Multimodal Mondays: Re/Mixing Traditional Academic Essays As YouTube Videos

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This blog was originally posted on March 16th, 2015.

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.

As I write this week’s post, I am wrapping up an illuminating weekend at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and its library’s conference Digitorium, where I engaged with colleagues who use critical pedagogy to “do the work” of digital humanities (DH).  There were so many different kinds of re/mixing and re/envisioning happening, that I felt, for the first time, the true interdisciplinarity of DH.  My colleagues were leading students in geocaching and visualizing distance reading data from biblical texts (see Bo Adam’s Presentation). So much of what I saw made me think about how our students really do produce texts for various publics, more and more frequently in digital spaces.  And it also made me think hard about the “doing of DH” and how we, as instructors, don’t have to be IT professionals to find a comfortable praxis in this “doing” and “re/mixing.”

As I’ve written in an earlier post, this semester has been a reflective opportunity for me, in terms of re/mixing writing for multimodal assignments and applying multimodal composition as DIYs across genres and contexts. This week, I offer a re/mix of analytical micro-studies, re/envisioned for a podcasting genre and public dissemination on YouTube.

This public text construction comes at the end of an upper division writing course, after students have drafted two micro-studies, demonstrating their understanding of specific language conventions and associated usages in digital spaces. Throughout the course, students practice applying grammar and syntactic structures in unconventional ways across digital platforms in social and public media.  YouTube is, of course, one of the most popular of these spaces.

YouTube was part of our daily lives in this class, from serving as digital teacher, Ian McCarthy on Social Media, to digital tipster, Writing Better Blog Posts.  As we watched to learn, students began to comment about adding their own voices to these video conversations about grammar(s) and creating content in digital spaces.  So, we crowd-sourced an idea: student-produced vlog-casts.

A re/mixed analytical study, re/imagined from a traditional, academic essay to a multimodal, public vlog-cast.

Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply multimodal composition strategies to video productions
  • Create vlogs as rhetorical, content-delivery devices
  • Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments.  Ask students to plan by reading relevant content from your handbook:

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6a, “Collaborating in College”; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapters 5-11, “The Writing Process;” Chapter 20, “Writing to the World”
  • Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 3a, “Reading Critically”

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation

My students and I run this writing assignment late in the semester, as a re/mix of a previous one.  Prior to starting the process, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts and content management across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and Popular Media Writing Tips.  We also peer review each other’s original micro-studies and offer ideas for relevant topics.

In Class and/or Out

During the semester, we watch YouTube instructional videos.  For this class, we collaboratively searched YouTube for videos that taught us brief histories of English, helped us figure out usage (courtesy of Grammar Girl),and advised us on how to write for popular media.  Searching together as a group was a most rewarding experience; I highly recommend it!

After each viewing, we then analyze key rhetorical components through the Five Elements for Visual Analysis, noting what works and what doesn’t for different audiences and purposes.  We provide feedback in both large and small groups to re/vise our writing for Vlog-casting Guidelines.

We then produce our “Grammar Vlogs,” using tools such as iMovie, QuickTime, Movie Maker, and Garage Band. The average time spent is about four, one-hour class periods, with production happening outside of class.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here’s what they said:

Based on my experience with this assignment I would do it all over it again. It was fairly simple because I was able to find information about putting together the technological parts of it online, as well as, through my professor and other students’ advice. One issue I came across was making sure the audio matched the timer but after playing with the slides for a while, I was able to make it work. I was inspired to continue practicing my skills and decided to start a YouTube channel of my own this summer. – Brittany Rosario, Digital Pragmatics

When deciding what topic to do for my vlog-cast, I thought it would be really cool to do one about language, using multimodalities. It felt 100% authentic to be discussing the linguistic phenomena of up-talk and vocal fry, and I thought that it was just organic and real. That’s why I decided to go with a vlog-cast instead of a traditional essay style of writing.  I thought it definitely helped me with a better understanding of my topic. – Becca Tuck, Watch Becca’s Vlog-Cast

“I enjoyed this assignment because my topic gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the characteristics of my fellow students. It was less formal than the traditional essay, [and] making the vlog helped me understand my topic in more ways than just seeing my thoughts written out.” – McKenna Hight, The Institutional Dialects of Students at SPSU

My Reflection

I think this assignment would work well across topics and courses, because it doesn’t teach content, but rhetorical behaviors.  It draws out rhetorical performances as well, which engenders creativity and scholarly research processes that are relevant throughout the Humanities. Instructors could re/mix their own topics and search for YouTube videos that are specific to their students’ interests and needs.  I would love for folks outside of our field to try it, so please share this post with others!

Also, please leave me feedback here or at

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

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.