Mandated Digital Pedagogy: Students’ Perspective

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and she can be a cruel matriarch. The systems in place around us are rife with antiquity and change is often a tedious process for the most elaborate of constructions. It is unfortunate then, when these systems are forced into rapid change. The system that I’d like to talk about today is Oakland University. In particular, their forced shift to total online teaching after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Oakland County. I am Trenton Petersen, a soon to be graduating Professional and Digital Writing major. I’ve taken a variety of both writing and non-writing classes and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts on the matter. In addition, I’ve talked to a number of my colleagues in different majors about how they felt the transition was handled. To this end, the wide stratification of experiences that my peers and I went through suggests there are large structural issues with respect to use of the online space.

I suppose that it would be most appropriate to speak of my own experiences first. My curriculum that semester was a class on digital storytelling, a business writing course, an ancient Greek philosophy class, and an experimental hybrid journalism/writing course involving work with non-profit organizations. Of these four, I will be discussing the first three. The journalism class was already so unorthodox pre-switch that I feel it would have little use to this particular discussion. Below are overviews of each class as well as some major takeaways I had from each experience.

Philosophy and Forums

The first class to discuss is my philosophy class. This class, similar to most college classes I’ve taken previously, used the online space as a repository; a means of storage for resources, documents, and ease of turning in assignments. Readings and homework may exist here, but learning is not a direct function of these online spaces. The classroom is still what primarily engages the student with the content. This classroom centered pedagogy can be reflected in the way that the professor modified the course for online. Their solution was to host a surprisingly robust discussion forum.

This image shows the homepage of the forum. Links to introductions, course information, and lectures are all displayed on the left and a list of posts by users is on the right.
The homepage is great for students who need to catch up with the course at a glance, as the most recent discussions are pushed to the top on the right. The left side allowing for immediate access to relevant lectures and course information furthers the ability of students to quickly refresh themselves.

Click here to see the forum homepage in greater detail.

The professor had a weekly word count requirement for students and posted threads about topics related to coursework. However, they also encouraged students to post threads of their own even if they weren’t directly related to coursework. This was a brilliant move that took advantage of the asynchronous nature of online discussion forums. Students could feel free to bring up topics they might be truly passionate about and the professor could engage them without worry of wasting precious class time. 

This image shows the inside of a singular thread, with the title at the top. Within it there is a student giving his response to the thread at hand, and a second comment by the professor responding to some of his claims.
Here we have the professor quoting a student’s comment and responding to it. This capability circumvents the classroom problem of a professor skipping over someone’s raised hand due to time or mistake. It also allows personalized feedback for a student who may otherwise not speak up.

Click here to see the example of a forum thread closer up.

This forum was a very great step in the right direction for teaching an online course that heavily relied on discussion. As a student, I appreciated a welcoming space for my thoughts and questions. I also valued the ease of access to lectures so I could refresh myself on topics before responding to a post. If I were to add anything, I would include links to secondary sources for the topics at hand when they are available. Hyperlinks to these sources integrated into forum posts made by the professor would be an even better step, and leave no excuse for students to not have proper context for questions.

A Class Already Structured For Online

On the other end of the spectrum, my business writing class was very well prepared. The online space was not just a resource for the professor; it was the location where learning happens. The expected readings and assignments were hosted here. Forums dedicated to peer review for assignments served as a level of student interaction. In addition to actual pre-recorded video lectures, outside web pages and videos were linked to give students alternative explanations on classroom topics.

This image is a screenshot of the main classroom page with links to various information for the class. They are divided into sections by headers.
The first section has the week’s assignments, readings and video lecture, then the next two are links to both inside and outside sources. This much information and structure was given to every single week of lecture, which assigned a healthy structure to the learning. Again, note that this is how the course was structure before online classes were a requirement.

Click here to enlarge the business writing screenshot.

This acknowledgement of the internet at large as a valid pedagogical tool is an incredibly important move. Many of my peers can speak to resources like Khan Academy being the sole reason for getting through Calculus courses in their engineering curriculum. Question and answer forums for students to clarify things with the professor were also set up. These go a step further than email, as other students can see the answers to questions they themselves may have had. The class was so well put together for learning in an online space that it was borderline unaffected by the switch to online. The professor built the digital space from the ground up as an pedagogical equivalent to the classroom and it shows. I inquired with the professor about their approach and they said,  

“The interesting reason I have my classroom set up the way I do is from my experience as a student.  Having all of the information online allows students to access lectures, notes, rubrics etc at any time.  Sometimes a student may have to miss a class, sometimes they are having a hard day and just not locking in to the message, and having it available at all times allows them to truly get the most out of the class and provides an equitable grading platform.”

