WOVEN – 21st Century Communication

We have been talking in class this week about 21st century communications and what that looks like. I introduced new students to the acronym WOVEN which I heard about from Dr. Rebecca Burnett. She graciously allowed me to share WOVEN with my colleagues who were as enthusiastic as I was to use it as part of the fabric of our introductory communication course.

Briefly, WOVEN stands for the Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Non-verbal elements that make up modern communication. I used it as an icebreaking breakout discussion in class, and it got students discussing how they used these elements (or didn’t) and helped me identify gaps in how they perceived communications (it’s not just about the 5 paragraph essay anymore). 

Then…and this is the exciting part…we workshopped our way through the start of an assignment to design an infographic that incorporated key ideas and practical applications of WOVEN. This got students reflecting on what we discussed in class, and expanding on how they saw themselves using these varied communications techniques both at college and in their chosen careers. 

Students are working on these over the week. They seem intrigued by the challenge…especially those who came in dreading a “Writing Class”. I love that the assignment is a practical application reinforcing what we learned. 

I am excited to see the results….stay tuned. 


For some years now, one of the book clubs I belong to has kicked off our meeting with a round table where we each contribute one word that sums up how we feel that day, hour, moment. It’s an act of clarity to focus in on one single word, clarity that pushes you to prioritize and seek out the one overarching emotion. 

One of the first exercises I do in communications class each semester is a 6 Word Challenge with new students. Same idea….it forces a clarity of thought, and reinforces both strong word choices and the power of simplicity.

And so I’m fascinated by the #oneword movement I’ve seen on Social media as 2015 ends and 2016 begins. Educators specially seem keen to embrace the challenge of finding that single word that will allow them to focus their energies in the year ahead.

It took me some time. There are many great words I wanted to choose: creativity, connect, question, dream topping the list. But I settled on this one.  

Believe – that change is possible and positive

Believe – that people want to be empassioned and engaged

Believe – that the way forward is hopeful

Believe – that we each have the power to make a difference to the world

On Essays, Writing, and Deep Thinking

I had, as I often do, a Twitter conversation today. I was rushed, and unable to fully articulate what I wanted to say either in the short time I had, or in the 140 character limit so unique to texting and Twitter.

Can we move beyond the literary essay? Jennifer Casa-Todd’s question sparked a number of thoughts. I’ve included screenshots of the conversation below, but I feel we all saw the merits of writing as being a way to clarify our thinking, while simultaneously understanding that the traditional forms of writing are not always working for students. 

I can only speak for myself when I wince at the five paragraph structure which I see as formulaic and, thus, inauthentic. I spend an inordinate amount of time encouraging college students to develop their own voice and style in writing, and this is made difficult by a reluctance -generally- to part ways with structured writing that has served them throughout their writing careers.

Rusul Alrubail…whose writing is fresh and authentic…chimed in with wise words about focusing on ideas over structure, and Jennifer asked if a return to creative expression is helpful. Yes to both of these. A resounding yes.

And yet. 

Here is the “but” that has been trying to creep in since I started this: Creative student writing does lead to a unique voice and an authentic response, however, in my experience, on its own it isn’t enough, and the result is often unfocused writing that rambles without making those clear points that define good writing.

Students, I write, also need the critical thinking skills that allow analysis, synthesis (of ideas), and formulation of a cogent, evidence based argument. This is my reality speaking: My college students love opinion. They are great at rhetoric. But they are not so great at supporting their position.

I was called on this (and this transparency and discussion is truly why I love Twitter) by Janet Broder who asked if a student-created infographic of imagery in Romeo and Juliet did not demonstrate evidence of deep thinking? This is where I ran out of time and was unable to do justice to the conversation.

So here, in a nutshell, is my more nuanced and complex answer to that.

An infographic, or any creative project (and I use many varieties of digital projects as culminating activities) can absolutely demonstrate the kinds of critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis that demonstrate deeper understanding, and by remixing, students can repurpose information for multiple audiences thus moving to the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. 

Having said that though, I am a mother of high school kids and I know just how easy it is to do a digital or multi-media project without any in-depth learning or knowledge of a subject. The ease of the Internet means a savvy teen can skim the surface of any topic and create something that looks impressive but is superficial and does not demonstrate the deeper learning and critical thought process of a truly engaged learner. I’ve seen it. More than ever, there is no need to read the book or poem or play, or to understand the historical significance of an event. Wikipedia is there to do that. What we need then is a reimagining of assignments.

And I think….to return to the start of this discussion….that starts with the research and the inquiry, involves writing that is ideally both evidence-based and creatively authentic, and only then, armed with the depth of knowledge and understanding, can the infographic, video, podcast, Twitter-broadcast, or presentation be created. 

