Below you will find a sample syllabus for how I would teach a course on multimodality:

Multimodality: Visual Culture, Writing, and Technology

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Left: Nineteenth Century Victorian Scrapbook

Right: screenshot of Mark Zuckerburg’s Facebook page

Our composing today is inherently multimodal. That is, our writing today is the combination of images (still and moving), words, and sometimes, even music. When we end a relationship, this information is textually documented through a status change or status update on Facebook and visually enhanced by changing a profile picture. Perhaps, we drive the point home by cropping out or deleting the past partner from our photos. We give our angst a soundtrack by providing a YouTube video of James Blunt’s “Goodbye, My Lover.” Adding even more complexity to this living site, the Facebook sponsors, too, seemingly exploit our heartache by conveniently providing links to dating websites. We send and receive texts about the incident. We capture our tears with a “selfie” and ask our “friends” for sympathy and encouragement. And so on.

Writing in this century is no longer about pen and paper. It is about composing in as many genres as you can imagine, employing an array of rhetorical strategies, ranging from placement of texts on page to consideration of audience to the media used to write and present the text. While this multimodality is certainly pervasive in this digital age, it is not a product of the digital age. In order to appreciate how these methods have evolved, we will begin our study with the nineteenth century and issues of visual rhetoric as they pertain to fine art and photography. In the second half of the class, we will investigate multimodality as it pertains to our cultural moment by examining remixes, mashups and technologies such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook and more.

Course objectives:

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

*Appreciate the historical trajectory of multimodality.

*Recognize the theories and practices relating to the use of multiple modes in the construction of texts.

*Use contemporary communication technologies in a variety of settings.

*Create multimodal texts with a sensitivity to arrangement, presentation and audience

Assignment 1:

According to the Internet: Multimodal Analysis of Your Online Identity

Thinking about our readings on the scrapbook, search for yourself online. Create a Prezi presentation that analyzes this information, taking any text, images, posted videos, etc into account. What conclusions can a viewer make about your intellect? Your goals?  Your concerns? Your social class? Your politics? In your presentation, incorporate actual screen shots of the information you find, draw inferences about this information and ultimately, address what things you would like to change as you gradually enter the professional world. If you do not wish to search for yourself, you may choose a celebrity, politician or organization. Include a 1-2 page reflection that elaborates on your decisions when designing your presentation.

Assignment 2:

The Photograph as Artifact: Rhetorical History of the Visual

Using the databases we examined together in class, choose a historical image that incorporates elements of both visual and verbal text. Thinking of Cara Finnegan’s analysis of the LOOK magazine spread, which provides insight in the context of Depression-era poverty, consider the life of this object. Thinking about the historical events surrounding your chosen piece, consider how this particular arrangement of images and text can be examined as one response to a specific problem in society in 4-6 pages. I expect for your analysis to have three distinct parts: historical background; text production (technology, background of the photographer and/or writer, background of the magazine, etc); and finally, a multimodal text analysis.

Throughout the course, you will find some topics that interest you more than others. By the end of class, however, I would like you to pick from the option below and create a WordPress page that responds to one of these prompts.

Option a) I See Red: Synaethesia and Photography

In three photographs, demonstrate a sense other than sight. For instance, you might take one photograph of a foot in a flip-flop in an upright position, then an image of the foot about to hit the ground, illustrate the sound that a foot makes on a flip-flop. After creating your synaesthesia photo-story, write a blog entry explaining your choices in production, and where and how this image might be used to convey a certain emotion or argument and discuss why this method would be more effective than using the actual sound.

Option b) The New Marilyn: Intertextuality and Advertising

Find an old or iconic image and discuss how you would re-use this image for a modern purpose. First, explain the context for the original image. Then, explain how the significance of the advertisement becomes altered when weighted with the residual meaning of the original image. Finally, discuss what you would alter, add, omit or rearrange in your new add and why you would make these changes. To the best of your abilities, create this new advertisement and include this with your explanation.

Option c) Multimodality and Pedagogy

Consider a writing skill that is difficult for students to master. Design a multimodal lesson plan or assignment that will help or assess a student’s ability to have ownership of this skill. Mimic your lesson formatting after my lesson on how to teach incorporating sources. Turn in your lesson, any supplemental materials the instructor might need and a 2-page explanation of why and how you chose this skill and this methodology.

Assignment 4:

Take Two: Multimodality and Cultural Beliefs

Consider the ways in which stereotypes or certain messages are perpetuated through visual media. Using iMovie, make a 2-minute argument for how this concept is disseminated through multiple visual and textual genres in our current moment. For instance, we can argue for the longevity of the “primitive black male” stereotype by creating a visual chronology of representations such as those found in white supremacy propaganda, movies such as Birth of a Nation, racially symbolic icons such as King Kong and then again through modern advertisements such as Vogue’s aggressive portrayal of Lebron James and Nivea’s new “Re-Civilize Yourself” ad (just to name a few). Or we might discuss our culture’s de-sensitivity to violence as demonstrated by the numbers of pop culture images/videos that endorse violence as an integral part of romantic relationships (consider works created for younger audiences such as Beauty and the Beast and then you might end with books/movies such as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, tv shows such as True Blood and the lyrics and music video of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”). These videos will be uploaded to our class’s Youtube page and accompanied by a 4-6 page written rhetorical analysis of how these images work together to make an argument.

Class Blog

For this assignment, you will post entries to the class blog. You will choose eight weeks out of the semester to post a new entry (at least 225 words, but could be more) on your blog related to issues of rhetoric, writing, language or multimodality. In your entries. You can reflect on the material that we are reading and the classroom discussions we have, take apart the arguments, try out a technique or theory, post a multimodal text and reflect on its composition, etc. Four times during this semester, you will comment on a peer’s blog entry. The response must be substantive, at least 5 sentences, and the challenge the author is some way.

