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Schiavone, Aubrey. Consumption vs. Production in Multimodal Textbooks. March CE. Posted 03/24/2017.

Schiavone, Aubrey. “Consumption, Production, and Rhetorical Knowledge in Visual and Multimodal Textbooks.” College English 79.4 (2017): 358-80. Print.

Aubrey Schiavone presents a study of four textbooks designed to support composition’s “multimodal turn” (359). In her view, these textbooks, published in the past fifteen years, can be positioned as “mainstream textbooks” likely to be used by a range of teachers, including teachers new to composition, in designing a class with multimodal components (363). Schiavone presents statistics on citation and sales to support her choice of these books (380).

Schiavone draws on the work of scholars like Robert J. Connors and A. Abby Knoblauch to argue that textbooks influence teachers’ decisions about what kinds of assignments are appropriate in writing classrooms (377). Thus, she argues for “mindful” attention to the particular messages embedded in textbooks about how best to teach activities such as multimodal composition (376). Her analysis suggests that an unself-conscious use of textbook assignments can limit the degree to which classroom practice accords with theories about the nature of multimodality and how students can best learn to respond to and use multimodal artifacts (371).

The books in her study are Picturing Texts (Lester Faigley, Diana George, Anna Palchik, and Cynthia Self, 2004); Rhetorical Visions: Reading and Writing in a Visual Culture (Wendy S. Hesford and Brenda Jo Brueggemann, 2007); Seeing & Writing 4 (Donald and Christine McQuade, 2010); and Beyond Words: Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing (John J. Ruskiewicz, Daniel Anderson, and Christy Friend, 2006) (362).*

Developing her “[t]heoretical [f]ramework” (363), Schiavone cites a number of scholars including Diana George, Lester Faigley, and Steve Westbrook to propose that the use of multimodal elements can function in different relations to text. A “binary” relationship is one in which students are encouraged to examine, or “consume” a visual or multimodal artifact and then produce a separate written text analyzing or responding to the artifact (364).

In a “linear” relationship, illustrated by assignments discussed by Westbrook, students examine products in one mode and then convert them to other modes, for example creating images to capture the meaning of a previously produced essay; in this kind of relationship, in Schiavone’s words, “students’ consumption of visual and multimodal artifacts functions as a kind of scaffolding up to their production of such texts” (365; emphasis original).

Finally, Schiavone identifies a “reciprocal” relationship, which “imagines consumption and production as necessarily interconnected” and, in her view, citing Faigley, encourages students to engage in more meaningful critical awareness of rhetorical processes as they produce their own multimodal artifacts (366).

Schiavone also investigates theoretical definitions of “visual” as opposed to “multimodal” artifacts. In her discussion, a “visual” artifact will be “monomodal” if students are encouraged only to examine an image, whereas artifacts that combine the visual with the textual (e.g., maps) or with other modes such a auditory elements can be more correctly identified as “multimodal.” Schiavone contends that the terms “visual” and “multimodal” have been “conflat[ed]” in some scholarship and that this distinction should be made more consistently (366-67).

In her analysis, Schiavone is concerned with the difference between “consumption” and “production” of various kinds of artifacts. Through her examination of “every assignment prompt across four textbooks, a total of 1, 629 prompts” (371), Schiavone developed codes for “consumption” of textual, visual, or multimodal artifacts (i.e., CT, CV, or CMM) and for “production” of these artifacts (PT, PV, PMM) (369). She provides examples of each kind of code: a prompt receiving a code of CV, for example, might ask students to “examine [the] image carefully until you are reasonably confident that you understand and appreciate how it works. . . ,” while one receiving a PV code might require students to “create a visual adaptation” of another artifact (375, 369; examples in Schiavone’s analysis are taken from McQuade and McQuade, Seeing & Writing).

She notes that some prompts can receive more than one code, for example calling for the consumption of a multimodal artifact and then the production of a textual response (370). She argues that such combinations of codes can either reinforce a binary approach by separating the activities involved in “reductive” ways (374), or they can encourage a more complex understanding of how multimodal composition can work. However, she states, “complexity is not the norm,” with 49% of the prompts receiving only one code and 33% receiving only two (374).

Her findings indicate a “misalignment” between theoretical approaches that advocate more production of multimodal projects in writing classrooms and what the four textbooks appear to promote (373). One result is that the textbooks call for much more production of text than of either visual or multimodal artifacts (372). She detects a pattern in which prompts receiving “linked codes” required students to consume a visual or multimodal item, then produce an essay about the item (374-75). She argues that this pattern perpetuates binary or linear approaches to multimodal instruction.

Her analysis further indicates variation across the textbooks, with Picturing Texts calling for a higher percentage of production, particularly of visual or multimodal items (PT = 28%, PV = 6%, PMM = 25%) than the four books as a whole (PT = 36%, PV = 2%, PMM = 11%) (373).

Schiavone concludes that both individual instructors and compositionists engaged in teacher-training must “be mindful about their uptake of textbook assignment prompts” (376). This caution, she suggests, is especially important when instructors are not necessarily specialists in rhetoric and composition (376). Theory and guidance from sources such as the WPA Outcomes Statement should be more visible in the texts and in the development of instructors (376-77, 378). Textbooks should be seen as “teaching tools rather than full teaching plans” in composition classrooms (377).

Schiavone also notes that the textbooks provided far more prompts than could conceivably be used in any single course, and suggests that the authors could more fruitfully “pay better attention to assignment sequencing” than to quantity of materials (377).

