Short Assignments

Weekly Reflections

What You will keep a weekly journal of reflections about what you are learning, and how you are learning, in this class.

Why Once at the midterm and once for your final, the Learning Record requires you to submit an essay justifying your grade request. These essays should analyze your experience in our class in terms of the course goals and the dimensions of learning, and your grade request should be based on the grade criteria. So where do you get the evidence for this analysis? Your Learning Record reflections, written throughout the semester while your experience is still fresh in mind.

How By midnight on Sunday of each week, submit your reflections of at least 250 words to the “Reflection” assignment in Canvas. You will always upload your assignments to this tab, but don’t worry, it won’t overwrite your previous submissions. However, as with all LR assignments, you should also save them in a secure place on your computer. Please use standard formatting (12 pt TNR or Cambria, 1” margins, double-spacing).

Discussion Questions and Blog Posts

Discussion The short assignments in this course are designed to help you engage with the reading, the course content, and each other to deepen your understanding of some aspect of visual rhetoric of interest to you. You will work in pairs to generate discussion questions for a reading once during the semester. These discussion questions will certainly help inform and enrich our class discussion. Discussion questions must be posted by 5:00 PM on the night before class.

Blogs Blog posts should respond to the most recent set of discussion questions. Students must complete three blog posts over the course of the semester—one in each unit. The blog post should be at least 500 words long and should respond directly to the discussion questions raised by a group that week. You do not need to sign up or commit to a blog post ahead of time, but I do recommend you plan ahead so that you are not frantically trying to finish your blog posts at the end of a unit, when you will also be working on a capstone project.

Major Assignments

Essay 1: Analyzing Tropes in Visual Rhetoric

Draft for peer review due 5 pm on Feb 18

Feedback from peer review due 5 PM on Feb 20

Final draft due on Canvas by 5 PM on Feb 23

As we have discussed in class, tropes make implicit arguments by using artful figurative (rather than literal) language. Tropes ask us to understand one thing in terms of another. How does representing something in terms of something else make an argument persuasive? For whom? How do visual tropes work to persuade a target audience?

Your task in this paper is to craft an analysis that explores how visual tropes persuade a target audience based on both doxa (the audience’s beliefs and opinions) and episteme (what the audience considers “fact”). The basis of this analysis is your own careful study of a trope (e.g. metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, hyperbole, litotes, etc.) in three different iterations. Ideally, the tropes you analyze should be collected from your daily life, so be on the lookout for them as you begin to outline your argument for this paper. Closely examining three instances of that trope will serve as the primary evidence for your argument, but you will still need to conduct some research to help back up your claims.

See below this project’s minimum requirements (what you need to receive credit for the assignment).

    • Your essay must be at least 1200 words (about 5 pages), formatted with a title, 1” margins, 12pt TNR or Cambria font, standard double spacing, and MLA citation style. You may include an appendix with your visual source material if you think it would be helpful.
    • Your essay should have a clear thesis statement or research question that sets the agenda for the entire paper.
    • Your essay must identify and analyze a specific audience for all three of the primary sources. There is no such thing a general audience, so think carefully who you think the audience for each of your primary sources is and why.
    • Your essay must successfully introduce, contextualize, and analyze at least three primary visual sources.
    • Your essay must use its analysis of these visual sources to support a central claim. You can make this argument inductively (starting with analysis and building to a thesis) or deductively (starting with a thesis and then providing evidence), but it should have a clear central argument introduced by a research question or thesis. Either way, good writing starts with a plan, so don’t plan on actually working inductively through your essay. Even an inductive essay should know where it’s going to end up.
    • You should use rhetorical terminology (style, arrangement, delivery, etc.) from class discussion and readings to enhance your ethos and support your argument.
    • You must use at least two credible secondary sources to support your claim. One can be from our readings in class, but at least one must be a new source you found on your own.
    • You must complete and receive a peer review outside of class to turn in with your final draft.

Essay 2: Video Essay

#VideoEssay tag on our blog

 Script draft for peer review due 5 pm on March 11
Feedback from peer review due 5 PM on March 14
Final draft due on Canvas by 5 PM on April 1

Your task in this 7-10 minute assignment is to present an analytical claim about how the medium of film uses images to make an argument. We have talked about this concept in class by examining the “codes” of cinema—the methods repeated across many texts that teach audiences how to “read” the message of film.

As we’ve explored in class discussion, “trope” is a loaded critical term in visual rhetoric. You have already analyzed a single rhetorical trope across three different images in your first assignment. Through this exercise, you made and supported a claim about how figurative language (metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, or irony) makes an implicit argument by asking an audience to view one thing in terms of another.

But there are other related meanings of trope in visual discourse. These meanings show how different critical disciplines have integrated the concept of “trope” (communicating via non-literal language or images) into their own disciplinary practices.   This assignment requires you to distinguish between three different kinds of tropes before you even begin. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • A particular manner or mode.
  • a. Rhetoric. A figure of speech which consists in the use of a word or phrase in a sense other than that which is proper to it.
  • A significant or recurrent theme, esp. in a literary or cultural context; a motif.

