Multimodal Writing: A Technology Literacy Narrative

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What is multimodal writing?

Multimodal writing is writing that involves many different modes, whether that means text, visuals, video, audio, etc. Selfe says that “multimodal” itself means “exceeding the alphabetic and may include images, animations, color, words, music, and sound” (Selfe, 2007) (See references below). So multimodal writing is writing composition that might include images, animations, color, words, music, and sound, not just text.

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What types of multimodal writing do we learn in school?

In school we’ve learned through various modes, however, we don’t necessarily learn to utilize them ourselves. An example that comes to mind would be when I took Shakespeare in high school. We read Shakespeare texts and plays, acted out the scripts, as well as watched the movies based on the plays to help us better visualize what was going on in the scene and help us create meaning from the text through transduction. Transduction is converting something into another form.

Another example would be in my Intro to the Essay class with Katie Marks. Katie taught us various forms of writing, including writing a book using the mode of tweeting (click for link). The book is written from a timeline– as in, each tweet is read in order of publication, rather than in the order that it is on the Twitter profile. Although we didn’t necessarily get to practice it ourselves, we were aware that tweeting our writing was an option for us to try.

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The English Language Arts exam uses various modalities to test students in grades 3-8.

There was even an effort to help students learn through different modes by testing us on our listening skills. The state English exam that we have to take in New York State from grades 3-8 involved a listening portion, where you would have to listen to someone read aloud a text and answer questions about the text. This helped us develop our aural learning skills, however minimally.

It’s interesting that teaching and learning in multiple modalities stops after 8th grade. Perhaps it is because after 8th grade, it is assumed that we as students have learned all of the basic fundamentals of utilizing and engaging with various modes as our brains are still in early development. However, this is not the case, and we should continue to use and engage in various modes within the classroom after 8th grade, such as continuing to test our listening skills as well as our image/video-text analysis skills.

How is multimodal learning beneficial?

I think that multimodal learning is extremely beneficial, especially to the modern-day student. Palmeri tells us that there are “crucial interconnections between compositing with words and composing with images,” or other modes, emphasizing how using various modes to teach and write helps us close the gap of understanding for students.

Although Bezemer and Kress identify some issues with recontextualizing in various modes such as a “loss of specificity,” there is a “gain in generality,” as in, people can make assumptions, generalizations, and various interpretations from the use of various modes where with just text there may only be one way of understanding something. This makes us look at composition differently, including the differences and similarities between a text and a related image or picture or sound, and help us develop our critical analysis, interpretation, and thinking skills. I believe using various modes to be beneficial because it widens the gap of understanding by helping us engage, see, and learn with various materials/modes in different ways, and developing our critical analysis and thinking skills.


Should multimodal writing be integrated into the writing major? 

Yancey says that “the screen is the language of the vernacular, that if we do not include it in the school curriculum, we will become as irrelevant as faculty professing in Latin… The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures and audio and video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student” (305). It should be integrated into the writing major because otherwise writing may become irrelevant, and the skills of the writing major will fade into the background, according to Yancey.

Like I said before, I think it should be integrated before college even, in primary school, middle school, high school, etc. It should be an option on all if any tests, essays, projects, etc. We should be learning technology and graphic design a lot earlier on. And it is integrated before college, like during the national English Language Arts exam, but not to the extent that text learning/composition is, and since it’s not extended past 8th grade, our skills aren’t as developed as they could be.

Not only does learning various forms help us think critically, but it also helps other learners learn better and more productively, make our content more engaging, as well as keep up with the ever changing ways of composition. A rudimentary example of this is Sesame Street (click for link). Children learning the alphabet see the alphabet text as well as images up on the screen that are representative of the letters, as well as listening to it being said aloud. They can understand the information in more than one way.

Some ways that we could do this in the writing program here at Ithaca College is by adding as an option various forms/mediums in which to produce work other than just writing, or even incorporate various forms like image and video into our text. Although text will always be predominant in the writing major, it would be good to at least have the option of using other mediums to communicate what we’re trying to say.


How does the Writing department define writing? How do our sources in class define writing? How do you define writing?

Within academic settings, and especially within the Writing department, composition and writing primarily has to do with text. This is because text has become the predominant way of learning in the past rather than visuals. Writing is a way of communicating that primarily involves textual composition.

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Bezemer and Kress generally define writing and text as what is originally composition, and then go on to explain that writing/composition can incorporate a lot of different elements such as auditory, visual, and aural. Writing is multimodal in their eyes, whereas in our trained brains writing is primarily composed from one mode. Writing is a way of communicating that can involve various modes and mediums.

Bezemer and Kress, Yancey, Selfe and Palmeri have definitely opened my mind to the possibilities that exist out there for composition. In my mind, writing is composing and synthesizing different modes to communicate and make a point.


