The State of the Art: A Writing and Rhetoric Seminar in July

This summer the Georgetown Writing Program will host a writing and rhetoric seminar for faculty. Organized around a handful of provocative readings, we plan to gather a group of energetic and curious scholars, researchers, and teachers to engage with the state of our art and push its boundaries.

Here’s the skinny:


A summer seminar experience designed to provoke and unsettle our teaching and research practices. With no registration fee, and a carefully curated (and short!) reading list, faculty can focus on working together to sharpen their next project or course design.


July 18, 19, and 20 • 2:00pm -5:00 pm


Writing and rhetoric faculty in the DMV


Georgetown University


For more information about the readings and registration, visit the seminar’s website at


This event is generously sponsored by

Part 2: Assessing Alternative Projects

In our previous blog post, we defined multimodal assignments as different from traditional writing assignments. Multimodal writing assignments ask students to compose across a range of media. Students might be asked to combined text with data visualization and images to create an infographic, or to script and produce a podcast or video.

How do I evaluate multimodal assignments? Evaluation is a common concern about introducing multimodal writing to a course for the first time. Instructors often feel they lack the experience or expertise to grade writing that isn’t primarily alphabetic, since it’s not what they themselves typically produce. And since most of us have years of experience grading essays, we have set methods and expectations for what an “A” paper looks like – but may not have a fixed idea of what realistically constitutes an “A” podcast or website.

There are a variety of different approaches to evaluating multimodal writing, many of which adopt or build on best practices for standard grading. For example, many instructors advocate using some form of student-generated grading criteria or rubrics to assign grades to multimodal assignments; this approach engages students in reflection about what rhetorically effective communication looks like in the assigned modes before they begin producing their own work. Another common strategy is to include a reflection component in the assignment, such as a cover letter in which students reflect in writing on the choices they made in composing their multimodal work. This letter can then be used to guide the instructor’s evaluation, based on the degree of thought and sophistication behind those choices. This allows instructors to focus on what we are experts in: how well students respond to the rhetorical situation in which they’ve been asked to write.

For more detail about applying these strategies, as well as further discussion of the unique challenges and opportunities posed by evaluating multimodal assignments, check out the resources linked below. We’ve rounded up some articles and posts by other experts and experienced instructors that address this common anxiety about multimodal assignments. In our next post, we’ll hear from some instructors here at Georgetown about how they’ve incorporated multimodal writing into courses here.

“Integrating Assessment and Instruction: Using Student-Generated Grading Criteria to Evaluate Multimodal Digital Projects,” Chanon Adsanatham: This article from Computers and Composition makes a case for scaffolding multimodal assignments with discussions that ask students to evaluate the mode they’ve been assigned to compose with before beginning to compose themselves.

“Evaluating Multimodal Assignments,” Elizabeth Kleinfeld and Amy Braziller: This final installment in a 3-part series on digital assignments discusses some practical tips for evaluation, including reflection and rubrics.

“Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited,” Shannon Christine Mattern: Published by the Journal of Digital Humanities, this essay addresses a simple question: when it comes to multimodal assignments, how do we know what’s “good?”

Part 1 of 2: The What and Why of Multimodal Writing

What are multimodal writing assignments? Unlike traditional writing assignments, which feature only text, multimodal writing assignments ask students to compose across a range of media. Students might be asked to combined text with data visualization and images to create an infographic, or to script and produce a podcast or video. Multimodal assignments are becoming increasingly common at both the high school and college level, driven by the dramatic expansion of such texts in professional and extra-academic settings, as well as the expanding array of tools available to facilitate their production. Multimodal writing is on the rise in academia as well, with an increasing number of peer-reviewed journals such as Kairos and Digital Scholarship in the Humanities featuring such work exclusively.

Why should we consider assigning multimodal writing in our courses? While many faculty like the idea of multimedia writing assignments, they often worry about whether such projects are worthwhile. How can a podcast or website support the same learning goals as traditional writing assignments — and with the same level of rigor? But constructed thoughtfully, multimodal assignments can challenge students to engage more actively with rhetorical considerations such as audience, purpose, and context. They also allow students to tap into their existing literacy skills in new ways, drawing from their own experiences as consumers and producers of multimodal texts outside the classroom to showcase the information learned in the course. In fact, multimodal assignments often ask more of students, requiring them to break out of their default approach to writing assignments and and make more deliberate, conscious rhetorical choices.

Below we’ve collected some resources about multimodal writing assignments that provide more in-depth discussion of these two questions, as well as some basic initial directions for thinking about how to incorporate such work into the classroom. In our next post, we’ll look at best practices for designing these assignments, and provide some resources for getting started.


“The Importance of Undergraduate Multimedia: An Argument in Seven Acts” by Justin Hodgson, Scott Nelson, Andrew Rechnitz, & Cleve Wiese: This article from the online digital rhetoric journal Kairos uses a multimedia format to present its case for the value of assigning digital writing to undergraduates. (Requires Flash – make sure it’s enabled on your browser before watching.)

