Writing can be a struggle for students, especially when they do not see the value or relevance of the writing assignments. This perception is a barrier faculty often face in writing-intensive courses, including first-year English composition. In this episode we will explore how project-based writing can motivate students to want to write and revise in a writing-intensive course.
Stephanie Pritchard is a faculty member in the English and Creative Writing Department and Co-Director of the Creativity Lab. She is also the Writing Fellow for the School of Communication, Media, and the Arts at the State University of New York at Oswego. Stephanie was the recipient of the 2016 SUNY-Oswego Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
- Audacity – The open-source audio editing software mentioned by Stephanie.
- Designing Writing Assignments – a variation of the mentioned presentation that Stephanie and Rebecca gave on creating assignments are part of larger projects and connect to the writing students will do as a professional.
- Voices of Oswego Veterans Podcast Assignment Overview – Project sheet from Stephanie’s English Composition Class
- Voices of Oswego Veterans Website (launching in January 2018)
- Writing Across the Curriculum at SUNY Oswego
- The WAC Clearing House – resources on Writing Across the Curriculum
John: Our guest today is Stephanie Pritchard, a faculty member in the English and Creative Writing Department and Co-Director of the Creativity Lab. She is also the Writing Fellow for the School of Communication, Media, and the Arts at the State University of New York at Oswego. Stephanie was the recipient of the SUNY-Oswego Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Welcome, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Hi, John. Hi, Rebecca.
Today’s teas are:
John: Black raspberry green tea.
Stephanie: Earl Grey tea.
Rebecca: Jasmine green tea.
John: So let’s talk a little bit about your role here. You’ve worked for a while with the Writing Across the Curriculum program. Could you tell us a little bit about that program at Oswego?
Stephanie: Sure. Basically the idea behind it is to encourage students to be writing all across campus, so regardless of your major whether you’re a math major or an English major, graphic design, business, you are going to be writing in your major, and then every major on campus has five writing intensive classes that students have to take to hopefully help them develop their writing skills from their freshman year all the way up to their senior year when they graduate.
John: And they’re structured in levels from introductory ones to capstone type level, right?
Stephanie: Absolutely, yes. So they’ll be taking these writing intensive classes throughout their whole time at Oswego.
Rebecca: And this is how many Writing Across the Curriculum programs are structured at many different universities. We have found over time right, the faculty who might not be in a writing specific discipline like English for example, sometimes they’re a little tentative about wanting to teach writing, so our university – we started this writing fellow program, which Stephanie is one of our writing fellows, and happens to be the writer fellow for the School of Communication, Media and the Arts, which I’m in. So Stephanie and I have had the opportunity to work closely together in her role. Can you talk a little bit about what you do as a writing fellow?
Stephanie: Sure. I’ve been doing the writing fellows program for several years now. There are a few faculty members who act as writing fellows, as Rebecca mentioned I’m the fellow for the school of Communications, Media and the Arts or SCMA we also have two writing fellows for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, their names are Tony Kupuna and Ken Nichols we have one writing fellow for the School of Education, her name is Judith Belt and writing fellow for the School of Business and that is Melissa Web, and all of us work with faculty across campus in our different schools or in our different areas and we do a lot of different things. Through my work as a writing fellow, I happen to give a lot of in-class presentations to faculty, so that means I visit their classes and I’ll perhaps give a lesson on how to write an effective outline or I’ll talk a lot about things like MLA, APA style, how to use citations effectively, how to write thesis statements or how to develop effective arguments or more real-world writing experience, like writing or crafting email, writing thank-you notes, things like that. I also work with faculty one-on-one to help them create or revise different writing assignments that they’re using in their classes or just to help them brainstorm ideas about writing assignments that they could give their students. I like to talk to students a lot about writing resources that are available on campus to them that they may or may not know about. So for example I do get asked by faculty to visit their classes to talk about the Writing Center, which is a resource that not everyone on campus knows about and I think is really important, as well as the Write Way Series, which is a really, really wonderful series of writing related workshops that’s run by Steve Smith from the Office of Learning Services and basically the Write Way Series are different workshops that are every Friday afternoon throughout the entire semester and faculty from all across campus come in and give different presentations about writing and it’s a really wonderful way for students to come in and really get some first-hand information about writing skills that they are looking to develop.
John: Now just a minute ago, Rebecca mentioned that you work together quite a bit. Could you talk a little bit about how you’ve collaborated?
