Multimodal Mondays: Remixing Rhetoric through Visual Analysis

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Today's guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn(see end of post for bio).


For teachers straddling both sides of this paradigm shift in our field, multimodal composition is about transformation. We have one foot firmly planted in what we believe about writing and rhetorical effectiveness while our other foot is stepping into digital and interactive spaces. The field is large with changing language, definitions and uncharted territory. All we can do is take it one class at a time – one assignment at a time . . . and then reflect. I have worked over the past year to reflect upon and transform my rhetoric class to include digital tools, forms, genres and resources along with new ways of thinking and communicating through digital literacies. I have shared some of the assignments from that class along the way in my earlier posts (for instance, check out Everyday Rhetoric and Cultural Ideologies).


Today, I want to share the final project for that class, the Visual Rhetorical Analysis. This isn’t a particularly new assignment or tool but its freshness is in the way I integrated it into this class as an evolution of ideas and concepts. Instead of looking narrowly at argument as related primarily to conflict, I present visual argument as analysis to encourage students to find a voice and a perspective and include it as part of a larger conversation on their subject.


Overview of the Assignment

Students can choose a rhetorical analysis of a particular discourse community or take on a specific rhetorical subject for analysis. The only guidelines for choosing their subject are that it is somehow related to rhetoric and language, that they incorporate visual rhetoric in their article, and that they create an accompanying Visual Rhetorical Analysis in the form of a video or interactive, self-running slideshow. In this culminating part of the assignment, students take the ideas generated through their article version and create a visual argument/analysis version that includes text and images to communicate the most important ideas to a virtual audience.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors

Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few background readings.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.


The Assignment

  1. Proposal: Have students propose ideas as they find a subject for rhetorical analysis.  For this class we have looked at the rhetorical tradition as a way of understanding our ideas about thought, language, and communication. We also investigated the ways visual and digital rhetoric have distinct characteristics and attributes. This project uses these ideas as a framework for the subject. There are many possible ways of interpreting this assignment, and part of the students’ task is to define what it is they want to do.  The subject is, broadly, rhetoric.
  2. Draft and revise a feature article to include visual components – images, context, and document design  for peer workshop
  3. Introduce students to rhetorical concepts that help them transition their work towards a visual analysis.  Sean Morey, in his upcoming book, the Digital Writer (2016), reminds us that “words aren’t the only way to make arguments” (77).  He presents traditional rhetorical concepts and demonstrates the ways that images and visual composition can do the same thing.  He speaks of the ways students, develop claims, support evidence, conduct research and shape communication through introducing them to a range of classical rhetorical argument strategies and appeals. Some particularly useful concepts I like to introduce are explicit arguments – that directly state a claim and implicit arguments (that include images) that “use more indirect means of persuasion to place an idea in the viewer’s mind.” I find these criteria useful as I communicate the goals of the assignment to students.  We also talk about other rhetorical concepts that can be applied to visual production such as metaphor, juxtaposition, analogy, anchorage and relay.
  4. Research and analyze other visual arguments/analyses online. As a class, discuss rhetorical and visual criteria that make them effective.  Have students critically examine the ways visual rhetoric communicates meaning and ideas and the ways that authors’ perspectives persuade, question and analyze perspectives. Discuss and display examples in small groups or as a full class.
  5. Create the Visual Rhetorical Analysis in the form of a video or self-running slideshow that students can embed on a blog or post to a YouTube channel.  The analyses include audio, text, and image to communicate their purposes, main ideas and perspectives on their subjects. Projects should be between 2 – 4 minutes in length.
  6. Discuss and construct criteria for feedback on the visual analysis genre and conduct peer workshop sessions. Have students revise and post to blogs or other sites for sharing with others.
  7. Reflect by writing on the processes involved.


Reflections on the assignment 

Students did well with this project. The key is having them develop their ideas in writing before moving to the visual version. It presents them with the tasks of selection and contextualization, which are important when composing visual texts.


Student Work

I encourage students to use whatever tools they want. Some shot and edited videos in a storytelling format while others worked with slide and animation software. Below are two student projects that show the blog post, article version, and the visual rhetorical analysis.

  • Sam’s project, Painting the Face of Education looked at the ways rhetoric is used in public education in relation to the concept of creativity. Her subject covered some educational research along with her own educational experiences.  In her Visual Rhetorical Analysis she takes these ideas, states her claims, and adds a call for action for educators to recognize and include creative strategies in their curriculum.
  • Kendra chose to take on the question of the impact of street art in her project, I Paint, Therefore I Am. She explores and analyzes urban activist art from a rhetorical perspective. She reviews and defines different categories of street art and actually engaged in her own physical journey to collect and describe urban activist artifacts from her own community. 


Both of these student projects show the ways that the assignment encouraged them to rethink their ideas in terms of visual rhetoric and a digital audience. They had to select the most important ideas from their longer documents and choose a perspective to promote. The assignment asked them to repurpose their ideas for different rhetorical situations –important transformative skills for content creators in digital spaces. 


Reference: Morey, Sean. Digital Writer, Chapter 3: Digital Argument, Fountainhead, 2016.


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, 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 or visit her website Acts of Composition. 

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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.