“Seeing the Text” by Stephen Bernhardt: This article focuses specifically on visual layout of traditional text, presenting an in-depth example of how considering the visual presentation of textual information can significantly increase its readability and accessibility to a general audience. Originally published in 1986, it functions now as a compelling argument that writing multimodally does not need to be digitally intricate to be rhetorically effective.

“Why Teach Digital Writing?”: From Michigan State’s Writing, Information, and Digital Experience Program, this comprehensive site provides a look at why we should teach digital writing, what digital writing encompasses, and what tools we might use to teach digital writing effectively.

NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies: In 2005, the National Council of Teachers of English published this position statement on multimodal literacies. In addition to defining multimodal literacies, this document also reviews the benefits and challenges of teaching digital forms.

Low Stakes Writing: In Action

In this post, we follow up our previous introduction to low-stakes writing with a look at some of those strategies in action here at Georgetown. Three members of the Writing Program have shared a brief peek into their most successful tools and practices for low-stakes writing, and how students respond to it in their classrooms. If you’re curious about adding this type of writing to your own classroom, check out these tried-and-true approaches for working with Georgetown students, especially those in the thick of developing more formal written assignments: Continue reading

Sebastiaan ter Burg via Flickr

Low Stakes Writing

Are you interested in incorporating more writing into your class but not sure where to begin? Are you worried about having the time to assess additional writing assignments?

Low stakes, or informal writing, can be a quick way to increase the amount of writing students do in your class. Low stakes writing refers to any writing activity that is short, typically ungraded, and focused on thinking through a problem or question. When integrated regularly into class sessions or homework activities, low stakes writing can improve students’ understanding of course content, boost student participation in class discussion, and help students prepare to write or revise higher stakes writing assignments. Continue reading

A student guide to proofreading and writing in science

Congratulations to Human Science professor Jason Tilan, who together with former GU colleagues J.P. Hyatt and Elisa Bienenstock, has just published an article based on their work on a core Integrated Writing course, Physiological Adaptations. Their essay appears in Advanced in Physiological Education. Check it out!

Here’s the abstract of the essay:

Scientific writing requires a distinct style and tone, whether the writing is intended for an undergraduate assignment or publication in a peer-reviewed journal. From the first to the final draft, scientific writing is an iterative process requiring practice, substantial feedback from peers and instructors, and comprehensive proofreading on the part of the writer. Teaching writing or proofreading is not common in university settings. Here, we present a collection of common undergraduate student writing mistakes and put forth suggestions for corrections as a first step toward proofreading and enhancing readability in subsequent draft versions. Additionally, we propose specific strategies pertaining to word choice, structure, and approach to make products more fluid and focused for an appropriate target audience.

Integrated Writing: Myths and Realities

Myth: Teaching writing takes time away from teaching content
Reality: You can teach writing by using course readings to examine how people in your field produce and share knowledge, make arguments, and use specialized language, formulas, or evidence

Myth: Teaching writing means assigning more papers
Reality: Teaching writing is about quality, not quantity; the focus is on preparing students to write better papers

Myth: Teaching writing means much more grading time
Reality: Providing clear assignments and guidance for writing can make grading more manageable, and students’ papers are likely to be better

Myth: Teaching writing means I have to assign long, formal papers
Reality: Teaching writing can involve short, low-stakes writing assignments, presentations, and multimedia projects

Myth: Teaching writing means I have to read and comment on everything my students write
Reality: You can help students learn about writing is by asking them to review and comment on each other’s work

Myth: Teaching writing means teaching editing and grammar
Reality: Teaching writing means letting students know when their form, style, or approach to argument doesn’t meet the expectations and standards of their audiences

Myth: Our students would write well if only they could get the grammar and mechanics right
Reality: Writers struggle to get the language right when they’re unsure about the content

Why Writing Matters

Entering college students already know that strong writing skills are needed for success in university-level courses, but it’s the job of the writing teacher to explain why these skills are important. These articles explain why writing proficiency matters in college and afterwards.

Writing Matters: Writing Well May Be the Key to Getting a Job or a Promotion

Individual Life is here for you; our most straightforward mission helps trainees get the best from their encounters at the college or university pay for homework answers It becomes an entertaining possibility for nominate your most enjoyable lecturer, tutor, supervisor, support people, counselor of studies, and so forth. If you feel part of team members went above and beyond to create your time at Glasgow marvelous, then what easier route to thank them rather than to nominate them to obtain a Student Showing Grant.

This article from UC Berkeley explains the importance of strong writing skills as graduates search for jobs and eventually seek out promotions.

Why Writing Matters

In this article from Scripps College, the author discusses the benefits of writing—both personal and professional.

The Importance of Good Writing

This blogger for Career Builder offers a black-and-white outline of why strong writing is an essential component in the job market.

Reasons Learning College Writing is Important

In this article, the blogger explains the importance of writing proficiency across the disciplines and how strong writing in one area will transfer to other fields, as well.