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Multimodal Composition in Kairos: A Rhizomatic Retrospective
Transcript of Multimodal Composition in Kairos: A Rhizomatic Retrospective
: A Rhizomatic Retrospective
Written by Rachael Ryerson
Defining Multimodal Composition
Multimodal Composing & Multilingualism
With the passing of the Student's Right to Their Own Language, revised in 2009, and the CCCC's Position Statement on 2nd Language Writers, as well as the flourishing of the scholarship on multilingual writers/writing, there is no denying the multilingual turn in Rhetoric & Composition.
has participated in this turn in recently making the connection between L2 contexts and multimodality in their 17.3 issue on multimodality within/across/without borders. Certainly, the connection has been there since the New London Group put multimodality on the map in the mid-90s with their multiliteracies pedagogy that attended to changing communicative affordances and the linguistic diversity in a globalized world. The NLG proposed a two-pronged pedagogy that to responded to increasingly multimodal and multilingual communication, and in this special
issue, a few of the authors also explore the complexities between/among/across multilingualism and multimodality.
Different from other scholars who discuss multimodal meaning making, Fred Johnson (2014) connected comics with multimodal meaning making. In part a history of comics, and in part an analysis of comic style, Johnson's webtext "Perspicuous Objects" is also a theory of and pedagogy for multimodal meaning making. Johnson created this text in order to develop a critical language for discussing how comics achieve meaning, and that discussion necessarily included how comics achieve that meaning multimodally. Johnson first defined comics, then discussed cartooning, and through an analysis of three comics, demonstrated the visual's close relationship to narrative voice. The visual and the linguistic work in tandem to create meaning, or as Johnson puts it, "to read the words in a comic without also attending to the images is to fail to read the comic--is to fail to pay attention to all that the comic is communicating" ('Three Cartoon Voices").
While there are many origin stories for multimodality and multimodal composing, without question, the New London Group (1996, 2000) is a part of the narrative. In their outline of a pedagogy of multiliteracies, these authors identified five modes of meaning making and design: linguistic, visual, aural, gestural, spatial; for them, multimodal design is of a different order because "it represents the patterns of interconnection among the other modes" (New London Group, 2000 p. 25).
Although the New London Group's book appeared in 2000, it wasn't until the late aught years that the term multimodal appeared with increasing frequency. In fact, the variety of terms scholars use/have used prompted Claire Lauer (2012) to interview ten scholars on their working definitions of new/multi/modal/digital/media. In her
webtext "What's in a Name," Lauer built on a 2009
Computers and Composition
article that investigated these terms because "the terms we use and how we define those terms is a reflection of our shared knowledge and understanding of the world" (Contributors and Scope). Importantly, that a scholar would compose a webtext devoted to articulating definitions of terms like multimedia and multimodal suggests their popularity and importance to Kairos authors and audience.
In her webtext, Lauer described seven qualities as fundamental to interviewee's definitions of new/multi/modal/digital/media texts: Audience-Oriented, Contextual, Historically Situated, Limited, Multiple, Precise, and Relative, but instead of summarizing how each of the ten interviewees' definitions fit into these categories, this review highlights interviewee comments regarding multimodal composition and/or its confluence/conflation with other terms like new media.
Lauer interviewed Cynthia Selfe, a scholar known for her contributions to the field of computers and writing generally, and to the study and teaching of multimodal composition specifically. Selfe succinctly defined multimodal composition as "texts that take advantage of multiple channels," but she explained that she only use this term with people in the field (Audience-Oriented). Instead of using terms like new media, Selfe preferred "multimodal composition" and "digital media," defining the former as "the creation of texts that draw on different semiotic channels to communicate" and the latter as "the means of delivery of those texts, via the computer screen, television, radio, the network" (Precise). In other words, Selfe made a distinction between medium and modality, where "medium is the delivery mechanism. Modality is the semiotic channel that we use to communicate" (Precise). Such nuanced definitions of terms demonstrates the unspoken values attached to words/phrases that many scholars often use interchangeably.
Like Selfe, Gunther Kress separated mode and media because, for him, they do separate things. Kress explained, "the new media of the screen provide the facility for the appearance of different modes" (Precise)--new media provide the means through which composers can (more easily) achieve multimodal expression and communication. Anne Wysocki also emphasized multimodal composition's connection to new media, noting multimodal composition is simply easier to achieve
new media. These scholars described media and modes as different, yet interdependent, processes involved with communication and composing.
However, there was not always such a clear delineation between the two. Lauer noticed in her Post-2007 interviews, scholars tended to "discuss new media frequently and more in terms of new sites of production, distribution, and circulation for digital texts" (Limited). For example, Jason Palmeri, Anne Wysocki, and Gunther Kress defined "multimodal as describing the features of the text itself, while new media is concerned with how texts circulate and are consumed" (Limited). The implication: as new media has developed a more specific definition, distinct from multimodality, it has also come to include the social context in/forming the making, distributing, and consuming of digital texts.
Multimodal Composition Pedagogy
Multimodal Theory &
Multimodal Meaning Making
Multimodal theory and meaning making is another node in
scholarship on multimodality. Scholars structuring this segment of the discussion explored how modes change and shape the meaning a composer can(not) create. Some authors justified teaching multimodal composition because of its expressive affordances (WIDE 2005), while others (Sorapure 2006) explored how meaning is made through/with/across modes. Scholars like Gunther Kress (2010) and Joddy Murray (2011) further theorized the cognitive, social, and affective aspects of multimodal composition, offering this field of study social-semiotic (Kress) and non-discursive (Murray) theories of multimodal composing.
