Sweetland New Media Writing Course Focuses on “the Rhetoric of Memes”

The ability to process and employ information in different media is an essential aspect of education, and offering resources that can help students to sharpen their analytical power has beneficial effects on learning. The website Simone Sessolo and his Writing 200 students developed, The Rhetoric of Memes, facilitates innovations in studying and approaching new media. The website was published in issue 5.2 of TheJUMP (The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects) in June 2014. As Sessolo and his students claim in their publication:

Internet memes not only entertain, they also make claims about our world and how it does, could, and should work. They are a form of communication that is becoming more and more important in the new media world, and they have an unrealized potential for understanding rhetorical strategies. […] The combination of the visual and the verbal in memes, and their ability to build up separate elements into a connected whole, offer insights about how ideas can develop, mutate, and be replicated.

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The Rhetoric of Memes site is the end result of a course in new media writing offered at the University of Michigan in Fall 2013. The website claims that using memes in the classroom can become a writing practice that fosters success for students of all academic backgrounds. This novel application of technology can offer a more sophisticated kind of learning, helping students to practice analogous thinking between academic concepts and their connection with popular culture.

Students in the class actively contributed to the creation of the website, where they “published” their contributions. They created all the meme entries that appear on the site and are listed as contributors, along with student Nadeem Persico-Shammas, who revised the website and serves as its managing editor, and Dr. Sessolo, who is the webmaster or administrator.  This student-created project demonstrates the excellent work students can do in new media classes. View Sweetland’s current offering of new media writing courses on our website.

Meet the 2014-2015 Digital Rhetoric Collaborative Graduate Fellows

Hosted by the Sweetland Center for Writing, the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative (DRC) is an online, community webspace by and for scholars and teachers working in computers and writing and digital rhetoric, and a born digital book series with the U-M Press. Two forthcoming projects from the book series include Digital Samaritans by Jim Ridolfo and Making Space: Writing Instruction, Infrastructure, and Multiliteracies by Dànielle Nicole DeVoss and James P. Purdy.

This summer, the DRC welcomed its second cohort of graduate student Fellows! The program aims to recognize graduate students around the country currently working in digital rhetoric who want practical experience in online publishing and website development. Fellows are selected on a yearly basis by the editors and board of the DRC, and receive an annual stipend of $500 as well as recognition on the DRC website.

DRC Fellows commit to attending monthly online team meetings to plan projects that extend the DRC website and its contributions to the community of computers and writing. They work independently and collaboratively to complete two projects within the year of their term. Last year’s Fellows created several new DRC features, including Webtext of the Month, the Hack & Yack Conversations series, Digital Lessons Resources, and a Google Forum.

In their first few months, the new Fellows have continued this tradition of energetic creativity by expanding these new features, and also building out the DRC Wiki, adding Tool Reviews, hosting the site’s first ever Twitter chat connected to its biggest ever blog carnival on the relationship between multilingualism and multimodality, and boosting DRC social media presence across the web. Hosts and followers of the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative can’t wait to see what else they will innovate between now and next August. This year’s fellows are:



Jenae Cohn is a Ph.D. student in English, pursuing a designated emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition, at the University of California, Davis. She is currently researching the rhetoric of loss around the shift from print to digital culture, but she is also interested in hybrid and online learning and instructional design. Beyond serving as a fellow for the DRC, she serves a graduate writing fellow in UC Davis’ Writing Across the Curriculum program, manages the UC Davis undergraduate student blog, Aggie Voices, and blogs intermittently at jenaecohn.net.



Lindsey Harding is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia. Her research and writing interests include composition and rhetoric, creative writing, and digital humanities. She currently works as the Assistant to the Director of the Writing Intensive Program at UGA. Her critical essay on multimodal reflective writing appears in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and she has an essay on Pinterest and mothers forthcoming in Harlot. Her stories have appeared in Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, Xenith, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Stray Dog Almanac. In May 2011, she graduated from Sewanee University’s School of Letters with her M.F.A. in creative writing. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and three small children. You can find her online at lindseymharding.com.



