[Distributed Learning] Reflections on Mary-nara


1. Describe the outline of your attempt to instruct others. What task or tasks did you adopt? What tool or tools did you use?

I attempted to instruct others on how to make my version of marinara sauce––both live and one-on-one on Zoom and through a blog post on this website.

2. What worked? What worked in each task/tool pair, and was one version markedly superior to the other? How did they differ?

Here is some feedback I got from users of my blog post:

  • “Getting it right”
    Users felt little pressure with the blog post. They could do the task in their own time, at their own pace, and without someone else present whose judgement they might fear.
  • The Look
    The design and layout of the blog post was easy to read on computer and phone: plenty of white space, short sentences, list format. However, one user commented that because the “Notes” were listed apart, she was initially inclined not to read them and assumed they were extra, unimportant information.
  • Instructional tone
    The way the instructions were worded was easy to read for both beginner and experienced cook, but the tone varied. A user commented that the introductory paragraphs gave off a casual, conversational tone that emphasized the subjectiveness of the task, but that the short instructions gave the impression of being perfunctory and absolute.
  • Cooking Literacies
    Speaking of beginner versus experienced users, while in general, the feedback indicated that the written instructions were well suited for all literacies, some of the details got “lost in the sauce” (pun intended). One user explained they weren’t sure how to cut the garlic or crush the tomatoes because they had never done either before. They suggested pictures or a gif of the actions might help.
  • On the Question of Pictures
    I intentionally left out pictures in my blog post, even though the WordPress theme I use for this page integrates them into the flow rather well in my experience. I decided to do this based on an impulse: that pictures would contribute to a feeling of “rightness.” The challenge I gave myself was to impart the subjectivity of cooking through writing––something that would be much easier to do live and even easier to do in-person. I didn’t want users to think that there was only one right way to make marinara. However, on further reflection I think the needs of less literate cooks to know how to execute the essential actions of the marinara making process outweighs the concerns about flow. I would like to test two different approaches in the future: whether more verbose instructions would work as well as pictures.

Here is some feedback that I received about my live, one-on-one Zoom sessions:

  • Intimate and Friendly
    It should be noted that I was already friends with all the people who signed up to do Mary-nara Zoom sessions with me. Every single person commented on the friendliness and the intimacy of working with someone one-on-one and virtually closely with each other. They also commented on how the give and take of conversation––even mediated through Zoom––made the experience an exceptionally social one.

    My takeaway is that this approximation of intimacy allowed for a more thorough communication of the spirit behind the impulse to cook: one cooks for pleasure and to delight the senses and it is therefore a subjective practice.
  • Close Ups
    Users commented on how useful––and visually delightful––it was to have things like the chopped onions or the crushed tomatoes held up to the camera. In a similar vein, we would take turns pointing our cameras at our pots when possible to compare how our sauces were coming along. I should note that I made a TON of marinara as a result of this assignment.
  • Making Together
    There was a special feel to cooking alongside my Zoom participants. I didn’t cook along with all of my users, but those with whom I did there was a delight in sharing our progress, both visually and verbally. It was perhaps a confirmation for the user of how they were doing. I think it communicates more about cooking in the act than describing it through a blog post.
  • Adjusting for Skill-Level
    Working one-on-one also allowed me to ask the user about their skill level as a cook and adjust accordingly. I found that it subtly adjusted the way I delivered information verbally, how quickly I went through the steps, and how often I asked to see what they were doing.

3. Look at one of the tool/task pairs of other students in the list of class projects: What strategies did that instructor use that are different from yours?

I looked through Sarah Liriano’s instructions for brigadeiros and compared it to my written instructions for my marinara. She chose to use pictures that illustrated each step of the process because there are moments that require a very specific understanding of what the consistency, look, and feel of the concoction should be. In this case, pictures are more efficient and memorable than a written description.

4. If you had to pick one of your two task/tool pairs to invest in, how would you improve it?

I would pick the WordPress blog to adjust. I would add a few more supplies (cutting board, measuring cup) and I would add a few small gifs to illustrate the difference between chopping and mincing as well as how to effectively crush the tomatoes. Something that happened in both the written and Zoom versions was that people shared their own opinions or approaches of how to do a certain part of the recipe. In my blog post, I would encourage people to share any adjustments they made in the comments below and curate a few choice selections within the body of the post itself.