Comics Books Create Scholarly Inquiry – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Comics Books Create Scholarly Inquiry

Students of HWS don’t often begin the writing process by creating comic books, but that’s exactly how they proceeded in preparing assignments for a major grant-funded project conducted in two writing and rhetoric courses this past semester.

Led by assistant professors of writing and rhetoric, Hannah Dickinson and Margaret Werner, two fall classes participated in a project called “Comic Conversations,” which was designed to get students to explore a visual and inventive way of initiating the academic writing process. The project was funded through a CTL faculty grant for innovative teaching.

“This was much more than an interesting assignment,” says Werner. “It’s a project that steps into the discourse of our discipline by bringing the ‘conversations’ of scholars to life.”

As a precursor to their first draft papers, students of Werner’s “Writer’s Seminar” and Dickinson’s “Writing Colleagues Seminar” created comics of dialogue imagined between and among scholars. In doing so, the students identified important arguments, cited sources, and extended the discourse in post-writing assignments.

To prepare the comics, students spent a week developing schematics and designing the books using Comic Life, software that allows students to use images, create speech bubbles and wholly created a visual presentation of a scholarly dialogue in the form of a comic book.

“The project gave them the opportunity to imagine the connections and relationships among scholars to help them solve problems presented through the discourse,” Dickinson says.

The “Comic Conversations” project, in part, is an extension of the parlor metaphor about ongoing academic conversations developed by literary theorist Kenneth Burke.

One of the goals of the project was to help increase the students’ understanding of source material through the visualization of the scholars’ arguments, says Dickinson. The visual representations gave the students a chance to anchor the arguments to the real-life scholars who made them, she says.

In addition, the project helped the students to “make conversational moves,” which might not necessarily show up in a more traditional writing assignment, Werner says. Initial feedback reported by the students appeared to indicate that closer attention was paid to the sources than usually had been achieved during a more traditional drafting process, Werner says.

Following the creation of the comics, students prepared a range of writing assignments, including comparative analyses, synthesis essays, researched pieces, and argument analysis papers. The comics were prepared to help increase comprehension and give students a chance to master the material before preparing their own assignments.

“Comic Conversations” concluded only weeks ago, but Werner and Dickinson already are making plans to analyze the project and the resulting visualizations created by students.

Werner joined the HWS faculty in 2011. She earned a B.A. and M.A. from Illinois State University, and a Ph.D. from University of Arizona. Werner has contributed to textbooks on rhetoric and teaching, and has published book reviews in Rhetoric Review.

Dickinson also joined the faculty in 2011. She received a B.A. from Haverford College, a M.A. from The City College of New York, and a Ph.D. from University of Michigan. She has contributed to publications such as Reading Research Quarterly and Kairos.