6. Multimodality and Interdisciplinarity

Multimodality of ecorhetoric:  (progressive learning about compositon environments or PLACE)

This project includes a  multimodal approach, particularly one that uses the concept of multiple solutions to problems in a culminating multimedia project.  The goal employs visual and audio rhetoric for an argument about an ecological or environmental problem with original webcam video and audio footage; podcasts, Skype sessions, blogs, websites,  or slide shows as students work either individually and in groups, as determined by student preference.

The idea behind design theory, as introduced by James. P. Purdy in the June, 2014 issue of CCC involves the multiple solution quest and paradigm of design thinking for computer and digital technology.  “I argue that design thinking offers a useful approach for tackling ‘wicked’ multimodal/multimedia composing tasks, an approach that asks us to reconsider writing’s home in the university” (614).

Yet the primary emphasis on much of the technology we are using, in addition to television and cable, relies on visual rhetoric as writers engage more in becoming design experts concerned with the layout of a text, links or importing awesome video and audio clips, choosing fonts and pinning photos.

In an article titled, “Re-Inventing Digital Delivery for Multimodal Composing:  A Theory and Heuristic for Composition Pedagogy,” appearing in  ScienceDirectComputers and Composition, science and tech design scholars,  (Adsanathum, Garrett, and Matzke) define the multimodality aspect of computer design and website development as  one that creates an  experience of “‘all-at-onceness”(32)  for the  reader of composition presented on a website.

However, these Science Digest contributors also invoke Krista Ratcliff’s theory of rhetorical listening in an attempt to create awareness for the much neglected aural sense in the multimodal experience.    The need for development of the aural venue is also elucidated by Pamela Tokayoshi, Cynthia L. Self, Stephanie Fleischer, and Susan Wright Fleisher in Chapters 1-2  “Thinking about Multimodality,” and  “Words, Audio, and Video:  Composing and the Processes of Production.” In this article, the authors discuss the benefits of creating audio documentaries and soundscapes.  These authors also discuss the pitfalls of multimodal digital compositions, including the need to check for copyright issues with texts, art, video, and audio enhancements, and to check for affordances (capabilities) of various equipment.

The need for more audio technology can not be disputed, particularly in light of the fact that visually impaired students suffer a distinct disadvantage with the hegemony of visual rhetoric in the tech field of composition, production, and distribution.

Ray Kurzweil is the inventor of speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology stemming from his software application “Dragon Speak”now available as an option with Androids, I-phones, and other cellular phones.  This is an application that could provide a significant benefit for the learning disabled in English 101 composition classes.   Preparing voice-overs with applications like audacity are other ways to enhance the writing and composition process for the learning disabled.

Although this is not the primary topic of this argument of inquiry, this need for more audio enhancement to aid composition and wrting deserves more study and attention; so I turn to an article by Jimmie Killingsworth, titled, “The Case for Cotton Mather’s Dog:  Reflection and Resonance in American Ecopoetics.”  (College English, Vol. 73.  Number 5.  May 2011).   In this article, Killingsworth surveys a body of ecocriticism; beginning with description  of a dog taking a leak as depicted in a famous literary work and ending with a call to action to revisit the traditionally “ocular” reflection essay with a more “aural” resonance that speaks to a contemporary audience.  A multimodal webcast or podcast of ecopoetic and ecocritical essays with audio voice-overs would certainly expand the idea of a traditional  reflection essay.

Ecological and place-based rhetoric is well-suited to multimodal approaches to composition because space, place, and environment both on campus and off-campus offer built-in exigencies out of which to build arguments.   For example, a conflict over use of common areas in dorms, a crowded cafeteria, the need for a greenhouse or conservatory with abundant plant life to recharge the human oxygen tank with pure air, are all accessible venues to explore, and students can use iphones, ipads, and webcams to compose arguments with effective audio/visual enhancements.


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However, the more important reason to consider a multimodal  approach to a class in English Composition and  Ecorhetoric 101 involves the perfect opportunity it affords students to begin writing in interdisciplinary modes of composition.  To accomplish this end is to discover the creative link that connects the arts and humanities with science in the academic and professional writing program.  This involves a conscious effort to transfer and apply knowledge from English and literature to other subjects (See MacDonald; Bergman and Zepernick).

How can the muse gene, the point of inspiration for the arts and humanities and moment of invention for the sciences best be stimulated in the English composition environment?  Leonardo Da Vinci tapped into it while painting the Mona Lisa and while drawing anatomy and  designs for “flying machines.”  Thomas Jefferson distinguished himself as a horticulturalist and architect  before and during his trajectory as statesman and United States President.  Michael Creighton studied medicine before becoming a novelist. Lewis Carrol distinguished himself as both a mathematician and a novelist.  Barbara  Kingsolver succeeded as both a biologist and a novelist, and Maya Angelou triumphed as an accomplished poet, writer, and a linguist who mastered several languages.

Ecorhetoric finds interdisciplinary application to every aspect of college academic discourse; however, in Natural Discourse, by Sidney Dobrin and Christian Weisser, the scholars claim that the contemporary composition and rhetoric classes have been limited to application in the study of psychology.  “Perhaps one of the most significant goals of ecocompostion is its desire to cross boundaries between academic cultures of the humanities and the sciences, and, in the process, make the connnections between the tongues of each” (24).

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