Author: Gehling, Madison N

Navigating UConn Archives & Special Collections and the CTDA

This week I want to write a brief post about some of the resources available to us on the UConn Archives & Special Collections website, as well as the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA) website.

Like every archive, UConn’s Archives & Special Collections focuses on a number of special collecting areas: if you explore their digital collections page, you’ll see categories such as Activism, Connecticut History, Political Collections, and UConn Collections. Each of these areas expands to include more specific materials, including university catalogs, local business materials, maps, social activism resources, etc. Scott’s presentation already outlined some of the stranger things you might find by poking around in these scanned materials. UConn Archives & Special Collections also has audio recordings and videos uploaded to the website.

I also want to point out UConn’s reproduction services for materials found in a general search. For example, if your class is working through a unit on social responsibility and environmentalism and you’re curious about archival records, you might do some digging on the UConn Archives & Special Collections website. In your search you might turn up a record called the “Sweatshop Labor Files” (this folder includes resources detailing the university’s response to student-led activism surrounding the use of sweatshop labor to produce university merchandise). These files have not yet been digitized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access them. You can request a reproduction from Archives & Special Collections staff by specifying the particular folder and box on the Reproductions Request Form, and someone will scan those materials and send them to you.

A GIF illustrating how to request reproductions (scans) of materials from UConn's Archives & Special Collections

The CTDA, which works with UConn’s archives, is another great digital repository of archival materials. The CTDA houses the digitized materials you can find on UConn’s Archives & Special Collections website; but it is also far more expansive. (If a resource is owned or held by UConn Archives & Special Collections, the CTDA will tell you that when you access it.) It’s fun to poke around and look at videos, recordings of speeches and interviews, and even images of 3D objects. For instance, the CTDA has scans of an expansive political button collection; these are awesome for talking about recent and historical activist campaigns (many of which have become relevant again). Just like the UConn Library website, you can filter your searches on the CTDA website by material type, date of creation, location, and topic. It’s definitely worth checking out what the CTDA might have in its digital holdings when you plan out your course inquiry and reading list for the fall!

A GIF illustrating how to navigate the CTDA

Of course, UConn Archives & Special Collections and the CTDA aren’t the only digital archival resources available to us. A great place to start is this landing page from the National Archives, since it aggregates a number of other accessible digital archive spaces. Here you’ll find links to collections that include scanned print resources, audiovisual materials, and more. I know plenty of teachers also love using the Smithsonian Learning Lab (and I’ve only recently learned just how cool this resource is), since materials can be grouped into different collections by topic, and users can also create their own collections. These repositories are great for introducing conversations about research and primary versus secondary sources into your units; you can also use archival materials to talk about the different kinds of multimodal media that exist.

Wrapping up the 2023 spring conference: UConn Library resources

Earlier this month we held our second in-person conference of the year, with content themed specifically around reading in ECE English classes. We talked about developing course reading lists for ENGL 1007 and ENGL 1004, building text into existing course inquiries, and finding content to fill our very different classroom needs. We spoke about connecting readings to one another and maintaining the composition goals of First-Year Writing while teaching literary texts, as well as centering diverse voices and perspectives in our syllabi. Here, I want to touch base again on some of the practical resources available to us with our UConn NetID accounts as many of you look forward to planning your syllabi over the summer.

Using the UConn Library website

Like Scott mentioned in his presentation, the university library website has plenty of digital resources to bolster your class reading lists and liven up activities and assignments. Media in the library holdings range from books, to graphic novels and comics, to edited collections and anthologies, to newspaper clippings and magazine articles, to audiovisual links. I want to take a brief moment to outline some of my “tips and tricks” for making the most of my library website searches.

Advanced Search: When I jump into a search, I typically make sure I’ve selected the “Advanced Search” option. This makes it easier to hone my results from the get-go, since I can input as much information as I have immediately. If I already know the title, author name, and maybe even the date of publication, it makes sifting through results much faster. Let’s say I want to show an example excerpt of Octavia Butler’s Kindred to my class to talk about historical memory in American culture. I’ll log into the UConn Library website and start a new search using this feature. It makes it easy to find texts that are available digitally right away.

A GIF of an advanced search on the UConn Library website for a digital copy of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred

Filtering searches: It might be good to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the different filters the library website has available on the left-hand side of the window; these are very helpful for narrowing down your search and can sometimes turn up new information you didn’t even know you were looking for. For example, I found an article on the anthropocene and opera just by playing around with some of the search filters here.

Using the filters to edit a search

Likewise, if you plan to use the library website in class, give your students some time to experiment with the sifting options on their own; this can lead to some fun (and strange) discoveries. I like to send my students off on project-related scavenger hunts. It can also prompt interesting conversations about search engine optimization and general algorithmic searches, since you can have them compare their library research results with a general Google search. What does Google give preference to, and how are search results ranked? How can you tailor searches to your own goals and interests? How is online library research different from more generalized internet research, and what expectations should you set ahead of time for both?

