Can You Teach Students to Be Happy and Kind?”

I’m happy to share this great news story about the learning community I’m teaching in this semester. Our theme is “The Pursuit of Happiness” and we have been discussing happiness and how doing random acts of kindness for others can often make our own lives better. Happiness Learning Community

Can you teach students to be happy and kind?

Kennesaw State University students in pursuit of happiness

KENNESAW, Ga. (March 21, 2014) — When professors Hillary Steiner and Jeannie Beard combined their Psychology 1101 and English 1102 classes as part of a learning community for first-year students, they decided to integrate a “pursuit of happiness” theme with the coursework.

“Students entering college often have some apprehension about the transition,” said Steiner. “We thought teaching students about the concept of being happy might launch their college careers on a more positive note.”

A portion of the students’ assignments includes writing papers and posting content related to happiness on this learning community’s Facebook page. They must also post four brief summaries of their personal experiences performing “random acts of kindness” with the goal of increasing another person’s happiness.

Toward the end of the semester, Steiner said, students will have the opportunity to reflect upon the happiness project from start to finish and discuss how it personally impacted them. They’ll be asked to discuss whether this assignment made them uncomfortable and if it increased their own levels of happiness.

Kennesaw State University student Ryan Turnage is among the professors’ students already reflecting upon the lessons he has learned throughout this project. He said a major “aha” moment occurred for him while watching a video about happiness during class. He said that video highlighted a study that found making a lot of money does not guarantee happiness or success in life.

“That was my biggest mistake,” he said. “I’ve always felt that I wasn’t going to be happy until I made six figures, and that’s really not the case at all. A person making $50,000 or $150,000 can have the same level of happiness. What really matters is taking advantage of every situation you have and looking at the bright side of things if you can.”

Turnage has embraced the “random acts of kindness” assignment, going beyond the requirements to surprise his professors. He and classmate Avery Schueller led a class effort to raise money for the University’s food bank called “Feed the Future.” This program, managed by KSU Student Health Services at House 53, supports students struggling to pay for food. Turnage and his classmates raised about $100 and purchased items to help stock the pantry.

“We felt good donating the food and hope we helped make someone’s life a bit easier and perhaps happier,” he said.

Both professors said they have enjoyed watching how the students have integrated the “pursuit of happiness” theme into their work up to this point.

“I have noticed from their papers, random acts of kindness and conversations that they are looking at world through the lens of a happiness perspective, and that’s exactly what we hoped for,” said Beard. “I hope it serves them well during their university careers and beyond.”

Steiner said, “I think there’s a perception that college students are narcissistic and self-serving, and they will only do things that affect their grades. That’s just not the case. I’ve been really impressed with how our students have embraced this assignment and gone above and beyond in pursuit of making others happy.”

– Katherine Dorsett Bennett




Multimodal Assignments: Engaging Students

Research on Teaching & Learning Summit

Kennesaw State University

February 7-8, 2014

After completing the research for my dissertation, I began to see how multimodal assignments could be used early in the writing process as a way of engaging students with their topics and helping establish a sense of community in the classroom. I think multimodal assignments can be used for this purpose for any class, any discipline, and at any level! In this presentation, I will explain why my research led me to start using multimodal assignments for each major unit in my class. I will explain what multimodal actually means, and I will also share some exciting examples of the creative projects my students have created over the past several semesters.

You can take a look at the Multimodal Assignment Requirements and Multimodal Presentation Guidelines and and also look at previous posts on this blog to get a better understanding of both the theory and practice of using multimodal texts in the classroom. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments you may have, and please consider trying an assignment like this in your own classes. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the potential that multimodal assignments have in store for your classroom. I’d love to hear about your results!

“Girl Talk” Learning Community Fall 2013

Kennesaw State’s Learning Communities program, housed in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies, is a nationally recognized, award-winning program that fosters learning, campus life and civic engagement, and camaraderie among freshman entering the KSU community.

