Assessing Multimodal Texts

This week, our readings focused on assessing multimodal texts. It’s interesting to move from discussing the influence and creation of multimodal texts to discussing how we should assess them. Before these readings, I would have included program or software-based categories on multimodal assignment rubrics. For example, a rubric on a Prezi would include a category such as “use of Prezi design strategies” and subcategories like “zoom, color, text, and multimedia.” Now, I know better.

Borton and Huot (2007) include example criteria for assessing multimodal compositions, including purpose, audience, tone, idea, transition, relevancy, and context (101). What I notice about all of their proposed criteria is that the criteria are global concerns instead of local. By this logic, I should not include such program-specific criteria that are specific to just one piece of software or site. The advantages are for both students and teachers; students do not have to worry about mastering Prezi to get a good grade on their presentations, and the teacher isn’t nitpicking student’s design choices. The takeaways for students, from being assessed more globally, are a larger sense of rhetorical context regarding their multimodal project. They are less focused on mastering Prezi for a grade, and more focused on the goals of the assignment. Borton and Huot call this “instructive assessment” (102).

What will I take away from these readings? I’m revising my multimodal assessment practices according to both formative and instructive assessment, and tying that to more broad multimodal learning opportunities. 


#BGSUcon13 – 21st Century Englishes

This weekend, I attended my first-ever conference, the 21st Century English conference at BGSU. I was excited going into the conference, and I didn’t even realize how amazing it would be! It was exciting to plan my day and decide what presentations to attend, and then to hear my brilliant colleagues presenting about their areas of interest. It really reminded me of my passion for the field, which is easy to lose sight of as I get caught up in assignments and reading. There was a presentation for everyone! I wish more people had attended to absorb all of the amazing knowledge going around, but since it was the first conference, I kind of understand why attendance seemed low. Hopefully, my cohort will help make the conference a success next year, too! 

I also got to meet one of my rhet/comp idols- Jason Palmeri. In case you didn’t know,  his book is one of the foundational sources for my research in multimodal composing/Twitter. I found it ironic that he told me he’s not the biggest fan of Twitter, and his work supports my Twitter research! He signed my book, too, which made me feel so nerdy. Watching his keynote address reminded me that our field is interdisciplinary, and we do important work outside the academy as well as within it. Everyone in the room, no matter the discipline, had something to take away from his presentation, which means he did a very good job with his audience. Plus, he did a pro move and made a plug for his new book. Of course I’ll be reading that ASAP.

Eventually, I’d love to present at a conference, but I don’t know that I’m quite ready yet. In the meantime, I’ll attend as many as I can, and be involved behind the scenes. On that note, here are just some of the wonderful Tweets my colleagues and I circulated during the conference:



Conventions of Copyright


This week’s readings focused on copyright, and the ever-important implications for teachers utilizing digital and multimodal writing. My picture is indicative of the fear and angst with which I approach copyright, and the threat of dire consequences should I violate it (sounds a lot like plagiarism, right?). Luckily, the Fair Use clause frees teachers from many concerns about citing images, clips, and other technically copyrighted material, but can Fair Use really be used as a catch-all like that? It feels lazy. If the same standard were applied to alphabetic text, plagiarism would hardly be an issue in our classrooms. These are just some of the questions that me and my colleague asked as we facilitated class this Tuesday. I’ll provide some of my own thoughts here. 

According to one of our authors, “the more knowledge of the law, the more possibilities, variables, and probabilities come into view. The more tool-like copyright law becomes, as opposed to rule-like, the more a user might feel able to push and pull on that tool” (Rife). Our class discussed the meaning of “possibilities” in this quote. We determined that considering copyright could encourage us to find different solutions to our texts. For example, taking our own pictures to use in a blog post rather than having to worry about citing someone else’s image. We talked about going through Creative Commons for images, and how even that is not foolproof (it often links to Flickr, most of which is copyrighted). We talked about remixing songs in Garage Band rather than worrying about how many seconds of someone else’s song to use. We also talked about how to get our students to think about copyright as they compose digitally. One of the best ways to introduce copyright is to visit YouTube and pull up one of the thousands of videos that have been removed by YouTube administrators for copyright violations. 

I wanted to talk about Internet memes in class, but discussion never provided a good opportunity, so I’ll put my thoughts here. It is somehow appropriate to take a copyrighted image and put text over it, generating mass quantities of memes that are circulated on any number of sites (Tumblr, Imgur, Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, Reddit, etc.). What exempts those images from copyright? Sometimes, it’s the context of a certain website. For example, users on Tumblr are familiar with the “reblog” feature that enables mass sharing of posts. If a Tumblr blogger posts original content, zi expects it to circulate with the reblog feature, thus taking away copyright. However, if someone uses a Tumblr post outside the context of Tumblr (in a research paper, for example),  zi is expected to cite it according to the original poster, which requires a trace through, sometimes, thousands of reblogs. 

How are we, or our students, supposed to know the expectations of all websites and media sources out there? I don’t think we are, and that’s why we should look at copyright as a tool, instead of a steadfast set of rules implicating consequences for violation (like the “Big C” of my photo). Thinking about copyright and citation can either incite fear, or inspire creativity, and that’s your choice! 

