Disability and Accessibility in Writing Programs

Elizabeth Brewer


Anne-Marie Womack 

Full Paper Available

Disability Theory

In my talk for the Conference of Writing Program Administrators this Saturday, I apply 3 main concepts from disability theory to writing programs:

1. All bodies are culturally accommodated, but we call certain accommodations “special” or “abnormal.”

2. When environments are built as one-size-fits-all, they do the work of disabling people.

3. Universal Design benefits more people.


Communal Writing Program Space

Then, as a test case I examine the communal office/computer lab that so many Writing Programs have. I pose several ways to begin thinking about the embodiment of the people in these spaces and making the spaces accessible.

1. Think rhetorically about the space: how do people get there, how can people exist in the space, what does space encourage people to habitually do with their bodies?

2. Improve workspaces to accommodate a variety of bodies—e.g. desks at several heights, chairs multiple sizes with and without armrests.

3. Encourage breaks during work and attention to the body—movement, eye rest, meditation, whatever accommodates individual bodies (see list below).

4. Curate a library of resources on embodied practices (see list below).

5. Hold workshops on embodied practices.

6. Accommodate special diets depending on your population (Celiac, vegan, allergies, etc.).

7. Display posters & pamphlets on embodied practices.

8. Ask instructors how to support their embodied practices. Open a dialogue and create safe space so disclosure of disability & request for accommodations do not seem daunting.


Building a Library on Embodiment

Most importantly, allow your faculty to request that the WP purchase certain books, but here are some ideas for starters. They have all been game-changers in my life or my colleagues. 

1. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus. Robert Boice Ph.D. stresses the effectiveness of moderation in work and bodily awareness in writing practice.

2. The Coaches Guide for Women Professors: Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life. Rena Seltzer guides faculty in achieving work life balance and dissects the specific issues facing women in academia.

3. The Black Academics Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul. Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy explain organizational and time-management tips that can help scholars make time for their bodies.

4. The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. Amit Sood M.D. offers an alternative to mind-quieting through meditation, asking people to focus constantly running thoughts and to train the mind to interpret more positively.

5. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books on meditation—including the more philosophical Wherever You Go, There You Are and the more scientific Full Catastrophe Living—are great guides to mindfulness.

6. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, 3rd edition (Davies and Davies) has given me and many others control over various muscles pains, particularly those caused by overuse.

7. For the back specifically, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Gokhale) discusses simple posture fixes in sleeping, sitting, and standing. Foundation (Goodman & Park) provides simple exercises that rehabilitate a weak back.


Programs for Building in Breaks to Work Time (Wallen*)

1. Big Stretch Reminder (for Windows) allows you to configure your breaks exactly how you want them: time between, length, what breaks are for, intrusiveness of reminders, display countdown indicator, use sounds for reminders, choose between RSI advice or even set up your own message.

2. Workrave (for Windows and Linux) reminds you to take micro breaks, long breaks, and even limits your daily usage. Allows you to specify time between breaks, how long each break is, and even offers a tiny status window that remains on your desktop to allow you to see when your next break is coming. Workrave also offers a selection of exercises you can do during breaks.

3. PC Work Break is a multi-type break system that will remind you to take micro breaks, stretching breaks, eye exercises, and even walks.

4. PYV is web-based and allows you to select from three different modes: 20-20-20 (Every twenty minutes, look twenty feet away for twenty seconds), 60-5 (sixty minutes followed by five minute break), and custom.

5. Eyeleo (for Windows) helps you take two kinds of breaks: Short breaks (dims the screen and walks you through a few quick exercises for your eyes) and Long breaks (disables your screen for a specified period).

*Citation Information: For these descriptions, I started with descriptions provided by Jack Wallen in “Five Free Apps to Help Remind You to Take a Break” and shortened them for my purposes.



