We’re in the throes of the heavy teaching period of the fall semester at my library, and based on conversations with other teaching librarians and coordinators, the same can be said just about everywhere. As soon as the breeze turns brisk we find ourselves wolfing down a granola bar/cheese stick/back of peanut m&ms in the 5 minutes we have in between classes and calling it “lunch.” (I see you teaching libs. I see you.)
It’s my first fall semester at a new school, with a new focus, and a new information literacy English composition two-shot curriculum I revised with my colleague, Emily Deal, this summer. English comp makes up the bulk of our lower-division instruction responsibilities, so we decided to try something new this year with our lesson plans. We developed a new workshop for the first course in the two course composition sequence. Typically English Comp I doesn’t have a strong research component, but students do a lot of information literacy work in the form of analyzing information sources and synthesizing ideas. In addition to a class on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing developed by our previous instruction coordinator and teaching librarian, we developed a class on analyzing multimedia/non-written texts. Students are often asked to write an analytical essay about photographs, videos, or advertisements, and we thought this workshop could be a great way to embed information literacy beyond the typical “here’s how you find stuff” classes we normally teach for lower division courses. We absorb SO MUCH visual and video content via social media so we thought this would be a great way to help students think more critically about what they see or watch on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever social media site the olds like me don’t use)
Our first few passes at this class didn’t quite go the way I thought they would. I started off with big questions. Things like:
- What’s the purpose of this video ad?
- Who created it?
- Who was it created for?
- How did it make you feel?
Which are all well and good, but they weren’t prompting a critical analysis of the ad, which is what I was trying to accomplish. Few students seemed to see these ads–which, to be fair, were more long-form Superbowl-style attention grabbers–as meant to sell anything or prompt behavior. The feels noted were all surface level (“good. confused. happy.”), and the creator was often just the name of the product company. The questions were basic rhetorical analysis approaches applied to multimedia information sources but they fell flat. At times the students wouldn’t engage with the material or did so in a way that wasn’t as critical as we had hoped.
So, we went back to the drawing board.
I realized that a big problem with our approach to this class was that I hadn’t deconstructed the process of analysis to a manageable degree. I assumed a critical approach to these questions, but that was own bias and tacit knowledge coming in to play. I’m a librarian and have lots of practice picking things apart and critically dissecting them until there is nothing left! But students are often just beginning this practice OR using other strategies of analysis that have served them well in the past. If I wanted to teach a new method of analysis, I needed to be more explicit.
For the next version of this session, I dug a little deeper. We started by students thinking about the last video they watched on social media and why they watched it. We discussed and focused on the why as a means of realizing that sometimes our decisions to watch what’s in front of us aren’t always conscious choices, but that content creators are always thinking about viewers and impact. Next I introduced our class ad for analysis, the AirBnB #WeAccept video. I made it clear that we were going to watch it again and again and again, because that’s what we do when we deconstruct and analyze something. Before each viewing came a different prompt, with discussion in between each viewing:
- How does this ad make you feel? Write down 2-3 details that make you feel this way.
- How do you think the ad creators want you to feel? What do they want you to think? To do? Write down 2-3 details that make you think this way.
- For this last viewing, write down 2-3 details you haven’t already noticed/noted. Why do you think they are included in this video? How do they add to what the creators want you to think, feel, or do?
We talked. A lot.
The students noticed amazing details about the ad that completely slipped past my repeated viewings. They had time to think, process, write, and share, and their responses were detailed, critical, and interesting. Focusing on the details and allowing for multiple viewings gave us all time to dig deep into the creation of the ad.
Then, I asked students to do a little research in pairs. Each pair was asked to Google “AirBnB discrimination” and “AirBnB regulation.” Students discussed their findings, but more importantly, discussed their findings in relation to the ad we just viewed and the details they just noticed.
This whole process took the act of analysis step by step. I worried it would be a little formulaic or basic, but it actually prompted great discussion and student engagement. It made me think about my own response to activities, group work and discussion. Having parameters, details, and clear instructions is so important to me, and students need that too! The rest of the class was devoted to students going through the same analysis process in pairs with ads they were analyzing for an upcoming paper, and it was awesome to see them applying the same strategies to their own work.
If you’re interested in replicating this activity/class, I’ve shared the lesson plan, worksheets, and slides below!