The Joy of Rhetoric with Video Projects

Image from video


What is rhetoric? - pull quote

Instructional Challenge

In past semesters, Dr. Leigh Meredith introduced the subject of rhetoric by assigning her students to read in their textbook and watch a TedEd video, after which, they would present a summary to the class of what they had learned. Reflecting on the assignment, Dr. Meredith realized that it not only failed to excite her students about rhetoric, but it was missing an active component where they could apply what they had learned while it was fresh in their minds. The time from when students learned about the foundational concepts of rhetoric to when they had the opportunity to apply them was too great and was detrimental to their understanding and engagement in the topic. Dr. Meredith wanted her students to get right to the active and more compelling activities of identifying and analyzing rhetorical strategies. 

Instructional Solution

During her experience at the ETS 3-day intensive in Summer, 2018, Dr. Meredith was looking to explore solutions to the problem of introducing foundational knowledge, and she thought that maybe there was a tool that could support a more engaging assignment. She liked the idea of a student group project whereby students could identify and apply foundations of rhetoric to something they see in their everyday lives. But she didn’t know what media she would like to employ and she didn’t want them to get distracted by having to learn a complicated new tool. When she learned about Adobe Spark, a free, easy-to-use web-based application where users build on visual and content-based templates to quickly make web pages, social media posts, and videos, it seemed like a potential solution for her teaching dilemma.

While the tool fit the need, Dr. Meredith was very thoughtful and intentional around the assignment; she set clear expectations and support, while giving her students freedom to be creative. See the assignment framework below. (link to lower on the page)

Lessons Learned

Students greeted the Spark assignments with enthusiasm and interest, much more so than when her students had presented their oral summaries to the class, as in previous semesters. She found that her students got excited about the project and even spent extra time on the assignment, meeting in their groups outside of class to perfect their projects. And, she noticed that there was a lot of collaboration happening in the groups, students were excited to work together on their videos and share them with the class. So, the project also worked as an ice-breaker for the incoming students, supporting a more collaborative and engaged environment in the class overall. For these reasons, it was a great first assignment for incoming students which situated them well with a solid foundation in rhetoric, practice in application of techniques as well as social engagement within the class.

The tool was easy to use, but the project took more time than allotted because students really wanted to make their videos good. 

She advises, “don't be afraid to use Adobe Spark. It's just so user-friendly, I think, both for the faculty member and for the students.”

In future, Dr. Meredith says she would allow for more class time to work on this project, because while the tool was very simple to use and students understood it instantly, they still wanted to create polished work, which takes time. They had to find images, edit captions and record audio, as well as arrange the timing of the elements–so she would provide more time for that. ultimately the tool fit her need and she managed the assignment with intention.

Enthused and undaunted, Dr. Meredith envisions using Adobe Spark videos and web pages in many different ways in her teaching: “I can imagine it being used not only for an analytical project, the way that I used it, but also for things like personal narrative, for a researched report, for a historical timeline, for a meta-cognitive process reflective piece….across multiple disciplines, you could find a way to use Adobe Spark that would be more engaging than what you're already doing. 

The In-class Assignment

For the assignment, Dr. Meredith had her students form groups, choose their example of rhetoric, and then apply the principles of rhetoric to their examples. Students chose examples culled from advertising, social media posts, news, or even the statue of liberty, in one case. Then, the student teams created a Spark Video adding in graphics, images, text, and audio, where they identified the rhetorical purpose of their chosen item and explained how the rhetorical strategies (logos, ethos, pathos) were used in the piece. Ie. What is being communicated by the piece - is it intended to have an effect on audience thoughts, feelings, actions, or beliefs? And then, specifically how was each principle of rhetoric employed. 

Here are some of the final student Spark webpage (projects used with student permission):