Stephanie: Absolutely. So in the Graphic Design Department especially, I’ve worked one-on-one with Rebecca quite a bit. We’ve done a couple of different exercises for her students at the three and four hundred level mostly. We have focused on professionalism quite often, so I visited her classes and we talked about email communication especially, we spent time talking about how to create effective thank-you notes and I gave a workshop on thank you note writing. We also did a workshop that was about… your other one, remember?
Rebecca: Yeah, we did a project about audience and really thinking about writing for different audiences and having multiple collaborative writers write together. So designers often have to write reports, where they might evaluate design and things for a client and so, Stephanie was so gracious to help us develop an exercise that was fun that got students thinking about how to write in a single voice.
Stephanie: It’s – I think it’s especially important when I visit classes to talk about writing, a lot of people have this perception that writing has to be tedious, or that writing has to be boring, or that it’s a lot of work, but when I try to visit classes I really make the attempt to make writing as fun as possible. Every time that I visit Rebecca’s classes I try really hard to bring some kind of creative spin to whatever it is we’re doing to make the assignments seem more tangible to students, which makes them more engaged and more interested. So for the collaborative writing example, I actually created four different short stories and then encouraged the students in small groups to continue writing the short stories that I had already begun, but the catch was they had to follow the same tone and style – if it was written in first second or third person, if I was using slang, if it was formal or informal, they had to continue to mimic that with a group of other people to try to get them to work on thinking collaboratively about a piece of writing.
John: And since most students will be doing some work in the future where they will be collaborating on projects that’s a really useful skill.
Stephanie: I think they really got a lot out of it and they did realize too, that while it is very, very difficult to write collaboratively, it’s a skill that they absolutely need. And this is something too that Rebecca and I have spoken to them about she and I have actually collaborated on a project together. We went and presented at a graphic design conference last year in Toronto about preparing students to write collaboratively and also preparing students to write for their future career, to think about writing as a professional skill that they really need to have before they leave school.
Rebecca: And thinking about really writing about what they’re doing to a non-expert audience, I know we spend a lot of time in our classes trying to get students to practice the vocabulary associated with the field, but don’t always practice how to communicate that to people outside of the field. So, I think that the exercises that we’ve developed together have really helped. So I would say that having access to a writing fellow has been such a blessing in a lot of ways because I knew that the students were struggling with a lot of these writing things and I was building a lot of writing into my classes, but Stephanie was able to come into the class and really show me some different ways of teaching some of those things. And so some of those exercises Stephanie still comes in regularly to kind of do with my students, but then there’s others that after having seen her execute that a few times I have a good model for it and I can do when she’s not available, I can do on my own, and so it really helped me actually build some confidence in that area where I wasn’t quite sure how to approach certain things and she was able to model it for me.
Stephanie: So kind of piggybacking off of what Rebecca just said as my work as a writing fellow for the School of Communication, Media and the Arts, it’s really opened my eyes to all of the different kinds of writing that happens on campus, especially professional writing and working to develop yourself professionally. So one of the things that I’ve done is based off of my visit to her class, I now regularly give a professional email communication workshop as part of the Write Way Series that’s attended by faculty, staff and students to kind of talk about why it’s important to use specific language in your emails and how you can really help yourself be professional, or seem professional.
John: Excellent, now let’s talk a little bit about what you do in your own classes that you teach, English Composition could you talk a little bit about the types of assignments you give and how you approach those courses?
Stephanie: Sure, so I’ve actually for the last couple of semesters, I had been doing much more creative writing so I teach poetry writing – and I’ve been really focused on that for the last couple of semesters. But this fall for the first time in a little while, I got a section of English 102 again and I was really excited to teach English 102 and to revisit that class.
John: And English 102 is the basic introductory freshman writing class?
