Like many of you, I’ve got a love-hate relationship with annotated bibliographies.
Love the way that it gets students to really read the source and think about what it says. They just won’t do that if their first exposure to a source is when they’re in the middle of writing a research paper. At that point, the use of the source becomes far too much of “quote mining” (see The Citation Project for background).
Hate the monotony of an ann bib. Students detest writing them. The first 2 sources get good treatment, the rest a cursory effort. And there’s a lot of resentment that develops in the students because of them. I’ll say it, too – I hate grading them. And you know you do too.
Plus, one of the key features of an ann bib is supposed to be getting students to see how sources interrelate. How well that happens in your traditional, running list of sources is questionable at best.
This semester I may have found an answer to the “hate” aspects of this assignment. I had the pleasure of teaching Rhetoric & Composition II Honors (FYC II Honors, basically). We put a multimodal focus on the course. Their big research paper was multimodal-based and a lot of the assignments and discussions were multimedia in nature. But the kicker, at least for this post, is that their ann bib for the big research paper was done in Prezi.
Prezi as the medium
I go back and forth as to whether Prezi is good for presentation support. Yes, it’s far better than your typical PPT. But the movement feature is hard to use well and easy to use horribly. The one thing that Prezi does well is big picture communication. It hit me that this idea of big picture communication is one of the overriding concerns of an ann bib – what is the “conversation” about a topic. So my students were tasked with creating an ann bib using the power of Prezi to communicate the relationships between their sources.
Annotations stayed pretty much identical to what they’d be if done in Word. A couple paragraphs summarizing key points, author’s perspective and bias, and potential uses in their paper. I even encouraged the students to write their annotations in a word processor first. But then those paragraphs had to be copied into Prezi text boxes. And the students had to design the Prezi in a way that communicated how the sources related to each other and to the research question.
The easy formatting was to group sources by topic. And I encouraged them to use size as a signal for relevance: bigger = more important. I put together a sample ann bib to give them an idea of what I was thinking (always a good idea for strange or new genres). It’s got the standard filler text for the annotations; I wanted the sample to be about formatting, not about annotation templates.
The students seemed to love the assignment. I had many of them tell me that they actually liked doing it! That’s something that knocked flat on my back.
But what I really loved is that the students had to stop and think about how the sources related to each other. They went deeper than just “this source says the same thing as the source I read right before it.” The students really thought about how the sources compared to each other and where they conflicted. And they thought about how relevant the source was in serious ways.
I’ve included a couple screenshots of two students’ works (both with permission). One really ran with the idea of arrows for connections. The other went in a new direction and mapped out the sources on a timeline – highly relevant as he was tracking how texting grammar had changed over time.
This assignment really seems like something that can be used more broadly. I realize that my students were honors-grade, but your typical student should be able to produce a Prezi formatting that communicates relationships.
If you’re a teacher considering doing this assignment, probably your biggest fear is that you don’t know Prezi and you don’t think you can learn it. Can I comfort you by saying that I spent zero (0) minutes teaching my students how to use the application? Prezi has an incredible tutorial system and I told my students to walk through their guides before tackling the ann bib. I did spend 10-15 minutes talking with them about formatting ideas. They did just fine at brainstorming ways to show relationships between sources. If you really understand this assignment conceptually, you should be able to field that discussion easily.
Need help? Have a better idea?
If you want to use this and need help, leave a comment below or email me.
If you’ve got an idea to improve this assignment or a better solution, same deal.
This is the assignment I gave my students. Note that the annotations are short – I emphasized quality over quantity for these. Each sentence had to communicate specific, relevant information. And the bit about “quality sources” is based on a class session where we developed a class definition of what that means.
For your research project, you’ll need to incorporate a number of high-quality sources and relate those sources to each other and to your argument. For this assignment, we’ll be using Prezi to examine those sources.
Due: Mon, Feb 27
Length: 8-ish sources, 200-300 words each
Media type: Prezi presentation
% Final grade: 20
First off, we’re using Prezi for this. It’s a free online PowerPoint alternative that works well as a giant digital whiteboard. You’ll want to create an account – free if you use your St. Ed’s email.
In class I’ll show you a walk-through of the software. Here’s a link to a sample Ann Bib in a Prezi format. Use this for formatting inspiration, not for content (the annotations are nonsense). In short, you’ll type up your annotations elsewhere and then move them into the Prezi. The annotations will be grouped by connections between the readings.
Annotations should be 400-500 words that describe the essence of the source. Questions that you should probably answer are below. Note that you don’t have to answer every question for every source; but you should answer most questions for most sources.
- What is the source’s background and authority?
- What did the source attempt to find out? What was his/her question?
- What are the limitations on the source’s arguments or study? Does s/he acknowledge any? Can you find any?
- What are the source’s claims?
- What important evidence does the source use to support his/her claims?
- What concessions does the source make to opposing claims and evidence?
- How does the source attempt to frame a point and to “sell” you an interpretation of that point using rhetorical strategies?
- How does this source fit in or work against your other sources in the overall “conversation” of your research question? Be specific.
- What does this source contribute to your efforts to answer your research question? In other words, “so what?”
Formatting Prezi can take a number of forms. Use the powers of the whiteboard to communicate larger information about the sources. Some example formatting options:
- Size to indicate relevance or quality
- Proximity (close or far away) to indicate connections and similarity
- Labels for grouping
- Arrows for connections
- Sequential ordering for publication dates (think a timeline)
Quality of annotations: Have you seriously read and considered the sources? Have you thought about what arguments the author makes and how it relates to your topic?
Quality of Prezi: Have you made connections between the sources? Have you demonstrated those connections in Prezi?
Note that this rubric is a general guideline to how your annotated bibs will be graded. Particularly poor performance in any one area will lower the grade.