Final grades will be calculated in the following way:

▪    According to Facebook : 10%

▪    The Photograph as Artifact: 20%

▪    Your choice WordPress: 20%

▪    Take Two video and Reflection: 30%

▪    Blog: 15%

In-class participation: 5%


All of the articles can be found through MLA international bibliography or I will have scanned in the articles for your use on our website.

Articles listed will be available on Jstor or our class’s website

Course Schedule

Week 1

Introduction to Multimodality

What other ways can you “know” something other than through words? In what ways has your own educational experience allowed for/limited multiple ways of knowing?

T: Jenny Nelson, “Reading classrooms as text: Exploring Student Writers’ Interpretive Practices,” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 46, No. 3, 1995, pp. 411.

R: Patricia Dunn, Challenging Theories of Knowing

Click to access Dunn.pdf

Week 2

Blueprints, Scrapbooks and… Facebook?: Multimodality, Then and Now

Questions: In what ways can we read historical artifacts as multimodal objects? How were these arguments limited by the technology available? In what ways do the strategies for making arguments in the nineteenth century continue to define our methods for making arguments today?

T: Staff, Frank. Ch 1, The Picture Postcard and its Origins, pdf; Poletti, Anna. “Intimate economies: PostSecret and the affect of confession.” Biography 34.1 (2011): 25+. Academic OneFile. Web. 5 Jan. 2014.

R: Good, Katie Day. “From scrapbook to Facebook: A history of personal media assemblage and archives,” New Media & Society. June 2013. 15: 557-573. PDF; Ott, Katherine,  Dana Boyd, “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace“; Ian Bogost, “A Professor’s Impressions of Facebook

Week 3

Reading the Photograph as an Artifact

What methods can we use to explore the production, reproduction and circulation of an image? How do images define our personal histories and the histories of specific communities? In what ways can the photograph enhance or manipulate memory?

T: Finnegan, Cara. “Doing Rhetorical History of the Visual: The Photograph and the Archive,” DFV, 195-215

JR: Janis Edwards “Echoes of Camelot: How Images Construct Memory Through Rhetorical Framing, DFV, 179-195; Abel, Elizabeth. “Cultural Memory and the Conditions of Visibility: The Circulation of Jim Crow Photographs,” Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow, pdf

DUE: According to Facebook


Week 4

How does our research change when we are researching an image instead of a text? What types of sources can we examine for this type of study?

T: Library Database day

R: Outlining and Incorporating Sources


Week 5

The Controversial Image

How does photography reflect, respond to and define key controversies in our society? In what ways does digital photography complicate who can contribute to these discussions?

T: Annie Leibovitz documentary: Life Through a Lens; RadioLab and Studio360 radio programs on truth in photography;

R: Sontag, Susan. “On Photography.” The New York Review of Books, 1973. PDF; “Ethical Issues in Photography” Iconic Photo,

Week 6

Just Add text: Analysis of the Image-Text

T:  Wysocki, Anne Francis. “The Multiple Media of Texts”; BLAKELY, B. J. (2011), iPods, Viagra, and the Praiseworthy Life: Epideictic Rhetoric in Technology and Medical Print Advertising. The Journal of Popular Culture, 44: 684–703. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00857.x

R: McCloud, Scott. “The Vocabulary of Comics.”

Week 7

Sound-Off: The Significance of Sound in Multimodal Texts

McKee, Heidi. “Sound Matters: Notes Toward the Analysis and Design of Sound in Multimodal Webtexts.”

Shipka, Jody. “Sound Engineering: Toward a Theory of Multimodal Soundness.”


Week 8

The Rhetoric of Remix

What happens when we alter an original to make something new? How does the original influence the way we receive the new work? Does the new product forever change the original?

T: McIntosh, J. (2012). A history of subversive remix video before YouTube: Thirty political video mashups made between World War II and 2005; Dubisar, Abbey and Jason Palmeri. “Palin/Pathos/Peter Griffin: Political Video Remix and Composition Pedagogy.” Computers And Composition: An International Journal For Teachers Of Writing [serial online]. 2010;27(2):77-93.

Due: Photograph as Artifact paper

R: Ferguson, K. (2011, 2012). Everything is a remix, parts 1 – 4; Tryon, C. (2008). Pop politics: Online parody videos, intertextuality, and political participation. Popular Communication, 6, 209–213. [PDF]

Week 9

Canceled for One-on-One conferences for Take Two Project Proposal

Week 10

T: iMovie workshop

R: Storyboard for Take Two Project

Week 11

What’s Blog Got To Do With it?: Evolving Technologies

How will evolving technologies change the way we write? The way we receive information? The ways we understand each other?

T: Johnson, S. (2009, June 5). “How Twitter will change the way we live.” Time. PDF on our site; Suddath, Claire. “What if Lincoln had used Twitter?”, Time. PDF

R: Rettberg, J.W. (2009). What is a blog? Blogging. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Week 12

Multimodality and Pedagogy

How do these changes alter the goals of our educational system? What changes still need to occur? What can you imagine as the next step for the composition classroom?

T: Shipka, Jody. “This Was (NOT!!) An Easy Assignment: Negotiating An Activity-Based Multimodal Framework For Composing.” Computers And Composition Online (2007): MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 Jan. 2014.

R: Fraiberg, Steven. “Composition 2.0: Toward A Multilingual And Multimodal Framework.” College Composition And Communication 62.1 (2010): 100-126. MLA

Week 13

Take Two Presentations and Course Feedback

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