This is the story of my journey into applying the pedagogical approach of multimodal composition into my classroom. I will discuss my particular approach to integration of the concepts, the challenges and rewards that I have experienced with my application of the approach and my argument in favor of applying such an approach into all writing curriculum.
Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times and please enjoy the journey…
As an undergraduate student in fine art, I was always fascinated by the world of mixed media, from the processes the artists went through to choose or appropriate the particular media they were using (whether it be computer graphics, paint, ink, glue, cloth, metal, rubber or a ready-made object like a book) to their application and use of it in the work they were creating. These artists start with a group of diverse objects and media and form them into a cohesive whole. In other words, they use multiple modes of accomplishing their end result.
Moving into my role as a Western Illinois University graduate student in Instructional Design and Technology and teaching assistant for the English and Journalism Department, I was searching for a way for my love of art and visuals to be integrated with my love of writing. My search was answered when I read Karen Moynihan’s article “A Collectibles Project: Engaging Students in Authentic Multimodal Research and Writing.” This article was the proverbial glue that I was missing in my goal of trying to establish a real connection for my students between the visual, the technology and the literacy.
In Moynihan’s article she discusses her approach to applying multimodal pedagogy into her advanced high school literacy classroom. While her integration of multimodal research methods such as types or modes of sources, primary and secondary research as well as visual elements, design of document and 3D elements follows a semester long schedule, I adapted her approach into a five week timeline to fit with my Freshman Composition classroom Papers Four (Problem Proposal) and Five (Researched Argument). I also adopted her overall theme of collecting. However, I adjusted the theme to include other methods and modes of collecting than just the basic objects like stamps, coins and glassware. I wanted the theme to be new and exciting to my students (which I think collecting is) yet also be a subject that they found interest in since they would be working the topic through two papers. I wanted them to think deeper about the people doing the collecting and the potential problems that could be associated with collecting since their Paper 4 assignment was to discuss a problem and Paper Five to argue a solution/position on the problem. So the theme of collecting was presented in a positive/negative format. Students were presented with a possible list of topics that encompassed investigating items they collected themselves, items other people collected such as coins or stamps, places that collect such as museums and zoos, investigating collecting turned into hoarding (both animal and object hoarding) and even serial killers collecting jewelry or other items from their victims. They then had to discuss the topic in terms of social, psychological or economic problems that might be associated with it, propose a solution and take a position on that problem arguing for their solution and position. Then finally, incorporate the assigned multimodal elements into their papers.
While the term multimodal can take on many different meanings, for my application of multimodal pedagogy I utilized the following definitions:
For this approach the student’s multimodal documents were required to combine text, image and graphic design as well as multimodal research specifically through primary research interviews and multiple types of secondary sources.
The decision for the mode of this paper took into account student’s possible experience with vehicle programs like Microsoft Word, Power Point, Google Sites, YouTube, Wix, Weebly, Slide Share, iMove and Movie Maker. Takayoshi and Self (2007) discuss many students are already active consumers of multimodal compositions by their involvement in activities such as watching television, making home movies, communication on web pages and downloading music. In addition, DigiRhet.org (2006) states there is a new kind of digital divide where students may be very familiar with viewing and downloading complex multimodal documents but lack the training to understand how to construct them. To attempt to (slowly) bridge this divide, I decided that Microsoft Word would be used as a primary vehicle for the multimodal essay because students were more familiar with the program and it supported all the multimodal requirements that needed to be integrated into their papers. Yet, this choice was still open to students who might want to explore formats past Microsoft Word. The students were encouraged to use or include animation, sound, and video into their papers but were not required. In the end, all the papers were created in Microsoft Word integrating images, text, research and design.
“I am going to explain how my students can design their multimodal essays by using Microsoft Word. I have given them the option of using other forms to bring all their required elements together however, I think it is a good idea to start them in a program they are familiar with so I am going to demonstrate how to add images, wrap text and make graphs and charts in Word and then let them practice doing it in their own papers. We are also going to discuss other elements like font and headings. I want them to have fun with this process. Hopefully, they will…”
–Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012.
