Session A ~ Foundations and Frames: Enabling and Sustaining Curricular and Pedagogical Structures for Multimodal Composition


Review by Jennifer Buckner

Amanda Athon, Bowling Green State University
Laurel Adams, Bowling Green State University
G. Bret Bowers, Bowling Green State University


This session drew a room full of people to the ground floor of Tompkins, opening the conference for many attendees with a series of pedagogical, economic, and curricular questions about multimodality composition. Amanda Athon, Laurel Adams, and G. Bret Bowers, all from Bowling Green State University, examined the implications of designing and adopting multimodal approaches at the classroom, programmatic, and institutional levels. Their presentations complemented one another as they all sought to examine conditions that would foster student and teacher diversity through multimodal approaches without compromising those endeavors through constrained or corporatized implementation.

Using Multimodal Composition to Foster Language Diversity, Amanda Athon

Athon advocated for multimodality as a way to counterbalance homogenous narratives of linear texts, especially as “hybrid texts foster appreciation for language diversity due to their nonstandard patterns of communication.” She talked about how several popular interfaces (Voicethread, Prezi, Youtube, Storify, Glogster, and Vuvox) can be used to engage students in non-traditional methods of composition and communication that better represent the diversity of language and its users.

Athons’s presentation suggests multimodality as a form of composing that reflects the diversity of students and their languages. Implications of her perspective are that non-linear texts may shift voices and perspectives being represented in composition classes, providing a counternarrative that represents student populations often marginalized by homogenous, alphabetic texts.

At What Price? Cost-shifting and Corporatization in Composition, Laurel Adams

While many educators, like Athon, are advocating for multimodality, Adams drew attention to the risk of institutional adoption of corporatizing composition, especially when initiatives are embedded in cost-shifting strategies that overtax faculty and compromise the integrity of curricular intent. Adams explored how corporatization shapes higher ed’s mission, taking into account stakeholders and cost-shifting strategies while advocating for a critically reflective stance towards integrating technology in multimodal initiatives.

Specifically, she explored three areas of cost-shifting with respect to composition: portfolio assessment, automated essay scoring, and multimodal initiatives. She suggests that we should adopt a critically reflective stance when examining rhetoric surrounding educational initiatives. What’s at stake if we fail to heed her call for a “critically reflective” stance towards such rhetorics? Adams answers: the “liberatory potential” of higher education’s mission. Her tale of ill-informed spending and misused resources cautions administrators adopting systems for assessment and instruction without considering any risk to stakeholders involved, even if their motives are grounded in promising pedagogical approaches, such as multimodality.

Complex Construction: Digital Literacies in First-Year Writing Curricula, G. Bret Bowers

While Adams’ presentation focused on cost-shifting and institutional initiatives, Bowers’ study examined conditions that generated digital multimodal projects and pedagogy in a writing program that had no mandates to integrate technology. Using Actor Network Theory (ANT), Bowers  presented his study of actors, human and non-human, responsible for the emergence of digital and multimodal initiatives. He concluded that their loosely structured curricula created a delicate balance between order and chaos which “aided in the development of digital literacies by not limiting instructors’ ability to create space for old and new to develop.”

Bowers’ work, using complexity models, is a study with implications for curricular and programmatic design. His results reveal a composition program whose digital literacies emerged in part from a balance between order and chaos as driven by departmental documents and practices.  Bowers’ study suggests that programs aiming to foster creativity and innovation might seek that “tipping point” between too much structure and too little. Further, his work calls WPAs and faculty to consider what actors (documents, faculty, practices) are mediating and informing the range of digital literacy potential within a program.

Jennifer Buckner is the Composition Studies Coordinator, Writing Center Director, and Assistant Professor of English at Gardner-Webb University. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Writing, Discourse and New Media at Old Dominion University.


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