Published: May 29, 2015

Lonni PearceLonni Pearce, PhD is the Associate Director for First Year Writing at the Program for Writing and Rhetoric.  Pearce implemented Prezi as a tool for students to visualize how their writing progresses.

Listen to description of project (MP3)




Information Travels: Students Mapping Research in a First‐Year Writing Class

“The notion of ‘hybrid spaces’ and ‘hybrid lives’ is one that some rhet/comp scholars have explored as a reframing of our experience of the everyday as well as our communicative practices. The students who enter our classrooms have generally grown up in this hybrid kind of life, with ICTs melding, shaping, and mediating their experiences of space and time. One of the significant implications of this hybridized life are the frequent shifts among various rhetorical situations that students navigate‐‐‐‐sometimes successfully, sometimes not‐‐‐‐without being able to clearly articulate what’s appropriate/effective/persuasive in these different situations. As they shift from F2F, academic writing, social media platforms, emails to instructors, lab reports, how do they understand the choices they make and how can we as writing teachers give them a fluid, transferable framework for understanding the constraints/opportunities of different rhetorical situations? How do we help them learn how to learn what is needed in writing situations that vary so widely?” (qtd from my from Teach with Tech workshop post #1, February 2015)

Now that I’ve completed the Teach with Tech workshop, this question endures, but I’ve explored a subset of this question by focusing on the nature of first‐year students’ interactions with information—if students can develop a more nuanced, richer understanding of the texts they encounter and how those texts function within a complex spatio‐temporal conversation, they are better prepared to respond to and apply the information they find not only in their academic writing but in the hybrid spaces they inhabit.

Ultimately, my project is designed to offer students the opportunity to create a visual representation of their research on a particular topic of their choice.

Project Means/Deliverable:

Using a set of scaffolded in‐class and homework activities, students will incrementally build a “map” of their research sources using Prezi. Students will start with a “pre‐search” map that represents what they currently know about their topic, then—over the course of several class periods—add sources and locate them on the map using proximity, shape, size, and color to create their map.

Note: Why Prezi? The open‐ended nature of a blank Prezi makes it ideal as a platform for designing this type of map. A blank Prezi is essentially a blank canvas where content can easily be arranged, sized, nested, linked, etc. In addition, various types of content can be included—text, images, sounds, video, etc.—so students can represent the many different types of research they gather.

Project Goals ‐ As part of students’ larger inquiry project, this sequence of assignments will:

  1. Increase students’ engagement with their research and their topic
  2. Help students identify spatiotemporal relationships among sources, and find connections, contradictions, tensions, agreements, etc.
  3. Deepen students’ understanding of the complex conversation that surrounds any topic, issue, question – a conversation that occurs over time and across multiple genres
  4. Prepare students to locate their own perspective within the conversation, and write persuasively in the next phase of their inquiry project

Project Outcomes:

Students will complete and present their research map, explaining to their peers the relationships they’ve mapped and the choices they made in locating/representing sources in a particular way.


While this project addresses only a very small sliver of my larger question, it’s a step toward helping students become more savvy readers and writers by explicitly directing their attention to the inherently relational nature of rhetorical practices across multiple genres and the persuasive strategies used to stake a position within a larger conversation.