Digital Portfolio of Work at Northern Arizona University

Digital Media and Education: A Portfolio of Writing and Web Creations

Hunter Brimi

Before entering Northern Arizona University’s Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies (RWDMS) program, I had been inactive as a researcher for six years, but I had been writing in one form or another nearly every day. I wrote questions and writing prompts and “sample” essays for my students; I wrote emails to their parents and to colleagues; I wrote freewrites to clarify my own thoughts. In the RWDMS program, I expanded my understanding of the wider audience that exists online, and I researched topics that were new to me while also maintaining a connection with my interests in education. I chose the pieces in this portfolio because they represent my efforts to learn about digital media issues and to explore relationships between writing and education.

            The first offering is a blog, “Dialogue in the School Community: Beyond Hallway Gossip.” I have written articles and essays that have appeared online in various places, but I had never maintained a themed blog. In this blog, I was able to both express some of my expertise and examine or reflect on aspects of a teacher’s life that largely go unnoticed to those outside the school building. The site’s appearance may seem rudimentary, but I think that its simplicity matches my attempt to “speak” plainly about the school as a discourse community.

            Next, I present a website for an online writing lab that I somewhat egotistically named “The Brimi Writing Center.” I enjoyed this project for several reasons. For one, it led me to reconnect with an old acquaintance who is considered a leading voice regarding writing centers—Dr. Pam Childers. Her experiences helped modify my thoughts on what an online lab could be and the roles that a writing center coordinator must play. The project also allowed me to reflect on my practices as a teacher and to find ways to share what I have found to be effective in helping high school students improve their writing. I think, too, that the project helped me hone my web design skills. I was meticulous with the images I selected and their placement. Plus, I feel confident that I could send students and teachers to the site and they would find something of value.

            The next four items are all traditional papers. The first is one of the first papers that I wrote in the program, “Teaching Writing to English-Language Learners: What New Teachers Need to Know and Practice.” This was a way of combining something that I know a bit about (teaching writing) with something with which I have not had an abundance of experience (teaching ELL students to write). I wanted to research this topic because of its practical value. I also had learned that the college of education from which I graduated now trains all English Education students for TOEFL licensure. While one article does not give me the expertise of someone with that training, I feel more confident that I can guide ELL students to be more confident in their writing.

            The next research paper ventures beyond the realm of education and into work-life and social media, in general. I researched and wrote the essay, “Send that Post; Ready Your Resume,” because I wanted to know more about the extent of free speech on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. I had read and watched news stories and followed some controversies regarding how companies were (or were not) disciplining, and even terminating, people for what they had posted on their personal accounts. I approached the paper thinking that I knew what answers I would find but was surprised by what I learned. The paper might appear to lack a strong thesis because my answer to whether “mean tweets” were fireable offenses honestly came down to two words: “It depends.” I found more legal factors to consider and that many organizations are only recently finding it necessary to create policies regarding such matters.

            I took the ideas from that research and considered more specifically how schools could effectively use social media and whether their administrators are doing so. For “Communiques from the Principals’ Offices: School Leaders on Twitter,” I read literature on best practices for using Twitter as a tool to build community, engage in and encourage professional development, and communicate school news to stakeholders. Then, I chose five administrators from schools in an underachieving school district, five from a highly rated school district, and five heads of private schools. I followed and analyzed their Twitter accounts for several weeks, finding that only one or two of the school leaders used their accounts to great effect. I later interviewed two other people: the head of a private school in Georgia and the superintendent of one of the districts whose administrators I had followed. The head of school had a deep-seeded distrust of social media and does not use it, preferring to let someone in the school’s public affairs office run a school account. The superintendent encourages his administrators to use social media, has standardized the formats of their Twitter handles, and offers a professional development session on how to use the platform. Both men have good reasons for their disparate views.

            The next piece departs from the online world and research and leads back to the most important part of teaching: relationships. This reflective essay is titled, “Other People and Their Kids: Diffusing Family Meltdowns at 8:20 a.m.” In the essay, I write about one of the things for which colleges of education do not prepare its graduates: conferences with parents and guidance counselors. These are akin to academic interventions. The parents have noticed their child’s slipping grades and want to meet teachers to discuss what the child is doing wrong. The guidance counselor is a mediator and, in my experience, each of the student’s teachers are there. I used to dread these meetings. For one, they sometimes would not end until moments before (and sometimes after) the bell for first block. Second, the dynamic of the meeting becomes tense when the student is also there. To quote George Costanza, the students’ “worlds are colliding,” home life and school life. Worse, sometimes the vibe of the meeting becomes unbearably harsh. In the essay, I reflect on what I tried to do to make my turn to talk more productive and friendlier.

            Lastly, I offer my capstone project, a website through which I offer a unit plan for teaching high school students to use social media as a marketing tool. The site, Social Media and Small Business: A Learning Experience for Upper School Students, centers on a quasi-flipped classroom, project-based learning experience. I use the term “quasi-flipped” because the teacher still has a role as discussion facilitator for a portion of each class period, but the bulk of class time requires the students to work on projects as the teacher monitors and assists as needed. I have found this type of class structure to be extremely effective, especially when there is a large variance in ability amongst the students. I found that I could spend more time with each student, individually or in groups of two or three, and that the relationships between me and the students became stronger. Furthermore, with this project, students will be working with something most of them already know, social media. Most, though, need to be taught how to be more responsible and more productive with their online time. That’s what this unit emphasizes. For the unit, I had to learn more about using social media for business purposes. To do this, I did case study research with three participants. The first owns a local hair salon. The second is a flight attendant who also has three side-gigs (photography, design, and candle-making). The third is an artist who markets her mixed media sports portraits on Facebook and Instagram. They and my literature review taught me four principles for being successful in using social media to enhance a business: creating and cultivating a professional brand; choosing the best platform to showcase the business; researching, building, and engaging with followers; and knowing yourself and your limitations. This project appropriately combines the two interests I stated earlier: education and media issues. In essence, the site and its offerings embody why I chose to pursue a master’s degree in the RWDMS program.

–Hunter Brimi

Curriculum Vita