This is the text of my presentation to CCCC11, 8 April 2011, in Atlanta, GA. My fellow panel members were Dale Jacobs (Univ of Windsor) and Andre Buchenot (IUPUI). As I’m mostly a reader (gasp!) when it comes to presentations, the text below reflects almost perfectly what I said. I’ve also pasted my Prezi at the bottom of this page.
In this presentation, I will propose that Lynda Barry’s comic “Common Scents” provides an opportunity for students to engage with multimodal rhetoric in a manner that introduces them to an expanded set of rhetorical strategies and possible ethical perspectives. I will then detail a sequence of in-class activities that I have successfully used in the first year composition classroom to facilitate those aforementioned opportunities.
[I] call for a “new medium-specificity, one based on what is specific to a work or practice… a new materials-ism.. [in] response to attempts to assign a single aesthetic to ‘the digital’ (information aesthetics, code)” [or, in our case here, the products of multimodal production.]
– Sean Cubitt
“An exclusive emphasis on digital literacies is not what most advocates of technology-rich composition advocate. Such an emphasis would limit students’ access to other modes of expression.”
-from the NCTE’s Strategic Policy Goals on Multimodal Literacies and Technology
Many, if not most, of our classrooms are influenced by the constraints of the printed page. Thus, when we seek to explore multimodal pedagogy, we are subsequently limited. These limits apply to both multimodal analysis and multimodal production, though unequally so.
Yes; most of us may have or can arrange to have digital networked projector technology in our classrooms, so we can explore animations, games, videos, and other multimodal communications from a single source–or ask our students to explore these on their own time with their own technology, in front of their own home computers or digital media devices. But, if we project multimodal communications for mass viewing, we often limit individual students interaction with the object of analysis; for instance, students don’t have the agency to individually explore games and interactive animations, they can’t pause or replay sections of a video. (Displaying one object for all is also potentially boring, as you might know if you’ve watched someone else play a game like Animal Crossing). If we remove the object of analysis from the classroom, we limit our ability to interact simultaneously with both student and object; we can’t facilitate more critical understandings for ourselves and individual students. It’s harder to ask and answer questions when those texts aren’t in our students’ hands.
These limits are even more severe when it comes to production. Chances are we (both teachers and students) are not well versed in composing with Flash, even if we had wide access to the application (which most of us likely do not). Though, the lure of simplistic notions of “digital nativism” might try to convince us otherwise, there are barriers to the tools required to produce animations, videos, games, and other digital multimodal compositions.
Comics, however, make many of these limitations less imposing. We can distribute them widely with little technological barrier: all we need is a standard office tool, the copy machine, or a scanner and printer. Our students are familiar with them; they’re likely to have picked up the comics section in a newspaper or a comic book–or maybe even have had a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. They are usually produced with pen and paper, not through more complex code-based or GUI-based design/production software, such as Illustrator, InDesign, or Photoshop–common tools used for producing a typical infographic.
In a sense, comics are available and accessible. Continue reading