What is a Learning Community? “A learning community is 20-25 first-semester students who co-enroll in two or more courses that are linked together with a common theme. Some learning communities are for specific academic majors, such as business, nursing, education, or dance. Other learning communities are suitable for a variety of majors and carry themes ranging from “green” living, to social justice, to gender studies and more. The courses in learning communities count toward university degree requirements and are taught by faculty dedicated to helping new students achieve academic success.”

This fall semester, I had the opportunity to teach in a learning community of all women with the theme of “Girl Talk.” In this learning community, all the student enrolled took KSU 1101 (Freshman Seminar with Dr. Hillary Steiner), English 1101 (Composition 1101 we me), and Psychology 1101 (Intro to Psychology with Dr. Gail Scott). In this community, our primary focus was to discuss women’s issues both here in the United States and abroad, but we had a special interest focus on women’s issues in India. As part of the learning community, the students participated in a service learning project in which they raised funds for the Sneha Women’s Shelter in Calcutta that is spearheaded by SANLAAP, a feminist organization with the mission to “make this world a safer place for women and children by protecting their rights.” The young women in the Girl Talk community worked hard for this important cause and raised $869.55 for the women of India this semester.

Teaching in this learning community has been a learning and growing experience for not only these young women, but for me as well. It was an inspiration to see these women develop a compassion and deep empathy for the women of world as we learned about the dangers of being born a woman in India today, in the 21st century. It was unfathomable to many that women and children are still faced with such inhuman conditions in this world today, but it was also a great opportunity for them to see how they themselves could make a difference by raising awareness in their own communities, and by also thinking critically about the problems women face not only in other parts of the world, but also right here in our own communities, schools, and homes.

I am proud of the work my students accomplished this semester as we discussed many important issues that women face today including the negative impact of media on body image and self-esteem, depression and abuse, and the realities of rape culture in both India and our own United States.

For my part of the learning community, in order to facilitate a better understanding of women’s issues in India, I integrated articles and videos for the students to read and view for each unit and asked that they create a public service announcement about SANLAAP and the women’s shelter towards the end of the semester.

In our first unit, the students were asked to write a Narrative Essay that addressed an issue that they faced, “Growing up Girl.” For this assignment, I had the students read an article from The Atlantic, “As a Girl in India, I Learned to Be Afraid of Men,” by Mira Kamdar (Jan 4, 2013). This poignant essay is an excellent of narrative writing for the purpose of raising awareness of important social issues.

For our second unit, I created a Girl Talk Facebook page where I could post articles and videos that related to women’s issues, and also provide a simple platform for the students to also post and comment and create a dialogue in a familiar social media platform. On the Facebook page, I also posted the BBC documentary, “India: A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman,” and asked the students watch and respond. Of all the efforts I put forth to educate these young women about women’s issues in India, I think this film had the most impact.

In our third unit, each student produced a one minute PSA to raise awareness about women’s issues in India and the efforts of the SANLAAP shelter in Calcutta. These short videos the students produced were phenomenal and do an excellent job of demonstrating the impact this subject matter had on these young women at Kennesaw. I chose my five favorites to be displayed at the First Annual Learning Communities Showcase in November and these videos can be seen at my YouTube playlist for this event.

For our final unit, the students created videos that addressed different issues women face all over the world. These amazing videos can also be found on my YouTube Channel.

Rethinking Facebook: An Evaluation

This semester I am teaching Composition I in two amazing learning communities at Kennesaw State. Both learning communities are focused on women’s issues and are comprised of all female students. In one of the classes, our theme is Leading Ladies and we are focusing on the various aspects of our roles as leaders, the obstacles we face, and the ways in which can empower ourselves, our communities, and each other as women. In the other class, our theme is Global Girl Talk, and we are discussing the important issues that women are facing all over the world and relating these issues back to our own lives. I will certainly be posting more on the great things that these young women are doing in the near future, but this post is about evaluating Facebook.

For their second essay, my students are writing evaluation essays. They are invited to write an evaluation of just about anything they choose, but I am encouraging them to choose topics that address the themes of our communities. They may choose to evaluate a female artist’s work or a business that is run by women for women, or they may look at product or service that is marketed to women.The list goes on and on. There are so many things that we evaluate on a daily basis. The ability to evaluate effectively is an important critical thinking skill, and this is why I incorporate this assignment into my first-year composition courses.

