Theory and Research Breeding Fear and Loathing In the Classroom? They Don’t Need To

I can’t believe it is mid-June! It has been a busy summer. The highlight so far has been 2 weeks in Spain. While the first few days I helped run a booth at an international meeting, the majority of the trip was spent backpacking via train.  I saw Gijon, Bilboa, Seville, Cordoba, Ronda, Toledo, and (for a few hours before catching a flight) Malaga. It was absolutely amazing!

With all that said, a blog post is well overdue!

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

One thing I’ve spent a bit of time this summer doing is preparing a new class I am hoping to teach in the spring or the following fall semester. The course is a persuasion course. It aims to enhance exposure to theories and research of influence and persuasion among students in the (still new) Strategic Communication concentration, and our department generally.

As the coordinator of the Strategic Communication concentration, I believe the students would greatly benefit from a focused look at how theories of persuasion and research findings in persuasion can be applied ethically in professional communication settings to improve message effectiveness. Of course, we talk about such concepts here and there in other classes. But, I am excited about having an entire course aimed at getting students to learn these concepts, evaluate their use in real-world examples, and work on a project aimed specifically at applying theoretical concepts to the design of a persuasive campaign (In this assignment, my students will pick a cause they want to advocate for).

I’ve been thinking about this class for the past few semesters. But what truly motivated and solidified my going forward with planning this summer is the very interesting series on the Institute for Public Relations website on behavioral communication. This great series highlights the importance of understanding social scientific research from various fields and its implications for communication professionals.

In his opening post on the series, Christopher Graves states: “When we approach public relations challenges such as changing perceptions, changing people’s minds on an issue, building engagement in climate change or changing behavior related to health, or restoring trust, we tend to gravitate toward intuitive solutions based on creative concepts. Yet we may be working on a false premise from the beginning (“doing the wrong thing righter”). Increasingly, behavioral and neuroscience research related to communications and decision making can better guide us into communications solutions that have a better chance of working.”

While the series focuses primarily on behavioral and brain-related studies, it makes a wider point for the importance of looking to applying research and theoretically-tested assumptions over intuitive assumptions. I always joke with my students that their fear and loathing in the college classroom centers on two words: Theory and Research.

I’ve heard my students express disgust and fear when it comes to theory. I’ve heard discussions among professors that students simply hate theories and research which leads to the question, what should professors do about it? Do we stop teaching theory and focus on more practical things? Do we use a tough love approach and teach students theory, paining both ourselves and our students through dry, intense lectures?

I believe this is a false dilemma. And I believe it stems from not seeing (or showing to our students) the applications of theory and research to practical settings. In a class such as the one I’m designing,emphasis should be given to bridging this gap.

A major goal I have is to help students overcome their aversion to theory and research and to help them see its practical value and importance. We can do so by highlighting examples where theory and research have helped inform effective message design, or by deconstructing an existing message to analyze what theoretical concepts or present or lacking. But we can also do it by taking the time in our classes to demonstrate how a theoretical concept or findings can be applied to a practical situation to better achieve communication goals, thus leading to desired outcomes. In my persuasion class, I plan to have sections of lecture called “Theory into Practice” where, after presenting a theory, I explain how that theory could be applied in a given scenario. I’ll also use mock scenarios students have to work through in class to apply concepts and solve a communication problem – such as through in-class simultaneous response prompts.

Ultimately, it is my goal to have students leaving the class not only more aware of persuasive strategies that can be used, but motivated and adept at using them in their coursework across the concentration (and of course, in their careers once they leave Shepherd). This, in turn, will help them become more cognizant communicators with an empirical mindset towards the choices they make as communication strategists.

It is more important than ever for our students to understand why certain approaches work and others don’t and be able to make informed, research-driven recommendations.

I know this is something we all work towards. I would love your thoughts and suggestions on how you help students see the value in theory and research and bridge the gap between “Oh, this is just stuff I learn in class” to “Oh! This scenario calls for me to apply what I’ve learned to be more effective.”

Cheers!
-Matt

 

Teaching Students to Use iPads for Survey Data Collection (2 of 2)

In my last post, I wrote about a Comm Research project where students use iPads for survey data collection.This is my favorite of the 3 projects we do in my Communication Research Class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus).

This week, I want to follow up by discussing how to program the surveys to work on the iPads. I’ll talk through how I teach all of this in class and through activities.

Lastly, I’ll explain how I prepare the data for use in SPSS.