The content of Paper Four (Problem Proposal) would be part of the required content for Paper Five (Researched Argument) so the students had to “integrate” the ideas they had presented in the papers. This was done so students could see and apply ideas of papers together. It was also done because they had to do outside elements (graph, primary research, design of paper and include images) and to make them feel comfortable that some of the content was already done. This did not mean that they simply had half their paper done and they could just start typing on the end of Paper Four. They had to take the problem they discussed and turn it into a well-developed researched argument. This was an important continuation of practice with organization which is a significant concept of the writing process taught in composition classrooms.
“When I read the total word count required for Paper 5 there was a collective “gasp” in my classroom – WHAT 1500 words?! However, when I explained to them that they did not have to come up with all 1500 words from scratch but rather they were using what they had already written for Paper Four for Paper Five students were generally thrilled at the idea that they had written “part” of their paper already. This feeling might be a little subdued as they tackle integrating and re-organizing their actual papers into one complete paper, but for now all is well again…”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
“After introducing Paper 5 (the big multimodal researched argument paper!) I think my students were a little overwhelmed, but still interested in the additional components I am requiring them to incorporate. I made it a point to tell them I would be guiding them through each component and had built in “work days” for them to practice using the multimodal elements in class so their major outside of class task was to do the same as Paper 4 and research, research, research! I think this squelched some of the anxiety.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Primary Research and Secondary Research
Students were required to do both primary and secondary research. The primary research was to conduct an interview with a person or person(s) of their choosing and the secondary research had to include multiple types of secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, book and other print sources and web or internet sources. Class time was set aside for a lesson on interviews and interview etiquette. Students were provided interview tips in handouts and gave class time to brainstorm questions and approaches. They were free to interview via face-to-face, phone, e-mail or social media like Facebook and Twitter. Students were also required to turn in typed documents with potential interview questions and they also had to type transcripts of their interviews for me to read before they incorporated the information in their paper. Most of the students did exceptionally well on this assignment. Most students utilized family and local connections or chose to interview fellow students or faculty members. However, some students went beyond their comfort zone and tried their luck emailing places like the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), The Learning Channel (TLC), Humane Society and the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Overall, the responses they received were very helpful and provided wonderful primary source information for them to include in their papers.
To help students with location the secondary sources they needed, a library day was scheduled at the university library to introduce how to search library databases for sources as well as how to utilize the reference desk librarians for help in finding print sources. Because extra emphasis was put on the importance of the book or print sources students were assigned to physically bring their book source to class for approval. It is an important component of the process for students to physically experience gathering print sources as well as conducting a close reading and annotating of those sources. These are important skills that they will use not only later on in their academic careers but in their future job positions as well.
“Friday I gave the lesson on interviewing because part of their multimodal elements is to incorporate primary research/source material via interviewing someone affiliated with their topic. I printed a handout for them that listed tips and tricks to conducting an interview and writing proper interview questions. I stressed the many ways they could conduct their interviews because I want them to be comfortable in gathering the information. They are free to interview via face-to-face, telephone, instant messaging, email, blogs or social media like Face Book and Twitter. Any of these means are at their disposal. For the in-class activity, I had them get started following the steps I laid out for them in the lesson on brainstorming who to interview, deciding how the information was to be used in their paper and potential questions they were going to ask. I wanted them to be able to get started with the process early and then they have until after Thanksgiving break to conduct the interview. I did this on purpose so it would give them enough time to connect with their interviewees. Hopefully, they have fun doing this and the experience will follow them through the remainder of their academic careers. I believe since most of my students are LEJA, Criminal Justice, Pre-Law or Psychology majors they will have to do this type of research again. Therefore, my hope is that it will transfer and they will already be one-step ahead in the process!”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Visual Images and Graph/Chart
Students were required to insert at least two images into their documents and connect the images to the persuasive appeals ethos, pathos and logos. They had to provide a label/caption underneath each image providing a correct citation telling where the image came from and label which appeal it supports. Class time was given for a brief lesson on internet image copyright and proper use of images that are available on the web. Most students did not realize that Google Image is not the actual source of the images represented and that citing images is just as important as citing information from text sources. They were encouraged to take their own images for their papers, which a few students who were doing their papers on personal collectibles did. For those who did not take their own images URL’s for free digital photo sites were provided so they could easily access copyright free images.
