The Making of a MAB: Composing a Multimodal Annotated Bibliography and Exploring Multimodal Research and Inquiry
Contributors: Isabelle Lundin, Joey Colby, Courtney Jarema, Lauren Karmo, Antonio Verrelli, Katlynn Wheatley, and Crystal VanKooten
Affiliation: Oakland University Email: cvankooten234 at gmail.com
Published: Issue 28.2 (January 2024)
We live in a diverse, multimodal world. We speak and write in various languages and listen to and read different words and sounds; we gesture and move faces and bodies; we see images and each other and watch movements; we write, type, and touch letters, snap and edit pictures, and compose music. And more often than not, we use screens, phones, apps, and other digital devices to compose, distribute, and publish these multimodal moments of communication. WRT 4908: Digital Publishing was an undergraduate course at Oakland University that provided an opportunity to explore these important moments where multimodality and digital publication intersect.
One goal of our Digital Publishing course was to provide opportunities for multimodal research, inquiry, and composition as we studied digital forms of publication. As students, we learned about today’s digital publishing, particularly in the field of writing studies, but we did so through print reading and writing as well as through digital and multimodal means. One class assignment, the Multimodal Annotated Bibliography (MAB), was key to much of our exploration into the affordances of multimodality for research, inquiry, and communication.
In this PraxisWiki entry, we invite you into the making of a MAB. We detail the learning goals for the MAB assignment within the Digital Publishing course, describe the assignment itself, and then provide access to six different MABs and reflections, with hopes that you might learn with us and be inspired for your own work. After the samples, we reflect on how the MAB assignment provided opportunities for applying rhetorical concepts within digital spaces, opening space for new experiments, and learning to purposefully leverage the affordances of a particular medium such as a TikTok video, an Instagram post, or an audio recording.
Exploring Multimodality for Research, Inquiry, and Expression
In 1996, The New London Group (NLG) already perceived many of the complexities of multimodal communication, even as digital and online technologies for everyday users were actively emerging. In response to these complexities, the NLG established their now-canonical and oft-cited concept of multiliteracies, which broadened understandings of literacy away from restricted forms of language that are “formalized, monolingual, monocultural, and rule-governed” and toward “a multiplicity of discourses” that included cultural and linguistic diversity and a “burgeoning variety of text forms” (p. 61). In 2023, multiliteracies and the interrelationships of the NLG’s five modes of meaning (linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural) are integral to current understandings of multimodal composition and digital writing and publishing.
The power of approaching multimodality as the NLG (1996) laid out through using and valuing a multiplicity of discourses and a wide variety of forms and modes is evidenced through work from contemporary scholars of color who have shown how multimodality and digital writing and rhetoric hold activist, liberatory, and restorative potential for those on the margins (and for all). Ana Milena Ribero and Adela C. Licona (2018), for example, have written about “multimodal mobilizing” enacted by queer and trans people of color from migrant communities through digital galleries that share stories and inform visitors about injustices within the borderlands (p. 157). Eric Darnell Pritchard (2016) drew from 60 interviews with Black LGBTQ readers and writers to describe both “literacy normativity” (or harmful literacy practices) and “restorative literacies” in the lives of research participants, focusing in part on online social networks and blogs as sites for Black LGBTQ community activism. Kristin L. Arola (2018) has demonstrated that multimodal digital design is usefully informed by land-based Indigenous rhetorics, which involve attention to participation with the land, relationships with the biosphere, and sensate experiences and memories as part of multimodal consumption and production. These authors demonstrate the many ways multimodal texts serve rhetorical purposes for authors and audiences that embody different identities and who use digital literacy for various—even liberatory—purposes.
Thus, the five modes of meaning and the wide potential of multimodality for sharing stories and information, for restoration, and for bodily connection with land and with other humans—all of these inspired our approach to research and to the MAB. From her own research experiences using digital technologies such as video for qualitative research and for academic publication, Crystal knew that multimodal forms of inquiry, analysis, and presentation can be important and powerful, can be tied to emotions and to the body and can bring conceptions of audience to the fore. She wanted to make the NLG’s (1996) “multiplicity of discourses” and large “variety of text forms” more obvious to students as they researched, and she hoped students in Digital Publishing might find rhetorical purposes to pursue through multimodality that were meaningful to the identities and experiences they brought to the project, similar to the ways Pritchard’s (2016) Black gay bloggers or Ribero and Licona’s (2018) migrant-rights activists employed digital and multimodal writing. She wanted students to experience how combinations of linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes of meaning were important to products and audiences, but also how multimodality can be integral to processes of inquiry that might shape students as writers and global communicators. Thus, Crystal designed the MAB assignment for students to be able to experience, explore, and reflect on multimodality as an integral part of research and expression for themselves.
