During the Fall 2017 semester, Professor Taylore Aussiker’s Composition class published several digital magazines to show that communication is not just textual, but also visual.
The digital magazine publication assignment went hand in hand with the new Cluster Composition model, which was recently rolled out by Plymouth State University. These cluster classes aim to take a required course, Composition, and integrate it with interdisciplinary content that can broaden students’ skill-sets.
Aussiker’s Cluster Composition course was themed for students interested in art and design. The magazine publications were part of a semester-long project, and sought to teach students how visuals and text can work together to communicate ideas.
The Composition students used the website Joomag to create their publications. Joomag‘s digital platform allows users to create magazines that are publicly accessible to anyone with the link.
Emily Shealy, a student in Aussiker’s course, said that learning to use Joomag was a great opportunity. She noted that “learning a new skill, in itself, is a valuable asset.”
“I think being able to utilize technology to the best of our advantage is necessary, especially in our day and age. So, if it helps get the best out of the individual, I am all for using technology in any course,” said Shealy.
While publishing work on an online public platform can be daunting, Aussiker said that her students were excited about the assignment. According to Aussiker, the classroom “became a mini creative department in which people became designers, writers, photographers, creative directors, and more.”
The assignment did have its challenges. Aussiker said that the biggest hurdle students had to overcome was both time management and becoming familiar with the Joomag software used for the publications. In addition, for many students, this was the first time they had the responsibility to be in charge of their own assignment.
Producing a majority of the work online, however, made it easier to bring the group together, noted Aussiker’s student Jamie Springett.
“Once we had an idea of what types of essays we were working with, it was easy to organize the magazine by topic and relevance. The bulk of the work put into the magazine had to be done outside of class, which was hard in a group. But because it was online, we could work on our own sections, and then come together to decide on cover art and titles,” said Springett.
Aussiker also noted that while Joomag can be a bit frustrating for those unfamiliar with design software, the site includes many tutorials to help smooth the learning curve.
Overall, the assignment’s challenges did little to take away from its value. Having a public, digital assignment such as the magazine publications, Aussiker said, allows students to “really take ownership over the work they produce.”
Providing interdisciplinary, “clustered” options can give students the chance to begin producing work relevant to their interests right off the bat in college. Aussiker said that in her Composition course, “several students related the work they produced for the magazine to their own majors, which made the project even more applicable to their education.”
Morgan Richardson, one of Aussiker’s students, said that the course ended up being one of her top classes because of the interdisciplinary work involved.
“I found that the course to be one of my favorite classes of the semester. It intertwined things that I needed to learn in Composition, as well as letting me use my design skills in the process,” said Richardson.
Aussiker said that the clusters approach is invaluable to required courses like Composition because “it’s an opportunity to show students how they can apply the skills they gain in these courses to their chosen fields.” According to Aussiker, even students who were not particularly interested in art and design were able to gear the publication toward their own academic interests.
“One student in this particular section was not at all interested in art and design, but she used her knowledge and interest in sports writing to get the most out of the assignment and apply her writing directly to her field of interest. The magazine project really demonstrates why Composition is a required course and how it relates to the work students will do later on in their college careers. The purpose of the course becomes much clearer and more personalized for each student.”