What changes would you recommend and why? What would you anticipate to be the gains and losses of changing our major?

Palmeri says that integrating multimodal composition teaching into the classroom helps students “expand the perspectives from which they visually see the world… finding a productive space of creative tension… develop a capacious understanding of rhetoric… and advocate social change” (116-149). I would first recommend integrating various learning and teaching techniques into the classroom way early on, perhaps even before 3rd grade, and then continuing to do so beyond 8th grade.

Specific techniques that I would recommend to use early on would be encouraging students to incorporate images into text composition and academic essays, teaching video and recording skills in multimedia classes, but in English classes, where the production of composition is especially prominent and various modes can be utilized.

In Writing classes in college, the option to include various modes and the skills learned in primary, middle, and high school to use various modes should be encouraged in every type of composition and class.

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If we incorporate multimodal composition into our classrooms now, the only loss I can think of would be loss of time explaining what to do and how to do it. There would be a lot of communication gaps that would have people confused, because we haven’t been learning with various modes throughout all of our educational experiences. Also, Bezemer and Kress say that “the increasing use of images [and other modes] will inevitably lead to the ‘dumbing down’ not just of textbooks but of all of culture” (167). Also, multimodal composition requires certain technology like computers, smart boards, etc., that not everyone has access to. Everyone learns at their own pace, and this may hold people back, especially since we’ve been trained in text composition learning our whole lives and not other styles of learning.

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Author’s Note:

This blog post is a project for my senior seminar, Multimodal Literacy. I chose to answer the 3rd prompt we received in the form of a blog post, which I posted here, on Amanda Under Construction. The blog post is in a conventional blog post format. It includes headers, text, photos with captions, a photo slide show, and various hyperlinks. It is accessible through the category “Things I’ve Learned In College,” as it relates primarily to what I’ve learned in college and is a project for my writing senior seminar that I have almost completed.

I chose a blog format because not only was it a site of display I was familiar with because I consistently post on this website, but because I felt comfortable incorporating other modes into the blog post like image and other hypermedia, like the link to the book written in tweets and the link to a Sesame Street video. Making a blog post also allowed me to answer the questions in the mode of text and writing, which is the mode I have used the most in my educational experience and find to be the easiest when answering questions that require specific answers and examples.

This may be considered hypocritical to the points that I make in my project, for example when I say that other modes should be utilized when composing. However, like I said before, I did incorporate other modes such as image, image slideshow, and hyperlinks to videos.  These other modes helped me to answer and represent the questions presented.

The pictures that I chose to include in my project were representative of my answers to the questions. For example, the first image that I included in my project was an image of a sunset that says “Multimodal… Text. Image. Video. Audio.” This image comes right after the title of my blog post, which is “Multimodal Writing: A Technology Literacy Narrative.” This may be considered repetitive, however, I made this modal choice to reinforce and draw attention to my subject matter and help my audience better engage with what I was talking about. People are more likely to engage with image rather than text, especially on websites and blogs, so I thought this would help bridge the gap between the two.

The slideshow I chose to include in my project represented the different and varying modes that exist for students to compose with. The slideshow does switch pictures on its own, which may draw attention away from the actual text answers. Each slideshow is a symbolic picture of a different mode, with a text caption that explains what each mode is. While this may also be considered repetitive, I made this choice to show that it is possible to use different modes other than text to explain what each mode is.

I included hyperlinks to the book written in tweets to display various modes that people can compose with, as well as a Sesame Street video to display how young children use various modes to engage in learning about topics like the alphabet. I wrote in parenthesis “Click for link” after to clarify what I wanted readers to do. I thought that these would be good examples of using various modes to learn and compose, which is why I included them in my project.

The last picture I included is a cartoon that displays point of view. I thought that this illustrated the Palmeri quote at the beginning of that section pretty well while also incorporating humor that would engage my audience, especially when he talks about expanding perspectives.

Each question is written in bold at the top, and each answer is written in plain text. I made this choice to distinguish and separate the question from the topic presented. This is another conventional blog format technique.

I believe that my technology literacy narrative not only answers the questions, but helps readers engage in various modes in order to better understand the answers to my questions.


Sources: 

Bezemer, J., & Kress, G. (2008). Writing in multimodal texts a social semiotic account of designs for learning. Written communication. 25(2), 166-195.

Palmeri, Jason. (2012). Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy. Southern Illinois University Press. 116-148.

Selfe, Cynthia L. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning, Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” College Composition and Communication, June 2009, pp. 616-663.

Yancey, K.B. (2004) Made not only in words: Composition is a new key. College Composition and Communication, 56(2), 297-328.

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