MLA Handbook 8th Edition: A Change in Focus of Teaching Citation

The 8th edition of the MLA handbook came out recently, and the edition is very different from the 7th edition that we know so well.  Although it appears that there is not a free online guide to the 8th edition just yet, you can order the new version and/or you can check out the Purdue OWL’s list of the major changes between the 7th edition and the 8th edition.  The Purdue OWL will be updating all of its resources by June 2016.

From looking at the Purdue OWL, along with this Pearson blog post, it seems like the biggest change between the 7th and 8th edition is the shift from a prescriptive approach for specific types of sources to providing a heuristic to use for any type of source.  According to MLA, the shift occurred because “Works are published today in a dizzying range of formats.”  The authors of MLA have stepped away from trying to name each type of source and providing a citation formula, and instead have suggested that authors use the information that they know about the source (author(s), title, version, publisher, publication date, location, etc.).  Upon gathering the necessary information, the 8th edition suggests that writers order source information consistently throughout the works cited/referenced page.

In fact, this shift away from prescriptive guidelines has been adopted by various text books before the 8th edition was released.  Writer/Designer: A Guide to Multimodal Projects (Arola et al, 2014), for instance, provides a comprehensive heuristic for students to make their citations rather than attempting to create a format for specific types of sources.

The Purdue OWL gives the following as an example of the difference between the 7th and 8th edition style guides:

Difference between 7th and 8th editions

In terms of pedagogy, (I think) it is supremely helpful that MLA has adopted this heuristic approach in its latest style guide. Many students see citation, particularly in the rigid forms we have traditionally mandated, as an arbitrary convention that must be done.  Given the nature of the 8th edition, and just to unpack this genre convention of citation, we can use this opportunity to ask students: Why do we cite our work?  For what purpose?  This can lead to a discussion about intellectual property, credibility of sources, and the audience of a text having access to its references.  Students can begin to consider: Who is my audience?  What does my audience need to know in this citation?  What genre am I writing in?  What are the affordances and expectations of that genre for citation representation? These types of questions could lead students to consider their citation practices with an attention to audience and genre considerations.  For example, a student might intend to write an academic blog and decide upon using hyperlinks within the text (just like I did here) rather than parenthetical citations. She might still put a works referenced note at the end of the blog entry if it was for an academic audience (just like Ann Shiver-McNair’s recent post for the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative).   This kind of attention to audience, genre, and the ideologies embedded within our citation systems will (I hope) be helpful for student learning.

If you have more information or would like to give your opinions about MLA’s most recent style guide, post to the comments.

By Jacki Fiscus

Instructor Q&A: Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill on UWIT Workshops

Have you been thinking about incorporating a digital component to a writing assignment or classroom activity? Have you been holding back because you don’t feel comfortable teaching students how to use the tool? Good news! UW Information Technologies specialists will do a custom workshop for your class on the technology of your choice, tailored to the assignment or activity you’ve designed. You can check out the extensive list of software they cover, as well as instructions for setting up a custom workshop, here. (Note that you’ll need to be in a computer classroom for the workshop, so if you’re not teaching in the CIC, be sure to email me to see if there’s a computer classroom available during your class time.)

Don’t want to schedule a workshop during class time? You can point your students to the ongoing open IT workshops–which are free to students and instructors–on the same range of software tools (see the schedule here).

To give you an idea of what this might look like in your classroom, I interviewed principal instructor and EWP assistant director for ENGL 121 Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill about her success with a UW IT class workshop. In addition to describing the assignment and workshop, she also provided us with

  • a pre-workshop survey she conducted to gauge her students’ comfort levels with the presentation software the workshop would cover (see below)
  • a post-workshop anonymous evaluation of the workshop she asked students to complete (also below).

We highly recommend borrowing these pre- and post-surveys from Elizabeth so you can get the most out of your UW IT workshop (and cultivate a reflective teaching practice!).

The assignment: Students in my English 298 [IWP] writing link with Communication 201 had been assigned to groups based on their interest in shared topics. Within those groups, each student did an individual presentation, and then the group co-authored a presentation introducing their individual work. We modeled this on an academic conference panel. Introductions were 3-4 minutes and presentations about 5 minutes each, so a 4 person group took about 25 minutes. The presentations were an assignment in themselves, and, after students got feedback from peers and me, also served as a draft for the next assignment, in which students wrote individual essays on their topics, and co-authored an introduction to that collection of papers.

The workshop: Initially, I asked UW IT to offer a workshop during my class time in the MGH 082 lab to teach students how to use Google Sites, Prezi and PowerPoint. The UW IT staff helped me design a pre-workshop survey for my students to complete so that the workshop could target what they really needed support on. [See the survey below!] It ended up that all the students felt comfortable with power point, so UW IT offered a workshop on Prezi and Google Sites, and also explained that students have a 30 minute consultation with UW-IT available to them each quarter for help on presentations. Of the four student groups in my class, 2 did PowerPoint, 1 did Google Sites, and 1 used Prezi.

The workshop went well. We only had the CIC for an hour (because of the way our CIC schedule worked that quarter) and it might’ve been useful to have the full hour and 20 minutes for students to practice each method and ask questions, but it was fine, and I think possible in a 50 minute class if the pre-workshop survey is done so instruction can be targeted.

The assignment worked well. Because Communication 201 focused on mass media, and as a discipline is very interested in presentations and multimodality, it made a lot of sense for me to do a presentation assignment. Some students were nervous about presenting, but they appreciated the opportunity. It worked quite well to use a presentation as a draft in a sequence moving toward a paper. Kimberlee and I have done something similar in our English 281 “Investigating Seattle Communities” class in the past. I do focused instruction on working in groups, and I interact with the groups, give them clear guidelines for each stage, and have each individual assess the work of the group in an evaluation that comes in only to me — students know ahead of time that their participation in group work will be graded. I set aside a portion of the course grade — 15% — for the co-authored/group portion of the work. I was particularly pleased about how well the groups worked together, including a group with a very nervous international student who ended the quarter with a comment saying “I love my team!!”

Elizabeth’s pre-workshop survey questions for her students:

In Google Sites, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Setting up a Google site, creating and organizing pages, posting documents, posting images and videos, writing text around those images and video:

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In PowerPoint, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a PowerPoint presentation, creating a new slide, inserting images into a slide, inserting text into a slide, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In Prezi, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a Prezi presentation, creating a route through a Prezi, inserting images, inserting text, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

Elizabeth’s students’ (anonymous Catalyst WebQ) evaluations of the workshop:
Very effective: 10
Quite effective, but I have a suggestion: 4
Effective: 2
Somewhat effective, but needs significant development: 0
Not effective: 0

Student optional open-ended comments about the workshop:

  • I would not have known about Google slides without that workshop.
  • It was really helpful learning how to use other presentation sites other than powerpoint
  • interesting and helpful to learn about prezi and google sites
  • This was extremely helpful since I have never used prezi before.
  • Very effective, I felt that I learned enough to be able to navigate all sites.
  • Pass out a sheet signing up to see UW-IT people.
  • The presentation on google sites was very helpful as well as the simple template that was provided for us. Also thank you for the help with prezi
  • Would have hoped for a little more time with instruction but understand that there was a time constraint

Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your success!

By Ann Shivers-McNair