Once students have created their surveys, we need to get them onto ONA.io

Programming surveys to work on ONA.io – the free, open-source tool used by my class and researchers around the world – is a little tricky. It follows XLS formatting. Once you get the hang of it, it is super easy. And it is quick to teach and learn.

I go over this online Lab Guide (http://bit.ly/435_lab_digitalsurvey) that I created on how to program XLS forms in class. I then provide students with a practice activity to create a survey in Excel or Google Spreadsheets. The activity asks students to create:

1) A question of how many years they are in school

2) A check all that apply question – I usually pick something fun like their favorite movies from a list

3) A likert-style question. Ex: How much they like binge-watching on Netflix.

In sum, they practice creating an integer, select_multiple, and select_one question.

Once students get the hang of it, they log into an ONA.io account I create for the class. Next, they upload their practice survey to test in class using our department’s iPads. But, this could be done on a phone or even a computer itself (Instructions on how to do this are in the lab guide).

The #1 thing, is that things have to be done exactly in this formatting. So, little errors like forgetting to put an _ (and putting a space instead) for “list_name” will result in ONA.io kicking the survey back and telling you there is an error. If a mistake is made, no problem. Just fix your form and re-upload.

I check to make sure everything is done correctly. This saves time when they program their own surveys. If everything is good, I give students lab time to work on formatting their surveys and help out as needed.

After everything has been uploaded successfully – this usually takes time outside of class, so I make it due the following class – students are ready to go out into the field. This is where the fun happens!

Students always get great feedback when they use iPads to collect survey data. People tend to be interested in what they’re doing and happy to participate. Some students this year told me that people came up to them around campus and asked if they could participate. That is much different than the usual online survey where we often struggle to get respondents! I can’t express how rewarding it is to see students go out into the field, collect data, and come back having gathered data no one else has before. For most of them, this is their first time doing data collection of any kind. And so while the class is tough and a lot of work, it is rewarding. You can see the ‘aha’ moments the students have when they start drawing inferences from their data.

Preparing Data for Analysis in SPSS

If you only want to look at summaries of responses, you can check that out in ONA.io. But, if you want to analyze the data you’ve got to get it from the way students labeled it to the #s for SPSS.

For example, in the below example where the question asks the participant their favorite ice cream, if the ‘choices’ in our XLS code is:

Lab_Guide_-_FormHub_-_Google_Docs

And the participant answers “Vanilla” the data collected would be icecream2.

But, SPSS can’t analyze “incecream2.” It can only analyze a number. So, we need every instance when a participant selected Vanilla to be recorded as simply “2” in SPSS.

Here’s how to quickly do this:

Download the data Excel file of the completed surveys. Open in Excel. Replace “icecream” with “” (that is, with nothing – no spaces. Just leave the replace section blank). Excel will remove “icecream” from the Excel file and you’re left with the number for responses such that “icecream2″ now is “2”. Repeat this step for each question. For check all that apply questions, ONA.io records “FALSE” for answer choices left blank, and “TRUE” for instances when the participant checked the answer choice. For example, if the question was “Check all your favorite ice cream flavors” and the participant checked “Vanilla,” ONA would record a “TRUE” and if they left it blank, ONA would record “FALSE.” These can be easily prepared for SPSS by replacing FALSE with “0” and TRUE with “1”.

Admittedly, this step is the drawback of using XLS forms. While a little tedious, it is quick and easy to do. Considering the advantages, I don’t mind taking 20 minutes of my time cleaning the data for my students.

When done, I send the student teams their data and we work on analyzing them in class.

 

Well that’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and consider using iPads for survey data collection in your research class, or other classes where surveys could prove valuable!

Here at Shepherd, finals week starts this week. I hope everyone has a great end to the semester!

Using iPads for Survey Data Collection in the Communication Research Class

Surveys are a common method uses in communication research class projects. Since I started teaching this class at Shepherd University, I’ve added a fun, cool feature that really brings the survey data collection process to life!

Students in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus) now use iPads for data collection in the field. My students grab a department iPad and go around campus to recruit participants. The participants complete the surveys on the iPads, and the data is synched to the cloud where it can be downloaded and analyzed.

ipadsurveys

Overview

For the final of three hands-on projects in my class, student teams identify a problem or question they have pertaining to Shepherd University or the local community. They design a study to research that problem. In my first two hands-on projects, students don’t design the methods or the measurements. They are based on scenarios I set up and materials I provide. For example, here’s a discussion of my computer-assisted content analysis assignment.

