APRIL 19TH: On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies

Our reading: Jonathan Alexander’s and Jacqueline Rhodes’s On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies
Deep reader(s): Nick + Adam
DUE: Optional revisions on Audio Essay + written reflection [to myclasses]. This is tentatively due this week, but I will accept it up until May 10th, if you need more time for revisions.

Treats: Miranda


6 thoughts on “APRIL 19TH: On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies”

  1. For this week’s blog post, I am focusing my attention to Chapter 5—specifically, the issue about the rate of technological dissemination and how it affects the substance of automatic responses. In part of Chapter 5, Alexander and Rhodes focus their attention on the Virginia Tech shooting that took place in 2007, and they discuss how the internet and news sources played a large part in crafting a rhetoric regarding the shooting. On page 81, specifically, Alexander and Rhodes discuss that “[t]he subject—the thinking agent—can disappear into automated ‘feeling’ about information; in the Virginia Tech case, the speed of dissemination of and response to Cho and his writing may have helped us feel certain ways, but it did not help us think. The speed of dissemination leads to a potential ‘automation of response,’ a closing down of critical consciousness in the quick dissemination of ‘information.’” In a society accustomed to instant gratification and immediate answers thanks to Facebook, Twitter, online news outlets, and Google, we have become satisfied with the immediate gratification, rather than the actual messages or images being presented to us.

    This section reminded me specifically of the hoards of articles posted online by random strangers, and the influx of information communicated in these pieces, which pretends to be truth. Even further, I think of the people who read these pieces and blindly re-post or accept this information. My favorites are the articles that tend to appeal to a specific demographic: “10 reasons he’s not the one,” “5 ways your ‘adulting’ wrong.” These are just a couple I noted as I swiped through Facebook just now (because I can flip to Facebook while writing this blog post—Ironic??). While I see these articles as opinion pieces, the number of shares they have received reveal that others see them as facts. Many read these articles with a hope that these “facts” might also apply to them. In this way, they sense a source of validation when they get through all 10 reasons and think “sure, the shoe fits”—REPOST. The issue I see, and what I think Alexander and Rhodes would address is the fact that these people are gaining information, and sharing that information, but they are not informing on their own. Rather than write their own original pieces, users rely on the information already available. This brings me back to the discussion we had earlier in the semester regarding original information. Thus my questions are:

    In a world so accustomed to instant gratification and immediate dissemination, is it possible to trace an original thought? Is the ambiguity of this question a good thing, or a bad thing?


  2. On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, these authors seem to speak in direct conversation with Jody Shipka. Both texts are concerned with the lingering and ambiguous term “multimodality.” This term seems to be problematic because of its unknown meaning within the composition field. Like Shipka, Alexander and Rhodes attempt to define this term. As other scholars such as Selfe enter into the conversation, they all are criticized by their attempt to define this term. Selfe suggests that sound can be a mode or agency of composition, which of course is heavily critiqued by scholars such as Douglas Hesse, who claim sound is stretching the term a bit too far. This in itself is the root of the problem: composition is complicated to compact into a neat and tidy box. With each passing decade, new modes become available to students; this then directly affects the tools in which are available to them during the composition process. Similar to Shipka as well, Alexander and Rhodes mention technology’s role in problematizing what it means to compose: “as composition as a discipline embraces technology and actively invites students in first-year and advanced composition courses to compose with multimedia, we need to ask about other possibilities for expression, for representation…” (4). Herein lies the problem with technology as an agency for composition: in becomes a means of limitation when we hear the word “multimodality.” The assumption that the 21st century changes the means of composition is correct; however, just because technology is becoming an increasing part of society does not mean it should take over the way we can think of composition in the 21st century. These cultural implications with each passing decade certainly change the way scholars and even students think when they hear the term “composition;” however, the question still remains of: how do we define composition without sounding too limited or too inclusive? Is it possible to strike a balance between the two?


  3. Alexander and Rhodes continue the conversation of reexamining and expanding widely accepted notions surrounding composition and the composing process in the 21st century. Their work offers a complex proposal for compositionists to consider in order to invite, encourage, and assist students in making the most effective rhetorical choices regarding their composed products (in whichever form they might choose as most effective). As we consider many different modes in which students can compose, Alexander and Rhodes also provide examples of how instructors can explore those modes and in turn teach them to students emphasizing the long-held preference of written products over visual and audio, as well as the technical benefits and challenges of other modalities of composition.

