The “M Word”

The “M Word”

by Frank Macarthy

“Multimodality” sounds like one of those 10-dollar words. You know, those words used by pretentious people to make themselves sound even more pretentious? Well, to be honest, it isn’t one of those words. In fact, multimodality is quite simple. As Arola, Sheppard, and Ball (Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects) put it, “the word multimodal is a mash-up of multiple and mode. A mode is a way of communicating…multimodal describes how we combine different ways of communicating in everyday life” (1). That’s it. There’s nothing else to it (sort of). If you have ever combined ways of communicating (visual, aural, gestural, spatial, and/or linguistic), you have done multimodal work!

I employ a variety of multimodal projects and assignments throughout the entirety of the semester in both my ENG 101 and ENG 145 courses. From memes to CHAT maps, movie posters to comic strips, I try to integrate as much multimodal composition as I can throughout the 15 weeks. The past few semesters I have even taken the formula from the (once popular, but is it still popular?) television reality game show Iron Chef and turned it into a genre-fied version. In groups of 3 (or sometimes 4) students take on different roles (aptly named Executive Chef, Sous Chef, and Saucier) and tackle the “secret ingredient” (a genre of my choosing) for each day. The groups are required to research the “secret ingredient,” recreate the “secret ingredient,” and finally explain/analyze the research/product. This process repeats each day for 3 days while the students are judged on Taste (explanation/analysis of conventions), Plating (recreation of conventions in product), and Originality/Creativity. The prize for the winning teams at the end of the week is either a removed absence, extra credit, or a combination of the two. This has always been a fun and easy way to integrate multimodal assignments.

But, my overall favorite multimodal assignment that I have used since I began teaching here is the cereal box assignment. After reading (my personal favorite) GWRJ article “Eating Genres for Breakfast” by Michael Soares (Issue 4.1), I ask my students to create their own cereal box art based on the cereal “genre” I give them (healthy whole grain, sugary sweet, fiber based, etc.) all while considering the variety of conventions outlined by Soares in his article. This assignment allows my students to better understand how conventions inform genre construction. It also compels them to consider their audience and realize that genres are more than movie and music classifications. I will link Soares’ awesome article below.

http://isuwriting.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Soares-Michael-GWRJ-4.1-Fall-2013.7-16.pdf