The Meme: A composition research paper assignment

This is the time of semester when I should be grading, grading, grading, but as a result of that grading I also find myself reflecting about the assignments given and how to improve the assignments for the next time I teach a course. I regularly teach ENG 310: Writing II for Graduate and Professional Schools. It is one of several Writing II options, which at my university is taken after the freshman year so that students can realistically participate in a WID course. After all, if students are to practice writing in a discipline, they need to have some notion what their particular discipline is. Writing II generally requires Writing I and a 30 credit hours prerequisite, but the 310 version ups the credit hours prerequisite to 45, thinking that students by that time will know if their plans include education beyond the BA or BS.

I’ve been using Writer/Designer for the main text and am generally pleased with it due to its superb chapters on rhetorical persuasion and on analysis. Based on this semester, I have already decided to return to the website analysis assignment that is so well detailed in Writer/Designer. The more difficult change that I have struggled with is what to do about the multimodal research essay assignment (video, audio, or webtext), an assignment that in the past has been the keynote of the semester, but this semester was a struggle for many students. I believe the difference was that I have not been able to snag the Mac classroom since the first semester with Writer/Designer. That classroom has priority use for Media Studies and Journalism, an understandable priority. I was hoping that once a week in a composition computer classroom would work. It didn’t, not because of limited time, but because the classroom was a PC classroom. I had Windows Moviemaker added to the room before the semester started and Audacity could have been as well. About half the students even brought their own laptops. It didn’t matter. They struggled with the assignment, and a lot of that struggle was because they couldn’t/didn’t work on the assignment in class and/or didn’t bring any versions to class for feedback.

Oddly enough, this assignment works fine in online Writing II classes where they have to dig up their own resources rather than rely on a computer classroom. This may be a difference in motivation, but for now, I need to make this assignment viable while not scrubbing it of any visual and aural rhetoric components.

Here is my plan: I will have them do a meme. It can be either a photo/poster-ish meme or one of the now popular GIF memes that have a movement loop. Memes are great for getting a point across and the heart of a good research paper AKA something that could turn into an academic article is that it has a strong thesis that doesn’t just repeat what everyone already knows. It has to aim for “a gap in the literature.” A meme must do that too in order to be successful, and it does it in ways that mimic the research paper too, such as using a well-known image or combination of images and using that to support what the meme-meister wants to say.

This meme would be accompanied by a detailed process paper, one that not only gives the decisions made in making the meme, but analyzes why those choices were made over other possibilities. It can also detail visual choices, aesthetic choices, and layout choices–all of these play into the meme’s effectiveness. I would have to do a sample for this, but I think I need to do a sample so that I will know what is doable in terms of how long the paper needs to be.

And now, back to the grading.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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