Below, Instructors of Lehigh’s First Year English Program reflect on using multimodal instruction and assignments in their classroom:
Students in 2018 need to learn how to compose more than just traditional written arguments– most of the world’s critical discourse today happens online, and we as composition teachers need to help equip students for this increasingly digital landscape. Multimodal composition enables practice in the same skills of critical thinking, analysis, and argument, but asks students to stretch into a less familiar milieu. A few pieces of advice: familiarize yourself with your campus’ digital media resources– know what software is available in the labs and what equipment is available for borrowing. The more prepared you are to speak on the tools available to students for multimodal composition, the more smoothly the project will go. Also, consider banning slideshow presentations; they are not a particularly public or dynamic forum for argument, and offer students the option to default to the lowest common denominator. Taking slideshows off the table challenges students to exercise greater creativity and thoughtfulness in their projects.
Comments from Nicole B.:
Multimodal projects are a valuable teaching tool because they encourage students to explore all the means of persuasion available to them. I’ve found that multimodal projects allow students to think both purposefully and creatively about how to convey an argument. I have a number of non-native speakers who love multimodal projects because they find they can clearly convey an idea visually much better than they can with the written word. For a number of my students, they feel that multimodal projects help them overcome their linguistic limitations. In addition, my students who believe that they are poor writers believe such opportunities for creativity allow them to demonstrate their skill and intelligence in a way that using the written word cannot.
Comments from Minh T.:
Teaching multimodal composition is something I value and find essential in my teaching practice. It gives my students a reprieve from their reading assignments and activates their visual and auditory senses to engage with the course material in a different way. I incorporate multi-modal teaching in a few ways. First, I structure my units to incorporate a combination of literature and scholarly texts with some form of media such as film, short videos, podcasts and documentaries. I feel that presenting students with a visual illustration or audio presentation of the themes and issues we have been discussing in class brings literature alive in a relatable and engaging way. Some of my multi-modal lessons also do not involve electronic media. On writing workshop days, I ask students to work in small groups and volunteer a classmate to write on the board a draft thesis sentence or draft analysis of a passage/scene, for example, so we can all see as a class and help strengthen the work together. I feel this encourages collaboration and idea generation not only in small teams but also as a whole class. It also adds some physical activity to the class by having students get out of their seats and come to the board for a change. Another way I use multi-modal teaching is by conducting a unit on visual arguments to prepare students with the different visual forms, design elements, and appeals. I then ask students to rhetorically analyze an image or video of their choosing and present it to the class. This exercise prepares them with ideas and design strategies for their final project which is to transform their ten-page research paper into a visual argument of their own creation. They are then asked to present their creative visual argument to the class which once again helps students engage with themes and issues we read, talk, and write about in a fresh way.
Many students in my prior class created public service announcement images and videos. Some posters were even hand-made which also impressed me. However, there were some more unique ones that stand out. One student’s project, for example, argued for stricter measures to abolish fake news by proving how the public can be easily fooled by their content. She created a Buzzfeed poll with headlines and pictures of fake news as well as legitimate news and polled the class to see if they can discern which ones were fake. The class was shocked to find out how many of the fake news stories they believed to be true. Her Buzzfeed page incorporated information from her research paper about the dangerous influence of fake news in society if people like ourselves cannot tell truth from fiction. This type of interaction with the class by using media to make reading and writing come alive is what makes multi-modal teaching and learning so exciting! I can’t imagine teaching without multimodal forms and I am excited to learn from other teachers what their experiences are with this way of teaching.