Sharing Writing Research with Infographics

This semester, students in my Teaching Composition class designed infographics to share ideas drawn from our course readings and discussions. These multimodal projects, which blend writing and visual design, had to convey ideas from the scholarly articles we were reading in an accessible, visually-appealing way. Many of our future English teachers designed their infographics to be used in their future classrooms. The topics varied widely, though all the projects focused on different aspects of writing. You can check out each infographic by clicking on the images below.

In their infographic, Robert Elkins, Mary Kate Hynek, and Samantha Kohrt wanted to, as they put it, “help writers craft effective rhetorical arguments based on Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation. Having a framework of the rhetorical situation and its three constituents makes a writer’s argument meaningful and relevant to the situation. This allows them to be aware of the needs, values, and expectations of their audience.”

Another group was interested in teaching rhetorical concepts to their future students with their infographic as well. English Education majors Alexis Ceballos and Rachel Webber “constructed a useful infographic for upper middle school students and underclassman high school students to utilize when writing a rhetorical piece. Students can refer to this poster to quickly gather the key components of writing a persuasive speech or paper.”

In her infographic aimed at students, Cassie Claffy wanted to help students understand how different kinds of writing can serve different purposes. As she put it, Cassie “created her infographic to provide students with exposure to personal writing. It is essential for students to be supported in both academic and personal writing in order to develop their own voice and writing process.”

Another group of English Education majors, Alyia Cady, Hannah Bolden, and Kathryn Drey, focused on genres of writing. Their infographic provides an overview of literary genres frequently taught in English classes and is designed for students to reference. At this moment late in the semester, they ask, “Have you read too much this year that your brain can handle? If so, take a look at this poster to get a quick reminder of what each genre entails!”

An Elementary Education major, Eve Odum created her infographic to teach young writers how to communicate ethically. As she put it, “the Writing with Ethics infographic shows students what, why, and how to write effectively and ethically. Students learn that their words have power and, therefore, they should use that power to do good. Students can feel empowered when they read about the three young people who have changed the world by using ethics in their speeches and writings.”

English majors Sara Cahill and Sarah Deffenbaugh created their infographic for future high school English students. As they put it, “their topic focused on how to organize writing in order to create an energetic and engaging piece. Their infographic stemmed from researching writing theory and how to effectively implement these ideas into a classroom.”

Bringing his interest in technical writing to the project, Daniel Snyder created an infographic designed to introduce the field of technical writing to English majors, who might not realize this is a great job opportunity after graduation. To introduce the infographic, Daniel asks: “Are you on track for an English degree and still have no idea what to do with it? Have you ever wondered about what a career as a technical writer might look like? Are you one of the three writing concentration students here at USF? Look no further than this infographic detailing the ways you can use your writing talents in a variety of technical fields.”

It is always exciting to see how students synthesize our class readings in rhetoric and writing studies to create original, audience-focused infographics, and this semester, the Teaching Composition students have created a diverse set of engaging projects. 

A Professor’s Unorthodox Path to a Successful Career


Vin at his retirement ceremony.

Dr. Marvin Katilius-Boydstun, also known as “Vin” or “KB” to his students, was a professor at the University of St. Francis for thirty years up until his retirement in May 2018.  However, before Vin found the University of St. Francis, he had to get a bachelor’s degree, which he obtained at Westminster College, a small college in Missouri, in 1965.  After graduation, Vin decided to go straight to grad school at Duke University.  Vin said, “I sorta had a love hate relationship with school. I was terrible in high school. I was in the lower half of my class.”  This love hate relationship once again became his reality.  Vin did not receive his master’s degree from Duke because he never finished.  Vin applied to the University of Chicago.  He was denied admittance—at first; however, with a bit of persistence and an appeal, he was accepted, “I did quite well, actually.”  After receiving his MA from Chicago, he worked as a merchant seaman on Great Lakes ore boats for three years.  Vin met his future wife on a plane that was going to Omaha in 1972.  He was on his way to a friend’s wedding, and she was studying to get her master’s in psychology at Nebraska.  The two sent each other letters back and forth, and after a bit of that, Vin decided he would go visit her in Omaha and ended up staying there.

Vin left Chicago to be with his future wife, who was studying psychology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  When Vin first moved to Omaha, he worked on a loading dock and operated a forklift.  Then, after some time, it made sense for him to apply at the University of Nebraska for his attempt at post graduate work, but once again Vin was denied.  He said, “Well, let’s see how I do in some of the courses first and go from there.”  And Vin did quite well.  He was hired on as an adjunct at Nebraska but returned to Chicago when his wife received a job offer at Saint Xavier University.

