Kitalong, Karla Saari, and Rebecca L. Miner. “Multimodal Composition Pedagogy Designed to Enhance Authors’ Personal Agency: Lessons from Non-academic and Academic Composing Environments.” Computers and Composition 46 (2017): 39-55. Web. 21 Jan. 2018.
Karla Saari Kitalong and Rebecca L. Miner discuss the use of multimodal assignments to enhance student engagement and personal agency. They compare and contrast the responses of students working on multimodal projects in three different scenarios to argue that multimodal assignments, if well-structured, offer opportunities to move students beyond “normative reproduction of received knowledges” (52).
The authors state that even though the “current turn” to multimodality began in 1999-2000, composition is “still grappling with how to teach and engage with the many complexities of multimodal composition” (39). Kitalong and Miner see agreement among scholars that effective use of multimodality involves more than simply including a multimodal component in an assignment (40). In their view, multimodal composition, like all composition, should
allow students to practice so that they can synthesize modes, genres, ideas, and skills, and become ever more fluid and flexible composers. (40)
Such assignments, the authors argue, should instill in students as well a sense that their work has value and can impact issues important to them on both a local and global level (40, 41). Quoting Anne Wysocki, they define this component of “agency” as an awareness that
[b]ecause the structures into which we have grown up are neither necessary nor fixed, they can be changed when we forge new positions for ourselves among them, or when we construct new relations between the different structures that matter to us. (40)
Effective agency is “alert,” in Wysocki’s words, to openings for activism and change (40). Kitalong and Miner argue that their three scenarios illustrate how such alertness can result from the specific activities inherent in multimodal learning when those activities are paired with reflection and revision (40).
The first scenario involved a “front-end evaluation” for an exhibit, Water’s Journey Through the Everglades, “a collection of interactive science museum exhibits” designed to educate visitors in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area about the importance of water to individuals and the environment (41) as well as to encourage interest in STEM careers among middle-school children. The evaluation, conducted by Kitalong as “lead formative evaluator,” measured middle-school students’ levels of knowledge about water and its role locally and globally (41). Kitalong and Miner report data collected from 20 sixth-graders given the task of “visually depicting” their knowledge (41).
From drawings provided by the sixth-graders, the authors conclude that at the local level, the students envisioned themselves as active conservators of water, whereas, when asked to portray their role and that of other actors at the global level, they showed humans as “small and passive” (42). Some of the drawings seemed to present “distant views” that included no indication of human action, even though the sixth-grades were enrolled in a STEM magnet school (42).
Kitalong and Miner conclude that while the sixth-graders’ responses indicated that they grasped the material and would be able to learn more, they were not inspired to develop agency.
In contrast, in the second scenario, 75 late-elementary and middle-school students worked with Sketch-N-Tell, an interactive “Discovery Game” that allowed them to create images and designs from “traditional art supplies (paper, markers, crayons)” that they could then digitize and animate (45). The primary purpose of the activity was testing for usability and audience appeal of the game for Come Back to the Fair, an “immersive game-like learning environment that virtually replicates the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair” (44). This environment was intended both to stimulate interest in STEM and to encourage participants to think more critically about the ways technology can impact lives (44).
Kitalong and Miner contend that the assignment to create their own “visions of future technologies” and the encouragement within the project to reflect on and revise their efforts quickly led these students to assume agency as actual contributors to the project (46). Hands-on multimodal participation, they maintain, sparked engagement and inspired students to modify their creations in ways that suggested attention to the global effects of their visions (47). In the authors’ view, students’ responses indicated that “[t]hey were not merely accumulating modes, but coordinating and synthesizing them” (47).
Scenario 3 took place in a sophomore-level composition course taught by Miner at a “STEM-focused school” (47). Students created “Timeline Maps” tracing the development of a product in a field they were considering as a career. The assignment, which led from the production of a multimodal exhibit to a researched argument paper, required attention to ethical issues in the field (48). Creating the Timeline Maps and the related presentations asked students to “dearticulate an assemblage of texts and rearticulate them” in new forms, in the authors’ view thereby encouraging new perspectives and new connections (48). Peer review and a reflective essay helped to generate agency by triggering questions about otherwise familiar processes and products, so that, by the argumentative paper, students were considering their personal positions in relation to ethical issues and taking strong, critically informed stances (49).
The authors posit that the prompt for Scenario 1 limited students’ engagement and sense of agency by asking for “depictions of the status quo” rather than solutions (52). Thus, design of prompts that “explicitly encourage students to learn something new” is one of three components that the authors recommend for making full use of the potential of multimodal assignments (53). A second component is giving students freedom to combine multiple modes; the authors contend that this freedom results in “excitement” and “engagement in their own learning,” which in itself produces the “reflectiveness and self-awareness” necessary for agency (53). In this view, the responsibility imposed by uncertainty about what the teacher expects further demonstrates to students their own ability to exert control (53).
Third, Kitalong and Miner identify time for reflection as one of the most formative elements in Scenarios 2 and 3 (53). They see the act of reassembling familiar materials into new forms as requiring extended time that allows students to find connections to their personal interests. Reconsidering their products through different stages in light of input from peers and other respondents leads students to revise the impact of their projects, in itself an exercise of rhetorical agency (53). The authors argue that multimodal composition enhanced by “the act of describing and reflecting upon their rhetorical choices . . . ultimately provoked a sense of personal agency” in the learning scenarios (54).
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