Arguing With Comics: Teaching With (Virtual) Primary Sources

Poster Description: This interactive poster will describe the development of an iCollege module for a virtual “Teaching with Primary Sources” session jointly designed by an instruction librarian and an archivist. The session was implemented in a graduate philosophy teaching practicum course to suggest techniques for utilizing primary sources in an online environment.


Presenter Names: Jill E. Anderson, Georgia State University; Kevin S. Fleming, Georgia State University

Presenter Bios: Jill E. Anderson is the Humanities Instruction Librarian at Georgia State University. Her research and teaching interests include primary-source literacy and pedagogy. She holds an MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in US History from Rutgers University.

Kevin S. Fleming is the Popular Music and Culture Archivist at Georgia State University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. He oversees collections related to early popular music, radio broadcasting, and popular culture literature. He earned his MLIS from San Jose State University.

7 replies on “Arguing With Comics: Teaching With (Virtual) Primary Sources”

Hi All,
Great poster. I was wondering if you could expand a bit on the exercise two discussion forum in a synchronous session. How was the discussion forum used in a synchronous session?

Hi Torrie!

Thanks for your question! For the exercise two discussion forum, we gave the students a few minutes to review the comic page, and then we guided them through the three questions as if we were teaching face-to-face.

The discussion forums gave us a way to translate the in-class worksheets we would usually use for discussions into an online format, and using iCollege’s features meant that we weren’t asking anyone to learn any more new technology (this was summer 2020 and faculty were struggling just with iCollege).

Also, having the discussion questions in iCollege allowed the students to refer to it later if they wanted to use it (or a discussion forum in general, with questions of their own) as a model for one of their own classes.


What a great collection to work with! Did you find that students were pretty willing engage with the material and the discussion?

Hi Claire!

Thanks for your question. It was kind of a mixed experience! The students and the professor both engaged pretty actively with the material we presented in the synchronous section (the comic strip from the National Social Welfare Assembly one). We did find that the students hadn’t engaged as much with the Wertham *reading* (which we’d asked them to read and then respond to the questions in the discussion forum before class). Because that reading was in the iCollege module, they could look at it during the synchronous session, but it was somewhat too long for us to be able to say “take a few minutes to read it” to lead into the synchronous discussion.

Luckily for us the cover page of the Wertham article — the image we used in the poster — by itself had enough “hooks” for us to lead a more impromptu discussion around. We got into an interesting discussion around the credibility of Ladies’ Home Journal as a magazine source and about why Wertham’s credential was so prominently displayed.

As we noted, we did learn that we needed a little more active buy-in from the professor to get the students to do the advanced reading. We’d hoped to “flip” the classroom a bit by having them come to our session having thought through the arguments in the Wertham reading — but that did depend on them being incentivized to do that reading. That the *cover* of the reading was so engaging worked in our favor, though, and is definitely an argument for making sure you pick visually stimulating materials… just in case.

I should add, also, that we’ve had some really fun experiences teaching with various genres of comic books from Kevin’s collections — there’s a link in the poster to an article we wrote about our workshops/sessions using the comic book collection. One of the most fun ones we did was a session for an Honors course I taught on the history of dating, using a bunch of cheesy romance comics from the 1960s and 1970s.

What an interesting and fun exercise! I am wondering if you can share some generalizations about the results of the asynchronous primary source exercise, specifically if there were common misunderstandings in assignment prompts or understanding of what primary sources and/or databases are. I developed a similar exercise for a first-year writing class, and it has helped reveal some of our misconceptions about student comprehension of basic terminology. I’m curious about your responses. Thanks!

Hi Jenny, thanks for your question! In this case, this was a class of graduate students who we’d met with during the previous fall for an in-person session on primary-source-based instruction, so we didn’t focus as much on identifying what primary sources were. We had had some conversation with the professor about how philosophers understand primary sources, which was especially useful to me as the Philosophy librarian for further instruction.
We did a bit of a refresher on defining primary sources during the synchronous session, and we pointed them to various links during the synchronous session as well (the ones we linked to in our poster) for further ideas.

We did, again, run into the problem of the students not filling out the discussion forum questions, so we don’t really know if they did the primary-source searching we asked them to do 😀

But, part of the point was for them to have this information (we shared the recording of the session and also Kevin’s Powerpoint with the links etc. with them in their course’s iCollege page) at hand for when they did start prepping for their own teaching, which may well have been occurring more towards the fall semester (we taught this session in July).

Because our focus was on offering graduate students creative strategies for using primary sources to support their own students in argument building, we would have used different approaches/techniques had we been teaching first-year students. But I think we would have begun the session in the same way, by asking them to read/analyze a primary source first and then beginning a conversation about what a primary source is (from a “so what did you just read?” point of view).

Also, in this case, we were trying to focus on using primary sources as sources of arguments (“what argument is Wertham making?” etc.) because these were Philosophy students, so our focus was a little less on “what a primary source is” (we’d already done that with this group) and more on “interesting things you can do with primary sources.”

It’s a good question though, because we did know that these graduate students were all likely to be teaching first-year students, and it would be interesting to hear from the graduate instructors what level of primary-source literacy they’d guess their students might need. That would give us some useful insight into how to support students taking the first-year-oriented Philosophy courses, as well as how to support the grad students as budding instructors.