Content and the Multimodal Classroom

For undergrad, I received my degree in communications with a minor in marketing. I knew I loved writing, but I also loved the concept of business promotion and persuasion through advertisements, press releases, and digital marketing. I graduated back in 2015, and I feel like that was more of a time when the principles of content and content creation were truly becoming synonymous with writing.

Coming back into my master’s program, I was genuinely shocked at the English department’s course offerings: web design, social media writing, document design, all courses that I thought were more fitting for a communications degree. To be honest, I’m still a little perplexed as to what the difference between professional writing and communications are in the context of a digital world. Many of the assignments I’ve been given have been strangely similar to the assignments of my undergraduate years. One thing remains consistent among both fields of marketing and writing: multimodality.

According to the article “Trailblazing in the Frontier Zone: Advice for Multimodal Pioneers”, “[English] students now focus on the shifts between rhetorical situations that include digital and multimodal genres” (Haimes-Korn 171). Further, according to Judy Shipka in “Multimodality and Communicative Practices”, “…technological changes – that is, the rate at which the communicative landscape is changing – have fueled discussions about what twenty-first century students of discourse should know and be able to do” (5). So while I’ve always thought that communications and English/composition were two entirely different fields, I’m now seeing that because technology has continued to advance so drastically, the two are now becoming inter-related.

But how does this translate to my duties as a first-year composition teacher?

As FYC instructors, it’s not only our job to teach our students success in written skill but also to encourage writing for other genres besides academic papers. The skills these students can learn in FYC courses can be extremely professional to whatever career they wish to pursue in their upper-level courses: technical writing for software manuals, document design for brochures for a company, even writing a successful email to employees. In “When Writing Becomes Content”, Lisa Dush highlights this idea of prepping students for their future careers by emphasizing writing as content and use of multimodality in course design:

…if we prepare students – likely majors and master’s-level students – to work in marketing/communications roles in organizations that take a content marketing approach, we best prepare them to conceive of and possibly even produce a wide range of genres across a wide range of media – such as blog posts, white papers, instructional videos, social media posts and conversations, and website content (185).

While this quote primarily discusses higher level courses, the value can still be seen in FYC courses, and integration of multimodal concepts has already begun in the modern-day English 1101 and 1102 classroom.

In my shadowing class, students are given a traditional multimodal assignment of a blogging journal, in which students write down their reflections and analysis of articles read and experiences shared. What I truly love about this class, though, is the last major project of the semester: the individual composition piece. After gathering primary and secondary sources, the students are then tasked to share their findings in their own creative way. Specifically, they are asked to write in a genre that interests them. Some students have expressed interest in creating a video, website, even an interactive museum display for their final projects. To me, this is a great example of how to encourage multimodal content creation in FYC classrooms. By selecting their own genre to tailor their final projects to, the students are learning first-hand the rhetorical strategies and choices that go into composing a multimodal piece.

Additionally, they are also able to create multimodally without having it be a forced “digital” project. As Judy Shipka noted:

Yet I am also aware of how writing on shirts, purses, and shoes, repurposing games, staging live performances, producing complex multipart rhetorical events, or asking students to account for the choices they make while designing linear, thesis-driven, print-based texts can also broaden notions of composing and greatly impact the way students write, read, and perhaps most importantly, respond to a much wider variety of communicative technologies – both new and not so new (9).

What is so crucial to note is that “multimodal” doesn’t just mean “digital”, as explained previously with our threshold concepts. If a student chose to write a research paper on Latinx voices on the back of an immigration application form, they could do so; if they wanted to write about eating disorders in the dance community by writing first-hand accounts on ballet shoes, they could also do that. While I personally believe most students should learn the concept of content creation being interwoven with digital design, that doesn’t directly address multimodality in its entirety.


Mari’s Musing:

Since joining the MAPW program, I’ve come to learn that multimodality is a necessary part of writing composition and content creation. As opposed to my assumptions in undergrad, marketing and writing are continually growing closer together in terms of goals and strategies. There’s no surprise that most English majors go on to work in some type of content creation role; but regardless of declared major, FYC students should learn the fundamentals of multimodal composition in order to succeed in their future careers.

Works Cited

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” NCTE, National Council of Teachers of English, Dec. 2015, library.ncte.org/journals/CCC/issues/v67-2/27641.

Haimes-Korn, Kim. “Trailblazing in the Frontier Zone: Advice for Multimodal Pioneers.” Beyond the Frontier: Innovations in First-Year Composition, edited by Jill Dahlman and Tammy Winner, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, pp. 168–182.

“Introduction.” Toward a Composition Made Whole, by Jody Shipka, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011, pp. 1–17.

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