Takayoshi, Pamela and Selfe, Cynthia L. (2006) “Thinking about Multimodality”

To begin their piece, Takayoshi and Selfe consider the standard form of the student composition, a pages-long stream of written words that has remained unchanged for a claimed 150 years, while the forms of communication in the new, digital, connected world hardly limit themselves to characters only. This new form of communication, thanks to recent advancements in computers and the merging of technologies, uses easily-manipulated still images, animations, video, audio and color; they term these new compositions multimodal texts. And while these digital tools may be new to the traditional composition, the authors make a compelling case for their acceptance into current curricula. They present their reasoning for the wider adoption of multimodal composition, and answer what they term as the five most often-asked questions by teachers.

The authors point to five reasons why teachers should take multimodal composition more seriously. With an ever-more digital and connected world, it becomes increasingly important for students to not only continue to “consume” multiple modalities – a second-nature for them now that they have grown up in the internet age – but to learn to “compose in multiple modalities.” This is their first point. The second is the need for composition to stay abreast of this changing world; if it to stay relevant, the “definition of ‘composition’ and ‘texts’ needs to grow and change to reflect peoples’ literacy practices.” Third, the writers remind us that although there may be a sometimes steep learning curve and occasional frustration, the fact remains that multimodal composition can be engaging and fun, and thus a good vehicle for important concepts regarding rhetoric. In fact, their next point is exactly that: that multimodal composition requires fluency and command of traditional rhetorical principles, and that audio/video work can sometimes require an even better grasp of these principles than traditional texts. The fifth and final point is an extension of the previous two, that for true “progressive education” following the theories of John Dewey the student and teacher must come together in a mutually respectful environment where the student has more than a little say in the course of her education. Meeting on the playing field of the digital connected world, a world perhaps more familiar and easily navigated by the student than the teacher, can capture and maintain the attention of the student, and the more collaborative atmosphere may ultimately prove more efficacious than the traditional model.

Takayoshi and Selfe address a list of their five most often asked questions by other instructors. The first and most important is: “When I teach multimodal composing, am I really teaching composition?” They answer this first with a reminder that the very rules of writing originate from the oral tradition, and at one time even writing itself was seen as a distraction from clear oration. The authors outline how each important technology related to the written word – the advent of the press, engraving, photography, etc. – has caused concern for educators of the day. But if rhetoric is the art of effective persuasion, then these technologies are merely new tools in the student’s arsenal to be mastered. Other questions include practical matters, like: shouldn’t the video department teach video? will i have to become an expert in these new technologies? and does my department or school even have this equipment?

These are minor matters, answered efficiently by the authors. The main points of importance are summarized above, but further reading is encouraged – just follow the link at the top of this post.