While I personally had a good handle on the material as initially presented, students all learn differently. By including alternate sources, instructors provide students with different approaches to the material that may click better. Having it integrated into the site also eliminates two problems with outside sources. One, it solves the problem of students not taking the time to search things because they don’t feel like it. Two, and more important in my opinion, is that a professor posting secondary sources is a source of implicit “vetting.” This helps alleviates fears of student-found information/resources not being correct or academically equivalent. The professor is putting their seal of approval on this information and that is especially valuable for students who are already unsure about a certain topic.

A Course Right In The Middle

Sitting firmly in between these two extremes is the digital storytelling class I was enrolled in. This class mirrored most of the traditional online features with access to readings and assignment submissions. In the physical classroom, discussions of the weekly readings were done and there were often days dedicated to introducing software for creating digital stories. They usually began with a brief demonstration of key features and then the class was asked to replicate this with a small selection of provided material. There were, however, a couple glimpses of the professor taking advantage of the online space for teaching pre-switch. A repeating weekly assignment was being asked to produce a short example of digital storytelling based on the things learned from readings and the software tutorials. These were to be posted into a forum on Friday. By Sunday we were to respond to two different pieces with thoughts and questions. This open dialogue between students about their work takes advantage of the asynchronous nature of online forums, similar to the philosophy forum mentioned above.

This image is a post made by a student with their audio clips linked followed by a short explanation of their choices. Below are two comments from different students detailing their thoughts and questions.
Similar to the above forum, having a space for students to engage with each other’s work without having to be face to face helps eliminate some awkwardness.

Click here to see the forum post for the digital storytelling class.

Another spot that approached digital pedagogy is the linking of tutorials to software that are generated by other people from the internet, similar to the business writing class. Despite this, they did feel much more like a secondary resource. I also found it odd that the only time the professor added their own tutorials to the website was after the forced switch to online. Adding these as a base as an alternative for students who couldn’t make it to class would be a great way to get some real learning done in the online space. Similar to the comments I made about the business writing course, having multiple versions of the same information from different sources is a great way for students find the way they learn best.


These three examples all speak to a difference in the way that classes are structured with respect to online pedagogy. The vast majority of college courses that my peers and I have taken are firmly structured around the idea of the physical classroom being the main pedagogical space. COVID-19’s shakeup of this structure was very revealing. Professors treating the online space as secondary has the implicit effect of giving the students the impression that the learning done there is therefore also secondary. Making the online space equivalent to the physical one will not be easy, but it may not be impossible. Here are my main takeaways from my experiences.

  • Recognize that students like discussion, even if they don’t like to admit it. The online space is the perfect way for shy students to speak up about classroom topics when they otherwise wouldn’t. As for the students who speak up already, making it easy for them to continue to spark dialogue will take some of the onus off of the professor.
  • Students of today have grown up absorbing a huge amount of their information from the internet. By acknowledging this and bringing in sources “outside of academia” to help supplement teaching, instructors open up a huge amount of resources learners of all types; furthermore, alternate explanations can help clarify ideas for those who don’t get it the first time.
  • Simply try to be in the mindset that the online space is just as valuable as the classroom, even when you’re teaching in person. Don’t think of digital learning as a supplement or fallback to whatever may be going on in regular lecture; think of the digital, online learning space as a parallel to the regular learning environment, and one that should get just as much attention and care.

I am not going to pretend that I understand how being a professor feels, or that I would know how to teach a college course in any capacity. But I can say that I am someone who wants to learn from a college course and I have been fortunate to engage with some really good online learning experiences. I only hope that my experiences can help contribute to future learning experiences for others.

Trenton Petersen

Oakland University


Understanding Rhetorical Ecologies Through Batman

By Nathan Elam

Image capture from Adobe Spark article

In her piece “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies,” Jenny Edbauer-Rice puts forth the argument: “Rather than primarily speaking of rhetoric through the terministic lens of conglomerated elements, I look towards a framework of affective ecologies that recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes” (9). Arguments, in effect, do not live in a vacuum and are inherently affected by the world in which they were crafted and presented. With this article I hope to use Edbauer-Rice’s argument to aid in examining how the changing social and political mores of the 20th century shaped and reflected through the popular culture icon that is Batman. … …

Read full Adobe Spark post here.