Stephanie: Yes, yep that’s correct. Sometimes you don’t always get just freshmen in this class, sometimes you get a mix of students and my section this semester was entirely made up of freshmen. So what I wanted to do was really look at our English Composition class and look at the assignments that I could give these students and I really wanted to try to make this as practical of a writing experience for them as I possibly could. So typically, in an English Composition class, students will get a series of papers that may may not be related to each other, right? But we’re as teachers that soon as we go in the English department we have to give them four or five papers that they are required to write over the course of the semester, four or five writing assignments. They need to have opportunities to revise those writing assignments and there also needs to be some kind of digital component to the English Composition experience. So, before the semester started I really wanted to move away from that model a little bit and experiment more with like a project-based English Composition class, and that’s where I ended up going with this and now at the end of the semester my first time doing this, I can say that I’ve been really really happy with the results of it and I think the students have had a really positive writing experience. So instead of dividing up the semester into a series of unrelated papers, instead I divided up the semester into two projects, and each project was composed of a series of small writing assignments that really helped students develop their skills and build their skills throughout each project. The first project that I did was a podcast project. So that was important for English Composition because of the digital literacy requirement that we have to meet when we teach that class, as well as all of the different kinds of writing, very practical writing, that students worked on doing throughout the whole thing. So I can break down some of the different components of the project if that’s something that you’d like?
John: Yeah, tell us more about the project.
Stephanie: Okay, so before the semester started I was actually approached by Rebecca and a few other faculty members to find out if I would be interested in working with them on a collaborative interdisciplinary project. And this project would involve students from Rebecca’s web class, as well as Kelly Georgio’s publication class, Peter Cardones photography class, and my English Composition class. So there would be students from all these different courses working together. We also work closely with Ben Parker who is the coordinator for our veteran services on campus and we created a project called the Voices of Oswego Veterans. This was based on an exhibition that was in Tyler Art Gallery this semester that was called the Veterans Book Project- Objects for Deployment, which students from I think all of the classes who were involved in this project went to go see and experience, and the project is based off of a bunch of books that were authored by people who have had some kind of first-hand experience of or about war, and what that does. So, what our Voices of Oswego Veteran’s project was going to do, we wanted to work with student veterans who are connected to SUNY Oswego, and the idea behind this project was that we wanted to help those student veterans share their stories. Whatever their stories were. They didn’t necessarily have to be connected to their experiences in combat, or their experiences abroad, or their experiences even related to being a veteran directly if they didn’t want to.
Rebecca: And most of them didn’t really want to, like they explored a lot more about being a student in that transition.
Stephanie: Absolutely, absolutely. So anyway, we had all of these different classes who were working with this group of veterans who volunteered to do this project with us, and my English Composition students created a series of podcast episodes based on the voices of Oswego Veterans Project. Most of the students in my English Composition class, when I asked them if they knew what a podcast was or if they had listened to podcasts really had not, they really didn’t have any idea which I thought was really interesting.
Rebecca: I had the same experience! I’m teaching advanced web students and they didn’t know what a podcast was either, so we’ve introduced them all to a whole genre of work that they had never experienced.
Stephanie: It’s true, it’s true.
John: So what, did each of the classes do podcasts?
Rebecca: No, what we ended up doing was, Stephanie’s students did the podcasts, and then Peter students did environmental portraits, so they did photos of the veterans right in an environment that represented who they were, and then Kelly Dorizio’s class did a publication that took some of the images and some of the text from the transcripts from the podcasts to make a publication, and then my web students put it together to make a podcast website that has the transcripts, show notes, and what have you, together.
John: So it was truly a collaborative project where each class was developing skills relevant to their major.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Stephanie: The really cool thing too is that next semester a lot of this work is going to be on display in Penfield Library, so people can walk through and look at the photographs, look at some of the published material that Kelly’s class made, and look at excerpts from the podcasts that my students created, and then like Rebecca said they can also go online and check out the website that’s associated with the project.
John: And so each of the podcasts involved interviews with veterans?
Stephanie: So my goal was to have the entire thing wrapped up start to finish in about eight weeks. So we had a lot of work to do from introducing what a podcast is to students, and spending time really kind of exploring that whole genre, right? Because they weren’t terribly familiar with it. And then when you sit a bunch of students down and tell them, okay you’re going to go meet with someone you’ve never met before, and then you’re going to interview that person, and you’re gonna really talk to them and get to know them, it can be kind of intimidating to think about going to meet somebody who you’ve never met before. So this whole project was really working on getting students to be comfortable talking to other people who they didn’t know and quite frankly I mean, to people who they thought were quite different from themselves, right? Because even though everyone in this project was a student they all had very different experiences and they were all, they were all bringing different things to the table. So early on in the project after we established what a podcast was and spent some time talking about that, we worked on doing email. That was the first writing assignment that my students had to do, which was something that was directly based off of my experiences with Rebecca’s students in the past. So we talked about what it means to make a good email, they had to send two emails to their assigned veterans, my students were put into groups of two and each group worked with one student veteran on campus. So the first writing assignment was to compose an email, they got a chance to revise that assignment, they also had to have two separate meetings with their assigned student veteran, so before their first meeting we worked on creating skills like how to make good small talk, how to ask good interview questions,
John: We should have taken that course
Stephanie: Spend time talking about things like body language, and like what that means, how people perceive you and how you can present yourself in a professional manner, we talked about what would be a good thing like a good wardrobe decisions to make before you have a meeting like that, you know when you’re meeting somebody for the first time who you don’t know. So a lot of it was really focused on establishing this repertoire with another person. And I think that that’s really important because a lot of people are losing those skills, in my opinion.
