Convenience and Enhancement: What’s Meaningful?

Multimodality is tricky, difficult to implement in meaningful ways. I previously had the opportunity to TA for Ball State’s course for teaching writing in secondary schools, and in the lesson I taught by myself, I had the class discuss the difference between texts that were digitally convenient and texts that were digitally enhanced*; this lesson prepared them to consider how meaningful digital writing was in their final projects, but as we conferenced later, we realized that it is much more difficult to assign something digitally enhanced than it is to assign something digitally convenient.

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In composition classes, it’s easy to just assign alphabetic texts. A hundred different reasons can be rattled off for why alphabetic texts should be assigned, but there are just as many reasons to ask students to create multimodal texts, as well.

In my mentor’s classroom, there has yet to be a multimodal assignment; although students have been asked to critique a multimodal text (a documentary that they must rhetorically analyze), they won’t be asked to create one until the last assignment when they’ll have to create their own documentary.

The class is bookended in this way by documentaries, but the other assignment my mentor will be teaching is also an alphabetic text. To go back to the idea that there are a multitude of reasons for teaching alphabetic texts, the rhetorical analysis and personal narrative the students will have to complete will enable them to go on and write other alphabetic texts for other classes, but which assignment will they likely remember down the road?

The documentary they have to create.

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Having students remember an assignment is not the most important reason to require multimodal texts in the classroom, although it is one. Students will be more likely to remember such rhetorical ideas as audience, tone, etc., through this process of creation, though, rather than just through the process of critiquing like they are in their rhetorical analysis.

Of course, then comes the big question, tied to the idea of digital convenience vs. digital enhancement—what should we do when multimodal texts become an act of checking off a box rather than an actual extension of the task?

I don’t know if I have an answer to this. Especially as I’m considering what I might do for the third assignment in my mentors classroom, I feel as if I need to have the answer to this. I don’t want to assign something digital just because I want something to be digital if the same thing could be done in an alphabetic way (side-note/reminder—I know multimodality doesn’t have to be digital, but it’s a common way to include multimodality. I’m really interested in art in the classroom, and might try to find a way to implement images in that way, but I have fewer answers about that than I do digital inclusion).

My main idea for my third assignment so far is to turn a research paper into a podcast, requiring students to bring in audio from an interview they’d need to conduct, but I again come to the question of if this is meaningful multimodality or not. I could use Serial as an example of how to structure a podcast with other voices and other audio effects, but the idea of convenience vs. enhancement has caused me to continually second guess myself on how to use multimodality in the classroom.

Most of this has been focused on multimodal end products, too, which is a bit problematic in its own right. We should also be encouraging multimodal processes, too, in whatever ways we can. Could I have students draw as ways to represent their ideas? Could I have students use Google Docs or Twitter as ways to communicate with their classmates—or is that just digital convenience?

I have more questions than I do answers about multimodality, but I know that the multimodal world we live in requires that I help my students both critique and create multimodal texts.

*This concept was taken from Crafting Digital Writing by Troy Hicks, as this isn’t explicitly stated anywhere in the Google Doc.
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