Accessible Computer Supports

1. Amara: Create captioning for videos.

2. Fang Screen Reader Emulator (for Firefox): Allows sighted users to audit sites for screen reader usability.

3. Dyslexie Font: Dyslexie font manipulates letter openings, slants, and tails so that each character has a unique form to create greater letter recognition. A master’s thesis by Renske de Leeuw found that several reading errors decreased with Dyslexie font and that it created a pleasant or very pleasant reading experience for more than half of the dyslexic readers questioned. The font is free for personal use, and a similar open access font is available called Opendyslexic.

4. Beeline Reader: Another experimental program claims to enable readers with dyslexia, ADD, and vision disabilities to read more quickly. The Beeline Reader, a web browser add-on and PDF viewer, uses colors to match the end of one line to the beginning of the next, making it easier for the eye to find its place.

Inquiry-Based Learning

I-Investigate your surroundings, N-Narrow your focus, Q-Ask comparative questions, U-Uncover your prediction, I-Initiate an action plan, R-Research and data collection, E-Examine results and community findings


In my new pedagogical pet project, I am converting many of my classroom lessons into inquiry-based activities. Inquiry-based learning goes by many names: problem-based learning, inductive learning, guided discovery and is often discussed alongside flipped pedagogy and just-in-time teaching. Music professor Kris Schaffer describes how "Inquiry-Based Learning" works in a music theory class.

At the heart of the method is a flip in the order in which information is presented: Traditionally, instructors lecture and then students work on problems at home; or students read about concepts for homework and then apply them in class (a flipped model). Inquiry-based learning puts the problem first and the explanation second--mimicking the way academics address new questions.

With inquiry-based learning, teachers present problems for students to work on before students are taught the key ideas that will help them solve the problems. Learners draw on previous knowledge to deduce the principles at play. They use their own language to describe what’s going on before being given academic terms.

Inquiry-based learning is time consuming because students need time to falter, to be productively frustrated, and to figure it out. It might be difficult to use the method for every lesson in a semester, but there are key places where it can help students in a writing classroom.


1. Turn a list of key terms into an inquiry-based activity.

As an instructor, I have always loved those nice textbook readings and key term lists on topics like rhetorical devices or logical fallacies. The readings give students so much to work with so quickly. But according to my students these key term readings are the least accessible of our course because they cover too many things, making it difficult to grasp any of the ideas well.

For example, I give students a reading on fallacies that teaches them close to 20 new terms at once. My post on rhetorical strategies/fallacies describes how I have amended the teaching of "fallacies," which aren't really formal error at all. This semester, instead of assigning the reading early in the unit, I'm assigning it much later. Instead, I start with a series of inquiry-based learning activities so students become familiar with the concepts first.

At the end of each class period for a few weeks, I take one strategy/fallacy to cover. I choose 3-4 example texts (many come from the examples on my blog) that contain the same rhetorical strategy/fallacy. I give those selections to students and ask them to write about the rhetorical strategies they see in each selection. Next, they determine what they think is a common strategy in all of the selections. After about 10 minutes of writing, we brainstorm a list of their ideas together on the board. At the end I give them the applicable key terms such as ad hominem and character evidence. They come up with really great stuff, and the best part is, it's in their own words.


For example, I gave students the following three selections:
  • I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (Martin Luther King Jr., preacher and civil rights activist, “I Have A Dream” at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC 8-26-1963) 
  • Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. (George W. Bush, 43rd US President, Address to a Joint Sessions of Congress and the American People 9-20-2001) 
  • If Illinois’ income tax rates decline as scheduled at the end of this year, the resulting revenue collapse will threaten the state’s economic recovery, curtail the ability to support vital investments, and create more uncertainty over how the state will meet its many obligations. (David Lloyd, Report for Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children, 2013-2014) 

And here's how they described the rhetorical strategy that each uses:

  • The authors try to create strong ethical stances. 
  • They want to promote change. 
  • They pressure the reader to do something. 
  • There's shock value and fear. 
  • It's an ultimatum. 
  • If you disagree, you're uncaring. You have to agree to be good 
  • They are not questioning if there is a problem, but stating that there is. It's difficult to disagree. 
  • There is choice, but only two: one is good and one is bad. So really there is no choice. 

