This semester my community-building activities for my professional writing students will include creating not one but two infographics for our opening unit or achievement. Kicking off this class is intense. It is an online class and is the only class where English majors are exposed to rhetoric and professional writing, so the stakes are high. For a long time I really overworked us all (both students and myself) because I felt the pressure of those stakes, but in the Spring Semester I reduced the number of units (which I like to call achievements because gamification and also because they are!). However, as I noted in Less is More, I wanted to retain some of the key lessons from the units I abandoned (such as networking and infographics) because that work/content is important. But that decision really increases the pressure on my opening unit. Now I need to introduce an online class, introduce unfamiliar complex ideas, and somehow work in two important lessons. No big deal, right?
I start slowly with an online orientation that is corny and silly to the extreme and chock full of very dated pop culture references so students have no doubt who they are dealing with and yet learn about my priorities and plan for the class. Think The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (illustrated by cartoon dogs), random Charlie Brown and Batman references, more memes than you can count, and Gremlins! I follow that up with an even sillier check-in form that reviews the highlights. But then we dive right into the work with two hyperdocs focusing on community and networking followed by an introduction to professional writing and rhetoric. Both hyperdocs include some low-stakes interaction and reflection so the first week is a solid introduction to the class and its content while also introducing concepts and procedures we will use throughout the semester, building a solid foundation for our future work, and beginning to learn more about each other. While this week is unique to me and the way I teach it is not so different that it is uncomfortable or frightening (hopefully).
Then we take a turn into infographic territory! Because community is so important to me as a teacher (Exhibit A) I have always put a lot of focus during Week One on how we introduce each other. I also strive to make that introduction meaningful for the work of the class. So it feels weird to push that formal introduction to Week Two, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense to me to make infographics the sole focus of the week. I think it will make things easier for my students. So we begin with a hyperdoc introducing infographics and create a tip sheet discussing definitions, descriptions, and tips as well as models. Then we move on to create two practice infographics. First we explore the concept of a specific kind of infographic – the infographic resume – and again look at examples and gather tips. Then students are charged with creating their own infographic resume. I provide a very simple Google slide model that includes a template and instructions if they are nervous, but I also give them a slightly more advanced model and license to be even more creative if they wish. Then I introduce the concept of deliverables. Together as a class we compile a list of deliverables that might be used in our dream careers then students each craft an infographic introducing a specific deliverable.
I am still a bit worried that this might be too much for one week but I have deliberately labeled both infographics as “practice” and set the stakes for their production low. I am pleased that the work of the two weeks provides a strong foundation for the first actual graded deliverable of the class – a proposal for the project they will undertake that semester – while introducing class practices (such as crowdsourcing definitions/descriptions, tips, and models). I am hopeful that combining all the infographic work into one week will make the learning and work more efficient, but I will know by the end of August how my plan turned out! Of course, this class is designed to push students out of their comfort zones where they will learn both new concepts and skills while simultaneously completing a passion project. Our work in professional writing is complicated and messy and demanding so perhaps this infographic week is the perfect introduction.
What kind of infographic icebreaker would work for your class? How do you introduce your class and its work? Do you think it is better to ease students into complicated, messy work or would you rather throw them into the deep end to sink or swim?