Multimodal assignments allow students to create work using more than one modality, including visual, auditory, textual, and linguistic elements. Multimodality requires learners to effectively communicate and create knowledge across intersecting mediums. Combining multiple modalities in an assignment can help students deeply engage in meaning-making.
As you consider incorporating multimedia assignments, we recommend contacting our office early for assistance with the learning design process.
While it may be tempting to retrofit an existing assignment with multimodal requirements, it’s best to start at the beginning of the learning design process. Ask yourself questions such as: what do my students need to learn and why? What skills will this assignment help them develop?
The choice of medium and modality should always be informed by the intended audience and the purpose of the communication. As students focus on their rhetorical aims, they may find that a simple tool is more effective than a complex one. Students should always be encouraged to ground their work in the goals of the assignment rather than the allure of flashy technology.
Multimodal assignments are often time and labor intensive. Consider building in class time for work on projects, and collecting drafts or other milestones along the way. For example, creating a storyboard can help students plan a video. Collecting the storyboard in advance of the final project allows for feedback on the direction and efficacy of the work.
There are numerous educational technology tools available to students creating multimodal assignments. Many tools are available for free through NYU licenses, labs, and makerspaces. There are also many third-party tools, those that are not supported by NYU, available for use in multimodal assignments.
When using a third-party tool, it is important to notify students. Below is a sample paragraph that could be sent to students:
Multimodal assignments can be difficult to assess given the inherent flexibility and creativity afforded by various mediums. It is helpful to create and use a rubric that focuses on the goals of the assignment. Share the rubric with students before they begin to work on their projects.
You may also want to ask students to produce a written reflection on the process of creating their multimodal project. This allows them to share their rhetorical decisions and explain their choices.
Professor Stefanie Goyette (formerly of Global Liberal Studies) assigned a podcasting project in lieu of a final paper in her Cultural Foundations II course. She knew many of her students listened to podcasts, and wanted to provide a creative means for students to synthesize and demonstrate knowledge. Visit the FAS Innovations site to learn more about her project.
Research around multimodality is extensive and continues to grow. Browse the resources below to engage with the scholarly conversation about multimodality:
Theoretical foundations of multimodal composition
Selfe, Cynthia. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 60, no. 4, 2009, pp. 616-63.
Shipka, Jody. “This Was (NOT) an Easy Assignment: Negotiating an Activity-Based Framework for Composing.” Computers and Composition Online, 2007, http://cconlinejournal.org/not_easy/.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 56, no. 2, 2004, pp. 297–328. (2003 Chair’s Address at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, San Antonio, TX)
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writing in the 21st Century: A Report from the National Council of Teachers of English.” Urbana: NCTE, 2009.
Cedillo, Christina V. “Diversity, Technology, and Composition: Honoring Student’s Multimodal Home Places.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, vol 6, no. 2, 2017, http://www.presenttensejournal.org/volume-6/diversity-technology-and-composition-honoring-students-multimodal-home-places/
Lauer, Claire. “What’s in a Name?: The Anatomy of Defining New/Multi/Modal/Digital/Media/Texts.” Kairos, vol. 17, no. 1, 2009, http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.1/inventio/lauer/
“Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies.” NCTE, 2005, http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/multimodalliteracies
Reid, Gwendolynne, Robin Snead, Keon Pettiway, and Brent Simoneaux. “Multimodal Communication in the University: Surveying Faculty Across Disciplines.” Across the Disciplines, vol. 13, no. 1, 2016, https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/reidetal2016.cfm
Selber, Stuart. “Reimagining Computer Literacies.” Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.
New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, edited by Bill Kope and Mary Kalantzis, Routledge, 2000, 9-37.
Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.
Voss, Julia. “To Teach, Critique, and Compose: Representing Computers and Composition through the CIWIC/DMAC Institute.” Computers and Composition, vol. 36, no. ,2015, pp. 16-31.
Above resources curated from UConn’s First Year Writing “Writing Across Technology” Initiative.