It’s the end of the semester, which means it’s final project season. When everyone has their eyes set on summer break (myself included), it can be difficult to keep students engaged and putting effort into the last week or two of coursework. So this year, I decided to try something new.
This spring, I have been teaching a course on women writers and filmmakers in contemporary France. My students have submitted a blog-style composition that applies earlier course readings (more theoretical texts from the 1950s-70s) to contemporary events. They have also completed two close-reading papers (standard for developing analytical habits of mind for literary scholars). The final project — the one they’re working on now at the end of the semester — allows them to transform one of their close reading papers into a multimodal text. These projects are being created in an online format for a general audience (i.e., not just their professor). My hope is that this activity will encourage them to consider (1) how engaging with course texts can go beyond the classroom walls and (2) how and why they might talk about this course material to their peers. This links to a bigger question: What will you take away from this course? (How) Have the course’s readings influenced the way you think about identity politics and everyday life in France and in the US?
The students are creating their project in Readymag, a new tool that I recently discovered! I’ve found it very adaptable and user-friendly and love that it requires no coding knowledge (NB: I think coding is a valuable skill, but not one that we had time to develop in our course). On their respective pages of the website, students will create their individual projects using text, images, video, and/or audio. I have also asked them to include a written rationale that explains the conception and creation process: Why did you use these specific modes? What obstacles did you encounter? What were the successes and failures of this paper-to-digital transformation?
I chose this as their final project because I wanted to reiterate some of the bigger questions we have asked throughout the course: How does this body of knowledge impact our worldview? How have contemporary female authors, artists, and intellectuals understood and protested “woman’s” place in society? How are women’s voices silenced and projected through the act of artistic creation? … But I also wanted us to contemplate other questions: How does changing the modes of communication change our argument and/or allow us to address a broader or different audience? And how does the blogosphere and the rise of digital texts contribute to feminist movements?
To gear up for the project, we analyzed some multimodal texts related to our course topic (on graffiti artist Princess Hijab). The group discussed what modes were used, how the different modes created meaning, and, finally, the strengths and weaknesses of the way the authors mixed modes. Students came up with ideas for their projects and we exchanged feedback. Then I created a rubric, which we discussed and finalized as a group, to guide the creation of these projects. We decided that to keep audiences engaged and not overwhelmed by text, the pieces would be 750 words max; if audio was the primary mode, it would not surpass 5 minutes. Images must be copyright free, and there must be textual or visual evidence to support an overarching thesis.
One of the things I love about teaching is its communal, collaborative nature. I am grateful for other scholars who have posted about their pedagogical approaches. This final project has been greatly inspired by this project, this post, and this article.
My students will be working on their projects in class tomorrow, and we will have a showcase later in the week to share the works in progress. The final version is due toward the end of April, and I am eager to see what they create, and hope to share some of the work with the SWW community! I also want to continue researching engaging end-of-semester projects for future courses — so be in touch if you have thoughts to share.