"We must work to create, foster and sustain cultures of multimodal composing in our departments and the institutions in which they are situated. This project demands conscientious attention to theories of multimodal composing, as well as to its practices, processes, and products as manifested across all the stakeholders in our professional worlds: undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty, administrators, advisors, and others." (Wysocki et al., 2019, p. 22)
In "On Multimodal Composing," Sara Alvarez et al. (2017) argued:
We must read and compose with intention. Moving forward, then, we find it imperative not merely to celebrate that we are as a field less resistant to multimodality in the composition classroom than we have been; we must not forget that resistance still encumbers our work, so if we hope at all to attend to these gaps we surface in our field, we must continue to embrace and incorporate multimodality carefully, recursively, purposefully, and rhetorically and to attend to the politics of materiality, access, identity, and interdisciplinarity in our research and practice.
The work of this project attempts to describe how we, at UTC, identified and attempted to attend to these gaps that existed within our own composition instruction as it developed in our program over the span of five years.
A significant number of scholars have contributed to the conversation on multimodal writing in the composition classroom, on pedagogical approaches to multimodal composition, and on multimodality in library studies. Our work is informed by several concepts within this literature. First, that the term multimodal is, in itself, malleable. For the purposes of this project, and for the UTC Writing Program, we use the New London Group's (1996) definition that multimodal includes a combination of various epistemic modes: linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and/or spatial. Pedagogically, we most align with Claire Lauer's (2009) assertion:
Composition instructors need to continue using both terms [multimodal and multimedia] in their teaching and scholarship because although multimodal is a term that is more theoretically accurate to describe the cognitive and socially situated choices student are making in their compositions, multimedia works as a gateway term for composition instructors to interface in familiar ways with their students and those outside of academia. In addition, by recognizing the more public use of the term multimedia, instructors can prepare students for the kinds of terms they will use more frequently after they graduate. (p. 226)
Because first-year composition is a space in which students can learn about the flexibility of language and its instructors are continually helping students navigate terminologies between academia and the public sphere, Lauer's call to use both terms suits the needs of UTC's Writing Program.
Our approach is also driven by the fact that design itself plays a significant factor in multimodal composition. Writing programs and university libraries both have developed strategies to help students cultivate an understanding of design as an element of multimodal literacy. This attention to design allows students to critically engage with the multimodal and multimedia texts they are frequently exposed to (refer to Bezemer & Kress, 2008; Duffelmeyer & Ellertson, 2005; Talib, 2018). This turn to design in multimodal production is driven by a comprehensive theoretical framework and pragmatic praxis. For instance, Moe Folk (2013) asserted,
Iterations of multimodal style point out the importance of digital style as more than a means of personal expression, more than a means of emotion, more than a cultural construct, more than a matter of taste, and more than an individual choice. Digital style is embedded in material constructs, economic constructs, historical events, and technological production. (p. 233)
A fundamental understanding of digital style means that, in order to meaningfully prepare students to critically engage with these listed mediums and concepts, multimodal composition is necessary to introduce into the classroom. Theoretically the turn to design encompasses broader understanding of composition and semiotic construction, allowing students to critically engage with and contribute to the exponentially growing corpus of multimodal texts.
Third, our work is rooted in the belief that implementing multimodal design as a compositional framework in the writing classroom prepares students for the writing that has become commonplace in many aspects of their lives. Several scholars have contended that the pedagogical experimentation, theoretical study, and personal experience of composition instructors are the most appropriate and effective tool for preparing students to critically engage in this world dominated by multimedia texts and design-oriented composition (refer to Bezemer & Kress, 2008; Braun et al., 2007; George, 2002; Journet et al., 2008; Purdy, 2014; Reid, et al., 2016; Sheppard, 2009; Shipka, 2007). It encourages students to consider their use of this genre of composition when they move into the world, functioning as responsible, ethical, and critical digital citizens (Hobbs, 2011).
The library offers a physical space for students and faculty to hone these multimodal skills; libraries have always strived to be places where patrons could encounter new technology and to employ librarians who could teach them how to use it (Wagschal, 1985). These forward-looking institutions attempt to create spaces that can incorporate new technology as it comes out, but also to develop an audience for those collections (Boone, 2001). Creative spaces in academic libraries should be built with their communities in mind and tied to their missions. No one template will work everywhere (Johnson, 2017), but the space must center the patrons and staff in order to be successful (Sheaffer et al., 2022). This webtext demonstrates how collaborating with a service point like the UTC Library Studio results in better support and stronger projects.
The work of this partnership also emerges from the intersection of writing studies and librarianship, as academic libraries have long been teaching information literacy skills. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, 2015) developed their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which is used throughout academia to help students contextualize the information researchers find for their work. While the framework views things from a metaliteracy perspective, it mostly focuses on reading in order to write rather than the slightly different process of creating something like a video or infographic. However, multimodal assignments have been a part of library studies conversation for almost ten years (Spicer & Miller, 2014), and libraries have the infrastructure and staff to pivot beyond research papers (Sheaffer et al. 2022). Faculty need help bridging the gap between what they think will be a fun and creative project and the reality of students' knowledge, abilities, and access to software and equipment. Creative spaces, like the ones described by Eric Johnson (2017) and Kelsey Sheaffer et al. (2022), specifically provide the support students may need since they are unlikely to come in with multimedia skills beyond their phone and will need help turning an idea into a polished finished product (Thompson & Rhodes, 2017). Our webtext describes how the UTC Studio serves as that creative space for students and faculty in the UTC Composition Program.