In addition to the images, the students were to insert a graph/chart that depicted found data/statistics on their topic. Just like Moynihan’s approach my students “were not to download this graph” (Moynihan, 2007, p.73). They had to create this element themselves they could not copy one that was already made. Additionally, they had to cite the graph properly indicating where the data came from. This particular multimodal research/design element evolved into what was to be one of the most important multimodal elements as it helped connect students to a deeper level of learning in relation to their researched arguments. They began to understand the importance of data and how so many types of information can be transformed and depicted into a visual graph or chart. Many students went beyond the requirement for the paper and included two graphs thereby doing extra research and work than they had to do. One particular student who was investigating tattoo collecting went even farther and asked if they could survey a group of people and gather their own data for their graph thereby having to analyze that data for its inclusion into the paper.
“This week I plan to discuss Ethos, Pathos and Logos and how they will use these appeals in their arguments as well as how they will connect to the images they have to incorporate into their papers. I will be discussing how to integrate visuals into their papers along with discussion of visual rhetoric, copyright guidelines for internet images along with type and layout of documents. I plan on having them look at some examples of visually designed documents and examine the elements.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
“Our discussion of ethos, pathos and logos went well. Only a few of my students had heard of the appeals before so I felt what I had prepared was reasonable as far as what would be review for some and new for others. I found three videos that I felt worked very nicely when placed in succession. The first video gave a brief review of persuasive writing and introduced ethos, pathos and logos. The second went into more depth on the meaning of them and how to use them and the third was an example of how they can be used together. I felt this was a way to “change it up” and not have me lecture the whole time. I then presented my power point on ethos, pathos and logos focusing on both use it text and image. To practice the concepts I had students get into groups and go through some ads that used the appeals. They had to tell which appeal the ad was using and then how and why it was using it. I think they enjoyed looking at the ads and it helped them understand the concepts better. This is key since they are not only going to be using these appeals in their papers but also through the images they include.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
The visual design and layout of the papers were open to the student’s creativity. They were shown examples I had made and visually designed examples from the textbook Joining the Conversation: Writing in College and Beyond by Mike Palmquest. They also had time to practice designing their documents in class. Takayoshi and Selfe (2007) state “Instructors of composition need to teach students not only how to interpret such texts from active and critical perspective they also need to teach students how to go beyond the consumption of such texts-learning how to compose them for a variety of purposes and audiences” (p.3). In examining the examples that were shown, students had to think about not only interpreting the text, but also applying what they were seeing to potential application into their papers. Additionally, a lesson was given on visual rhetoric and using images to support text. Students were encouraged to use all the design features Microsoft Word including the text tools, color, text-wrap function, font size and page layout. I conveyed that this particular element was supposed to be fun! I also suggested for them to use this element as a “break” from creating the content of their paper. If they were getting stuck generating the text then they could take a break and play around with the design of the paper to give them time to “rest” and come back to the text with fresh eyes.
