Published: June 11, 2015

Michelle AlbertPWR Instructor Michelle Albert

Michelle Albert, a Senior Instructor in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric, implemented Storify into her First-Year Writing and Rhetoric Class.  Albert hoped that when students tracked the threads of their social media conversations using Storify, they would be able to visualize the developments of their research inquiries.  Albert completed the Spring 2015 ASSETT Teaching with Technology Seminar.

One of the six primary learning objectives for First-Year Writing and Rhetoric classes in the PWR states that students will develop their information literacy, making critical choices as they identify a specific research need, locate and evaluate information and sources, and draw connections among their own and others' ideas in their writing. To achieve this goal, most instructors include an Inquiry Project that typically culminates in a traditional print-based academic research paper. However, the new complex and dynamic information and media landscape in which we and our students live and work -- the near-ubiquity of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in our lives -- requires new kinds of information literacies and thus new information literacy curricula.

As with writing, the creation and sharing of information is subject to social, cultural, political, and technological forces. However, many students (and instructors) have outdated assumptions about the role of research and its relationship with writing. Students associate “research” with library databases, and assume the “research paper” they (dread to) write will be formal and boring, just another hoop to jump through to get the grade they want in the class. Students still commonly assume that their role as learners is to consume information, that their role as researchers is a passive one, and that their writing has no significance beyond the classroom and no audience beyond the instructor.

My project challenges these common perceptions and expectations. A re-designed FYC Inquiry Project will address our new information literacy needs and teach students to think critically about their roles in information and digital landscapes in the both academic and public/civic realms.

Overall, throughout the course of an eight-week Inquiry Project (IP), students will develop practices of self-directed and open inquiry as they pose research questions, navigate conversations, formulate arguments, and compose and circulate their own texts in a variety of modes and media. The IP includes objectives that will help students learn to:

  • Think critically about the way they seek out, use, and interact with information within ever-changing digital landscapes;
  • Think critically about the digital identity they create in the process of interacting with information;
  • Use research to construct knowledge and contribute to networks of information;
  • Make informed rhetorical choices as they compose a variety of texts in multiple modes and media and for a variety of audiences;
  • Recognize that authority is constructed, and it is constructed differently in different contexts.

For my ASSETT Teaching With Technology Seminar project, I focused on one particular learning objective from the larger Inquiry Project:

  • Students will investigate and recognize inquiry and communication practices in new media environments.

More specifically, as part of this objective, students will:

  • Understand that ideas and theories are formulated, debated, and reformulated over time;
  • Understand how authority is constructed in different new media contexts and learn to determine if specific information matches their needs and purpose;
  • Learn to identify meaningful, current, ongoing conversations about an issue or topic they are interested in

Currently, one set of tools people use to share information -- the dominant space in which public conversations take place -- is social media. It’s important for students to learn how people create and share their knowledge via social media, and to learn to think critically about the way they seek out, evaluate, and synthesize information they find in these public spaces.

To help students think critically about information they find in new media, they will complete a short assignment using Storify, an online tool that allows users to create timelines from a wide variety of social and new media elements. This assignment will be introduced about 3 or 4 weeks into the larger Inquiry Project. Prior to beginning this assignment, I will have taught students about assessing and evaluating information to understand how expertise and authority are constructed, and how to determine whether information and sources are useful and relevant to their purposes. Also, I’ll teach students some skills for doing searches on new and social media.

In this Storify project, students will:

  • Track a conversation about the issue they’re exploring in their Inquiry Project in a variety of new and  social media.
  • Curate the conversation (show how they’ve tracked it) and create a narrative using Storify;
  • Present their Storify to the class.
  • Reflect on their process in a short paper they will submit to me.

The students’ Storify narration will begin to address their driving research question. They will write and talk about how the information they’ve found gives them new understandings about the topic they’re investigating. Presenting their Storify to the class will require them to organize their ideas and sort through the information they’ve found to determine what is most important for their audience to know, and will also give them the opportunity to get feedback from their peers. Finally, students will write a short reflection paper for me responding to prompts I will give them to get them to think about how and why they chose the sources they did, among other things.

Students will likely refer back to their Storify and use some of the skills and insights they learned through this assignment as they move on to other pieces of the Inquiry Project. The Storify piece will be included in a final electronic portfolio that students will submit at the conclusion of the whole project.

A screenshot from a sample Storify I created as a model for students: