Preparing Teachers to Immerse Students in Multimodal Digital Writing Opportunities

Preparing Teachers to Immerse Students in Multimodal Digital Writing Opportunities

Rachel Karchmer-Klein (University of Delaware, USA), Valerie Harlow Shinas (Lesley University, USA) and Sohee Park (University of Delaware, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5982-7.ch025
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Writing instruction in the 21st century must attend to ways that the multimodal nature of digital texts transforms consumption and production of text. With that in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to forward a framework for multimodal writing instruction that informs teacher education. In this chapter, the authors provide an overview of multimodality and suggest pedagogical approaches to prepare educators to teach digital writing skills. Second, they discuss a graduate course on multimodality, illustrating a pedagogical framework for teaching educators to recognize and apply multimodality in their teaching. Understanding gleaned from this chapter will illuminate the ways that teachers and teacher educators can approach writing instruction for the 21st century classroom that takes into account the literacy demands of the workplace and the world in which we live.
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In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (Purcell, Buchanan, & Friedrich, 2013), Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers reported that they recognize the benefits of using technology in their writing instruction. For instance, 96% of the respondents reported an increase in students’ motivation to write and 79% reported students are more willing to collaborate on writing projects when using technology. Moreover, 78% of teachers agreed that digital writing tools support students’ creativity and personal expression in ways that traditional writing tools do not. As one teacher explained,

With all of these technologies, I think writing is at the heart, but our students are also driven to take it a step further to include video, sound, hyperlinks, images, animations, etc. That’s a huge boost in creativity (Purcell, Buchanan, & Friedrich, 2013, p. 29).

Although many benefits of using technology in writing were identified, teachers also reported challenges associated with the unique affordances of digital tools. One challenge is that truncated forms of expression used for texting, Internet searching, and social networking (i.e., Twitter) spill over into students’ formal writing assignments, underscoring the need to emphasize pragmatic competence (Sweeney, 2010). A second challenge relates to the unlimited outreach of digital publishing. This highlights the need to instill a greater sense of awareness in students of the culturally and ethnically diverse Internet audience and make clear that writers must consider the various ways that others may interpret their work. Additionally, and most relative to this chapter, digital texts are multimodal; therefore, the ability to convey meaning through modes other than written language complicates digital writing. Specifically, composition of digital texts requires awareness of and critical thinking about modal selection, reading path, and modal synthesis (Jewitt, 2011; Shinas, 2012), skills not typically taught within traditional K-12 writing instruction (Karchmer-Klein, 2013).

While these survey results are interesting, they are not surprising. In fact, there is a wealth of theory, anecdotal evidence, and empirical research positing the effects of digital writing opportunities on students’ motivation and creativity (Clarke &Besnoy, 2010; Hutchison,Beschorner, & Schmidt-Crawford, 2012) as well as online collaboration (Karchmer-Klein & Layton, 2006; McKeon, 2001). Challenges are also well documented (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, &Cammack, 2004; Shanahan, 2012; Zammit, 2009). Shanahan (2012), for instance, found the lack of direct instruction on how to utilize sound in digital compositions resulted in elementary students using music, sound effects, and voice for ancillary purposes rather than essential ways to convey meaning. Likewise, Callow (2003) and Zammit (2009) both reported that even with explicit instruction, students struggled to utilize color in purposeful ways when designing digital multimodal texts. We identified similar challenges in our work. A study investigating the ways that graduate students enrolled in an educational technology course utilized the modes and modal affordances of various digital tools to respond to course readings revealed that in several cases participants did not use modes in relevant ways, resulting in disjointed presentations that disrupted readers’ comprehension (Karchmer-Klein & Shinas, 2012). This research reveals much about the ways that writers use the affordances of technology to design digital texts; still, there is much more to be learned about best practices in teaching students to compose with digital tools.

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