Ernest Morrell et al. (2013) have argued that multimodal and digital skills from students’ lives outside of school have a place inside the classroom, and the authors’ critical media pedagogy builds on students’ existing knowledge of websites, social networks, Internet radio, blogs, text messages, music, and films. Through digital production in English and social studies high school courses, the students in Morrell et al.'s study developed literacies, increased academic achievement, and became more engaged in their communities. The MAB project offered students an opportunity to make a similar move and bring some skills and literacies developed outside of the class into the project, as well as to use tools and apps from popular culture in new ways. We also had the option to try a completely new tool or program.
Each student selected a digital medium to present the findings of multimodal research, and each had to critically determine the connection between methods of inquiry and the rhetorical situation of presentation. This process included distinguishing the message, audience, author, and genre of material we encountered and read, and thinking about all these elements related to the medium of the MAB, all concepts that Melanie Gagich (2020) helped us to consider via her work on multimodality. Furthermore, for webtexts, Douglas Eyman and Cheryl E. Ball (2014) have pointed out that “additional rhetorical concerns arise with regards to decisions about delivery, access(ability), and sustainability” (p. 114). These concerns also informed our MAB assignment: Within the chosen media, we engaged with how we might deliver, make accessible, and sustain our digital products.
What might we learn if we approached research with multimodality as a method of inquiry? What digital and multimodal sources could we read and learn from, and how would the multimodal format facilitate the message given and received? How could we involve multimodal thinking as we asked questions about a topic and processed what we learned? What might we learn if we presented findings in a multimodal way? And how might multimodality intertwine with our identities, our bodies and environments, and our learning within this project? We sought to inquire into these questions as we began the making of our MABs.
The Multimodal Annotated Bibliography (MAB) Assignment
The MAB assignment involved 1) selecting an issue, 2) doing multimodal research on that issue, 3) documenting the research in a multimodal annotated bibliography, and 4) composing a research reflection. Students selected an issue related to digital publishing that we had read about and studied in the first half of the course and researched the issue in more depth, locating and engaging with scholarly journal articles, web sources, and video/audio/image sources. Students then documented their research in a MAB, which involved the composition of at least five entries (presented via audio, video, or social media) that credited each source used, summarized a source’s content, and described at least one major takeaway and/or question about a source. After completing the entries for the MAB, students were to compose the Research Reflection as a final entry where they summarized takeaways, reflected on the meaning and application of their research, and articulated what they learned through composing their MAB in their selected format.
Crystal designed the MAB assignment with inspiration from Laurie Miller’s (2022) “TikTok Your Annotated Bibliography” post on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog. For Miller, making 3-minute scholarly TikTok videos to share interesting articles with colleagues facilitated “laser focus, heightened awareness of audience, and an easily accessible digital repository” (para. 7). Crystal desired similar outcomes for the students in Digital Publishing, and she used Miller’s experience with TikTok as one example in class of what an entry in a MAB could look like. Miller reflected, “the physical activity of speaking my summaries, recording, and posting them has helped engage other parts of myself that I do not engage when I only make annotations and write written notes. The speaking and ‘doing’ activates embodied learning, adding other dimensions to my learning, and thus recall, processes” (para. 6). These active, embodied, and other multimodal dimensions of learning and inquiry were some of the aspects we wanted to use and explore further with our work on the MABs.
The MAB assignment was situated in the center of our Digital Publishing course. To start the course, we focused on analyzing and assessing digital writing for publication in Unit 1, looking in detail at submissions to the Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (the JUMP+, where Crystal is comanaging editor) and writing up assessment reports and reviews of that work. Then, for Unit 2, we deepened our knowledge of what makes digital writing good, and turned to issues in digital publishing, reading and responding to published scholarship on copyright, accessibility, sustainability, and social media related to digital publication. The MAB project asked students to further explore one of these issues (or a related issue), and it provided an opportunity for multimodal inquiry and expression and the development of functional literacies in various media. Finally, we finished the course by actually publishing multimodal work, composing multimodal responses to JUMP+ authors that were published in issue 11.2 of the journal (please access https://jumpplus.net/issue-11-2/ to read our work).
