Recently, when teaching 100-level introductory courses on the American experience and Ethnic American Literature, I assigned a tumblr research project. I wanted to introduce students to the research process without expecting them to produce an academic essay that I would have no time to fully prepare them for. Students worked in groups to do research, and used tumblr as a live, active bibliography. After they collected materials – reflecting and analyzing their findings – students had an option of curating their research into a tumblr page.
This assignment required students to take the lead. As they left the classroom space I had carefully designed, they were met with a cacophony of sounds, images, opinions, memes, historical documents, and art objects. With their group mates, they slowly found their way through the messiness of contemporary media, analyzing and reflecting on their findings in order to present a specific point of view on their topic. In this way, students were thrust into the research scenario. However, instead of using the library search engine, they had to find their own exigency for research and writing in the worlds (digital and otherwise) they inhabit. And they did so by writing in a multi-modal platform. For many students this was exciting. The linearity of the traditional academic essay was limiting. For others, this project was a struggle. They did not think in the ways tumblr wants its users to. In both cases, however, students had to be conscious of their writing process, their own cognitive practices as thinkers, and the choices they can make as writers.
Here are some examples of the work students produced.
Tumblr as bibliography:
Tumblr as curated research project: