Monthly Archives: Απρίλιος 2013

Video Essays: Engaging Students As Producers of Digital Texts,Jeannie Parker Beard


I ask students to make video documentary essays in all of my writing classes, primarily Composition I & II. Usually the Video Documentary Assignment is given at the end of the semester as the final project that applies their research and rhetorical skills to digital media production. Students post their videos to YouTube and I then create playlists on my YouTube channel where the student videos for each semester are collected. Students are then required to comment on the videos from their classmates, but are given extra credit for commenting on videos produced in other sections of the same course.

In 2011, I designed a mixed-methods case study to examine how video documentary essays function as a form of multimodal composition in first-year composition courses and how these types of texts may enhance the teaching of traditional composition skills, as well as contribute to the academic and professional communication skills of students. In this session I will discuss my research and some of the more surprising conclusions that emerged from my study, Composing on the Screen: Student Perceptions of Traditional and Multimodal Composition.

Through this mixed methods case study, I was able to learn more about how students respond to the tasks of multimodal composition before, during and after the process of creating video documentaries for their first-year composition course. Through surveys, interviews and the analysis of reflection essays, I was able to put together a picture of how students compare multimodal and traditional composition, the frustrations they encounter when composing in various modes, and ascertain the value the participants place on both traditional and multimodal composition. I was also able to depict some of the positive and negative aspects of multimodal composition that the students themselves revealed through the various research instruments used.

I have used this study to capture a snapshot view of student experiences with multimodal composition as a means of furthering my own pedagogical strategies and contributing to the discussion of best practices in the use of student-produced videos in first-year composition. In this process, I have come to several realizations, the most significant of which can be summarized as follows:

  • Multimodal composition is difficult and many students are unfamiliar with the process. This lack of experience can often cause students to have anxiety or feel intimidated when they are asked to create videos in their composition classes.
  • Technical problems are probably the most frustrating aspects of multimodal composition for students, but access to technology is not as big of an issue as in times past.
  • Students view the skills acquired through multimodal composition as professionally valuable; however, they view the skills inherent to traditional composition as valuable in their academic lives.
  • Students are more engaged with their topics and have an enhanced sense of audience awareness, rhetorical purpose, and social agency with video production.


  1.   It is important to recognize the anxiety that composing new media texts can cause our students, and we must also acknowledge that our students will not always be as enthusiastic about creating new kinds of texts as we are about asking them to do so.
  2.    Most students now have easy access to the technology needed to compose multimodal texts; however, working with unfamiliar technology can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. It must also be acknowledged that often technology fails.
  3. In addition to planning ways to support our students, it is also important to ask them to think about how they might use their composition skills, regardless of whether we are asking them to write traditional academic essays or asking them to compose in new ways.
  4. If composing new kinds of texts challenges our students to see their topics and research in new and engaging ways, then we should be able to use new media assignments to inform the writing process and get our students excited about writing in a variety of ways.
  5. Multimodal composition can also be used to get students thinking about rhetorical choices and the multiple modes accessible to make meaning in our digital world.
  6.  When students work with multimedia, they learn time management and organizational skills and they also gain confidence when they successfully create new kinds of texts.
  7. Opening the composition classroom to multimodal composition, specifically in the form of video documentaries, gives students the opportunity to develop skills that let them participate in convergence culture and address issues that are important to them.

In the introduction to Convergence Culture, entitled, “Worship at the Alter of Convergence: A New Paradigm for Understanding Media Change,” Henry Jenkins states that media convergence is simply the flow of media content across mediums. For example, I can capture a movie clip off of YouTube, right-click and save pictures from Google Image, type up some quotes from my favorite author, take some of my own video footage, and combine all of this on the movie-making software that comes free on my laptop, presumably with the intention of making my own message, then upload the video to Facebook, a social networking site, where my friends can watch it from their smart phones: “Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (Jenkins 2).

