Multimodal Composition in the 21st Century

Notes from Composition Committee Meeting, 10/30/13: “Multimodal Composition in the 21st Century”


In attendance: David Humphries, Mark Schiebe, George Fragopoulos, Kat Alves, Danny Sexton, Agnieszka Tuszynska, Stephen Tumino, Peter Gray, Joan Dupre, Alisa Cercone, Leah Anderst, John Talbird, Jean Murley, Aliza Atik, Joost Burgers, Laurel Harris, Matthew Lau, Chris Leary, Kim Banks, Matt Koch, Susan Jacobowitz, Tanya Zhelezcheva, Elise Denbo, Elizabeth Toohey, Melissa Dennihy, Jean Darcy, Lucy McNair, Rob Becker, Thea Callender, Tammi Rothman, Kiki Byas, Jodie Childers.


To open the meeting, Kiki presented on SWIG (Student Wiki Interdisciplinary Group) and efforts to develop assessment tools. Some faculty didn’t know what SWIG was and Kiki, along with George and Alisa, talked about it as a wiki project that allowed students to collaborate across disciplines, to tutor and/or help each other. It is one of QCC’s high-impact practices.


On the smart cart, Kiki pulled up the Epsilen site for her current class. She talked about how she sometimes forms groups within a class or across different classes (in this case, in addition to English 101, the SWIG is composed of a class in Speech and one in Biology). Classes do peer review of each other’s projects and offer “gifts” (songs or images that students may use in their own project). This project not only allows students to understand boundaries between disciplines, but also helps them claim some level of authority (i.e. “as a speech student, my response to this is…”). SWIG is the term that QCC has used to cover a wide range of activities: digital storytelling and wiki use and also multiple platforms such as Epsilen, Camtasia, and Power Point.


Kiki passed out her current rubric for her class, took us through the Wiki project, showed us how she assessed the giving of “gifts” (this term apparently has created controversy and may be discarded in favor of a word like “commentary”). Kiki said that it has recently been stated that every High-Impact practice should now have unique learning outcomes which may lead to further revisions in the rubric and SWIG practice.


Joost asked if students got the rubric (yes). Kat asked how Kiki dealt with student proficiency in technology and also wondered about students willingness to engage in peer review. Kiki said that students improved in both with practice. Aliza asked how faculty could get involved in SWIG and Kiki suggested contacting Ahradhna Persaud ( in order to sign up for the summer institute (in which faculty receive a stipend for participating) . Melissa asked about how one kept students on task in order to finish these multimodal projects and Kiki said that communication between profs is vital.


Jodie then showed a montage video that she created to demonstrate how she incorporated video into 101. She says that she often uses this in conjunction with an “urban explorer” assignment in which she asks students to investigate their neighborhood, to make the familiar strange again. She talked about how she has found herself using film terminology (establishing shot, pan, frame, etc.) as a metaphor for writing, and talked about how film editor Walter Murch’s book In the Blink of an Eye has been helpful in designing this assignment (she also talked about other films that have good opening montages—Crooklyn, Dog Day Afternoon, but that she hadn’t found one yet that had a montage of Queens).


John brought up how the rhythm of the video segment made him think of what students often call “flow” which could be another way of saying tempo/rhythm and/or use of effective transitions. Mark asked if Jodie had her students make videos in class, but she said that she no longer did that since student videos were often poorly made. Chris and Matt L. brought up commentary on DVDs and Elizabeth mentioned a Fresh Air interview with Raging Bull editor Thelma Schoonmaker.


John announced that he was posting an article by former Writing Fellow Dan Wuebben about a multimodal assignment involving flip cameras, Don DeLillo’s White Noise and the streets of NYC. (There is also a link to a video with student samples.)


Laurel asked about how we “repurpose” (to coin Yancey’s term) technology in our classes. Tanya talked about using film terms like “zoom in, zoom out” as metaphors for student writing. Kat said that that she’s coined the term “vaguebook” (referencing Facebook) to illustrate commentary that’s off-the-cuff or not thought out well yet. And then Elizabeth brought up the idea that FB is often an example of students using citation (i.e. links to articles), and Pete asked if what we’re doing in 101/2 is different than FB. Joost pointed out that young people are trying to figure out what they think and that FB can be a site for that. Laurel brought up the idea of getting students to convert texts from one medium to another and Lucy brought up the concept of “translation.”


Laurel asked how we assess multimodal projects. Lucy has students write an allegory. Jean D. uses the AACU VALUE rubric. Laurel brought up the idea that “failure” may be okay in the use of technology. John said that he found reflection vitally important in assessing projects. Jean D. says she has her students write a paragraph for each project and then she hands it back at the end of the class for the final.


Laurel asked what place the 5-par. theme had in the 21st century. Aliza said that it helps with critical thinking. Joost suggested that it was an obligation to teach it. Melissa wondered if we lose the teaching of writing by focusing on multimodal projects.


Laurel asked how the English major is relevant in the 21st century. Elise said that English offers students a way to re-see the world and multiple lenses with which to see it. Pete then raised the question, “What do we mean by the ‘academic essay’?” and further, “What is the work we want students to do?” Laurel said that it is a tool for linear thinking. Pete said that sine the 5-par. theme is a “fake” genre, maybe we should then ask students to write “bad essays”? And Elizabeth wondered where the place of reading existed in this discussion of the 5-par. theme. Agnieszka said that she was concerned that digital storytelling didn’t ask students to engage in analytical or argumentative styles of discourse.

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