Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts from the ‘Reviews’ category

Jody Shipka. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. 

“But while the participant from the December workshop and I may have been looking at the same pair of shoes, what we were seeing, and so understanding, about this particular text and its communicative potentials differed considerably” (2).

In Toward a Composition Made Whole Jody Shipka works toward a richer, more comprehensive theory of multimodal composing, one that takes into account multiple ways of knowing, reading, writing, and doing.There are already (at least) four published reviews of Shipka’s manuscript – see:

I only wish to add what I find the most exciting and promising aspects of this work, specifically for the Computers and Writing folks.

“I am concerned that emphasis placed on “new” (meaning digital) technologies has led to a tendency to equate terms like multimodal, intertextual, multimedia, or still more broadly speaking, composition with the production and consumption of computer-based, digitized, screen-mediated texts. I am concerned as well that this conflation could limit (provided it has not already limited) the kinds of texts students produce in courses” (7-8).

We, as a field, are hyper-focused on screen-mediated texts. With this bias in mind, how are we limiting the kinds of texts students compose? I’m currently asking myself this question as I near the end of my Spring 2013 Digital Storytelling course. In this course students are creating Alternate Realty Games (ARGs) using a variety of texts, materials, mediums, and techniques. Inspired by last year’s Game of Thrones transmedia campaign, The Maester’s Path (The Maester’s Path campaign included food trucks and vials of perfume featuring the tastes and scents of Westeros) students wanted ways to incorporate all the senses, including taste and smell – into their game play. This is something impossible to do when limited to screen-based work.

Game of Thrones

When texts are solely composed onscreen, “we risk missing or undervaluing the meaning-making and learning potentials associated with the uptake and transformation of still other representational systems and technologies” (11). As I bear witness to my student’s transmedia, multimodal ARG projects – I realize (with my students) wholly new possibilites for meaning making and audience engagement when un-mediated by a screen.

Toward a Composition Made Whole stresses that there is no single way of meaning making – no single perspective on communicative practice. Shipka states that we need to work to “highlight semiotic remediation practices by examining the various ways that semiotic performances are re-presented or re-mediated through the combination and transformation of available resources” (131). We need to get better at rendering more visible the “taken-for-granted assumptions, technologies, and dimensions of composing processes that have become invisible, and so, seemingly natural over time.” (134).

Considering the ballet shoes pictured at the top of this post, there are a variety of ways rhetorical meaning can be made – and we should be considering them all. Shipka advocates for those of us who teach and research multimodal composition to “expand our disciplinary commitment to the theorizing, researching, and improvement of written discourse to include other representational systems and ways of meaning making” (131). Works like this, I hope, will spark more discussions regarding meaning making among students, teachers, scholars. The rhetorical role of meaning making can and should be part of the study of multimodal composition.

*Thank you to Jody Shipka for permission to use The Pink Ballet Shoe image.

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Hacking Spaces: Place as Interface
Douglas M. Walls, Scott Schopieray, Danielle Nicole DeVoss. (2009). Computers and Composition 26(4), 269-287

“Students want flexible spaces, where tables and chairs can easily be arranged based on activity. Students want display screens, so work can easily be shown and shared among small groups. Students want laptop-friendly, wireless spaces where they can easily move around. Students want food, drink, and natural light” (270).

So, why don’t our writing spaces look like this?

In this article, the authors first take a hacktivist approach to analyzing instructional spaces. Taking their cues from the The New Hacker’s Dictionary, they deem a hacker – one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. They wish to provide the reader with tools for negotiation and disruption in order to make local arguments to hack instructional space design.

The article is very helpful in situating the issue of space analysis in the context of larger national conversations:

“The theme across these conversations is the goal of changing learning spaces from their static configurations – which typically promote a particular and limited type of interaction – to flexible, technology-friendly spaces that support a range of interaction types and encourage collaboration” (271)

The authors then narrow their gaze to reflect on how teachers and scholars in computers and writing have addressed issues of space: “We suspect at this particular moment in time that many campuses are tackling what our campus is addressing-fairly large-scale space renovations in the face of computer labs now 10-15 years old. This is a particularly powerful moment to change the institutional space and the intellectual space in which technology-rich writing instruction happens. Given that large-scale changes tend to unfold across committees, investments, time, and other elements, small potent gestures (an expression Cynthia Selfe first put into circulation) are what we address in this article. That is, we describe small yet powerful ways in which we can push back against the spaces in which we currently work” (270).

Finally, they offer a practical, five-fold analytical framework for assessing space-related issues based on 1) Movement, 2) Collaboration, 3) Sensory, 4) Leadership, 5) Functional/material. This framework offers teachers a way to “map the issues related to spaces in which they teach” (282). The authors see this framework as a useful tool to help teachers identify how spaces can be hacked to better support their pedagogical goals and values.