Last week, I had my students do an online class using a Facebook page that I created for both learning communities. I chose to use Facebook primarily because it was easy to post links to videos and articles and I also wanted to experiment with how the students responded to the educational use of a Facebook page. I then evaluated Facebook using the three criteria set forth in their book, Good Reasons, by Lester Faigley and Jack Selzter. These criteria are: aesthetics, practicality, and ethics.

I created the following Haiku Deck presentation to demonstrate several important lessons to my students. First, I wanted to show them how to create an effective presentation using clean and simple design elements. Haiku Deck is a great presentation software for getting these zen presentation results. I also wanted to demonstrate how to give a presentation in a professional and effective way. I used my own presentation to model the presentations they would be giving on the topics of their evaluation, and I also used my own evaluation of Facebook to prompt them to think about how social media can best be used for positive rather than negative outcomes. This was a lesson plan with many layers, and it worked out really well to teach by example and also explore some more complex issues about social media and how we use it for either positive or negative purposes.

In my evaluation, I concluded that it is time to rethink how we use Facebook as a social media platform. Facebook is easy to use (practical), and the interface allows us to post articles and videos with thumbnails and summaries (aesthetics and practicality), and it can be utilized to share knowledge and support causes and companies that we want to promote (ethics). Facebook can also be used to create an online personae that reflects our positive traits, values, and qualities rather than shines a spotlight on our more negative traits. Therefore, it is crucial that we begin to rethink how we use all social media in general, but more specifically, we can start using Facebook for good, as a platform to share information, promote and engage activism, and support others and ourselves as conscious and productive members of today’s society.


My Teaching Philosophy

I have studied rhetoric and composition for ten years now, eight of which I have also been a teacher at several different colleges. Throughout this time, I have written many different teaching philosophies for different purposes, sometimes for class, sometimes for employers. Many concepts have remained the same: a love for the profession and discipline, a belief in encouraging students as scholars, the importance of technology. And some things have changed or evolved slightly to reflect my own experiences and learning both in my own classrooms and the classrooms of others.

It’s a good idea to revisit our philosophies from time to time, if not for a complete overhaul, then certainly for a freshening up, a new coat of paint that reminds us of the full potential we have to create something beautiful within our classrooms. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a current teaching philosophy to share with prospective employers. The following is my most recent teaching philosophy in which I explore my ideas about the profession itself and my chosen field; my approach to my students and composition pedagogy; my commitment for teaching students to thrive in our digital age, and my belief in teaching by example by being a life-long learner. I hope this philosophy will reflect who I am as a teacher and serve as a reminder to myself and inspiration to others.

“If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, one could say that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life. Literacy pedagogy is expected to play a particularly important role in fulfilling this mission. Pedagogy is a teaching and learning relationship that creates the potential for building learning conditions leading to full and equitable social participation.”

“A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” ~The New London Group

The Teaching Profession

Most people will inevitably find themselves in a teaching role at some point in their lives, in some capacity or another, whether it be for a workshop office presentation, an impromptu cooking lesson at a friend’s house, or a backyard game of catch with a small child. But not everyone will choose education as a profession, and not everyone should.

I believe that the best teachers do so because of a calling—a deep passion for watching their students light up with a new understanding. Good teachers have a love of knowledge and learning that they are compelled to share with the world.

I believe that teachers who do not have the calling or who have lost their love for the profession should find work elsewhere. Our students need us to love our profession, if not always our jobs. They need our enthusiasm. Students need teachers who are answering their calling and who teach for the intrinsic reward that comes with seeing a student grow.

Teaching Rhetoric & Composition

In 1996, Ellen Cushman asked scholars of rhetoric and composition to think about their roles as “agents of social change.” Like Cushman, I believe in the possibility for this discipline to equip our students to not only succeed in their academic lives, but also to make sense of the world around them, their place in that world, and also consider their contributions to it.

I believe that teaching rhetoric and composition enriches people’s lives because it teaches them how to communicate in many different scenarios and for many different purposes.  Understanding rhetoric also allows students to think critically about their own opinions and ideas as well as those of others.

