Session G-8: Multimodal Composing Practices


Presenters: Elizabeth Chamberlain, James Ottoson, Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo, Teresa (Reese) Davis

During “Multimodal Composing Practices,” two questions about multimodal composing practices remained central: What prevents instructors and graduate students from assigning and producing multimodal compositions? And how should multimodal compositions be assessed?

Elizabeth Chamberlain and James Ottoson—“Professors Who Just a Few Months Ago Seemed All-Knowing”: Digital and Multimodal Preparedness among Faculty and Graduate Students in the COVID-19 Era 


As the title of this presentation might suggest, Chamberlain and Ottoson considered the abrupt move to online instruction and how it impacted faculty and students as they navigated the digital classroom and assigned multimodal projects, but their findings are applicable beyond the sudden move to online classes during Spring 2020. 

Chamberlain and Ottoson’s study initially began to examine the disconnect between the university’s support for multimodal composing and the lack of multimodal projects assigned. It is this initial inquiry that I focus on here as it contributes to digital and multimodal preparedness before, during, and beyond the pandemic. 

Despite a digital initiative at Arkansas State and a first-year writing curriculum that includes a multimodal project, Chamberlain and Ottoson noted that many courses pre-pandemic didn’t include multimodal composing. The presenters posed several theories as to why multimodal composing was lacking, including (1) comfort with assigning multimodal projects, (2) level of insecurity toward using software, (3) the ability to engage theoretically while composing multimodally, and (4) how time to learn software, prepare students for multimodal compositions, and incorporate multimodality into the course schedule was lacking. In their survey of faculty and graduate students in the Department of English, the factor that stood out the most was time.


Because their survey indicated that there was an interest in workshops that emphasized learning the theory behind multimodal composing and the desired student learning outcomes, Chamberlain and Ottoson held three workshops (infographics, Blackboard, and Adobe Spark). Though there isn’t a way to give faculty and graduate students more time, Chamberlain and Ottoson suggested that workshops focusing on a specific platform or multimodal project alongside an explanation of the learning outcomes for a project could be a place to start.

Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo and Teresa (Reese) Davis—Assigning and Assessing Creative and Digital Literacies


The assumption Rodrigo and Davis worked to address is that asking students to create multimedia projects will improve their digital literacies. But what do instructors need to emphasize so they can see how the project enhances students’ literacies? And how can instructors actually assess a multimedia project to show that students did indeed learn to compose using a specific medium for a specific audience? Since the summer of 2019, Rodrigo and Davis have surveyed faculty and students at the University of Arizona to determine what literacies both groups emphasized. Their presentation centered around two key components of multimedia projects: the project prompt and small assignments. 

As instructors, we know why we assigned the multimedia project and how it connects to the course and student learning outcomes, but students might need to see more explicitly how a project helps them gain skills, what they should focus on, and how to move from an idea for a multimedia project to a finished composition. To be more transparent and effectively assess projects, Rodrigo and Davis suggested that project prompts clearly match the learning outcomes—and that the learning outcomes are provided on the prompt. By writing prompts that clearly convey what students should focus on, the process is emphasized alongside the final product.

Continuing to think about the process of multimedia composing, the project should also include what Rodrigo and Davis refer to as “assessment artifacts,” or small assignments where students can reflect on the composing process, rhetorical choices, technological decisions, and overall learning. Simply collecting a draft and final product doesn’t give the instructor or student enough information to show what skills were learned and used.


When we include learning outcomes on the prompt and collect assessment artifacts along the way, students develop a metacognitive awareness toward what they’re learning and how it applies beyond the classroom. Additionally, instructors can better assess the project and what skills a student gained by looking at the project as a whole via several, smaller assignments rather than focusing solely on the end product.

About Author

Ashley M. Beardsley

Ashley Beardsley is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on food and cookbooks as multimodal, collaboratively written community texts.

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