Erin Anderson's (2011) webtext, while she discussed the role of arrangement in meaning making, as Delagrange did, focused more on how the many modes through which we sensually know the world shape meaning making potential, a potential amplified by the affordances of digital technology. Again, like so much of multimodal scholarship, there seems to be a consisent linkage between technological affordances and multimodal meaning making. Yet, the meaning that Erin Anderson was able to make of her grandmother Olive's life came through manipulation, arrangement, and therefore revision, of her collected materials, similar the experience of Delagrange's student, Austin. Anderson began with a recording of a three-hour interview of her grandmother. She then created a video collage of this material to visually narrate her grandmother's life while simultaneously giving her grandmother a voice/space to narrate her own history. But, in the process of creating this video, she realized she had constructed a digital history using traditional documentary forms like linearity. This observation led her to create a scrolling archive, a project that sought to answer the question, "What would a contrasting approach to documentary be like, one that proceeded from the fluid, flexible, multi-pathed non-linear access to core documentation?" (qtd. in Anderson, Theory/Process). Anderson refused to provide a coherent history of her grandmother's life, preferring instead to encourage users "toward a challenging and even disoreinting encounter with the non-discursive and nonrational" (Navigation/Design). Anderson's scrolling archive acted as a digital wunderkammer, a wonder-cabinet where meaning is (re)made through multimodal juxtaposition and arrangment; the viewer is situated as meaning maker, "creating new strategies of arrangment and interpretation as she navigates segments of my grandma's audio-visual memory" (Audience/Authority).
Madeline Sorapure's (2006)
webtext largely addressed how to assess and teach multimodal texts, but it did so by theorizing about multimodal meaning making. Sorapure explained how meaning can be made through analogical assocation between/among images, objects, space(s), and modes. Sorapure proposed that compositionists draw on the familiar tropes of metaphor and metonym as a language with which to discuss and evaluate the effectiveness of students' multimodal compositions. For her, effective multimodal texts do more than match modes, or repeat content across modes because "too much mode matching diminishes the potential of multimedia composing by, in essence, leveling the modes so that they each express something more or less equivalent" (Looking Between Modes); successful multimodal texts form/embody/suggest complex relationships of a metonymic and metaphoric nature.
Sorapure included the student example to the left because this student "activates both metaphor and metonymy to create meaning" in rich and productive ways (Between Visual and Verbal). This student metaphorically represented Bush as a puppeteer and Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh as puppets. These last three also metonymically stand-in for the word "media" in the Ginsberg quote. These metaphorical and metonymical associations allowed for more complex, productive meaning to be made between the modes of this text.
In the early 2000s, and currently, scholars make the case for implementing and teaching multimodal composition by emphasizing how technological affordances influence/impact expressive affordances, "bodily, cognitively, affectively" (Kress, "Design" p. 157). The WIDE Research Center Collective (2005) made similar claims in their
webtext, positing that "technologies also change the very ways that meaning is made, the shape of thoughts that appear on the screen" (A Rhetorical View). They took up the word composing because "how text relates to sound, image, color, and motion to forge meaning is a process of composing quite unlike the process of writing that demands only that writes decontextualize speech from the context of its production" (A Rhetorical View). Embedded in their discussion is the role multiple modes play in communication and meaning making. Like Selfe, Kress, and Wysocki in Lauer's webtext, the authors of this much earlier text understood modes and media to work in tandem with each other to make meaning that is socially situated and constituted. They emphasized computer applications and digital publishing spaces because they "allow us to weave and orchestrate multiple sign technologies (e.g. images, voices, and other sounds, music, video, print, graphics) layered together across space and time to produce artifacts that can be interactive, hyperlinked, and quite powerful" (Conclusion). According to these authors, technology expands the repertoire of what is possible for composing and expression.
As scholarship on multimodality continues to foster new roots of inquiry, we would do well to remember Sorapure's webtext for several reasons. For one, few
scholars, even if they discuss the meaning making potential of multimodal composition, discuss how meaning is made between modes, an insight that seems critical to how we understand, teach, and assess multimodal texts. Secondly, Sorapure (2006) distinguished between media and modes, observing that "composing in new media usually involves bringing together multiple modes--text, image, sound, animation, and/or video--in order to convey a meaning or create an effect" (Looking Between Modes). Lauer noticed the same delineation between these two terms in her post-2007 interviews about the terms scholars use. Notably, Cynthia Selfe and Gunther Kress made clear distinctions between the terms when interviewed by Lauer, and Sorapure cites these same two authors in the opening of her webtext section, Looking Between Modes. But, it is only in looking back to texts such as Sorapure's that we can begin to piece together connections across the rhizome that is multimodal scholarship.
Finally, Sorapure's aesthetic principle that modes should refrain from repeating content across modes seems to conflict, in part, with Yergeau et al.'s (2014) suggestions for making a multimodal text more accessible. Yergeau et al. pointed out that many multimodal texts are not commensurable across modes (Mode), and providing alternate forms of access, like a print copy of a conference presentation, allows for more flexibility in a given multimodal text or environment. For example, in Melanie Yergeau's video in the Yergeau et al. webtext has words appear on screen as she audibly speaks them. Sometimes, providing access means repeating content across/between modes, but with the rhizomatic nature of multimodal scholarship, both in
and other flagship Rhetoric & Composition journals, the messiness that is making a multimodal text aesthetically pleasing and accessible is elided.
Although Susan Delagrange's (2009) webtext did not soley focus on multimodal composition, the meaning making possibilities she found in Wunderkammer, or wonder cabinets, were not so different from the meaning making Sorapure hoped her students would make in their new media collages. Delegrange traced Wunderkammern to the 16th century, but discovered a more modern example in the work of Joseph Cornell. As a result of studying these texts, she contended "Cornell's shadow boxes—Wunderkammern in miniature— provide models for the use of bricolage and juxtaposition in creating associative, multi-modal environments that can be usefully applied to designing constructive interactive digital arguments" (Reason/Emotion).
