Multimodal Mondays: Experiential Design and Aesthetic Empathy

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Kim Horn.jpgKim Haimes-Korn is a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. She also trains graduate student teachers in composition theory and pedagogy. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She is a regular contributor to this Multimodal Monday academic blog since 2014. She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition

When the ordinary is extraordinaryWhen the ordinary is extraordinaryAs digital and multimodal composers, we live in two worlds: the virtual and the real.  We go back and forth between these two worlds to create content and represent experiences.  Our attempts to represent online give us opportunities to show our lives, our thoughts, and our experiences. The best digital writing happens when we communicate something meaningful and create a world for audiences who are not there in person. A simple example of this is when we go on vacation, and we share images and visual narratives of our journeys,  meals, and even events. In these examples, we are trying to recreate a sensory and emotional experience for our audiences – one where they can feel the impact of the experience without actually being there. 

In the book, Experience Design: A Participatory Manifesto (2023), authors Abraham Burickson, Ellen Lupton, Erica Holeman discuss what it means to design experiences:

Traditional design practices invite us to design things, and to use those things to solve problems. But experience is not a problem; it is life. Experience designers engage with unpredictability and the unknown, partnering with their audiences to generate possibility and relationality. Experience designers create worlds, craft narratives that leave the page and enter people's lives, and structure transformation. Broadly interdisciplinary and deeply human, experience design is a practice that at once embraces new technologies and offers a balm for our disconnected lives.

These authors invite us to consider that “Personal connections are what makes experiences memorable” and that “empathy is a key component of meaningful experiences” (xi). We typically think about empathy as the ability to feel the emotions of others.  However, early definitions of the term also involve aesthetic empathy which as Susan Lazoni describes in Empathy’s Evolution in the Human Imagination

Returning to empathy’s roots—to once again think about the potential for “in-feeling” with a work of art, a mountain, or a tree—invites us to re-imagine our connection to nature and the world around us.

In a world where students often feel disconnected and isolated, we can offer opportunities for them to experience, connect, and share to promote a sense of aesthetic empathy.  

The term immersion is often used for virtual technologies such as VR, interactive art installations, and worldbuilding through video games. Although these technologies might be a bit advanced for our classes, we can still engage our students in participatory acts of experiential design where they immerse themselves in multi-sensory environments that transform audiences to other times, places, and realities. Through multimodal and digital writing, we can activate senses, evoke emotions, and create connections or, as Burikson, et.al suggest, “stop making things and, instead, to craft the minutes and hours of human life.”  To do this kind of work, I send students out of the classroom and on what I call Immersive Journeys as visual storytellers.  With phones or cameras in hand, they step out, curate images along the way and create immersive content that engages audiences in authentic virtual experiences. 

Just another day in the coopJust another day in the coop

I have been thinking about experience as a subject for many years and have incorporated it into my teaching and writing in many ways. As writers, we continually move back and forth between participant and spectator perspectives. We can train students to understand the shifts between observation and inferences along with image rhetorics and composing techniques. Using the foundational concept of the immersive journey, we can expand this idea and encourage students to shift their lenses through a multitude of immersive prompts.  This is more a concept than an assignment and can be modified for different contexts and types of deliverables. Students can create multimedia and mixed media projects (blogs, research papers, digital stories, etc.). 

 

The main goal is that they engage their senses and curate visuals (images and video) and eventually attempt to represent those experiences to others through connected visual content.

Some prompts for visual journeys: 

  • Reveal an idea through cultural examples
  • Sense of place where students choose a place to visit
  • A flow journey where they allow their path to emerge without a goal in mind
  • Visit and review a restaurant, event, attraction, or museum
  • Take a nature walk
  • Look for ironic juxtapositions
  • Street art tour
  • Contrast the old and the new
  • Focus on a concept such as fun, love, chaos
  • Look for examples of human interaction
  • Engage an interdisciplinary lens (geography, psychology, sociology, etc.)
  • Take a historical walk
  • Focus on patterns or connections

What do you see?What do you see?

The possibilities are endless!  Students can participate as individuals or in collaborative pairs or groups.  We can send them out on their own or explore places together as a class.  Students respond positively to these kinds of immersive experiences and are seeking opportunities to connect in a world that feels increasingly more disconnected.  Furthermore, they embrace the challenge of representing reality for their audiences to potentially transform experience and create a sense of aesthetic empathy through multimodal composition.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.