MAB Examples and Reflections
Below, you will find links to our MABs and reflections for you to explore. Please click around and sample the different formats and sources that students used through the project. Students researched digital sustainability, social media, and digital accessibility through multimodal sources and processes. While some researched the same topic, everyone utilized a variety of media and modes to learn about their topic and to create their own unique annotated bibliography illustrating this learning. Isabelle and Lauren explored how social media is used within digital publishing.
Isabelle created a series of TikTok videos exploring sources that show how social media can be reframed as a pedagogical tool in writing studies, and Lauren composed an Instagram account to present her findings about how different publishing companies utilize social media to expand their digital presence.
Courtney and Joey dug into digital sustainability and archival practices. Courtney created a YouTube playlist of animated, informative videos using PowToon, a video editing app, while Joey presented findings in a detailed audio essay.
Antonio and Katlynn researched digital accessibility. Antonio made a series of YouTube videos on closed captioning, and his videos took the viewer through images and screengrabs with voiceover. Katlynn composed several short podcast-like episodes about digital accessibility, discussing her sources using her recorded voice.
Example 1: TikTok MAB About Social Media,
by Isabelle Lundin
Source 1: Amicucci
Source Discussed: Amicucci, Ann M. (2022). Four things social media can teach you about college writing—And one thing it can’t. In Dana Driscoll, Megan Heise, Mary Stewart, & Matthew Vetter (Eds.), Writing spaces: Readings on writing (Vol. 4, pp. 18–34). Parlor Press. https://writingspaces.org/writing-spaces-volume-4/
Source 2: Rish & Pytash
Source Discussed: Rish, Ryan M., & Pytash, Kristine E. (2015). Preservice teachers writing with social media. Voices from the Middle, 23(2), 37–42.
Source 3: Alrubail
Source discussed: Alrubail, Rusul. (2016, February 16). How to use social media to strengthen student writing. Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation. https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/how-use-social-media-strengthen-student-writing
Source 4: Trifunov
Source discussed: Trifunov, David. (2013, July 17). Texting, social media might be creating better student writers, study says. The World. PRX. https://theworld.org/stories/2013-07-17/texting-social-media-might-be-creating-better-student-writers-study-says
Source 5: Garg
Source discussed: cartoon from Kashmirobserver.net. Found in Garg, Vijay. (2021, April 27). Gone for a toss: Impact of social media on student’s writing skills. Kashmir Observer. https://kashmirobserver.net/2021/04/27/gone-for-a-toss-impact-of-social-media-on-students-writing-skills/
Isabelle's MAB Video Reflection from Class
Isabelle's Written Reflection on the MAB from After the Class
Transcripts for Isabelle's TikTok Videos and Reflection Video
Example 2: Instagram MAB About Social Media
by Lauren Karmo
Instagram Profile Link: Lauren Karmo’s “Social Media MAB” on Instagram
Please login to Instagram to interact with Lauren’s "Social Media MAB", or you can view Lauren’s Instagram posts offline below as images.
Source 1: Social Media Accounts from Publishers
Sources discussed: “Under the Gum Tree” magazine (@undergumtree), Penguin Books (@penguinbooks), and “Creative Nonfiction and True Story Magazine” (@creativenonfiction)
Source 2: Arabian
Source discussed: Arabian, Vahe (Host). (2019, August 7). The state of Facebook publishing with Benedict Nicholson (Season 2, No. 13). In The state of digital publishing Audio podcast. https://www.stateofdigitalpublishing.com/podcasts/facebook-publishing-with-benedict-nicholson/
Source 3: Echobox
Source discussed: Echobox. (2021). Publishers and social media: 2021 trends. Echobox.
Source 4: Wenzl
Source discussed: Wenzl, M. (2019, January 5). How to engage customers on social with brand storytelling. Sprout Social. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/brand-storytelling/
Source 5: Kingsnorth
Source discussed: Kingsnorth, Simon. (2016). Social media. In Digital marketing strategy: An integrated approach to online marketing (pp. 149–165). Kogan Page.