Ideally, in her view, such “mindfulness” should lead to multimodal pedagogies that are “theoretically grounded and rhetorically rich” (378).

*Online searches suggest that some of these texts have subsequently appeared in later editions or with different titles, and some are out of print.


Skains, R. Lyle. Multimodal Creative Writing. C&C, March 2017. Posted 02/05/2017.

Skains, R. Lyle. “The Adaptive Process of Multimodal Composition: How Developing Tacit Knowledge of Digital Tools Affects Creative Writing.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 106-17. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

R. Lyle Skains describes a “practice-based research” project conducted over a three-and-a-half year period in which she analyzed her development as a writer of digital fiction. In this project, Færwhile, Skains progresses through drafts of several stories, beginning with a traditional “analogue” story and culminating in stories in which she has internalized the knowledge needed to create successful digital compositions.

Skains argues that such research is needed because composition pedagogy does not fully account for the “fundamental, cognitive differences between writing for the page and writing for digital media” (106). While students may engage with digital media as readers, she contends, they have little practice in actually exploiting the possibilities of digital media as writers (115). She emphasizes the need for explicit knowledge of the demands of a new medium to become internalized as tacit knowledge; students come to multimodal assignments with tacit knowledge of print from their long experience with it, but may not yet have gained the kind of tacit knowledge of digital media that will allow them to become fully accomplished multimodal writers (107).

Her own project involved reading digital fiction, reading theory on narrative and genre, and then working through several stories, beginning with a “zero-state” text: “an analogue short story” she undertook before delving into digital composition (107). Subsequent stories engaged more and more fully with the possibilities of digital fiction. Skains walks through her processes as she composes these stories.

Her method is “auto-ethnomethodological”; it consists of observations of herself at work and the states of mind through which she moves from conscious explicit knowledge to a fully functional tacit knowledge of the medium (108). Following advice from Deborah Brandt, Skains draws on “observable paratexts” to her process like “notes, journal entries, and comments on revised drafts”; these allow her to reconstruct her cognitive journey. She draws as well on the 1981 Cognitive Process Model advanced by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, which she credits with the observation that a design or intention can be realized in many different ways and the specific realization emerges from the actual process of writing (108).

She cites other theories of narrative and creative processes including Gérard Genette’s invocation of “hypertextuality (playing the text off familiarity with other texts in the genre) and architextuality (exploring generic expectations in relation to other similar texts)” (107). Flower and Hayes’s Multiple Representation Theory suggests that “the initial mental model of a text is multimodal, then subsequently translated to written language” (107). Skains relates such theories to her own processes, for example noting how her reading interacted with her own texts as well as how the stories in her project contributed to an “intratextual” effect via a shared “element of parallel mythology,” the “Trickster” figure (111). In accordance with Flower and Hayes, she relates how her analogue short story “unfolded in [her] imagination on a visual reel, which then needed translation into written language” (110).

Skains argues for the importance of long-term memory that can draw on a “knowledge base” and allow fiction writers to construct characters and worlds (109). As short-term memory of actions involved in a medium is transferred to long-term memory, tacit knowledge is developed (110).

An important finding for her project is that the linear structuring and narrative processes she found most comfortable did not lend themselves to a simple “remediation” of the typical analogue text into a digital version (112). As she worked through a succession of stories, she continued to begin with these familiar invention and composing steps; the third story in her discussion, for example, shared features with the “zero-state” story: its “traditional, linear structure and minimal level of interactivity,” even though she “remediated” it into Adobe Flash (111). However, when she struggled with a story about a character whose “interaction with her world, both real and virtual, was hyperlinked,” Skains found that the character could not evolve if she was “stuck in sequential page turns” (112). The solution was to work through the digital version first, giving over fully to the hyperlinked world invoked by the story (112). Skains found that she was still working toward a fully developed “mental model that afforded a fully multimodal composition process” (112).

The author argues that first- or second-person points of view, increased interactivity that provides readers with agency, and intra- or intertextuality are defining features of digital fiction (111). Texts that are composed an analogue narratives, she posits, lack full commitment to these elements and will not lend themselves to revision in digital form (110): “the composition process for multimodal works must necessarily be multimodal” (112).

Skains reports that the means by which she addressed the original “rhetorical problem” for her stories was affected by her deeper and deeper engagement with digital composition (114). Writers of digital texts like hers, she writes, become programmers, with the result that “the text as composed (i.e., the source code) does not resemble the text-as-read/played” (113). She cites digital writer Jenny Weight to argue that a digital-composing experience becomes an “environment” in itself rather than a “traditional narrative” (113). Inventing a set of environments for a character to traverse in the digital composition influences the “world-building” efforts of the analogue version (113).

Similarly, she cites an example of a story in which providing a narrator with multiple voices led to the creation of a website for each voice, a move that in turn led her to experiment with visual font effects in the print version (113-14). In such cases, Skains’s “mental model of the narrative” had been influenced by the digital process (114).

Skains posits that students attempting to apply their tacit knowledge of print technology as they encounter multimodal assignments face a trajectory similar to hers, and that current composition-classroom practice does not facilitate this evolution (114). The addition of digital elements, she notes, adds many new layers to the composing process, “significantly increase[ing] the creative decisions that have to be made” (115). She contends that, like her, students must learn to adjust their creative processes to conform to the media rather than expecting the media to meet their original goals (115). The tacit knowledge and expertise to make this transition, Skains maintains, is “immersion” in the digital process, moving beyond reading to doing (115). She is currently engaged in ethnographical work to develop a “pedagogical model for teaching digital writing” (115).