Entry I. is what you’re after in this essay. We’ve used the word “code” instead of “trope” for this kind of communication in class. That’s because these kind of tropes ARE codes that audiences need to learn through exposure and critical reflection. Your job in this essay is to expand your visual literacy and teach what you learn to others through your reflective video essay. Think of the codes we’ve talked about (symbolic codes and syntax codes) and choose one you’d like to focus on. Then curate your examples carefully from film you’re familiar with and interested in talking about. You might gather different genre pieces (such as “teen” movies, horror films, thrillers, or action movies) or you might work within one director’s oevre (anyone from Michael Bay to John Ford will do). The objects you curate should match your research question—and your research question will often put helpful limitations on the body of work you examine and choose examples from.

But your work on entry 1.a. is potentially very useful to your investigation. For one, it gave you the opportunity to experiment with curating good primary sources and then working with your curation to formulate a research question or thesis. Essay 2 mirrors this exercise, asking you to curate three or more film clips and craft an argument that explores how formal techniques in cinema make arguments with images.

You should save your thoughts and analysis of entry 7 for your film and literature classes.  Make a rhetorical question the center of your paper. How does film communicate meaning through established image codes?

Essential to your execution of this assignment is a familiarity with the genre of video essays and a fully-written draft of your script before you begin to produce the video to go along with it. You will turn in a draft of your essay script for peer review to help ensure a strong backbone for your video essay argument. You’ll also receive a resource guide full of video essays for you to watch, analyze, and imitate.

See below this project’s minimum requirements (what you need to receive credit for the assignment).

  • Your essay must be between 7-10 minutes and should make an argument through the overlay of sequential images from source material (i.e. film clips) and verbal analysis. Most people use voiceover. You can use some other form of text/speech as long as you are actively interpreting for your audience. Don’t merely squish some clips together and let the audience figure it out. You’re being evaluated primarily on the quality of your reflective analysis in this assignment.
  • Your essay should have a clear research question or thesis statement that sets the agenda for the entire video essay.
  • Your essay must successfully introduce, contextualize, and analyze at least three film clips. You can choose things in the same genre, by the same director, from the same time period, or based on some other distinction you think makes sense based on your claim, but the viewer should have a good idea by the end why you chose the evidence you did.
  • Your essay must use its primary film sources to support a central claim. You can make this argument inductively (starting with analysis and building to a thesis) or deductively (starting with a thesis and then providing evidence), but it should have a clear central argument introduced by a research question or thesis. Either way, good video composition starts with a script, so don’t plan on actually working inductively through your video essay. Work through your analytical problems before you start composing video.
  • You must use at least two credible secondary sources to support your claim. One can be from our readings in class, but at least one must be a new source you found on your own.
  • You must complete and receive a peer review on the script for your essay outside of class to turn in with your final draft.
Essay 2 Submission Guidelines

Fair Use See the handout from the Purdue Owl on Fair Use. In general, Fair Use protects your use of others’ material only when you are analyzing it directly, so if you are analyzing a film clip, you can show it. If you are using someone else’s video essay to support your argument, you can show it. If you are referencing any other still visuals in your argument (photography, posters, etc.) you can show them.

Fair use does not protect your use of materials you don’t own that you are not directly analyzing. For instance, if you wanted to make a joke with someone else’s material but you are not analyzing what you are showing, Fair Use does not cover your use of that material. You can’t play a song you’re not analyzing, for instance, unless it’s part of the clip you’re showing/analyzing. I suggest you keep all clips, especially those with copyrighted music, short. This helps strengthen your case for Fair Use in case you need to appeal a YouTube takedown. Part of your assignment here is to keep the video up, so you may need to file a simple appeal if the video gets taken down. We will talk about how to do this after you turn in your assignment.

Always give credit to the creator for images you use (either when you show it or at the end of your video essay), regardless of whether or not your usage qualifies as Fair Use. See below.

Scholarly documentation Use your narrative voice and/or textual overlay to clearly delineate your arguments from your secondary sources.

At the end of your essay, list sources for any clips you used in your essay (primary or secondary). You do not need these to be in MLA format. Choose the format that you think best communicates this info to your audience.

You will need to turn in a works cited with this project. Separate your cited works into primary and secondary sources. Use MLA documentation.

Do not present other people’s (scholars, video essayists, people with theories on the internet, etc.) readings as your own. Give credit to others for the work that you’re integrating into your piece in both your video essay (informal) and works cited (formal). This enhances your ethos. 

Uploading Export your final project as an .mp4 and upload it to our Youtube channel (UTVisualRhetoric). I will tell you the password as we go over this sheet.

Check out the YouTube preferred encoding settings here.