I always tell my students at the beginning of the semester that what I will teach them actually has the potential to improve their lives in many areas, academically, professionally, and personally. I encourage them that if they stick with me, and do what I ask them to do, that I can guarantee that each one of them will leave my classroom as a smarter person. I don’t tell them this, but I believe that what I teach has the potential to even make them better people. And in my mind, that’s a pretty good deal.

Teaching Scholars & Life-Long Learners

Kenneth Burke famously asked scholars to consider how we will enter the parlor, how we will become members of a discourse community when we “put in our oar.” Our students must also be invited to the party.

I believe that it is never too early to induct our students into the world of scholarship, and from the first day of class, I encourage all of my students to consider themselves scholars, members of academia, people with valid ideas and important contributions to the topics that they explore.

Having said this, I also believe that students should be encouraged to discover their own research interests and pursue their own scholarly passions in the writing classroom. I often explain to my students that they can write about just about anything they want, so long as they do it with the mind and efforts of a scholar and approach the topic with sincerity and genuine interest. After all, if they are choosing their own topics, there should be no excuse for failing to give their own interests serious attention.

Composition Pedagogy

In order to facilitate the engagement that comes with choosing their own courses of inquiry, I give students many opportunities to brainstorm, free write, and discuss their ideas and interests as an entire class as well as in small groups.

I also meet with every student to discuss their topics, assist with finding sources, and chart possible courses of action. These meetings are conducted in short, face-to-face in-class conferences and are also supported through feedback to assignments leading up to final products. I have also met with students in online environments such as Skype and Google chat in order to conduct these student conferences. I also send students words of encouragement or articles of interest related to their topics when I find them in my own reading.

I believe in writing in class and a lot of it. I give students plenty of opportunities to write in a “low stakes” environment so that they can build confidence and hash out their ideas without the anxiety that comes with more formal writing tasks. I tell my students that these in-class writings are not graded for grammar so much as they are for content and effort, but I do encourage them to write in complete sentences and put forth their best efforts in all of their writing, including emails to their professors!

I believe in providing rich, detailed feedback in a timely manner, in letting students know what is expected and when, and sticking to my expectations while also being flexible enough to respond to the needs of the class.

I believe in finding a balance between compassion and authority, and in telling my students what they need to know to succeed and helping them find ways to do so both as individuals and as a class.

I believe in telling students why we do things the way we do, for example the importance of following formats or organizing ideas, because these are real-world skills that will be needed in many areas of their professional and personal lives.

Teaching in the Digital Age

I use technology when I teach and I also adapt to it. Early in my teaching career, when I first began assigning documentaries in first-year composition classes, I failed miserably. I wrote about this failure, what I learned from it, and how I adapted in the Computers & Composition Online article, “Documenting Arguments, Proposing Change: Reflections on Student-Produced Proposal Documentaries.” As a teacher, I have to be willing to take risks and do things differently. I have to be willing to learn from my mistakes, learn from my students, and change my routine, and this is especially true when we are using new technologies to both teach and communicate.

I believe that, as writing teachers, it is our responsibility to teach students how to communicate in digital environments and guide them as they establish their identities as scholars and thinkers in an online environment. I believe it is important for students to start thinking about what future employers will see when they “Google” their name. Increasingly, students will need to establish and maintain their online identities because this will be their resume in the immediate future.

I believe in the use of technology and social media to allow students to become engaged citizens of the world. I also believe in distance learning and the possibilities for online learning to change the face of higher education in the world today. Our classrooms are changing and we must adapt to those changes. We need to be prepared to meet our students where they are. We are living in the digital age, and as such, we should embrace the possibilities and face the challenges that this amazing world offers us as educators and learners, consumers and producers, and national as well as global citizens.

Teaching by Example

I believe in living by example and setting standards for myself that my students can see for themselves. I show them my own writing, discuss my own challenges as a writer, and let them see the personal, human side of myself as a teacher, as a writer, and as a life-long learner.