In a way, Delagrange extended Sorapure's discussion of metaphorical and metonymical meaning making in noticing how such meaning is made through juxtaposition, arrangement, and visual analogy. Delagrange recalled the wonder cabinet, itself a multimodal space, to demonstrate the multiplicity of meaning made through rhetorical devices like metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, anti-stasis, and catachresis. As she explains, "the making of knowledge through arrangment and visual analogy in a Wunderkammer is a process oif analogical manipulation that is deeply rhetorical. Each arrangment of objects creates new taxonomies...that carry with them unique ways of seeing and understanding the world" (Analogical Manipulation). In this way, objects, be they digital or material, become objects to think with and through.
Delagrange paired theory with praxis by asking her students to investigate a building in their own environment, and to collect, (re)arrange, and manipulate visual artifacts that they might gain new, multiple perspectives on this urban space. In these student projects, then, arrangement functioned "as both a method of invention and a means of intervention, situated squarely on the streets and sidewalks of their home town" (The Assignment). Like Sorapure, who Delagrange cites in the Praxis section of her webtext, Delagrange analyzes a student project to highlight how visual arrangement is a "
, a productive intermingling of theory and practice" (Student Work). Delagrange describes Austin's project on the Ohio State Reformatory, for which he collected a number of items, from images of Gothic architecture, to photos of prison guards, to postcards, and an interview with the President of the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. In the process of manipulating and rearranging these materials, Austin began to see new dimensions in the project, like the art in the cell blocks or the images of the original "inmates," boys sent to the reformatory to literally be re-formed into being productive members of society. And Austin made this new meaning through playful juxtaposition and rearrangement of these artifacts, a point at the heart of Delagrange's webtext.
Powell et al. noticed, however, students’ videos and scrapbooks made more effective, expressive use of multiple modes. Students successfully used text, music, images, and material objects to suggest layers of meaning instead of simplifying their message as some students did in their PPTs. What these texts share in common is attention to genre, and in some cases, students drew on familiar genres like PPT, which led to rhetorically unsuccessful, creatively constrained texts. They were multimodal, but they did not take advantage of the expressive affordances of modes in dynamic relationship with each other. In their pedagogical suggestions for teaching mulitmodal composition, Powell et al. recommended that teachers discuss with students “the relationships between modes, genre, and rhetorical situation to help our students become more cognizant of the choices they make when composing, while also discussing modal affordances” (Pedagogy).
These authors subtly argued for teaching multimodal composition by pointing out how it teaches students about rhetoric, but different from most multimodal scholars, these authors are some of the few to reference, even in passing, the importance of paying attention to how modes interact with each other in meaningful ways. However, they did not discuss how the kinds of meaning made between modes relates to rhetorical figures, like metaphor and metonym (Sorapure, 2006), or catachresis or synecdoche (Delagrange, 2009), and this is where drawing connections across multimodal composition scholarship, even across the webpages of
, seems important. Indeed, this review text hopes to provide just such a synthesis, that future multimodal composition scholarship might carry with it the nuance of the work that has been accomplished in this field of inquiry.
video, Dan Wuebben (2014) also contended that "multimodal texts can stimulate, motivate, educate" students in a basic writing class (2:54). Specifically, Wuebben asked these students, in groups of 2-3 to create and craft a video ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes long, with the goal being that the video go viral on YouTube. Wuebben, like many pedagogues who now include video composing in their writing classrooms, found that creating digital videos helped undergraduates develop their multimodal and technological literacies (Text). He noticed, "when students write and publish videos that reflect on their own experiences with media and technology, they learn metacognitive reflection and genre awareness" (Text). In addition, the challenge to go viral challenged students to consider their audience in ways they might not when producing a text for an audience of one, the teacher.
Wuebben's emphasis on public rhetoric recognizes the shift, both culturally and academically, toward participatory or convergence culture (Jenkins). Henry Jenkins popularized these terms by observing that people, students included, are often doing more than consuming the texts they find on the world wide web--they are also making them. Jenkins called this generation prosumers (consumers + producers), and this understanding prompts, in part, Wuebben's focus on students producing videos that go viral.
multimodal composition scholarship may be rhizomatic in its development, but one of the largest and most well-developed of its nodes is that of multimodal composition pedagogy. The more instantiated the paradigm for multimodal composing has become in writing classrooms, the more scholars have investigated how we teach multimodal composing and how we help students achieve multimodal literacy. Outside of
, one might look to Cynthia Selfe's (2007) book,
Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers
, or more recently, Arola et al.'s (2014)
Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects
and Danielle DeVoss' (2012) handbook,
Understanding and Composing Multimodal Projects.
authors have also contributed to scholarship on multimodal composition pedagogy, exploring both how to teach multimodal composing, as well as what multimodal composing teaches students about composing and critical thinking.
In their webtext, authors Nelson et al. (2013) explored how their alternate reality game (ARG)
, sponsored students’ multimodal literacies. As the authors defined them, ARGs are “part story, part scavenger hunt, part puzzle, part role-playing game, and part community-building exercise. They are set in real and virtual spaces, with players navigating both their environment and the digital media landscape in search of clues and solutions” (What are ARGs). They used their ARG in a “Writing in Digital Environments” course because, to play the ARG, students/players “solved puzzles and created digital artifacts using audio-, image-, and video-editing software” (The Clues). To play the ARG, students had to decipher and create a variety of multimodal texts, ranging from audio to poster to collage to video. In addition to developing their multimodal literacy, students, in the process of playing the ARG, developed their digital literacies--functional, rhetorical, and critical.
As Wuebben illustrated in his PraxisWiki, Nelson et al.'s webtext suggested that students do not develop their multimodal literacy in isolation from the other literacies we hope students will develop in a writing course. Playing this game challenged students to collaborate with their peers, as well as granted students agency in their own education. Much of the ARG revolved around solving puzzles from the clues students were given, and they often solved these puzzles through collaborating with their peers. At one point in the course, a student even requested a digital forum be created so students could collaborate online; interestingly, students seemed to prefer collaborating online than they did in the classroom.