Lauren's MAB Reflection Video
Read a transcript for Lauren's video reflection: Lauren Karmo Reflection Transcript
Example 3: Video MAB about Digital Sustainability: A YouTube Playlist
by Courtney Jarema
YouTube Playlist Link
Please interact with Courtney Jarema's YouTube Playlist MAB online, or watch the videos in the playlist below.
Source 1: Fleischhauer
Source discussed: Fleischhauer, Carl, & Arms, Caroline. Sustainability of Digital Formats: Planning for Library of Congress Collections. Library of Congress, 2004, https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/formats/index.html
Source 2: NASIG webinar
Source discussed: "A Model Preservation Policy for Digital Publishers & Preservers." YouTube, uploaded by NASIG, 13 October 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBvdON2cEek&t=0s
Source 3: Lockridge, Paz, and Johnson
Source discussed: Lockridge, Timothy, Enrique Paz, and Cynthia Johnson. "The Kairos Preservation Project." Computers and Composition, vol. 46, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2017.09.002
Source 4: National Digital Stewardship Alliance
Source discussed: NDSA Levels of Preservation Revisions Working Group, “Levels of Digital Preservation Matrix V2.0,” October 2019, https://osf.io/2mkwx/.
Source 5: De Stefano et al.
Source discussed: De Stefano, Paula, et al. "What is Fixity, and When Should I be Checking It?" Checking Your Digital Content, Version 1, NDSA, 2014.
Courtney's MAB Reflection Video
Transcripts for Courtney's Videos and Video Reflection
Example 4: Audio MAB on Sustainability and Archival Practices
by Joey Colby
"Explaining Digital Publication and Sustainable Archive Practices to a 5-Year-Old"
Listen to Joey's audio essay above, and read a transcript:
Joey Colby MAB Transcript
“Multimodal Literacy: From Theories to Practices” by Frank Serafini
“Composing for Digital Publication: Rhetoric, Design, Code” by Cheryl E. Ball and Douglas Eyman
“Design and Politics in Electronic American Literary Archives” by Matt Cohen
“The C-Span Video Archives: A Case Study” by Robert Browning
“A New Digital Dark Age? Collaborative Web Tools, Social Media and Long Term Preservation” by Jeffrey Stuart
Joey's Audio MAB Reflection
Listen to Joey's audio reflection above, and read a transcript:
Joey Colby MAB Reflection Transcript
Example 5: Video MAB on Captioning
by Antonio Verrelli
Source 1: Rawsthorn
Source discussed: Rawsthorn, Alice. “The Director Timur Bekmambetov turns film’s subtitling into an art, New York Times, 2007.
Source 2: Gernsbacher
Source discussed: Gernsbacher, Morton Ann. “Video Captions Benefit Everyone”, the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Source 3: Miller
Source discussed: Miller, Josh. “Best practices for implementing accessible video captioning.” 3play Media.
Source 4: Zdenek
Source discussed: Zdenek, Sean. Reading Sounds supplemental website. 2015.
Source 5: Lyons
Source discussed: Lyons, Kim. “YouTube is ending its community captions feature and deaf creators aren’t happy about it.” The Verge.
Antonio's Written MAB Reflection
Transcripts for Antonio's Videos
Example 6: Audio MAB on Digital Accessibility
by Katlynn Wheatley
Source 1: Deque Systems
Source discussed: Deque Systems. “What is Digital Accessibility?” YouTube, 2018.
Source 2: Monsido
Source discussed: Monsido. “What is Digital Accessibility (& Why Is It Important)?” 2016.
Source 3: Kerschbaum
Source discussed: Stephanie Kerschbaum’s section titled “Mode” in “Modality in Motion” by Yergeau et al.
Source 4: Adam and Kreps
Source discussed: Alison Adam and David Kreps. “Web Accessibility: A Digital Divide for Disabled People?” 2006.
Source 5: Screenreader Demo
Source discussed: UCSF Documents & Media Photography. “Screen Reader Demo for Digital Accessibility.”YouTube, 2016.
