American Labor Crises is a collaborative web project from an English second semester composition course. The focus in that course was research, and there is always the problem of finding suitable topics in English where the subject is writing. In addition, there is the problem of students frequently being asked to imagine an audience, which usually turns out to be the instructor. Web projects allow students to at least write for a potentially real audience. I chose this topic–I know, many of you are saying that choosing a topic is good practice for students–because I have expertise in it from my graduate work. In groups of five, from two classes, each group chose one of the crises from a list of possibilities and did research on the subject. They were required to write an objective essay about the crisis, to compile an annotated bibliography, and a list of related resources on the Web. Plus, they had to create the actual Web page for their group, which is why there are a few inconsistencies among them, but not many. We worked as a class to decide on the design of the site and pages. The compiled site is a terrific example, IMHO, of how the whole is greater than the parts. We learned a lot in the process of building the site about the subject of labor and the ethics of work in the United States. The essays are not perfect, but as a whole, I am quite pleased with what these first-year college students produced.
We built the site in two computer labs, one with Macs and one with PCs. I collected the pages every day on a flash drive and published them on my own server space in my dotMac account, which then became Mobile Me, but no longer offers web page publishing. I moved the content to a Google Site in 2012 as you will see from following the link above. If we had such web tools at the time, I would have had students work and publish their own work in a wiki.
An interesting task from a 50-75 minute composition course is the Funeral Media Task, which you can download from the project title. This task accompanied a reading about the funeral industry and was designed not only to allow students to build on that information, but to practice working collaboratively in planning, designing, and executing a document of a specific genre–they had a few choices about the genre. A central writing feature of the assignment was to consider how to address one of the audiences to be considered.
This turned out to be a great exercise in collaboration, as they figured out who was good at what, and they planned and executed the project in time to present it to the class. I did bring colored pencils and paper and scissors, etc. so that they could be a little creative. If I did the assignment today, when so many web-based tools are available, and if we could have secured a computer lab, I think we could have done more formal presentations.
Group Poster on Environmental Web Resources
In an English Composition II course that focused on visual rhetoric, one project in the innovative course assigned groups of five to choose from a large number of environmental topics and research available Web resources, to be presented on informative posters. The course was taught in a computer lab where the research was done. I secured regular classrooms for a few days in order to put the posters together. Having them constructed in a classroom eliminated the need for students to arrange outside meeting times. I provided the large posters and some materials, but students needed to bring in images and text to post. The project went well and you can see the results, although I do not have the original large images. I think the students learned about their chosen topics in ways that a regular paper would not have allowed, and I think they became aware of their audience needs.
The written portion of the assignment was a bibliographic essay about their web sources.