Using databases: I also want to point out the access we have to digital databases via the UConn Library. These are great aggregators of information based on specific topics and content type, so if your students are working on a particular research project they may find doing research with a database useful. You can search through UConn’s available databases via subject. Here, I looked at the databases related to English, and found one that collects recordings of Shakespeare performances in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

A GIF showing how to navigate and search with the digital databases available on the UConn Library website

Plenty of databases are cross-disciplinary, so it’s worth poking around a little. You’ll also notice that many databases provide links to other databases, too. Through a site like Hathi Trust, for example, we gain access to all sorts of other digital repositories (like Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Cornell’s Rare Books collection, etc.).

Pinning search results: You can “pin” things to your personal profile, and sort them into lists. If you want to create a list for a particular class or topic, you can add things and delete them at any point. It’s a really useful way to keep resources organized! I like pinning sources as I’m scrolling and then coming back to them later to see if they’re actually worth investigating or not. This can be useful for the planning stage, and you can also introduce this to your students as another method of resource gathering.

A GIF illustrating how to "pin" search results to an individual profile on the library website

Always log into the library website with your NetID and password before conducting a proper search. If you don’t, you often won’t see a full list of available results, and you won’t be able to access full previews or downloads, either. If you’re sharing sources with your students, send them the permalink (as opposed to the search bar link) in case a website or database gets updated or things get moved around (see Scott’s presentation for more information). I like talking with my students about why permalinks are better to cite with than the long version of a hyperlink. The same can be said for knowing book ISBNs and source DOIs; having conversations about what these identifiers mean and what purposes they serve is a great way to talk about research and citation practices.

Next week, I’ll share some info on searching within UConn’s Archives & Special Collections digital repositories, as well as navigating the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA). As Scott pointed out during the conference, there are certainly quite a few surprising things hidden away in the archives. Luckily for us, much of it has been digitized and is available for free via high quality scans and uploads. In the meantime, you can find more information on the UConn Archives & Special Collections’s holdings here, and you can visit the CTDA here.

Experimenting with visual design in ENGL 1007

Last month, ECE English held its second virtual workshop of the year—this time, on visual rhetoric in the composition classroom. Though we opened our discussion through the lens of teaching infographics, we had a great time talking about the elements of visual design from a number of approaches. Certainly, there are countless ways to challenge your students to think about the importance of visual design in the media they encounter daily and the projects they assemble.

We spoke briefly about the main elements of visual design outlined in the ENGL 1007 curriculum, which include balance, alignment, emphasis, proportion, movement, pattern, contrast, and unity. Here’s a brief video highlighting what each of those elements look like in action.

Everything Everywhere All At Once movie poster

In my own classes, I often use examples like book covers or movie posters to talk about the relevant elements of visual rhetoric I want my students to wrestle with. (These elements might change depending on the project they’re working on!) It’s always fun to bring in pop culture and pick apart the very deliberate choices that make certain advertisements, posters, illustrations, and packaging so effective.

For example, if I knew my students were familiar with the film, I might show them the poster for Everything Everywhere All At Once and prompt a conversation about what it’s accomplishing in its design and storytelling choices. It’s massively cluttered, yet orderly and symmetrical; what does that suggest about the film’s themes? What motifs are repeated throughout? What images are enlarged (made important), and why? How is the text formatted, and why? What kinds of colors are used? What draws your eye first?

Similarly, I could show them a book cover and have the same conversation. The example I used in March’s workshop was the cover of Katherine J. Chen’s novel Joan. The text and fleur-de-lis are perfectly balanced across four even quadrants, and the font is consistent. Even the color palette follows the same rules: it is inverted across quadrants, but remains the same. This cover also prompts questions about when designers break the rules: what might an asymmetrical design be trying to accomplish? What about unsettling color choices?

Book cover of Joan, by Katherine J. Chen

This is a great way to generate conversation at the beginning of a visual unit, and it can also be fun to ask your students to bring in everyday examples, as well. Instead of searching for posters or advertisements, have them perform a visual rhetorical analysis on one of their class textbooks, or a poster they saw hanging up in the hall outside of your classroom. As I engage my students in the elements of visual design, I’m also always asking them to consider the rhetorical situation in general, too: what is this text’s overall purpose, and who is the intended audience? How do you know? Is it effective and accessible?