Heather Lang is a Ph.D. student in the Rhetoric and Composition program at Florida State University, where she is also the assistant director of the Reading and Writing Center. Heather earned her M.A. in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at New Mexico State University in 2012. Her research interests reside at the intersections of embodiment, activism, and digital spaces. On any given day, Heather uses Windows 7, Windows 8, Linux Mint, and Mac OS.



Brenta Blevins is a Ph.D. student specializing in rhetoric and composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has previously served as Assistant Director of the UNCG Digital ACT Studio and worked in the software development industry. Her research interests include digital pedagogy, wikis as a genre and a learning tool, digital literacy, and digital literacy learning centers.



English Ph.D. candidate and Teaching Associate Matthew Vetter is the 2014-15 Claude Kantner Research Fellow at Ohio University, where he has served for the last two years as Assistant Director of Composition. His research interests circle around questions related to digital culture and rhetorics, composition pedagogy, critical theory and activism. He’s also something of a Wikipedia fanatic and his dissertation focuses on the opportunities for writing pedagogy afforded by the encyclopedia. He has published scholarly work in Computers and Composition Online, Composition Studies, Harlot of Hearts and Research Library Issues. Vetter also holds an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and has published poems in numerous national and regional journals. See more of his creative and scholarly work at mattvetter.net.



Paula Miller is an English Ph.D. student specializing in Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include the intersection between writing center studies and digital literacies, interests informed by over a decade of writing center work.

Granader Family Prizes for Writing

Thanks to a very generous gift from the Granader Family, Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses now carry a significant monetary award. The first group of students to receive this new level of award were recognized at a ceremony in April 2014.

In addition to receiving the award, each of the winners is published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Hard copy versions of these collections are also available on Amazon.com (First-Year and Upper-Level). PDF versions of both of these collections of outstanding student work are available below.

First-Year Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio
Christopher J. Zysnarski – Writer’s Home
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Neila Fraiha – neila100
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First Year Writing
Sin Ye Hwang – The Struggle of a Lonely Banana

Comparative Literature 122 (nominated by Hilary Levinson)

Callie Chappell – Oedipus Tyrannus on Causality, Determinism, and Identity
Great Books 191 (nominated by Matthew Cohn)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)
Rebecca Bonner
Women, Family Policy, and Consumption in Cold War Germany
History 496, Germany in the Cold War Era (nominated by Rita Chin)

James Nadel
Camel Songs: A Comparison of the Tuareg and the Bedouin
History 496, Nomads: Nomadic Factor in History (nom. by Ellen Poteet)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)
Maximilian Huppertz
A Fair System of Education
ECON/PHIL 408 (nominated by Frank Thompson)

Sarah N. Cunningham
Record Keeping in Ancient Civilizations
Anthrarc 386, Archaeology of Early Civilizations (nominated by Carla Sinopoli)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)
Alexandra R. Berns
Increasing Crop Growth: The Effect of Compost on the Growth of Ryegrass, Lolium perenne
EEB372, General Ecology Lab (nominated Lynn Carpenter)

Nicholas Kern
A New Class of Supergiant Stars?
Astro 429 (nominated by Sally Oey)

Faculty Highlights

photo_brandolinoginaGina Brandolino was recognized by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts with an Individual Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in Fall of 2014. She also presented the paper “Super(Plow)man” in a session titled “Teaching Piers Plowman” at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies in May 2014.

photo_juliebabcockJulie Babcock’s first poetry collection, Autoplay, was published in November from MG Press. Her work appeared in various journals including The Rumpus, Weave, Harpur Palate, decomP, and Western Humanities Review; and her poetry manuscript Rules for Rearrangement was a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award. She is looking forward to her Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) panel in April.

photo_simonesessoloSimone Sessolo published a multimodal project in The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (TheJUMP v5.2), The Rhetoric of Memes, with his students from a Writing 200 class on meme culture. He also published an article in The Journal of Popular Culture (August 2014, 47.4), “An Epic of Riots: The Multitude as Hero in Handsworth Songs.” This academic year, he is working with his current Writing 200 students on another multimodal project about using selfies to practice character presentation.