“I am excited for class today because I am finally going to talk about integrating the multimodal elements into their papers. They have to integrate 2 pictures, a graph or chart as well as design their document by playing with type, headings, color and format… I really hope that they respond to this lesson. My hope is that they are at least able to see how many variables and aspects of visual design really go into and affect how we perceive written documents.”-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Multimodal Composition: Challenge and Rewards
Multimodal composition carries with it a number of challenges for both teachers and students. In the article “Inventing myself in multimodality: Encouraging senior faculty to use digital media” Debra Journet (2007) describes two specific challenges for teachers being “learning to use multimodal technologies and understanding how multimodality connects to the primary goals of the writing classes” (p. 110). When teachers choose to integrate multimodal pedagogy into the classroom they at least on some level become learners in areas that they are usually the experts. They may have to re-learn and put in the extra time and effort to become familiar with the various modes of multimodal research and elements. This does not mean to say that composition teachers should now have to immediately be experts in technology or design, but rather that adopting multimodal pedagogy may require setting aside some time for new learning. Multimodality connects with the primary goals of the writing classroom in a variety of ways. It helps students view writing as a “deeper” process that involves multiple elements text and image. This approach most often results in the students being more engaged and understanding the material presented. They also seem to enjoy this method of integrated instruction. Many of them spend hours of personal time on the internet or with other modes of media such as smart phones or iPods. This integration helps boost traditional instruction methods and promote student interest and connection to their personal world. Since students are responsible for integrating and creating multimodal elements into their formal papers, the assigned tasks are helping to immerse them even further in the material, building even stronger connections with the written word.
My experience with multimodal components has been at times messy and unpredictable. Journet states “the other consequence of such a pedagogy is a new acknowledgement of my co-learner status” (p. 116). Despite having a background in fine art and visual elements, I have still become a continuous co-learner with my students. I presented the information how I understand it but it was up to the students to apply it to their particular paper and for them to make the appropriate choices that best supported their papers. This is the magic of the process. Once presented with the material, the instructor “relinquishes control” and hands responsibility over to the students. In fact, some of my students in going beyond the requirements of the paper gave me some wonderful ideas for future classes. For example, one student included an “interpretation of interview” section in their interview transcript which I did not assign them to do however, now I plan to include that element in future classes. I wish I had thought of that myself however, it is a perfect example of my co-learner status. As an instructor I try to think of “everything” but in applying this multimodal pedagogy into my classroom the process has shown me (on an even deeper level than I have previously realized) that in teaching my students, they are continually teaching me as well.
Despite at times being unsure that this approach was really teaching my students everything that they needed to be sure to learn in freshman composition, I have realized that this approach has pushed me as an instructor to better understand the learning process and that it is not cut and dried. It is organic, just as the relationship between all the multimodal approaches is in many different ways interconnected and interwoven. This approach has also pushed my students to make even greater connections between the general writing process and strategies I have taught them.
Additional challenges include juggling time lines/due dates for elements, keeping students on track and grading. In my experience with this process I have found it is very challenging to keep students on track with multiple due dates. Similar to Moynihan’s approach I made multiple due dates for images, graphs/charts, sources and interview transcripts. This was done so that students did not wait until the last minute to create the elements especially the interviews. However, I did find it challenging to keep track of everyone’s elements and remember who did not turn theirs in on time. Similarly, students have a lot to remember. Being freshman level students they are just becoming familiar with college life, but my students rose to the challenge. To help them remember many weekend email reminders were sent reminding students of the things they had due. Most major elements were due after weekend breaks to give plenty of time and warning. Even though it required extra effort, this approach worked out well. With regards to grading this type of essay, some might argue they could not grade this type of essay since they are not “experts” on visual layout or technology. To that I say - then don’t! I suggest grading on the aspects that composition instructors are comfortable in grading. So grade the multimodal elements not on how well they are visually designed, unless one is comfortable and familiar with this type of evaluation, but rather ask do the elements fulfill their function? Do they support the text? This is a typical question asked of source material and one my students have more easily understood as grading criteria.
“Today I decided that I needed to totally scrap what I had planned on doing (discussing integrating visuals into Paper 5) and take a step back to Paper 4. I had graded most of their papers and decided that I wanted to take class time to discuss some of the problems, solutions clarifying my comments as well as starting to revise since the content of this paper is critical in the multimodal Paper 5. I feel that many of my students had C or better papers yet it was bugging me that some of the mistakes they were making I felt were important/serious enough that I needed to take class time to review. Also I have felt like I have not stressed the process or importance of revision enough in my class. I really feel strongly that revision should be a central element yet I have hardly been able to discuss it at all due to all the other topics that I have felt I needed to “cram” into their heads before they leave my class. Yet, in reflection I really think it is a disservice to the idea that they need to learn and remember all the things I am presenting when practicing those items has not been stressed in conjunction with the revision process. I think I could figure out how to connect teaching all the concepts that I have to teach them and still connect it to revision. This is something that I am struggling with as far as time to do it and address it but it is on my radar and I really want to put more of the focus on revisions and their importance.”