In the 1980’s, after finishing his PhD dissertation on Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vin worked as an adjunct teaching English at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Loyola Chicago, and Northern Illinois University.  “I was at Northern when I heard about a job opening at St. Francis.  It was perfect timing because I didn’t like what was going on at Northern.”  The job spectrum seemed to be lining up perfectly for Vin.  He had been teaching as an adjunct for long enough; the chance to be a full-time professor was in his reach.

He had an interview and a teaching demonstration at St. Francis before being hired, but once again there was a slight road-block—Dr. Bowers.  “I had a couple answers that [Bowers] had problems with.  One was I said I wanted to teach at a religious school, and I said even if it was a fundamentalist school it would be okay with me. He kinda pressed me on that, and I backed down from that saying, ‘a Catholic school is good, but a fundamentalist school no I probably wouldn’t want to.’ The other was that I said that I was a pretty easy grader, and I didn’t back down from that one.”  It’s funny how a singular moment can change everything.  That last sentence in the quote is what got Vin his job at USF.  Not backing down about his grading policy illustrated that Vin possessed the backbone necessary for a college classroom.  After the interview, Dr. Bowers gave Vin a ride home because his car had broken down.  On the way back they conversed.  “On the ride home [Bowers] said, ‘ya know, I think you did really well and I’m for you and I think you should get the job.  But if you had backed down one more time, I would have been against you.’”

Vin was a favorite among students, and rightfully so.  His love-hate relationship made him a better teacher because, “Being a bad student is good preparation for being a good teacher.”  That line should stick with former students, as well as prospective students searching for their new academic home.  In a way, that quote makes a lot of sense.  He believes that being a bad student at times is what made it possible for him to pick out those students who also seemed to have that love-hate relationship with school.  Dr. Marvin Katilius-Boydstun left an imprint at the University of St. Francis that is seldom seen from a professor.  He believes in this school, and that is what’s needed if an institution wants their students to get the most out of the college experience.  I would like to thank Vin for taking the time to sit down with me, his former student, for this interview.  Vin’s laid-back attitude coupled with a student-first mentality and a supreme knowledge of the subject matter was, and still is, a perfect combination for a long and successful career.

Fall 2019 English Department Course Offerings

Just as the final stretch of the Spring Semester beckons, the time for Fall 2019 Registration has begun (I’m a little behind in getting these up, my bad!)—and the English Department again has a bevy of course offerings at both the General Education and upper-division levels:

ENGL 123: Introduction to Creative Writing—Dr. Beth McDermott: What does it mean to be curious—“to wonder, to mull, and to muse”—and how does that habit pertain to creative writing?  What if you could make a conscious decision to be curious in order to write more creatively?  This course is designed for beginning students who are Screenshot 2019-04-28 15.55.48interested in learning the elements and techniques of various creative writing genres.  In this class, we will focus our attention on writing fiction, poetry and nonfiction.  Through creative exercises and critical responses, you will learn to write creatively in a workshop that requires members to draft and revise their work.  You will examine creative writing models, experiment with key concepts of creative writing, and collaborate with peers to produce a final portfolio that features three polished creative pieces accompanied by a revision statement.  Additional assignments include a commonplace book of influences, images, and quotations to scaffold the curiosity that drives your own creative work.

ENGL 200: Introduction to Literature Sections:

Section A:  Literature of Contest and Conflict—Dr. Joanna Kourtidis:  From the Latin, conflictus meaning “a contest,” the word conflict suggests that there are not only opposing forces but that there will be a winner—and therefore a loser. Yet, not all conflict ends with such clear-cut resolution.  Broadly speaking, conflict often ends with many sides “losing” something.  This is true of both internal and external conflicts, conflicts of race, gender, and identity, and conflicts between nations. How does literature give voice to conflicts? How can it spur conflicts? In what ways are conflicts beneficial to individuals, to groups of people, to society at large?  And, in what ways are they harmful?  How does literature suggest we mediate these conflicts within ourselves and of and between others?  These are just some of the questions the course will explore as we look through many eras of literature, focusing on short story, poetry, and film.

