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!).
As an entirely multimodal person, who has spent many years unsuccessfully trying to bend myself into one mode, I find that I am still mildly conflicted by the ideas presented in Takayoshi and Selfe’s piece. Although the digital world has become all-encompassing, and obviously more so in the past year and change, the attitude that language, and purely “alphabetic” writing, is somehow passé doesn’t feel comfortable. Obviously this is not a zero-sum game, and multimodal seems to imply that we embrace a multiplicity of viewpoints. Paper and books were once state-of-the art technology. The study of rhetoric, as the authors point out, began by looking at oral communication, not written. Multimodal education can honor and respect the traditions, just as it seeks to incorporate new ideas and modes.
With my caveat in place, I see no reason why standards, elegance or literary ideals need to be compromised when working this way, and personally I like it, though with a little less focus on the digital world as such. We can bend technology to our will just as forcefully as it can bend us. Technology was invented by humans, choices were made, and perhaps we can apply a critical eye to the technology itself, not just to what was produced with it. As the authors say, “Grounded in the knowledge that comes from authoring multimodal compositions themselves, students can constructively respond to audio and visual compositions, developing critical perspectives that will serve them well as citizens who respond to any texts” (3). These critical perspectives should be applied to all the world, and especially the digital world, an artificial place that was created with an uneven application of art and care.
A few years ago, I read Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus and jealously considered her work. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a “professor of interdisciplinary creativity” and has put out a few books about her strange and novel approach to the classroom. Art, research, science, and writing are interwoven in idiosyncratic and delightful ways. Granted, what she talks about is all on paper, and I realize that that’s not exactly what’s being discussed here. Still, in my own work and education I’ve always tacked in the direction of the gray area between modes, like William Blake’s illustrated poems. I like that gray area best, and have always taught it enthusiastically in my own way.
I’ve always snuck in some multimodal assignments along the way, though again tacking towards paper, but was a bit sheepish about it, and never pushed it as far as I would have liked. We’ve spent time looking at and analyzing comic strips over the years (Krazy Kat and Little Nemo in Slumberland in the context of Modernism and Surrealism, looking at the rhetoric of the genre). We’ve always listened to podcasts and watched short art films to look at their construction: diegetic and non-diegetic music, use of voice-over etc. This semester I’ve introduced some small drawing projects as well based on our reading, but over the years we’ve always returned to the five-paragraph essay, as was the standard. The purpose of looking at these things was always to write about them in the end.
There are many multimodal ideas I would like to introduce in the classroom, though not all of them are digital. I always wanted to have the students create zines, for instance, collective zines using artwork and their writing, or individual thematic works. I’m sure there are ways to think about that project both in analog and digital terms. I’m also eager to explore making podcasts and sound recordings with my students. Some of the podcasts out there are beautifully written and hold to the highest standards of composition. I’ve had a number of students interested in using that genre for their unit 3 project and one who made a podcast last semester, and would like to delve into that a lot more.
A multimodal environment that fully embraces the multiplicity of modes is delightful to me, as it leads me to a teaching life more integrated with the rest of my work, education, and interests.
In the 1121 class I’m teaching right now the students are working on the “Documenting Your Life: Multimodal” assignment (unit #3). I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the process of helping them choose the modality for the assignment. We spent part of a class brainstorming the types of modalities they could choose, then I had them type up a brief proposal which included the reason that modality was the right fit for their story. Since the assignment is a personal one, no one would know better than them the best way to tell their own stories.
During the pre-post chat, the students were definitely participating more than usual. It was nice to see them enthused. And the students seemed eager to help each other as well; one person, for example, asked if she could do a TikTok (For the record, I don’t know TikTok at all – I’m not even sure if the correct terminology is a “TikTok” or a “TikTok video”). I asked the class what they thought about the student’s idea. After a bit one of them suggested that the student make a series of TikToks to tell her story. I thought that was a great idea.