Nelson et al., like other multimodal composition scholars, investigated how composing and/or interacting with a particular genre or medium can foster mulitmodal literacy. Similarly, Jacob Helms (2009) claimed toward the end of his
video that “comics offer a route into multimodal composition” (4:12). Helms echoed Dale Jacobs (2007) who found that, "by examining comics as multimodal texts and reading comics as an exercise of multiliteracies or multimodal literacies, we can shed light not only on the literate practices that surround comics in particular but also on the literate practices that surround all multimodal texts and the ways in which engagement with such texts can and should affect our pedagogies" (183). Helms' began his video exploring the etymology of comics, which derives from Greek word comos (revelry). From there, Helms reflected on the Greek word Cosmos (World or Order) as it appears in Gorgias'
Encomium of Helen
, and as it contrasts with the "party" or "revelry" in the similar word of comos. He wondered, "what might we gain as we move from order to riot, from composition to comics?" (4:08). His answer: comics can help students make sense of multimodal composition, and are riotous because they are not restricted to the discursive boundaries most alphabetic texts maintain. Ultimately, Helms adds another layer to the
discussion on multimodal pedagogy by highlighting how comics are yet another way students can gain multimodal literacy.
Instead of helping students develop their multimodal literacy via multimodal composing, Amy Lueck (author) and Shyam Sharma (designer) (2013) demonstrated how students gained critical literacy of power structures associated with language variation and negotiation in multimodal contexts, and they did so through closed captioning. Lueck asked her students to compose the closed captioning for a film with non-standard dialect (
) and reflect on that composition. For Lueck, "Closed captioning is a striking example of language use that is (mis)represented as a straightforward and unmediated transcription of language, when it is actually a complex and political translation with complicated tiesto monolingual English-Only language politics” (Play Button). Unlike many multimodal scholars, Lueck did not present a how to teach or assess multimodality in her webtext, considering instead how a multimodal genre like closed captioning can reveal socially, culturally-situated politics around sign usage—in this instance, standard English. Lueck focused less on how students gain multimodal literacy through multimodal composing, and more on how they gain critical literacy through the use of a multimodal genre.
Wuebben, similar to many multimodal composition scholars, included student examples in the eight and a half minute video embedded in this PraxisWiki, to demonstrate how students developed their multimodal literacy as well as their rhetorical literacy. Some of their rhetorical moves included an introduction that parodied the 20th century Fox theme song, or a speedy song combined with stop motion to mirror the effects of Adderall. The one student video that went viral was a community writing project that added to the public nature of the video another public rhetoric: asking University of Santa Barbara students to finish the phrase, "Before I leave USCB, I want to _________." This student considered the audience in their local community, as well as their virtual audience around the world. Wuebben's PraxisWiki text demonstrated that multimodal composing in the writing classroom can do more than teach multimodal or even technological literacy. When paired with video composing for the YouTube venue, multimodal composing can also mean students engaging in public rhetoric, be(com)ing prosumers, and analyzing audience and genre.
Visually, Nelson et al.'s webtext is stunning, with a color palette, font, and overall design that match the Old West aesthetic of their game. Furthermore, the authors felt that because "students were being asked to create multimodal compositions, it made sense that the class materials followed a similar process" (The Course). They made the kinds of multimodal texts they hope students would produce, turning their syllabus and course schedule into the inforgraphics pictured to the left. Susan Delagrange (2009) contended, "It is important that those of us who work with new media in our teaching and research must represent ourselves and our work with new media in new media" (Mapping), which is precisely what these authors did with their multimodal course materials. Although they did it subtly, Nelson et al. made it clear that teachers and scholars of multimodal composition need to compose multimodal texts, not only for the ethos that it grants them in the classroom and in their scholarship, but for the invaluable experience they gain through the process of making such texts.
Similar to Leuck (2013) and Nelson et al. (2014), Angela Shetler, Susan E. Thomas, Frances Di Lauro, & Benjamin Miller, instructors at a Writing Hub in Australia, expressed their desire that students not only become more critical consumers of multimodal texts, but also become better composers of and collaborators on multimodal texts. These instructors claimed a rhetorical approach best supports the development of student writing in multimodal contexts. Shetler et al.’s webtext reported preliminary findings of a longitudinal study that used a rhetorical approach to teach multimodal communication, and thus far, their data suggests a rhetorical approach helps students better invent/discover texts, as well as better understand the interplay between text, interlocutor, and audience in real world contexts (“Contexts” section).
Noticeably, their definition of multimodal composition included their rhetorical focus, and relied on Prior et al.'s (2007) definition in another
webtext: “how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory" (qtd in “Glossary”). Instructors at the Writing Hub hoped that students gain multimodal fluency through the practice of rhetoric, because such fluency is “the hub for all other communicative acts in university and professional life” (“Glossary” section). These authors suggested that being critical prosumers of multimodal rhetorical moves is a necessary part of university education and communicative development, and in suggesting as much, they highlighted a conceptual shift in multimodal composition scholarship; that is, we are, students included, inundated with multimodal texts that require critical rhetorical analysis. No longer is it enough that student can rhetorically analyze print documents--they need to be just as critically adept at deconstructing the rhetorical moves in a given multimodal genre.
Sherrie Rankins-Robertson, Tiffany Bourelle, Andrew Bourelle, & David Fisher's (2014) webtext, "Multimodal Instruction: Pedagogy and Practice for Enhancing Multimodal Composition" extended Nelson et al.'s contention that multimodal courses should include mulitmodal instruction materials. Robertson et al. were asked to reconceptualize a composition course in an online environment, and they took advantage of this context to diversify the way they provided information to students. For example, instead of sending a welcome email, they created a welcome video, and in making their course materials multimodal, these authors aimed "to maximize students' learning about the rhetorical choices necessary to create cohesive multimodal texts" (Introduction).
