In November 2016, Dylan Medina (PhD, English Composition and Rhetoric, expected 2017), Tait Bergstrom (PhD, English Composition and Rhetoric, expected 2018), and Yijun (Jay) Wang (MBA, expected 2017) joined a group of UW students, faculty, and staff receiving grants from the Amazon Catalyst program. Medina, Bergstrom, and Wang’s winning idea--for which they received $85,000 and Amazon product development support--is called Cluster, an online suite of composition tools that uses comics narratives to teach effective, situated writing. The three creators bring a combination of backgrounds in composition studies, applied linguistics, software development, business, and comics writing. They describe Cluster’s approach to writing education as follows:
“First, Cluster provides targeted support while the user performs the writing task to improve the quality of their practice. Second, it roots writing tasks in comics narratives, allowing the user to experience them as situated in a ‘real’ story just as they would encounter them in the wild.
Embedding writing tasks in narratives allows writers to occupy that task, see how it responds to the context, take control of the situation, and decide what should be done with writing. The narrative is an inference-rich environment in which the writer is immersed. Instead of a teacher explicitly spelling out who the target audience is, a writer must pick up on a complex array of visual and textual cues in the narrative to determine how to frame and target their work. After completing a task, the writer sees how readers (teachers and peers) respond to their writing.”
In designing cluster, Medina, Bergstrom, and Wang see themselves as eclectic tinkerers drawing on the various teaching paradigms and best practices from Education, Writing Studies, and Second-Language Writing to create an approach to teaching writing that works for all students by recognizing that they’re not all the same.
The team is tremendously excited and honored to have been selected for this award, particularly since their team is the first from the humanities to win such a grant. CoMotion, UW’s innovation hub, and the Amazon Catalyst program hope to see other teams from across the university continue applying to the program to fund their big ideas. For more information and to read about other recipients of the grant, check out the website at http://catalyst.amazon.com. Congratulations, Dylan, Tait, and Jay, and best of luck!