Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres

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Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres (ed. by Tracy Bowden and Carl Whithaus; 2013) [1] is an edited collection dedicated to focusing on the realities of multimodal projects in writing classrooms. The included chapters move from haling the global, transformative nature of literacy identified by the New London Group[2]to the localized pedagogical and curricular spaces where instruction seeks to enrich the rhetorical nature of literate practices.


[edit] Overview

Digital landscapes provide a certain terrain for visual meaning making, and composition classrooms and curricula are only beginning to unveil the complexity of multimodal composing. When provided with the opportunity to produce multimedia projects, students engage complex forms of meaning making in ways that often challenge our preconceived notions of genre. As students produce multimedia work, from films to avatars and podcasts to storyboards, incredible possibilities and restraints of multimodal products are magnified. Multimodal projects emphasize a need for teachers and students to be reflective of the affordances and realities of this work. In Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres, edited by Tracey Bowden and Carl Whithaus, the complexity of multimodal composing is called forth, problematized, and embraced all at once.

Now 18 years since the publication of “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” by the New London Group, knowledge work is increasingly influenced by digital transformations and tools. Composition programs, however, have yet to truly complement the richly visual and technologically-mediated lives of students in the classrooms we teach, and the authors featured in Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres call for a shift in both instructional and institutional philosophy, in turn creating a dialogue centered on transforming the attitude and culture of college writing.

[edit] Part One

The collection is organized into three parts: 1) Multimodal Pedagogies That Inspire Hybrid Genres, 2) Multimodal Literacies and Pedagogical Choices, and 3) The Changing Structures of Composition Programs. Chapters in part one work to locate the ways through which multimodal student projects are reworking, transgressing, and giving way to entirely new genres. As teachers of composition, it is vital that we remain critical and reflective of multimodal pedagogies and processes. In “Genre and Transfer in a Multimodal Composition Class” by Cheryl Ball, Tia Scoffield Bowen, and Tryrell Brent Fenn, the authors trace the development of a teacher’s approach to a multimodal project in an upper-division writing course. In turn, the teacher shifted from assigning seemingly “wowless five paragraph videos” to students producing richly rhetorical calls-for-papers (CFPs) using MovieMaker. This chapter, told through a narrative, shows us how students often point us toward new and profoundly creative projects and genres.

Mark Ellis, in “Back to the Future? The Pedagogical Promise of the (Multimedia) Essay”, stresses a concern with the transfer of skills learned through multimedia projects to writing. Going back to the (multimodal) essay, however, has much to offer to this problem as students engage in writing that is both congruent and divergent with the expectations of the essay genre, in turn showing the malleable and rhetorical essence of the essay. Jody Shipka, in “Including, but not Limited to, the Digital: Composing Multimodal Texts”, calls forth the necessity of students to do the work of naming and articulating ideas like text, genre, media, and modes. As a metacognitive practice, this works to provide students with greater agency in their multimodal composing processes.

A screenshot of the EnCore MOO interface (c. 1995). According to Bump, the interface combined textual elements on the left with images on the right, providing users with an exceptional visual and verbal experience.
A screenshot of the EnCore MOO interface (c. 1995). According to Bump, the interface combined textual elements on the left with images on the right, providing users with an exceptional visual and verbal experience.

Susan Katz and Lee Odell revisit the use and re-implementation of an “old” tool: presentation software in “Something Old, Something New” Integrating Presentation Software into the “Writing” Course”, which is contrasted with a cutting edge classroom tool, the 3-D interactive, in Jerome Bump’s “Thinking Outside the Text box: 3-D Interactive, Multimodal Literacy in a College Writing Class.” The range of genres presented and complicated through these chapters speaks to the rich and transgressive nature of multimodal composing in composition and communication classrooms, where we remain critical of both their limitations and inspirations.

[edit] Part Two

Parts 2 and 3 of the text – “Multimodal Literacies and Pedagogical Choices” and “The Changing Structures of Composition Programs” – are of interest to both teachers, graduate students, and writing program administrators. Teaching practices and program structure must work in tandem if multimodal projects are to be thoughtfully established and enacted in classrooms and curricula. Students have much to tell and show us about the work of multimodality, and programs ought to be situated to encourage student collaboration and engagement not only outside of the classroom, but also across cultural, geographical, and geopolitical borders. In part 2, a range of multimodal teaching possibilities and limitations are discussed, including storyboards (Cordova), multimodal assignments in the context of literature courses (Reiss and Young), the multimodal dimensions of research reports (Kinnear), and the phenomena of social memory (Romberger). Cordova presents a robust rhetorical framework for multimodal literacy, which focuses on fragmentation and modularity, articulation, articulation and dissemination, convergence, and interface. In applying this framework to storyboards, Cordova offers a highly useful approach for compositionists critical of the multimodal projects students engage in using digital tools.

[edit] Part Three

In part 3, Morbey and Steele present a compelling chapter on the institutional scope of bringing 3-D immersive metamedia into curricula, in turn making a call for “metamodal mastery” among students and teachers when working in digital environments. Graban, Charlton, and Charlton explore the need for reflection of “multivalent” composing projects, especially considering that multimodal composition and its possibilities are conceived and enacted differently in every class. Further, there is an ongoing need to make sound and critical arguments for the outcomes of multimodal projects and how they relate to writing. In this chapter, the authors recommend a “multivalent” pedagogy that begins in the first-year composition classroom. In “Going Multimodal,” the authors present a series of vignettes that further extend the need for reflexive and critical classroom projects and the need for changes in both curricula and classrooms. In the concluding chapter, Fordham and Oakes reflect on constructing a truly multimodal curriculum that engages undergraduates to “[…]speak about reading, write about seeing, create imagery about sound, and create sound about text—to do rhetoric” (331).

[edit] Conclusion

As the chapters in this collection emphasize, classrooms are only beginning to envision the vast possibilities of composing through various textual modes. Teachers and graduate students with interests in visual rhetoric and composing will find this collection especially useful and important. Despite the proliferation of publications and presentations on multimodal composition, there remains a significant gap in discussions of student composing processes. Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres not only highlights the composing processes of student projects that are inherently visual, but also points to the often challenging programmatic and institutional considerations for this work.

[edit] References

  1. Bowen, Tracy and Whithaus, Carl. Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
  2. Cazden, Courtney; Cope, Bill; Fairclough, Norman; Gee, Jim; et al. "A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures."Harvard Educational Review; Spring 1996; 66.1.
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