Multimodal assignments have not always been so common on composition classroom syllabi; and this isn’t just because we haven’t had the technology. While students’ access to screens has exploded with computers, smart phones with cameras, tablets, social media, and visual image editing softwares, English departments haven’t always kept up. Many composition scholars have worked to establish digital media and rhetoric as deserving of classroom attention as a serious, valuable, and worthwhile method of teaching, learning, and composing (Shipka; The New London Group; Yancey; Palermi; George; Wardle;).
Today, more than ever before, composition classes are including multimodal and digital assignments on the syllabus (Selfe; Bezemer and Kress; The New London Group; Palmeri; Lauer; Eyman). The increasing prevalence of assignments that both encourage and utilize the digital literacy of composition students reinforces the idea that, like so many have said (Selfe; Shipka; Palmeri; George; Yancey; Alexander), multimodality and digital literacy is valuable at the college level. Encouraging students to utilize the digital literacy they use every day on screens everywhere outside of the classroom allows them to analyze the digital media they consume every day critically and improve their own digital composition processes to help them create meaningful, digital content in an ever-growing digital world. These multimodal assignments generally stand out on a syllabus made primarily of more “traditional” assignments encourage students to be creative and have fun with an assignment that incorporates digital, visual, and auditory elements.
Digital Multimodality and Composition
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Multimodality is, simply, the use of multiple modes – like images, audio, text, and design – to make meaning in a single text. By combining different modes in one text composers are able to access different ways to present their ideas. Gunther and Kress define a mode as a "a socially and culturally shaped resource for making meaning” (171).
For something to be "digital multimodality," it must appear on a screen and use digital modes - like image, audio, links, and text - to make meaning.
We often use digital multimodality in the composition classroom with assignments like...
ePortfolios and Blogs
Essays With Photos, Charts, and Diagrams
Mini Documentaries on iMovie
Composition "has always already been multimodal."
As Jason Palmeri reminds us in Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing, composition “has always already been multimodal.” Composition – as a process, conversation, and literacy practice – has always been multimodal and has always sought to “help students draw connections between writing, image making, speaking, and listening” as a field. Even the most traditional of alphabetic texts, like the page of a book, is multimodal. The font, margins, colors, and overall design of the page each serve as individual modes that contribute to the final text’s main idea and the way the reader interprets that idea.