“When people are denied the ability to shape the media that pervade their lives, they lack the tools they need to articulate their interests and collectively organize to challenge social inequalities.”
Jason Palmeri Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy
Learning is an activity that happens throughout life, and sometimes without much effort. Much of what we learn throughout life has to be unlearned to obtain another level of understanding and achievement, especially in writing. Some students are resistant to letting go of familiar composing techniques, like the ubiquitous five-paragraph essay. But in my classroom, I help students develop sophisticated ways of making claims and supporting them with evidence using a number of tools. It is imperative that I engage my students in learning more effective ways of writing by looking critically at writing that resonates with their interests, employing varied pedagogical methods that attempt to reach each student, scaffolding that builds on the effectual learning they already possess, and introducing them to new tools and concepts for expression.
Futurist writer Alvin Toffler wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Helping students unlearn ineffective skills and helping them learn or relearn effective skills with technology they will eventually use in their college careers and beyond, can be as simple as using presentation applications like PowerPoint, Prezi, and Sway to juxtapose readings or identify the rhetorical appeals in an essay. In addition to full-class discussions, I allow students to use presentation software to create mini-presentations on the readings for homework, so we can come together as a class and discuss the readings of essays for their rhetorical effectiveness. Learning how to navigate presentation software and searching for answers on questions concerning functionality of software, provides students with the opportunity to learn how to learn. They can then move on to learning more advanced systems.
Although the conversation surrounding multimodal composition questions how it will fit into existing curricula, the composition and rhetoric classroom can be where we attempt to level the playing field and expose students, all students, to the advantages of technology for their work. In some lessons, I also incorporate the assessment of visual rhetoric, which helps students literally see how arguments are created in their writing. By looking at visual rhetoric, my students are able to dissect an image for all the relevant parts (claim, evidence, reason). While many students are digital natives, we tend to overlook those who are not. Some students lack access and resources to technology that their peers are mastering. Multimodal composition is not meant to be entertaining but is a way for students to get familiar with technological tools to achieve their learning goals. Multimodality, as the combination of text, images, and sound, requires professors to be informed about how these elements work together, and as a media maker I possess these skills.
Students are often implicitly impacted by information steeped in lore, but it is my job to help students unlearn some of the information they have been taught or they passively acquired in order to achieve a greater level of mastery in their composing practices. Because we also look closely at writing that is effective and ineffective to assess where the authors of the pieces went right or wrong, as we extract the elements (thesis statement, supporting evidence, counterargument and conclusion), students make up their minds about the effectiveness of the essays and articles. By the end of the semester they become critics of writing, expressing their concerns about an essay before I have even asked them what they think. With an evaluative and critical eye, coupled with proficiency in learning digital technologies, I feel my students leave my class prepared to take on the challenges they will face in their college careers.
The advent of social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have empowered people all over the world to disseminate images, text, sound, and video that tell of their experiences. While these tools are empowering, allowing anyone with the possession of the correct equipment to make arguments for various causes, the effectiveness of their arguments can be challenged based on the quality of their argument and/or production. Using technology adequately and competently can make the difference between a voice being heard, and one being placed in a pile of amateur media. With the pervasiveness of Web 2.0, more businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations are using multimedia tools to reach the public in order to maximize the effects of their causes. Many organizations need competent employees who know their way around the technological landscape we now live in. They need employees who are digitally literate and who are adept at learning digital technologies. Who in academia is preparing students in this way?
English 388: Professional and Technical Writing: 3 credits, undergraduate level, George Mason University, Spring 2020, Fall 2020
Students assess the rhetorical situation in order to meet readers’ genre expectations. They learn the conventions of several professional and technical writing genres and engage in the recursive writing process from brainstorming to revision. They use varied modes of communication that respond to contemporary technical writing work environments while writing white papers, proposals, resumes, press releases, web content, and websites. Special attention is paid to incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the professional documents written.
English 302: Advanced Composition: 3 credits, undergraduate level, George Mason University, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Students analyze the rhetorical situation and rhetorical context in order to develop audience-focused academic writing. They use critical reading skills for academic and non-academic texts relevant to their field of study and engage in the recursive nature of the writing process to develop and respond to well-crafted research questions. Students write literature reviews, research proposals, and annotated bibliographies.
Art and Visual Technology 395: Writing for Artists: 3 credits, undergraduate level, George Mason University, Spring 2019
Students spend significant time improving writing skills by working through the varied stages of the writing process. They develop critical writing skills used to inform professional writing for career advancement. Students improve thinking and reading skills used to assess writing situations when writing art reviews, artist statements, bios, and curatorial proposals.
English 101: Composition: 3 credits, undergraduate level, George Mason University, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018
Students improve their understanding of the recursive nature of the writing process from brainstorming to revision. They respond to varied rhetorical situations with awareness to genre, audience, and purpose. They develop thesis statements that are well-stated and developed into arguments when writing essays that surpass the level of difficulty of the five-paragraph essay. They write annotated bibliographies, narrative arguments, and compose radical revisions.
English 1102: English Composition II: 3 credits, undergraduate level, Clayton State Univesity, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017
Students became familiar with thesis statements and composing practices used to argue personal perspectives. They learn to write for specific audiences and with clear purposes that are organized and coherent without the five-paragraph essay format. Students engage with various academic writing genres including personal narratives, expository essays, and literary arguments.
English 1101: English Composition: 3 credits, undergraduate level, Clayton State University, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Summer 2017
Students learn and analyze argumentation and various genres of academic writing while working on developing thesis statements, topic sentences, supporting sentences, introductions and conclusions for coherent arguments in writing cultural criticism and arguments. They effectively synthesize sources in their argumentative writing. Students become familiar with the library research process using databases and search keywords.
George Mason University, Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference, Fairfax, VA, September 2019 “Evaluating Course Goals to Achieve High-Order Assignments” Poster presentation and Five-minute lightening talk
Mason Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference, April 2019 “Evaluating Course Goals to Achieve High-Order Assignments” Paper Presentation
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, Faculty Learning Community on Multimodal Composition, Spring 2020, Co-Facilitator
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, Public Writing Faculty Learning Community, February 2019 – May 2019, Co-Facilitator
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, Teaching Online Practices and Strategies, Fall 2019
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, Digital Pedagogy Lab, August 2019
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, Digital Media and Composition Institute, May 2019
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, Threshold Concepts Faculty Learning Community, February 2018 – May 2018
University of Cairo, African American Murals and their Mexican Roots, June 17, 2020