In the first four chapters of Gunther Kress’book, Multimodality: a social semiotic approach to contemporary communication, he walks us through an introduction and need for social semiotics; the social environment as pertains to power, meaning, and creation; and also ways of knowing and learning, overlapping with previous ideas of motivation and effectiveness. The initial concept of social semiotics seems a bit redundant, not unlike social linguistics, but the depth at which he looks at social for meaning-making, power, and change is quite compelling. I don’t think it’s really possible “to bring all means of making meaning together under one theoretical roof, as part of a single field in a unified account, a unifying theory,” (5) but perhaps in trying we accomplish something. One thing is for certain, that there are specific ways of knowing and expressing that have underserved power, and continuing to look at ways of knowing separately is not likely to change this.
To say social semiotics or social linguistics seems a bit ridiculous if you study either of the fields at all – when would they ever be not social. Synthetic/artificial languages, maybe (but then think about …nope). To clarify that semiotics would be social is redundant, and yet, like sociolingistics, necessary. Research from the scientific realm tends to be reductive, as I am learning more fully about in my interdisciplinary seminar. It needs to be for certain discoveries. To understand language or the way we signify things, it is necessary to reduce, look at the small parts, analyze. The trouble is, we seem to have gotten stuck in the space, unable or unwilling to take the information from analytic, reductive views, and put it together with the operating whole for real knowledge. An idea that Kress kind of agree with, as he argues the line between knowledge and information definitions is increasingly hazing.
This haze is the creation of change, a natural state that we tend to resist. Not only are signs, modes, knowledge, social made, they are socially changed. They change with utilization of new technology, with wars and new conquering ideology that say what is a isn’t okay to communication (or how). “Being social,” Kress writes, “the conditions for representation and communication change with changing social conditions; at the same time, representation and communication constantly change social conditions, though each differently so” (52). We ‘re’ present as communication ‘re’ constructs, Kress writes. And more important for trying to get at power, and real changes for better learning and communicating, these push and pull changes steeped in the social are the ideologies shaping the theoretical frame. I think Kress would argue it’s time for a new ideology in order to change the theoretical frame to better fit the world, the modes, we are actually working with.
The prompt wanted me to look at one of my multimodals with Kress and Van Leeuwen, then with Kress’ multimodal and semiotics book. So I decided to do so without reading the second, first; I wanted to keep my application from influence to see…just to see.
Discourse, design, production, distribution
As mentioned in class, seems a natural connection to Invention, Style, Arrangement, and delivery.
The following applies these concepts to my multimodal post about my GPS watch and running community.
Leeuwen and Kress’ definition of discourse really threw me; how could discourse not be about the conversation? I really struggled to understand it and apply it. But now, perhaps because I did that work to understand it, it seems to apply quite perfectly to the running tools and community I participate in. The topic, the data, the knowledge is there without us talking about it. Running to some extent is natural, intuitive. And humans are social creatures and learn socially so it only makes sense that we would run together sometimes. And the information, how far, how fast, how long (and how much beer) exists before we utter anything. It exists whether we record it or not. But we do and that is the discourse practice.
The design behind our data follows the tradition of the hard sciences and has alphabetic and images to communicate the info (charts, graphs). Arguably design is another discourse for us as we all have different ways of running, different brands or models of GPS watches. In all cases design is communicating something: scientific but fun (or perhaps poking fun at our scientifically driven lives), amount of money invested for a training watch, triathlete or not (based on watch model), and levels of competitiveness. The design of our running group also becomes material, production and distributed, when we order our shirts that always say, “Run and Be Hoppy” on them somewhere. More through collaboration, production, have we come to be the data driven entities that we are.
Production of our data is a physical labor, transferring and transforming the information from our bodies to the satellites and chronometers and back. We transfer the information from our watch to the paper. Later it is transferred once more when our fearless but never beerless leader and computer scientist puts it into the website, coding and algorithms to analyze and interpret our data. Production is always multimodal: utilizing and shifting design, the mode of conversation, applied discourse, sourced ultimately from discourse as Kress and Leeuwen have defined it.
