One of the nice things about our recent theorizing of multimedia is the way it has turned our attention to the materialities of composing. From material social conditions to composing tools and writing materials, this focus has been an important part of computers and writing scholarship over the years. Anne Wysocki and Jody Shipka have made recent contributions, pointing out that an awareness of the materialities of composing may be a criterion for new media texts and that these texts need not be limited to the digital, or even to print.
These movements bring our focus to engagements with the material world. When we work volume levels or visual opacities, we engage with light and sound--waves. Multimedia composing engages us as the materials push back: too many visual layers, too loud, too quiet, too buzzy. Positing such direct connection with the materials raises for me two questions:
What can we say about the role of resistance in multimedia composing?
How might what we learn about materials and composing for multimedia recast our thinking about writing with words, or with multimedia and words?
Claire's Post: The Multitude of Multimedia
Like computer, the term multimedia has a long history (dating back to the early 70’s) and that history has the effect of both making the term one that works well to connect with people outside of academia (i.e. a term that everyone has heard of), but also of preventing it from representing anything “new” or innovative.
As I found in my examination of the MLA Job Information List advertisements, multimedia was one of the few terms out of 17 that I search for that was present as early as 1990. In the early 1990s, job ads asked for experience with or knowledge of: multimedia (as a noun), multimedia studies, multimedia applications, and multimedia authoring tools. In the early 2000s we see references to multimedia texts (2001, 2003) and multimedia writing (2003). In most instances throughout these periods, multimedia was not grouped with any of the other keywords. In the late 2000s, however, we see multimedia being paired with newer terms (sometimes separated by /) in what feels like an old-to-new transition: multimedia/multigenre writing (2009) digital multimedia writing (2009) computer and multimedia technology (2009), and new media/multimedia writing (2009-2011)
This paring of terms also points to the fact that, as the chart on the left shows, there has been an increase of almost a full technology-related term per ad since the early 90s.
This increase is logical considering the multitude of new composing practices and technologies--and thus new terms to describe those practices--that have entered the discussion since the early 1990s. Although computer is a keyword used much less frequently than it used to be, most other terms have only seen an increase in their use. The overall increase in ads that use keywords and the increase in average number of keywords per ad indicates that rhetoric and composition is a field that is facing—and embracing—a greater number of composing practices and technologies.
Is staying abreast of the latest technological developments a way for the field to remain relevant? Is it an avenue toward increased funding opportunities (e.g., the NEH's “Digital Humanities Start Up” and “Implementation” grants)? Or is the field’s embrace of a multitude of composing practices simply a reflection of the genuine sense of curiosity and wonder exhibited by the its members, who, rather than see new technologies as a threat to what we do, see them as an opportunity to explore the myriad new ways to compose meaning?
Between the Technology and the Product: What are We Talking about?
When I started reading for my dissertation on first-year composition teachers' uses of new media technologies, I found myself trapped in a jungle of terms and expressions related to media and technology. I stopped for a while to try to see the difference (if there is any) between the meaning of those terms and their use in scholarship.
First note: most scholars use a variety of terms interchangeably.
Second note: many scholars don't define their terms or what they mean by them.
The two dominating terms now are multimodality and multimedia. Although they linguistically and functionally mean different things, many scholars and teachers in the field of Composition use them to mean the same.
Multimodality: using different modes in writing beyond the written text. These modes include sound, images, animation, gestures, to name just a few possibilities.
Multimedia: using different mediums of creating and disseminating the multimodal product (this in itself has been named so many different names). The mediums of production encompass different technologies (hardware and software) used in creating the multimodal, whereas the mediums of dissemination may include print, computer screen, or a web-based channel (e.g. YouTube or a blog).
Away from the jungle of terms our field has either generated or imported, a number of questions remain unanswered:
Question 1: Which of these terms or others best capture our tendency as composition teachers to use technology in our classes?
Question 2: Which of these terms are better to be used with our students when we teach them about the alternative genres of composing?
Question 3: Is it to the field advantage to unify (aka limit) our use of terms? Or does the diversity of terms represent a healthy trend in the field?
The ever-changing technological landscape of American society requires an equally adaptable and well-equipped citizenry. First-Year Writing is often seen as a foundational course but it needs substantial and meaningful reforms to adequately satisfy it’s assumed goals. First and foremost, it needs to evolve from its beginnings as mere techniques for writing. One of the most significant changes is the inclusion of RWS disciplinary content. Rhetorical scholars have examined many aspects of culture and its relevance to communication and the knowledge established by the field should be disseminated to the masses rather than remaining on the pages not infrequently read journals or in the ether of academic conferences. Additionally, writing courses should expose students to rhetorical principles regarding visuals and provide students with the ability to analyze such artifacts in a knowledgeable way. Finally, writing courses, should, of course, reflect the digital nature of our society and give students skills and practice using a variety of media to effectively and deliberately to communicate to a wide range of audiences and situations.
Questions to ponder:
- What does and should the new composition look like?
- How are instructors prepared (or prepare themselves) to teach it?
- How does the definition of writing/composition mutate with ever-changing media and skills?