Categories for Assessing Multimodal Compositions

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340024_pastedImage_2.pngToday's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell, a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Assessing multimodal compositions can often be challenging because the form and design vary so widely, whether because of the assignment parameters you establish or because of students’ stylistic choices. There are a few key categories by which most multimodal assignments can be assessed. Within each category, it can be helpful to work backwards by first considering what you envision students’ final projects should look like, then developing a rubric or list of expectations for the project. No matter your expectations, it’s important to remain flexible in assessing because creativity comes in many forms. Consider the following categories when developing assessment guidelines/rubrics for multimodal compositions:


Color choices

When assessing the color composition of a multimodal assignment, it’s best to consider how appropriate the color choices are for the topic as well as the project design. I jokingly tell students that if their color choices make their viewers jump back from shock or squint from blinding colors, then they should consider alternatives. However, even this has exceptions. Flexibility is especially important in this category; the same color choices can succeed or fail depending on topic and design differences. For instance, neon colors work really well for psychedelic or hallucinogenic related topics, but would not work well for human rights related topics. Directing students to use Adobe’s Color Wheel can help them make wiser color selections.


  • To assess color choices, consider if the colors are complementary or contrasting to one another. How well do the colors align with the topic and overall design? Do the colors work well together to express and evoke effective intended meaning for the project?


Spatial design/White space

Balanced spatial design can be crucial to the overall aesthetics of the multimodal project. Like résumés and other textual documents, multimodal creations need a good balance between text and whitespace--even if the background isn’t actually white. Showing students sample projects that have with good spatial design can help guide their whitespace considerations. As seen in the two sample assignments, balanced white space will vary from project to project, so stay flexible when assessing.


  • To assess spatial design, determine whether the project seems too crowded or if there’s a good balance throughout. Have they filled the available space with quality content or left gaps of blank space? Is there a good spatial balance between text and images/videos? Does the font properly fit the space?


Font options

The efficacy of multimodal assignments can be strongly affected by the font types students use. Similar to the color choices, the font choices should align with the topic as well as the overall design of the project. Students don’t always realize that the font they use can evoke different meanings and that it’s important to select the appropriate font; therefore, it’s important to stress to them that font choice matters. Assigning the students to read Purdue OWL’s Using Fonts with Purpose pages can help.


  • To assess, consider whether the font matches the topic of the multimodal project. Does the font align with the selected color scheme? Does it match the overall design of the project? Does it help evoke the intended meanings?


Images/Video/Audio Use

Images, video, and audio can be used in many different ways. These forms of media also come in all shapes, sizes, and types: artwork, memes, clipart, photographs, online and/or user-created audio or video, and even Creative Commons content. Assessing this category becomes more about what they used and where they used it in the text. It’s important to offer students specific directions on what types of media are allowed, how many of each may be used, and how they should cite these media sources. Whether or not the images fit with the content is also quite important, especially if the topic can be controversial, as seen in the magazine sample assignment. Again, remain flexible—possibly setting aside your personal perspectives if images fit the project.


  • To assess, determine if their projects used the images, video, and/or audio in the manners you stated they could. Then consider whether the media relates to and enhances the subject, color, and design.


Source Use and Citing

Hyperlinking, citations on a separate page, scrolling citations on a video, full citations in small font, in-sentence references: citing can happen in many ways in multimodal projects, so we have to be open to them all. Because students often forget that multimodal projects need citations too, assessing this part of the project is often more about did they cite than how they cited. It’s helpful to show students many ways to cite in their projects and to remind them that multimodal compositions need citations too--even for images, video, and audio sources.


  • To assess, determine if citations are present within the multimodal project in a manner acceptable to you.


These categories of assessment work best with multimodal projects that students create on their own, such as magazines, brochures, slide shows, infographics, etc. While some of these categories could apply to multimodal projects created in social media platforms, categories such as font, color, and spatial design are not adjustable in most social media. This is not an exhaustive list of assessment categories for multimodal assignments, but hopefully, this will get you started. And above all, stay flexible when assessing.


Magazine Sample (click to open)


Brochure Sample (click to open)