Using Rhetorical Media to Meet Outcomes

and Satisfy Stakeholders


Section 5: Ability to Compose in Electronic Environments.

The more recently added fifth outcome, the ability to compose in electronic environments, requests that students engage in all stages of the writing processes within electronic environments.  It also emphasizes the importance of students using electronic tools to collect and use research materials.  As part of the ability to compose in electronic environments, the WPA also emphasizes that students must “understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and texts” (“WPA,” 2008).

We have clearly entered the digital age.  This digital world consists of online and on-screen environments that allow complex visual and verbal texts to intermingle.  The potential for what can be expressed through digital media is quiet expansive.   As Richard A. Lanham (1995) suggests, “[w]hen the arts are digitized, as they all now have been, they become radically interchangeable.  A single digital code can be expressed in either sight or sound” (p. 106).  Electronic documents offer the user a wide range of options for how he or she wishes to portray the information he or she aims to present.  The result of this interchangeability is quite important.  This change emphasizes, once again, that whereas written verbal communication was once the privileged mode, modern composers need not be limited to verbal expression.  Instead, they now have the ability to create complex digital arguments in an array of modes.  The authors of Multimodal Discourse, Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001) further this idea of interchangeability by remarking that

  1. in the age of digitization, the different modes have technically become the same at some level of representation, and they can be operated by one multi-skilled person, using one interface, one mode of physical manipulation, so that he or she can ask, at every point:  ‘Shall I express this with sound or music?’, ‘Shall I say this visually or verbally?’, and so on. (p. 2)

This ability does not just give the composition student the potential to “pretty up” their documents in an easier fashion; they also give the students the possibility of transcending modalities.  In Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001), the authors acknowledge that “more recently this dominance of monomodality has begun to reverse.  Not only the mass media, the pages of magazines and comic strips for example, but also the documents produced by corporations, universities, government departments, etc. have acquired colour illustrations and sophisticated layout and typography” (p. 1).  The multimodality that the authors discuss is entering almost aspect of life.

While Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001) indicate that the digital age has made all modalities available to one “multi-skilled” person, Lanham (1995) suggests that even a person with limited talent in one area, is given potential for greatness through electronic software.  Lanham (1995) indicates this potential in the clearest way through his explanation of how a person with little or no musical talent can produce quality music easily by using software programs such as Music Mouse.  However, this understanding can certainly be expanded to include the possibilities through desktop publishing programs such as Microsoft Word and Publisher (among others). 

These programs allow users to modify both the audio and visual display of their texts, create visual representations of their data (such as charts and graphs) and to add other types of media to their documents. Overall, these programs can increase the range of design possibility for even the most novice user. 

Taking the two positions (that of Kress and Van Leeuwen and that of Lanham) together, one can clearly make the argument that the digital environment makes it possible for any composer to make use of a variety of modalities; however, a person skilled in multiple modalities will most certainly have the most success in effectively communicating in such an environment.  If the faculty believe this to be true, then, as they prepare students to compose in electronic environments and give those students experience doing so, educators must ensure that they’re properly equipping their students to think rhetorically about the decisions they make in this digital environment.

Film Project Units Emphasizing This Outcome:

While all four units require use of word processing software, these two ask students to move beyond simple typing into composing that requires multiple digital modalities.

        Unit 3

        Unit 4

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