As an interested reader of the article, my one issue with this framework is that it focuses on types of restrictions.

“Students can’t easily move…” “Students can’t focus….” Students can’t see…” I would much rather see a framework oriented toward positive outcomes. “Students can see when….” Students can focus when…” For me, this is more than a subtle change in tone, but an important change in the spirit of the tool. When framed in the positive, focusing on what students can (and should) be doing, the tool feels more liberating and empowering. By shifting the focus to talk about what we believe and what we value, the tool can be used for both empowerment and provocation.

In addition to the five-part analytical framework, the authors give sage advice about knowing our local systems, people, and the methods themselves for actually proposing changes at our institutions. “What we have done, we hope, is call attention to some of the key complexities of space, and to the need for us to continually interrogate issues of space, especially the spaces-physical or virtual- that we occupy as teachers, researchers, and scholars.” (273).

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Kuhn, V., Johnson, D. J., & Lopez, D. (2010). Speaking with Students: Profiles in Digital Pedagogy. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 14(2).

This webtext features a dozen video-profiles of students in University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) honors program. All students in the program complete scholarly multimedia thesis projects in their respective major. These snapshots feature students reflecting on their thesis projects in digital media, which demonstrate a range of student work in new media including SecondLife, Flash, and the open source program Sophie. In making this project, Kuhn accounts for the aesthetic sensibilities of each student’s video profile in order to protect the integrity of the work: “In short, the look and feel, or the tone of the project should translate from thesis project to thesis profile.”

Videos show students discussing their projects and the heuristic by which their thesis projects were evaluated:

assessment multimodalThis webtext argues for the importance of creating a lexicon to assess digital work. Not just the domain of the “bean counters,” rigorous new media assessments can help students, academics and administrators understand the “nuances and sophistication” of new media compositions.

Unfortunately, I found this Flash-based webtext somewhat maddening. I accidentally closed it numerous times.
Note: The heuristic above was introduced to digital writing studies as an assessment method in Kuhn’s 2008 Kairos webtext, ‘‘The Components of Scholarly Multimedia at http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/12.3/topoi/gallery/index.html
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Madeline Sorapure. “Between Modes: Assessing New Media Compositions,” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 10.2 (2005)
Sorapure’s webtext contributes significantly to discussions of new media assessment. As students are frequently assigned an array of new media projects including websites, blogs, images, videos, audio projects, flash projects, etc. Sorapure argues that we need a broad rhetorical approach to assessment, one that can speak to the multimodal aspects of composition.She emphasizes the need for “new lenses” so that we don’t “lose the chance to see new values emerging in the new medium.” In efforts not to limit new media works, Sorapure draws from the tropes of metaphor and metonymy to understand how meaning “emerges from” multimodal works. Drawing on Roman Jakobson’s (1956) essay “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” Sorapure claims that metaphor and metonmy name “two different forces at work in the production of meaning.”
Metaphor designates a relation based on substitution; in a multimodal work, one mode can metaphorically represent or stand in for another, as when an animation of a word dynamically represents its meaning. It is a relation based on similarity between elements in different modes.

Metonymy designates a relation based on combination; modes can be metonymically related when they are linked by an association, as when lines from a poem are combined with a melody from a song. It is a relation based on contiguity between elements in different modes. 

Sorapure shares various student examples to illustrate how she uses the tropes in assessing multimodal compositions. She carefully demonstrates how metaphor and metonymy activate strong or weak relations between visual and verbal modes. (For example, if the composition lacks metaphor…it falls flat.)

While “text, sound, and image  each add their own part to the meaning….” it is also crucial to look at the relations between modes -”because metaphor and metonymy designate relations between two or more entities, they can be used to describe the relations between modes.

“Metaphor and metonymy provide a language with which to talk to our students about how the different modes in their projects come together to make meaning.”
I, too, think that the relation between modes is key to meaning making. I wonder, though. Do text, sound, image, each “add their part to the meaning.” Does meaning “emerge” from text, image, sound as Sorapure posits? Or is it made by the audience’s confrontation with it? This may seem like a small semantics thing, but it’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.
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Cheryl Ball. “Assessing Scholarly Multimedia: A Rhetorical Genre Studies Approach,” Technical Communication Quarterly 21: 61-77, 2012

I appreciate the frank, personable, helpful tone of this article. It sounds very much like Ball’s voice, sitting down and having a chat with the reader about multimodal composition, sharing some interesting work by others, telling stories about her own classroom experience assigning and assessing webtexts, creating rubrics with students, what works, what doesn’t. Her experience comes across at every turn – her ethos is everywhere.  And that makes the article highly readable and engaging.

She draws from her familiarity and expertise with assessing webtexts (scholarly multimedia compositions) in her capacity as editor for the journal Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. The purpose of the article is to explore

“how to ask students to compose scholarly multimedia and how to assess their work (63).”

