“Writer/Designer: Making Multimodal Projects in Your Classes” ~J1


Reviewed by Aubrey Schiavone

Cheryl Ball, West Virginia University
Kristin Arola, Washington State University
Jennifer Sheppard, New Mexico State University

In this session panelists described the origins, content, and potential uses of their newly published textbook for multimodal composition Writer/Designer. Jenny Sheppard began the session, describing the textbooks’ earliest origins in the panelists’ shared past experiences as graduate students and instructors at Michigan Tech, where they moved from teaching a first-year composition course to teaching a second year course on written, oral, and visual communication. Since that time, the three panelists constantly share syllabi with one another, but couldn’t find a book that captured the kinds of theory practice movements that had facilitated their own inclusion of multimodal composition in their teaching. Sheppard explained that the panelists take a rhetorical foundation for their approach to multimodal composition, encapsulated in Writer/Designer. This rhetorical foundation means that the authors seek to make sure students, in composing multimodally, can think about rhetorical situation and all available means of persuasion, not just about separate modes, but also about mode and medium as rhetorical choices embedded in specific circumstances with particular audiences. Finally, Sheppard explained that in order to facilitate this rhetorical awareness, Writer/Designer can be used modularly or linearly: each chapter can stand on its own or as a sequence with the other chapters in the book.

Next, Ball offered a description of the textbook and its individual chapters. Overall, the textbook was kept small, usable, and portable so that students can afford it and might actually keep it. Ball also directed session goers to Writer/Designer‘s extensive online component, which consists of audio, video, and other interactive resources that can continue to be added to as instructors make use of the textbook and its resources in their classrooms. The textbook itself is process oriented rather than genre oriented with assignments concluding each chapter that move students through a sequence of analyzing multimodal texts, choosing a genre, pitching their project, creating a source list, creating a detailed proposal, drafting the design of their texts, choosing technologies for composing, and putting their projects to work. Ball also described the assessment practices that go along with Writer/Designer. Basically, grading criteria are constructed through a collaborative process between teachers and students based on the genre conventions of the multimodal texts students or groups choose to design.

Arola recounted her experiences using Writer/Designer to teach multimodal composing in a 300 level “Multimedia Authoring” course, but emphasized that the textbook could be used similarly in a 200 or 100 level course. In describing her use of Writer/Designer, Arola introduced the term slow composition or slow work, which she expressed as taking enough time in teaching multimodal composition for students to produce work that they can be proud of. Arola used the textbook to guide students in completing their third and final multimodal project in her course, an informational campaign project. Arola explained that students worked in groups and determined as a team a more specific genre to produce within the genre set of informational campaigns. Over the nine week unit, students analyzed examples of their chosen genres, designed a logo, chose a color scheme, composed short videos as introductions or advertisements to their informational campaigns, and developed written components consistent with their chosen genre. Writer/Designer allowed Arola to walk student groups through these steps and to support them in moving through their collaborative composing processes. Arola shared one student group’s final project, an informational campaign titled Visit Pullman and intended to attract visitors to the Washington State University campus and surrounding town. Arola encouraged conversation in the session about her students’ multimodal project, and commented that although her students succeeded in producing a multimodal webtext with a particular message for a particular audience, she still felt a lingering need for even slower composing; she wished students had had time for more cycles of feedback and drafting, particularly between the storyboarding and implementation phases. Arola shared several other examples of student projects, and concluded by reaffirming her students’ facility with multimodal composing, and also their willingness to tie that composing to particular audiences and contexts.

Some interesting takeaways from the session included the presenters’ discussions of the life cycle of students’ multimodal work, and their debate over whether or not students’ multimodal work ought to include reflections on their composing decisions and processes. In thinking about the life cycle of students’ work, the presenters mentioned a common challenge for teaching multimodal composing in which students publish on youtube and then walk away. To address this challenge, the presenters emphasized the importance of talking with students about how to publish and save their work in online spaces. For example, did students want to carry their work with them and make use of it after the course? Did they want this multimodal work to be accessible and tied to their names and online presences in the future? This concept of the life cycle of students’ work also entailed talking with students about working with multimodal sources and copyright, fair use, permissions, and creative commons.

Throughout their session, Sheppard, Ball, and Arola also discussed and debated whether or not students should submit reflections alongside their multimodal products. Sheppard and Arola support the practice of written reflections to explain choices in design of multimodal texts while Ball suggested that the multimodal texts that students produce ought to stand on their own. Their debate was interesting in that they expressed differing purposes and contexts for teaching multimodal composing, and were able to recognize the validity of one another’s practices. No one mandated a single best practice for teaching multimodal composing, rather their discussion allowed for instructors to take up and support multimodal composing in their classrooms for a variety of purposes and in a variety of ways.


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