John: And we don’t provide a lot of formal training on that.
Rebecca: How did the students respond to like that time in class talking about these things that might seem like minutia, that might – maybe they don’t initially think is really relevant?
Stephanie: It was really interesting, it also served as a kind of a good series of icebreakers for them to get to know each other because we did some interacting in class where I had them after we spent some time – I mean because you can talk all day about how to do something, but until you actually have to go do it then that’s when things really start to change. So of course we spent time in class talking about how to make small talk and how to get to know somebody, but then I had them all stand up and go meet somebody who they didn’t know and this was like the second week of school, so they knew no one in class, and they had to make small talk with each other for five minutes and I timed it and I walked around and listened to their conversations and it was really intriguing because they really took it to heart, they were really talking to each other. It wasn’t any of that like nonsense “so what do you think about the weather today?” kind of thing, they really did a good job and they took it seriously.
John: So they didn’t see it as a meaningless icebreaker, they saw it as actually developing a skill that they could use.
Stephanie: Certainly, and then they were able to take those skills to their meetings with their student veterans and then when I asked them how their meetings went, I mean we had this huge discussion in class about what it was like to meet somebody who they had never met before and how maybe it was a little bit awkward at first, but how they remembered some of the things we had talked about in class like making eye contact and smiling and not having their phones out and all of those sorts of things, and I thought it was it was a really interesting experience for them. After they had the meetings and we talked about them, we then had to work together to develop a set of interview questions that my students would be asking their student veterans. And this was something else that we had to spend a lot of time talking about, we actually had Ben Parker come into our class to talk with my students about our population of student veterans, and he really helped prepare them to think about asking good questions and you know talk to them about what questions are and are not perhaps appropriate to ask other people. And we try to make this discussion more broad also right like if you take the student veteran component out of the question, what sorts of things, what kinds of questions are my students asked that might make them uncomfortable, and why are why is it important to ask good questions.
John: Some really good communication skills in general being developed there.
Stephanie: Sure. So after Ben’s visit to my English Composition class where he really helps students talk about some of the stereotypes especially, that our student veterans experience either on or off campus, we had a really wonderful class discussion about those sorts of stereotypes because this was really leading up to the interview questions that my students were going to be composing to ask their student veterans, and we wanted to make sure that they weren’t asking any questions that would be offensive which is really important. So anyway, after Ben left we had a really wonderful class discussion about how several of our students had a tendency to look at a student veteran as a veteran first, and perhaps not as a student first. And we then spent some time talking about well why it’s important, these are students at SUNY Oswego just like you, right? So like they’re majoring in something, they’re going to classes, they might be in your classes, they might have the same teachers you have, or have taken a subject that you’re thinking about exploring for the first time, and to really keep that information in mind which is interestingly enough, one of the things that our student veterans really spoke about a lot in the podcast was their learning experiences here and what they’re passionate about learning here, which I thought was really intriguing. So my students really had a they took a lot away from Ben’s presentation in his visit, and I think Rebecca students had a similar experience in class discussion.
