Text - Video - Text: Multimodal Remediation with an Eye on Viral Literacy

Contributor: Dan Wuebben

School Affiliation: UC Santa Barbara

Email: danwuebben at gmail.com



This video describes a multimodal writing with video project assigned for Writing 105M (Multimedia Writing), an upper-division writing course at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). The second half of the video shows clips from student responses to the prompt; selections from students' written responses to the assignment are in the "(back to) Text" section of this wiki page. The purpose of the video assignment is to encourage students to use video recorders and editing tools to open, investigate, and animate texts and genres that often seem closed and rigid; meanwhile, the focus on what I call "viral literacy" is meant to help students understand the multifaceted roles of genre, audience, delivery, and reception upon the composition process.

Assignment Prompt

Groups of 2-3 work together to plan, script, shoot, edit, and upload a video on YouTube that is between 30 seconds and 2:00 minutes. The content of the video should remediate a text that falls into one of the following categories: 1 A visual interpretation of an “official” document such as a statement from the White House, a letter from the Dean, or a parking ticket. 2 An infomercial that outlines the ingredients of a food or a prescription drug (other than marijuana). 3 A grammar lesson: show your audience how to do something useful with the English language (use a semicolon, correct a run-on, etc). 4 A video that re-envisions the process of writing in the community/public spaces. This project is designed to help you use video to both remediate text and rethink rhetoric. Questions you might ask yourself during the process: As a writer, how can you appeal to readers on YouTube? What strategies from writing (planning, drafting, researching, organizing, revising) are germane to the different narrative devices used in short videos? How are the ways that text is composed similar or different from the ways that videos are captured (flip cameras, cell phones), edited (clipped, spliced, layered with text, etc.) and finally distributed (tagged, embedded, etc.)? Assessment: Video = 20% (of total course grade): Your video will be graded holistically based on 1 The critical thinking and creativity displayed by selection and interpretation of the text 2 The rhetorical moves used to remediate the text 3 The overall quality of the edited text (photography, soundtrack, transitions, animations) Final Reflection = 10% (of total course grade): After your video has been uploaded and had a few days to settle in on YouTube, write an analysis of the video you have uploaded and your involvement in the process of writing, capturing, and editing it. While analyzing the finished product, consider the following questions: Who is your audience? Who (besides your classmates and friends) might “view” or even “like” this video? What are some of the best qualities of the video and what would you like to correct if you had more time? How does your video interpret the process of reading and writing? As an added incentive to make an appealing remediation, if your video receives a little “viral” fame and gets 2000 views in the first 72 hours, your group will receive an automatic A for the video. (Note: Only 3% of all Youtube videos get 1000 views in the first month. The number views, likes, or comments will not negatively impact how I grade your video.) We will discuss your proposal to determine how your video will display critical thinking and an appropriate remediation of text. If your final video deviates from that plan (i.e. the critical thinking or the text is pushed far into the background) your video will not qualify for the automatic A.


The full assignment prompt listed above relates to a broader movement in higher education suggesting that digital video creation helps undergraduates develop the multimodal and technological literacies that are effective platforms for personal and professional communication. Undergraduate and graduate courses specifically designed for writing with video are becoming more popular. See, for example, Joseph Squier & Kimber Andrews's (2013) “Writing with Video” , Patrick Berry's (2011) “Writing with Video and Across Media”, and Bill Wolff's (2010) “Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition” ). As video assignments are drawn into the composition curriculum, instructors and theorists have begun to examine the distinctions between “writing to learn” and “writing/recording/mashing to learn.” Arguing for the importance of teaching basic writers to compose with video, Lillian Spina-Caza and Paul Booth (2012) have claimed that “writing with video uses the same critical thinking skill set as writing does on paper, but it extends the process into one that involves multi-modal thinking, and therefore has a greater relevance to students’ own lives” (p. 1). Spina-Caza and Booth also outlined an assignment where students were asked to “to generate a short video argument (no more than three- to five-minutes) about the impact of technology on society” (p. 24). When students write and publish videos that reflect on their own experience of media and technology, they learn metacognitive reflection, genre awareness, and technological literacies. Henry Jenkins (2007) has also suggested using media and technology as subjects for student videos, and envisioned a hybridization of theory and practice characterized by an academic unit he tentatively named the YouNiversity. This hypothetical academe would draw from media studies, film, and English to allow students to “translate their analytic insights about media into some form of media production” (Jenkins, 2007, para. 12). A range of disciplines and scholars have suggested that students learn about technology or media by making videos about these subjects; the assignment for UCSB Multimedia Writing is somewhat different in that it is grounded by and focused upon text. Incorporating video assignments into the composition classroom should not lessen the importance of text. In fact, online videos are often framed by crucial text. We select ⇰, titles appear and fade, credits roll, sequences stop, and the screen asks ↺ “Replay?” Just as viewers read text before, after, and sometimes during a video, students in Multimedia Writing at UCSB write before and after they shoot a video, and their videos are considered extensions and remediations of a text. To keep the focus on text, students begin by writing loose reviews of viral videos. They analyze the feminist elements of Jenna Marbles' confessions, the politics of the Harlem Shake, or the overwhelming sublimity of a double rainbow. Students then sketch ideas for their own viral videos: they pen a pitch, compose storyboards, and draft proposals. As students splice images and edit their own potentially viral videos, they weave text among images captured with a camera: perfecting titles and transitions, adding captions, and tagging the final product with keywords. In the fourth stage students review one another’s videos, write critiques of the video’s meaning, purpose, successes, and shortcomings, and try to situate the multimodal piece in relation to the text which inspired it.