Musings on MOOCs

Until reading Steven Krause’s piece in the CCC “Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses,” I had little idea of what a MOOC entailed for both students and teachers. I had, however, read many editorial pieces for the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoaning MOOCs and their less-than-ideal influence on higher education. Some of Krause’s observations regarding his “Listening to World Music” MOOC resonated with me, and especially since our last 7280 class meeting focused discussion on online teaching.

First, the experience of “interacting” with thousands of strangers in an LMS sounds simply horrific (I’m now familiar with Schoology, Canvas, and Blackboard). Krause describes the heaps of discussion posts as “white noise,” and what else could they be? (690). It is impossible to read and interact with all those posts without devoting hours and hours of time. Furthermore, whose idea was it to enact student grading without any sort of training? At the very least, the teacher could have uploaded example-graded responses with justification. As a composition student, I also know that the term “style” is a heavily subjective element that is difficult to define—why have the “style” category on a rubric without any sort of justification as to how style will be assessed?

What impressed me about students in the course was their attention to some common themes I encounter in my coursework; when asked to grade others’ writing, “there was also some interesting conversation about the difficulties of evaluating the responses written by non-native English students, about plagiarism (of course!), and about the quality of peer responses” (692). I have spent entire courses learning about these concepts, yet students of all calibers in a MOOC were expected to deal with them without any training. I was horrified!

Last—what does one do with a certificate from a MOOC? What weight does this carry when compared to audited in-person or even distance learning courses? For example, with a certificate from this “World Music” MOOC, would I be able to skip a general education course at any university?

While Krause’s experience was certainly subpar, I’m glad to see that he hedges his statements in his conclusion, because MOOCs are still “in the experimental stages and are still trying to discover and invent effective pedagogies” (694). I argue in my scholarly work that the academy must not dismiss social networking without assessing its strengths and potential for the classroom, so I believe we must do the same with MOOCs (which are even newer than social networking). I can’t say that I’m on the MOOC bandwagon, but I’ll be interested to read about more experiences with them, especially the rhetoric/composition MOOCs in development at Duke, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State.

The Next Step: Sustaining Multimodality

Sometimes, I get caught up in the excitement of new technology (especially social networking) and forget that learning/incorporating technology is a cycle for teachers, as Richard Selfe (husband of renowned Cynthia Selfe) reminds me in his chapter “Sustaining Multimodal Composition.” Because the cycle will continue as new technologies are developed, “computer-supported instruction continues to be exploratory” (167). Luckily, teachers are not alone in their endeavors! Selfe explores the myriad of people essential to creating a sustainable network of multimodal composition. I appreciate that Selfe doesn’t just focus on the professional/administrative component of such a network; he also mentions that a “supportive social environment” can be just as important (167).

I’d like to ask Selfe whether or not digital communities count as a sustainable community of scholars, administrators, students, and teachers. Seems to me that a collaborative digital space would be easier to create online rather than in person (dare I say ‘more realistic’). A good example is #chats on Twitter, a phenomenon where stakeholders in the featured subject gather on a designated date/time to exchange ideas and answer questions. I like to observe and occasionally participate in #edchat, where the community focuses on educational technology.

My other favorite part of Selfe’s article is his practical tips and questions for teachers of multimodal composition. I’ve been reluctant to “jump in” with a multimodal assignment for my own classes, because I wasn’t sure exactly to go about it. Selfe gives me important questions to consider, as well as practical tips/tricks. The most important takeaway for me was to be realistic about the learning curve of software and technology. It will take time to learn, and even more time to develop projects, so allowing adequate time and keeping projects short are essential for multimodal assignments.

Connecting Aurality and Popular Culture with Cynthia Selfe

Think about all the aural modes of communication our students interact with on a daily basis: YouTube, music, Snapchat video, Vine, Facetime, music editing software, recorded lectures, podcasts, and many more. Cynthia Selfe, the pioneer of digital and multimodal studies, speaks about popular culture and aural composing in her article “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” I’ve never come across a Selfe publication that I don’t enjoy reading, and this was no exception (7280 is actually the third class for which I’ve read this piece). The section on popular culture resonated with me the most, as popular culture is a big factor in my own teaching.

            As Selfe articulates (much better than I could): “teachers continue to recognize its [aurality’s] importance in the lived experience of young people” (631). What better way to reach students than popular culture? Note: I do not proclaim that popular culture reaches all students. Selfe mentions bringing popular music into the center of class assignments; I thought I was big shit for developing a “Music Video Visual Rhetoric” assignment, but Selfe beat me to the punch. Yet, Selfe reveals, written discourse was still the end product for these aural texts. I don’t believe this has changed in a large-scale way, but more and more of my colleagues have begun to incorporate multimodal products into their curriculum—yay! In my mind, multimodal end products best suit multimodal classroom assignments. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

            Hopefully academic attitudes toward popular culture have matured since 2009, because I was surprised to see that academics treated popular culture as something to vaccinate against, resist, or avoid altogether. Now, I would argue that more teachers are seeing popular culture as something to deconstruct, study, and recognize implications of, which are all more positive goals. What do my readers think?