Visual design might not be the first thing we think about when planning a composition class, and we’re certainly not expected to be experts here, but it’s important (and fun, too). I’m reminded of my copy of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which begins with a note on the type: “This book was set on the Linotype in Janson […] This type is an excellent example of the influential and sturdy Dutch types that prevailed in England up to the time William Caslon developed his own comparable designs from them.” Writing and designing have always gone hand-in-hand, and conversation can be sparked from something as simple as a font in a book. As your students work on their various multimodal projects and you begin thinking about what assignments you’d like to incorporate next year, consider sharing any interesting and exciting conversations you might have with us! You can find a round-up of the workshop’s resources here, on our event page.

Enter the podcast: experimenting with multimodality, aurality

On February 15th, ECE English hosted its first virtual workshop, during which we focused on the topic of podcasting in the First-Year Writing classroom. Podcasts are a fun and experimental way to have students engage with the drafting and revising processes: the audio genre encourages play in the classroom, enhances students’ experiences with multimodal composition, and can get us thinking about what “counts” as “text” in new and interesting ways.

Click the image to view the Google slideshow from the “Teaching Podcasts” virtual workshop

Our session began with a conversation about why podcasts are so useful for the composition classroom. Participants shared insight into why this mode of communication is a great way to break up the traditional writing and editing process. Since many podcasts are recorded by multiple hosts, the conversations they have often happen organically. Asking students to think about how we get information (via collaborating with others, by practicing our listening skills, etc.) is an excellent way to frame this assignment. This is a great chance to share some excellent podcast examples with your students! You may also consider folding in time to allow students to practice drafting and asking good interviewing/question-asking skills, so they learn to listen to their interlocutor rather than simply anticipating what they want to say in response.

Incorporating podcasts into the classroom also comes with the expectation that students will be using new technologies. This is a fun chance for students to experiment with recording and editing applications. Some of the apps mentioned during our conversation included:Podcast editing platforms Audacity, GarageBand, Soundtrap

  • Garageband, a free software pre-installed on most Mac products
  • Audacity, a free-to-download application compatible with Mac and Windows products
  • WeeVideo, an online editor compatible with Chromebooks
  • Soundtrap, the Spotify-hosted platform made specifically for recording and editing podcasts

We also had some great conversations about the more practical particulars of podcasting, including:

  • Which podcast episodes you will incorporate as examples
  • How long students’ podcast episodes should be (3-4 minutes? 5-6? 12-15?)
  • Whether students would record episodes on their own, or with a classmate co-host
  • How to fold the podcast into the course, and what topic they’d be expected to talk about (connecting it to a text students are reading? tying it to your course inquiry?)
  • How to alleviate nerves if students are anxious about speaking in front of audiences or recording themselves (setting clear parameters for who will hear the final draft? practicing with smaller spoken assignments ahead of time?)

To see the resources shared during this conversation, visit the event page for this virtual workshop. There, you’ll find the Google Slideshow, links to readings that were discussed and distributed, and a recording of the WebEx conversation (including the chat).

Fall 2022 conference: kicking off the school year

Our first conference of the 2022-2023 academic year—and our first in-person conference in quite some time—was a fun and successful one. Attendees shared creative artifacts from the studio segments of their ECE English classrooms, and we discussed the field research component of ENGL 1007 a bit in the second session of the day. 

Session 1, Studio Pedagogy: Creative Experimentation, asked participants to do a little homework ahead of time. Teachers shared a studio artifact before arriving at the conference—a successful activity or assignment they were proud of, or something students really enjoyed working on. Many people brought up podcasts as one such activity: students like working in a creative medium and exploring their own interests through research and conversation. Likewise, conference attendees spoke to how fun and exciting it is to learn about those interests as the information is relayed in a unique format. Participants referenced platforms like GarageBand (Apple), Audacity, and Soundtrap (Spotify) as popular and accessible methods for creating podcast episodes.Podcast editing platforms Audacity, GarageBand, Soundtrap

Some teachers shared assignments which centered around the literature they read in their classes, and others still spoke on activities focused on social media and pop culture. You can find a curated collection of submitted studio artifacts here, in a shared Google Drive folder

Session 2, Making Contact With the World: Field Research/Documentary in First-Year Writing, invited attendees to think about how students conduct research intentionally for ENGL 1007. What kind of research are they conducting? Is it tangible—and does it need to be? How are they curating it for any given project? Some conference-goers shared their thoughts on our Session 2 Padlet (which you might still fill out, if you have your own lingering thoughts). Among some of the ideas shared were:

  • having students fill out observation charts as they conduct research
  • conducting case studies
  • having students conduct interviews

Some conference-goers expressed concern over the amount of technology they should feel responsible for teaching and incorporating in their studio sessions. While multimodality is an essential component of the ENGL 1007 curriculum, we encourage you to explore and play rather than master and perfect. Also, keep in mind that your students likely have some level of competency (or expertise!) in these media/platforms already. Students know how to take and edit photos and videos on their phones, for example, and they are fast learners to boot.

If you were unable to attend this conference, you can find all of the links on our site conference page here.