Finally I define for them juxtaposition and either-or fallacy. By the end of the few weeks, students have created their own language to understand common rhetorical forms and they’ve come up with guidelines for when these strategies succeed and fail. That's when I finally assign the reading on strategies and fallacies over two nights homework.


2. Teach writing principles through example.

Many composition instructors already use model papers and student examples liberally in class, so here the only tweek is to present those models of thesis statements and topic sentences before describing to students the components of good writing.

The textbook How Writing Works gives students a starting point for discovering the principles of a genre. First, you gather a handful of examples from the same category and then answer 3 overarching questions: 1) What is the genre? 2) Who reads the genre? 3) What is the genre for? (Jack & Pryal)

This order gives you the opportunity to talk about reader's expectations using students' actual responses. Depending on your students' level of academic preparedness, you might not get the answers you "want." But that result is not something to be feared. With this style of teaching, you want to start from students understanding especially when it doesn't match with the instructors.

So, if students say that this thesis statement is weak because it's more than one sentence or it uses "I," you can explain how college writing is different than high school. (See my post on rhetorical pronouns for help on the "I" issue.) You can discuss the context and the rhetorical situation to show students new guidelines that might conflict with old writing truisms.


3. Make grammar exercises a guided discovery.

Composition research has long taught scholars that a list of errors does not improve students writing. Inquiry-based learning can still help students zero in on certain problems, but it also mimics how writers use these skills in proofreading.

For example, if students are having an issue with commas, I could create a lesson in which students look at 5 or 6 sentences all using words in a series--some with correct comma usage and others with incorrect comma usage. Students identify which are correct and then fix the incorrect sentences.

Recently my technical writing students reported that they wanted to work on conciseness. I developed an inquiry-based exercise to help them identify 8 common problems that create wordiness.


4. Present theoretical concepts as problems to be solved.

The most fun day in my composition course each semester is also the day I teach our most advanced theoretical concept: intertextuality. I describe the lesson in my post on intertextuality, but I'll summarize it here. In 1932, Vanity Fair published an experimental story called "Ordeal by Cheque," which included just a list of checks written from the wealthy fictional Exeter family. I ask students to write the narrative they think that the checks depict, to tell the "story" in a bullet point chronology.

We then map our stories on the board, and find a lot of similar assumptions. They interpret flowers and lingerie purchases as an affair. They view a car repair bill and military school tuition as evidence that the spoiled rich kid needs to be straightened out. They say that Toni Spagoni, to whom several large sum checks are written, is a mob boss, bookie, or drug dealer.

Next, I have them write for 10 minutes on this prompt: How did you figure out what happened? Below are the things they came up with last semester. When you start to compile their observations about making meaning, you get a list that looks a lot like the characteristics of intertextuality.


Thinking of Other Narratives
  • “I kept thinking of books and movies like The Great Gatsby.” 
  • “I was relying on my schema, things I’ve seen, like Tony Soprano.” 
  • “A lot comes from the media. When I see flowers and France, I think mistress. I think of seeing that on tv and made connections." 

Recalling Stereotypes
  • “I was basing all my assumptions on things I was familiar with--stereotypes and storylines.” 
  • “I looked at the small details. I saw Daisy’s name and a boy’s school, and thought of a marriage and a spoiled rich boy.” 
  • “A lot of people, when they see rich, affluent areas, they think of corruption. They have stereotypes. 

Putting Ideas in Context
  • “We all made connections. We tried to see if two things are alike. So when I saw a hospital plus baby clothes, I knew a baby was born. A ring + $50K was a wedding.” 
  • “I took 2 or 3 checks together and thought what’s going on between these and filled in the blanks.” 
  • “Context clues and reasonable deduction. Seeing what happened before and after can establish cause & effect and sequencing.” 
  • “I would look forward at future checks and then come back." 


Inquiry-based learning stimulates curiosity and energy in the writing classroom. I'd love to hear more about the lessons you create!

Conciseness

When I ask my students how they want to improve their writing, many say they want to be more concise. Because the concept can be named in one word--conciseness--it might seem like it's a single problem to fix. However, wordy prose can be a symptom of many larger issues in writing. 

