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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
CHANGE IN PRACTICE
- 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