Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘rhetoric’

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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Wysocki, Anne Frances. “awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs.Computers and Composition 22.1 (2005): 55-62.

In this article Wysocki seeks to find what is gained and what is lost in communicative practices and is an extension of Kress’ article “Gains and Losses.” Specifically she focuses on how the digital age has changed our awareness of the visuality of texts. She reflects on our material choices in writing and how those choices can in/form us. She states: “I have learned in the process of developing communications that it is always worth asking how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses” (Wysocki 2005: 56). Asking about our constraints, our assumptions “can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate to social practices we may not otherwise with to reproduce” (56).

This article is helpful in two ways:

1) It discusses the push toward a more rhetorical focus on teaching new media: Wysocki engages Kress’s scholarship on word and image and agrees with his call to promote a more rhetorical focus on teaching. As Kress writes: “In this social and cultural environment, with these demands for communication of these materials, for that audience, with these resources, and given these interests of mine, what is the design which best meets these requirements?”

2) It discusses another trend—the theme of design: “As the New London Group described the design process, communicators draw on available designs in designing (which includes ‘reading, seeing, and listening (New London Group 2000: 22) which involves re-presenting and recontextualizing available designs in order to develop the redesigned, which is always a “transformed meaning,” “founded in historically and culturally received patterns of meaning” (New London Group 200: 23). It would seem appropriate to link this with Kostelnick’s Shaping Information. Wysocki sys: “this process can imply certain circularity, with the redesigned then becoming itself an available design for the next go-round.” (Wysocki 60).  

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Diana George. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.”  College Composition and Communication 52.1 (September 2002):  11-39.

Diana George discusses the importance of bringing issues of visual literacy into the writing classroom. Primarily, George addresses the history of the visual within the field of composition studies from the 1940’s to the present. She claims that due to the history of composition studies, we have limited the possibilities for the visual in the teaching of writing. Reflecting on some examples of interesting student work George claims: “The work of these students and others like them has convinced me that current discussions of visual communication and writing instruction have only tapped the surface of possibilities for the role of visual communication in the composition class” (George 2002:12)  She says: “Our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address” (12)

Attention visual rhetoric people! This comment of George’s must be addressed:

“Within the tradition of verbal/visual communication I am outlining here, only certain kinds of “visual” assignments seem possible for a writing course. Primarily, these would be assignments that use visual images as prompts for essay writing” (George 2002: 20).

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Kress, Gunther. Literacy in the New Media Age. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Kress writes in the preface that we have come to a moment in the long history of writing when four momentous changes are taking place simultaneously: social, economic, communicational, and technological. The combined effects of these are so profound that it is justifiable to speak of a revolution in the landscape of communication” (Kress, 2003, 9). He foretells that “the combined effects on writing of the dominance of the mode of image and of the medium of the screen will produce deep changed in the forms and functions of cultural and bodily engagement with the world, and on the forms and shapes of knowledge (1).  He goes so far as to state that: “It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. Kress claims that new spaces and new strategies will be needed. “There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the meaning of a message is realised, ‘spread across,’ several modes, we need to know on what basis this spreading is happens, what principles are at work. Equally, in reading, we need to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in a text, and new principles of reading will be at work. Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly though about” (35). He further explains: “The means of dealing with meaning are different; we need to understand how meanings are made as signs in distinct ways in specific modes, as the result of the interest of the maker of the sign, and we have to find ways of understanding and describing the integration of such meanings across modes, into coherent wholes, into texts” (37).

Kress delves deeply into the changing nature of word and image–in order to show that human engagement with the world is changing.  I believe this is where a useful theory of aesthetic experience can fit. Aesthetic experience does not favor the visual over anything else. Does not favor print over anything else. It is more or less an unhierarchical model of experience. Toward the end of this book Kress explains what is needed is a requisite theory of meaning: “The major task is to imagine the characteristics of a theory which can account for the processes of making meaning in the environments of multimodal representation in multi-mediated communication, of cultural plurality and of social and economic instability.” This theory will look different from ones of the past. It will not assume language as its foundation. Instead, the centrality of language  “will be replaced with an understanding that modes of representation are used in relation to a multiplicity of factors, such as the sign-maker’s sense of what are the apt modes of representing, given a certain audience and therefore specific relations between sign-maker and audience. Out of this awareness of the always rhetorical task of communication arises the arrangement of modes which are in play in a message/text.” (169).

Also, he comments on the shift to design: “The notion of competence will give way to that of interested design: …Design, by contrast, starts from the interest and the intent of the Designer to act in a specific way in a specific environment, to act with a set of available resources  and to act with an understanding of what the task at hand is, in relation to a specific audience. Design is prospective,future-oriented,: in this environment, with these (multiple) resources, and out of my interests now to act newly I will shape a message. In design, resources are transformed in any number of ways–whether in new combinations of modes or in the constant transformative action by signmakers in producing newly made signs” (169).

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Computers and Composition, volume 22, number 1 (Special Issue on New Media). Esp. Grigar, Dene. “Kineticism, Rhetoric, and New Media Artists.”

In this article, Grigar argues that while rhetorical analysis of the visual and aural have gained prominence, it is also important to consider the rhetorical kinetic act. She claims the kinetic activity refers to motion, however, in terms of new media it can be viewed as “new media works that turn readers into users and create characters who are no longer described as moving, but indeed dart, jump, run, roll…”(Grigar 105). She describes the work of two female new media artists, Jill Scott and Magerete Jahrmann, whose work has an element of the interactive, oftentimes through the use of their bodies. Grigar claims that without a rhetoric of the kinetic, the artists’ message and impact are lost. Girgar points out that the artists rhetoric breaks decorum and this is accomplished through use of the body. She makes the distinction that when the female artist uses her body this break with decorum occurs kinetically. When it is the audience manipulating the work of art  it (the break of decorum) occurs kinesthetically. This insight implies that any and all media is a kind of rhetoric–it can take any form–“sound, action, body action–in addition to writing and orality and the visual” (Grigar 112). She concludes that although we talk about visual rhetoric, we should also be talking about rhetoric associated with auditory, kinetic, and the like” (112).

Grigar argues that we should be thinking widely about the modes of expression used for communicating: “Along with words or even images, we may be more thorough with our research if we come to see rhetoric as “media rhetoric”-that is, communication that crosses and encompasses all media” (112). This is so simple. This sounds a lot like multimodal literacy without any reference to Kress and the gang. This also reminds me of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. There was supposed to be: the cognitive, the affective and the kinesthetic/psychomotor. They were envisioned as a triad, although it was only the cognitive that became well known (because it was the easiest to research). Bloom et al’s theory of kinesthetic was about doing/producing things…why does no one ever use Bloom’s taxonomy? I mean the affective and the psychomotor– I think it’s fascinating stuff.

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