Session D ~ Toward a Theory of Digital and Multimodal Course Design


Review by Barbi Smyser-Fauble

Justin M. Jory, UC-Colorado Springs
Lee Odell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Cheryl Ball, Illinois State University
Nathan Johnson, Purdue University

This intriguing panel was kicked off by Justin M. Jory, whose presentation focused on how to “cultivate habits of mind”  necessary to navigate the multiple layers of situated multimodal activities. Specifically, Jory’s focus was on how to utilize public rhetorical theory within a multimodal course that would enable students to explore the rhetorical vision of social action. These projects help students develop critical thinking and analysis skills, while instilling a sense of urgency and investment in their work that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.

Jory provided an example of a student’s project about human trafficking to bring light how impactful and successful the incorporation of a project of this nature can be to a multimodal course. During the initial stages of research, the student identified the commonplace that human trafficking happens somewhere else, outside the USA. Additionally, this student found that most of the media, what little there was, was geared at only alphabetic textual documents that re-enforced these commonplace assumptions. Having identified a clear need for more effective media forms that would interrogate this notion of distance and bring awareness to the issues of human trafficking, this student worked to create a 5-minute video for social action that would unearth this previously buried information. Ultimately, this student forwarded the video to an organization that could promote and disseminate it to the public.

Lee Odell’s presentation continued the conversation established by Jory by providing the audience with a manner of thinking that would provide educator’s with a “habit of mind” to build from and think with. Odell presented how the process of creating written and oral texts by first introducing a given (known) piece of information followed by a new piece of information, previously unknown to the audience, could transfer to visual texts. The given/new principle has been historically successful, as it provides readers/listeners/viewers with the opportunity to expand or build upon familiar/known experiences. To demonstrate, he provided a scenario in which students could identify the trajectory of the given/new principle occurring initially as alphanumeric text and then building to visual and oral text combinations.

Odell’s example centered on a web page for Regulation Lax, which identifies how the lax of regulations around the construction of digging oil wells has affected the lives of people within the community where these oil wells and drills are located. Initially, there are pages of information that are represented by alphanumeric text focusing on known items such as the concept that oil is obtained by drilling into the surface and that this resource, while an effective fuel, is toxic when ingested. We are then introduced to videos on the website, combining visual and oral experiences, that commence with an image of someone singing and playing guitar with a monotone or repetitive chord that seems familiar and then moves on to show the audience members crying; the “new” is identified as the unknown reason of why they are crying at a beautiful performance. The audience is not yet fully aware of the reasoning for this mood shift, but is prepared to learn the answer from their engagement with the text. Odell identifies that the successful use of the given/new principle makes both traditional alphanumeric texts and multimodal texts successful, and that by having students employ this process they can develop effective audience analysis skills that translate to effective composing practices; supplying an assessment tool for educators centering on the effective use of the given/new principle.

Cheryl Ball added a new dimension to the conversation by discussing how educators can bring their external work into teaching their multimodal courses. Ball, the Editor for the on-line journal Kairos, discussed how she initially incorporated her editorial experiences into developing her coursework and projects for her multimodal composition and technical editing courses, and discovered that she could also bring her teaching experiences to her work as an editor.

Ball began with screenshots of her “professional tips of the day” posts that she has been publishing for the past 8-10 months on Facebook that captures her thought processes about what editors look for in writing submissions for publishing. She identifies that it was from posts like, “teach what you know doesn’t exclude learning more and more every day” that made her realize the disconnect between traditional classroom expectations and publishing expectations; essentially, she began to question why there was one. Kairos has no established rubric for “grading” submissions, so why is there one in a classroom that doesn’t allow for a revise and resubmit option? So, she had students within her classrooms develop their own rubrics and expectations for composition pieces and peer feedback based on their research of expectations for multimedia work published within a specific journal of their choice. By allowing students to construct a heuristic expectation for the work produced in the class, students were able to develop critical analysis skills and feel empowered with increased autonomy. However, this process did require a certain amount of instructor provided guidance as well. Ball discussed how detailed expectations concerning peer feedback letter requirements was provided, and how this type of guidance also proved useful to her external work as an editor. Ultimately, it was this process that led her to understand that her multiple roles as teacher, scholar, and editor can have reciprocal benefits to each other. What she learns as an editor who is helping a new author prepare a piece for publishing can be translated to helping aspiring writers and editors within a composition classroom and vice versa.

Nathan Johnson’s presentation extended the notion of complicating the habits of mind by focusing on how multimodality forces audiences to look at texts or things in ways that you aren’t supposed to. Johnson’s presentation looked at multimodality from four different perspectives for viewpoints to expand this notion of looking at texts in new ways that included material, spatial, conceptual, and temporal concepts. From these four concepts the audience was introduced to new perspectives that can be overlooked if an audience just assumes multimodality and doesn’t really interrogate or investigate other meanings from the composing process and not just the final result. Materials can provide a unique perspective or juxtaposition such as seeing the gaming character of Mario as created by Legos. Legos are traditionally a child’s stationary toy for building objects, while Mario is a game character that moves on screen.

Johnson then moved to the concepts of spatial and conceptual concepts. Spatial concepts were represented by displaying two varying images of NCSU’s Tompkins hall. One image displayed a picture of Tompkins hall from a grounded location that depicted the front entrance of the building, while the other provided a bird’s eye view from a sky map; the same location from different perspectives. This discussion led into conceptual concepts as Johnson asked the audience to consider the work of artists and how they see the world; Pollack’s view provides a new perspective. The temporal viewpoint was explained by presenting two images of a clock; the long now and the clock of the always now. The long now depicts time differently as this clock only chimes every 10,000 years.

These presenters provided different approaches and ideas for multimodal course designs, while challenging notions of traditional, habitual composing practices. They offered audiences new perspectives of engaging with students, while also allowing the opportunity to bring pedagogical experiences from the classroom to other professional experiences; extending the reach and impact of multimodal courses.

Barbi Smyser-Fauble is a doctoral student/teaching assistant in the English Department at Illinois State University focusing on New Media Studies and Technical Communication. Her research interests include new media reading and composing strategies, disability studies, feminist rhetoric, visual rhetoric, film theory, inter-sections of technology and pedagogy, and inter/intra-cultural technical communication.


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