Our Spring 2014 issue of Computers and Composition Online manifests the tectonic shift from alphabetic to multimodal composing at all levels of the writing curriculum. For some, this might be seen as a “literacy crisis,” but for the authors, reviewers, and interviewers in this issue, it’s simply how we teach rhetorical situation in the 21st-century, employing, as Aristotle, Selfe (2009), and Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel (2012) have suggested, “all available means of persuasion.”
Our Theory into Practice section includes three pieces, two of which foreground the important role of video composing. Megan Adams’ (Bowling Green State University) “From Screen to Text: Video Composing in the Writing Classroom” reports the results of an action research project designed to test how “the integration of a multimodal project …would help students enrich their thinking about an argument at the beginning of the writing process and if that investment and interest on a topic would carry over to the later stages of the actual writing process.” Adams study of high school students developing a multimodal public service announcement shows that while the completion of the project didn’t impact grades, it did impact overall motivation and enthusiasm for academic writing projects. Similarly, Timothy Briggs’ (Oakland University) “Three Frameworks and a Pedagogical Approach: Teaching Video Arguments in First-Year Composition” focuses upon the sophisticated triangulation of remediation, multimodality, and rhetorical appeals as he documents the process of students’ migration and transformation of print-based arguments into video form. By sharing two student samples, Briggs documents both the successes and the challenges, including technological resources and student anxieties about composing in a new modality, emphasizing that in “the 21st century, all available means includes video arguments. Admittedly, teaching video arguments can be challenging, but the benefits to students are great. They get the opportunity to compose with a wider palette of communication tools while developing a deeper understanding of rhetorical principles.” The section concludes with Sipai Klein’s (Clayton State University) “Digital Architectonics: A Case Study of Educator Designed Multimodal Texts.” Klein shifts emphasis from students’ multimodal composing processes to teachers’ multimodal composing processes as he relies upon a qualitative case-study of three non-writing studies faculty to build a process-based model of digital composing that depends upon cyclical meaning-making processes of planning, translating, reviewing, searching, selecting, and repurposing. In this way, Klein revisits the field’s longstanding emphasis on process, extending the original theories of Flower and Hayes to digital spaces. Ultimately, Klein contends that “participants’ repurposing practices….indicated that their composition process required them to pay attention to available meaning-making resources in order to produce digital texts” and in turn create new educational composing contexts.
Next, our Virtual Classroom section features a range tools and contexts for helping students engage in multimodal knowledge-making. Meaghan Brown and Josh Mehler’s (Florida State University) “A Glass Case”: Reading and Reflecting with GIFs” “describes the theoretical basis for [the] pedagogical approach and assignment designs, narrates students’ composing practices and their responses to their experiences, and argues for the value of GIFs as an efficacious multimodal composition tool.” Through a series of sample artifacts, the authors describe the impact of this longstanding visual web-genre on students critical and rhetorical multimodal literacy and, as a result, have recovered the GIF from its status as a Web 1.0 artifact to a valuable tool for teaching concepts of remediation, repurposing, and remix, as well for engaging students in the digital composing process. Moving from GIFs to Prezis, Angela Laflen’s (Marist College) “Composing the Self: Prezi Literacy Narratives” contends that “In order to help the Prezi literacy narrative project to be one that really helps foster multimodal literacy, instructors must be aware of the possibilities for multimodal composing that Prezi offers as well as some of the challenges of using Prezi and in particular Prezi-created templates.” In this comprehensive overview that includes several student samples, Laflen contends that instructors must engage in invention and reflection activities that help student composers navigate the template-driven nature of Prezi to better use the tool to represent connections between literacy and identity. It’s perhaps fitting to conclude this section with “Hacking the Classroom” a multimodal assemblage by James Brown (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Mary Hocks (Georgia State University), Aimée Knight (Saint Joseph’s University), Virginia Kuhn (University of Southern California), Viola Lasmana (University of Southern California), Elizabeth Losh (University of California, San Diego), Jentery Sayers (University of Victoria), and Melanie Yergeau (University of Michigan). Evolving from a panel at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference, contributors define hacking as a empowering, subversive process of “turning the critical gaze inward, rethinking institutional structures and practices, and revising them to foster new social relationships, pedagogies, and modes of inquiry.” Each of the seven perspectives offers localized practices for hacking similarly localized material, cultural, and ideological constraints upon more meaningful digital composing opportunities, calling for instructors to allow, as Elizabeth Losh puts, students to “steer the boat” in terms of allowing them to determine their own rhetorical exigencies. Inevitably, for these contributors, hacking is as much about transformation as it is critique and their suggested practices for both processes are models for the rest of us to follow.
The Professional Development section of the journal also reflects localized efforts to create scholarly communities of practice surrounding digital literacy and multimodal composing. Last fall, the BGSU Rhetoric and Writing Doctoral Program hosted a graduate student conference on 21st-century Englishes. Jeffrey Moore (Bowling Green State University) reviews Jason Palmeri’s keynote speech for the conference, “Literacy Crises: Then and Now: The Multimodal Past, Present, and Future of English Studies.” From the beginning of the last century to the beginning of our current one, composing and meaning-making have always been, as Palmeri suggests, multimodal, and Moore foregrounds the importance of Palmeri’s emphasis on “how teachers at all levels of education work to make their students as prepared for the challenges of the 21st century digital world as possible with the limited time and resources they have.” One successful model of that process is clearly evident from John Scenters-Zapico, Lou Herman, Kate Mangelsdorf, and Lindsay Hamilton's (University of Texas, El Paso) “On Creating a Satellite Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives: The Stories We Tell.” Scenters-Zapico showcases the way in which “one particular literacy site, the El Paso, Texas, United States-Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, border region… give[s] an introduction to how we are using the DALN to explore and preserve for historical purposes the literacies of this region.” Scenters-Zapico shares the steps his program has taken to develop a University of Texas at El Paso DALN, in order to make visible both the local and national efforts of document literacy histories and practices among multicultural and multilingual populations. Such an emphasis on diverse ways of knowing describes Shirley E. Faulkner Springfield’s (Bowling Green State University) “Through the Eyes of a Writer.” In this interview with Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate student Entisar Elsherif, Faulker Springfield foregrounds the ways literacy acquisition is mediated culturally and technologically. As Springfield concludes her compelling interview with the Libyan-born Elsherif, “My brief gaze at Elsherif’s life unveiled the myriad ways that languages and technology have empowered her. Elsherif’s journey has afforded her opportunities to acquire technological skills and several languages.”
Our Reviews section includes Brianna Mauk’s (Bowling Green State University) comprehensive overview of the new book by Kristin L. Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, Cheryl E. Ball, Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. In addition to its curricular innovation, the book’s accessibility for both new and experienced digital writing instructors also contributes to what will surely be a must-read in the field for anyone hoping to remediate the undergraduate writing curriculum. Finally, Wei Cen’s (Bowling Green State University) helpful introduction of Cowbird, a digital storytelling platform, suggests that our field and our culture rely heavily upon the role of narrative as a form of collective-meaning making. With that goal in mind, Cen highlights the potential for this non-academic tool in classroom contexts, stressing Cowbird’s ease of use and ability to archive.
As always, I hope you’ll enjoy the issue and take-away some great ideas for enhancing the role of multimodal composing in your teaching and research, and share your stories as our contributors have done here.
Kristine L. Blair,