Rebecca: Yeah, all of the faculty involved took our classes to that exhibition that was at Tyler Art Gallery at the beginning of the semester, and so students look through books that were written in part by veterans and also people affected by war. So that kind of primed them a little bit, we did that earlier before our piece of the project started so Stephanie’s class had to complete their part of the project before my students could start working on the web component. So we worked it on the last part of the semester. So there was some space between the exhibition and us starting the project. So when we started the project, I had everyone fill out a little worksheet that asked them what do you know about veterans? How do you know what you know? What questions do you have? And they all filled it out and then we shared back what it was so it was really interesting is that they had read these books that dispelled a lot of myths and stereotypes about veterans in general but they still held on to those stereotypes when they filled out this little worksheet, and so we talked about that. So what’s funny is that you people think about war, they think about older males, right, they think World War II, you know they don’t even think, they don’t even think about like contemporary experience at all. So they did that, and then I had all of them listen to the content of the website. So they had to listen to all the podcasts and then of course we had a quiz on it, so made sure everyone listened to it and then I asked some questions again about how your perceptions change and they were shocked, right, like the things that really stood out was one of the podcasts was about you know being a mother and also a student, and that transition. Or one that really wanted to be a writer, which really kind of dispelled many of these stereotypes that they came, or the baggage they came to the project with. And so because they had that experience that they found quite transformative, they’ve really held tight on to the idea that they want to make sure that people who visit the site and listen to the podcast upfront, the visuals that are provided do not re-emphasize or repeat the stereotypes.
John: So it forced them to confront their stereotypes.
Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. And I think the key thing was we talked a lot about when they were trying to figure out what kinds of, what kind of imagery would go on the front page of the website, their first inclination was to put a military picture up, and my immediate response was they’re not in the military anymore, they’re retired from the military. And then you could just see them go right, and then trying to figure out like what they wanted to communicate and having to really probe. So that has been actually the most stressful part of that project for them, is they really, really want to do a good job with that moment.
Stephanie: And I think connecting to that just a little bit, when we were prepping for the assignment before my students had even met with their student veteran for the first time and we were talking about small talk, some of them expressed this fear right. And they said well I’ve never met a veteran, before I don’t really know anything about what veterans do, etc. right, and I reiterated that same point which was but you are working you’re talking to another student right, what questions will you ask another student. And that really for them kind of helped this light bulb go off when they were as they kept thinking about that. After we had that conversation then they created this big list of questions that they were wanted to ask their student veterans and then they submitted those and then they had an opportunity to revise those based on my feedback. They also had to write some short biographies, so they had to write a 150 word bio about their student veteran. They also had to write 150 word bios in the third person about themselves, which was also a very interesting experience. So we spent time talking about what information should or should not be included in a biography, if you haven’t accomplished a whole lot at this point in your life, what information should you include right, to get to that 150 words because they all had to be about the same length to look uniform on the website. So that was important. So then we started to really move into the meat and potatoes part of the actual podcast, so I had them all create podcast outlines sort of like a very rough script about what their podcasts would look like, what their episodes would look like, which were then workshopped in class and the students really took that very seriously and gave each other a lot of good feedback about that.
Rebecca: I know in many times we’ve had a lot of conversations from someone that’s not in English and creative writing I never knew what like workshopping a writing was until we had talked quite a bit, so can you share what you mean by workshopping that?
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. You can do it quite differently in lots of different, in lots of classes, but the way that I generally like to do it is had all of the students submit an outline beforehand, and we had a schedule as to which groups would be workshopped on which day. Basically what it means is students came to class having read, let’s say four different outlines that had been determined ahead of time, they made some notes on the outlines and then we sat in class, we sat in a circle and students talked to each other about the different outlines and they came with a set list of questions that they had for each other, they came with a set list of comments that they had for each other, and basically the whole purpose of a workshop in a writing class is for students to get good feedback from each other, because they got plenty of feedback from just me, but I mean I’m only one person, and when you get 19 different people in a room who have 19 different perspectives and 19 different ideas, you can generate a lot more discussion based on a piece of writing. So I did the work shopping for the podcast outlines as a whole class, which meant we all talked about the same outline for a couple minutes and then I collected all of the students notes from that experience and looked them over and that’s how they got participation points, by actively annotating and making some notes on the outlines that they use to fuel their discussion in class.
Rebecca: So before they actually executed their podcast, you know they’ve gone through these different series of kind of professional writing opportunities or professional communication opportunities. I’m curious about how they’re responding at this moment in this semester? How did they respond when you gave the syllabus to them? And then how do they respond about this moment halfway through the project?
John: When they’re doing their peer review
Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of like, now we’re getting ready to actually like execute the thing what was kind of the temperament?
Stephanie: At the beginning of the semester on the syllabus, I didn’t give them a whole lot of details about what the two projects were. I just said we’re gonna be doing these two big projects and each project is broken down into a series of components. They knew that we were going to be participating in the voices of Oswego veterans project on Friday the first week of school because we had to get started right away. When I first told them what the project was I got a lot of deer in the headlights looks.
