Multimodal Communication and Me

When I left the University of Connecticut to teach at Georgia Tech, it was a really bittersweet move. I was glad to be done with my PhD, thrilled to have a full time job, excited about living near friends in Atlanta, but also very sad to be leaving my friends and my program in CT. I’d invested a lot of time and energy in our writing program at UConn, and GT’s writing and communication program was visibly different. We describe the program as multimodal and driven by communication and rhetoric rather than inquiry. That’s not to say we can’t or don’t include inquiry, but just that it takes a slightly lower priority. But it was really the multimodal component that had me nervous (in a good way): writing was just one of five sets of communication skills I was supposed to teach students.  The other four had me in various states of disease; I knew I could probably teach electronic and oral communication easily (blogs! websites! twitter and facebook! speeches! podcasts!), but I was less certain about visual communication (film? art?) and downright nervous about non-verbal (uh… interpretive dance?).

When I got done with our first week of orientation, I had some ideas about what kinds of assignments people gave, but that had never been my concern; I knew what students could do (well, mostly), I just hadn’t quite figured out why they should do any individual one. How were the assignments we gave directly connected to course outcomes? What specific things about visual or electronic communication did I want students to learn, and more importantly, why did I want them to learn them?

At UConn, I had developed a solid sense of why I wanted student to engage in the kind of academic inquiry we taught. I wanted students to be able to create powerful arguments that could shape their fields of study, their professional lives no matter their job, and their lives as citizens. I wanted them to be able to think critically about any cultural material they found, to assess how the stuff they chose to consume tried to shape them, and then use writing to be able to speak back and reshape the very things they consumed. At Georgia Tech, I could see that was still possible, but I was less sure how to make individual assignments serve these goals once I got past the traditional essay into more multimodal forms of communication, especially since I now had 5 times as much material to cover in a 3 credit course rather than the 4 credit course I taught at UConn.

But now that I’ve done a couple of assignments, and graded them (this was the steepest learning curve for me: how DO you grade a film? or an infographic?) and I’m starting to see the specific ways these assignments can work for me and my goals. So, in the next few weeks I’m going to try and do a few posts about the assignments that my students have done so far, and specifically talk about how these assignments could be used at UConn if teachers wanted to — that is, how could multi-modal assignments that combine written, oral, visual, electronic, and/or non-verbal communication serve the goals of academic inquiry? How could they be incorporated into a traditional, writing-oriented classroom? What purpose would assigning an infographic have?