Lifehacking: Trying on New Rhetorical Strategies in your Blogs
I have my students use blogs to shape their digital identities and provide a space for them to share their work and ideas with others. I encourage them to go out into the world and critically examine their place within it through weekly exploratory blog posts. Many of these assignments are open ended and based on their observations, and perceptions. However, I like to switch it up every once in a while and ask them to use a particular style or format as a rhetorical device to shape and deliver their ideas. I draw from ancient rhetorical strategies of heuristics — topics of invention. to vary their discourse and provide different types of critical and visual arguments.
It is this idea that led me to this assignment about “life hacking”
Students compose this post using the “lifehack” format to deliver their ideas. The parameters define the requirements for them to include images along with a numbered entry in their list. The list must be substantiated with their numbered entries along with a textual explanation that supports their lifehacks and reveals their perspectives and ideas. According to Wikipedia, lifehacking refers to:
[A]ny trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot – in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner.
I send them first to the site lifehack.org to familiarize themselves with the format, style and language of the genre. Here is an excerpt from their mission statement that defines their purpose:
Lifehack is your source for tips to help improve all aspects of your life. We are widely recognized as one of the premier productivity and lifestyle blogs on the web. This site is dedicated to lifehacks, which is a phrase that describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently and effectively.
Once they are on the site, I guide them to analyze examples for content, format, voice and approach. There are many creative ideas and categories on the site. When they look at the site, they will notice that all of the posts have a similar structure and purpose. It is in the content and the individual ways the bloggers use them that make them unique and interesting as they compose critical and visual arguments. They explore the site to familiarize themselves with the voice, style, audience, format, and the ways the bloggers use visual rhetoric.
Students will notice that the sites have some things in common:
- They are ordered by number. They usually start with titles such as 16 Common Foods We Chronically Misspell
- Content is generated from the pulling together of facts and tips from outside sources along with their own experiences or ideas. All of them, however, include the author’s own perspectives on subjects as they contextualize them within their own framework: 10 Harsh Things about Being an Adult
- They are based on perspectives, experiences and outside resources: 10 Unique and Totally Mind-Blowing Buildings from Around the World.
- They can take the form of recommendations: 77 books that Changed My Life
- They use images and text to make their meanings known. Authors use both still images and animated videos – this example does both : 25 Secret Parenting Tips You Won’t Find in Typical Parenting Books
As students compose their lifehack, they follow the format on the site and must come up with an appropriate, engaging title, purposeful introduction to their subject and then the list along with images and an explanation in which they overlay their own perspectives. It is not enough for them to just list and describe. Instead, they must substantiate through the lens of their own experience and demonstrate a strong sense of audience awareness. I have them compose at least 5 images of their own photographs and also allow them to use copyright free outside images (with attribution).
Reflections on the Activity
Students really enjoyed this activity. It enabled them to connect with a familiar internet format and engage in their own life learning through the lifehack mission. It gives them a chance to take authority and describe things that they know to be true and shows them how to take information and ideas and overlay their experiences and perspectives. The peer review sessions help them develop additional criteria for revision that demonstrates their rhetorical awareness towards this act of composition. For example, they discussed the importance of the title and subtitles to engage readers, the overall readability in terms of font choice and image location and the importance of a strong introduction to state their purpose. They analyzed the difference between specific and universal topics as a way to create and engage audience through their work. They observed that many of them share similar experiences and that there is humor and wisdom in sharing these ideas with others.
Some of the students, like Phillip and Andrew focused on the lives defined by their majors. I included both to demonstrate different perspectives and rhetorical approaches on the same subject. Others like Kyle explored a personal issue — what is like to live life tall. Rafael, an exchange student from Brazil, chose to share some of his culture and Asante chose a current health issue to critique.
Check out these students’ lifehack projects on their blogs:
10 Survival tips for Architecture Students – Andrew Mesa
8 Things that Make you Hate Architecture – Phillip Sanders
7 Types of Brazilian Food You Have to Try by the End of this Year – Rafael Albuquerque
7 Reasons the US Should Not be Afraid of Ebola – Asante Lloyd