I believe in the profession of teaching. I believe in the potential of teaching rhetoric and composition. I believe that teaching students how to both read and write digital media can have a positive effect on their lives and the world we live in.

I believe in people doing the work that they love.

This is my teaching philosophy.


Stranger at the Party: Introducing Sources in Academic Writing

Burke’s Metaphor for the “Unending Conversation”

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

(Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action 3rd ed. 1941. Univ. of California Press, 1973)

Taking this analogy a step further, I suggest that we are not only entering the parlor, but we are also bringing along our friends, other researchers who we have discovered that support our own claims and ideas, or others whose ideas we respectfully dispute.

Who shows up at a party of familiar faces and drops off a new friend right in the middle of the action without an introduction?

“Who’s that guy? What is he doing here? Who brought him? Does he belong here?”

It is likely that if someone did this to us, we would not care to attend another social gathering with this person.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

Don’t leave Bob hanging at the party. Give him a proper introduction. Make sure we know who he is, what makes him special, and most importantly, what he has to contribute to the  conversation.

Further, don’t bring the wrong guy to the party. Bozo the clown is very entertaining at a children’s party, but he is probably not your best choice for a sidekick at a convention of brain surgeons. When I have a medical condition, I want the opinion of an expert, not a clown. That is why it is important, in most cases,  to avoid sources from unreliable or unknown authors. Bozo’s blog might be very interesting and enlightening, but for serious academic research, let’s stick with the experts.

The bottom line is that we want our research and our sources to pass the CRAP test. Sources need to be current, relevant and reliable, authoritative and accurate, and finally we want to be certain that the author’s purpose and intentions are in line with sound, scholarly research. A person selling a product is more likely to tell you only the good about that product when in research, we want more objective and unbiased analysis.




University System of Georgia: Teaching & Learning Conference April 4-5, 2013

Video Essays: Engaging Students As Producers of Digital Texts

Athens, Georgia; Friday, 9:00-9:45; Room TU


I ask students to make video documentary essays in all of my writing classes, primarily Composition I & II. Usually the Video Documentary Assignment is given at the end of the semester as the final project that applies their research and rhetorical skills to digital media production. Students post their videos to YouTube and I then create playlists on my YouTube channel where the student videos for each semester are collected. Students are then required to comment on the videos from their classmates, but are given extra credit for commenting on videos produced in other sections of the same course.

In 2011, I designed a mixed-methods case study to examine how video documentary essays function as a form of multimodal composition in first-year composition courses and how these types of texts may enhance the teaching of traditional composition skills, as well as contribute to the academic and professional communication skills of students. In this session I will discuss my research and some of the more surprising conclusions that emerged from my study, Composing on the Screen: Student Perceptions of Traditional and Multimodal Composition.

Through this mixed methods case study, I was able to learn more about how students respond to the tasks of multimodal composition before, during and after the process of creating video documentaries for their first-year composition course. Through surveys, interviews and the analysis of reflection essays, I was able to put together a picture of how students compare multimodal and traditional composition, the frustrations they encounter when composing in various modes, and ascertain the value the participants place on both traditional and multimodal composition. I was also able to depict some of the positive and negative aspects of multimodal composition that the students themselves revealed through the various research instruments used.

I have used this study to capture a snapshot view of student experiences with multimodal composition as a means of furthering my own pedagogical strategies and contributing to the discussion of best practices in the use of student-produced videos in first-year composition. In this process, I have come to several realizations, the most significant of which can be summarized as follows:

  • Multimodal composition is difficult and many students are unfamiliar with the process. This lack of experience can often cause students to have anxiety or feel intimidated when they are asked to create videos in their composition classes.
  • Technical problems are probably the most frustrating aspects of multimodal composition for students, but access to technology is not as big of an issue as in times past.
  • Students view the skills acquired through multimodal composition as professionally valuable; however, they view the skills inherent to traditional composition as valuable in their academic lives.
  • Students are more engaged with their topics and have an enhanced sense of audience awareness, rhetorical purpose, and social agency with video production.


