When the Department for Writing and Rhetoric began revisiting and shaping the curriculum for the first-year writing courses in 2010, I was a bit apprehensive. This anxiety was due to the implementation of a new assignment – the multimodal. I distinctly remember a conversation we had in the first WRIT 101 curriculum committee in which a fellow instructor expressed his fear through the following statement: “I’m not qualified to teach and grade such an assignment.” At the time, I could not have agreed more with my colleague’s point. With my background in writing and rhetoric, I felt unqualified to teach and assess multimodal assignments. I was scared.
Six years later, that apprehension has faded. I do still feel less qualified to teach and assess multimodal assignments than I do analysis and argument papers, but I have seen how multimodal assignments affect and influence my students. To put it simply, my students LOVE composing in multiple modes. While I do not agree that multimodality will ever completely eradicate the need to teach basic composition skills in the mode of writing (after all, writing is a vital mode needed to succeed in life), I do recognize that multimodality will be increasingly essential to my students’ professional success. Employers will want students to compose in a variety of modes, and it is vital that we, as composition instructors, show them the parallels between composing in one specific mode, and in many various modes.
This recognition occurs frequently in my classes, when students reflect on their work. Many of my students enjoy the process of composing in multiple modes, and frequently use the word “fun” to describe their experience. What surprises me most is that students tend to think of multimodal assignments as a great way to brainstorm or prewrite for future projects; they are learning that composition can, and will, take many shapes and forms, but the writing process stays the same.
I can think of no better way to prepare and teach my students to write for life than to compose in any mode they want to express their thoughts and arguments in. Not only does it benefit my students in other classes and in the working world, it helps them express themselves for personal enjoyment. For these reasons, I am now convinced that Multimodality is vital to the field of rhetoric and composition. I look forward to teaching and assessing future projects, as well as watching my students make the connection between composing in one mode and composing in a variety of others. As composition instructors, we need to be open to adapting our methods to the changing world, and realize it’s okay to be scared, as long as it does stop us from trying something new.
Keith Boran, Instructor of Writing & Rhetoric, University of Mississippi