All posts by Jessica Gordon

I am the Curriculum and Textbook Coordinator for Inquiry and the Craft of Argument, a core education course at Virginia Commonwealth University. This course is one of three required writing classes at VCU. I'm also working on a PhD in Media, Art & Text at VCU. Last and certainly least, I own a company called The Trigger System that books weekly concerts in a number of venues in central VA.

Stuff to Consider

I’m wondering how I can work with the new media center in the library to give students a better experience working with sound. I re-learning Audacity today, and I’m thinking we would really benefit from use of some equipment such as:

  • M Audio Fast Track or some
  • Microphones with USB
  • Turntable with USB

Problems I’m having in Audacity:

  • cannot import Mp3. no trouble with itunes file or wav.
  • cannot check or adjust levels of microphone volume on toolbar at top. don’t know if there is anywhere else to do it.


Activity Ideas for Multimodal Writing Class

3 Modes of Sound:

Have students go outside and listen to sounds and write down what they hear. Then they come back in and we write down the sounds on the board. Then ask students to put the sounds in categories, before sharing the 3 modes of sound: casual, semantic and reduced.

Explain that sounds are usually described based on causation: dog barking, car screeching breaks, etc. Ask students to go back outside and record sounds without referring to causation.

Wrapping up: point out that it’s important to think about sound as more than causality because sound is often used in media for their semiotic connotations, affect, timbre, color, etc.

I got this idea from Karen Collins’ amazing article, Sound Design for Media.

Sonic Mood Board

Show students a visual mood board so that they get the gist of what this is and how it works. Then show them where to get free sound effects and ask them to create a sonic mood board. Each student could be assigned an emotion, or choose an emotion, but we wouldn’t want every student doing the same one. Students who present the sound board in any form. I should check and see if they can insert the sounds on their blogs?

In Collins’ piece, she teaches students to create effects before doing this assignment. She has a good example in the piece of a sonic board that seems to portray urgency and fear, like the sound of an ambulance. These sounds are layered. I’m not sure how easy it will be teach students to import the sounds and add effects.

During the next class period, students would have to guess the emotion portrayed.

Story through Sound Effects

This might be going a bit too far for our purposes as it seems like it would take at least a week, but I could ask students to create a story based on one of 5 different narratives (arrive home, dog barking, vase breaks OR walking down street, start to cross, almost hit by a car, etc).

***Need a lesson on creating your own sounds. Need a device that will allow them to record sound accurately and without outside noises…

Ideas for Multimodal Writing Class

I’m teaching ENG 491: Multimodal Writing for the first time this Spring, and I’m looking for examples of good multimodal compositions and thinking about assignments that might draw on those examples.

Daniel Kolitz’s, The Data Drive

As far as multimodal compositions go, The Data Drive excels as an argument, and its execution is uncomplicated enough not only for students to navigate, but to model their own work on: with some paper, scissors, a scanner and a little bit of html (and yes, ingenuity), any number of webtexts can be parodied, critically dissected and argued in a unique way.

This gives me an idea…I could use this as an example of parodying a website and ask students to then create a parody of a site of their choice and write up an analysis.The problem is that to make it look polished and to be functional, you need HTML knowledge. I don’t think any blog is going to let you create something that looks like this or functions in this way–or in any way that would really look good:(


Paul Ford’s, What is Code?

“What Is Code?” exemplifies the best of webtext capabilities by using a range of textual features—linguistic, visual, interactive, collaborative–to enact the argument that it’s important to understand software code.

An assignment might be: create a webtext where you explain how to do something you (and maybe not many others) know how to do.

This is presented in a blog form, as it was published on and is a journalistic writing. Unlike The Data Drive, the formatting of this could be achieved with a blog. However, what is cool about it is all the animations (I think they are animations) that SHOW how what the author is saying is true. Without these multimodal examples, the piece would be dry–and feel incomplete. So this assignment might end up being a bunch of text with a few still pictures, maybe even a video, or through a series of workshops, it could end up working well…


The Whys

So what is the real “why” of your course? Why should students take it? How will they be changed by it? What is your discipline’s real “why”? Why does it matter that students take __________ courses or become _________ists? How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?

I teach general education courses at VCU called Focused Inquiry. Focused Inquiry is a three-semester sequence–each course is worth three credits–that is housed in the University College. I have been teaching at VCU for 15 years (previously in the English Department), but I never really understood the true value of general education before I began teaching this course 8 years ago.

When the University College first opened its doors, I was one of approximately 40 full-time faculty who were hired. Before the semester began, we were asked to read 10 books about the scholarship of teaching and learning prior to spending one week in intensive faculty development in which we learned the hows and whys of the Focused Inquiry courses. I knew what teaching and learning meant before I was hired for this new position, but what I learned from these readings and during these five days of faculty development changed the way I would teach, and the way I would think about general education, immediately and forever. While I had always tried to be a good teacher and help my students who needed assistance, the expectation in my prior department (where I taught writing) was that unfortunately, some students would fail–as some students simply didn’t have the skills yet to write effectively in college and these students would need to seek help and take these general education courses again. My attitude was that I would help any student who wanted help–but I didn’t try to force students who didn’t request help to get it. I offered it, and if they didn’t take me up on it, that was their choice.

As a result of reading these 10 texts and that intensive faculty development, I stopped thinking that way. I started thinking that I really could help many of those students who we expected to fail, and I wondered if I went really far out of my way to try to help them, would some of them end up excelling or at least doing okay? It turned out I was right, and in the last 8 years, I probably “save” half of those students each semester who would otherwise fail. If you think about it, though, if we all save half, that’s a whole lot of students who would otherwise not make it past their freshman year in college.

In the first video, Mike Wesch introduces purpose-driven courses. This concept is similar to the skills-based courses that I teach in Focused Inquiry. While our classes have themes and we use content related to the theme in our classes, our goal is to teach important skills–written and oral communication, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, collaboration, and quantitative reasoning–not content. Content is used to facilitate practice in these skill areas.

So what is the WHY of my class? The answer is simple: what is more important to learn in college than being able to effectively communicate? Regardless of discipline, don’t we all want our students to think critically and explain their ideas clearly? The courses I teach get to the heart of these issues. Students can’t be “ists” in my field, but that’s okay, because we need all students to be good thinkers and writers in order to become effective “ists” in any field. As I said at the beginning of this post, I didn’t used to really understand the value of general education–I just thought it was providing basic knowledge everyone needed to know–but now I see that it is, or it can be, the most important and fundamental learning that students do in college. After all, without critical thinking and communication skills, students can’t even begin to excel in any of the disciplines that produce the “ists” in higher education. And, as Mike Wesch said at the end of the video in reference to his Anthropology course that is taught to a large group of students who will not go on to be Anthropologists, this type of education is preparing them for “the great initiation ritual of our society, what ultimately makes them great adults who have the capacity to find meaning and happiness and those types of things.”



Blogging this Fall

I’ll be blogging with my two UTAs in a shared space this fall. Together, the three of us will document our experience in our two UNIV 112 classes.  There is a link to our shared blog on the menu above, or you can click HERE.