Today's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell, a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
In May 2017, a colleague and I attended the Digital Media and Composition (DMAC) Institute at The Ohio State University: a weeklong workshop designed to help bring digital media tools and assignments into composition classes. Over the week, we had an intense crash course on multimodal projects that we could use in our classes. We learned about projects that people had recently completed in their classes and how well those projects worked, what kinks they encountered, and how to possibly resolve the kinks. We also completed our own projects. It was extremely informative and tons of work, but also a lot of fun.
The first project we completed at DMAC was an infographic. I'd always wanted to assign infographics, so I was quite excited at the prospect of this. I was less thrilled when the beginning of our infographic was purposely designed to be in analog form. We were asked to use arts and crafts supplies to first make an infographic by hand, then later make one digitally. We were offered all sorts of supplies: construction paper, markers, tape, colored pom poms, crayons, rolls of string, scissors, ribbon, etc. Making an infographic by hand seemed completely antithetical to an Institute with the word digital in its name. Initially, we laughed and rolled our eyes at the childlike assignment for a room of adults. As we worked, however, the value in the analog infographic took shape: it was designed to get us to slow down, cherish, and invest in the creation and design process. I hope to get my students to do the same and to help fellow colleagues and peers to see this, as well as to help them move into multimodality.
For our project, we chose to create an infographic that mirrored the purpose of creating the analog infographic in the first place: the multimodal composition process. In order to get students and apprehensive instructors to see that the multimodal process isn’t anything to fear or scoff at, we wanted them to see how the multimodal creation process mirrors the writing process. The writing process is like muscle memory for comp instructors. But for luddite-leaning instructors who are suddenly faced with becoming multimodal and teaching multimodality to students who might not always see the value in multimodality in a composition class, sometimes they all need to be reminded that the process is the same. If the instructors can see the similarities, then they can teach this new world to their students using a world (writing process) that they are very comfortable in. Slowing down the process helps with that. Looking back, I now realize the same doubtful reaction I had to the analog infographic project is the same reaction students often gave me when I told them we’d be using social media or other digital platforms to reconfigure their text-only arguments. They doubted the validity and purpose until the project was done, and then they realized it was and could be another form and medium for arguments.
So, we set out to design an analog infographic that demystified the multimodal composition process. We used terms that are common in the writing process to describe the multimodal process, such as brainstorm, research, edit, revise, etc. Feedback is so important to any type of composing process, so that term was centralized and linked to all other points of the process. We added related terms to each part of the process to help students and instructors understand what steps would be taken with each part. Creating this infographic in analog helped us create a map of what we wanted to do digitally. This would be similar to outlining for a text.
Shifting to the digital version of the infographic, we used Piktochart, but the Institute also showed us how to use Powerpoint and Canva to design digital infographics. Once we digitally recreated the infographic, we could see more options that we hadn’t considered in the analog mode. For instance, we could select images of shapes from templates rather than cutting them by hand, easily edit and revise any content, and even potentially add hyperlinks to the steps of the process. Slowing down the process and creating by hand forced us to appreciate the digital options and conveniences we have all the more.
All that I learned and experienced at DMAC translates into an infographic assignment for my students. Their infographic is designed to work with and accompany their researched argument essay. So, as they are forming their argumentative ideas from their research, they will also be forming the ideas for their infographics. In class, we will discuss how ideas, bits of data, images, tips of awareness, pie charts or bar graphs within their sources can all be turned into infographics for their arguments. I want them to slow down the multimodal composing process but also have it align and mirror the writing process. Just like they will plan, outline, and design their argumentative claims, they will also plan, outline, and design their multimodal infographics. Hopefully, they will see the value and beauty in creating in analog and digitally.