Katlynn's Audio MAB Reflection
Transcripts for Katlynn's Audio MAB
What We Learned
As students, we learned a lot through this project. The open, multimodal format for the MAB encouraged us to make rhetorical choices about form and media related to our purposes and forced us to think critically about what elements we included or chose not to include. Additionally, students’ choices of media introduced new affordances and audiences that moved the assignment beyond a mere process of inquiry, providing valuable preparation for digital publishing and future multimodal production. Overall, our learning about multimodal inquiry and presentation spanned three areas: 1) considering rhetorical concepts such as purpose and ethos within unfamiliar digital spaces; 2) employing prior knowledge of programs to open space for new experiments; and 3) identifying and leveraging the affordances of a digital medium to help communicate information.
Considering Purpose and Ethos Within Unfamiliar Digital Spaces
Isabelle and Courtney composed their MABs with relatively unfamiliar platforms, Isabelle on TikTok and Courtney with PowToon and YouTube. Both of them, though, were able to familiarize themselves with the new composing space as they considered the rhetorical concepts of purpose and ethos and how such considerations might guide their digital research reflections. Isabelle expressed that making her TikTok MAB on the use of social media as an academic teaching tool required her to think about the ethos that she was creating for herself as she spoke about her sources, and she adjusted her project so that it was appropriate for the ethos and the context of TikTok itself. She had never made a TikTok video before and was presented with challenges over the course of the MAB experience—such as audio imbalances between music and her commentary and choosing music clips that were too short for the length of the video. However, one affordance of using TikTok as the medium for her MAB was that she was able to troubleshoot such mistakes from video to video.
Viewers can get a sense of Isabelle’s TikTok ethos as they hear her conversational greetings and music, see the cartoons and graphics she includes, and listen to her speak informally and accessibly about her sources. In her reflection, Isabelle explained that adding music to the background of her videos and text on to the screen helped her strike a balance between the medium and the content she was presenting. In this way, she enters into the community values of TikTok by utilizing features that TikTok users are familiar with, thus bolstering her own ethos on the platform. Isabelle also noticed that having a TikTok audience to create for strengthened her sense of rhetorical purpose. Her goal of sharing the content of her sources with others who might be interested became more clear as she composed.
Courtney chose PowToon as her medium because she watched a video created by a colleague using this application and found it to be engaging with an aesthetic appeal. However, it was difficult to use and much more time-consuming than she expected. The medium seemed to offer too many multimodal features that she had never explored, such as different ways to connect voice, text, videos, and graphics together with perfect timing and coordination. Despite being overwhelmed, Courtney used Crystal’s comments and suggestions to begin to think critically about the rhetorical purpose of the affordances at hand.
Courtney realized that she needed to think about how the strategy of combining visuals with voice could help her audience conceptualize the concept of sustainability. She initially considered her audience to be Crystal and her classmates, but she began to think about students like herself as the audience. Before this class, she knew little about digital publishing, multimodality, and sustainability. Her focus of the PowToon became geared towards an audience that had interest in the topic of digital publishing but might be new to many of its concepts. Although there were many multimodal options with the PowToon program, she experimented with how combining images with voice could jointly convey meaning for this audience, specifically appealing to logos. She reasoned that the audio and visuals wouldn’t be enough individually for the audience to understand how the sustainable sources functioned. Rather, she could use PowToon to simultaneously discuss, mirror, and highlight elements of the sources so the audience could make sense of the concepts presented. Courtney did not anticipate the challenges that came with using PowToon, but she did find a balance between the affordances of the medium and her audience of digital publishing and sustainability novices. Because her MAB was directed towards those who were new to sustainability and digital publishing concepts, finding the balance between the medium and the audience was central to her process of inquiry and helped build an ethos that other students like herself could relate to.
Employing Prior Knowledge of Programs to Open Space for New Experiments
Joey and Katlynn had done podcasting and audio composition before our course, and they both chose to compose their MABs via audio. Similar to the experience that Morrell et al. (2013) had with their students, Joey and Katlynn built on existing knowledge of a familiar medium and were then able to try new and different approaches to research with those familiar tools. Joey played on the podcasting genre in their MAB by including a humorous message from a made up sponsor (see the 11:00 minute mark in the composition): Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pipes in (in a very loud voice!) to plug a local non-profit, after which Joey returns to discuss sources on digital sustainability. Later in the MAB, Joey mentions Arnold again as a humorous part of an example about the use of Work IDs in XML coding as a best practice for archiving. Including these small details strengthened Joey’s ethos, and Joey was able to flex knowledge of the podcasting genre’s conventions and of community values.
