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Multimodal Mondays: Foundations of Non-Linear Writing

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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. 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 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

Overview

One of the most exciting things about multimodal writing in digital contexts is that we can compose non-linear texts that encourage readers to connect deeply and individually through engaging links, images, and exploratory paths. Writing and reading become participatory experiences in which we create dynamic spaces that encourage exploration and critical reading. When we read and write in non-linear spaces, we have opportunities to combine content in ways to create multidimensional experiences for our audiences.  Educational researchers, Howell, Reinking and Kaminsky define this process as writing in which readers and writers go beyond two-dimensional writing and, “add a third dimension of depth by simulating layers of visual elements.”  These features are also referred to as multimedia stories which, as media theorist, Jane Stevens, explains are “ a combination of text, still photographs, video clips, audio, graphics and interactivity presented on a web site in a nonlinear format in which the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant (Multimedia Storytelling, 2019).

It is these additional layers though which writers can create interactive texts where readers choose their own paths and directions as they navigate documents.  In order to create non-linear writing that is complementary and not redundant, writers must choose content that does more than tell the same story.  Instead parts of the story are told through different media, secondary research and different paths for readers to explore. Through following these paths, readers are able to engage, and understand multiple perspectives through a more comprehensive lens. 

 I find that it is often difficult to communicate this idea of non-linear, multidimensional writing to students although they interact with these texts all of the time on the Web.  I find that they rarely consider how much content we consume is inherently interactive.  Students are so used to presenting material in linear formats that this type of assignment challenges them to compose through the lens of interactivity to create depth and audience participation in online settings.  Interactive components can take the form of text, links, video, audio, images, animation, graphics, etc.

The most challenging part of this assignment is getting students to understand interactivity and the ways composing takes on new shapes in digital contexts. I find that it is useful to concentrate and distinguish between three important concepts: Purposeful linking, Multimodal Components, and what I call Exploratory Paths.

Purposeful Linking involves students in embedding links within their texts in order to guide their readers in a direction that will both engage them and extend their subjects through secondary sources.  I help students to consider linking in meaningful ways. Many students will link merely for duplication rather than extension or link to commercial sites that do not really add value or depth to their conversations.  Like other research practices, we look for students to evaluate their sources for integrity, validity, and interest.  It is also important to teach students about the logistics of purposeful linking and how to contextualize and place their links.  Students will often link to “here” or some other generic nomenclature.  They need to learn to carefully name and find the places in their sentences that connect most directly to where they are linking. 

Multimodal Components add a visual and potentially interactive dimension to texts as we engage readers through images, videos and other graphic content.  The difference between multimodal components and embedded links is that these components appear on the original pages and do not require readers to follow them to other content.  Instead, they add to the reading experience through reinforcing and extending ideas through visual components.

Exploratory Paths take readers deeper into productive, related tangents that allows readers to experience different layers that extends their content.    Unlike embedded links or multimodal components, exploratory paths are authored by the student on embedded pages.  They takes the form of mini features (or chunks ofComposing Exploratory Paths (courtesy of author)Composing Exploratory Paths (courtesy of author) information) in which students compose, interpret, synthesize and extend on ideas related to their subjects from their own perspectives. These paths include links or graphic connectors where readers engage and interact for related feature information. Essentially students create a master feature, along with associational content to give a larger picture that includes multiple perspectives and positions on their subjects.

Background Resources

Steps to the Assignment:

  1. Have students generate an essay, story, feature article, or research paper.
  2. Ask students to search for copyright free images to include in their writing that extend or reinforce their ideas.  Have them include a caption for each image and pay attention to location to anchor their images close to their ideas.
  3. Discuss and show examples of purposeful and non-purposeful linking.
  4. Ask students to research and embed links that extend their subjects in purposeful ways through secondary sources. Emphasize that these links should extend, not just duplicate information in their texts.
  5. Discuss placement, purposeful naming and location of their links within the document.
  6. Introduce the concept of exploratory paths in which students find several related subjects and ideas to shape into mini-features that expand their ideas or offer synthesized perspectives. Have them include links or graphic connectors that take readers to this supplemental content.
  7. Have students pull together their drafts and elicit response and feedback from Content Design Teams (peer response).   

Reflections on the Activity

I find that although these concepts can be difficult for them to grasp, students benefit greatly from understanding these basic practices.  Most of us were taught to write linear documents that are read from top to bottom.  We have to retrain the ways that we think and compose. These principles provide a foundation for purposeful multimodal and interactive writing.

References

Kaminski, Rebecca, et al. “Writing as Creative Design: Constructing Multimodal Arguments in a Multiliteracies Framework.” Academia.edu, 2015, www.academia.edu/14079689/Writing_as_Creative_Design_Constructing_Multimodal_Arguments_in_a_Multilit....

Stevens, Jane. Multimedia Storytelling: Learn the Secrets from Experts. 22 Feb. 2019, multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/starttofinish/.

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.