Session N.22: Multimodal Code-Meshing in Digital Spaces: Accessibility and Social Justice

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Presenters: Micah Savaglio (Temple University) and Tran Tran (Temple University)

Chair: Eli Goldblatt (Temple University)

Savaglio and Tran develop this session as a means of pushing the potential of code-meshing forward in terms of inclusion through digital means. Much of code-meshing scholarship, they correctly argue, has focused on dialect and language difference and how racial and ethnic identities are affected by the privileging of middle-class white mainstream English dialects in the classroom. Physical disabilities that require different codes—Braille and sign language, for example—are generally omitted from conversations of classroom practices that include code-meshing. Although their presentation primarily focuses on how digital spaces might provide affordances for written translanguaging in the classroom, they also argue that these same digital spaces may be excellent opportunities to encourage code-meshing for students with physical disabilities, as well, creating even wider inclusion through an inclusive composition practice.

Presentation

Savaglio and Tran began a well-integrated presentation element with means of access to the presentation materials; this element is discussed in greater detail in the accessibility section below. Then, they defined code-meshing and the need for dialect and language inclusion in the classroom as an anti-racist pedagogical practice before discussing how a disability studies perspective would further benefit the concept of code-meshing as an encouraged classroom practice. Using images from Issue 19 of Hawkeye, a Marvel comic book in which a great deal of the story is told through empty speech bubbles and renderings of American Sign Language (ASL), Savaglio and Tran make clear the potential for code-meshing with a traditionally excluded code in written texts (image below used in the handout and slide deck; caption below image and alternative text mine).

Image description: Nine panels of a comic book: four panels depict one character trying to communicate without spoken words, and five panels show a hand spelling CLINT in American Sign Language.

Image description: Nine panels of a comic book: four panels depict one character trying to communicate without spoken words, and five panels show a hand spelling CLINT in American Sign Language.

Following the discussion of this code-meshed issue of Hawkeye, the speakers then shifted gears to the problematic nature for English language learners of instructors who insist on “correctness” in syllabi and assignment sheets. Quoted examples of such requirements pulled from actual syllabi available online underscored the severity with which such requirements are often stated. The presenters here noted that “grammar and correctness [are]privileged throughout the academy,” and the truth of their statement is made clear in my own compulsion to adjust the is in the quotation to are. Savaglio and Tran also skillfully admitted that there are, in fact, barriers to code-meshing in languages other than English, primarily in peer review and evaluation, as translation becomes important in the process. This is one of the clever ways in which digital spaces make written translanguaging easier for non-native English speakers: the onus of assimilation is eased for the language learner because of integrated online translation tools for the reader. The speakers also emphasized the need for collaborative assessment tools—tools that are not only used by the instructor, but also the students—that are created in partnership rather than handed down from the instructor with no input from students.

The speakers concluded the presentation element with images of online code-meshed student work incorporating both English and other languages. Two of these three examples are particularly powerful examples of the affordances of online spaces: one includes an example featuring English text, an audio recording in Vietnamese, a translation of the audio recording in English, and a background image that reflects the content of all the written and spoken elements. Another includes two sections of text entirely in Japanese, another section of text in Japanese with English translations and explanations, and an image of the student’s hand-written note-taking that perfectly captures her code-meshing of English and Japanese.

Concluding the session were two exploratory activities that pushed participants to work together and think through some of the affordances and limitations of digital multimodal code-meshed compositions. The first activity had participants working with others at their tables to identify possible barriers to code-meshing in two areas (non-English home languages and ASL) and encouraged participants to add other types of code-meshing. The second activity had the same small groups brainstorming ideas for a classroom activity that would encourage multimodal code-meshing and considering the potential barriers it might impose for certain groups of students. The two discussions both integrated consideration of potential limitations of digital code-meshing, which generated interesting conversation. The whole-group discussion included a number of limitations and concerns often heard in discussions of code-meshing and/or digital forms of multimodality: What about students with limited digital/technical prowess? How do we ensure “rigor” without connecting it to correctness? Should we allow students who want to do a traditional essay to do that rather than the multimodal text? What constitutes a finished product?

Implications & Takeaways

The online digital format of the suggested compositions makes multilingual code-meshed texts more accessible to monolingual readers because it allows for translation assistance with online tools. Discussion of translation accuracies and inaccuracies are also possible as a result of reading and evaluating these translations. Digitally created “texts” can further be visually appealing and incorporate codes that are generally invisible in composition studies. Because of the ability to include video and images, ASL could more easily be integrated into a digital multimodal code-meshed piece. The flip side of this, however, is that for students with sight disabilities, such visuals would likely be inaccessible without the instructor specifically training sighted students to consider and develop accessible text to accompany such elements of their multimodal compositions. This particular limitation was not discussed or brought up by the presenters, but the extended discussions of potential barriers to digital code-meshing covered a lot of other relevant ground, and not every concern can ever be covered in a 75-minute session. Still, it is compelling to consider that digital multimodality allows for inclusion of codes frequently invisible in composition and frequently overlooked in discussions of code-meshing.

Accessibility

There were several layers of strong accommodations available for attendees with hearing impairments: live closed captioning onscreen (an accommodation often only prepared for keynotes and other very-large-group presentations), handouts with clear instructions and labels, and large-print handouts. The presentation was not without difficulties in accessibility, however. Aside from the availability of a large-print handout, much of the session was not easily accessible to people with visual impairments. Although the slide deck was supposed to be encoded for screen readers, it was not particularly accessible for this purpose, and having its location only described in print made it virtually impossible for a blind participant to locate. In an email conversation with Tran, she explained that she and Savaglio believed their slide deck had been uploaded to the app, but they discovered too late that it had not been. What would have been more useful than uploading the slide deck, however, would have been uploading the handout with descriptions of the images. For a session promoting increased accessibility, these oversights were a bit disappointing.

About Author(s)

Brandie Bohney is a PhD student in the Rhetoric and Writing program at Bowling Green State University. Her research interests include secondary English teacher education in writing pedagogy, language and dialect difference in the composition classroom, and inductive or discovery learning.

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