English 101 | Unit 3

Multimodality and Genre

Unit 3 | Multimodality and Genre

Unit 3 | Overview: Multimodality

Welcome to Unit 3


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In Unit 3, we're looking at the various modes of communication. Beyond simply text or speech, we also communicate through sounds, images, gestures, and other actions. Here are the key terms to learn in this unit:

The Five Modes

  • Linguistic: communication with words, whether written, spoken, or signed

  • Visual: images, videos, lights, or anything else that can be seen

  • Aural: sounds such as music, robotic noises, audible grunts

  • Spatial: the arrangement of modes in relation to each other

  • Gestural: postures, hand gestures, or facial expressions

Genre Conventions

  • Again, we return to the "rules" of genres. In general, each genre has its own expectations for which modes will be used.

Unit Outcomes

During this unit, you'll track down three primary sources from your topic that show multimodal forms of communication, such as music or videos or brochures. You'll learn how to cite these sources, and then share three of them with your classmates with descriptions of how they'll help with your project. You'll then write a Article 2, a 300-word article that continues the discussion of a story or situation from your topic.


Unit 3 | Lecture: The Five Modes

People talk. We gesture. We add emojis to our texts. Sometimes — like when someone really irritates you — it's time to hit back with the single most dreaded text message of all: k. (don't forget the period. The period is key. It sends the message that you could have written a longer response, but you want the person on the other end to know that you are done with this conversation. And also this friendship!)

That's multimodality, the ways we communicate beyond mere words.

The Five Modes

The "modality" part of multimodality refers to "modes" of communication — each specific type of information represents a mode. For example, a photograph offers a visual mode — you can see it. Pointing at the picture would be the gestural mode — the gesture draws attention to it. And talking about the picture while pointing at it provides information through language, also known as the linguistic mode.

As human beings, we use modes all the time — we constantly switch from words to gestures to images. We call it multimodality because communication happens across multiple modes at the same time.

For English 101, we focus on five specific professional modes of communication:

  • Linguistic: information conveyed through words, whether written or spoken.

  • Visual: any colors, images, charts, or other means of affecting what audiences see.

  • Aural: any sounds an audience hears, including music, background noises, animal howls, etc.

  • Gestural: gestures, facial expressions, and other physical movements to the body that direct attention or indicate meaning.

  • Spatial: the arrangement of modes in relation to each other, such as placement of colors in relation to written text, or the choice of when to start the music in a video.

Example 1: Presentations

Understanding modality helps you control and understand the flow of information during communication. This helps you capture attention, emphasize key points, and evaluate your sources.

For example, it helps you see why presentation slides should be designed with clear images and large fonts — this is how you make sure your friends in a crowded classroom or seated at home behind a computer can clearly see your photos and text. However, a set of beautiful slides and a bold, confident voice during a professional presentation won't help much if you look away from your audience and only the wall can see your face as you present.

This is another reason why it's important to understand modality: people judge you based on how well you use different modes. Like if you type your homework in all caps — that's a poor use of the visual mode. (DON'T SHOUT IN YOUR HOMEWORK. TEACHERS HATE IT.)

Example 2: Résumés

Let's consider another example. When you submit a résumé , a clear font will make your bullet points easier to read — for job recruiters who are tired from days and days of reading résumés, this makes your résumé more visually appealing, and you're more likely to receive an employment offer. Unless, of course, you submit a resume printed with 387 photos of your cat — that visual might not help your job search.

Multimodality and Evaluating Your Research Sources

If we flip this, we see that our research sources also use multiple modes of communication to share information — how they use modes can help indicate their reliability:

  • Scholarly Sources from academic journals emphasize text and citations. Charts may provide statistical evidence and photos may highlight key points, but the linguistic mode is favored. Rhetorically, scholarly sources specifically rely on logos, the use of facts and logic to describe topics in thorough detail — this requires precise terminology that may be unfamiliar to you.