How Multimodal Editing Has Made Me a Better Writer

By Nathan Elam

Long before I came to Oakland University and found myself pursuing a Writing & Rhetoric major, I was dead-set on working in the film industry.  I was obsessed with the particular way that movies tell stories: a group of people (sometimes a veritable legion) with various specializations, all working in collaboration to deliver entertainment to the masses.  One of the key members of this whole production team is the editor, who manages to take all the disparate parts and stitches them together.

Continue reading “How Multimodal Editing Has Made Me a Better Writer”

Spark Review

By Nathan Elam

Adobe Spark: A JUMP Plus Review
Adobe, a company whose products are already widely-used at the professional level, has created a product that allows a consumer with virtually no experience to immediately begin creating attractive, clean, and dynamic looking projects. While Adobe has become synonymous with digital creativity, offering such popular products as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver, those products have a learning curve that can feel discouraging to those without some training in the realm of graphic design. Recognizing this hurdle, Adobe has produced a multi-faceted entry-level designer with Spark. Spark is… … …

Read More…

Preview Issue 8.1

Check out the first piece from forthcoming issue 8.1–Gin Jackson’s commentary on the video game Alter Ego in the Adobe Spark piece “Ultra-Ego: Agency in Alter Ego.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 9.13.09 PM

Gin’s text examines the way the game offers choices to players to create their own narratives by creating characters with unique personalities and moving through the various stages of life while navigating 5 areas: physical, emotional, social, family and work. The analysis then focuses on the ways the pre-determined choices within the game limits the possibilities for character development and the experiences a character might have. For example, Gin notes that characters can only participate in heterosexual relationships and can only have children once they have reached the game’s definition of adulthood. The commentary concludes with a discussion of how the game’s owners have addressed these issues and the role of the game in the historic development of video games.

Issue 8.1 will be fully available in Fall 2018.

Engaging with Engage: VR in the Classroom

By Kevin Gauthier

Generally, most universities conduct to two basic forms of classroom settings: online classes or in-person lectures — however, recent technological developments in the field of virtual reality (VR) have begun to makes these distinctions less clear. Bridging the gap between the two is Engage, a VR service that allows for virtual pedagogy in a more state-of-the-art fashion. What Engage allows you to do, either as a student or an instructor, is participate in virtual lessons in both realm-time and prerecorded sessions through its servers. Currently, this software can be downloaded through Steam for free, though it’s worth noting it’s still in an “early access” stage, meaning it isn’t a completely realized program yet.

via Steam

Essentially, Engage works through compatible VR headsets and gives students and instructors a virtual classroom to navigate through, along with 3D models available to interact with. Additionally, students have access to a virtual tablet that allows them to upload their own PowerPoint presentations, present a YouTube video, or even navigate through websites by uploading a URL. And of course, there’s an interactive blackboard included as well.

via Steam

While multimodal components to classroom discourse aren’t necessarily brand new, this certainly begins to deviate from multimodal composition in the classroom to creating a multimodal composition of the classroom. Beyond merely assigning students multimodal projects, students now have the opportunity to present their projects within a virtual, multimodal environment. So who’s to say eventually this won’t be normalized within a typical pedagogical setting? While the current iteration of the software might not provide an equitable substitute for in-person classroom meetings, or perhaps even online courses, there are ways in which Engage compensates for some of the disadvantages of either sort of traditional classroom conduct. In reality, students and instructors alike can “attend” class without ever having to leave the comfort of their homes, yet still experience a meaningful discourse within an academic setting, while engaging with their fellow classmates and instructors more personally than through online forum posts.

Oh, the things they make!

By Justin Hodgson


Image: “Mediations” by Jaeheuk Jeong, Indiana University

One of my favorite ‘multimodal’ pedagogical practices involves having students create images in Adobe Photoshop in which they use only visual elements (with minimal text) to represent, demonstrate, or explain concepts/practices/theories from the course readings. This not only forces them to work in a different conceptual mode, but asks them to genuinely consider the relationships at play in their very ways of understanding a topic, structure, or lens. At a class-to-class level, the images help generate/facilitate discussion about course materials, but every now and then I extend the activity into a course assignment. When this occurs, as it did recently in my Introduction to Digital Rhetoric course, the assignment asked students to focus more on their own explications and understandings. Now, each time I include this assignment, there is always at least one student who makes something that I can’t seem to shake. This semester has been no different. Over the past few weeks, my students have been creating an image that responded, in some capacity, to the guiding inquiry for the course: “What is (y)our relationship with technology?” These responses, of course, were meant to be informed by course readings, which included a range of texts, from selections in Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation and Stafford’s Good Looking to Virilio’s “Third Interval” and Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.” And while all the students produced interesting work, the image above (reproduced with permission from the student-author) is something I felt compared to share.