The following exercise asks students to identify several patterns of wordy prose. It's an inquiry-based activity, meaning that it asks students to make observations before I give them the grammatical terms or writing skills that would apply. They have to use their own language to describe the problems and draw from previous knowledge to fix the sentences. Then I lecture briefly on the concepts. 

For each case, students determine what the common cause of wordiness is between the examples. Next, they revise the sentencesI grabbed many of the sentences off resources from Purdue OwlUNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center, and Capital Community College


Case 1

  • The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947.
  • Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles.
  • President Jefferson believed that the headwaters of the Missouri reached all the way to the Canadian border. He also believed that meant he could claim all that land for the United States.
  • Captain Lewis allowed his men to make important decisions in a democratic manner. This attitude fostered a spirit of togetherness and commitment on the part of Lewis's fellow explorers.

Case 2
  • If a situation arises in which a class is overenrolled, you may request that the instructor force-add you.
  • The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class.
  • Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic.
  • He found his neighbor who lived next door to be attractive in appearance.

Case 3
  • The 1780 constitution of Massachusetts was written by John Adams.
  • Many medical terms are used by Sontag in "On Photography" when discussing the act of taking pictures.
  • The book must be read by Martha by Wednesday.
  • The dog was hit by a car.

Case 4
  • There are twenty-five students who have already expressed a desire to attend the program.
  • It is they and their parents who stand to gain the most by the government grant.
  • There were many times during the administration when war was imminent.
  • There is a desire by the public for quality programming.
  • There are five positions open on the city council.
  • It is understood by students that they will be tested.

Case 5
  • All things considered, Connecticut's woodlands are in better shape now than ever before. 
  • As a matter of fact, there are more woodlands in Connecticut now than there were in 1898.
  • There is no need for further protection of woodlands, as far as I’m concerned.
  • Our woodlands are coming back by virtue of the fact that our economy has shifted its emphasis.
  • The policy has, in a manner of speaking, begun to Balkanize the more rural parts of our state.

Case 6
  • The overall argument of Douglas Rushkoff’s “They Called Me Cyberboy,” entails that before the involvement of business corporations, the internet was a revolutionary medium.
  • “The End of Authorship?” has a constant comparison and juxtaposition of light and darkness.
  • The use of drugs is dangerous.
  • The establishment of a different approach on the part of the committee has become a necessity. 
  • Our request is that on your return, you conduct a review of the data and provide an immediate report. 

Case 7
  • Updike’s language in this quote is very particular.
  • In order to do so she uses many rhetorical methods that are both obvious and subliminal in order to persuade the reader to agree with her point of view.
  • He establishes credibility by creatively articulating his viewpoints, which subtly molds the mind of the reader to think likewise.

Case 8
  • The reason why the cartoon is a big issue is because there are many people who support gay rights.
  • One detail is that a reporter asks a question.
  • The fact is that the war is losing support.
  • His statements greater emphasize the subject of the protester’s laziness.



Student's Answers

Here's what the document looked like after my Technical Writing students got a hold of it.



My Answers 


  1. Combine sentences.
  2. Wordiness--use less words when possible.
  3. Avoid passive voice when appropriate.
  4. Avoid expletive constructions.
  5. Needless phrases, cliches.
  6. Avoid nominalization and pick the best word to make your verb.
  7. Avoid fluff and BS. If something can be said about most other things, then its not worth saying.
  8. Cut unnecessary noun phrases.  

Google Drive in the Classroom

For the last year, I've been using Google Drive in my writing classes as part of a larger flipped classroom strategy. Overall, its been a great success, but there have had some setbacks and surprises along the way. I'm sharing my initial observations for instructors who might be considering this technology for their classes.

First thing to consider: the digital divide. If your students don't have the technology, then requiring its use will exclude a lot of people. I usually teach in a computer lab, but even when I don't I can rely on almost all of my students having laptops. Because I ask them to work in groups, if a few people forget, they can pair up with others. Maybe your school allows you to reserve computer rooms or check out laptops if students don't have them.

