Learning Module 3: Multimodal Composition

June 30 – July 4

Writing assignments due this week

Reading assignments due this week

Participation due this week

  • July 2 — Comment on at least one Instructional Video that another student submitted (comment in the course blog and not on Youtube).  You are welcome and encouraged to comment on more. The comments have to be about the design and quality of the video, but you are encouraged to offer the composer additional comments about whether you learned something or not.  You are also encouraged to use some of the rhetorical terms and design terms from the class thus far.
  • July 3 — Comment on at least one Visual Argument blog post.  You are welcome and encouraged to comment on more. The comments have to be about the design and persuasive qualities of the visual argument.  You will only receive full credit on this comment by using some of the rhetorical and design terms from the class.  
  • July 6 (next Sunday) — Comment on at least two Literacy Autobiographies.  These are open ended comments.  They can be questions, critiques, praise, or any other comment that the post inspired in you. I would encourage you with this comment as well to use the terms from the class in responding to this post.


Week 3 is about multimodal composing.  As you will learn from the PowerPoint, multimodality refers to using different ways or modes to communicate.  For example, when we talk, we use sounds to express or persuade, but we also actively use body language.  We also communicate in our dress, our hygiene, and in the context or location of where we are talking.  Thus, it is multi- (using multiple) modal (using sound and visuals) communication.  Communication is always mediated by some mode and the affordances of that mode.  As the PowerPoint also points out, multimedia is a variation of multimodal composition, and just refers to the fact that we compose modes using different media (paper, screen, radio).

The readings for the week are mostly practical, giving you concrete examples of how multimodal communication works.  The theoretical basis for our study of these modes goes back to a field called semiotics which is the study of symbols.  At its most basic, communication relies on semiosis, as argued by one of its earliest theorists, Ferdinand de Saussure–that is, there is a symbol (a signifier) and the thing it refers to (the signified). Visual communication is part of semiotics, or the use of symbols to communicate meaning. As an easy way to think about it, recognize that “love” is spelled, spoken, and regarded differently in every language and culture.  “Love” (the signifier) stands in for love (the signified).  Beyond alphabetic modes, there are visual modes as well.  For example, consider what these three symbols mean:

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

We are always interpreting symbols, and they mean different things to us. For example, figure 1 is fairly universal, so when we don’t see it, we can be confused.  Figure 2 is a preferred brand to some, or an evil corporation to others.  And figure 3 will either elicit happiness (if you don’t smoke) or anger (if you do).

Because this is a writing class, I selected readings and assignments that allowed you to think through some alternative modes and media for persuasive academic and public communication.  We are always composing in different modes.  Writing in APA or MLA style tells your audience very different things about your background (and choosing not to follow a style also expresses something to your audience).  We don’t write essays or grants or proposals in Comic Sans font, as Michael Champlin points out in the video above, because we wouldn’t be taken seriously. We follow the appropriate style when the situation dictates.  Following an appropriate style or format establishes that we are literate in the rhetorical situation and that we know which design is preferred. Design matters.  I cannot emphasize this enough.

The assignments for the week are meant to give you some experience with some common composing modes that are rhetorical. For example, instructional videos have to be persuasive (using logos, ethos, and pathos).  Visual arguments have to use the affordances of the media to present the claims and evidence.  The final assignment of the week is not an essay but an extended blog post that asks you to use words, images, sound, and video to share your personal history on how you came to learn how to read and write.

Learning Objectives

  • Design a visual argument, aural argument, and written argument
  • Adapt to different audiences using word choice, evidence, and media
  • Practice writing in novel situations.
  • Practice applying rhetorical concepts to new rhetorical situations.