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Newbs R Us!: A New Year and New Multimodal Opportunities

posted: 9.15.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest bloggers Jeanne Law Bohannon  and Kim Haimes-Korn are Professors in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. 

Excavating the Piles

“I remember a day not so long ago as I was going through old files in my office.  It was a trip down a memory lane as I reflected on former students, article drafts and student writing – lots of student writing.  As I looked back I realized that I have been teaching writing through a mulitmodal lens for many years.  I laughed to myself as I remembered including “photo development” and film as part of my syllabi.  I remember having students create radical revisions and visual representations long before multimodal composition became household words for teachers of writing.  Our students now compose in complex digital spaces and we now have the affordances of technology to create limitless opportunities for what we call acts of composition.” – Kim

As trained compositionists, all of our assignments were deeply grounded in composition pedagogy and critical theories of composition. It is when we pulled these theories together with digital and multimodal composition that we get a framework for teaching.  We have come to realize that, as teachers, it is our role to engage students through “Critical Digital Pedagogy” in which critical theories of education and learning connect in active, thoughtful ways to new digital sites of thinking, learning and communicating.  We need to look for meaningful integration of these tools that connect to student learning and teach effective rhetorical strategies in this participatory world in which communication happens with and through many mediums and genres.

It is in this spirit that we have reshaped our composition program and our department – Digital Writing and Media Arts – to reflect these goals.   We now place Critical Digital Pedagogies front and center in our comp program and continually explore the ways we might integrate this overarching concept into our curriculum.  

Doing Multimodal

When we surveyed our peers, both veteran and new faculty, what we heard is that so many folks are “doing multimodal,” but they just don’t know it.  Here are some sample answers and ways in which our peers are already doing multimodal:

“My students blog during the semester, but that’s it. I don’t really do digital stuff.” (Blogging is TOTALLY D-Ped)

“I host read/write days for my students, were we meet in online discussion forums instead of meeting face-to-face.  Does that count?” (Yes and YES!)

We realized, as did our peers, that many of us already employ critical-digital pedagogies in our composition courses.  But what about our colleagues who are just beginning to think about digital as doable in their courses?  What about this survey answer?:

“I want to integrate digital pedagogy into my class assignments, but I’m not sure how.”

We asked ourselves: how do we bridge that gap?  After performing our own version of the Vulcan Mind-Meld, we concluded that the solution lay in our relationships with our peers.  What might seem at first look to be another task for already-busy new faculty needed to become an opportunity for collaborative peer mentoring and meeting our colleagues in their D-Ped comfort zones.   We found that teachers can extend their traditional, tried and true assignments through adding a digital component.   It can be as simple as adding images to documents for visual, rhetorical emphasis or coupling genre analysis projects with students’ own compositions in these multimodal genres.  We encouraged our colleagues to start small, meet their students in similar spaces, and work a bit of digital literacies magic.   


We also suggested some multimodal ways for teachers to jumpstart their classes.  A foundational and mindful rhetorical task that we often ask our students to perform is to identify and present their identities, or voices, in their writing.  What if we turned that act of composition and performed it ourselves, adding a sprinkle of digital literacies to the process?  We introduced the idea of a Badge Assignment.  Badges have been used across fields of inquiry and in diverse places of learning to define achievements met by individuals for specific activities.  For this assignment, however, we consider badges to be visual and textual representations of a person’s multiple identities in specific discourse communities.  Simply put, badges can represent important aspects of you.  Badges also serve to build community between you and your students, because they are a meta-language that allows for collaborative analysis and different perspectives across varying levels of rhetorical expertise.  We can use badges as both process and product, as rhetorical acts and as ice-breakers to create a sense of class community.

Community-building is a vital component of any digital tool, because building shared meanings helps us collaboratively produce knowledge.  Community in learning environments also creates a sense of togetherness, a space where we collaborate, both students and teachers, as equal participants in the drive to both consume and produce rhetorics.

For the assignment we describe here, we, as instructors, discover how to integrate a foundational and accessible digital tool into our practice and then use that tool as a jumping-off point for connecting with our students during the first week of class. This assignment also gives us a chance to reflect on our individual comfort zones in regards to critical-digital pedagogy and offers us an opportunity to try some D-Ped on our own terms.

Assignment Goals:

  • Identify effective visuals that represent your identity in a specific discourse community
  • Learn to navigate one photo editing website
  • Produce a rhetorically-effective representation, or “badge”
  • Use your badge as an ice-breaker to build classroom community

Background Reading for Students and Instructors:

Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, we have listed a few foundational texts and suggested reading.  You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • Everything’s an Argument: Ch. 2, Arguments Based on Character: Ethos, Ch. 14, Visual and Multimedia Arguments
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 23, Design for Writing; Section 9c, Making Ethical Appeals; Ch. 24, Writing to the World; Ch. 7, Reading Critically
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book:  Ch. 9, Making Design Decisions; Sections 14c-14e Establishing Ethos; Ch.20, Writing to the World; Ch. 12, Critical Reading
  • Writing in Action:  Ch. 8, Making Design Decisions; Sections 11c-e, Establishing Ethos; Ch. 17, Writing to the World; Ch. 9, Reading Critically
  • EasyWriter: Section 2f, Designing; Section 3d, Establishing Ethos; Ch. 29, Writing to the World; Section 3a, Reading Critically
  • “Collage and Photo Editor”:
  • “What is Multimodal for Students”:

Before Class: Instructor Preparation (Creating Your Own Badge)

First, choose a photo-editing program.  We chose PicMonkey, because it’s free, intuitive, and you don’t have to sign up or sign in to edit an uploaded photo.  (If you have a favorite photo-editing program, please let us know in the comments below this post.  We would love to explore new options for our students!)

Next, take a photo or use a self-authored photo that represents the part (or parts) of your identity that you choose to showcase in your course.  Then, upload it to your chosen photo editor.  After editing the photo for visual appeals, add text to complement your visual identifier (your photo).  We have included an example here.   The text should say something about you and have meaning for your specific pedagogical approach to your course.

After you are happy with your visual and textual representation (i.e. after you have finished playing with all the neat tools), publish it in a course space.  Now, it’s time to invite your students to participate in the fun.


In Class:

Introduce yourself to your students using your badge as a departure point.  If you like, talk about D-Ped and what it means to “do multimodal.”  Jeanne has a visual on her blog, What is Multimodal?, that can help both you and your students articulate what multimodal means to you.   The idea here is to talk from your comfort zone, because doing so increases your personal ethos and builds community between you and your students.   You can access student badge examples here: Examples of Student Badges.  If you want to explore this activity with your students, visit the Student Badge link for a step-by-step badge assignment sheet. Please feel free to edit it and distribute to students. If you use it, give attribution, please 😉

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity:

If you are lucky enough to teach in a computer lab, or even if you have access to one, you can use such a learning space to create badges in class and to have students explain their personal rhetorical choices in creating their individual badges.  If, like many of us, you have to beg, give blood, and amputate an arm to get computer lab access, you can still assign the badge as an out-of-class activity and incorporate a class discussion and presentation of badges as an icebreaker.

In our experience we have found that authentic student engagement grows out of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course if they feel that their voices are heard and validated.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we re-center ourselves around our class community we facilitate rhetorical growth for us and our students, helping them develop informed voices as they participate in multiple discourses.

We welcome and value all feedback.  Please visit us at:,,

Jeanne believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at: or

Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. Reach Kim at: or

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Guest Bloggers
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