Secondly, you'll want to make sure that you're comfortable with the technology but know you'll never be fully prepared. That's OK because your students and google can usually help you in these moments. The following guides are a good place to get started. Viewing them all isn't necessary--I've provided redundant options because people access text differently:


Example Exercise

For example, in our first lesson, students identify ethos, pathos, and logos. On a google doc, I list all the text selections, then students use the comment feature to highlight text and mark which appeal(s) it represents. They work in groups to limit the number of people on the doc, and I stagger their starting points (e.g. one group starts at #1, another at #3, etc). So, each group gets to start with at least one clean slate, and they don't get overwhelmed with 10 cursors showing up in the same spot on the screen. They begin to populate the document with their answers, and I ask that when they move to a selection that others have worked on, they don't repeat answers, but rather find new ideas. Here’s what our document looks like at at the end of the first day: Ethos, Pathos, Logos Exercise


Benefits of Google Drive

  1. Students build on one another’s ideas to create knowledge. I ask them not to repeat what others have said in the document because I want each idea to be unique and try to go deeper. This creates friendly competition between the groups. They see each other’s analysis and often try to outdo one another. Groups also constructively disagree in the documents, sharing more than they might if they had to speak out loud directly to one another.
  2. Shy students contribute more. I get a fuller view of all students’ contributions, and during discussion, if people are silent, I can point to a comment and ask the student to describe their observation. 
  3. Students have an archive of class work. They can return to lessons when they are writing papers or if they miss class. 
  4. Teachers can track many groups at once. I can pretty quickly tell if an assignment has fallen flat or is confusing—nobody will be typing.
  5. There is a flurry of activity. It just feels more exciting. This isn’t exactly a research-backed claim, but when the document is projected on the board, it looks really dynamic to watch students adding ideas. 


Challenges of Google Drive

  1. Technology can shut down verbal discussion. Students stay busy working and communicating digitally, but sometimes they bury themselves in the computer screen and the room goes silent. I have to coax them into discussing with their group members.
  2. Technology can be time-consuming. For example, peer Review is streamlined, but you have to dedicate the first 10 minutes of the class period to setting up the tech. This was true even in our second peer review.
  3. Technology can throw curve balls. Getting started with GDrive just requires a google account, but sometimes randomly a student will lose access and you have to re-add them. For the most part, the tech works great, but there can be little glitches. You have to be prepared to troubleshoot on the fly. If there’s a problem, first I make sure I’ve implemented the tech correctly. Then I troubleshoot problems by having students look them up.


Common Troubleshooting Issues

  • Students can't comment. Check shared settings. Once you're inside any doc, click the blue shared button in the top right. It will likely show that anyone can "view" the document, but you'll need to change that to "edit" for students to comment.
  • Students open a document on a black background that doesn't allow comments. Non-google versions of files open that way. So, you likely shared a Word doc instead of a google doc. To fix it, once you're in the doc (with the black background), click the top blue button that says Open. Now you can select "Google Docs" and it will appear as a new file in that same folder. X out of the doc you're in and I usually go delete the word version. After that, check the sharing privileges for the new google doc.
  • Students can't get to the folder. To set students up with access to our class folder I create a document with a list of student names and make it open to anyone to edit. I give them that link and they input their email address next to their name. Then I use those email addresses to grant access to the class folder (again by altering the sharing privileges).
  • I can't tell who is commenting. If you want to keep track of who says what, you'll need to use students' google accounts to share files and folders with them, not another email address. If a doc is open to anyone to edit, then google allows anonymous users to work on it.


Best of luck if you decide to use google docs in your classroom! I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Flipped Classroom Links

I'm leading a session on "The Flipped Classroom" at The Teaching Professor Technology Conference. I will be sharing the following list of links as part of our discussion. Happy flipping!