John: So did you wait until after the drop date to tell them?
Stephanie: No, this was still before the drop day. But this is a big project and like when I’ve taught English Composition in the past, I have always started out with something small. Right, like a 2-page more informal writing assignment to try to get students comfortable with me and with the writing process etc. and this time I really decided that I just kind of wanted to jump in headfirst, right? I mean it’s a writing course, so we might as well just do it. So I think that they were because their experience in writing classes before hand had been structured, like I just said, you know much more these smaller assignments that they looked at as much more manageable, like write a process paper. Write an experiential paper about something that you did over the summer, like what have you, right? But this was like a big thing that they had to work with another person on, as well as a person who they had never met before outside of their class, but at this point about halfway through the semester all of the writing assignments that we had done were still relatively small. There were just a lot more of them, right and they had revised every single writing assignment that they had done for me at this point, which was something very different from how I had taught English Composition in the past. So at this point they had gotten into this rhythm of ‘oh, okay. I have my podcast outline due. This is worth 10% of my overall grade for this project. I’m gonna submit it, then I’m going to revise it’, and then that will be the 10% and even that grade seemed more manageable to them then the bigger greater than are associated with those other might.
John: So you have a lot of low stakes work there, with a practice the process of revision and they can learn from their mistakes and they can improve the work and that’s a really useful thing for students to learn because they haven’t all realized that that’s an important part of any job.
Rebecca: And is really setting up a culture of revision and iteration, and I think that a lot of us struggle in our classes to get students to embrace the idea of revision, but if you just set it up that like everything’s revised and that’s how it is, and that’s how it is from the beginning then that’s just that’s the culture of the space and that’s the expectation.
Stephanie: The way that I like to do revision, also because I think it’s important for them to put effort in the first time around, right, which is sometimes something they won’t do so much, if you talk to them about revision and what that means basically they submit the first draft of something, it gets graded, then it gets returned to them. If they choose to revise it, which for this podcast project they all chose to revise everything, because they knew that all of this information was gonna be going online.
Rebecca: The stakes were high.
Stephanie: They were much higher, right. So they got a grade on the first draft then they could revise it. They get graded on their revision and then basically what I do is average the draft grade and the revision grade together and then round up a little bit, to give them an incentive for having chosen to revise. So that means that their first draft is still, it’s still significant right, so you can’t just completely blow off the first draft of something, right you like you still have to put in a lot of effort to get a manageable grade on each of the assignments.
John: The workshop process though not only helps each student improve their work, it also helps them develop skills of critically analyzing their work in the work of others, which is something that they don’t always do in introductory writing classes. I think many of our classes do now, but that wasn’t always a norm. It probably wasn’t something they experienced that much before, where they typically write something give it to the teacher they’d get it back and then they’d forget about it. Here they’re building something that’s much more meaningful and they’re learning more about this process of revising and working to improve things
Stephanie: I’ve wanted them to learn how to talk to each other throughout this semester, and I think that they have really moved in that direction, you know, especially when you get a group of freshmen, sometimes they can be so quiet because they’re in college and it’s really overwhelming and whatever else. I wanted this to be an opportunity for them to really grow, not only as writers but also as people who can communicate with each other.
Rebecca: I’m wondering too at this moment, so it’s not before they do the podcast yet, but they know that like they’re doing the podcast, right. They’ve got all these components together, they think the stakes are high cause it’s gonna be online and they’re interacting with this third person that like isn’t getting a grade but like you’re totally interacting with them right, and your grade somewhat depends on how well you interact with this person. Do you think that that kind of community component influenced how much they got engaged in the project?
Stephanie: It was huge, absolutely. The fact that I was consistently telling them, remember this is for the website right, and the fact that I could also tell them, it gave me a way to, this sounds kind of bad but almost validate the importance of every assignment, right. There was no question of, ‘well, why are we writing third person biographies’, well, they knew, right and they knew that they were writing these third person bios to go on the website so people who had no idea who they were could learn about them a little bit, and understand why that was important so because there was this bigger picture that we were all working toward, there was never any question of relevance of each assignment.
John: And when students know that the work is going to be publicly visible, it gives some much more incentive to do a good job because they don’t want to look bad in public.
Stephanie: Absolutely, absolutely, so there were a couple other components of the project – I did try to keep everything like I said pretty practical. We did a whole thank you note writing workshop where students wrote thank-you notes to give to their student veterans, they were handwritten notes and we talked about why that’s important and why you should do that. They had to create a whole draft of their actual transcripts for their podcast episodes, which meant that they had to transcribe their recording, word-for-word
John: Oh, they did they did that manually?