Distribution is also what connects us. Who is closest to getting into the keg club? Who ran the most? Who is training for a race? The distribution gives a new way of seeing what we could communicated, or distributed differently. We are able to connect and stay connected with a much larger group of people because of distributing our stats on the internet.
The thing is somewhat intuitive which means I don’t know how to use everything on it – my birthday present from 2012. My parents spent a bit more on my birthday than usual ($100) because they have always been very supportive, sometimes overly supportive of my running. Sometimes I think using a GPS watch (and sometimes heart-rate monitor too) is a bit like getting the old approval from the parents, or peers, or coaches, (the latter two my previous collaborators) that I might not get from just going for a run. Other times I purposefully go running without my watch – I need to be liberated from data and instant feedback.
In addition to it composing my running, the data can be used to reflect the running culture that I sometimes live in.
Like any popular sport, stats has taken over. Even in my collaborate, community of runners, The Palouse Falls Beer Chasers, we have a data driven, lightly competitive record.
And if my watch had the feature that some of the more expensive ones did, I could hook it to my computer and get data in alphabetic text, that might look something like my Beer Chasers stats:
Shipka would say that how I run as I reflect is a key part of my process toward my end-goal or final product. The process behind making part one in this posting, involves thinking critically or differently about my running culture: I got my watch in place of a human coach and teammates; my present teammates and I collect data, compose our Wednesday workouts and drinking habits in multiple modes – remediated – after said run. And our workouts combined create collaborate data. I suppose it is no accident that the way scientists communicate, data, has shown up in our group of runners that includes a decent amount of scientists, students and professionals. And that we would have a narrative, alphabetic text remediation also makes sense as the founders of the groups were both professionals with an English degree (or two) and creative writers.
Here is the modes and processes and mediation: 1) meet at Birch and Barley on Wednesdays, (or don’t) then run, bike, walk, or do some kind of workout for at least 25 minutes. After working out, return (or arrive) to Birch and Barley. Order a beer. While drinking a clipboard goes around where we write down our data that one of our fearless leaders later puts into the website he built to house and display our data. It used to be a google doc/spreadsheet but as we’ve got a computer scientist in the mix, we remediated to a more impressive medium and end product (where you get the screenshots from of my runner data, for example).
Sometimes we also talk about the run we did, or a race we’re training for. Sometimes we talk about relationships. Sometimes work. Sometimes we cover all of the above and sometimes we do it while running before we even get to the drinking. So we’ve remediated, improved upon an arguably bad habit: drinking. We’ve gained an outlook of how others communicate and prioritize information. And this end product or result would most certainly not exist without different modes in the process.
Here are the parts toward a whole:
Toward a Composition Made Whole by Jody Shipka
Intro: Here Shipka states the overarching theme and caution in multimodal being equated solely with “new” technologies as well as the ongoing stigma attached to multimodal assignments, particularly with concern to the finish product.
Chapter 1: The title almost says it all with “The Problem with Freshman Comp.” We are constantly attempting an impossible task with English 101. We cannot teach the breadth and complexity of writing in one semester, for all fields of writing: impossible. Similarly, we cannot focus solely on the end-product quality or even usability if we are going to teach multimodal. Process and checking in and grading that process along the way.
Chapter 2: Shipka discusses the philosophy and theories that support multimodal learning. A “sociocultural approach” with analytic mediated action and reflection can revolutionize our classrooms and the way our students think about communicating and writing. Shipka reiterates the “always multimodal” concept of writing by keeping the idea that technology is not the only mode of writing as a major part and pushback in this chapter.
Chapter 3: Here Shipka gets multimodal, including images of multimodal writing process assignments. Ultimately, Shipka recognizes that both the planning writing or creations and the final product are equally important. Awareness of how we communicate and others communicate will obviously make us better communicators, including writing.