She explores these issues through the lens of her own experience teaching numerous iterations of a course in Multimodal Composition. Students in the course complete a webtext project (scaffolded through a series of assignments [64]), which could be submitted to a digital journal, like Kairos, C&C Online, X= Changes, or The JUMP (Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects). After serious discussion, she describes how her class arrived at appropriate evaluation measures for their projects, which they refer to as Kuhn + 2. These involve:

  • Conceptual Core
  • Research Component
  • Form and Content
  • Creative Realization


  • Audience
  • Timeliness

*See review of Kuhn and pages 65-68 for more details

Ball warns (and rightly so) that this heuristic should not be adopted blindly by teachers of multimodal composition. She explains that this rubric serves her purpose for one particular situation, for one audience, at one point in time (63). Furthermore she emphasizes that rubrics need “to be created fresh” (68), meaning that Kuhn + 2 is not one size fits all. Importantly, Ball emphasizes the importance of making our own, to meet the task at hand, with student input.

In this article Ball also offers some sage advice to webtext authors regarding design concepts, especially how form/content work together: “(a) Your design should enact your argument, and (b) To come up with that design, think of a visual metaphor for your argument (68). *See Susan Delagrange’s 2009 Wunderkammer piece for its exemplarily form and content.

She later notes: “…students should be articulating their design choices (form/content relationship) as rhetorical, aesthetic, technological, and other choices that make sense for the conceptual core of a piece given the medium they have chosen to best present their concept” (70). Although Ball doesn’t explicitly state what an “aesthetic choice” is or could be, I am happy to see it mentioned here. I see is it as part of my own project to explore what we mean when we speak of the aesthetic aspects of multimodal composition.

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Jody Shipka. Negotiating Rhetorical, Material, Methodological, and Technological Difference: Evaluating Multimodal Designs. College Composition and Communication 2005

What do teachers of multimodal composition want? To establish frameworks for responding to student work that take into account the complexities of new media. Or so says Jody Shipka. This is one of many articles I’ve recently read dealing with the creation of heuristics for evaluating multimodal scholarship. Shipka observes:  “That we need to begin articulating and sharing with others our strategies for responding to the “differently shaped products” (Takayoshi 136) students are increasingly invited to produce is evidenced in the dearth of scholarship devoted to the assessment of multimodal and new media texts. (346).

“If we are committed to providing students with opportunities to forge new connections, to work in new ways, to produce new kinds of texts, and to become increasingly cognizant of the ways texts provide shape for and take shape from the contexts in which they are produced, circulated, valued, and responded to, I think it is crucial that we take care not to limit the texts, tools, and composing strategies students might employ and alter in compelling ways.” (348)

In the article, she also describes her own heuristic, which involves asking students to assume responsibility for describing and evaluating the goals and purposes of their work.

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Design Thinking:  Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience and Brand Value. Edited by Thomas Lockwood. (2009)

Design thinking is about applying a designer’s sensibility and methods to problem solving. It’s more of a methodology – a theory of doing research – than a particular tool or technique. Design thinking may involve various methods such as field observation or ethnography in addition to market research.  The tools, however, are not as important as the overall approach. This book is useful in that it provides numerous case studies on design thinking featuring Eames, Steelcase, Bon Appétit, Linux, Dyson, etc. Most useful, I believe, is what the book says about creating a meaningful people-centered experience. Here a few takeaways:

Create experiences that people care about

People demand experiences that matter. Social capital is just as important as economic capital. Social capital helps people create meaning from their experiences. A designer’s role should help people create meaning through various touchpoints. Designers can do this through research that identifies “moments of truth.” A good research design might examine users’ patterns, stories, and insights. The designer can then engineer more meaningful moments like those.

Develop empathy

Designers need to conduct research that helps them to:

  • Understand what is meaningful to users
  • Discover user’s unarticulated needs and desires
  • Imagine the world from the user perspective
  • Connect with users around what is meaningful and valuable to them

This makes people care more

A strange thing happens when a person sees that you care.  They often reciprocate the gesture and care about you right back. The emotional connection is powerful; people have a natural tendency to care, a gut-level intuition. People who are emotionally influenced will seek the product, service (etc.) because they desire a tangible, physical manifestation of the relationship. This is where social media comes into play. Nurturing and sustaining relationships via designed social media strategies facilitates more meaning, more connection, more lifestyle integration.

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Wegenstein, Bernadette. Getting Under the Skin: The Body and Media Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006.

In this book Weggensgtein address our “technogenesis” (our coeveolution, as  a living species-being, with technics). She makes the argument that due to deep-seated changes we have undergone with regards to technology we now possess an “organ instead of a body.”  What this means is that  we can understand the body as mediation. I like this approach because it points to the body as the medium–nothing more and nothing less and might help my discussion of embodiment, if that is something I choose to develop. Another truly strange book on ‘aesthetics’ and new media from MIT Press.

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