• Jacquelyn Blain

Going Multi-Modal part 2


What does it mean to be multimodal anyway? Is it the same as multimedia?


No.


Think of it this way:


Medium is a way of getting information out there. Media are either analog or digital.

  • Analog is the stuff you can hold in your hands, is tangible, like books, comics, posters.

  • Digital is the other stuff, like video or podcasts or the internet. So when we say “multimedia,” we’re really saying the same message is being sent out in any number of analog and/or digital ways.

Mode is all about what you use to create those messages. The New London Group in 1996 identified five modes (essentially -- their work is more complicated than that):

  1. Visual – that’s easy. Images of all kinds, both static and moving.

  2. Alphabetic – writing, the ABCs, the Cyrillic alphabet, “the written word.”

  3. Aural – sound. Like podcasts or music or noises or someone’s voice.

  4. Spatial – how something is arranged, its layout. If one part of a photo is larger than another, that means it’s more important. In an ad, larger type gets attention first. In a film, a close-up means to focus on that one thing in the frame. If you’ve ever handed back a paper and said, “the format’s all wrong, it’s supposed to be MLA,” you’re talking about the spatial mode.

  5. Gestural – well, gestures. Like in a photo, when someone has put a hand over their heart, that’s a whole different message than a fist flying through the air.

So we create multimodal pieces by using a combination of these five modes. In fact, some theorists say there’s no such thing as a single mode message. Even a first year comp essay demands a certain (spatial) layout, and even podcasts start with a list of written questions and/or a script to follow.


If you look at it that way, it’s not so intimidating a thing to teach. And here are great resources out there to help us, like Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard and Kristen L. Arola. Great book, btw – certainly saved my sanity the first time I had to formally teach multimodal composition because it talks not just about modes but about how to rhetorically employ them to get a specific message to a specific audience for a specific purpose (and includes stuff about picking the right genre for the project).


And other students are often the best source of technical help. One thing I do is have students write a proposal for a multimodal project, and include whether they need help doing the thing they want to do. Often, somebody is looking for a video editor. Then every student has to look at ALL the proposals, and leave a message if they’ve got resources and/or can help that student. It not only gives everybody some help (including us instructors), but it also gets the students invested in each other’s projects in a very real way. Terrific for student-student social interaction… a hard thing to come by in our pandemic world!


Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this just busy work? How can this possibly be pedagogically sound and/or help improve students’ written communication skills?

Next post…

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