220px-On_the_Bus_with_Rosa_ParksSections B & C:  Literature of Social Change—Mr. David Masciotra:  The aim of this course is to give you a basic understanding and appreciation for literature, narrative storytelling, drama, and character development. By gaining an appreciation for literary art and literary culture, I hope that you will also view the course as a survey of American culture with its rich philosophical, sociological, and historical dimensions.  This course has the added appeal and aim of employing the methodology and artistry of literature as a crowbar to enter into questions of history, social change, mass movements for political reform, and how diverse individuals experience the impact of sociopolitical transformation. What insights can literary art provide into the alterations of law, public policy, cultural norms, and social mores in the United States?

Section D:  Crime and Punishment—Dr. Karen Duys:  This section’s focus on crime and punishment puts a critical literary dynamic at the heart of the class: truth and lies. Normally, we can set aside concerns about shaky truth if we know a story is just a story and not actually real, even when it concerns crime. Murder mysteries and legal thrillers are among our most popular entertainments! They can be challenging thought experiments and are really fun to work through, and since they are fiction—well, we don’t have to worry too much about consequences. When it comes to real crimes, however, we are less sanguine (or chill). Then the truth, and nothing but the truth, is the foundation of justice. And yet, when one’s freedom is at stake, the incentive to lie is HUGE. All this would not be a problem if we could comfortably say stories are stories and reality is reality and the two don’t intersect, but stories are often rooted in lived experience and legal briefs are full of life-saving lies. Moreover, memoirs are considered a literary genre, and they are supposed to be the truth…though sometimes the story takes over.  And “true crime” is a special genre of its own that investigates a crime in story form, sticking to the truth.

Sections E, Z, and Z2:  Weird Fiction—:  In my sections of Intro to Lit this semester we’re going to be doing a kind of historical survey of a genre of literature that has been traced back ultimately to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.  “Weird Fiction” has garnered a fairly large number of definitions, but the following from weird fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft is somewhat standard:

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space. (“Supernatural Horror in Literature”)

In this course we’ll read a number of examples of “classic” weird tales by Hawthorne, Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and many others.  After getting our feet wet a bit, we’ll move on to more recent and contemporary versions of the genre, including what has recently come to be called the “new weird” genre of fiction.  41nGXHG-uRL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_

ENGL 317/ENGL 494:  Writing in the Disciplines/Literary Stylistics—Dr. Anna Ioanes:  ENGL 317/ENGL 494 is designed for students who want to write about wide-ranging issues in politics, the sciences, and the humanities and for students who want to prepare for their careers by developing field-specific writing skills. A Writing in the Disciplines course “helps student writers behave as apprentices in [their] discipline, be it civil engineering, sociology, or dance” (CCCC). Whatever your profession, you will need to write, and your writing will be most effective if it aligns with the genre conventions and disciplinary norms of your field. Whether reflecting on your experiences, reporting information, explaining your field to a broader audience, or arguing for a position or policy, you will use writing (along with other modes of communication) to participate in your academic discipline while in college and your professional discipline in the workplace. In class discussions, we will analyze writing about science, politics, and culture to understand discipline-specific genre conventions and rhetorical techniques. Additionally, students will teach themselves about writing in their own major or future career by designing and implementing a writing project for and about their field of study.

ENGL 355: British Literature 1785-1890:  Romantic Poetry—Dr. Beth McDermott:  The Romantic era changed poetry forever.  What happened to create these changes? Percy-ShelleyPercy Shelley blamed “the spirit of the age”: a collective spirit that united poets who brought new intensity to the poetic lyric during a time of revolution and reaction. This class will be an opportunity to survey an era of literature that continues to impact contemporary writing ranging from ecopoetry to slam.  Through examination of poetry, criticism, and a fairly detailed account of the historical context that gave rise to Romantic literature, we will attempt to better understand if and why these writers still matter.

ENGL 360:  Playtime on the London Stage:  The 20th Century—Dr. Karen Duys:  In this upper-division seminar students will do dramatic readings all semester long and keep an extensive journal/memoir that explores questions of theatricality.  The course will start with a podcast on a performance of Peter Pan gone wildly awry and then move photo-1507924538820-ede94a04019don to cover a number of classic works of 20th Century drama:  Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, G Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion (with a full-fledged tutorial on accents!), Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party, Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horseman, Caryl Churchill, Top Girls, Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and possibly others.  The semester will conclude with awards where students decide the categories (best character, best play, best staging, etc.)!  It’s a ton of fun!

Picture This: Infographics in English Class, Part Four

Part Four: Visualizing the Writing Process
This post is the fourth in a series about our class project in “Teaching Composition.” Read part one, part two, and part three.