This post itself…an in depth discussion of ideas that could not be captured or done justice to in a series of tweets…is exactly why we need both. 


The Test of Time

I am ambivalent about tests. Not opposed to them; I think tests have their place in an educator’s tool kit, along with many other forms of assessment. However a test, as traditionally defined, does not evaluate what students know so much as what students remember. There are exceptions. Math tests to me are a valid way of seeing if students can solve a specific problem, although I also think application of math to real world problems is important. But I am not a math teacher. I teach writing, ethics, literature, and critical thinking. And today, as I look around at my critical thinking students writing a test, I am reflecting on why I chose this method of assessment, why it is valid, and whether there is another, better way of assessing student understanding of the core concepts.

First…let’s be honest…tests are a practical, efficient use of class time. The simpler the test (multiple choice, for example), the quicker it is to mark. At St. Lawrence College, we are encouraged to use different types of assessment, so there are multiple choice questions -10 of them – on the test I am giving today. But I don’t think questions like that really assess what a student has learned,or how well they have learned it, so I prefer other types of questions.

The rest of my test today is short answer/ short essay where students have to apply what they have learned to a scenario or extract relevant concepts from a real world example. It’s the bulk of their mark. It means critical close reading (which is part of the course objectives so nice to have it built right in to the assessment), deep thinking, and logical written answers supported by logic and evidence. 

No memorization. In fact to avoid having students memorize definitions they will regurgitate and later forget, I instead encouraged students to bring in a single page handwritten memory aide with whatever they wanted from course notes and class discussions written on it. A more astute student knew exactly what I was up to: “So once we have handwritten all that, we probably won’t need the sheet any more…” Right! Having that sheet though cuts through the stress that causes so many students to panic and freeze, so I find having it gives students peace of mind, and gives them a clearer head to demonstrate a true understanding of the course material. Plus, yes, creating the memory aide did sort of force them to study too.

My expectations for the short answer are that students use the vocabulary, the concepts. That the apply their learning and demonstrate their level of mastery. Some students hate my tests, others find them difficult, many would prefer a more structured format. I remember tests like that: When in doubt, choose C, we would say. 50% chance of being right, we would joke. My aha moment came as a history student writing my first university exam ever. Used to high school exam questions that wanted memorization of dates and battles and who was in charge, I had studied hard. My professor…a wonderful man…threw me into a tailspin when, instead of any question like that, he asked us to summarize three historical events of the period and then decide which one of them could be considered a watershed moment in history. And why. With evidence and examples. Once I calmed the initial wave of panic, I realized I not only could answer the question, but that I had a definitive opinion about it. That changed my whole perspective of what it is to be a learner. And what it means to be a teacher.

Could I have done today’s critical thinking assessment differently? Yes. A take home test, for example. A paper. An in class collaborative project. But I already have those things built into my curriculum. A test is another tool for assessment. I don’t have any tests in my literature or communications classes. But for now, for this particular class, it works.

Flipping the Class: when the teacher becomes the learner

I challenged my communications students to make their thinking visible by using video, podcasting, photography, blogging, epubbing, or other digital media to turn something they have learned this year into something that could become part of a digital portfolio, potentially shared with others in their chosen field or area of speciality.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I have been happily meeting with students this week who are excited about trying something new. The enthusiasm is contagious, and I thought this evening I would make visible my own learning this semester.

Teaching is a passion for me, and I am always amazed that the more I teach, the more I learn. Students are a constant source of inspiration, and it is partly through their eyes, their experiences, the lens through which they view our classes, that I become a better professor.

And so I made this short video tonight, to demonstrate what I have learned this semester. It’s an example, yes, but is also an authentic model of my own learning as I engage with this great group of students in my communications class.

Flipping the learning – click the hyperlink to access the video on you tube. 

Reading Week

Reading Week has just come to an end, and it’s time to admit that I was overly ambitious in terms of what I imagined I could accomplish.

(One of the things on my list I did do was play with some new apps, out of which came this visual representation…though technically it was done prior to reading week, so perhaps doesn’t count.)

I did get through must of the Assessments I needed to do, making sure students received timely feedback on a variety of written projects. I did get most of my planning done for the weeks ahead….which is good because with two new multi-media approaches to assignments , and with an eye to differentiating the classroom, I would never have time for it otherwise.

The un-PD got done too. This is our department’s professional development concept to have a couple of loosely structured days in June to discuss what’s worked, what hasn’t, new ideas, and pedagogy in general. In the same vein, we also had an engaged lunch meeting with both our College Prep Program representative and our Writing Centre tutor to discuss assessment strategies for writing and to reinforce our Writing Across the Curriculum approach.

Reading week is a good week. It’s good to pause half way through the semester and reflect. Every class of students is different; every class needs a personalized approach. 

Now I am ready for the second half of Semester 2.