus, it’s fun for me to see what students come up with when given some, but not too much, guidance in composing multimodally.

I’ve included clips from two student examples to illustrate some possibilities for students’ videos (below).

Next Steps

After students have composed and uploaded their video introduction to the course management system, they are required to watch each other’s videos and respond. I encourage them to respond to students with whom they might have a connection or may wish to work with (as peer reviewers, for example) over the course of the semester. Students embed their introduction video into a discussion forum thread and respond to each other. Last semester in a class of nineteen students, the online learning community began to emerge almost immediately. Two women who were recently engaged began sharing wedding tips and websites with each other, for example, and multiple students who enjoyed playing board and role-playing games shared local resources.

Given the number of fully online degree programs we offer at UCF, there is a substantial cohort of students who have taken online classes with each other but have never seen or heard each other before. In last semester’s class, one student responded to another, “Nice to see a face—we had [instructor’s name] together for Rhetorical Theory last semester.  …  I just wanted to tell you that I was always impressed by your posts last semester.” She replied, “This is actually one of the first classes that has required a video, and even though I hate recording myself, I must admit it’s nice to put some faces and voices to the names.”

Reflection on the Activity

The final step is for students to reflect on the rhetorical choices they made as composers. You may wish to incorporate this into the discussion post where students respond to each other’s videos or as a separate discussion post or blog. You could even require it as cover memo or similar document required when turning in the video. I push students to think about three levels of production in their multimodal texts, which I detail below:

Level One: [personal understanding and experience]

  • Why did you choose to create your multimodal project the way you did? Why do you think it’s interesting, unusual, exciting, fun, etc.?

Level Two: [contextual, factual information]

  • What kind of text did you create? How might it fit into a previously understood genre? What technologies did you use to create this text? What other texts does your text borrow from, play off of, reflect, echo, etc.?

Level Three: [rhetorically aware production]

  • Authorship: What parts of this text are mine alone and what parts are borrowed or adapted from others? Have others who contributed to the creation of my text been adequately and ethically compensated?
  • Appeals: What do I hope people will learn, understand, or notice about my text and its message? How is the structure, shape, format, and pacing of my text dependent on its message? What appeals have I incorporated—ethical, logical, and/or emotional? What stands out most about my text and its message?
  • Audience: How do I understand my idealized audience? How might my text be interpreted differently or incorrectly by different audiences? Have I considered issues of difference—age, race, ethnicity, language differences, religion, etc.—that might cause my audience to view my text differently than I anticipate?
  • Message: What do I hope viewers will take away from my text? Is there anything I have left out or should leave out?
  • Purpose/Exigence: What is my intent? What do I hope viewers will do after viewing my text? Why have I presented my text via the medium I have chosen?

This list of questions is not exhaustive and can be modified to fit multiple multimodal assignments for your class. The purpose, however, is to move students away from simply producing an introduction video to thinking specifically about why they produced it the way they did—and what they might do differently in their next multimodal composing opportunity.

Conclusion

As one student illustrated in her final reflection about the course, these initial moments meant to set up an online learning community can have lasting and significant results:

“The greatest impact this course had on me was the idea of being introduced into a community of writing.  Although, initially I did desire direct and specific instructions … I realized that the most important thing I could learn in this classroom is how to adapt to new environments of writing.  Every single new job or writing situation is an opportunity to adapt to a new ‘community of writing’ and although the technique is important to learn, a classroom cannot teach you what is appropriate in every single situation.”

Even a simple, low-stakes assignment such as an introduction video at the beginning of your online, hybrid, or face-to-face class can introduce students to meaningful concepts such as the creation of a community of writers and the rhetorical choices at play in multimodal composition. I hope that this assignment and these examples have given you some ideas for how you can modify the introduction video for your class—and if you choose to adapt this assignment, I’d love to hear about it! Write me in the comments below, or find me on Twitter.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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