||Defining Multimodal Composition||Affordances
|Hawisher and Selfe
(1997) assert that electronic portfolios
link portfolio assessment to computers in the writing classroom. Using
their discussion as a starting point, I
argue that portfolios (both physical and digital) showcase process
as a pedagogical tool in a way that allows scholar-practitioners to
understand similarities between portfolios and multimodal
pedagogical implications are the same, but eportfolios must be compiled
digitally rather than manually.
In fact, as noted here, it is impossible to create an eportfolio that is not multimodal
because all digital writing is inherently multimodal (Lauer, 2009).
Utilizing an electronic portfolio is not the only way to bring
portfolio assessment and teaching with technology to a harmonious
argues all portfolios have three
characteristics in common: “They are,
first, longitudinal in nature; second, diverse in content; and third,
almost always collaborative in ownership and composition” (p. 102).
I suggest these three essential qualities are found in multimodal
composition, which is also longitudinal, has diverse content , and is
collaborative in nature. Below, I
outline how longitudinal qualities, diverse content, and collaboration
are defining characteristics of both genres (multimodal composition
and portfolio assessment). After explaining the parallel characteristics
of these genres, I explain how the essential qualities highlight the
similarities between considerations of audience when working with
multimodal composition and portfolio construction. Understanding how
these genres and audience interpretations compare and overlap allows
view of mutlimodal composition and portfolios as parallel pedagogical
tools, closely aligned with contemporary values of composition. A
quick-reference guide to the explanations below can be accessed here.
Longitudinal: Pedagogies that help writers grow
Multimodal composition is longitudinal, taking time to master.
Multimodal projects might take a variety of forms, allowing students freedom to think both creatively and critically about the relationship between form and argument.
Multimodal compositions almost always rely on student collaboration.
nature, diverse content, and collaboration are the three essential
qualities of both portfolio and multimodal work in regards to
composition. When teachers assign multimodal projects and implement
assessment, they have an opportunity to help students see the parallels
between these two genres.
With guidance and critical class work, students can develop an
awareness of audience as they craft multimodal portfolios: after
critical discussions about what it means to write using multiple modes
and how portfolios can help students meet the goals of the course,
students can then engage in more robust, critical discussion with each
other. They can revise based on
peer review and teachers' or writing center consultants' comments with
the idea of multimodal portfolios planted in their subconscious (or
consciousness) for the course. As they compose multimodal pieces and
work on their portfolios, they may
begin to understand that the conventions of a definitional essay for
class may be
very different than the argumentative research paper they write for
another. Fostering these types of discussions and cross-disciplinary
rhetorical skills can be made easier with the focus of multimodal
writing and portfolios. Revisiting these techniques frequently
throughout the semester can help studnets remain focused on
trasnferable rhetorical skills. With teacher-support (the process used
to produce a portfolio often
requires much scaffolding), students can make better choices about who
address and how—they even begin to make their own decisions about genre
(Murphy, 1999; Callahan, 1997; Yancey, 2004, 1992) and about which
rhetorical strategies to implement when.
Assigning a multimodal project or a course portfolio will not be enough to emphasize purpose and audience for students, however, unless teachers lead conversation about these assignments. These assignments have the potential to open class discussions and increase students' growth and skill building: they can be students' keys to understanding how different rhetorical techniques work within diverse rhetorical situations. Therefore, when portfolios are combined with mutlimodal assignments, the three qualities of these genres resonante more fully with students, especially if teachers take the time to speak with students about the similarities and differences or ask students to critical identify the overlap between these genres. Multimodal assignments urge students to take into consideration various purposes and audiences for writing (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008), which can then be highlighted in the portfolio. Such assignments further encourage students to think critically about why they are creating the document, helping them to be more cognizant of the rhetorical realities represented by their compositions (Wysocki, et. al., 2004). When multimodal assignments are linked together in a writing portfolio, students can better understand the changing contexts of their writing. The portfolio can act as a document that visually demonstrates all of the audiences and contexts the students have written to and for over the course of the semester.
Hopefully, growth as a rhetorically savvy writer is demonstrated throughout the semester, but portfolios and “finished” multimodal texts also suggest growth outside of the classroom. By using multimodal texts in the classroom, and reflecting on their uses of those texts in portfolios, students are more likely to bridge their academic and everyday lives, carrying that growth into different realms. For example, students might think critically about the web pages they use, the flyers they see, and the commercials they view (Gruber, 2003; Selber, 2004): as an audience, they become more aware of the (frequently multimodal) texts they consume. Additionally, by involving students in multimodal composition, and then asking them to reflect on those compositions in their portfolios, instructors make learning more applicable to students’ lives and more engaging, which leads to a new understanding of the purposes of being enrolled in a writing course or other liberal education requirements (Handa, 2003; Williams, 2008; Murphy & Smith, 1999). When asked to, students are able to reflect critically on the audiences for their texts, but they also come to see themselves as audiences and consumers of texts, which helps reinforce rhetorical awareness.
The balanced qualities of portfolios and multimodal composition provide a powerful combination when the two techniques are used together in a course. An aware and present teacher can use these assignments together to strengthen students' understandings of composition: both offer students real affordances in analyzing and utilizing rhetorical principles. Multimodal composition fosters composing development over time as does portfolio use. Both genres emphasize a process approach and ask students to think critically about their imagined audiences. The portfolio often asks students to actually remark on who they have composed for and how they have met the audiences' needs while multimodal composing asks students to make the same connections during their thinking processes to craft stand-alone pieces that rely on multiple modes rather than print-linguistics analyses and articulations.
I have argued above that using both portfolios and multimodal in one course can contribute to a more positive experience for students. I do not mean to imply that teachers must always use the two together. Assigning multimodal compositions and portfolios separate of each other can also be powerful for students. However, when students begin to see that one assignment reinforces and builds on the skills other assignments fostered, they have the potential to learn or grow more. For example, while a student who composes a life-size Lady Gaga cultural critique may have learned much about the use of conveying an argument without words, she may not transfer this immediately to the document design of either a hardcopy portfolio or an eportfolio. She might not think about the binder and tab dividers as rhetorical work or the way the nav bar, pages, and use of white space contributes to how her eportfolio is read. She may not realize an icon for her downloadable final draft might be more appealing than a phrase linked to the document. In order to help students start seeing connections between settings. As Jackson (2010) argues, "To ensure our students take analytical skills with them at the end of the semester, we must simplify the task we assign and teach deliberately for transfer" (p. 18). He maintains that in order for students to really learn transferable skills and begin to use them transferably, teachers must deliberately reinforce the transferable nature of the skills. Using multimodal composition and portfolios in tandem will help facilitate teachers' abilities to "teach deliberately for transfer" because the projects reinforce each other. Using both assignments and having specific discussions about the transferable nature of skills used to complete the assignments will strengthen students abilities to transfer rhetorical skills between separate situations.
Although these genres do have powerful affordances, the way the projects are implemented and brought into the class has an effect on how students understand and utilize the assignments. For example, if a digital portfolio is assigned but never discussed or critiqued, students may not garner any of the benefits such composition might afford them. Instead, they will complete a required project and move on. A classroom where students are asked to continuously assess the transferable nature of rhetorical skills makes for a more robust composition classroom, and such a classroom can be encouraged by teachers who are willing to help students see and use the bridges built by composing portfolios and mutlimodal documents.
||Defining Multimodal Composition||Affordances