-Kristin Bradley Teaching Journal November 2012
Making the Case for Multimodal Composition
In an increasingly technology driven world, contemporary education must adapt to meet the demands of society. In the composition classroom it is extremely important to look beyond traditional theories and pedagogies adapting traditional academic assignments to meet the demands. Mickey Hess (2007) states “for teachers, one of the greatest benefits of experimenting with multimodal composing…is the opportunity to re-think what they know about composing: to test, evaluate and expand the theories of composing they have developed when teaching alphabetic writing and get students to do so as well” (p. 30). By adopting a multimodal pedagogical approach instructors can help move beyond standard academic assignments to better resemble documents students are most likely to see as well as create in their work environments.
In an increasingly technological world, students need to be experienced and skilled not only in reading (consuming) texts, employing multiple modalities, but also in composing in multiple modalities, if they hope to communicate successfully within the digital communication networks that characterize workplaces, schools, civic life, and span traditional cultural, national and geopolitical borders” (Takayoshi and Self, 2007, p. 3).
Many instructors create lessons via many modes of multimodal texts such as Power Point presentations and video tutorials, yet do not ask students to do the same with their papers. In preparing well-rounded and fully prepared graduates universities via instructors need to expand the literacies of students so they are prepared to enter the multimodal workplace. Being able to interpret and communicate via multiple modalities is essential in an increasingly technological society.
Additionally, adopting a multimodal composition approach supports the traditional literacies that are the foundation of the composition classroom – it just moves them into the modern era. All the additional elements such as audio, video and image are designed to support the traditional composition papers. Nothing is lost in this application. When students work in many modes of rhetoric they are practicing methods of integration promoting further connection with the text and understanding of the writing process. Foundation and historical concepts of composition such as organization, audience, purpose, critical reading, interpretation, revision and negotiation are all amplified in this approach. In the article “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for 21st Century Pedagogy” Elizabeth Clark discusses the historical changes of writing in the invention of the Gutenberg Press to the age of the Computer arguing that while Gutenberg’s press seemed to diminish a rich tradition in interaction with text, since text had to be hand printed before it’s invention, it actually helped promote many intellectual gains. She also argues it is much the same with the computer as a rhetorical tool and what the technology has done for learning making it even more collaborative including vast audiences of what is written on the web. The computer is a vital component of the multimodal “participatory Web 2.0 technologies” (Clark, 2010, p.31). Thus, allowing increased interactions and understanding of audience, purpose, negotiation and collaboration in students understanding of the writing process. Just as composing traditional written text, composing multimodal projects requires a great deal of revision (Sheppard, 2009). The content, subject matter, audience and purpose must be constantly in mind as elements are formed. Multimodal composition engages students even further with sources, the research process and the writing process. They have to spend additional time negotiating the inclusion of the elements and how they relate to the text, composing elements and analyzing and evaluating if the elements are playing their supporting role.
Throughout this journey of applying a multimodal pedagogical approach, I have learned the importance of being open to new approaches, processes and co-learning with my students. I always hoped that they would leave my classroom having learned something from me and I believe they have because they now not only consume in a multimodal way but have composed in it as well. However, now I see the naivety of that original hope. In reality, I am the one that has learned so much from them.
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use digital media. Computers and Composition. 24(2), 107-120.
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than just technical skill. Computers and Composition. 26, 122-131.
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Cresskill, NJ : Hampton Press
My name is Kristin Bradley. I am a photographer, designer, writer, avid reader, mother and constant artistic dabbler. This blog contains samples of my writing.