As a part of the assignment for today’s post, students are required to conduct 1) surveys, and 2) either focus groups or interviews. Let’s talk about the surveys:

After discussing surveys as a method, with a particular focus on survey design and considerations, each team designs a brief survey.

In the lecture before they create the survey, I lecture on important considerations in survey design. And then students do an in class activity to practice putting these concepts into motion using a mock scenario. I then provide feedback on their survey design, and help them make improvements.

The class the following time we meet is dedicated to helping students design measurements that meet the research objective and research questions they’ve developed that will help them get the answers to the questions they want to know. The day is also dedicated to helping them write effective survey questions (as well as interview or focus group questions, for that part of the assignment). I started dedicating an entire class period to measurement design after spotting this as a major weakness in the projects last semester.

Next, rather than using paper & pen, or surveymonkey.com (which limits students to only 10 questions), teams program their surveys into ONA.io. It is a free, open access web survey tool designed by folks at Columbia University. So, we spend the 3rd day learning how to use ONA.io to program their surveys. I’ll talk in detail about that in the next post.

During data collection week, students check out department iPads, load the survey onto their iPad, and go out into the field to collect data. A group of students will check out several iPads and hit up the student union, library, or campus quads and collect data fairly quickly. The data syncs automatically over our campus-wide wifi! That means, when all students get back to the computer lab, their data – from each iPad used – is already synced to ONA.io where it could be downloaded and analyzed.

Pretty cool, huh? It is my favorite project that we do in my communication research class and the students seem to really enjoy using the iPads for surveys.

There are a few caveats.

  1. After the data is collected, in order for it to be analyzed in SPSS it has to be cleaned. If you do formhub, you’ll notice that the data you get doesn’t quite fit in with the format SPSS needs. So, I spend a few hours before we meet as a class to look at the data that was collected and analyze it.
  2. This year, Formhub.org seems to be moving painfully slow. I’ve had trouble last week getting the website to work. And am still having trouble this week. With data collection set to start tomorrow, I am stressing that it may not work! – update: I’ve read in several places about ongoing stability issues with Formhub. I’m now using ONA.io instead which works the exact same way! I’ve updated verbiage above to reflect that.

I’ve provided a copy of the assignment below. Enjoy!

On my next post, I will provide info on programming surveys into the XLS forms format, which is a bit tricky. I spend a day in class teaching this. I’ll also show you how to load the surveys onto the iPads and get them synced up to the computer if you aren’t on WiFi when you collect the data.

photo: CC by Sean MacEntee

Why PitchEngine is Great For Teaching the Social Media News Release

pitchenginelogo

In my Writing Across Platforms class, students write a news release for the social web. We have used PitchEngine to help students learn the web features that can bolster a news release.

So let’s talk about PitchEngine, why it is awesome, and why I love it for this assignment.

What is PitchEngine?

PitchEngine is a service for creating, hosting, and getting the word out about your organization’s news. It is an effective, visually appealing, and easy to use storytelling tool for reaching media – traditional and new – as well as brand fans. I say storytelling because, while a news release is one way PitchEngine can be used, it certainly isn’t the only way. Think of it as a platform for sharing your brand’s story.

In other words, news releases aren’t simply pushed out like the old days – but they are hosted on branded space. This was an innovation that PitchEngine helped introduce. PitchEngine helped bring about the social media news release and so it is fitting that students learn the social media release using their service. PitchEngine CEO/Founder Jason Kintzler has been a leading voice for technology and change in the PR industry.

PitchEngine includes custom layouts, multimedia utilities, and analytics features.

Brands have their own page where all of their pitches are aggregated, such as the A&M Entertainment brand page. Media can follow these pages to get updates when a new pitch is posted.

You can see a host of creative PitchEngine pitches on Pinterest.

How have I used it in this assignment?

When I give out the assignment, I discuss several important features about web writing – whether it be a news release format or a blog post.

  • We talk about SEO, inbound links, and the role of search and sharing in helping people find your content.
  • As part of that, we spend a good amount of time searching keywords on Google Keyword Estimator and Google Trends – things I’ve written before about here, and here.
  • And we talk a little about readability and writing for the web – something I come back to later in the semester with more detail.

After students write their initial news release draft with an emphasis on web writing, students put their pitches into PitchEngine. This is a great experience for getting to get a sense of how writing functions in the web world.

Here are two of the several elements of web pitches I emphasize.