Chapter 4: In this chapter Shipka returns to more theory based information as she unpacks how she has scaffolded multimodality into her classroom over the years. What really struck me is the ability and power of being able to sit with, include, the unknown. It’s okay if we don’t know what our students’ ideas might look like or be assessed.
Chapter 5: Shipka gives practical ways to incorporate multimodality in the classroom. I especially like her idea of “flexible rhetoricians” (113) and grading accomplished in part by the students writing out and justifying why they made the choices they did. In this way, you could potentially not grade the final product at all but still give students grades for it via grading the process and choices – emphasis on the why, the rhetoric, intended, and achieved effect of the choices. Maybe a project turns out just awful but the student is able to write and identify why in such a way that they ultimately improve their critical thinking and communicating skills; even better to have a way to learn by hard knocks, but without having to have a failed grade to accomplish it.
Conclusion: Shipka sees the best writing as only accomplished after consciousness has been raised. And as teachers, we can only best cultivate this somewhat moral philosophy as well as multimodality projects if we practice what we preach. As a creative writing major in undergrad, I didn’t really know how to write a research paper. Now I know how, I don’t do it particularly well but well enough, and in the failures and consciousness and I better teach how-to write a research paper. If a teacher doesn’t know how to incorporate or grade a multimodal project, make something multimodal!
My questions for Professor Shipka:
Can you talk more about modes or mediums as an addition versus a replacement? How do you make this case to external parties in academia and English department? In a English 101 class, does this end up replacing an assignment to go alongside traditional text-writing? Or, do you feel adding multimodal works (best?) as a remediation of a text they already created or will create?
After sending out my questions, I actually read the book; so now I feel that my second question is pretty well addressed by chapter 2 and 5. So I would focus on my last two questions.
On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies
Alexander and Rhodes also call up Sirc’s ‘Happening’ in their text on multimodality (like Palmeri that we read previously, and part of Sirc’s book on ‘Happening’). However, I gleaned from this book that it wasn’t so much about calling up Sirc’s concept of Happening exactly, it’s more about how his concept and ‘hippie’ scenarios allow from the non-traditional, doesn’t favor written text for writing and knowledge. Multimodality doesn’t really seem to me that they are going for the borderline spiritual in its complex experience. Multimodality seems more practical – or perhaps really what I mean is that it is in use almost everywhere – despite disparate levels of access. The immediacy of technology, the ubiquity of it, makes it so it seems ridiculous to not include multimedia/modality in our classrooms. The Happening aspect is that we don’t stifle other ways of knowing and that we recognize “ourselves as ‘irreducibly complex’ “ (202).
Complexity, obviously, is quite difficult. Alexander and Rhodes ask: “How do we expand our gaze to include multiple perspectives? How might we deploy an even celebrate our ‘permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints?’ “ (200). These identities and contradictory standpoints are apparent in a variety of case studies, one that they mention is “Cho” the Virginia Tech shooter and the aftermath of that experience. In addition to it being an example of how immediacy effects texts and information now, an interesting contradiction or pull away from emphasis on grammar arose in the comments on “Cho.” In the first peer review in my class this semester (and really every semester so far) the intensity with which grammar is used to judge writing as “good” is apparently. Yet when a blogger noted that Cho’s writing was juvenile or bad – the backlash of the blogger missing what was really important, the content. I guess what I’m getting at, is despite the horrific scenario, it’s fantastic to have people prioritizing content over mechanics and grammar. I want so badly to get my students on board with this – though without this kind of tragedy. But then of course it always comes back to the responsibility of preparing students for their other classes.