Joey’s use of the fake ad and reference to Arnold provides a small dose of humor within a very detailed audio account of their research process. They play with the podcasting ad genre in a funny way to keep the audience interested and listening, an approach not taken in written annotated bibliographies. For Joey, their familiarity with the audio format opened space to play with new, amusing ways of engaging with the audience for the bibliography. Joey’s decision to utilize the audio medium also created a challenging situation in completing their project. When creating this assignment, Joey designed it with the idea of submitting to an undergraduate academic journal. Their decision in choosing audio was due to familiarity and the ability to utilize their voice acting skills to offer the listener a deep form of expression. The challenging situation lay with having to balance living conditions. Joey lives in a large multigenerational household where English is not spoken at home. A significant aspect of the learning process for them with this multimodal composition was being able to create something in congested and confining living space. Joey learned that creating multimodal compositions within complex living situations presents unique challenges.
Katlynn, who researched issues in accessibility and digital publishing and also presented her work via audio, said in her reflection that she preferred this project over completing a written annotated bibliography because her background knowledge in podcasting provided the skills needed to communicate what she learned about her topic. Thus when issues arose, she “was able to successfully solve them through my past podcasting knowledge.” Katlynn’s prior knowledge, then, opened the door for a focus on the research and enabled her to try something new—an audio MAB with transcripts—in a digital environment where she could be successful.
Since Katlynn’s MAB was about accessibility, she wanted to experiment with doing an audio-only project and using the advice from the sources she read to make the project more accessible. Thus, she ended up creating a transcript for each video. After the course, Katlynn reflected, “not only was I making my project more accessible, but I also was able to view my project from an outside perspective. It definitely influenced the rhetorical choices I made (making myself more credible and doing the topic justice), and how I prioritized the auditory and linguistic elements of the project.” Thus new learning about digital accessibility was put into practice through audio recording and transcripts, which in turn nudged Katlynn to think about an outside audience listening to and reading her work. In terms of credibility, Katlynn wanted to make sure that if she was talking about accessibility, the project could be available to virtually anyone. By focusing on many different sources (where they discussed accessibility for several disabilities), she made sure that the audience knew she had done her research.
Katlynn conceptualized the audience for the project broadly. Some of the sources she picked were considering how companies and brands can make their content more accessible to those who were deaf or blind, and others addressed accessibility in academic spaces and getting students to make their work more accessible to their audience (especially if they are considering it for publication). She took a lot of tips from the JUMP+, as they include transcripts and visual descriptions of videos whenever they are published. Katlynn wanted the project to be a guide or resource for these tips.
Identifying and Leveraging the Affordances of a Digital Medium
Antonio and Lauren reflected on how representing their sources multimodally—on video, on Instagram—caused them both to think about and use the affordances of the digital platform they chose. Antonio’s YouTube videos on accessibility and closed captioning, for example, increased in complexity as he worked on the entries for the MAB. As he moved from one video entry to the next, Antonio tried different features available to him on YouTube, such as the built-in caption syncing feature and the inclusion of more relevant images and photos. He stated in his reflection, “with the first two bibliographies, I wasn’t sure how I should use YouTube affordances to make my project look interesting. The result is two rather plain looking YouTube videos with just a screen recording of me scrolling through an article. With my next three, I was a little more ambitious. Just adding some stock footage and some images to play while I was talking made the project instantly more vibrant and watchable.” Video allows for and encourages layering with modes, and this is an affordance that Antonio learned to use to better convey the results of his research and connect with an audience on YouTube.
Lauren also carefully considered visual design for her Instagram MAB, struggling at the beginning of the project to transform text-heavy sources into visually appealing social media posts that conveyed the information from her research. Ultimately, she designed five posts for Instagram that drew the reader’s eye with large, colorful images and unified the posts with a pink and cream color scheme. She summarized lengthy information from articles and book chapters using bulleted lists that were easy for someone scrolling through Instagram to glance at, and more details about the source were included in each post’s description, along with hashtags and links to other related Instagram accounts. Lauren learned to take advantage of many of the affordances of Instagram, including the app’s ability to catch attention with images and employ hashtags to reach more viewers.