Stephanie: They did, they did.
John: We’ve been doing that ourselves and it’s a bit of work. Now we automate it, We upload to YouTube and then we download the captions from YouTube, but then there’s still a lot of work put into it.
Rebecca: It doesn’t have any punctuation.
John: it doesn’t have punctuation or capitalization, and it doesn’t identify who is speaking at the time so.
Stephanie: They manually went through and then wrote down and their pod their podcast episodes were eight minutes long, maximum. So they were between six and eight minutes.
John: So it was a bit more manageable.
Stephanie: But it was still quite a bit, I mean they came in like, kind of when they were due, the students came in wide-eyed and they were like, ‘Stephanie, you have no idea how many times we listened to this one part’.
John: Well, just so you get a better feel for that, we’ll let you do the transcript for this one.
Stephanie: Sure, yeah.
John: Could you tell us a little bit more about how they did this. Did they use their phones? Did they use, did they borrow recording devices? Did they use microphones?
Stephanie: That’s an excellent question. So I wanted them to be as prepared as possible so I booked a couple of days in the library and we worked with Sharona Ginsberg, who is absolutely wonderful I’ve worked with her on some digital literacy projects in the past. So we went in and she sat them down and taught them how to use audacity, which is the recording software that’s on all of the computers in the library and on campus. It’s also free to download pretty easy to use once you get used to it, so she gave them kind of the rundown on how to use it most of them decided to use audacity. So that meant that the library actually, our Penfield library has two multi media rooms on the second floor. So and students can book those and use them and their rooms are soundproof, they have good microphones in there and the computer already has audacity so the vast majority of my students booked the multimedia rooms met their student veterans in Penfield and then just went upstairs and did the whole recording session up there . Their student veterans had to interview questions beforehand, so they already knew what the questions were going to be so they could be prepared and then students did it all right there. I had one or two groups decide to use iMovie instead of audacity, which was fine, to do the recording.
John: iMovie or GarageBand?
Stephanie: That, they said they used iMovie.
Rebecca: Hm, it’s odd.
John: You can.
Stephanie: Yeah, but for the most part almost everything. I don’t think any group use their phone to record we did have a conversation in class two about background noise, and about environment and all of those sorts of things. So most of them use the multimedia rooms in the library so Sharona was really able to help prepare them, for the more technical aspects of the project.
John: Now did the library provide microphones or was it just the ones built into the computer?
Stephanie: Nope, you can check out microphones from the library also which is super helpful and you can you can check them out and plug them into your own personal laptop or you can bring them to one of the computers in the library. They also have small handheld digital recorders so that you can use those also, if you don’t want to use one of the mics in the library. So we went there and that really helped them it was a couple of days but that really helped prepare them for like the more technical aspects of the project.
John: Now when they did the recording, did they include intros and outros or was it just a straightforward recording?
Stephanie: Oh yeah, we did like the whole thing. I gave them all like a rough outline and that’s when we had workshop their outlines in class, I had told them to come in with several sections already prepped and ready to go. So that meant they all had to do an introduction they all had to do a conclusion most of them chose to include some of the third-person biography information that they had written about their veterans to give some context for their veteran. They all had to come in because even though all of these episodes were connected they were all part of the voices of a Oswego of veterans project every student group took a different spin on the assignment. So I mean every student group decided that they wanted their episode to be about something specific. So they had to come in with a set list of things already planned out, so that our episodes would appear to be part of a whole series, but distinctly different because they were all focused on a different subject.
Rebecca: Yeah and then ultimately what happened was that those podcasts and transcripts were turned over to my students, and my students are currently working on the website which will be launched early next semester. So it includes the transcripts it includes the podcasts, and you can listen right on the website or what have you so it was a learning experience for my students as well, because oftentimes in design classes they end up generating a lot of their own content. So having to handle content that was coming from different places or things that weren’t quite in the right format and then what do you do, is a great learning experience for design students, so you know a couple of the photographs weren’t quite the specs that we had asked, like one of the podcasts wasn’t in the right file format, so part of it was just like learning how to transform those things which, you know instead of the students saying well the person didn’t do whatever. It’s like okay well you can do it you could fix it, and so kind of giving them the skills to kind of troubleshoot those situations. I found to be really helpful for my students.