The Basics of “Flipping”

7 Things You Should Know About the Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Classroom FAQ


Help with Flipping the Classroom

Flipped Classroom Website


Guides to Creating Lecture Videos

Robert Talbert series on micro-lectures at The Chronicle

Jon Bergmann’s Guide to using the Explain Everything iPad App

Make videos accessible with closed caption: one easy option in PowerPoint


Tools to Create Collaborative Archives of Student Work

Google Drive: How to set up a shared folder

Twitter: Kris Schaffer on using twitter in flipped assignments for inquiry-based learning


Tools to Streamline Class Communication

Doodle: Online Scheduling System (smart phone app available)

Remind: Class Text Message System (smart phone app available)

Slack: Team Messaging System (smart phone app available)






Video Lessons on Introductions and Conclusions

When students rhetorically analyze texts in my first-year writing course, I show them a strategy that relies on research to construct introductions and conclusions. I designed the following videos on the topics and assign them for home viewing.


Introductions Video





Introductions from Anne-Marie Womack on Vimeo.

Conclusions Video




Conclusions for Rhetorical Analysis Papers from Anne-Marie Womack on Vimeo.

Digital Tools for Rhetorical Analysis

Over the last few years, I have integrated a series of digital tools into my first-year writing course to stimulate students' interest, to engage them on digital territory, and to allow them to conceptualize texts in new ways.

While I might not have always envisioned my pedagogical play as a "digital humanities project," instead thinking of it as just some cool things to try in class, now I see it as exactly the kind of work that a broadened definition of Digital Humanities can accommodate.

In "A Letter to the Digital Humanities: DH Will Not Save You," Adeline Koh argues that big data has been a privileged way of defining the field and calls for a recentering of the humanities. She suggests that DH integrate pedagogy as a central concern as well as theoretical issues of race, gender, sexuality, and ability--crucial questions of the humanities. She adds, "Let’s open digital humanities research to people who don’t have the time and resources to learn a programming language, but are happy to use Wordle as an entry into literary texts as data."

The programs I describe below, including Wordle, present varying degrees of user friendliness, but none require students to learn a programming language. They do importantly require, though, a humanist researcher to ask the right questions and to evaluate patterns identified in texts.

Jacob Heil, Mellon Digital Scholar for the Five Colleges of Ohio Consortium, suggests that these types of tools work against the fear that DH might replace humanistic interpretation. The programs give readers ways to visualize and group texts, but they can't tell you if these groupings are significant or why they matter. That level of reading still depends on the individual scholar.

Ultimately, when it comes to DH, I believe that we can accept two simultaneous truths, each coming out of one half of the "digital" + "humanities" alliance. Everything is data and at the same time everything is text.


Training VideoWordle Tutorial

Function: Wordle maps the frequency with which words appear in a text through size. The larger the word, the more times it appears in a text.

Pedagogical Use: If all you want out of a digital tool is for students to visualize key repeated terms in a text, then Wordle, or some word cloud tool, is for you. It creates interesting data for examining literary texts. With Frankenstein, for instance, you see how important the term "father" is. (If you like Wordle, and you're looking to take it a few steps further, jump down to my description of Voyant.)

Once students have a list of recurring terms and have picked out more key words they identified in the text, I have them look them up using the OED, the next tool I describe.



Oxford English Dictionary: The Definitive Record of the English Language


Training Video: Oxford English Dictionary Online: A Short Guide

Function: The online version of the definitive English language dictionary, the OED, documents past and present definitions of terms, histories of usage, and etymologies.

Pedagogical Use: The OED allows students to gauge multiple definitions and valences of terms. In my class, students look up words--and this is important, even when they think they already know what the word means (as this lesson demonstrates)Students often discover new meanings or leanings for a word that they didn't know before.

For example, one of my students discovered for herself that the term "renegade" had religious connotations, when before she only thought it meant rebel. She was rhetorically analyzing Douglass Rushkoff's "They Called Me Cyberboy." The religious meaning showed how highly Rushkoff thought of his own innovation and coincided with a more general pattern of religious allusions in the text.

Under the words there is an upward shooting arrow from a line chart

Training VideoDownloading Data from Google Trends (only need first 5 minute)

Function: Google trends shows the popularity of particular search terms since 2004.