    As the text seems to move more specifically towards its ultimate conclusion, Chapter 3 combines subjectivity, queer theory, and the “Situationist spectacle” to propose that scholars can exhibit embodied activism through multimodalities as a way to add more rhetorically strategic compositions for the field (and society at large) to analyze. They examine “techne” of queer sexuality as “a sort of generative lived knowledge; it is a view of techne that points less to the prescriptive how-to sense of the term and more to the ethical, civic dimension,” adding two broad parameters: the “acknowledgement and even embrace of the idea of the spectacle, the alienating distance between bodily self and representation as a productive space for critique; and the importance of lived experiences to the formation of an ethical stance” (116). The authors then add that the “life of the body is not to be ignored” (116). Alexander and Rhodes discuss their example of using photo manipulation and Situationist aesthetics to “expand [their] sense of rhetoric and technai” exploring queer sexuality, subjectivity, and rhetoric (126). Their incorporation of embodiment to explore subjectivity and rhetoric is fascinating; certainly the ideas of embodiment and affect relating to composition seems to be a theme to which many works within the field nod. Alexander and Rhodes highlight the importance of exploring these ideas especially as our notions of subjectivity, affect, and experiences are evolving with technology in the twenty-first century in increasingly unique and complex ways.

    As mentioned in previous class discussions, I find this connection of the mind and body in the academic setting fascinating and essential to composition and rhetoric especially in consideration of the composition process and the rhetorical moves and purposes for those compositions. While so much of academic life divorces what the mind processes and produces without taking the body into consideration, certainly theories of subjectivity, identity, and affect suggest otherwise. Returning to this week’s text, we might consider how expanding our knowledge and experience with technology’s affordances allows us to examine what it means to be human (and how that might relate to the field). The authors state that “fewer of us use these technologies to reflect consciously on what it means to be human, on what it might mean to be human, on how our sense of humanity, individually and collectively, is potentially enhanced, extended, delimited, estranged, changed, dispersed. Even fewer of us engage in this reflection with our students” (199).

    As technology and popular usage of social media, commentary, blogs, etc., begs us to question our notions of own subjectivities, identities, and narratives both individually and socially, how can we invite and challenge our students in composition courses to do the same? How might reexamining human experience(s) in general both through and in relation to today’s technology help students explore these concepts as well as enhance their composing processes and rhetorical purposes for composing?


  4. I found one passage toward the end of chapter one to be particularly interesting, engaging, and challenging. The authors write, “(Those) composing with new media must consider the ways in which developments in media invite composers to become much more cognizant of the forms, modalities, genres, and technologies through which they communicate (Alexander and Rhodes 60). For me, this becomes most apparent when considering the different ways in which we all read and write–and digest information–on a daily basis through different platforms and media. For example, the way that I “read” Twitter (if one would choose to define it as such) isn’t the same way that I read an article from CNN.com. The brevity of the message conveys a meaning all its own; that is, because of the character limit on Twitter, it is impossible to put out as much information as is often necessary in one tweet. Even if the tweet includes a link to an article, the information that one must include as “clickbait” may differ drastically from the article’s content–or even an accurate synopsis of the article.

    While I do not think many college students (at least, those who are well informed) struggle to change their language based on the medium that they are using, it is important to actively inspect language and the ways in which it changes based on where it is written and read. In the same paragraph, the authors note, “And in this unfolding, we catch a sense of how our notions of rhetorical effectiveness must become increasingly flexible” (60). Again, most people who use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook often know how to effectively communicate on these platforms. Much to a teacher’s dismay–because this communication is often informal and shorthand–students must constantly force themselves to drop the lingo of social media while in the classroom. Even web-based writing that is more professional in nature (not necessarily academic, but with the intent of providing or transferring information) falls victim to the medium itself. That is, online communication almost HAS to be short and succinct with the plethora of distractions that readers face, often in the form of ads or internal/external links to other articles on the page. It seems crucial for students–all readers and consumers of media and information, really–to be constantly aware of the medium that they are using in that particular moment; moreover, readers must understand how the medium affects what (and how) they read and write.