  1.   It is important to recognize the anxiety that composing new media texts can cause our students, and we must also acknowledge that our students will not always be as enthusiastic about creating new kinds of texts as we are about asking them to do so.
  2.    Most students now have easy access to the technology needed to compose multimodal texts; however, working with unfamiliar technology can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. It must also be acknowledged that often technology fails.
  3. In addition to planning ways to support our students, it is also important to ask them to think about how they might use their composition skills, regardless of whether we are asking them to write traditional academic essays or asking them to compose in new ways.
  4. If composing new kinds of texts challenges our students to see their topics and research in new and engaging ways, then we should be able to use new media assignments to inform the writing process and get our students excited about writing in a variety of ways.
  5. Multimodal composition can also be used to get students thinking about rhetorical choices and the multiple modes accessible to make meaning in our digital world.
  6.  When students work with multimedia, they learn time management and organizational skills and they also gain confidence when they successfully create new kinds of texts.
  7. Opening the composition classroom to multimodal composition, specifically in the form of video documentaries, gives students the opportunity to develop skills that let them participate in convergence culture and address issues that are important to them.

In the introduction to Convergence Culture, entitled, “Worship at the Alter of Convergence: A New Paradigm for Understanding Media Change,” Henry Jenkins states that media convergence is simply the flow of media content across mediums. For example, I can capture a movie clip off of YouTube, right-click and save pictures from Google Image, type up some quotes from my favorite author, take some of my own video footage, and combine all of this on the movie-making software that comes free on my laptop, presumably with the intention of making my own message, then upload the video to Facebook, a social networking site, where my friends can watch it from their smart phones: “Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (Jenkins 2).

Jenkins highlights the social, political and economical impact that the culture of media convergence is having and will continue to have on the world in nearly all areas of existence. For the first time in history, consumers have the power to create and share the media that has been previously restricted to an elite group of media moguls and industry experts. He writes:

Consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other consumers . . . consumers are fighting for the right to participate more fully in their culture. (Jenkins 18)

This sense of “fighting for the right to participate” alludes to the possibilities that new media technologies offer our students (and the citizens of the world at large) to become more active, engaged citizens in all areas of their lives.

In 2006, Time magazine nominated “You” the “Person of the Year.” What better testament to the power of media convergence in the hands of the people than this tribute? More recently, in 2011, Time declared “The Protester” as “Person of the Year.” The protests seen worldwide in 2011 were largely fueled by new media outlets, particularly through social networks and the widespread self-reporting efforts of the protesters themselves as they took the responsibility of journalism into their own hands, quite literally, by wielding thousands of smart phones and recording the news as it happened, reporting it to the millions watching, supporting, and speculating what will happen next.

Without question, the age of media convergence has given a new sense of power to the people to participate in the culture of media, and as Jenkins again emphasizes, “Audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture” (24). Perhaps the potential for new media outlets to effect positive social change in our communities, schools, and global society as a whole should be considered the most significant driving force behind integrating multimodal composition into 21st century composition programs. In fact, empowering students to become agents of social change could possibly be one of our greatest responsibilities as both rhetors and compositionists within the realms of higher education.


  • Using multimodal assignments to engage students in their topics before they write and putting these types of assignments EARLY into the course
  • Using video assignments to teach writing strategies: ethos, pathos, logos; research and reliability of sources; intros and conclusions, organization, transitions, timing, length; tone and voice, presentation, formal vs. informal language
  • Scaffolding a large assignment so that all the weight of the assignment is not entirely on the final product, offering the opportunity to do videos as homework assignments, group projects or as other alternative assignments
  • Discussing media works and how the information is presented affects the argument and the message, thinking about when traditional writing is more or less effective and when using multiple modes is more appropriate


Student Success in Writing: 2013

Composing on the Screen: How Multimodal Composition Can Enhance the Teaching of Writing

Savannah, Georgia; February 8, 2013; Room 210; 1:40-2:40 PM

Below is the 19-minute video I created as an overview of my mixed-method case study of how students viewed the challenges of both traditional and multimodal composition in first-year writing programs. I did this teacher research for my dissertation, which I successfully defended in August of 2012.

The video I produced has several purposes, the most obvious being that it is a representation of the work I did for my dissertation; however, the process of making the video and the video itself is much more.