In this instance, I feel like I’m learning from the students, and maybe it’s selfish of me, but I like learning from them. They seem happy to do it as well. So when I read this statement in the Takayoshi and Selfe article, “Students often bring to the classroom a great deal of implicit, perhaps previously unarticulated, knowledge about what is involved in composing multimodal texts, and they commonly respond to multimodal assignments with excitement,” (pg 4)—I found myself nodding along in agreement.
I could imagine some composition instructors, faced with the challenge of teaching multimodal assignments digging in their heels in a sort of “get off my lawn” way … but why? Things change. This is the world now. And have to admit that I love the almost scolding Takayoshi and Selfe give hesitant teachers when they write, “Teachers less than willing to make such a leap might be encouraged to remember that the rhetorical principles currently used to teach written composition are, themselves, principles translated from the study of oral communication.” Like I said: Things change. This is the world now.
One last thing from the article: I liked what the authors said about multimodal composition possibly bringing the “often neglected third appeal—pathos—back into composition classes” and I look forward to seeing how my students do it next week.
The second article, “Teaching Multimodal Composition” from the University of Michigan website, was helpful in affirming that I’m not going about teaching multimodal composition in the completely wrong way. (This is most likely thanks to Carrie’s excellent model classes!). I’ve had my students following this basic scaffolding of analyzing, finding models/mentor texts, proposing the projects, drafting their own versions and then workshopping, finalizing, and finally reflecting. I’ve always had scaffolded assignments, but this is more thorough, with more chances for feedback—which seems more important than ever for catching students from falling through the cracks now that we’re online.
One other thing I like about the multimodal composition assignments is that they naturally lend themselves toward examining a student’s purpose and audience. I think it’s built into the question of why this modality for this project?
I’m really happy with the changes to composition this year (okay, aside from the online aspect, which to be honest, I truly don’t mind much). I feel like the past years I was doing the same thing each semester, never quite sure if my students were learning anything. Now I feel like they are. And I know I am!
In our “new normal” (I hate saying that), I think that multimodal writing and communication is important more than ever. We are living in an increasingly digital world, and the ways that we communicate on a daily basis have changed drastically. I agree with Takayoshi and Selfe’s article that there is an urgent need for more multimodal writing assignments.
As someone who teaches business writing, my main goal is to give the students the confidence to be flexible when faced with new challenges in their writing at work. I try to give them many different assignments, both short and long form, that will help for larger assignments but those don’t necessarily address the daily needs of communication. As I write this, I’m receiving emails, getting Microsoft Teams messages, and will eventually prepare a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming account meeting. While I dream of writing beautiful essays and letters, the reality of my work life is multimodal in so many different ways.
I think I look at multimodal writing skills as separate from the general writing skills I am hoping to teach: organization, transition, traditional formatting. In reality, these are the same skills, just executed in a new format. While I have students mainly work in PowerPoint for certain presentations, I’m always impressed by the students who use Prezi, or create another type of presentation. I think it would be important for me to open up assignments for different forms like podcasts or videos. The process to create a cohesive narrative or argument remains the same- the students now are executing the very core of what I hope to accomplish as a teacher: flexibility in different formats. I found Sweetland’s multimodal guide incredibly helpful for planning future assignments that can incorporate multimodal writing.
Unit 3: Multimodal Remix
This assignment asks you all to re-think, or re-envision, one of the assignments you have written previously in the semester and to present it in a totally new genre, perhaps changing modes. For example, a revision that goes from a written essay to an audio podcast, website, graphic, video essay, rap album, or mixed modal. This assignment builds on the generic, rhetorical and audience awareness that students have worked on all semester long, asking them to consider what discourse community they are trying to reach and, not only what diction, but also what mode of delivery would be best for delivering that message. This “translation” is key to transfer, one of the core learning outcomes of this course. If students can take a message and transform it for different audiences and media, then they are well on their way to being able to transfer writing skills across fields, disciplines and discourse communities.