Pedagogical Use: With google trends, students can see how often and where people search for particular terms. One of my students used this tool as one piece of evidence to gauge American fears about Ebola as she analyzed American media coverage of the 2014 outbreak. Another used it to determine when the term #foodporn became popular as she analyzed the intersections of food and sex in social media.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has famously made use of Google trends in a series of articles for The New York Times including: "How Racist Are We? Ask Google," "How Many American Men are Gay," "Google, Tell Me, Is My Son a Genius?," and "What do Pregnant Women Want?"

In "Google, Tell Me," Stephens-Davidowitz found that parents were "two and a half times more likely to ask 'Is my son gifted?' than 'Is my daughter gifted?'"

One thing to keep in mind when analyzing any results is that an increase in searches since 2014 could be expected for many terms simply because newer technologies like smart phones allow people to search more.




A lexical database for English

Training Video: 20 - 2 - WordNet and Other Online Thesauri -NLP-Dan Jurafsky & Chris Manning

Function: Word net gives definitions and synonyms for terms, but more uniquely it clusters words with its related terms, listing hyponymys and meronymys. A hyponym is a more specific instance of a thing, it is an instance within a larger category: as a spoon is a hyponym of eating utensils. A meronym is similar to a metonymy, in that it is a part of a larger whole: a face is a meronym for person.

Pedagogical Use: Students can use Princeton's Word Net to see relationships between words. Once you look up a word, the key is to click on each "S:" which will "show synset (semantic) relations."

The value in this tool is that it reveals the relationship between a thing and the larger categories of thought that it exists within. For example, a chair is a piece of furniture, and an arm chair is a specific type of chair. It presents information that one might see in an "Abstraction Ladder," like the one that appears in S.I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action.

When my students get stuck organizing their papers, I have them play around on this site to try to figure out the relationship between their key ideas. Determining ways to group text can also be enhanced with the following DH program.



Seeing things through text. Inside the O in Voyant is an emoji style owl.
Training Video: Voyant Tools Tutorial

Function: Voyant is a text-mining tool that includes a word cloud, concordance, and frequency chart. Voyant Short General Tools Overview provides concrete descriptions of the various parts of the tool. More videos go into depth about how to deal with keywords in contextCirrus panelsummary tool, and word trends tool. There are also other tools associated with Voyant that can be accessed here.

Pedagogical Use:  The word cloud can help students visualize the major terms/themes of a text, and students can make observations based on how many times and where certain words appear in a text. Here's an example on Moby Dick.

In my class, students first employ the tool as we rhetorically analyze a single example text: Andrew Sullivan's "Society is Dead: We Have Retreated into an iPod World." I walk students through using voyant on a single text to show how we can analyze single terms that occur frequently or look at co-occurrence of terms.

When we move to the research paper, students are compiling many texts and trying to determine language patterns. At this stage, Tulane librarian Sean Knowlton instructs the students on how to build a corpus of multiple texts, information also covered quickly in Voyant Loading Texts. Sean modeled how a student might research all New York Times articles that address ISIS in 2015, for example.

If considering co-occurrence of terms is what excites you most about Voyant (for instance, how often Muslim and terrorist occur together), then it might be time to step up to a more complex data-mining program like Mallet.



Before the word storify are abstract quotation marks that resemble a yin and yang configuration. The logo is blue.

Training Video: Storify Demo: Social Media Journalism (5:17)

FunctionStorify is a digital space to "curate and make stories," a place to gather together online sources.

Pedagogical Use: As you can guess, Storify's ability to gather sources makes it a great tool for a research project.

Students in my class don't write a traditional research paper in which they make an argument about an issue. Instead, they write an argument about the language used to discuss an issue. So, instead of arguing that football is too violent and that the NFL should consider new rules, one student argued that there is a recurring use of war language in football and that as a result, the American public is more accepting of the rampant violence associated with the sport on and off the field.

Storify provides an easy place to document such language patterns in tweets, sports news coverage, and opinion pieces.


If you're looking for more classroom digital tools, not just for textual analysis, check out Web Resources for English Classes