||Defining Multimodal Composition||Affordances
I favor portfolios and multimodal composition, every teacher knows both
assignments may occasionally fall flat in the writing classroom. Both
are capable of enhancing learning opportunities, but when used without
adequate critical development or attention to the context and purpose
of the course, coursework, and assessment practices, they both have the
potential to detract from and affectively poison the learning
experience and environment.
As complementary pedagogical tools, portfolios and
multimodal composing must be carefully incorporated into courses. The
two tools have similar constraints in that they challenge classrooms:
teachers, students, and administrators may often be put off by the
amount of work required to successfully integrate and craft portfolios
and multimodal texts. The risks associated with both tools are one more
aspect of how these tools are parallel. As the affordances associated
with portfolios and multimodality are similar, so are the contraints.
outline the similar constraints of using these tools within the
classroom below and describe techniques teachers might use to work
Susan Callahan (1995) suggests that portfolio pedagogy should be a “response to [teachers’] perceptions of classroom needs,” as should opportunities to engage in multimodal composition (p. 120). While both need to be strategically crafted into the course curriculum, this is impossible when teachers must construct courses without any knowledge of their students. Very rarely do teachers know their students well enough to design a course tailored to their particular needs before the semester begins. With a course designed in conjunction with students, instructors can use both portfolios and multimodal assignments with positive results because students have a stake in them. However, administrators often need to have course syllabi and other pertinent records before the first week of the semester is out.
How then, are instructors to design contextual course curricula? If courses are destined to be created prior to knowing which students are enrolled, their predispositions for learning styles, and their personal writing abilities and interests, many students may feel that multimodality and portfolios are mere additives; they become hoops for students to jump through just to pass the course. From an instructor's standpoint, the course design—from in-class activities to digitized projects to portfolio assessment—needs to be explained to students from day one. The explanation needs to be rearticulated as the semester progresses, helping students make connections between their coursework, their developing writing styles, and the ways they are being assessed on a near-daily basis. In order to be fully successful and help students engage critical skills, the explanation should not be teacher-centered. Instead, the explanation should come in the form of a class discussion or activities that scaffold students understanding of how such assignments will help them meet the needs, goals, and objectives of the course and contribute to their growth as writers.
Because composition classes have so frequently been literature-based classes in the past, and because they often come out of the English department, students expect a certain degree of literature and traditional essay writing. They do not expect to be working with movie-making programs or designing websites, nor do they expect to work on physical multimodal texts like posters, flyers, pamphlets, or collages.
By carefully choosing which assignments to use, which multimodal assignments to assign, and which portfolios to build, instructors can help students see the writing that exists beyond the traditional essay. Using portfolios and multimodality together in a composition classroom can be effective, but we need to spend time planning on how these things can be built into the course, how they can enhance the course, and what types of new intellectual work they push our students towards.
Goals and Objectives
In order for portfolios to work for a given course, they must be contextualized in regards to the goals of the course and its ultimate purpose (Yancey, 1992; Perry, 1997; Murphy, 1999; Murphy & Smith, 1999; Shipka, 2005). As Sandra Murphy and Mary Ann Smith (1999) insist, “Portfolios are not an appendix, something tacked onto the tail end of classroom curriculum” (p. 328). The same is true of multimodal assignments—they need to be incorporated into classrooms gradually, with purpose and careful scaffolding (Selfe, 2007; Selber, 2004).
As Lundin (2008) suggests, incorporating contemporary technologies into the classroom with little carry over to course objectives is a waste of class time for both instructors and tutors. In these instances, technology has not been properly incorporated into the classroom. Although incorporating multimodal/portfolio composition in the classroom is not always the same as incorporating new writing technologies, the sentiment is parallel. With little discussion of how the projects meet class goals, students will not invest in them, either mentally or physically. Without tying portfolios and multimodal assignments specifically to course goals, objectives, and theories, students may be overwhelemed by these assignments, rendering the assignments both irritating and useless. Without explicitly tying portfolios and multimodal compositions to course goals, students see such assignments as detracting from the course and the experiences they hope to have. Students can tell when the work does not correspond to the course objectives. Instructors cannot forget: students have objectives and goals for courses that sometimes align with, sometimes fall short of, and sometimes surpass instructors' (and administrators') goals and objectives. Students know when they are being lied to, and they know when something doesn't quite fit. With proper scaffolding and attention to the course goals, these projects, however, can be useful and revolutionary for students.
Students' understandings of course design, along with understandings of specific course goals and objectives (via integrating portfolios and multimodal composition) are at risk when instructors consider using both portfolios and multimodality in the composition classroom. Both tools require time and consideration to be fully integrated the course. The parallel constraints of each tool makes implementing them a similar process, especially if portfolios are thought of as a type of multimodal assignment. Although there is a certain degree of risk involved in bringing multimodal assignments and portfolios into the composition classroom, both tools are worthwhile. As described here, the qualities these genres share will ultimately serve to strengthen students' experiences in the composition classroom but only when these assignments are carefully integrated into the course.
||Defining Multimodal Composition||Affordances