Composing practices in English and other humanities departments have long since adopted multimodal composition as a teaching component along with other textual forms of composition. The incorporation of this dynamic multimodal aspect in the composition classroom could be seen as a result of a significant influence of visual and new media on the field, which is creating a more vibrant discipline and, at the same time, making composing practices more complex. Multimodal refers to the dynamic relationship among different modes of communication (linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial) and the ways "they are combined to create a message" (Sabatino, 2019, p. 4). Talking about multimodality in composition courses, Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes (2014) noted that multimodality "will give way to increased inter-and multidisciplinarity" and thus "the communications challenges and possibilities of our time require a significantly deeper understanding of 'composing' than our discipline currently offers" (p. 5). Therefore, to effectively incorporate multimodal projects in writing and other courses, it is important to have a sound knowledge of the technicalities of multimodality, multimodal practices, and the digital technological affordances available. Instructors often incorporate various multimodal projects in their courses, requiring students to explore and learn composing techniques in different genres and using different digital tools. However, classroom time and individual support for students can be limited. Writing centers step in to fill this gap by providing one-on-one support for students in their multimodal project assignments, with writing center coaches (also known as consultants) playing a key role in conducting consultations with the students. Writing centers manage a variety of tasks, including conducting workshops and training for writing consultants, scheduling writing and designing consultations with students, and assisting students with presentations and resume building. Assisting students with their multimodal projects by providing feedback and suggestions on their projects is one of the major support systems provided by writing centers, given the increasingly visual nature of contemporary composition practices. Multimodal Composing: Strategies for Twenty-First-Century Writing Consultations (hereafter Multimodal Composing), edited by Lindsay A. Sabatino and Brian Fallon, thus serves as a practical guide for writing center consultants in helping students with their multimodal work.
While different terms, such as writing tutors, coaches, and consultants, are used interchangeably to refer to writing center coaches at colleges and universities, the editors of the collection "refer to those who are working with students as consultants rather than tutors, partly due to the kinds of texts under discussion" (Fallon & Sabatino, 2019, p. xii). They further explained that "in many cases, consultants play the role of expert users, listeners, viewers, and readers of the different multimodal projects discussed" (p. xii). Therefore, in this review, the word "consultant" will be used to refer to writing coaches or tutors.
Multimodal Composing contributes to this conversation on multimodal composing practices in academic settings by bringing together a collection of examples of multimodal composition projects relevant to most disciplines. This book is an essential resource for writing center consultants, teachers of composition, and other readers who are looking for a comprehensive foundational guide on multimodal composition. While the book is structured in a handbook or guidebook format, it aligns with other theoretical works on multimodality and writing center tutoring, such as works by Arlene Archer (2017), Jennifer Grouling and Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2016), and others. I notice that Multimodal Composing raises questions about discipline-specific multimodal composition practices and also draws attention to the need for practical activities, consultant workshops, and training necessary to realize the full potential of the book.
The collection's editors outlined three major aims of this book:
(1) build on and evolve tutoring practices and strategies for multimodal texts, (2) introduce consultants to important features and practices in a variety of multimodal texts, and (3) start a conversation about the relationship among rhetorical choices, design thinking, and technological awareness in the writing center. (Fallon & Sabatino, 2019, p. x)
In this review, I begin with the list of chapters in Multimodal Composing and then provide background on the disciplinary context and how the book situates the practice of multimodal composing within the writing center. Next, I discuss the various helpful strategies and insights shared in the book. Finally, I conclude with my overall assessment including the book's relevance to different readers.
Preface by Brian Fallon and Lindsay A. Sabatino
Multimodal Composing draws attention to a connection between multimodal composing and writing centers. I find that this connection is relevant in two major ways. First, it enhances students' digital composing practices through writing center consultants, ultimately supporting the pedagogical goals of rhetoric, writing, and other related courses in various disciplines. Second, it helps students recognize the range of services offered at writing centers, beyond just written composition, which can lead to greater engagement and utilization of the center's resources. This expands the scope of writing center work, reaching a wider range of students.
