This blog was originally posted on May 4th, 2015.
Today’s guest blogger is Jason Dockter, who teaches first-year composition at Lincoln Land Community
College. He recently completed his Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University, with an emphasis on rhetoric/composition, with a specific interest in multimodal composition. His dissertation is entitled Multimodality, Migration, and Accessibility in Online Writing Instruction.
One of my initial goals within my first-year composition course is to expand students’ perception of writing. My students often enter FYC with rigid views of what it means to write, what writing looks like, and how writing composed within a school setting differs from writing they interact with and compose on their own outside of school. Multimodal composition projects provide an opportunity to push against these divisive perceptions of writing while increasing students’ rhetorical knowledge and their ability to transfer that knowledge to new contexts. Text design, especially, is a rhetorical element that is challenging to address in essay-based writing assignments. However, my multimodal interview project, outlined here, provides a prime opportunity to focus on text design by emphasizing the spatial mode, among others.
- To increase rhetorical knowledge through the use of purposeful multimodal assets and text design.
- To expand students’ definition/conception of what ‘writing’ means by developing a text within a genre that differs from writing they’ve often done in previous English or writing classes
My FYC course is taught online at a community college, and my students range widely in terms of age, rhetorical knowledge, and even computer proficiency. The course is divided into learning modules, with each module focusing on a particular genre of writing, which we study collectively at first and individually later. Within each module, students become acquainted with a specific genre through an exploration into its conventions, by locating and analyzing examples of the genre, and later by developing their own text within the genre.
Students conduct an interview with a person (or people) associated with a topic they’ve chosen to research. Students use that interview as the content for the multimodal text they’ll design based on the interview genre.
Ask students to plan for the interview project by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:
- The St. Martin’s Handbook, section 11e, “Conducting Field Research”; Ch. 16, “Design for Print and Digital Writing”
- The Everyday Writer, section 16e, “Conduct Field Research”; Ch. 9, “Making Design Decisions”
- Writing in Action, section 13e, “Conduct Field Research”; Ch. 8, “Making Design Decisions”
- EasyWriter, section 37f, “Field Research”; section 2f, “Designing Texts”
- Writer/Designer (Arola, Sheppard, Ball) Chs. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7
My approach for genre instruction begins with anexplicit genre pedagogy, then moves to an interactive genre pedagogy (see more discussion of this from Anis Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff, in chapter ten of Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy).
- I provide students with interviews to review from print publications such as Rolling Stone, TIME, Esquire, and various online sources.
- After studying those sample texts, students identify and explain conventions of the interview genre that they value. Students post this list to the discussion board, followed by brief explanations of the importance of those conventions.
- Shortly after students post these lists, I combine them to identify the most agreed-upon conventions, which becomes the basis for a rubric that students use to complete a follow-up discussion board activity. There, students locate an interview of their own choosing in its original context, and explore the rhetorical aspects of the genre with our co-created rubric as their guide. Through a Rhetorical Genre Studies approach – considering the rhetorical and social purposes of the text through the design decisions of the writer – students contemplate why the writer made the rhetorical choices she did in the development of this text and how those rhetorical moves affect the interview and its ability to accomplish its intended purpose.
Following these initial genre-familiarization assignments, students shift to brainstorming the development of their own interviews.
- On the discussion board, students write a brief overview of their thoughts at this point towards their own interview, exploring the media they want to use, the potential questions they’ll ask, what modalities they’ll incorporate into the text, and other design determinations they may have made about how they will create this text.
- Shortly thereafter, following the interview that students have conducted, they submit a more formal proposal / mock-up of the interview they intend to create. This provides an opportunity for the instructor (or peers) to provide feedback to help students align their design plans and use of modalities and media choices with the collaboratively developed rubric.
After students submit the Interview Project, I ask them to complete a reflective writing, intended to provide students with space to explain their vision for their interview. At this stage, I hope to learn how the composing of the interview went, along with how their rhetorical decisions impacted that text design. Specifically, this is where I get to hear from students about why their interview turned out as it did, their purposeful emphasis of specific modalities, and their media use within the text, helping me to better understand why these design decisions were made.
Here are a couple of my excellent student submissions (used with permission):
Why This Assignment?
This project, as my students often interpret it, emphasizes the spatial mode, through the design of the interview on the page. Students become focused on design in ways that they are often unable to do when writing essays, where the format is often rigid. This is one of my favorite assignments within my FYC course because it shifts the emphasis from the content (writing) students will create for the text and emphasizes the design of the text, specifically considering how unique multimodal elements can be used to enhance the (often) alphanumeric text of the interview itself.
Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Mondays assignment? Send ideas to email@example.com for possible inclusion in a future post.