Jenkins highlights the social, political and economical impact that the culture of media convergence is having and will continue to have on the world in nearly all areas of existence. For the first time in history, consumers have the power to create and share the media that has been previously restricted to an elite group of media moguls and industry experts. He writes:

Consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other consumers . . . consumers are fighting for the right to participate more fully in their culture. (Jenkins 18)

This sense of “fighting for the right to participate” alludes to the possibilities that new media technologies offer our students (and the citizens of the world at large) to become more active, engaged citizens in all areas of their lives.

In 2006, Time magazine nominated “You” the “Person of the Year.” What better testament to the power of media convergence in the hands of the people than this tribute? More recently, in 2011, Time declared “The Protester” as “Person of the Year.” The protests seen worldwide in 2011 were largely fueled by new media outlets, particularly through social networks and the widespread self-reporting efforts of the protesters themselves as they took the responsibility of journalism into their own hands, quite literally, by wielding thousands of smart phones and recording the news as it happened, reporting it to the millions watching, supporting, and speculating what will happen next.

Without question, the age of media convergence has given a new sense of power to the people to participate in the culture of media, and as Jenkins again emphasizes, “Audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture” (24). Perhaps the potential for new media outlets to effect positive social change in our communities, schools, and global society as a whole should be considered the most significant driving force behind integrating multimodal composition into 21st century composition programs. In fact, empowering students to become agents of social change could possibly be one of our greatest responsibilities as both rhetors and compositionists within the realms of higher education.


  • Using multimodal assignments to engage students in their topics before they write and putting these types of assignments EARLY into the course
  • Using video assignments to teach writing strategies: ethos, pathos, logos; research and reliability of sources; intros and conclusions, organization, transitions, timing, length; tone and voice, presentation, formal vs. informal language
  • Scaffolding a large assignment so that all the weight of the assignment is not entirely on the final product, offering the opportunity to do videos as homework assignments, group projects or as other alternative assignments
  • Discussing media works and how the information is presented affects the argument and the message, thinking about when traditional writing is more or less effective and when using multiple modes is more appropriate

Glossary of multimodal terms, MODE, Institute of Education


Kineikonic (Andrew Burn)

The kineikonic mode is a term used to denote the moving image as a multimodal form. It is derived from the Greek words kinein, to move (also part of the origin of ‘cinema’), and eikon, image. It was coined by Burn and Parker (2001) to avoid the problems of the usual words used within cinema and film, both of which privilege these specific cultural forms over, for instance, television. It was also intended to explicate a multimodal theory of the moving image which combined the emphasis on the semiotic ‘grammar’ of film established by theorists such as Christian Metz with an attention to the signifying features of contributory modes such as speech, dramatic gesture, music, space, lighting, costume. These modes are seen as orchestrated by the framing and ordering functions of filming and editing. Properly speaking, then, the kineikonic mode is a multimodal ensemble: it contains both the modes themselves as well as the interplay of those modes as they move through time and space in a moving image. Using a term that places the modes into the single mode of kineikonic emphasizes the governing role of what Metz called the ‘cinematic code’ of filming and editing that has existed over the past century. In addition, it highlights how the integration of modes, such as written words, visual images, and transitions, are salient to both the production and interpretation of moving images (Curwood & Gibbons, 2009; Gibbons, 2010). The kineikonic mode unifies what is culturally understood as a form of the moving image.

Image (Diane Mavers, David Machin)

An image is a re-production of something that sustains features of likeness. It is a term that is used to refer to many different things: photographs, drawings, impressionist paintings, film, three dimensional representations, and, beyond these, images in a mirror, dreams, memories, even the ‘mental images’ prompted by verbal descriptions. Multimodality attends to images that are material entities, such as photographs, monuments, film, and so on. It asks how the image has been made, what it is a representation of, what ideas and attitudes it communicates and how this is achieved, as well as investigating how social relations are constructed (i.e. how the ‘viewer’ is encouraged to relate to the image), and, overall, what the image is being used to do, such as to inform, explain, persuade, warn, entertain, and so on. A number of analytical ‘tools’ have been developed in order to carry out such analysis. For example, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) developed the idea of visual modality in order to evaluate the truth claims of an image. In an advertisement, aspects of a person’s appearance might be exaggerated or diminished through colour saturation in order to create a slightly idealized representation of this individual. Image can also construct the social position of the ‘viewer’ through ‘offer’ or ‘demand’ (ibid), which is created through the proximity (close-up or distant), orientation (front on or sideways) and gaze (averted or direct) of represented people. These features provide clues to how the ‘viewer’ is being encouraged to evaluate the person represented in the image, and hence what the image is being used to do. A multimodal approach also asks how an image relates to other modes, such as writing alongside a photograph in a newspaper (Knox, 2007) or the sound in a film or animation (van Leeuwen, 2005; Burn, 2003), as well as the actions and interactions (e.g. action, gaze, speech, gesture) entailed in the process of producing it.