photo_jennifermetskerJennifer Metsker’s “The Plastic Ocean” was published in an anthology by Motes Books titled Seeking It’s Own Level. This long poem explores The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a flotilla of discarded plastic in the Pacific Ocean said to be twice the size of Texas and growing. The prose poem “A Boat Named January” was published in the journal Star82. Two poems are forthcoming in the Seattle Review.

photo_paulbarronPaul Barron participated in the LSA Institute for Diversity and Campus Climate last spring; he also presented on the Minor in Writing at the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) regional conference. Last summer he received a Course Connections grant to have book artist Barbara Brown lead his fall LHSP 125 class in making books.

photo_scottbealScott Beal’s first book of poems, Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems, was published by Dzanc Books in November 2014. His poems appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Southern Indiana Review, Sonora Review, and Glassworks.

photo_kodischeerKodi Scheer’s story collection Incendiary Girls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was recently named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon.

Graduate Student Research Assistants

photo_annaknutsonAnna Knutson is in her second year as a doctoral student in the Joint Program in English and Education, and her first year as a GSRA for Sweetland. Due to her interest in self-assessment, reflection, and eportfolios, Anna is particularly engaged with Sweetland’s Writing Development Study, as well as research on Directed Self-Placement. In her doctoral research, Anna is currently exploring whether/how students transfer literacy and rhetorical knowledge obtained in extracurricular contexts into the postsecondary composition classroom.

photo_benkeatingBen Keating, a second year GSRA and third year in the Joint Program in English and Education, spent the summer and early fall working on multiple projects at Sweetland, including Directed Self-Placement and the coding of interview data for a longitudinal study on undergraduate writing development. Ben’s own research is focused on issues of equity in college writing classrooms. Over the summer, he completed a paper that used critical discourse analysis to examine how high school-to-college bridge programs position students. He also had some fun preparing for a language exam in Old and Middle English. This meant brushing up on Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight, respectively.

photo_lizziehuttonThis marks Lizzie Hutton’s third year as a Sweetland GSRA and fourth year in the Joint Program for English and Education. With Ben and Sarah, Lizzie presented at the Council of Writing Program Administrators conference last summer, reporting on Sweetland’s continuing research into both our First-Year Directed Self-Placement and our newly implemented Directed Self-Placement for Transfer Students, two projects she worked on closely over the winter. Lizzie also continues to contribute to Sweetland’s longitudinal Writing Development Study data collection and analysis, with a particular focus on qualitative coding. Now a PhD candidate, Lizzie has additionally transitioned into dissertation writing. Her research focuses on a moment of interdisciplinary energy in the 1920s and 30s consolidated by the reading theorist Louise Rosenblatt; it traces the overlaps between modernism and progressivism and between literary studies, the social sciences, composition and education studies; and examines the shared conceptualization of literacy emerging from these fields for the making of critically minded citizen-students.

Sweetland 2014 National Day on Writing Celebration


Sweetland celebrated the National Day on Writing in October by sponsoring an “Iron Writing” contest on Facebook and Twitter. Challenges asked contestants to write a six-word memoir, a haiku version of the thesis from one of their papers, a limerick about writing, and a response to the statement, “If I were to teach academic or creative writing at U-M, I would _______,” then tweet and post them throughout the day.

Entries ranged from the funny

I open a blank page in Word, Then suddenly, “oh, look, a bird!”, My mind’s out the window, I’ve got lots to write, though; I wish I was a better writing nerd!

to the serious

When morals are lost Our sense of humanity Follows close behind

to the wistful

Are Athletic-Hippy-Nerds wanted here?

to the provocative

Encourage students to write more about the things that bother them and the things that move them. Writing in high school and college is often so focused on interpreting or reiterating what others have to say. I would want students to speak for themselves through writing.

The entries with the most “likes” or retweets won gift certificates to the Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Day on Writing was instituted by a U.S. Senate Resolution in 2009. To learn more about the history of the Day, tune into a podcast on Sweetland’s Digital Rhetoric Collaborative with past-NCTE president Kathleen Yancey, and read all of the “Iron Writing” contest entries on Sweetland’s Storify transcript.