The video is also a representation of the 21st century academic video essay, an example of moving scholarship from the printed page to the screen. This video represents what I ask my students to produce when I ask them to compose multimodal texts in the form of video documentary essays.

I used basic software and internet applications to create this video, and I experienced many of the same challenges and frustrations that my own students experience when they make their videos in my class.

I spent hours planning, collecting media, editing, and tweaking my video until it was just perfect, or as perfect as  I could make it within my own limits and expectations.

And, like my students, I felt excited about my video after its completion, was eager to share it with others, and felt that it adequately expressed my ideas and the range and scope of my topic.

Like my students, I feel my video brought my topic to life, helped me connect with a larger audience, and allowed me to develop my problem solving and technical skills.

The video explains the premise of my dissertation, captures the key findings in my research, illuminates the possibilities that digital video production offers first-year composition students, and provides a creative and entertaining twist to an otherwise antiquated and dull genre, the traditional print-based dissertation.

Here in this video, you can see my diss in a little less than 20 minutes. And if this gets your attention, you can download the entire 286 pages here: Composing on the Screen: Student Perceptions of Traditional & Multimodal Composition. 

  • Enhanced sense of engagement with topics
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-expression
  • Builds community
  • Enhanced sense of audience & purpose
  • Teaches rhetorical concepts that can be transferred to traditional essays

Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy 2012

Copyright or Copy Wrong: Navigating Copyright and Fair Use in Student Video Assignments

9:45-11:00 a.m.   Room 212

This session will explore some of the theory behind the use of new media in
the classroom and will explore some of the challenges we face, particularly
in regards to copyright and Fair Use laws, when allowing our students to
become producers of their own digital texts.

New Media Scholarship

The New London Group: Multiliteracies;“A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures”

Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture : Where Old and New Media Collide

  • Media Convergence
  • Participatory Culture
  • YouTube & Social Networks

Daniel Anderson: “Prosumer Approaches to New Media Composition

  • Consumer + Producer = Prosumer

Anne Wysocki et. al. : Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition

Cynthia Selfe et. al: Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers

Lights, Camera, Action: Navigating Copyright and Fair Use in Student Video Assignments




  • Encourage Students to Create Their Own Content
  • Explain and Explore Creative Commons, WikiMedia and Freeplay Music  and the like (Pretty Lights, NIN)
  • Collaborate with Resident Experts, Create Copyright Library Guides (Internet Archives, Prelinger Archives, YouTube Content, Government Archives)
  • DON’T PANIC: Know the rules and give y0ur students some breathing room

Composing on the Screen: Student Perceptions of Traditional and Multimodal Composition

I have finally finished my dissertation and will defend on August 13 at 11:30 AM! This is very exciting news indeed! Below is the abstract for my diss. I also created a video to accompany the project and that is posted here as well.


When college composition teachers carefully consider the role and function of multimodal composition in their classrooms, they can enhance the teaching of writing and communication, engage and empower students, and better prepare students for the challenges and possibilities of life in our rapidly changing digital age. To meet this teaching challenge and study the impact of multimedia on student writers, I designed this mixed-methods case study to examine how video documentary essays function as a form of multimodal composition in first-year composition courses and how these types of texts may enhance the teaching of traditional composition skills, as well as contribute to the academic and professional communication skills of students. The study was designed to determine how students react to multimodal composition and how they view the benefits as well as pitfalls of composing new kinds of texts in their first-year writing courses.  This teacher research was conducted at a mid-sized, urban community college located in southern Tennessee. I used surveys, interviews and reflection essays to collect the data from student participants. I then analyzed the collected data for this project. My conclusions are that students learn valuable skills in the multimodal composition process, such as organization and time management, in addition to learning how to use movie-making software. Students also develop a keener sense of audience and purpose when they compose video documentary essays.  Multimodal composition can be used to teach traditional writing and rhetoric. Multimodal composition can be used to enhance the teaching of writing and communication, engage and empower students to participate in convergence culture, and better prepare them for the challenges and possibilities of life in our rapidly changing digital age.