Multimodal Composing equips writing center consultants with introductory knowledge of different forms of multimodal composing practices, such as designing storyboards, brochures, infographics, and so forth, that various writing and art programs commonly adopt. This edited collection serves as a guide for writing center consultants in understanding theoretical knowledge of different multimodal texts and offers several practical strategies for providing constructive feedback on helping students with their multimodal projects. Students might be at different stages in their projects when they come to the writing center, and this book provides helpful suggestions on responding effectively to projects at different stages.
Furthermore, writing centers in colleges and universities provide support not only to students in writing programs but also to those who come from different disciplines. Writing centers provide an accessible solution for one-on-one consultations, which can be difficult to arrange in traditional classroom settings. With the help of expert writing consultants, students across the campus and from varying disciplines benefit from these consultations. The scope of composition has expanded in today's digital age, where students are engaged in the composing process across various digital mediums and utilizing diverse technological advancements. Composing practices, formerly associated with writing-based composition now encompass composing in multiple forms (i.e., multimodal composition). Multimodal composition, which includes a variety of forms and mediums, is now a common practice not only in composition courses but also in other areas of study such as design, photography, technical communication, and more.
The gradual shift towards digital, design-based composition projects in composition classes and other programs has prompted writing centers to adapt to new working modalities. This shift presents new challenges for writing center consultants, as they must now work with a wide range of composition materials. This requires them to constantly update their knowledge on new design tools, familiarize themselves with them, and be prepared to assist students with any issues they may encounter. Multimodal Composing is a valuable resource to assist in this transition. This edited collection is specifically designed to address the roles of writing center consultants and to help them navigate the changing composition practices they encounter in their daily work. The book covers a broad range of topics related to multimodal composition, including storyboards, brochures, PowerPoints, infographics, web design, and more. One of the most valuable features of this book is the additional resources provided at the end of each chapter for further study, making it an incredibly useful tool for learning and reference.
There have been numerous studies on writing center work from multiple perspectives, including writing program administration (WPA), writing across the curriculum (WAC), writing center assessments, diversity, antiracism, and English as a second language (ESL), among others. There is also a wide range of scholarship on student learning and support. Furthermore, there are numerous manuals and guides available for tutors (Kail, 2003). However, as noted by Fallon and Sabatino (2019), there is a gap in the literature "dedicated to strategies for tutoring digital texts, new media, and visual elements" (p. x).
Recent research by Stephanie Bell and Brian Hotson (2021) also identified "a significant disconnect between the number of DWPs [Digital Writing Projects] being assigned by faculty and the number being supported in writing centres" in the context of Canadian higher education (Abstract section). While there exists a rich corpus of study on theory and practice-based resources available to assist writing center consultants and coaches, there is a need for more practical resources to meet the current academic and pedagogical demands, particularly in the rapidly changing technological landscape. Some scholars have strongly asserted the importance of practical support such as tutor training to better support both the tutors and students (Boehm, 2009; Santa, 2009). Thematically, the book aligns closely with Kristin L. Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl E. Ball's (2014) book Writer/Designer but offers a more hands-on practical guide on diverse genres of multimodal composing practices. In line with theoretical and pedagogical resources available, Multimodal Composing serves as a practical guide for consultants and tutors seeking specific help with multimodal composition projects, filling a current need in the field.