  5. In their introduction to On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies, Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes briefly discuss Daniel Anderson’s “hypertext/video essay,” “Prosumer Approaches to New Media Composition” (13). In rearticulating Anderson’s argument in support of their project, they explain: “Anderson argues that we need to teach students to produce new media, in part because our students already consume new media. Students who are ‘prosumers,’ Anderson writes, are likely to be more critical consumers” (13). This passage particularly stood out to me among their many claims of support, initially because it is a motivation that remains implicit throughout much of their introduction, but also because it reminded me of an applicable argument articulated in Thomas Rickert’s Acts of Enjoyment. As Rickert claims regarding composition instruction, “Implicit in pedagogies centered on cultural critique is a faith that teaching writing can resist dominant social practices and empower students, and in this way, it is argued, cynicism can be overcome” (164). However, Rickert also observes that “the notion that we can actually foster resistance through teaching is questionable at best” (164). That is, given the challenge (and methodological restrictions) behind qualitative research on the likelihood of ‘prosumers’ becoming “more critical consumers” (Alexander and Rhodes 13), Anderson’s is, perhaps, too large of a claim. If anything, work such as Rickert’s asserts that this may lead to yet another area for cynical production and consumption. However, similar to Rickert’s claims regarding cultural studies, I am in no way attempting to disparage the value of multimodal composition pedagogies—they afford new outlets for varied forms of intelligence, new outlets for rhetorical exploration, and a widened understanding of what it means to “compose” and “communicate” effectively.

    Nevertheless, such a critique questions the validity of any ‘critical consciousness raising’ capacity to prevent a multimodal pedagogy from falling into the same liberatory-hope-rut within which many cultural studies pedagogies found themselves. As Alexander and Rhodes appropriate Situationist methodologies as potential means of inspiring even “something more than critical consumption” (110) (an idea many Situationists likely would have scoffed at—having had their ideas here deployed in an academic publication, posited as a university classroom technique, and applied to generally expensive new-technological commodities, all traditionally bourgeois forms), it may be worth asking, as other postpedagogues have, to what extend is our classroom, even when multimodal, capable of such transgressions? Perhaps, instead, such Situationist practice can simply serve as a means of enriching our understanding of rhetorical disruptions. Such an approach, not asking the student for a contribution of resistance, seems far more aware of the actual flows of power and resistance in the general classroom setting, and, as such, more prepared for the likely responses that may develop within the class. In closing, while on a topic rather distinct from my post, I would like to pose the following question:

    While a multimodal composition remains both theoretically and practically exciting, how does such work justify the promotion of expensive and privatized technological commodities in the everyday classroom? Even with government assistance, not all classrooms and households can afford these, and even when they can, these products often have a questionable production process (see for example, one of Apple and Hewlett-Packard’s Chinese suppliers, Foxconn, where so many workers committed suicide by jumping out of the building that nets were installed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn_suicides#Suicides). How would a multimodal approach to composition respond to such?


  6. This week’s text made me start to think about the problematic elements of traditional essay assignments and consider how video and audio formats could be welcomed into the writing classroom more often. I do not believe all composing is “writing” and I’m hesitant to conflate the terms, but the influence of the body in the composing process should be taken into account more by writing instructors. Alexander and Rhodes state, “the traditional essay’s reliance on the movement from claim to claim, supported through logical argument, may very well overlook claims, positions, or insights grounded in emotion, or embodied experiences” (38). Meta-narratives or “dear reader” responses handed in with these essays may give a place to explain the student’s emotions or experiences on the topic, but they may not provide clear insight into the bodily influence on composing it. Some may argue that the academic essay, even the Academy (think ivory tower) itself, is not an appropriate place to dwell on and share personal experience and emotion. Using “I” is forbidden often enough in academic writing. However, we cannot ignore that living, feeling human beings are producing the texts we encounter and respond to.
    The example of the YouTube “Literacy Narrative” resonated with me and made me think about my own audio essay. The student uses sound and images but essentially mimics a traditional essay to present a problem, context, and solution/conclusion. Alexander and Rhodes argue, “[i]ts argument could just as easily have been rendered as a three-paragraph theme” (80). The goal, then, of these multimodal texts should not be to reproduce common formats in different forms, but to give the audience a different experience. In the first draft of my audio essay I could have probably transcribed the interviews to present something similar on paper except for the sound of my interviewee’s voices and the barely audible background music. This is how I know I have to take a different approach in revising the audio.

    How can we incorporate the body in different ways in the writing classroom?

    How can traditional formats, like the essay, complement non-traditional multimodal texts? Does it have to be either/or?


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