Multimodality FAQ

What is a multimodal assignment?

Multimodal assignments ask students to use more than one of the modalities (i.e., visual, audio, gestural, spatial or linguistic) to create meaning. A typical multimodal assignment asks students to develop a PowerPoint slide deck to use while delivering an oral presentation. Another multimodal assignment might be a photo-essay. Multimodal pedagogies encourage professors and students to consider how mediums interact, and how the availability of multiple mediums for the creation of rhetorically effective communication might enhance and widen the development of transferable knowledge beyond the classroom. One of the key learning moments in multimodal instruction might be in recognizing when compositions cannot be merely transferred from one medium to another without adaptation—to audience and to the qualities of the modality itself.


Why should my students create multimodal works?

We live in a multimodal world. Multimodal assignments help students to conceptualize the work they may be asked to do in their careers. This, however, isn’t the sole drive towards multimodality, as it also provides an outlet for an essential conversation about how effective communication strategies are linked to medium and audience. Students who compose multimodally consider how to conceptualize rhetorical efficacy within an ecology of intersecting mediums, instead of within the boundaries of one. And our students are already thinking this way. Multimodal assignments may more often than not recognize the abilities students already bring into the classroom and encourage them to conceive of how the institution can help to strengthen, supplement, and interrogate those technical and creative knowledges.


How or when do I assign multimodal works?

Pedagogical approaches to incorporating multimodality vary from assigning multimodal final projects to housing multimodality within all considerations of classroom instruction and student labor. Professors may use multimodal composition to encourage students to conceptualize a reading or topic across visual, spatial, and textual ways of thinking. Professors may broaden the teaching of rhetoric out to visual or digital rhetorics. Literature professors may be interested in multimodal composing in response to texts, in placing texts in broader social contexts, or in presenting the process of intervention in texts in hybridized textual, visual, spatial, and/or sonic ways. Professors in other fields may pair multimodal pedagogy with thinking about the features and methods commonly required of work in their disciplines.


Are you basically saying I should have students paste their essays to a website?

Not necessarily! And not ideally, either. Multimodal composing might best work when one begins within the possibilities of intersecting mediums, utilizing available or prescribed mediums to generate a new interdisciplinary or intertextual product. When a digital or non-digital multimodal pedagogy is employed from the beginning of the composition process, students can conceive of rhetorical efficacy with more breadth and depth, instead of feeling like these multimodal moments are merely tacked-on copy/paste or “assignment showcase” requirements. Multimodality can be an essential element of a class, as opposed to an addendum. What happens when we think of digital spaces, for example, as originating sites for inquiry and invention?


How do I assess multimodal assignments?

Assessment of multimodal projects is a hot-button issue in contemporary composition and rhetoric scholarship. Many scholars pair multimodal pedagogy with interests in contract grading assessment, in which students are graded more for compositional labor, habits, and practices. Contract grading reduces the influence of prerequisite merit on grades and prioritizes student efforts toward development and improvement. Contract grading methods might include the assessment of labor logs, or might take students through checklist-oriented drafts with individually situated revision requirements for each student. In a classical contract model offered by Peter Elbow, students receive a B for the completion of work, attendance, and participation—though may drop for the lack of these—and may gain additional points through conversations of rhetorical efficacy and stylistic quality.

In another approach, students are given agency to produce their own rubrics for how multimodal works should be assessed, either locally for their own group or individual projects or classroom-wide. All in all, thinking multimodally allows us to also think more broadly about what want from our students in our classrooms, and how we want to teach to those goals.