Metaphor (Carey Jewitt, Charles Forceville)

Metaphor is a term with a long history, notably within literary traditions where it is a literary ‘device’ whereby one object or process is described in terms of another for rhetorical purposes. For instance, metaphor may be used to give a heightened effect or to provide a particular perspective on a process. Lakoff and Johnson claim that metaphors play a crucial role in systematically structuring concepts, not just language.

Charles Forceville is a cognitivist linguist who has made a significant contribution to theorizing the area of multimodal metaphor that is looking at how metaphors structure concepts across a range of modes. Forceville (2009) defines multimodal metaphors as follows: ‘Multimodal metaphors are metaphors whose target and source are each represented exclusively or predominantly in different modes’. He distinguishes modes that are written language, spoken language, visuals, sound, music, gesture (as well as olfaction, taste, and touch).

Most work on multimodal metaphor within Cognitive linguistics pertains to the interaction between visuals and written language or gestures and spoken language. There is also some work on the contributions of sound and music to metaphor (see Forceville and Urios-Aparisi, 2009). Within the Cognitive Linguistics paradigm, there are two strands that pioneer multimodal metaphor/multimodal discourse analysis: Forceville’s work on pictorial/visual and multimodal metaphor; and work that focuses on the interrelation between gestures and spoken language notably work by Cornelia Mueller, Alan Cienki, and Irene Mittelberg who focus on conceptual metaphor as manifest in non-verbal modalities.


Discourse (Carey Jewitt, Lilie Chouliaraki)

Discourse is a contested term rooted in different disciplines and used in a variety of ways. In a narrow sense, discourse can be understood as language in use – everyday ways of talking – what James Gee in his book Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses (1990) refers to as ‘little d’ discourse.  In a broader sense it can be used to refer to a system of language use and other meaning-making practices   (e.g. behavior, dress, and customary practices/habits) that form ways of talking about social reality what Gee refers to as ‘big D’ Discourse. For example the Discourse of traffic regulation, commercial Discourse, medical Discourse, or legal Discourse. In socio-linguistics, discourse tends to be used to refer to extended stretches of speech or writing and to draw attention to the uses and organization of language in its social context. In sociology and philosophy, the writings of Foucault have been particularly important; bringing into focus not only the social origins but also the social effects of power that discourse has on social practices. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is usually associated with the work Chouliaraki and Fairclough’s work that provides a method of analyzing texts to complement Foucault’s theories and concepts as well as offers examples for the study of media discourse, policy discourse, and interactional discourse.

Discourse is an important term for multimodality and many working in this area are concerned with understanding the use and effects of Discourse through the uses of modes and their arrangement in modal ensembles. The assumption is that all multimodal texts, artefacts and communicative events are always discursively shaped; and that all modes, in different ways, offer means for the expression of discourses. From this perspective, different discourses may be brought into play modally and, therefore, the choice of modes may itself be used analytically to indicate the presence of different discourses in specific texts.

As increasingly media are multi-media forms that occupy multimodal spaces it is perhaps not surprising that CDA has strong links with multimodality, notably in the work of Chouliaraki. In her edited collection Self-Mediation: New Media, Citizenship and Civil Selves (2012), she looks into the multi-modality of new media discourses, such as convergence journalism and social networking sites, so as to explore how these discourses blur the boundaries between private and public selves and change the ways in which we understand and enact practices of citizenship.