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Multimodal Mondays: Tweet Me, Tweet You: Using Twitter and Storify to Build Classroom Community in a Flipped First-Year Composition Course

posted: 9.22.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at jbohanno@spsu.edu.

In the field of composition, digital and multimodal tools have become useful means in facilitating rhetorical growth of digital natives.  The key to engendering student engagement, however, is more complicated than simply assigning Prezis and asking students to produce work in digital spaces.  As a praxis-sioner of critical pedagogy, I believe that the foundations of democratic learning pair exceptionally well with multimodal acts of composition and the community-building, digital tools both we and our students use to attain new literacies.

Community-building is a vital component of any digital tool, because humans synthesize texts of all kinds using social constructionist behaviors to make meaning and produce knowledge.  Community in learning environments also creates a sense of togetherness, a space where we collaborate, both students and teachers, as equal participants in the drive to both consume and produce rhetorics.

In my writing courses, we use Twitter as a basic tool throughout the semester for diverse purposes, both in low and high stakes writing opportunities.  For class discussions, our community seeks to achieve understandings of each others’ means of persuasion and also authentically evaluate each other’s styles of rhetorical delivery.  Twitter provides us with a means towards these goals, as an invention tool.   A flipped classroom model provides us with the method to achieve our learning goals.  Finally, experimental learning gives us the freedom and motivation to participate in organic conversations.

For the assignment I describe here, students discover how to articulate an author’s argument and methods of persuasion, as well as explain their own meanings to their peers using a self-chosen text.  Students also practice evaluation and feedback methods as they discuss these elements among their community members in an open atmosphere.

Assignment Goals

  • Learn to effectively use Twitter as an invention tool
  • Learn to effectively use Storify as an archival tool
  • Engage with others on diverse topics chosen by students for students
  • Articulate and evaluate meaning from multi-genre readings AND the organic discussions arising out of them

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of readings and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are on-going processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts.  You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapter 5, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate”; Sections 12a-d, “Critical Reading”
  • Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in Ch.1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, “Collaboration”; Section 3a, “Reading Critically”

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
At the beginning of each semester, my students and I brainstorm possible topics for discussion, based on interests, academic majors, etc. [I teach at a polytechnic university, so the topics usually center around game theory, engineering of various sorts, current events, and popular culture.] As students categorize our suggestions on a whiteboard, the community argues, debates, and reaches consensus on overarching genres for discussion topics.  I facilitate by outlining a few requirements:

(1) A text for discussion may come from any trade publication, TED Talk, mass publication, podcast, or video – as long as said article is available in electronic format.  Any article, video, or podcast found in our university’s library database is also fair game.

(2) Each student chooses her/his text and tweets it to me a week prior to class discussion.

(3) Each student must respond to at least two tweets on a given text in order to participate and receive credit.

 A few days prior to class, I tweet out the article tweeted to me by a student.  We use hashtags, so students may choose whether or not to “follow” each other on Twitter.  Each class has its own hashtag.  After I tweet the article, students read it and respond using the same hashtag.  A few hours before class, I compile the tweets in a FREE archive program called Storify and send the link out to the community.  Students bring their archive to class, make notes if they wish, and prepare for discussion.  Now, we’re ready to go.

In Class
The student who originated the article for discussion is the lead-student and has the Storify archive in hand. S/he begins her/his delivery as a dialogic or as a monologue.  Then, using Storify as a guide, the conversation grows organically, based on student-to-student interactions.   The lead-student is accountable for driving the discussion towards the required elements to reach our rhetorical goals.  Depending on personalities, this process can flow as a winding stream, as chaotic river rapids, or as a stagnant pond.  For me, any of these movements develop rhetorical skills in students.  We learn as much from the rich debate as we do from the silence.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
After the discussion, our community de-briefs in the last 5 minutes of each discussion session.  We assess using questions like the following:

  • How well did we articulate rhetorical invention?
  • How might we improve the activity for future class talks?
  • How could we apply the invention and archival strategies we learned by using Twitter and Storify to future projects?

The lead-student and I both record feedback and post it on our course blog for everyone to read and respond.

The key to authentic student engagement is the practice of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course and achieve learning goals if they feel that their voices are heard and validated.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we are able to step away from the center and let our students take the lead, we facilitate their growth as rhetors and scholars, helping them develop informed voices as they enter into multi-discursive conversations.

I welcome and value all feedback.  Please visit my blogs: http://rhetoricmatters.org/ and http://growthb4grades.edublogs.org/.

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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