The book begins with a preface by Fallon and Sabatino followed by an introductory chapter by Sabatino that highlights the main ideas of all fourteen chapters and discusses the basics of design theory and multimodal composition: "Each contributor offers peer, graduate student, and professional consultants practical information and strategies based on first-hand experience" (Sabatino, 2019, p. 21). The book is targeted at writing center consultants to help them understand the basics of various forms of composition so that they are better prepared to help students at different levels of composition processes, especially multimodal composition. For that purpose, Sabatino's chapter did a great job of presenting a brief introduction on rhetorical devices, rhetorical situation, purpose, audience, and context. The focus on different rhetorical elements also resonated throughout the rest of the chapters. In addition, the author presented the introductory ideas on design principles, primarily focusing on the Gestalt principles such as figure-ground contrast, grouping, and color, and these theoretical ideas are directly linked with multimodal projects. The rhetorical elements and Gestalt principles are presented as the essential components of most forms of multimodal composition. Sabatino asserted, "In order to assist writers in areas of design, consultants need a basic understanding of visual-design principles to provide meaningful feedback on projects—specifically applying the Gestalt principles of psychology to discuss visual-design basics" (p. 7). The introduction covers these theoretical principles, which can help writing consultants provide helpful feedback on various multimodal projects students bring into writing centers.
The introduction provides a broad overview of theoretical principles employed in working with multimodal texts in different settings. These concepts are discussed in depth in the rest of the chapters, each of which focuses on a specific multimodal project and provides strategies for writing consultants to help students revise their work by connecting them to various design principles and rhetorical elements. For instance, in "Multimodal Video Projects: Video—Doing by Example," Patrick Anderson and Florence Davies began by discussing a real example from the Texas A&M University Writing Center's (TAMUWC) video contest hosted by the National Academy of Engineering where "participating students were to create a short video demonstrating how a concept of mega-engineering (large-scale projects engaging a cross-disciplinary engineering approach) could address and solve various global problems" (pp. 153–154). The authors then discussed some concepts of film theory such as realism and formalism, and the filmmaking process, including preproduction, production, and postproduction. Additionally, the authors covered other important film concepts such as shot, staging, lighting, framing, and camera movement. Overall, the format of each chapter, which focuses on a particular multimodal project and begins with an example before providing theoretical insights, is helpful for consultants in practically applying their learning at their writing center. Thus, each chapter can also be read as a standalone resource.
The book is designed in a structure similar to a guidebook, so the chapters are written and organized in such a way that it reads more like an instructional guide rather than an essay collection. The chapters teach readers how to respond to different multimodal projects. All chapters in the book follow a particular structural pattern throughout. This structure also helps the readers to know what to look for in each chapter.
The chapters in the book are uniformly structured, featuring the following sections in the same order:
Each chapter begins with a short chapter overview followed by a section titled Illustrative Example, which shares a story picked from a real-life situation from different writing centers in universities in the United States. These stories mainly depict how various writing consultants helped students approach their projects from a different angle, not by telling them what to do, but by opening up dialogues and asking questions. For example, the story in "Artist and Design Statements" by Brian Fallon gave an example of how the author in working with a designer first began by asking questions about the significance of fabric choices (p. 39). Similarly, in "Podcasts: Sound Strategies for Sonic Literacy," Brenta Blevins shared how they encouraged a student to select the content by asking questions about the target audience (p. 141). These illustrative examples are a great way to assist readers in understanding various strategies that they can use as writing consultants. Moreover, using stories to share these strategies makes the chapters interesting to read and easy to visualize. In most chapters, the authors suggested that writing consultants adopt a question–answer approach to help students achieve their project goals. This strategy helps students identify and address the purpose of their projects and is also an excellent way to communicate and build relationships, both with writing consultants and their projects' audiences.
Brandy Ball Blake and Karen J. Head's chapter, "Storyboard(ing): Multimodal Tool and Artifact," discussed storyboarding as a form of composition and offered helpful information on storyboarding as well as various steps for creating influential multimodal texts for different audiences. The authors also suggested connecting multiple design elements and referring to online templates to offer advice to early multimodal composers. Drawing on the importance of storyboarding in the classroom, the authors noted, "Despite its consistent use in film design and preparation, storyboarding has many uses outside the film industry, and storyboarding assignments have become common in K–12 and higher education" (p. 26). The authors added that "the development of a storyboard forces students to make very specific choices in how information or stories are presented" (p. 26), which will then ultimately expose them to different design principles and rhetorical choices. To help students make the most appropriate design choices, the authors suggested that writing consultants "become familiar with some filmmaking concepts" (p. 31). The authors added, "Knowing a little about types of shots, camera angle, and point of view can help writing consultants better understand the variation within the storyboarding form and better explain the available options to students" (p. 31). Additionally, Brian Fallon's chapter, "Artist and Design Statements: When Text and Image Make Meaning Together," reiterated the significance of rhetoric and rhetorical situations in understanding artists' design choices and purposes. Fallon highlighted the power of visuals and asserted how important it is "for consultants to help artists figure out how their written and visual work communicate their world-view or philosophy in tandem" (p. 42).