These authors also contended, using dual-processing theory, that multimodal materials force students to simultaneously use their auditory/verbal channel with their visual/pictorial channel; in other words, they gained practice in reading and interpreting multimodal texts through the course materials themselves. One could argue that an alphabetic text requires both of these channels as well, but importantly, Robertson et al. highlighted the importance of students gaining critical practice in analyzing how multiple modes operate in relationship with each other.
In the same issue as Robertson et al.'s webtext is Gina Szabady, Crystal N. Fodrey, & Celeste Del Russo's (2014) PraxisWiki "on strategic adjustments three teachers have made to their multimodal pedagogies as [they] attempted to integrate visual and digital literacies." One of the authors, Crystal Fodrey, made multimodal composing a part of the course early on in the semester by asking students to create a narrative of themselves and their favorite hangouts using Google Maps. Later in the semester, Fodrey has students remediate their written public argument into a multimodal text, for which she provided the assignment sheet and student examples.
Gina Szabady, another author of this PraxisWiki, seemed less happy with FYW students remediation of an essay into a Wiki space, and found better success asking them to produce their own content for a Wiki. These FYW students seemed to achieve what Stuart Selber calls "functional literacy" but Szabady wished she would have made more time for students to develop their critical literacy of wikis and the internet in general. Indeed, Szabady's portion of this text offered intervention strategies that she learned in the process of teaching multimodal composing, and thus she demonstrated how reflective and flexible teachers of multimodal composing must be.
For example, she found in a 300-level technical writing class that a group whose project included a real client ultimately composed the best, most engaging project. The next time she taught the course, she made real community partners a requirement for the project because "the increased stakes and ability to gather feedback from stakeholders seemed to create increased investment in the project" (Szabady et al. 2014). The most effective intervention for this writing course were the student peer reviews because students would first apply their understanding of visual logic and design to their peer's document and then turn that lens on their own project.
The final author of this text, Celeste Del Russo maintained that as a teacher of writing and digital/visual logics, she must "reflect not only on my locatedness as a teacher, but on my students' locations of knowledge and understanding" (Szabady et al., 2014). To gain this insight, she asked students to co-create the rubric for a creative archival project, and then they had to reflect on this project. For her advanced composition course, Del Russo's students focused on archives as rhetorical constructs, and for their final project, they created an archive or contributed to an existing one. These projects could be material or digital and ranged from blogs to scrapbooks to brochures to photo journals. Like many teachers of multimodal composition, Del Russo wondered how to assess such work, which is part of the reason she invited students to develop the rubric as a class. Like Szabady discovered with her students, student involvement in the assessment and critique of multimodal texts seems to foster their multimodal literacy. Altogether, this PraxisWiki offered three separate yet similar snapshots of multimodal composition pedagogy.
Not only have
authors discussed multimodal composing in multilingual (con)texts, but they have also explored the relationship among multimodality, embodiment, and (dis)ability. This corporeal turn is best seen in their recent special issue on accessibility and disability (18.1), although this focus certainly appears in older issues. The corporeal node of multimodal scholarship in
demonstrates how nuanced and diversified this conversation has become.
Specifically, Yergeau et al.'s (2013) webtext, composed by eight authors, focused on embodied experience(s) while also revealing how conversation on multimodal composition has maintained an ableist point of view, assuming an equals sign between multimodality and access. In her section, Stephanie Kerschbaum coined the term “multimodal inhospitality,” and she offered these three critiques of the multimodal scholarship and theory:
• Many multimodal texts are not commensurable across modes,
• Inaccessible multimodal spaces are too often remedied by a problematic turn to retrofit, and
• Multimodal texts and environments are rarely flexible enough to be manipulated by users (Mode).
As an example, Kerschbaum pointed to the academic conference presentation as a modally inaccessible space for many persons with disabilities. Often times, presenters deliver an oral presentation without providing other forms of access to their presentation, say through displaying a power point or offering a transcript of their talk. More importantly, Kerschbaum problematized an accepted proponent of multimodality: that multimodality, because it engages multiple senses all at once, can amplify the communicative resources of a given text and/or environment (Kress, 2010). However, as Kerschbaum observed, some modes may not be accessible to users, and if they cannot modify the text/environment to their needs, then that multimodal text promising a rich communicative experience misses its mark (Mode/Commensurability). Of course, Kerschbaum did not disagree with the argument that using multiple modes can enhance meaning making possibilities for both composers and viewers of that composition, but she did prod multimodal composition scholars to consider how their use of “multimodality almost universally celebrates using multiple modes without considering what happens if a user cannot access one or more of them” (Mode/Commensurability).
Like Jacob Helms (2009), Fred Johnson (2014) felt comics have something to teach students about composing. In "Perspicuous Objects," Johnson claimed that when we have students pay attention to and discuss the composition of comics, they can apply that critical lens to other kinds of composition. Indeed, comics can teach students about the complex relationship between image and text because comics combine both to make meaning. In his webtext, Johnson included several teaching exercises "meant to prompt thinking about the complex ways that even subtle juxtapositions can alter the meaning of concatenated bits and pieces in a composition" ("La Ligne Juste").
