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Creating “Living” Messages with a Capstone Multimodal Remix Project

posted: 4.28.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Monday Guest blogger Ashly Bender is a PhD candidate, Writing Center Assistant Director, and graduate teaching instructor at the University of Louisville. The assignment discussed here asks students to create rhetorically designed projects that can be circulated outside the course, focusing on writing across the curriculum and writing to make something happen in the world. Because it includes scaffolding activities and assignments leading to a capstone project—as well as ideas for assessing multimodal projects—you might consider how to factor in such a large-scale project when you build your next course schedule and syllabus.

Often both students and instructors imagine that classroom projects only have significance for that course and that semester—especially when most assignments are papers. In response, this Multimodal Remix project pushes students to compose a piece that can “live” beyond the chronological and physical boundaries of the course.

Goals for this Assignment

  • practice composing in an unfamiliar and “non-traditional” genre
  • practice selecting manageable messages – given genre and other constraints
  • practice rhetorically designing and delivering that message

Background reading

To emphasize how students can compose meaningful messages outside the boundaries of the classroom, you might assign the following sections in your handbook:

  • Everything’s an Argument, Ch 1, Everything Is an Argument
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 66, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 4, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World
  • Writing in Action, Ch 3, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World
  • EasyWriter, Ch 6, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World

Building the Project

As a capstone project for a writing course, this assignment requires students to communicate a small but important message or piece of information they learned through their research and work in the course in a new, multimodal format. In planning for this project, students begin by answering three questions:

  • What important message or information needs to be heard?
  • Who needs to hear it?
  • What is the most effective way to communicate that message to that audience?

The answer to the final question is the multimodal project that the student creates and submits for this assignment.

Step 1: The Central Message. To assist students in completing this project, we spend a few class periods brainstorming and considering possible genre options. We begin by creating lists of possible messages or pieces of information that they have learned through their research and in class. Students brainstorm individually and in groups, and then we create a sample list as an entire class. Through this sharing, I help students frame their messages in ways that are direct so that the point can be more easily adapted to a multimodal format.

Step 2: The Ideal Audience. Next, we begin to consider the ideal audience and what format might be best suited to communicating their central message to that audience. We view and critique a range of sample genres including different types of videos (PSAs, skits, music videos, etc.), infographics, flyers, songs, and memes. I show students examples from previous classes as well as other examples that are publicly available on the internet.

Step 3: The Medium and Genre. As we view these sample projects, I ask students to name the genre in which the sample seems to fit, as well as what features led them to categorize the sample in the way they did. This helps students, for example, to understand how “video” doesn’t work very well as a genre but “Public Service Announcement” does. It also helps them to begin to name common features in a given genre, evaluate the use of the present features, and make suggestions. We also discuss the intended audience for the sample shown. Sometimes I ask students to talk about how the project might be changed if the audience were, for example, parents instead of teenagers. During this time, we collectively generate an assessment criteria for the projects that students will use during presentations – and that I will use in my own assessment.

Step 4: The Proposal. After these introductory activities, students write a proposal in which students articulate their central message, their intended audience, and a viable rhetorical context in which their project could be accessed by the audience. What students include for the outline or sketch depends on the genre they selected for the project. If they are making a writing advice video, they might include a draft of the script or the writing that would be included on different slides. For flyers or brochures, students could submit a sketch that included the type of information provided, the types of images, and the layout. This second component of the proposal essentially helps me to give them feedback on genre features, design, and content. It also works against procrastination on a project that often takes more time than students generally expect.

Step 5: The “Pitch”. On the day that the proposal is due, students submit a copy to me, but they also bring a copy to class for peer review. In this peer review, I generally ask students to pitch their project to their group members without stating what the intended message is. The group members should listen to the pitch and possibly view the outline or sketch and then explain what they believe the “take-away” is supposed to be. This can help the student refine their project to be more effective—especially if the intended audience isn’t Composition students.

Step 6: The Presentation. Through very informal presentations, students explain the message, audience and context and then show their projects. In the past, students have submitted infomercials for study cushions, writing tips videos for incorporation sources, sets of memes that educate new users about the culture of the game League of Legends, gif essays about non-violent communication, music videos about the history of rock n’ roll, and more. As the class views individual projects, they take notes on their rhetorical effectiveness and submit a brief response about their classmates’ projects.

Grading the Multimodal Remix Project

Along with the multimodal project, students also submit a self-assessment essay that asks them to reflect on the following questions:

  • What is the central message of the piece?
  • Who is the intended audience and context?
  • How well does the piece adhere to the features of the genre you selected?
  • Did you stick to your proposal or change course? Why?
  • What might you do differently if you had more time or resources?

This self-assessment helps me determine the project’s rhetorical effectiveness as demonstrated by both the multimodal text itself and how the student talks about his/her choices in the self-assessment. I once had a student create a set of brochures that were designed for high school students. I was skeptical about the genre choice for this audience, but in the self-assessment, the student clearly explained where she had seen and read brochures as a high school student. Students might make audio or visual choices that do not typically match their selected genre, and I use the self-assessment to determine if these choices were made purposefully or not. Purposeful and explicitly defended choices receive credit because the goal of the project is to give students practice making exactly those kinds of rhetorical decisions.

For the sake of managing presentations and workload, I do include some restrictions. If the project is a genre that includes a time bar, like a video or a song, it must be between 45 seconds and 3 minutes. I encourage students to create shorter timed projects due to typical attention spans (something we discuss in class), but some students find they need more time. If the project doesn’t have a time bar, like flyers, brochures, memes, or comics, the student needs to create 3 distinct versions. These might have different messages or they might address different audiences, or both. The requirement for 3 versions here is primarily an attempt to balance the workload between students.

Projects and Potential

The initial ambiguity of this project may seem like a disadvantage at first, but in the end it is exactly that ambiguity that encourages students to make purposeful and rhetorical choices and to create projects that are more likely to be shared with those outside of the course. One student, who created a PSA about elephant conservation efforts, wrote in her self-assessment that she had shared her video on Facebook and found out that many of her friends did not know much about her topic. She also wrote that no matter what grade she received, her project had already achieved its purpose. The student who created the gif essay about non-violent communication is now going to lead an information session through our campus Women’s Health Center. Of course, not all students’ projects go on to “live” in the contexts imagined, but they have significantly more potential to do so.

While I don’t offer extra credit or bonus points when students publish their projects in the intended context, I do encourage students to seek out opportunities to do so and I make recommendations where I can. This project could easily be adapted to include a component in which students are encouraged to seek out local or national contests or projects, such as the This I Believe series or the growing number of online, undergraduate research journals.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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