Academic journal article Composition Studies

Multimodality in Composition, Rhetoric, and English Studies: Praxis and Practicalities

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Multimodality in Composition, Rhetoric, and English Studies: Praxis and Practicalities

Article excerpt

Cultivating Ecologies for Digital Media Work, by Catherine C. Braun. Carbondale: SIUP, 2014. 224 pp.

Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, edited by Claire Lutkewitte. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2014. 548 pp.

Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy, by Jason Palmeri. Carbondale: SIUP, 2014. 194 pp.

As the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) at my institution, I found Jason Palmeri's Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy, Catherine C. Braun's Cultivating Ecologies for Digital Media Work, and Claire Lutkewitte's edited collection Multimodal Composition extremely useful. These authors make visible the long history of composition scholars using multimedia technologies (even prior to the "digital turn"), provoke broad pedagogical questions including assignment design and assessment practices, and explore technological ecologies and sustainable environments. Lutkewitte, in particular, serves as a useful primer for instructors unfamiliar with multimodal composition. Building on the work of Victor Villanueva and Geoffrey Sire, who are not normally cited by multimodal scholars, Lutkewitte points to the argument that "multimodal composition allows for many voices-even those new, marginalized, or unpopular voices-to be heard" (5). She argues that this is evidenced not only in traditional scholarship but also in the kinds of texts and examples shared by the authors in her collection.

We live in a digital age, one that provides access to a multiplicity of voices. How then can we best cultivate supports for working with, teaching with, and researching digital media, digital scholarship, and multimodal composition that create access to potentially unheard voices at department, college, and university levels? Though these authors do a convincing job arguing that issues of multimodal composition and digital media work are relevant and pressing for composition scholars, and for English studies as a whole, WAC scholars will also benefit from reading these books because they touch on deeply relevant issues to cross-curricular and university-wide writing and reading practices.

Braun, Lutkewitte, and Palmeri write at an opportune moment in digital and multimodal literacy studies, which, while still a relatively young area of research, calls on a well-rooted intellectual tradition. The list of scholars engaging in pedagogical questions about the possibilities of the digital is extensive and growing (Folk; McKee and DeVoss; Szabady, Fodrey, and Del Russo), and yet as Braun and Palmeri each convincingly argue, digital content is still undervalued, feared, and ignored by more traditional, or "print-centric" departments.

Catherine Braun's Cultivating Ecologies is a book that should be on the shelves of every department chair in English studies because of the ways that it cogently examines how the digital influences department life. She gives an in depth study of three departments: the "print-centric department," the "parallel cultures department," and the "integrated literacies department" (22). In profiling each department, Braun provides a series of tables based on her research that could lead a department struggling with the place of digital media through a series of heuristic activities focused on digital media and teaching, digital media and departmental culture, and the potential value of digital media research and digital scholarship. Her heuristic tables are comprehensive, and the questions grow, shift, and become more complex as the discussion of each department profile points to a series of issues surrounding digital media scholarship in the humanities. As she argues, " [d]igital media work often emerges as a solution to the problem or as an efficiency that is problematic, when it can better be conceived as a site to reconceptualize the work of scholarship and teaching" (5). In order to launch her reconceptualization, she outlines three "big questions" about the definition of text and how we read and write (9), which she argues lay the groundwork for digital media teaching and scholarship. …

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