It seems that viewers' or readers' perception of news articles, songs, videos, and even academic papers is often heavily influenced by a prominently displayed number of shares, comments, likes, tweets, digs, or ❤’s--participation in what Henry Jenkins (2006) called the "convergence culture" of Web 2.0 Clearly, such qualitative metrics (views, comments, or ❤’s) can have a flimsy relationship to aesthetic quality or epistemological integrity, but such measures have a more direct relationship to pop culture currency and, by extension, advertising revenue (on Youtube, “views” have cash value). In conjunction with their written analysis of viral videos, students analyze how popularity metrics (shares, comments, likes, etc.) inform the meaning and value of digital media and the ways online sharing, commenting, or liking either enhance or retard the aesthetic experience. Students also question what might happen if something they created became viral (Lavaveshkul, 2012). This analysis helps students develop what I call “viral literacy” and it is used to help them propose, compose, edit, and publish their own digital videos and to accept the possible risks and benefits of going viral.

(back to) Text

Most students responded to the challenge to create a viral video with enthusiasm, but at least a few groups seemed to be carried away with the idea of making their content appealing and as a result their final product lacked (at least from this instructor’s perspective) enough critical engagement with text. For example, one group proposed a documentary-style examination of the ingredients used in a popular energy drink, 5-hour Energy. The group planned to do this by asking consumers of the drink to read the drink's ingredients and then examine the chemical composition of those ingredients and their negative side-effects because, as they wrote, “We find it ironic that even though 5-Hour Energy accounts for 90% of the national energy shot market, few people can even pronounce the ingredients on the back of the bottle” (TheNewscastersWives, 2013). However, the group found the drink was not as popular on campus as they had thought, and their final product was stripped down to a series of shots in which volunteers who may or may not have ever tried the drink (such as myself) struggle to read the listed ingredients. When I saw the final video, I was dismayed at the lack of any deeper message beyond “How Fast Can You Read The Ingredients of 5-Hour Energy?” Yet their approach worked. They had 2,000 views in little over 24 hours and comments such as this one posted by Youtube user Xu Chang: “HAH i did it in 37 second! i am current leader!! english is not my first language even! it will be fun intense competitions at next Chinese club meetings. drink one of it before attempting for to increase your speed!” This was the type of response that the creators intended. One of the students later remarked, “The dynamic of asking people to respond with their own videos of trying to read the ingredients as fast as they can, we believe we created something that you cannot do with a typical academic paper. Instead of a one-way message (the video to the viewer), we wanted to have a conversation with the viewer and potentially begin a verbal/visual dialogue between distant viewers.” This particular video has challenged me to reconsider the assignment and its purpose. If, for better or worse, media is ranked by the hits, likes, and views it has accrued, can we in any way assess student work by a similar metric? Is it useful to reward students for promoting and marketing their writing skills? Am I encouraging them to produce viral drivel or developing an inherent literacy? In order to begin answering these questions, my colleague Madeleine Sorapure, who teaches a similar writing with video assignment (but without the viral challenge), helped me to compose a student questionnaire that we then distributed to each of our sections of Multimedia Writing. While this assignment, and the responses to the questionnaires, are the first stages of the research, some of these student reflections (which the authors have given me permission to use) have helped to appease some of my anxiety.