- Create a presentation using PPT/Prezi with a specific audience in mind
- Create a series of three or four social media posts (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/etc.). You must include at least two images.
- Design a poster for an organization somehow related to your topic that could be put up around campus
- Design a flyer that the organization could hand out to students
- An on-video interview with someone who is somehow relevant to your topic/thesis
Remember, what is important is that you are thinking about genre and audience and translating your essay into a genre/mode that is somehow better for your intended audience – that can be a different audience from the one you wrote the essay for. These projects should last about 5 minutes and should be accompanied by a 500-800-word reflection that you will turn in to me before you leave. In that reflection, you should be writing about the concepts we’ve discussed in the course: rhetorical situation, genre, audience, purpose, constraints, etc. Find questions for the reflection below.
Questions for “Essay” 3 Reflection:
- Who was the audience for this essay? What did you consider about them as you translated your essay from its written form into this multimodal version?
- What are the weaknesses of the written essay genre for this audience? What are the strengths of this new multimodal genre?
- Was it difficult to translate the essay from its written form into this new multimodal version? Why/why not? Reflect on the process of translation.
Day One: Introduce idea of multimodality, “All Writing is Multimodal.” Give examples of text, video, artwork, etc and point out all the modes at play.
HW: Brainstorm ideas for both of the papers you’ve written and be sure to consider the audiences. Which would get more out of a multimodal translation?
Day Two: Write: Fold in the idea of discourse communities – what sorts of genres would be available to you within the discourse community of your audience? What sorts of things would you emphasize? Begin to draft scripts and map out ideas.
HW: Draft of script/text for multimodal project. Must convey main points and key evidence from essay.
Day Three: Peer Review.
HW: “Difficulty” paper
Day Four: Plan of Revision &
HW: Final Draft
Day Five/Six: Watch presentations and ask at least 1 question per class period.
ENG 1121, semester ???
Unit 3: Multimodal Repurposing Assignment
In the conclusion of your annotated bibliography you identified a discourse community that you think would benefit from your research. You also thought about why and how that community would benefit from your research.
Now for this assignment you will repurpose the information you learned from your research and present it in another medium. This medium should be the one you think will best convey your information to the specific audience you have chosen. Your final product should go beyond the written word and communicate using other modes of communication.
Examples of modes you might choose: TedTalk, audio Podcast, YouTube video, song lyrics, Wikipedia entry, video or graphic essay, blog, informational brochure, short movie, or play.
Notes: This project asks you to write in a new way, but you must still turn in a written component. For example, if you put together a TedTalk, podcast, or video of some sort, you can turn in the transcript you developed.
??/??/??: Hand in a one-page plan for your project. Here you should do the following:
- Tell me the mode you selected for presenting your information and why you feel this is the appropriate mode. Also, tell me what you hope to accomplish with your piece (persuade, inform, something else).
- Tell me about the mode in which you will compose. For example, what do you see as the main elements or features of this genre, including the length, tone, format, organization, desired effect on the audience, and other key features? Make a list and describe each element in a few sentences.
- Tell me about how you will go about composing your piece. For example: What technologies will you use? What information will you include in your final product? How will you organize it?
??/??/??: Bring in a fully drafted version of your project for peer review
??/??/??: Unit 3 project due. On this day you should also come prepared to write an in-class reflection on your project. You will be asked to write about the choices you made, the process you undertook, what you learned, and how you will use this experience/information in future classes.
How will this be graded?
- Careful and thorough thinking: The new media piece you produce should be similar to other pieces in the media you chose to work with, be polished/finished looking, and thorough. Note: There is no particular word count for your assignment as the length will be determined by the genre in which you chose to work.
- Audience: The audience you chose should make sense for your topic. Also, the genre you chose to work in and the choices you made when composing should be appropriate for your chosen audience.
- Repurposing: The new genre piece you produce should use the research from your annotated bibliography and be related to your research question.
- Timeliness: Your project should be on time.