What's in a Name?


The text that you're currently reading was constructed first in Prezi, then Flash, and finally HTML5. The software used in the construction of this webtext included Audacity, Adobe Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop. These programs helped facilitate the inclusion of audio clips, images, interactive links, and text, and allowed attention to be paid to color, font, layout, organization, layering, sequencing, hierarchy, and other document design elements. This text is available through an online journal that is distributed to indexing databases at libraries, listservs and subscribers, and that can be accessed on computer and tablet screens. It is a digital text that utilizes multiple media and multiple modes.

So what do we call this kind of text?

If you asked ten people what they would call it, how many different answers would you get?

The labeling and defining of new/multi/modal/digital/media texts is what this discussion is all about.

In a 2009 Computers and Composition article, I examined how the terms multimedia and multimodal were used in a variety of contexts, including academic and non-academic or industry situations. I argued that rather than the use of these terms being driven by any difference in their definitions, their use is more contingent upon the context and the audience to whom a particular discussion is being directed. I suggested that these differences can be best explained by understanding the differences in how texts are valued and evaluated in academic versus non-academic or industry contexts.

This text extends that original argument to investigate the ways in which a variety of other terms, including digital media and new media, are defined and utilized by respected scholars in the fields of computers and composition and education.  For this piece, I interviewed scholars who use these terms extensively in their teaching, scholarship, and administration. The conversations I had with them provided insight into how individual terms are defined by scholars who use them frequently. More importantly, these conversations laid the framework for a broader consideration of the anatomy of a definition: how we develop definitions and how definitions shape our work in academia, the classroom, and public life.