  • “As we learned throughout the video project process, text may be permanent, but interest is ever fleeting. Something that goes viral today is most likely to be a forgotten past by tomorrow."
  • “The viral video project process was similar to writing an academic paper in the sense that involved planning an idea and a schedule around this idea, creating a draft of what content—visual and dialogue—would be included in the video, organizing all of the factual and textual information to be included, and revising the video in the end by the sequence chosen and the editing style. Overall, the same process of thinking an idea through and revealing that idea, which is used when writing papers, was used in the creation of the video. It was different in the aspect that both visuals and text had to be considered and combined. Also, collaborating with others to create the video changed and enhanced the creative process."
  • "Using music and different video angles and structures, we would be able to emphasize particular aspects of the video to portray certain meanings and symbols worth taking notice about Adderall such as the typical reasons for taking the drug and the usual side effects incurred after its use."
  • "It is fascinating to consider the evolution of YouTube. Created in 2005 with an 18-second video about the size of an elephant’s “trunk,” the site quickly became a creative outlet for the average consumer (or anyone with a recording device) to express themselves and to engage in the interactive world of Web 2.0. In just a matter of years, it became so much more than that: It evolved to become an opportunity to share the tribulations of parenting (HDCYT, 2007), to create a movement (WWF International, 2009), and even to jumpstart a multi-million dollar career (kidrauhl, 2008). What is it, though, that causes users to continue to post videos? Is it the desire for recognition? The element of community? The hope that their video will go “viral?” In this age of likes, retweets, favorites, and shares, it seems as though everything has become a competition: against ourselves, against friends, and even against complete strangers. We strive for recognition and stop at nothing to achieve it."
  • "In my opinion, creating a video/text project was the perfect way to demonstrate what we’ve learned throughout the quarter. Most any UCSB undergrad can pound out a paper in a night or two. The number of research papers or novel comparisons I’ve written is outstanding. And for most classes, you can churn out the same cookie cutter structure and appease the professor... We needed something to excite the masses, so that they would not only view…but share. The few times I’ve gotten to control the creativity have been my favorite and most influential learning experiences."
  • "As one of my fellow classmates mentioned, this project became something more than just a typical class assignment; it became much more personal. We created an original idea for a video that we hoped would go “viral,” and to see that idea come to fruition was extremely gratifying, more gratifying than any grade for an academic paper could ever be. Throughout every step of the process, brainstorming, filming, editing, and uploading, we would constantly ask ourselves how we could make this enjoyable to our viewers; it was no longer just about a grade, it was about entertaining others."
  • “...the video gave us some credibility as well as the ability to control our viewers' emotions in a fast way. I’m not saying there aren’t other ways to do that, but this video had aspects such as the right entertainment medium, familiarity, and authority that would give us easy access to our audience.”


Ashton, Kevin. (2013, Mar. 28). You didn’t make the Harlem Shake go viral –corporations did. "Quartz." Retrieved from http://qz.com/67991/you-didnt-make-the-harlem-shake-go-viral-corporations-did/

Berry, Patrick. (2011). Writing with video and across media. Retrieved from http://patrickberry.com/wwv/

HDCYT. (2007, May 22). Charlie bit my finger - again! YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM

Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York UP.

Jenkins, Henry. (2007, Feb. 16). From Youtube to YouNiversity. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(24), B9. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/From-YouTube-to-YouNiversity/7800

kidrauhl. (2008, Feb 8). With You - Chris Brown cover - Justin Bieber singing. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQOFRZ1wNLw

Lavaveshkul, Liz. (2012). How to achieve 15 minutes (or more) of fame through YouTube. Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology, 7(4), 370-385. Retrieved from http://jiclt.com/index.php/jiclt/article/view/171/169

Marbles, Jenna. (2010, July 9). How to trick people into thinking you're good looking. "YouTube." Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYpwAtnywTk

Spina-Caza, Lillian. & Booth, Paul. (2011-2012). Video unbound: Have you vlogged lately? Infusing video technology in the composition classroom. Basic Writing e-Journal, 10/11(1). Retrieved from http://bwe.ccny.cuny.edu/Spina-Caza%20and%20Booth%20Have%20You%20Vlogged_.pdf

TheNewscastersWives. (2013, Mar. 12). UCSB 5-hour energy challenge. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nECs04XCG8o

Squier, Joseph & Andrews, Kimber. (2013). Writing with video. Retrieved from http://www.writingwithvideo.net/ V

asquez, Paul. Yosemitebear62. (2010, Jan 8). Yosemitebear Mountain Double Rainbow 1-8-10. "YouTube." Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI

Wolff, Bill. (2010). Visual rhetoric & multimodal composition. Retrieved from http://williamwolff.org/courses/vrmc-spring-2010/

WWF International. (2009, Feb. 25). Because we are all connected. YouTube. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/OjGe-_OYWQQ

Created by admin. Last Modification: Thursday September 4, 2014 21:06:27 GMT-0000 by kristi.