More and more I realize, it isn’t really that many people in English that are pushing the current tradition – when they do it is because they are responding to the expectations of outside departments: ‘fix the students writing to appease my standards.’ I think that we will never solve or be able to fully integrate multimodality so long as the sciences (with all their funding) prioritize certain ways of knowing and communicating. And breaking that down is difficult indeed as they seek to be easily translatable, “objective,” or concise. It’s hard to get people engaged enough to realize the contradictory standpoint of scientific writing being objective (more like, it has an objective).
The way to get at these issues, audience awareness, using and not using multimodality in my English 101 class, is the idea of engagement that keeps coming up in this book. We need, “active, writerly participation” (105). And engagement as opposed to falling in line is something the scientists I’ve known and worked with recognize and extremely important. Engagement gets away from the “banking system” of education, “…it asks us to imagine ourselves as ‘irreducibly complex.’ It asks us to imagine ourselves as more” (202). Imagining ourselves as more is often really hard too, but usually something we would be hard pressed to disagree with doing.
I wanted to get at Storycenter that Rebecca Goodrich talked about at Friday’s colloquium – tying on to trauma and expression as well as College Saga, but I’m already a bit over the reading response requirement.
Exploring engagement – hope it doesn’t go awry. Update to be posted by 3pm 9/21/15
Engaging with my Freirian learning modes audio and physical.
“…it appears almost unthinkable that an English teacher could look past the errors in an alphabetic text to focus mostly on responding to the ideas…” (Palmeri, 2012; 96).
Initial summary and response is for me, overwhelmingly positive. Palmeri acknowledges biases, angles from the start. As might be implied from the title, he ‘creates’ the history of multimodal pedagogy stating how all histories are rhetorical, built. In my American Studies class we discuss under the realm of modernism “prosthetic memories” or a folding of the present into the past to live both places. Palmeri makes a point to make clear his own angle while breaking down the perspective of multimodal as ‘new’ or tied to certain technologies.
Sometimes I respond with a giant eye-roll when we get to base with definitions (all things were pop culture once, or writing itself is writing technology) however with Palermi’s book I enjoy it immensely because I want to incorporate multimodal but don’t always know how. When we view modes as talking about what we wrote or incorporated relevant visuals with our research paper, well, it makes it much more accessible to me. I’ve take out some of the actively multimodal projects this semester because prior semesters, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if it was really productive work for the students.
Finally, I really could just do an admiring agreement session with Palmeri over a bottle of wine. Of course there isn’t one pedagogy fits all: “our goal should not be to choose one pedagogy over another, but rather to consider how we can recombine them – remix them – in ways that can enable us to develop a more nuanced and complex view of what it means to teach composition in the contemporary digital moment” (Palmeri, 2012; 15). It’s amazing to me how much this idea is resisted. Upon completed English 501 at WSU fall 2013, I assumed the point of reading all the different theorists in composition was to realize that there wasn’t one right answer and no one had figured it out perfectly. It’s not possible; there are too many variables and we are not static, though sometimes education structure/administration sure seems like it might be. And on that last note, in discussion the book with a new graduate student/colleague, I realize he’s written in a way that requires a lot of outside knowledge. That is, before getting my master’s, a lot of the people he references, the way they converse with each other or contradict, would have absolutely no meaning. Because I know the names and the types of issues the author’s he references tends to tackle, I follow. Another topic for this all-topic final paragraph, revisiting ‘remixing.’ Once again American Studies crosses over with the discussion piece “Everything is a Remix.” Another conversation outside of class on the issues of reading all the composition journal articles from 1970’s Berlin, Shaughnessy to present, is the idea of somehow getting it right finally or that we aren’t merely doing the same teaching but in a teaching ‘outfit’ if you will. Palmeri also addresses this in his section(s) on multimodal projects and teaching used to reinforce the current-traditional.
Questions for Palmeri:
In your experience do you encounter active resistance, indifference, intimidation, or laziness for teachers not incorporating multimodality in their courses?
Is the idea that no one theory nails it really so radical?
