Reviewed by Abigail Scheg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lately while attending conferences, I’ve been focused on attending sessions dedicated to multimodal composition, digital writing projects, new technologies, and new tools. I have learned a lot about different tools and educational opportunities and taken this exciting information back to my department to share with colleagues. Over the past few years, it seems that I have heard cases for implementing every technological tool in the composition classroom.
What is sometimes (but not always) lacking from these conversations are the pedagogical considerations when implementing a new tool. Sure it’s shiny, or nifty, and may even keep students’ attention for some time, but is it really the correct choice? Does it align with our teaching philosophies? Is it actually accomplishing the task at hand, or is it repetitive? Do we need a tool or is it just fun?
Now, the pedagogy sessions are the ones that I gravitate towards because this is the information that I feel truly benefits faculty, students, and those relaying information back to others (myself included). The conversations about technological pedagogy give me a well-rounded perspective on the situation and provide sufficient information to demonstrate whether or not a tool may be appropriate for our courses. This year at CCCC, I was lucky enough to participate in some truly engaging discussions about pedagogy pertaining to some digital projects.
Oriana Gatta from Georgia State University was the only speaker present from this panel because others were unable to attend the conference. Gatta’s presentation “Open to Question: The Digital Media Program Archive and What’s (Not) Being Said About Pedagogy” was based on her dissertation study. Her work includes the Digital Media Program Archive, which looks at ways that digital media is defined by undergraduate programs across the U.S. The word and tag clouds on the site break down the repetitive terms, showing overlap of programmatic focus, and areas of differentiation.
The distinguishing features of the terms Gatta discussed were particularly interesting. For instance, she identified that “95% of the programs talk about media,” but the way in which media is defined differs tremendously between programs including graphics, web design, gaming, animation, and video. Gatta also discussed that only five percent of the programs mentioned pedagogy as part of their programmatic focus, although the utilization of technologies in the classroom would undoubtedly be discussed in many programs. I found this to be a profound discussion and indicative of the technological climate that we currently live in. As I mentioned in my introduction to this review, there’s a tendency for individuals, and in this case, programs, to focus on the tools and technology, not necessarily pedagogy. More discussions and projects like Gatta’s Digital Media Program Archive are necessary to further enhance pedagogical conversations about technology.
I38: Open Modes, Open Spaces: Multimodal Assignments and Curriculum through the Eyes of Instructor, Instructional Designer, and Writing Center Director
This session uniquely balanced the multiple perspectives of multimodal composition across the university. David Coad, University of California, Davis, represented the “Instructor” position; Andrew Davis, University of Mississippi, represented the “Instructional Designer” position; and Kathleen Turner, University of Mississippi, represented the “Writing Center Director” position. I appreciated the panelists taking the time to consider multimodal composition from these multiple perspectives. Having multiple institutional departments represented in this panel alleviated some of the conversation of “Well at my institution, we have to do this…” and permitted more dynamic discussion with the panelists and audience.
Coad spoke first, arguing that multimodal composition gives students more communicative opportunities than solely text-based writing. He provided practical suggestions for those transitioning from text to multimodal writing including “Don’t start multimodal assignments from scratch,” and suggesting that instructors “use social media as a jumping off point,” depending on the assignment or course. Coad also discussed Selber’s (2004) three kinds of computer literacy: functional literacy, critical literacy, and rhetorical literacy asserting that his primary concern with multimodal assignments is rhetorical literacy.
Coad’s presentation transitioned well into Davis’ presentation from the Instructional Designer position. At Davis’ institution, instructors are required to incorporate multimodalities into their 200-level writing courses. I found this to be an incredibly positive movement for composition students and instructors. Davis works with instructors to build not just a singular “multimodal unit” in a composition class, but rather he argues that pretty much everything that we write is multimodal — we just may not think of it that way. Further — a gem of wisdom that I’ll definitely share with my departmental technophobes — Davis asserted, “Writing an essay is multimodal. They may not be digital modes, but there are multiple modes.” And just like that, I’m sold on the idea of having an Instructional Designer available to support our composition courses and instructors.
The final presentation from this panel was Kathleen Turner’s pre-recorded presentation. Unfortunately, Turner was not able to attend, but I was pleased that her portion was still included. Representing the Writing Center position, Turner argued that “Writing Centers should take the lead in transformative pedagogies,” rather than the reactive approach that I’ve heard about fairly often. Turner also discussed the changes that her Writing Center tutor training has gone through from Fall 2012 to the present to better prepare the tutors for multimodal composition. Experience with multimodalities and writing tools is now required of the Writing Center tutors. Turner also argues that multimodal composition helps to solidify the Writing Center’s position as an engaging place for student development, and “central to university success.”
Selber, Stuart A. (2004). Multiliteracies for a digital age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.