In addition to learning about theories of rhetoric and writing, the future English teachers in this fall’s “Teaching Composition” course needed to think about how to apply those concepts when they enter the classroom. In the final post about the students’ infographic projects, I’ll share a classroom tool created by Caitlin Porter and Lindsey Andrews, which guides students through the writing process. I also hope to explain how the students theorized writing as a process while creating their infographics.

In previous posts, I claimed that this assignment provides practical, marketable skills for students in the course. And while such skills are valuable, they do not exist in a vacuum. At a liberal arts institution like the University of St. Francis, it is just as important for students to understand the theory behind why we might wish to communicate in an infographic format as it is to be able to execute a successful infographic–maybe moreso. In “Teaching Composition,” theory and application worked hand in hand: we read and discussed the New London Group’s theory of multiliteracy–which argues that in an increasingly digital, connected, and diverse world, we are not literate until we can communicate in visual, spatial, oral, and other modes that complement writing–and we practiced creating multimodal texts by designing infographics for real, diverse audiences.

In a recent Hybrid Pedagogy article, Dr. Ashley Hinck, a professor of Digital Media and Communication Arts at Xavier University, points out the limitations of digital platforms like Canva, Wix, and Giphy that allow users to make digital media by dragging and dropping into templates. She warns that the drag-and-drop approach to digital making can actually limit our creativity by making decisions about the design of a product for us. This is troubling, Hinck argues, because it replicates more traditional models of education in which students follow prescribed steps to get the “right” answer without really thinking for themselves. I’ve been thinking about this article quite often since I read it almost a year ago. On the one hand, I take Dr. Hinck’s point. On the other hand, if I want to incorporate digital making into English classes, I need to use templates. If we did not use tools like Canva and Piktochart for this project, we would all still be working on it, because we would all still be learning to code. And that wasn’t the point of “Teaching Composition.”

In their infographic, Caitlin and Lindsey emphasize the importance of peer review in the writing process.

An important point of the course, however, was for students to develop their own critical approaches to digital writing and the role of digital media in shaping how students learn to write today. Along with numerous conversations about how, for example, the prevalence of texting is impacting students’ attention span and writing style, or the difference between freewriting in a notebook and on a laptop, we also worked through the affordances and limitations of digital platforms for writing and other forms of multimodal communication. While workshopping the infographics in class, students pointed out the things they couldn’t do in a platform like Canva, and we brainstormed to find a work-around solution. And when Caitlin and Lindsey encountered too many limitations in the first tool they tried, they started over with another. In other words, the students arrived organically at the point made by Dr. Hinck which, in turn, gave us an opportunity to talk through the affordances of digital media platforms. While one solution to the problem of templates might be to reject them altogether, another is to think creatively about how to achieve the desired rhetorical effect within the limitations we are given. This dilemma starts to sound a lot like the writing process itself.

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Picture This: Infographics in English Class, Part Three

Part Three: Teaching the Teachers
This post is the third in a series about our class infographic project in “Teaching Composition.” Read part one and part two.

When I designed an infographic assignment for students in my “Teaching Composition” class last semester, I hoped it would carry over into their careers. A number of the students are majoring in Education with an English Language Arts concentration and planning to be teachers. Although I have taught a smidgen of high school English, my training and experience have been almost entirely focused on the college classroom. Working with the future teachers in our class would, as the cliche goes, allow me to learn as much from my students as they learned from me. One thing we quickly noticed was the relative gap in information about writing pedagogy for middle- and high-school students. So much of the research in composition studies emerges from and addresses the college classroom. So we took up the task of adapting and translating research on the writing process for younger students–freewriting is great at any age, but meticulous attention to style can stifle young writers. One thing that is especially useful for writers at any level? The notion that writing is a process, not a product.

This idea can totally reorient students’ relationship to writing. Rather than see an essay as a single-step product in which they pour all their ideas, in perfect order, onto the page, students can give themselves the time and space to develop ideas through brainstorming, drafting, and revising. The process of writing is one of “discovery through language,” and the writing classroom can become a space where teachers and students can share in “the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, of searching for the one true word.”1 Instead of performing smartness for an all-knowing teacher who decides, with the flick of her red pen, whether a student’s writing is good and correct or bad and wrong, students can work through their ideas, develop deeper thinking about their topic, and express what they believe to their readers.

In their infographic, Carolyn Lekousis and Hannah Karkos explain that writing is a process.