For all of us, utilizing multimodality as a method of inquiry, a mode of thinking, and a medium of expression presented an enriching metacognitive learning experience. The students read articles, watched videos, and listened to podcasts. Then they used programs that they knew well and that were new to them, using prior knowledge and new discoveries to try different kinds of representation to communicate with audiences through words, images, sounds, and combinations of modes. They were pushed to engage foundational rhetorical practices like identifying one’s purpose, audience, and ethos and to consider if and how their understanding of rhetoric might remain or shift in multimodal spaces, and how that understanding might help convey information using more modes than words-only. Students thought about what various programs and apps were good for and what they allow authors to do well, and they tried those things. Throughout the process—experimenting in new ways with a familiar genre, thinking about audience and ethos, and considering modal affordances—these moments of learning occurred through an expansive notion of multimodal research.
None of the students explicitly reflected in writing over the intersections of multimodality, identities, and environments as suggested by the work of Ribero and Licona (2018), Pritchard (2016), and Arola (2018). This absence might suggest that the possibility of pursuing multimodal inquiry for personal, liberatory, and restorative purposes could be explained and prompted more explicitly to encourage students to connect their identities, project goals, and chosen media more directly. Even so, the MAB assignment did allow some students to bring what might be considered nonacademic literacies to academic research, much like Morrell et al. (2013) suggested through their critical media pedagogy. The digital formats for the MABs allowed students to experiment with voice, image(s), colors, and design to craft an ethos that was relatable to multiple audiences. We represented our own identities—as students, as young people, and as researchers—through the use of our spoken voices, our faces and bodies, humor, music, captions, transcripts, and juxtaposition of these and other digital elements.
While an annotated bibliography can be perceived as a boring, seemingly pointless assignment for a lot of students, the freedom to choose both the subject matter and the medium of the MAB in Digital Publishing allowed us to “break out of a writing-as-test mentality” and “develop writing that has more audience relevance and clarity of purpose” in a way similar to community-engaged writing (Young & Morgan, 2020, p. 49). Many of the students in Digital Publishing demonstrated this sort of audience-focused thinking: Joey’s MAB was created with an undergraduate scholarly journal in mind, and Isabelle, Courtney, Antonio, Lauren, and Katlynn all chose to alter their approach to the MAB’s production as they developed a deeper understanding of envisioned audiences and affordances of the medium.
That said, there are many places where this assignment could be improved. First, as you can experience by clicking through the student work above, the MABs turned out to be very lengthy. They took a long time to compose for the students and to grade for Crystal—there was so much good content that the students generated! One fix to the length issue might be to have students dig into fewer sources. Another option could be to have fewer requirements for each MAB entry (less summary, for example).
Second, the reflections students composed only scratch the very surface of how composing and presenting MAB entries with multiple modes affected learning, and they could include much more depth and specifics in this area. Crystal prompted the MAB reflection on the MAB Assignment Sheet using these questions:
While these prompts provided a useful start, and some students began to reflect on the intersections of multimodality, research, and learning, Crystal realized after the fact that more specific prompting would be useful to encourage in-depth reflection about multimodal thinking and research.
As we started to draft this PraxisWiki piece, Crystal sent out the following email request:
More specific prompting such as this might thus be useful to weave into the MAB composition process as whole within a class.
Even with these areas for improvement in mind, there is much evidence about the students’ learning across this assignment, including digital, multimodal, and rhetorical research, that reveals how we were challenged to think beyond linguistic modes and use and apply diverse literacies with a variety of digital tools and technologies. As the field of writing studies seeks to expand its use of multimodality, assignments like a multimodal annotated bibliography are one way to encourage students to apply and adapt rhetorical concepts and multimodal research practices to whatever composing situation might be at hand. Through our MABs and reflections, we explored and grew our notions of what it means to do research and how we might represent that research to others, and we hope that you and your students might do so as well as you consider more ways to integrate multimodality into all aspects of teaching and learning.
Arola, Kristin. L. (2018). A land-based digital design rhetoric. In Jonathan Alexander & Jacqueline Rhodes (Eds.), Routledge handbook of digital writing and rhetoric (pp. 199–213). Routledge.
Eyman, Douglas, & Ball, Cheryl E. (2014). Composing for digital publication: Rhetoric, design, code. Composition Studies, 42(1), 114–117.
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