Also save it to your UT box and share it with me (

Essay 3: Composing an Exhibition

#Exhibition tag on our blog
Field Work: Data Collecting and Cataloguing Your Data with Dublin Core

 Your task in this stage of the assignment is to collect as many examples of our chosen artifact (graffiti) as possible. Use my article “What is Graffiti and Who Does It Belong To?” as a tool for invention: our class definition of graffiti can (and probably should) be broad to give us a good selection of objects to examine, analyze, and eventually curate into four exhibitions (one for each group).

Collection Your primary method of collection will be taking photographs of graffiti you encounter or seek out. Make sure that you are collecting not only a photograph of the artifact but also a set of GPS coordinates associated with that artifact. Feel free to take field notes, supplemental videos, or collect other data you think will be useful to your future exhibition. See the blog post on attaching GPS coordinates to smart phone photos to learn how to do this with your Android or iOS phone.

Each group should collect at least 20 artifacts and catalogue them in two places.

Cataloguing Omeka is an emerging industry standard for digital archiving and exhibition. The Omeka interface is easy-to-use and lends itself nicely to collaborating. See the blog post on using Omeka for the archival standards we will be adhering to in this project.

Our class Google Map gives us a way to visualize your collection spatially. Map your findings by adding a marker at your GPS coordinates and attaching a picture and brief description of the graffiti, as well as a link to its Omeka archive number. See the blog post on mapping your data with Google Maps for an outline of the proper procedure.

You may also catalogue supplemental material (contextual information about the graffiti, the neighborhood you found the graffiti in, the artist, a concept in graffiti culture) in our graffiti collection. If you find good contextual information for your artifacts, catalogue it so your group can use it later.

It’s very important that everyone strive to catalogue their data responsibly so that it can serve as a functional archive for all groups. Developing archival skills is part of both your visual and digital literacy and your ability to collect and catalogue using archival best practices will make up part of your evaluation at this project’s end.


Curating With Purpose

Proposals due Wednesday, April 27 on Canvas

In your groups, deliberate and formulate two exhibition ideas to shape into an informal proposal. Use examples of virtual Omeka exhibitions, as well as the case studies of exhibitions in physical space we have discussed in class, as a reference upon which to model your own exhibition as draft your proposals.

The exhibition proposals can be very brief (approx. 250-500 words or 1-2 double-spaced pages), but should accomplish the following for each of your two ideas:

  • A theme and a title that creatively represents that theme to your target audience
  • A brief discussion of your exhibition’s agenda. What argument do you hope to make by curating these materials? How will you use the materials to make that argument? How explicit will you make your argument?
  • A speculative description of how your group might execute your idea in an online exhibition format
  • A brief discussion of your target audience. How will you use your exhibition to reach your audience? For what purpose?
  • A very brief outline of a research agenda for each idea. Are there adequate primary sources in the archive already, or does your group need to collect more? What kind of secondary sources would you bring in to build your expertise as curators and help you draft textual material to supplement your exhibition? This can be general and topic-focused or it can specifically name texts your group is already working with, but it should give the proposal committee (me) an idea of where the project will go if approved.

I will approve the stronger idea in each proposal for our final exhibition with an eye toward a balanced, four-part exhibit. It is important that you give both ideas your best proposal so that we can achieve this goal in our class exhibition.



Composing an Online Exhibit

Project Due Thursday, May 5th at 2 PM

Reflection Due Sunday, May 8th by 11:59 PM

It’s finally time for your group to compose its online exhibit! Use the guides to curating, the examples of online exhibitions, and the Omeka tutorials on the course blog to guide your composition process. Your group can use any of the virtual exhibit strategies we examine in class, but must include the following components:

Introductory research essay (800-1000 words). This piece of writing should situate the exhibit within a larger cultural context. What are you exhibiting, and for what purpose?

Public-facing interface for viewing artifacts You should design an interface in Omeka that helpfully displays your artifacts and encourages your audience to navigate through your exhibit. The interface should help the audience place your artifacts in time, space, and in a larger cultural conversation.

Title cards for each artifact Your interface should allow viewers to click on each artifact and see a virtual “title card” that links the artifact to the claims you put forth in the exhibit’s introductory essay.

How your group executes these requirements is up to you.

Your group’s exhibit will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Does the group’s argument work well with the chosen material? Has the group clearly considered a target audience before beginning to execute this assignment?
  • How effective is the group’s arrangement of artifacts? How does the exhibit use navigation (linear or non-linear) to successfully persuade?
  • What sort of ethos does the visual design promote? Is it likely to appeal to the target audience?
  • How does the exhibit attempt to attract the attention of its target audience and strike a chord/ be “memorable”?
  • How effective is the pairing of text and content/visuals and text in the execution of this exhibit? How successfully has the group used the pairing of image and text to make an argument?

Each group member should also submit a 1-2 page double-spaced reflection in lieu of your normal weekly reflection (at least 350 words) on their experience working within their group. The reflection should address the following questions:

  • How has this project helped you develop across the course strands? (Be specific. Reference each course strand you feel you developed in and tie it to your composition process in this assignment.)
  • What was it like to work within your group? Evaluate each group member’s contributions to your final project.   (This is confidential and only I will see it.)