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Picture This: Infographics in English Class, Part Two

Part Two: Writing is a Beast

This is the second part in a four-part series on infographics created by students in English 318: “Teaching Composition.” Read part one

When we teach students to write, is it best to focus on rules, or on personal expression? On the one hand, if we focus on the rules and conventions of writing in English, we equip students to use and manipulate those conventions, to articulate their own ideas in familiar forms. On the other hand, a focus on rules can shake students’ confidence in their writing and stifle their voices. If students write in their own voices, unhampered by the need to be “correct,” they can enjoy writing and develop a natural ear for language. But if they don’t learn the rules, they won’t know how to punctuate sentences or spell words! Sure, their writing might be an expression of their feelings, but it won’t be comprehensible to their readers! On the other hand…

The debate between rules and expression has a long history in the field of Composition Studies, the area of English devoted to the study of how writing is learned and taught. One of our first readings in English 318: “Teaching Composition” explored this debate as it is taking place in high school English instruction, and throughout the semester, we returned to these questions again and again: How do we help students cultivate attention to the complexity of language while also teaching them to produce readable sentences, paragraphs, and essays? How do we teach with an awareness that our taste in writing is subjective, that maybe writing happens somewhere between writer and reader, that we cannot know or control how our audience will respond?

An encyclopedic command of grammar, genre conventions, and citation can only take writers so far in their journey through the dense relationships between writer, text, and reader. Language is slippery like a seal, proliferating like so many rabbits. And if language works in often unpredictable ways, shaping itself to the specific situation in which it is being used, then writers can never really be in command of language. One of the authors on our syllabus, James Seitz, puts it this way: “The story of acquiring more power as a writer is not, as composition often implies, simply that of gaining greater control over language, but also a story of seeing where a lack of control will take you. In other words, much of what happens in the course of writing is vicarious: we don’t know what it is that leads us to where we go.”1 Arguing that writing teachers should embrace the seal-like and rabbit-like qualities of language, Seitz reminds us that metaphors are at the heart of how writing makes meaning.

As Allee Hernandez and David Hensley illustrate here, metaphors can act like wild beasts.

One of our infographic projects focuses on Seitz’s essay, “Composition’s Misunderstanding of Metaphor,” using images and other elements of visual design to show how central metaphors are to how we think and write. The creators of this infographic, Allee Hernandez and David Hensley, took on the daunting task of translating Seitz’s complex argument into infographic form. In doing so, they deepened their engagement with the reading and combined images and text to help other students understand how metaphor is the heart of writing.

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Picture This: Infographics in English Class

Part One: Picturing Research and Planning for Careers

Are great writers born, or made? Scholars who study the writing process tell us that it can be taught and strengthened, even as they acknowledge that writing–truly beautiful writing–is a mysterious phenomenon that manifests in a feel for language, in the ear, in the voice, through what Sondra Perl calls “felt sense.”1 When we think about what writing is, how we learn it, and how we might teach it, we are met with contradictions. In Fall 2018, students in English 318: “Teaching Composition” wrestled with these contradictions by engaging with theories of rhetoric and writing and by creating research projects that will feed into their careers as teachers and writers. Given the digital context in which we write and learn to write, I wanted to ask the students in “Teaching Composition” to create multimodal texts–ones that incorporate images, sound, digital media, or movement in addition to written text. For their first major research project, students in “Teaching Composition” worked in pairs to create infographics about writing.

In the spirit of the project, I gave students the assignment in the form of an infographic. Students worked in pairs and developed their own research topic, which was designed with a specific audience in mind–like other English majors or high school English teachers. I offered possible avenues for research, but ultimately let the groups define their projects. Two groups focused on teaching writing as a process, not a product: one group created their infographic for fellow teachers, and one created their infographic for their future students. Another group translated one of our theoretical readings, about the role of metaphor in the writing process, into an infographic format, with future undergraduate students in mind for their audience. The fourth group–featured in this post–also addressed their peers, creating an infographic that would show undergraduates the many career paths available to English majors. In a series of posts, I will share these infographics along with their creators’ explanation of how–and why–they translated their research into this visual, digital format.

Here is part of our infographic assignment page, which you can view by clicking on the image.

First up, this post features a project created by Eva Bruno and Matt Oyer, who wanted to research career paths for English majors. In addition to its less-tangible benefits–reading and thinking deeply, finding your own voice as a writer–the English major prepares students for a wide variety of careers.

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