Sohui Lee and Jarret Krone's chapter, "Brochures: Helping Students Make Good Design Decisions," and Russell Carpenter and Courtnie Morin's chapter, "Academic Research Posters: Thinking Like a Designer," elaborated more on design choices and design elements and discussed creating a balance between text and visuals for printed documents. Lee and Krone provided a helpful suggestion that "consultants' feedback on brochures should be shaped by the student's stage in the process of producing a brochure, a process that can be compared to the stages in writing" (p. 56). Similarly, Carpenter and Morin offered six strategies to help students with design choices: "moving from low tech to high tech; interacting with the poster; focusing on design; prototyping; accessibility; and critiquing designs" (p. 74). As suggested by different authors in the book, design documents such as storyboards, brochures, and posters are more centered on communicating and building connections with audiences than focusing simply on sharing information.
There are also chapters on digital documents such as Prezi and PowerPoints (Apostel, Chapter 6), infographics (Knorr, Chapter 7), and ePortfolios (Dietz & Flom Derrick, Chapter 8), which center around static visual design. The later chapters delve into helping students with web design (Gardner, McCormick, & Barben, Chapter 9), podcasts (Blevins, Chapter 10), multimodal video projects (Anderson & Davies, Chapter 11), and public service announcements (Johnston Myatt, Chapter 12), which utilize both sound and moving visuals. Throughout all the chapters, the authors continued to guide writing consultants to help students make informed rhetorical choices based on the affordances of different design tools and platforms. The authors suggested focusing on the audience, purpose, and context behind designing any multimodal texts on any design platform. As various types of multimodal projects may be encountered in writing centers, the authors in this book advised that writing consultants need to be readily prepared for any situation. They suggested that understanding design principles, rhetoric, and rhetorical devices can provide basic knowledge to help deal with varieties of multimodal texts.
The final chapter, "Copyright and Citations for Multimedia Sources" by Molly Schoen and Sarah Blazer, discussed the ethical use of images in various design projects. The authors offered suggestions on how to obtain royalty-free photos and how to correctly attribute and credit the images used in these projects.
Throughout most chapters, the book includes numerous images and illustrations that help readers visualize and understand the multimodal work being discussed. For example, a picture of a storyboard sketch visually demonstrates what a first sketch of storyboard may look like (p. 25). Additionally, the book features research posters (pp. 70–71), infographics (pp. 101, 106), e-portfolios (pp. 117–118), and more, offering clear and tangible examples for readers to reference. Furthermore, the book concludes with a comprehensive glossary of technical terms, providing readers with a quick and easy way to understand and define technical terminologies used throughout the text.
The entire collection is aimed at providing helpful insights for writing consultants. Each chapter has a section with practical strategies that writing consultants can instantly apply in their centers. The strategies offered in each chapter are related to the chapter's topic. This section also provides additional resources beyond those discussed in the chapter. For instance, in the chapter on storyboarding, Blake and Head suggested some book titles, such as "The Sketchnote Handbook (Rohde 2013), The Doodle Revolution (Brown 2015), and 100+1 Drawing Ideas (Toselli 2016)" for further reading (p. 30).
Another helpful element contained in the chapters is the Activity section. This section offers practical activities for consultants to implement in their writing center or work together with a colleague to explore how well a particular strategy can apply in a real setting. The practical activities guide readers through detailed stepwise processes and help them get familiar with different tools and software that students might use to design multimodal texts. As various authors suggested, when consultants themselves are using these tools, they are better equipped to offer help to the students. Also, several question prompts are provided to help the readers follow the steps, consider multiple perspectives, and prepare them for working with students.