Jaeheuk Jeong’s image, “Mediations,” may operate with a minimalist aesthetic, but it speaks volumes to how he/we (and Bolter and Grusin) think about current practices of mediation and remediation. That is, in a simple image composite, Jeong has demonstrated not only how remediation functions, but how it can become the very focality by which we understand a person, place, thing, event.

Telling Stories with Google Maps

We typically think of maps as a tool to get us from point A to point B—from where I am to where I want or need to be. Maps belong in our cars and on large signs at airports. But maps can also serve a more rhetorical function by making manifest where one place is in relation to another. Maps reveal relationships between places—between both physical/natural spaces and between social and cultural spaces. They reveal boundaries (natural or man-made), street patterns and names shaped by historical and cultural events, and voids where patterns (again, natural or man-made) break down.

Consequently, maps can be ideal for telling stories. Stories are, after all, about relationships. Relationships between characters and other characters, between characters and places, between characters and experiences. This is, perhaps, why so many authors include maps in their works. Readers like to be able to see the relationships between the places, events and characters they are reading about, and they like to be able to visualize those same places, events and characters in relation to their own lives.

Google Maps offers a feature called My Maps, which allows users to build and share personalized maps. Map-making storytellers can add pins to the map for readers to click on. Each pin can contain a video, photo, textual description and/or link for the reader. Using these various tools, the mapmaker can make visible the relationships between the people, events, places and experiences in the story he/she is trying to tell. The tools allow the mapmaker to develop a scheme to lead readers through the map in a particular order, or the mapmaker can allow readers to discover the sites along any path. The mapmaker tells his/her story by the places marked and by explicitly (and perhaps implicitly) revealing the relationships between them.

This feature of Google Maps provides a unique way to make a story visible and to emphasize the ways the spatial, social, cultural, and personal interact in ways that textual narrative may not make possible.

To learn more about how to create your own personalized Google map, visit this site or download brief instructions here.

Finding Online Music for Digital Media Projects

By Crystal VanKooten

Finding music to use as part of your digital media projects can be tricky: you need music that is engaging for audiences, can argue or back up a point, is free for reuse and modification, and is quick to find. For those looking for online music to use in a digital video or audio composition, here are some useful links and sites!

Dig at CCMixter is a community music remixing site that features music that is licensed under Creative Commons. All of the songs on the site can be used in your projects, but some songs have certain restrictions depending on what kind of Creative Commons license they hold. Each song on the site is clearly marked with a Creative Commons license that stipulates how you can use it. Here is more information about CCMixter and Creative Commons.

Listen to and download music from Focused primarily on classical and instrumental music, Musopen’s mission is “to set music free,” and they provide a large royalty free music catalog, sheet music, resources for music educators, and even a free radio station of classical music! You can search their archives by composer, performer, instrument, period, or form.

Find music through FreePlay allows free downloads for specific circumstances, including personal use on Youtube and classroom uses. To use the site, you are required to make an account, select a license type, and accept the terms of a license agreement that stipulates your use of the music. Here is more information about FreePlay and how the website works.

What additional sites do you use to find music for your projects?

Hypermediacy as filmic technique

By Justin Hodgson

A few years ago I was fortunate to have a colleague share this 2013 video short by Patrick Cederberg & Walter Woodman. Noah was created for a film class that Cederberg and Woodman were in while students at Ryerson University in Toronto, and it demonstrates not only the amazing work students do, but, just as importantly, how new modes and means of mediation allow for the telling of new kinds of narratives.

WARNING: Mature content

I regularly use this film in my multimedia composition courses because the entire thing is shot on a desktop (minus a few smart phone scenes). Or rather, it is represented from the perspective of the desktop so as to give the sense that everything we see is being facilitated through a computer screen. Cederberg and Woodman not only capture a cultural moment for a particular age group, but they demonstrate how hypermediacy can be experienced as an authentic mediated experience. By saturating us with multiple media streams as a form of montage, they are able not only to foreground the mediation involved, but to provide narrative detail and movement in dynamic ways. As such, when I show this in class we spend most of our time focusing on the media representation central to the film, how it was potentially created, and how it reflects certain cultural practices. We do, of course,spend a few minutes talking about the narrative arc of Noah, but what fascinates me is the mix of media central to the narrative and the ways in which Cederberg and Woodman created tension for viewers through controlled and yet frantic movements between media streams on the screen.