(Johnson, "Teaching Comics, Teaching Writing" )
In terms of pedagogy, Johnson suggested students do side-by-side style comparisons of different comic artist's work, and they should do so by making an written inventory of what is on the page, from lines to images, that they might begin to perceive the stylistic choices these artists made. Or teachers might ask students to doodle self-portraits and then compare them as a class to see how different drawing techniques present the world in a specific way. As a complement to this exercise, Johnson recommended that teachers ask students to create another self-portrait using a different line style. This exercise would give students experience in "trying to invent effective expression with visuals" (Johnson, "Teaching Comics, Teaching Writing"). Similar to Susan Delagrange, Johnson believed students need practice in making meaning through juxtaposition, and as a result, students in his course created text-and-image juxtapositions and image-and-image juxtapositions. Such exercises gave students practice in the kind of metaphoric and metonymic meaning making Sorapure (2006) emphasized in her webtext. Taken together, Johnson's class exercises operate from the premise that comics can be used to teach students how to analyze and compose multimodal texts.
Indeed, comics are a good example of how meaning is made metaphorically and metonymically in multimodal texts because they rely on the meaning abstracted among/across/through their multiple modes of communication. Johnson made this connection, linking Scott McCloud's comic transition type, The Non-Sequiter, with Madeline Sorapure's suggestion that teachers might assess students' multimodal composition through the metaphors and metonyms they make across modes, or the degree to which their "visuals make figurative turns away from associated texts" (Johnson, Introduction). For Johnson, "that strategy is as surely a move into non-sequiter territory as it is a productive way to point students toward the complexity possible in image-text relationships" (Introduction). Johnson's webtext highlighted how comics make meaning through juxtaposition, line, style, and concatenation, and in this way, situated comics as a complex site to analyze, theorize, and teach mulitmodal meaning making. What is more, his webtext itself made meaning across modes and through creative juxtaposition of elements, enacting the very thing it theorized.
In their PraxisWiki text, Beth Powell, Kara Poe Alexander, & Sonya Borton (2011) argued that when students compose multimodal texts, they learn about rhetorical principles informing both the design and content of a multimodal text. Except, not all of them do, as revealed by Powell et al.’s analysis of student’s multimodal compositions. Of the twenty-four multimodal projects they analyzed, ten of those projects (nearly half) were Powerpoint (PPT) projects and for the most part, students constructed slideshows using the platform in conventional ways. Students tended to rely on PPT templates and as this software encourages, they reduced their essays to bullet-point lists that read more like a presentation than a substantive essay (Unsuccessful Use), a finding corroborated by Christine Tardy’s (2005) study of multilingual students’ PPT compositions.
In addition to theorizing multimodal instruction, these authors offered a wealth of resources for teachers, including videos on constructing portfolios and offering interactive feedback, a list of recommendations, a sample syllabus and sample assignment sheets, as well as student project examples. This webtext may be a rich teaching resource, but it also reflected a larger movement in multimodal composition studies for teachers to be producers of multimodal texts. Those of us who teach and research multimodal composing, need to make multimodal texts. It is not enough that we can produce successful, print-based academic discourse because writing has expanded to include multiple modes of meaning making. If we are to be effective teachers of these kinds of texts, we need to be making them ourselves, and it is this overall message that one takes away from Robertson et al.'s webtext.
One of important contributers to multimodal theory has been Gunther Kress, whose 2010 book,
Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Communication
largely captured the scope of his work over the last decade. Joe Weinberg (2010) reviewed this text for
, which is of no surprise considering the considerable influence Kress has had on the field of computers and writing. Kress first influenced composition studies in the late 1990s as a part of the New London Group (NLG), a group who outlined a pedagogy of multiliteracies. As previously mentioned, this pedagogy claimed that communication consists of five modes of meaning making—spatial, gestural, visual, linguistic, aural—with multimodal design being any combination of these modes (NLG 25). This definition, the NLG, and Gunther Kress in particular, have shaped how scholars think about, explore, and teach multimodal composition (Selfe and Hawisher, “Letter” 1). Many mulitmodal composition scholars support Kress’ claim that “communication is always and inevitably multimodal; and (b) that each of the modes available in a culture provides specific potentials and limitations for communication” (“Gains” 5). In other words, signs (language) are multimodal and socially made and remade.
Kress’ explicated this notion as a social semiotic, multimodal theory of communication. As Weinberg (2010) noted in his review of Kress’ book, Kress’ theory operated from the premise that “’Language’ isn’t a big enough receptacle for all the semiotic stuff we felt sure we could pour into it” (qtd. in Weinberg). Weinberg spent much of his review complaining about Kress’ writing style, extensive use of new terms, anecdotal evidence, and as a result, Weinberg gives the social aspect of Kress’ theory short shrift. Weinberg highlighted the semiotic and multimodal aspects of Kress’ theory, but neglected to fully discuss that “in a social-semiotic account of meaning, individuals, with their social histories, socially shaped, located in social environments, using socially made, culturally available resources, are agentive and generative in sign-making and communication” (Kress, 2010, p. 54). Communication is a social, semiotic activity regulated by generic forms of interaction, but these forms are themselves continually re/shaped by culture, usage, and interaction. Kress’ position is not a new one, at least not for/from him. Since his work with the NLG, he has consistently located his study of multimodality and semiotics in a social context (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001; Kress, 2000).
Prior et al.’s (2007)
webtext also worked from the premise that meaning is created through interaction between individuals, sociocultural settings, and composers cultural, psychological, and technological tools. In a nutshell, this text sought to remap the rhetorical canons, and more specifically rhetorical activity, to account for developments in semiotics, theory, phenomenology, psychology, and sociology (Core Text 2). To provide a richer understanding of rhetorical activity, Prior et al. forward a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) that argued
activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically-provided tools and practices, which range from machines, made-objects, semiotic means (e.g. languages, genres, iconographies), and institutions to structure environments, domesticated animals and plants, and, indeed, people themselves. (Core Text 17)
This theory perceived of communication as rhizomatic, socially-situated, mediated, and multimodal. While similar to Kress’ social-semiotic, multimodal approach to communication, CHAT did not draw so heavily on linguistics and pragmatics, and instead synthesized Vygotsky, Voloshinov, Bakhtin, and Latour with phenomenology, sociology, and anthropology (Core Text 17). Their map of rhetorical activity, put simply, was not directly about the internet, television, or electracy—it was "about attending to semiosis in whatever materials at whatever point in the activity” (Core Text 23). Importantly, Prior et al.’s CHAT highlighted one of the conceptual shifts that had to occur in composition and rhetoric studies for multimodal composition to gain scholastic attention and support: a re/vision of language as more than linguistic/alphabetic/ discursive.