A “new chapter” in studio pedagogy: UConn FYW updates

Welcome to Fall 2022! The year is already well underway, and this week we’ll see many of you on UConn’s main campus for our first workshop/conference of the year. It’s exciting to start this “new chapter” of ECE English and begin collaborating again.

Dovetailing into our Storrs campus “homecoming” after working virtually for so long, this post aims to provide a bit of an overview on some pedagogical updates from UConn’s First-Year Writing program. Namely, it will highlight some materials from the ENGL 1007 Studio modules—both synchronous and asynchronous—in the hopes that we can continue untangling the studio experience together.

Of course, ECE English classes look a bit different from the FYW courses being offered on UConn campuses. At UConn, students meet for the seminar component of their ENGL 1007 class multiple times per week, and then they meet for the studio component of that same course once every two weeks with a different instructor. Because of this, students complete a number of asynchronous activities during their “off weeks” and are encouraged to do prep work on their own time. When students meet for their in-person studio sessions, the majority of class is spent doing collaborative activities, completing peer review sessions, or working on project drafts. While students can bring in work from their seminar sections, much of this studio class time is devoted to one semester-long project in particular: the “Digital Exhibition Portfolio” website, which is to be finalized by the end of term.

These portfolios, completed on a platform like WIX or WordPress, function as the polished culmination of the student’s body of work from both the studio and seminar components of ENGL 1007. They’re expected to publish an “About Me” page, share and upload assignment drafts, and design their sites to be easily navigable and also aesthetically engaging. Students work together in small groups and run website tests, provide feedback on their writing and design choices, and generally work to draft the visual and rhetorical components of a successful portfolio website.

While you certainly also spend a great deal of time organizing collaborative activities, peer review sessions, and other multimodal assignments in your ECE English classrooms, we don’t ask you to assign something as particular as a portfolio website. Nevertheless, there are some interesting areas of overlap between the First-Year Writing classroom and the kind of experimentation we know students are doing in your own ECE English classrooms. Here are a a couple of major areas you might consider:


“Accessibility” is a big concept that can include textual, visual, and aural facets. In the FYW studio context, accessibility specifically refers to the multimodal projects students are working on at any given moment in the term. For their Digital Exhibition Portfolio websites, students are encouraged to consider how their sites promote ease of use—are the pages easy to navigate? Do they include links to other works or websites?—without becoming overwhelming.

Of course, not every ECE English classroom will be engaging with online artifact creation (like in the case of a website or webpage—we certainly don’t expect this!). But it’s still useful to think about how your students might be engaging with concepts of accessibility in their own ways. It is essential students have a strong understanding of their audience, and how their text/creation might be interpreted/used in the future. Since every artifact has an audience, every artifact has audience considerations that should factor into the drafting process. This can be as simple as adjusting Google Doc permissions—can everyone access this document?—to something more complex like determining if a PDF is compatible with a screen reader, providing captions or alt-text, and attending to other Universal Design principles.

Some things to reflect on:

  • What does the accessibility conversation look like in your particular classroom? What media have your students worked with so far, and how have you engaged with questions of audience needs/expectations, creator considerations, etc.?
  • How can we be creative and accessible at the same time? How have your students successfully been creative and accessible in the classroom?
  • What kinds of audiences do your students engage with on a regular basis? In your classrooms, do your students circulate their work beyond their peers?
  • How can we invite students to think about how their work might be interpreted after its creation? How can we encourage students to consider accessibility and longevity as concepts that go hand-in-hand when drafting an artifact?

Digital identity & media literacy

United with the concept of accessibility is that of digital identity. Who are we online? What personas do we adopt on Twitter versus Google Classroom versus when we text our family members? UConn’s FYW studio modules ask students to consider their digital identities as they put together their Digital Exhibition Portfolio websites. In these modules, FYW highlights the way we participate differently in different online communities, the importance of digital privacy, and the privileges and responsibilities of existing in online spaces.

These are particularly useful conversations to have in tandem with projects that ask students to cite other work (such as books, articles, videos, podcasts, photos, and their own field research). It also opens up the space to discuss copyright and license-free artifacts. Since studio work is a collaborative, multimodal, and ever-evolving field, conversations you have with your students about their work and their digital identities are also likely to be collaborative and ever-evolving.

Some things to reflect on:

  • What kinds of multimodal artifacts do you typically bring into the classroom? What do your students bring into the classroom? How do you address questions of ownership and citation?
  • How can we talk about media literacy in our ENGL 1007 classes? What space does the ECE English classroom make for conversations about digital privacy and responsibility?

We’ll continue discussing the dimensions of accessibility, creativity, and writerly identity at this week’s conference, “A New Chapter.” To view FYW’s asynchronous studio modules, follow this link; to view FYW’s synchronous modules, follow this link.