Kairos 17.3

Multimodal Writing Instruction in a Global World

Designer & Co-Author: Angela Shetler

Co-Authors: Susan E. Thomas, Frances Di Lauro

Contributor: Benjamin Miller

The University of Sydney Writing Hub was established in 2009 as the teaching and research home of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Writing (WRIT) Program and Writing Centre. Since “centre” in Australia carries a different connotation from that in North America, the name Hub was chosen to reflect Kenneth Burke’s (1973) idea of communication (arguably the highest form of human action) as spokes radiating from a wheel, thus implying multiple pathways and modalities that undergird, shape, and define the writing process.

However, the Writing Hub is different still from North American writing centers in that it administers seven credit-bearing courses (five undergraduate and two graduate), as well as drop-in writing assistance for students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences or in one of our courses. While most North American writing centers are located in academic departments, the Writing Hub is an independent unit that sits within the Teaching and Learning Network of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

In addition to courses and peer tutoring, the Writing Hub offers writing workshops for faculty, often with international experts, and two seminar series: "How I Write" (borrowing from Stanford University's Program in Writing and Rhetoric), featuring high-profile writers discussing their craft; and "Rhetoric in the Real World," featuring presentations on applications of rhetoric outside the academy. The Writing Hub also offers consultancy services to area business, with all profits re-invested in the Hub to support student programs.

Before the Writing Hub was created, the Faculty offered only two undergraduate writing courses: one housed in English (developed by Susan Thomas) and the other in Linguistics (developed by William Foley, a sociolinguist), with no writing support services for undergraduates. When the Hub was created, Thomas and Foley redesigned these two existing courses as the pilot WRIT courses, which have now undergone several iterations.

The Hub represents a departure from the way writing is usually conceived of and taught in Australia, in that it emphasizes writing as a discipline with a classical rhetorical framework. There is a particular focus on invention or discovery in the writing and research processes.

For us, rhetoric in a multimodal world means the art of communicating effectively across disciplines, cultures, technologies, and countries. We have joined Aristotle's (classical) definition of "finding the available means of persuasion in a given situation" with Andrea Lunsford's 20th century definition of New Rhetoric as the study of human communication in order to help students bridge the gaps between present and past and find an appropriate rhetorical theory for contemporary writing environments.

This website will offer a brief overview of the Writing Hub. Through preliminary longitudinal data from our Sydney Study of Writing as well as student interviews and program feedback, we demonstrate how and why a rhetorical approach best supports the development of student writing in multimodal contexts. (The longitudinal study began in 2012 as part of a grant-funded project on writing across the curriculum and is due to finish in 2015.)

We have organized our approach around five central modes that inform our work: audience, contexts, discovery, conversation, and collaboration. These modes have shaped our philosophy, our glossary of thematic terms in this piece, our courses, and our writing fellowships for students, culminating in lessons we’ve learned in the coda. The references are linked here.

Join the conversation and explore the multimodal University of Sydney Writing Hub through our "hub" of modes.