Stephanie: Yeah, it was definitely a great opportunity for them to learn how to do a project in pieces, and several of them mentioned at the end of the whole experience that the fact that this was broken up into manageable sections, that all of the due dates were known at the very beginning of the project, that’s what made the really the big difference for them, because they couldn’t procrastinate. If you give students a large writing assignment or a large project and then don’t always follow up with them about it, sometimes they’ll wait until the night before it’s due or whatnot to complete it this really forced them to plan out every single piece of the whole project, and then at the end when everything was done they each had to write like a reflective essay about their experience, and we also spent a lot of time in class talking about how to write a reflective essay because they didn’t know how to do that, right. So and that was an important discussion to have.
John: That practice of reflection is a really important encouraging long-term learning and it’s a good skill to have them start developing. Could you tell us a little bit about their reactions? How did they view the project compared to reactions you’ve had in earlier classes with more traditional projects?
Stephanie: So for this one the feedback that I got was almost all positive. Most of the students really really enjoyed it. I had a few students say things like, it was really really helpful to learn real-life writing skills, which was the point for them to really see how to go through something from start to finish and get this kind of practical writing experience, that they might not be getting in other places. Oh and then they even, we sat down like with the drafts of their scripts. I did conferences with the individual groups to really talk them through where they could improve. So they they got a mixture of feedback from the entire class, feedback from me, verbal feedback from me and then just working with another partner, they really enjoyed. They broke up the work between the two of them, but for the most part the feedback was very positive like I said, the biggest thing that they seemed to take away was, we learned something. We learned how to write. We learned how to do this kind of writing, and I know I’m gonna be doing this kind of writing again. Not necessarily writing another podcast episode, but the email thing, the interview questions, you know, doing the outlines, doing the thank-you notes which is such a small thing but I never got taught how to write a thank-you note, right, and then just going through the process of revision – so I think it was it was largely positive.
Rebecca: I’ve had similar experiences in the writing intensive classes that I’ve taught, that when the writing assignments make a clear direct connection to things that they might do as a professional, the students buy into the writing a lot more readily. So in that presentation that you and I gave at that conference, that’s really what we focused on, was what kinds of writing do graphic designers do professionally, and how can you incorporate those into kind of the workflow in a classroom setting, and I think that overall students have really responded to that kind of work that really without your help I wouldn’t have been able to infuse into my own classes.
Stephanie: Yeah, well, I could say the same for you. So and with the nice thing is that, we had this whole first project and then when it was done, they were immediately saying, ‘okay, Stephanie, whats project two?’ right, and they knew that it was gonna be set up in a very similar fashion. A whole project made of these individual assignments in manageable sections for them to work through, so it really helps structure the semester that way.
John: And my guess is that students probably don’t remember a lot of the small writing assignments, they’ve done more than a semester or to pass a class, but this is something that I suspect they’re gonna remember for years.
Stephanie: As we prepped for their final four their reflection for their reflective essay, you know after we talked about what a reflective essay should be, and what an experiential reflection should really look like, because it’s quite different right from an analytical reflection or from a reading reflection or something like that. We made a list on the board and I asked them okay, what have you learned, and we broke it down and the board was full, and they kept giving me more and more and more suggestions, more things that they got out of this project so to step back and look at this whiteboard full of all their comments, was really really rewarding.
Rebecca: So will you do something like this again, or do you have any plans for assessment to see how to change this kind of a project?
Stephanie: Absolutely, I think now having done more of a project-based English Composition class, I don’t know if I can see myself going back to doing it the way that I was doing it, and like I said this kind of format really worked well for them also because they knew there were no questions, right there were no questions about what was expected of them, there was never a question about an opportunity for revision or for making their grade better. I think they really responded to that you won’t revise everything you write. You won’t get it the chance to in all your other classes, but the fact that they really took the revision process seriously, shows me that perhaps they’re ready to start thinking about revision as part of the process instead of something that you just do after you get the grade.
Rebecca: Great, I mean it I can’t wait to find out what kind of projects you’re gonna do next.
Stephanie: Yeah, me neither.
John: So maybe our next episode should be, now that we’ve done a podcast on podcasting maybe we can do a podcast together on creating a podcast on podcasting, and move it to a middle level. Ok, but thank you.
Stephanie: Thank you.
John: It was a fascinating project, thank you.