At the end of each chapter is a section titled Resources, which readers can refer to for further study. There are links to helpful websites, online templates, and videos. For example, the Resources section in Chapter 5, "Academic Research Posters: Thinking Like a Designer," provides links to research poster examples and templates (p. 79). Also, additional texts such as blog posts and journal articles are suggested for further reading, which can be excellent resources for consultants wanting to read current discussions on the area of their preference. The chapters end with a small section titled Key Search Terms, which can be helpful if consultants want to find more resources using relevant terms on their own. The chapters with these additional resources make this book an excellent resource for writing center consultants.
The book is not only helpful for writing center consultants but can equally be a good resource material for other academics, WPAs, teaching instructors in writing, rhetoric, and composition programs as well as from other diverse disciplines, and others interested in learning or teaching multimodal composition. Academics and WPAs can benefit from this book by gaining an understanding of a range of multimodal practices that can help in designing, implementing, and improving writing programs in line with the shifting dynamics of writing and other multimodal composing practices.
Instructors who are new to teaching multimodal composition in the field of rhetoric and composition will find this book particularly helpful for foundational learning on the theoretical background of multimodal composing. The book starts with the basics of multimodal composition, including theoretical aspects, making it easier to connect to the technical aspects. For example, in Chapter 7, "Infographics: A Powerful Combination of Word, Image, and Data," the discussion begins with the importance of awareness of the rhetorical situation, such as audience, purpose, and context, before diving into the technical details of data visualization and various types of infographics. Moreover, this book can serve best when used as a guidebook in planning syllabi and integrating multimodal writing and design projects as assignments in writing courses.
The book covers various forms of digital multimodal composition, from storyboarding to multimodal video projects, making it a valuable resource for teaching instructors in diverse disciplines. While not all forms of multimodal composition in the book may be integrated into their courses, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, it would have been helpful if the book included a separate section on genre and genre conventions in the introductory chapter to help readers gain a better understanding of multimodal genres and apply genre analysis before starting their multimodal projects.
Overall, the book provides a broader overview of the most common forms of multimodal composing practices across diverse disciplines. Therefore, it is helpful not only for readers in the humanities or education but also for those in wider disciplines, including but not limited to social sciences and art disciplines. Additionally, students who are required to work on multimodal projects in their courses can use this book as an additional resource material to figure out the kind of project they would like to work on and the areas to focus on. Furthermore, the book also offers insights into how writing center consultants plan consultations with students.
The book is structured in an easy-to-follow manner and is written in simple language, making it an accessible read. However, as the book is primarily aimed at writing consultants for consultation purposes and is structured in a similar fashion, it may not be the first choice for students. Multimodal Composing is particularly helpful for writing center consultants who are new to multimodal composition. Readers seeking a broad, theory-heavy discussions specifically on composition or overall writing center practices may not find this book as useful, as it is more practice-oriented and focused specifically on multimodal composition.
Multimodal Composing begins with the broader theoretical concepts of multimodal composition. The aim is to help writing center consultants respond better to different types of multimodal texts that students bring into writing centers. The chapters focus on various forms of composing practices that are current yet, at the same time, very dynamic. As various authors in the book suggested, writing consultants must be familiar with more recent composing practices focused on design and visuals to adapt to this changing scenario. Thus, the book equips readers with both the theoretical principles and practical activities applicable in real settings. The additional resources provided in the chapters are helpful in further exploring the topic of interest. All the chapters touch upon design principles and rhetorical choices, which might look repetitive. However, it is helpful when readers just want to read a specific chapter and can still get enough theoretical background information. Thus, the book can be a great resource not just for writing center consultants but also for teaching instructors, including graduate students who are teaching multimodal composition or those who want to introduce a new form of multimodal composition component in their courses.