Reading Response: Multimodal Learning

The urgent need for multimodal learning and literacy is a common thread in this week’s readings. Each article argues that literacy in schools needs to move beyond the “physical space” to “cyberspace” (Black, 2008). Multimodal learning can aid in this transition, especially as our remix culture allows multiple generations to create unique content in many different venues using many different mediums. I’ve witnessed remix culture within my own classroom. While a few of my students actively engage with anime or fan fiction, a larger percentage interacts with memes, social media, and other digital forums to participate in fandoms (e.g. Harry Potter, Dr. Who, or even Taylor Swift). In this case, students are sampling various parts of pop culture to create a “cultural bricolage” (Black, 2008). These multimodal interactions can have powerful implications for learning.

One important aspect of multimodal learning I particularly enjoy is the blurring between “producer” and “consumer” (Black, 2008). Too often in schools, students are viewed as passive consumers of knowledge and teachers are viewed as sole producers of classroom content. Instead, I believe that learning should be co-constructed (Lave & Wenger, 1991) in daily social practice (Vasudevan, 2006). If students can collaborate with each other and with the teacher to create meaning, the learning experience becomes social, and hopefully, more personally meaningful. Moreover, allowing students to become producers of knowledge allows them space to try on new identities (Black, 2008). The ability to try on or produce new identities could be a powerful tool for students who feel disenfranchised in the current school system.

Of course, for each of these theories to function ideally, learning should be a social endeavor within a supportive community. At times, an actual classroom does not mimic the environments needed to implement these theories effectively. For example, as Lammers, Curwood, and Magnifico (2012) discuss, many of the studied online affinity spaces are interest-driven. Sometimes I think such an authentic interest is difficult to create in school environments, especially in a traditional English class that students are required to take. Moreover, getting teachers to buy into the idea that multimodal technology has legitimate literacy implications can be challenging. For example, I once had a teacher label a podcast creation project I was using in my classroom as less serious and more frivolous than a traditional speech as my podcasts incorporated many digital modes beyond traditional reading and writing literacy. I’ve mentioned this before, but in an educational environment focused on standards, accountability, and test scores, digital literacy can be a tough sell for some. That being said, I do see a lot of innovative technology curriculum in my school and others.

I think the potentialities that come with multimodal learning are definitely worth exploring. I would like to see more discussion of the types of assessment that teachers can use to measure multimodal learning against traditional assessments/standards. I use portfolios in some of my classes as a reflective assessment, but I am still beholden to the traditional grade book and various standardized assessment scores used in my district. Furthermore, I would like to see additional studies of implementation within a traditional classroom with anywhere from twenty-five to thirty students. Teaching in a socially constructed environment would likely be more challenging with many students and interests to balance. I don’t think this achieving socially constructed/multimodal curriculum is impossible in large classroom settings, but the practice would likely need to be modified or differentiated slightly to encourage meaningful participation from all students.

Black, R. W. (2008). Chapter 1 in Adolescents and online fan fiction (Vol. 23). New York: Peter Lang.

Lammers, J. C., Curwood, J. S., & Magnifico, A. M. (2012). Toward an affinity space methodology: Considerations for literacy research. English Teaching: Practice and Critique11(2), 44–58.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Practice, Person, Social World. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 47-58.

Vasudevan, L. M. (2006). Looking for Angels: Knowing Adolescents by Engaging With their multimodal literacy practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,50(4), 252–256.

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