Published: July 14, 2013

Petger SchabergI would like to help my students develop the paradoxical ability to write clear, creative, logical reasoning and evidence simultaneously with powerful emotional writing, while recognizing the interplay of visual images, video, sound, and social media—as these multimodal media influence the persuasive performance of both logical and emotional writing.  Obviously there are many options here for 1st year 1150 classes: the two I am considering for this TWT project are 17” X 11” poster design or Digital Storytelling Multimodal persuasion.

Identify Challenge

I would like to help my students develop the paradoxical ability to write clear, creative, logical reasoning and evidence SIMULTANEOUSLY with powerful emotional writing, while recognizing the interplay of visual images, video, sound, and social media—as these multimodal media influence the persuasive performance of BOTH logical and emotional writing.  Obviously there are many options here for 1st year 1150 classes: the two I am considering for this TWT project are 17” X 11” poster design or Digital Storytelling Multimodal persuasion.

Change Over Time

In the last decade, the field of Rhetoric and Composition has responded to the explosion of cell phones, digital social media, and mobile internet access with a deep concern for what it ultimately means for the teaching of college writing—especially with that generation of students to whom these modes of persuasion are as quotidian as pencil and paper.  This presents myriad challenges to writing instruction specialists who seek to remain current with best-practices that ensure the relevance of Writing and Rhetoric instruction in the Digital age.  There is a whole world of expertise that foundates great writing instruction, and yet it must grow and open itself to multimodal writing instruction IF IT IS TO MAKE THE CASE FOR ITS OWN RELEVANCE IN THE MOST PERSUASIVE MEDIA OF OUR ERA.

Description of Factors that Make it Compelling Now

If the cell phone is the contemporary tool of PERSUASION par excellence, then college Writing & Rhetoric classes must respond by allowing students to investigate the merging of image, video, audio, and text in assignments that build a deeper understanding of multimodal composition without losing sight of the importance of text communication in academia and beyond.  Alongside other “pure text” assignments, I would like to explore this goal in a 1st year assignment that unites text and image in a 17” X 11” standard poster design using photoshop, gimp, or powerpoint.  This will have the dual benefit of allowing us to consider the compression of “academic language” into slogans and sound bites, etc, while embodying the merging of pathos and logos, visual image and alphabetic text.  A powerful 2-page written evaluation of rhetorical strategies will ensure compliance with alphabetic text curricular goals and strive for the highest level of audience relevance.

Implications for not Changing

Since Writing Programs are not huge grant earners (as are some of our counterparts are in the physical sciences) it is incumbent upon us to stay relevant to a changing society and its changing norms of persuasion.   Irrelevance is not an impossible outcome—if we remain unable to merge greater skill in digital composition with academic textual instruction.  Since this obsolescence can be avoided with real growth for writing instructors, we should set fear and doubt in approaching the ever-changing rush of new media and gain greater comfort as genuine explorers in an astoundingly vital and creative time of communication and new-media persuasion.

Poster Design and Written Analysis in First-Year Writing & Rhetoric

Learning Evnironment:

Since the University of Colorado’s WRTG 1150, “First-Year Writing & Rhetoric” classes are intimate learning spaces in which CU students gain their introduction to university writing, it is essential to introduce innovative and effective technological pedagogies at this level.  That Writing & Rhetoric courses invite the creative interplay of written, visual, and sound communications, further emphasizes the need for powerful multimedia pedagogies—not as add-ons or filler—but as a fundamental aspect of course content.   The small class size of 18-20 students will allow us to achieve these goals with hands-on experiential learning that encourages a fearless attitude towards exploring new technologies in relation to persuasive writing and the extent to which they can help meet the overarching goals of WRTG 1150.


To help students in WRTG 1150 develop the ability to see persuasive communication as the interrelationship between LOGOS and PATHOS across a range of interacting contemporary media: written, aural and visual.  We hope to foster the perception that written persuasion must work to establish a creative interplay with visual images, video, sound, web 2.0 technologies, and social media, all of which have such a pervasive influence in contemporary social persuasion.

Technology & Method: 

I have designed a short 3.5-week unit of Poster Persuasion and Written Reflection to meet these complex rhetorical objectives.  For this Unit Two assignment, students will design two different 17” X 11” poster treatments of a specific and original organizational “call to action,” as well as a powerfully argued 3-page Analysis/Reflection of their poster goals and rhetorical strategies.  Outcomes will be determined by asking students to submit all drafts of their posters, and more importantly, by emphasizing that students will be graded 50% on their ability to reflect and analyze their overarching persuasive concept in written form, rather than exclusively on the profession quality of their final text/image design.

Specific Technologies: 

Working in the design medium of their choice—Powerpoint, Gimp, Photoshop, In Design, etc—students will gain an understanding of “persuasive composition” as the skillful manipulation of text slogans (or “call to actions”) in relation to their 11” X 17” poster images.  The holistic nature of human sight demands that these two seeming distinct forms of persuasion—TEXT SLOGAN and IMAGE—must be merged if the students’ chosen audience is to be persuaded in poster form.  During this 3.5 week project, we will consult numerous real-world poster models; hold in-class seminars in image/text poster design; create small group feedback teams; and discuss our developing work—both the written analysis and the two 11” x 17” poster treatments—in large group workshops.  Atlas labs are available if students need them, as will the mentorship of graphic designer Dave Underwood in OIT.

How will you know if your students have achieved the intended outcome?

