Multimodal Projects

I have found the arguments put forward here in favor of incorporating more multimodal projects in composition classes to be compelling. I can also say from experience this semester that the students are far more excited about piecing together a project like this than a normal term paper. I have students producing podcasts, writing blog posts and creating brochures about a series of social justice issues. I agree with the sentiment that if composition is to stay relevant, it must adapt. Of course, there are lessons from traditional composition courses that should remain in place, it’s just a matter of applying these lessons to broader forms of rhetoric. I think that this works well with the genre awareness approach to composition as it makes the writing process less daunting and foreign. When I was going over multimodal texts with my class, we looked at various Instagram posts and discussed why they were multimodal, what forms of communication they were using, and how the meaning would change if any of the elements were altered. Students then started to see that whenever they post an Instagram post with a caption, they are already participating in multimodal production. It also helps to make concepts like the modes of persuasion more tangible. To demonstrate how music and sound could be a form of sonic rhetoric, I played my class two versions of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” speech.  The first version did not have music layered over it, and the second did. Then we discussed how the audio altered the way in which the speech was received.  Most students commented that it sounded more compelling and emotional, or in other words, more persuasive and engaging, which are two qualities we want students to be constructing in their own texts. In regards to transfer of knowledge and applicability, I think this is one of the best ways of “selling” composition to students. For years, I’ve tried to explain to my classes why composition matters, that it helps them become better communicators and writers, BUT it is incredibly difficult to sell the purpose of, say, a compare and contrast paper. The resistance makes sense – it feels artificial, as if these assignments can only exist in the bubble of the classroom. So, multimodal projects have a more direct transfer into everyday life. As mentioned above, everyone that uses social media is engaging with these types of texts. But beyond that, most professional paths now require some form of digital literacy, whether it is writing emails, editing web pages or keeping up with a company’s social media accounts.  Lastly, it creates a space for all types of learners. Rather than success in a composition class being completed predicated upon whether one is good with words or not, now visual and auditory learners can learn and create within the objectives and goals of a composition class while appealing to their natural talents.  Overall, I am sold on this path forward for composition (PS: it’s also more fun for instructors to grade / read!).

One thought on “Multimodal Projects

  1. Randi Ross

    Multimodal projects are an interesting concept. Certainly the workplace is changing and employees of the future will need to create presentations that may include visual and auditory information. Still … asking writing instructors to teach this, especially in one-semester courses, may not be a reasonable expectation. The authors brought up points contrary to their thesis, legitimate points about writing instructors not necessarily being technically inclined, about having enough to do teaching writing, about needing to spend time actually teaching writing. I think that the authors didn’t do a particularly good job of engaging these legitimate concerns.

    If we are to begin assigning multimodal projects, we need to train instructors on the technical skills they are being asked to teach, not expect students to share amongst themselves whatever skills they have learned elsewhere. And we need to create courses that allow the extra time for the extra instruction required. Multimodal projects are much more work for all involved and need to be treated as such, not merely tacked on to existing writing courses.

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