Joyce Walker’s (2006)
webtext, “Hyper.Activity,” was published a year before Prior et al.’s text, and although her focus was on production of digital scholarship, her framework is similar to that informing CHAT. Walker’s webtext catalogued her process of creating this professional, new media text, a process she analyzed using activity theory, multimodal theory, and material rhetoric. The last she explained as the physical and spatial contexts of producing texts that ultimately influenced the meaning im/possibilities of a given text (Slide 5). Walker contended composers and composition teachers need to critically consider the environmental contexts in which they create, because these environments are social constructions that “have both physical and emotional impact on [their] work as readers and writers” (Slide 5). Teachers and students need to be critical of the technologies they bring in the classroom.
Walker’s webtext also contributes to the discussion on multimodal meaning making in that she traced her process of producing multimodal composition. Walker noticed that creating digital, multimodal texts was sometimes at odds with the goals of academic discourse (coherence, logic, and objectivity), which is why she called for “different arrangements for connecting, separating, and juxtaposing information” (Slide 3). These texts’ rhetorical goals call for different composing, meaning making practices. Walker said this is “Not Your Grandmother’s Composing Process,” as creation of digital texts requires visual and navigational planning, peripherality, ephemeral transitioning, and an understanding of time/space relationships (Slide 11).
Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgman, & Stephen J. McElroy explain that rhetorical functionality was at the core of their conceptualization, construction, and production of their multimodal Florida State University Card Archive, a physical and digital archive of postcards from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (Archivists-Researchers). In their webtext, Neal et al. detail how they constructed their archive to highlight the relationships between and among modalities. Instead of focusing on the front image of postcards alone, their archive considers “the writing on the card, its circulation, the layout and design, the instructions, the relationships between the parties invested in the card, printing and paper technologies involved in the card’s production, any legal or social regulations connected with the card, and the list could go on” (Modality and Materiality). Multimodal composing and rhetorical choices are but a portion of this complex webtext; for example, modality and materiality are but one of five border spaces/tensions revealed by Neal et al.’s archive, with the other four being university and community, print and screen, time and geography, and positionality and hierarchy.
Image from Yergeau et al. (2014), Reason/Accommodating
Two 2011 CCCC's Digital Pedagogy Poster presentations also addressed multimodal composition pedagogy, one on using digital delivery as a heuristic for multimodal video composing and the other on how multimodal remix can be used for cultural critique. The former, Chanon Adsanatham’s (2012) presentation, modified James Porter’s topoi for digital delivery into a heuristic for teaching multimodal video composing. Porter has five topoi for digital delivery—body/identity, distribution/circulation, access/accessibility, interaction, economics-which Adsanatham adapted to help students think about and plan their multimodal video project. In the second presentation (Ashby et al., 2012), presenters provided sample assignments that asked students to create remixed, mulitmodal texts using pop culture in order to critically analyze pop culture. Interestingly, one of the presenters, Mandy Watts, devoted part of her sample assignment to Albert Rouzie’s notion of serio-ludic play, asking students to inhabit the “space between drudgery (boring research) and passive consumption” (Ashby et al. 2012). These presenters hoped, like Amy Lueck, that multimodal composing will do double-duty and help students achieve critical literacy as well as multimodal literacy.
Ashby et al.'s poster:
Beyond Lueck (2013) and Watson's (2013) texts, multimodality, as it intersects with multilingualism, is rarely discussed. In their focus, these authors recall The New London Group's pedagogy of multiliteracies, a pedagogy that seeks “to make salient those notions of literacy competence which are actively pluralist” (Lo Bianco, 2000, 92) by acknowledging and making space for multiple modes of communication, linguistic and non-linguistic alike. Granted, in the same issue as these two texts, Shetler et al. (2013) situate their finding that a rhetorical approach is best for multimodal pedagogy within a globalized, professional context, but their focus is primarily how to teach multimodal composing, not multimodality and multilingualism. Thus, while the multilingual turn may be a slow revolution in
, they are spinning toward it all the same.
The combination of these two form another node in the
rhizome on multimodal composition. However, as evidenced by the sheer variety of scholarship on multimodal composition, no two authors seems to bridge multimodality and multilingualism in quite the same way. For example, Rebecca Walton's (2013) webtext reported on a four-month study of seven information and communication development projects in India, finding that "communication modes, media, and devices affected the ability of projects to meet their development goals, such as improving the livelihoods of subsistence farmers" ("Home"). Walton links (multiple) modes and media to variables like geography, literacy, and class, all of which impact multimodal, multimedia communication in specific, located ways.
The remainder of Lueck's webtext reported on a class study where students wrote the closed captions for a scene in a film with non-prestige dialect,
. After watching the clip three times at least, students wrote their captions, posted them to Blackboard, then reviewed them for differences. Lueck's most troubling finding was that when students encountered non-standard or difficult-to-represent speech, they either captioned the section in standard English or did not have a caption for that portion. In general, they tended to move toward standardization, not to problematize it.
As a final note, In the process of writing her article, the reviewers also pushed Lueck to consider how closed captioning inevitably raised questions regarding ability and access. In this way, although this webtext largely attends to the intersection of multimodality and multilingualism, it also recognized the body's role in making meaning through closed captioning, which is a subtle connection between corporeality and multimodality (see The Corporeal Turn section).
