Because students use multimodal elements in their final reports, I encourage them to use platforms for the reports that will make it easy to include these elements. Many students use Prezi because it allows for text, image, videos, and links to be used, but this is not necessarily an ideal space for this type of report. In the past, students have also used Google Docs, Wix, Weebly, Scalar, and other platforms with success. I have encouraged students to make videos as well, but at the time of this publication, no student has taken me up on that suggestion.
Three sample student projects are embedded below. One is a PDF of a final project done in Google Drive by CJ Styers, and the other two are video walkthroughs of final projects created in Prezi by Jordan Minardi and Clinton Heck. All of these projects are from an ENG 1510 class in the fall of 2017, and all of the projects are used with the express permission of the students.
CJ's project focuses on the subreddit for the TV show Twin Peaks. He explains the ways in which users in the site value fan theories that other users put forth. CJ uses examples very well: he often links directly to examples from the subreddit in their original full form and then uses screen captures of specific content from those posts or comments to help make his points. In his first example, he links directly to a post that focuses on a theory about the finale for season three, but instead of relying on the reader to follow the link and find the information themselves, he provides a screen capture of the most relevant section to analyze and critique. He demonstrates not only why the specific post is a strong example for the overall claim of his article—that they value fan theories—but also demonstrates how he knows the post was valued by the community. He shows not only the high number of upvotes for his community but also the high number of comments as well.
CJ follows a similar pattern when exploring a comment, additional posts, and a meme posted on the site. He shows not only how the examples fit with his claim about fan theories but also shows how the posts and comments are valued within the community. By the end of his project, he has clearly demonstrated that he understands what makes a good post within the space, and he understands the major genres that the space uses.
Ultimately, CJ's project is successful at meeting the goals of the assignment. He analyzed the discourse of the space and was able to break down some of the elements of what makes for successful posts within the subreddit. CJ showed that he is very skilled at gathering primary evidence and using it to support a claim. He's selecting his evidence carefully and thoughtfully. CJ doesn't use the terms "discourse" or "discourse community" directly, but he mentions features of discourse that we had discussed in class and finds patterns in the discourse of the space.
Jordan's project focuses on the volleyball subreddit. Her central claim concerns how more experienced players use their experience to give advice to less experienced players in the space. Like CJ, Jordan uses screen captures of posts to help make her points, often showing both the main post and replies to the post to demonstrate that users valued the content. She focuses less on the number of upvotes within her space because she found early on that people did not upvote much on her subreddit. The space was small and not very active, so it was not necessary to upvote content to get it to the top of the main page.
Jordan's final examples are a post and a comment that she made herself. She made the post with her theory that the space valued giving advice in mind. She found that by following the subject matter and genres of the space, she was able to make a successful post. But she also wanted to demonstrate that people valued giving advice by trying to give advice herself. Her comment giving advice was upvoted by users, so she was able to demonstrate that what she suspected seems to hold up.
Below is a video walkthrough of Jordan's project. A transcript of the video can be found here.
Like CJ, Jordan doesn't mention "discourse" directly, but she does show evidence to support an analysis of the discourse of the space. She uses evidence well to support her points, and in this case, she does a particularly good job in using her own experience within the space to help to demonstrate that her claim about the space is true. Jordan seems to have effectively investigated and analyzed the discourse of the volleyball subreddit.
Clinton's project focused on the animation subreddit. Clinton's claim is very similar to Jordan's: he believes users of the space value being a place where novice animators can seek advice. Instead of jumping right into posts and comments, Clinton begins by using the rules of the space as evidence to help him support his claim. Clinton's remaining examples focus on specific kinds of help that users receive within the subreddit. He uses both posts asking for advice and comments giving advice as evidence of his claim. Like CJ and Jordan, Clinton uses a number of screen captures to help make his points.
Below is a video walkthrough of Clinton's project. A transcript of the video can be found here.
Clinton focuses on the rules of space as a means of analyzing the discourse. I think this is a good starting tactic for understanding the space and helping him begin to understand the discourse community. Like CJ and Jordan, Clinton does not use the terms "discourse" or "discourse community" but does analyze features of the spaces that are discourse related. He's successful in gathering primary evidence and using it to make his points.
All three of the projects shown here are successful in meeting the goals of the assignment as I had set them out. Those goals are
- to analyze discourse,
- to learn what to look for in discourse when entering a new discourse community.,/li>
- to effectively investigate and join a new discourse community,
- to gather primary evidence through observation and testing theories,
- to build and support a claim with evidence,
- to curate data,
- to organize and present ideas effectively, and
- to incorporate multiple modes into communication.
The assignment and a further discussion of these goals can be found in the Classroom Practice section of this webtext.
I think that all three projects meet these goals. These students seem to have learned to gather evidence well and use it to support their claims. While none of the projects present a comprehensive or nuanced view of the discourse, I think that they're strong projects for first-year writing students: these students are likely to have been introduced to the concept of discourse during the class discussions, and as such, may have had only a few weeks of analyzing discourse under their belts as they created these projects.
That said, in future versions of the course, I think that there are a few things that I can do as an instructor to push this analysis further and create a better assignment. Two of the three students mention the term "community" in the course of their projects, but none of the three address "discourse" explicitly even though this term is directly mentioned on the assignment sheet. I attribute this to class discussion focusing more on terms like "posts" and "comments" instead of terms like "genre" and "discourse." It would be beneficial to the students to use these terms in a more nuanced way in class discussion to push them to dig deeper into analysis of the social factors that are driving community interactions. In fact, we could directly discuss the criteria of discourse communities developed by John Swales (2017) in our classroom discussion.
It's also probably worth encouraging more nuanced views of what counts as "valued" within the community. All three projects present their communities as monolithic, which of course, they were not. The assignment itself encourages this by suggesting that students "Make a clear and convincing claim or closely related series of claims about what your community values." This suggestion treats the community as a unified whole, which it may not be. Allowing for more nuanced views of competing values may give students a more nuanced view of how real-world discourse communities function.
In other words, the students have met the learning objectives that I've set out for them, but these same objectives may be limiting the ways that they view discourse communities. Allowing for a more nuanced view of discourse communities would likely result in more complex projects.