Since my pedagogical outcome is, “to help my students develop the paradoxical ability to write clear, creative, logical reasoning and evidence SIMULTANEOUSLY with powerful emotional writing, while recognizing the persuasive interplay of visual images, video, sound, and social media in contemporary society,” I am designing a short 3-week unit of Poster Persuasion and Written Reflection/analysis.  For this Unit two assignment, students will design two different 17” X 11” treatments of their original organizational call to action, and craft a powerfully argued 3-page analysis and reflection of their poster.  Outcomes will be determined by asking students to submit all drafts of their posters, and more importantly emphasizing that students will be graded on their ability to reflect and analyze their persuasive concept, not the profession quality of their visual design.

How will you know if the changes you made in your teaching made a difference?

I hope to gather written evidence in their 3 page reflections of how the assignment meets course goals by determining how well students are able to argue for the overall concept of their work according to several explicit categories: 1) Storytelling, 2) Irony, 3) Thematic contrast, 4) Humor, 5) Shock or Fear, 6) Rhythm, 7) Tribalism, 8) Rhetorical content 9) Audience and 10) Call to action. The creation of short poster slogans also constitutes and important aspect of evaluation, as students are asked to discuss their slogan-designing process in detail, especially as pertains to how word and image conjoin to create their call to action.  The quality of the writing in this short assignment, in its power of voice and narrative skill, will also offer insight into whether of not the assignment has given them a greater ability to generate powerful writing that merges logos and pathos and to make persuasion choices, “recognizing the persuasive interplay of visual images and texts.”

How will you identify/measure growth in your students or in your teaching?

I’m not sure how this is different from above, as I have tried to specify in Q #2 that “know[ing]” whether or not the pedagogical changes worked, can only be assessed or measured subjectively through an evaluation of the student analysis/reflection.  Although the quality of the poster design will give some imput as to the ‘real world” success of the assignment, it will really be judged bases on their written ability to discuss the rhetorical strategy of persuasion in a lucid and powerful way.   It does strike me, however, that growth could also be measured in an interactive presentation in the public sphere.  If the most successful 17” x 11” posters were displayed on campus, either solo or in a large group, each with a brief, typed passage of high quality, engaging student reflection, it would be fascinating to gage public (or administrative) reaction as a further example of measuring growth.

What worked well?

As evidenced from the current Norlin Library exhibit, Poster Propaganda & Persuasion, the assignment was extremely successful both for my students and for the broader curricular goals of the PWR.  These 31 posters and paired written reflections robustly argue that this short assignment significantly exceeded the assignment goals that I envisioned.  A visit to CU’s Underground East Gallery in the Norlin Library should confirm the project’s success in meeting the goals of our Program for Writing & Rhetoric curriculum.  In fact, the project has gained extended influence in its currently being used as a pedagogical tool for PWR classroom visits in the teaching of visual rhetoric for 1st -year Writing and Rhetoric courses.

What did not work well?

To be honest this was a rare case of technological risk-taking that was extremely successful in all regards.

What would I do differently in future implementations?

Once again my students’ response to the assignment embodied such commitment and dedication that there is nothing I would do differently.

What feedback did I get from students?

The feedback exists in the form of their elegant written statements, which are visible next to the posters they designed.  Asked to merge the triple goals of powerful style, personal narrative, and rhetorical analysis, these student writers beautiful explain their extended rhetorical battle to persuade their chosen audience of their call-to-action. In addition, I am beginning to gain feedback from a “Gallery Visit” assignment I created to encourage PWR classroom visits in the teaching of visual rhetoric.   This data will be very interesting to assess over the coming year.

Please see Norlin’s Underground East Gallery exhibit which opened in early March, 2013 and will be running for the next year.  I include my Curator’s Statement below:

Curator’s Statement
Poster Propaganda & Persuasion

Although writing & rhetoric instructors disagree about which types of writing best help students to become better writers, they largely agree that students read and write alphabetic texts.  That this fierce tussle with the conventions of academic prose and argumentation remains of vital importance, cannot be doubted.  Yet with the coming of the internet, mobile devices, and social media such as Facebook, Flickr, and Streamzoo—writing & rhetoric instructors have an exciting opportunity to extend what it means to “write” persuasively in the 21st century classroom.

Amidst the onslaught of Google images, the YouTube extravaganzas, the bloggers flailing late into the night—university graduates must now be able to persuade with texts and digital images if they are to get ahead.  Based on the premise that good, strong first-year college writing is enhanced by the creation of persuasive visual images—Poster Propaganda & Persuasion—invites you to reflect on the interaction between these 17” X 11” persuasive posters, and the designers’ powerful written statements.

We do not expect you to agree with all these posters, but even if they get your goat, we hope you will pause long enough to read the writing on the wall—for the 4” x 5” texts before you are just as essential to our overall goal.  These authors care deeply about our democratic society: its relationships, its institutions, its laws.  And their writing eloquently expresses both their fundamental values and the rhetorical strategies they have used to cajole their fellow citizens to take up their cause.

So please shoot us an e-mail, or drop an anonymous note in the box, or hit the hashtag: #posterprop with a tweet that lets us know what’s on your mind.  Do these posters belong in the contemporary writing classroom?  Or should we hold on steady with the written word?  Which ones really catch your interest?  Which ones spark your ire?  And what of the old-fashioned, blocky, 4” x 5” chunks of alphabet soup?  Are they really emblems of a dying language?—of a medium bereft of fundamental force?  Or do these writings hold their own against the visual posters, contributing a vital generational voice?   If so, then these talented first-year writers flip the goal of “visual persuasion” on its head and offer us a hold between the flooding images where we can pause a moment—right here, right now—to affirm the power of the written word.