Visuals

PitchEngine emphasizes the visual element of the pitch. A look over their website shows that they take style seriously. This is no accident. They have easy-to-use, one-click templates for pitch layout. Here’s a great pitch from Keen that harnessing photos to show off their cool new shoes.

In corresponding with Kintzler, he emphasized the value of shooting and composing great photos and visuals for pitch effectiveness. You can see the emphasis on visuals in a PitchEngine pitch, such as this.

I try to impress this upon my students – requiring them to identify key visuals to bolster their pitches. After creating their pitches, they choose a template style that they find most appropriate to their pitch. Note: None of my student’s posts are public because that would mean they were… public, and since we write about real brands with mock situations that would cause a problem. So I won’t share them. But, take my word for it, they look great!

Tweetables

As I note below, PitchEngine has changed over the last few years. They used to have a feature where you typed in ‘quick facts’ that readers can click and Tweet. That appears to have been replaced with a new, also awesome feature – Tweetables.

Tweetables are parts of written text that make for good Tweets. That is, it is a section of a sentence that a reader can click on and Tweet. So, you want it to emphasize a key fact, stat, or point in your pitch that users would find interesting. It should align with your message strategies. I wrote about this concept a while back when I noticed Pew using this same feature to facilitate easy sharing of content from web articles to Twitter.

I noticed that several students struggled with the Tweetable concept this semester. I think I didn’t explain it very well this semester, or show effective examples.

Here’s an example of a Tweetable from a student release (company name redacted). Simply click the link, and Tweet!

PitchEngine-Tweetable

More On PitchEngine

The folks at PitchEngine, including Jason, have been so generous and kind in all of my communications with them. They have generously allowed our students to use their tool for the 3 semesters over the past few years that I have taught this class. In that time period, PitchEngine has changed their features and pricing model. But they’ve always been happy to let our students used advanced, paid features – such as templates – for learning purposes; that includes now, that PitchEngine no longer offers free accounts. A big thanks to PitchEngine!

I would love for PitchEngine to build a university program that can help students learn a bit more about the features, suggested strategies for maximizing pitch effectiveness on the platform, analytics, and ‘under the hood’ how it works, of PitchEngine. I think this would make for a great opportunity for more universities and for our students to get the very most out of the tool.

More Details About the Assignment

As I’ve mentioned previously, here is my original social news release assignment (I’ve since modified it to reflect recent changes to PitchEngine).

Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Sweetser have a great guideline for teaching the social media release (Note: PitchEngine is mentioned). I’ve adapted parts of their recommendations to improve my assignment.

Has your class used PitchEngine? If so, how? What recommendations do you have for integrating it into assignments?

Have you check out their, fairly new TinyPitch website? I need to find more time to explore this cool, new tool.

Hope you are enjoying spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Matt

top graphic: PitchEngine Logo is property of PitchEngine

Teaching Social Media Metrics: A Professor’s Frustration

Crumpled Frustration

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to improve teaching social media metrics and monitoring. This is something that I have never quite been satisfied with in my classes. I think a big reason for this is because we don’t have access to a lot of real-world metrics for students to learn on. I’ve tried to overcome this limitation in a few ways. But none of them have been completely satisfactory. Here’s what I’ve tried:

  • I’ve pulled down stats from webpages or Facebook pages for events I’ve developed or helped run. But all have been fairly small scale.
  • Last academic year, I implemented a blog assignment in my social media class and one of the main goals was for students to learn how to use Google Analytics. However, to do so, we used Tumblr because that enabled us to install GA for free. Students didn’t like Tumblr. This year, we moved to WordPress for our department blog. The free version doesn’t support GA and the WordPress stats are limiting.
  • This past fall, students created the content for our social media – blog, Twitter, Instagram. So, again, there’s a hands-on possibility to teach metrics and track our results. I’ve used Twitter ad analytics for my Twitter team to learn analytics in my social media class. Those are robust and great! And we use the free version of SumaAll.com for Instagram and Twitter (though redundant for Twitter ad analytics), but those stats are limited. To track the analytics of our department social media, I use a version of a spreadsheet I modified from Professor Jeremy Floyd for students to track their analytics. In my Communication Research class, I teach students how to conduct a sentiment analysis of Tweets by hand.

But I haven’t found something that really makes me feel like I can teach students analytics in an engaging way.

No matter how I present it, I have found that students tend to fear metrics. This morning I started thinking that what we need is a module-based, hands-on teaching system.