You don’t quite outright condemn multimodality to reinforce or return to current-traditional standards, but basically you do. I wonder, while I agree with the need for change and not reinforcing the traditional, is it such a bad thing if teachers teach multimodally for the current-traditional (or the expectations of academia)?
Or, how much assimilation is too much?
And, is multimodal associated with the dominant discourse hurting its revolutionary cause/objectives?
The following entries are from Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook edited by Claire Lutkewitte. You can view my visual representation of how the articles hang together here.
NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies (17-21)
Multimodal literacies are increasing important because of the ubiquity of knowledge, sure, but ultimately is and has always been important for optimum ways of knowing because we cannot possibly all learn the same way. It’s difficult to grade, teach, and incorporate into a composition classroom and at the same time it just makes sense to be a part of how we teach. Multimodality demands more of the creator/writer because aspects like visual design would have previously been done by an expert in that field.
Claire Lauer, “Contending with Terms: ‘Multimodal’ and ‘Multimedia’ in the Academic and Public Spheres” (22-41)
I especially appreciate the immediate clarification of multimodal versus multimedia, as I’ve wonder about that for a while and have noticed that multimodal definitely seemed to be an in-house thing. And then I appreciated the piece’s priority in elaborating on the differences. As deep thinkers and lovers of words, it is necessary for further study and exploration to find the best word or words to get at meaning; as rhetoricians it is necessary to use the language of the masses to effectively communicate.
Geoffrey Sirc, “The Still-Unbuilt Hacienda” (42-61)
Sirc is referencing “retro” or old-fashioned, or maybe hippie ways of teaching as a feeling of home in the classroom that allows for a compelling learning environment where students don’t want to leave. I like his address of this as part of the aesthetic, as modes, not entertaining our students to be liked but real engagement. Perhaps I’m being a bit nit-picky as I grapple with half-understood terms (the sublime for example) but I’m wondering about his title. I suppose hacienda is implied, but I think I missed it in all the happening. And, as how we represent ourselves in language is very (sometimes/often politically) charged – I was hoping for a discussion on the word choice of ‘hacienda.’
Happenings 2) aesthetics 3) Bartholomae 4) the sublime 5) Hacienda
Kathleen Blake Yancey, “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key” (62-88)
First, I like that Yancey has a visually interesting or designed (or I should say, somewhat less common in academia word/visual design) text and that we finally have multiple modes put together in this book on multimodality. I’m wondering about her use of ‘quartet.’ It bothers me actually. As a musician I feel she’s misusing it to seem cool – but maybe when the speech was being delivered there were four different players involved: powerpoint, audio of voice, the writing she wrote and….? Ultimately her call to action does indeed, need to be dramatic. She’s asking a lot as I’ve found trying to implement multimodality into the classroom.
1)Yancey Bio 2) online/digital portfolios 3) Deixis
New London Group, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures”(193-217)
Prior to reading the first readings, I would have said multimodal has the same “felicitous ambiguities” of design that this chapter begins with. But design as semiotics is interesting to me, though I will very quickly follow up interesting with, wait, what? Semiotics, like the dialectic before it, for me is not quite comprehensible. I think on the one hand it isn’t such a complex idea, but there seem to be subtleties about it that I don’t get yet (that took me a while, several explanations and attempts at application, to get about the dialectic). Design as
applied to linguistics seems at first (and maybe still after reading) a bit like a trick or academics remaking words and definitions, but I find it helpful for thinking about how to apply mutli-modes-literacies. Looking at making sentences and papers as a design makes it seem more plausible to add and grade multimodal assignments.
Diana George, “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing” (218-232)
A picture is worth a thousand words – and/or is more efficient. I get that, though I think the obvious immediate argument is that it’s not a matter of art or communication that happens visually, and not in text, as less than, rather that it’s different and composition would be teaching the mode of text writing. But of course, as this article brings up, reading, text is visual communication. And the information we come into contact with on a regular basis now almost always has some “visuals” along with the text.