In the same
issue as Walton's, Amy Lueck (author) and Shyam Sharma (designer) (2013) explored the intersection of multimodality and diversity from a very different angle than Watson (2013). Lueck's webtext in fact began with a literature of review of relevant scholarship on composition and multilingualism, and in particular, noted scholars who "respond to the diverse language practices of students by considering the ways we can value and build on language difference in our classrooms" (Introduction). Lueck focused on Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur's (2011) theory of translinguality that sees language difference, what some might term as "error," as resource instead of deficit. Lueck contended closed captioning is a good way to teach translingualism, and what is more, students gained practice in a multimodal space at the same time. Lueck hoped that, "in using closed captions to distance 'monolingual' language users from their own discursive resources and assumptions, this activity sought to elucidate the ways in which all language is contingent and translated" (Closed Captioning as Language Practice).
While Yergeau et al.’s article urged instructors and scholars to rethink their definition of an effective multimodal text, Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s wiki offered instructors specific suggestions for incorporating multimodal accessibility in their course syllabi. In addition to explaining the rhetoricity of an accessibility statement’s wording and location, Wood and Madden also suggested instructors incorporate different modes for learning, remain flexible in their assessment of student’s use of multiple modes, and offer students alternative modes of delivery. Like the CCCC’s Position Statement on 2nd Language Writers, Wood and Madden implicitly asked teachers to consider their students as individuals with individual needs/wants, instead of thinking of them en masse. In this instance, they connected such individuality with multimodality. Together, Yergeau et al.’s piece and Wood and Madden’s wiki made a similar argument to those made for acknowledging and attending to the possibility that composition students are not linguistically homogenous—some students may be multilingual, which requires teachers to rethink their pedagogical and evaluative practices. Likewise, teachers and composers of multimodal text(s) should be conscious of an audience who varies in ability to interpret given modes of communication conveyed/viewed at a particular time/space. And the solution is not to retrofit, but to include in one’s design from the very first.
Image by Gabriel Ryerson
scholarship on multimodal composition spins outward in a number of directions, it seems to share a few basic tenets. For one, multimodal texts are here to stay, which necessitates a shift in how Rhetoric & Composition scholars and teachers perceive, define, and teach writing. In the early aught years, scholars made the case for multimodal composition, and often had to defend why they researched, made, and taught such texts. While they sometimes still have to defend such work, especially to the larger field of Rhetoric & Composition, multimodal composition has become more instantiated in the fields of computers and writing and digital humanities.
is one of the greatest contributors to these areas of inquiry, and this journal demonstrates the popularity of multimodal composition in the diversified and nuanced ways scholars have approached, theorized, and taught multimodal composition. Thus, at the very least,
authors view communication and meaning making as multimodal, which is very different way of conceiving of writing indeed.
This shift in thinking has also meant composition/writing teachers coming to include multimodal composition in their classrooms. In fact, the disciplinary acceptance of multimodal composition has allowed Kairos scholars to explore a variety of methods through which to teach multimodal composing , and has even allowed for teachers to investigate best practices for developing multimodal literacy. If multimodal composing and multimodal texts were not an accepted part of everyday communication and discourse,
contributors would not have had the support necessary for scholastic attention to multimodality. This journal has provided one of these support systems in offering a space for scholars to not only study and discuss multimodal composition, but to compose and publish it as well.
does not accept traditional, print-based word documents for publication because they want to publish webtexts that take into consideration the rhetorical, communicative affordances of media and the World Wide Web. The journal's aesthetic, intellectual standards suggest it scholars will continue to develop new nodes of inquiry in conversation on multimodal scholarship. More work certainly needs to be done on the two recent turns toward multilingualism and corporeality, and some nodes, like gender and sexuality as they intersect with multimodality (see Alexander and Rhodes), have yet to be explored in
' (web)pages, although Casey Miles' (2015) "Butch Rhetoric: Queer Masculinity in Rhetoric and Composition" best entertains these ideas. But, because
encourages original, visionary scholarship, both in form and content, there is little doubt its authors will continue to shape the conversation on multimodal composition in years to come.
Similar to Kerschbaum, Margaret Price asked Rhetoric and Composition scholars to consider the accessibility of disciplinary spaces and practices, like that of a conference presentation or a job interview. Price described how a discipline maintains kairotic spaces that assume normate bodyminds ably accessing the modes required of those structures. As a result, these spaces erase or make absent those individuals who cannot perform as the moment in time requires. Price further claimed that computers and writing studies remains less diverse because "it uses infrastructures—even if unintentionally—to mark certain bodies absent, and so those bodies quickly become absent materially as well as ontologically" (Toward an Ethical Infrastructure). Together, Kerschbaum and Price reminded scholars that kairotic spaces are multimodal ones that may or may not be accessible by all bodies/minds at any given moment. In response, these spaces should not be structured around able-bodies, but include non-normate bodies in a participatory design process from the outset.
In her section of "Multimodality in Motion: Disability & Kairotic Spaces," Melanie Yergeau called for a new theory of access for the kairotic spaces of a discipline, a theory that "accounts for kairotic spaces, a theory that elides retrofitting, a theory that disables archly held notions about modality and the human sensorium" (Reason). Specifically, she highlighted how an accomodation approach to disability in fact reinforces the distinction between normative and non-normative bodies. Like many of her co-writers, Yergeau asked us to move away from retrofitting our practices and twoard designing inclusive spaces from the start.
Yergeau also included a video in her section of the article that troubles a popular tenet in multimodal composition: content should not be repeated across modes. Instead, multimodal composers should make the most expressive use of their modes by layering meaning across modes instead of restating the same idea in a different mode. However, Yergeau's video, "Shiny Identities," challenged multimodal scholars to rethink their definition of a "good" multimodal text, because in some instances, repeating content across modes means creating access for more a number of body-minds, not simply those who can ably, deftly move among/between modes.