Ideally, this would have to partner with a social media analytics company. The company would provide real-world data (they may have to mask identifying information). In a perfect world, students would have access to the company’s software and would be able to play with the data in a safe environment (where they couldn’t take any action on the data, such as send a Tweet, but could interact and create reports). And there would be a series of modules that students use to learn analytics. At the end of it, students would be put into a simulation environment where a problem is presented to the class and students would work in groups during class time to solve the scenario.

I’d love to do this. But I’m not yet sure how to get started. More than that, I think it is a project that has utility at multiple universities. If you are interested in exploring this idea with me, please contact me. I’d love to chat. I believe in the power of conversation.

I think this could be a cross-university effort of professors where we all could create and use the modules. I believe we could approach a metrics software company as a team and have a greater likelihood of success. What do you think about this idea?

Contact me @mjkushin!

– Cheers!

Matt

photo: Creative Commons Aaron Jacobs

Book Review: Return on Influence by Mark Schaefer

I’ve read several of  Mark Schaefer’s books  – Born to Blog (see my review) and Toa of Twitter. And I’ve loved them all. Return on Influence is no different.

I considered Return on Influence for my fall 2015 social media class. But ultimately decided not to use it because I had 2 other great books I wanted to use: Likeable Social Media and Your Brand: The Next Media Company (Thanks to Karen Freberg for bringing Your Brand to my attention). Still, I think it is a great read and recommend it for a class. In fact, two of my students have read this book and both highly enjoyed it. There’s a high chance I will be implementing the book next Fall.

ROI

A Quick Summary of ROI

In ROI, Schaefer explores the notion of the citizen influencer and how social media has empowered everyday citizens. While we’re all familiar with this concept, the book explores the concept of influence with an aim to help one understand why we’re influenced, the type of person who influences us, and how influencers can be identified and leveraged.

Schaefer does the reader a solid by reviewing Robert Cialdini’s seminal work on the subject of influence, Influence: Science and Practice (Cialdini’s book was a favorite of mine in college. I highly recommend it). Specifically, Schaefer explores authority, likeability, consistency and scarcity, as well as social proof and reciprocity. He relays how these concepts relate to “your personal power and influence” online.

Towards the middle, Schaefer delves into the controversial industry of influence scoring, focusing primarily on Klout. He looks at the spark behind the company and provides a history of how the company came to be. Klout was an idea that few believed in when it was conceived.

Klout helped usher in a new era of influence marketing – the primary focus of the book. While influence marketing grew up with Jell-O and Tupperware, quick, easy, accessible social scoring by Klout and its competitors have proven a game changer. From TV shows to cars – the author provides several cases of companies harnessing Klout to identify influencers in a specific market niche, build relationships, and drive desired outcomes. Best practices are discussed. There are some very creative examples here and Schaefer helps the reader see just how powerful citizen influencers can be.

Of course, we’re all wondering – how do I raise my Klout score? Schaefer explores factors that influence Klout scores, those that try to game the system, how the system has evolved in response, and the pros and criticisms of how Klout scores are ranked.

In fact, a healthy portion of the book is dedicated to exploring criticisms and shortfalls with social scoring. After all, social scoring is still very new. The book ends with an exploration of the future of social scoring and some sobering thoughts on potential societal impacts of social scoring, asking whether such a system merely perpetuates of ‘rich get richer’ mentality.

Are we but the total of our Klout score? And if we are, is that a good thing?

0830-klout

A Few Thoughts on Using this Text in the Classroom

While buzz around Klout and other social scoring services seems to have died down a bit, there is much to learn from Return on Influence. Whether our students go on to use Klout scores to identify influencers or not, they stand to benefit from understanding the vital role of influencers in diffusing innovations on today’s social web.

If you participate in the Hootsuite University program, you can teach students to search Hootsuite by Klout score. Reading this text would greatly enhance their understanding of how Klout works.

As my students know, I’m a Paul Lazarsfeld fan! I discuss the notion of opinion leaders and the two-step (multi-step) flow of communication in my more introductory courses. I discuss diffusion in my social media class. And my campaigns students identify key influencers as part of their projects. As such, ROI is a natural extension of this part of their education, bridging tho idea of opinion leaders with the social web. In fact, I’ve discussed online influence and social scoring in my social media class. But students have expressed that they struggle with this concept. In this way, the text would add a great deal of value.

Lastly, throughout the book, a number of other familiar topics such as social capital and the strength of weak ties are discussed that may help students gain a better grasp on these subjects. I believe these important concepts of social networks are foundational knowledge in a social media class.

