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A Reflection on Teaching with Digital Tools

October 27, 2022 Erin Paulson

 As a new recruit to the ranks of ICaP instructors, I carried a lot of first-time-teacher anxieties into this fall semester, mostly circling around questions like, “How in the world do I get a room full of ‘STEM-y’ undergrads to invest in a not-so-‘STEM-y’ subject?” and “How do I keep them interested and engaged when most of the material I’m showing them looks like big blocks of text?” One solution I’ve found: get them thinking in digital spaces!

At right about halfway through the semester, the Multimodal Projects & Digital Composition Tools Workshop came at a great time for me to start reconsidering how I might tweak my syllabus for future sections of ENGL 106. I was already starting to see students’ eyes glaze over when I’d show them yet another article or annotated bibliography to dissect together. I was quickly finding that my colorful slide decks didn’t contain enough visual pizzazz to keep them interested in the lessons, but as a first-time instructor, it was a tough slog to come up with novel ways to work around this.

Enter the Multimodal Projects Workshop, in which veteran ICaP instructors presented several digital composition tools and suggested multimodal project frameworks in which to apply them. Of these suggestions, the multimodal annotated bibliography assignment stood out to me as most interesting and applicable to the Academic Rhetorics focus of my section of ENGL 106. The corresponding digital tool for this assignment, Litmaps, allows students to visualize the connections between sources they’re researching by organizing them into a seed map, a design that visually demonstrates how scholars build upon each other’s work to create an academic conversation. Litmaps also has an annotation function which, used in conjunction with the map, creates an opportunity for users to compose an interactive, visually engaging, multimodal annotated bibliography. I plan on adopting this next semester as an alternative to the traditional annotated bibliography assignment.

If you’re considering adopting more digital tools in your own composition classroom, check out ICaP’s Multimodal Projects & Digital Composition Tools page, which has resources for using tools like Litmaps.


photo of the author, Erin Paulson, standing against a brick wall, smiling

 Erin Paulson is a second-year MA student in Purdue’s Literature, Theory, and Cultural Studies program. After graduating in May 2023, she plans to chase her dreams of becoming an editor at a publishing house and adopting a dog she can name after her favorite Irish literary figures. When she’s not reading, writing, and teaching first-year composition, she loves going hiking, playing piano, and baking goodies for her cohort-mates.