Taken together, Return on Influence is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about the world of social scoring and its role in influence marketing today.

What are your thoughts on Klout and social scoring?

-Cheers!

Matt

Teaching College Writing Using the Hemingway App

If he were alive today, would Ernest Hemingway be great at writing Tweets?

I like to think that he would. After all, he is attributed with writing the famous 6-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (though his authorship of the story is speculation).

ErnestHemingway

We’ve all been assigned one or more Ernest Hemingway novels in school. It is there we were introduced to his minimalistic style of writing, known as the ‘iceberg theory’ of writing. The iceberg theory, or theory of omission, can be summed up with the following quote (which I share with my students) from Death in the Afternoon:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway, there’s an app for that:

My Writing Across Platforms class (syllabus) teaches students to write news releases, for social media, content marketing blogging, and white papers. As stated in my Spring 2015 overview of the course, it is my goal to help my students focus on writing concise, specific, clear, powerful text across their assignments.

Enter, the HemingwayApp. This free online tool helps “make your writing bold and clear” (There is a paid desktop version, too). The app is easy to use.

Type or paste your text into the website and click “edit.”

The app highlights the following:

  • Wordy or convoluted writing.
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Unnecessarily complex terms
  • Passive voice

HemingwayApp

A readability score is assigned based on the above.  The app assigns a readability score (thanks Hemingway app!)

The app is great. You can see the improvements to your score based on changes you’ve made, allowing for quick feedback and improvement throughout the writing and editing process.

How I’m using The App and emphasizing concise communication:

In my writing class, I talk on the first day about the power and importance of each word. I use a blind date or another situation where first impressions count. I have students write the first 2 sentences they’d say in the situation, providing a specific goal they want to achieve – e.g., make a positive first impression to set the tone for the date. This fun exercise gets them thinking about goal-driven writing and what all they need to communicate – overt and subtle – with only a handful of words.

We then discuss how this applies to other forms of writing – from news releases to Tweets – where first impressions mean everything and failure to grab attention means failure, every word counts.

I have students write 3-4 sentences about where they’d go if they had a car full of gas, but no money.

Then, I provide a quote that we discuss including writing tips to achieve this:

The quote (from the Elements of Style – a great read) is: “If your every sentence admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority.”

Tips, derived largely from Elements of Style, include:

  • Active Voice – subject performs action.
  • Rewrite/reorganize whenever possible to convey the message with fewer words.
    • “ought to” = “should”; “It would be good if you” or “I was wondering” = “Will you”
  • Clarify the vague .
  • Replace adjectives with precise verbs.
  • Specific examples should replace vague or unspecific nouns.
  • Replace vague pronouns.
  • Remove NEGATIVE writing – when they say ‘not’ put it into the positive.
    • Example: “Not good.” replace with “bad”; “not present” replace with “absent”

Students switch their writing with a partner. Their goal is to use the writing tips I provide to remove any unnecessary word and strengthen sentences. We talk about how much they were able to cut from their partner’s writing. (Note: Sometimes they cut too much – which ties to the Hemingway quote below, and can be discussed with the quote).

In a follow-up class, I introduce the Iceberg theory and we chat a little about Hemingway’s style, as most students have read his work. I provide the quote above, and point out the below part of the quote I omitted when I first introduced the quote above, and we discuss this critical point and the trouble of knowing what to omit, from the exercise above:

“The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

After this, I have students implement the Hemingway App in their writing exercises in class. I provide strict word limits, such as for a news release exercise we did in class last Tuesday.

So far, we’ve just started using the app. And already I see students tinkering to strengthen their writing. It is my sense that the app will be a great help as they move along, so long as they commit to using it.

I plan to continue to remind them of the goal for concise, clear, powerful writing with new angles or tips during writing exercises throughout the semester.

I plan to continue to use the app for my own writing, too. I tell my students that becoming a great writer is a lifelong journey we all must be on.

Have you used the Hemingway app to teach writing? How have you found it? What tips do you have?

Fiction Aside:

So what’s my favorite Hemingway novel? If you’ve read my bio, you know I prefer Fitzgerald (a great book on their friendship turned sour is Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald). But I loved the autobiographical A Moveable Feast – perhaps because there is a section on his adventures with Fitzgerald! :P

What’s your favorite Hemingway story?

photo of Hemingway in public domain; screen grab of Hemingway app