  • Secondary Sources have far more flexibility than scholarly sources. Newspapers, magazines, and blogs may also use text and citations to convey in-depth information, but news programs, radio broadcasts, and Vloggers rely more heavily on the aural and visual modes. Unlike scholarly sources, which are almost always written, secondary sources can also use the gestural mode to convey emotions and personal reactions. Unfortunately, some may rely on flashy headlines, lurid photos, and exaggerated claims to attract audiences, and their information may be unreliable.

  • Primary Sources show the greatest variety in format, modes, and reliability. Interviews and blog posts can be very professionally planned and presented, whereas raw film footage may be blurry, shaky, or barely intelligible. Tweets, on-the-spot interviews, and bystander videos can appear unreliable, but they might still be the best first-person sources you'll find.

Example 3: Reporting on a Car Crash

A good way to consider sources, modes, and reliability is to imagine reporting on a car crash. A shaky smartphone video is a reliable source — but only if the actual moment of the accident is in the frame. The drivers should know exactly what happened — except they might remember different versions. (Car accidents aren't exactly fun.) But the drivers won't be your only sources. The police can examine tread marks — assuming any are present. Journalists will gladly interview anyone who's present — but not everyone wants to be quoted on the nightly news. At some point, the insurance adjusters will have to decide who's at fault. And this is assuming no one needs a lawyer.

All of these individuals count as primary sources. Some of them will prepare documents that become primary sources, and some will write secondary sources. Which of these would give you the most trustworthy account of the actual car accident? It's impossible to rely on only a single source — you need to judge your sources in relation to each other. And this requires understanding modes. Which driver provides a consistent narrative in the linguistic mode to match the accident photographs? Do the driver's gestures toward the road and the totaled vehicles match the driving lanes? How did the police officer arrange the accounts from different drivers and eyewitnesses into a single report? How did the insurance adjuster arrange the information to provide a logical determination of fault? Do any of these sources provide direct visual or aural evidence? If this goes to trial, which questions will the lawyers their witnesses? How will voice and gesture affect a witness's credibility?

Conclusion

As we continue the course, I hope you'll use the five modes to consider both your own communications and the modes you see in your research sources. Be aware of the modes of communication all around us, and how we use these to maintain connections. Pay special attention to how people draw emphasis to their messages, and then consider how you yourself can hold audience attention through multiple modes. Are you communicating clearly? Are you responsible in the ways you share information?

Additional Real-World Examples

Here's an example of how these modes can work. In the following IKEA ad, pay attention to how IKEA is encouraging people to purchase new furniture. It isn't just a picture — they want you using an app that will picture a piece of furniture as it will appear in your apartment:

Say Hej to IKEA Place

It's scary, isn't it? All the ways technology can wrap itself into our imaginations? The way a smartphone app can speak to your thoughts and feelings on so many levels all at once?

For English 101, that's what we're studying: how to communicate across the full spectrum of rhetoric.

Now that you've had this introduction, please review the following website to ensure you understand what the five modes represent:

Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative: Modes

Next, I'd like you to watch the following video. Here, Nichole Pinkard talks about digital literacy for youths living in underprivileged areas of Chicago. Pay particular attention to why it's important for teenagers and young adults to have access to digital technologies. What advantage do you get from being able to communicate across the spectrum of digital modes?

Nichole Pinkard on Digital Literacy

More Information

The following websites may help provide further thoughts on how to use and understand multimodality:

UDL.12Writing.com: Multimodality

UDL.12Writing.com: Video Conventions


Unit 3 | Discussion: Media of the 1960s

Application discussions require at least one post of 100 words per person, but you can always write as much as you like. In your post, please use concepts from the lecture and direct response to points made by at least two of your classmates. If you are the first two people to post, you’re lucky — you can focus on the lectures!

For today's application discussion, we're going to consider the role of mass media in our perceptions of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we often take it for granted the fact that there will be television to tell us about the world, and that our favorite clips will be instantly and rapidly shared across social media by all our friends.

Before posting to the discussion, please read the following two articles. As you read them, I want you to keep these key questions in mind:

  1. How was television different in the 1960s versus how you see it today? Do you even watch TV, or do you depend on your friends and family to post the clips you care about? Or does the YouTube algorithm simply give you videos that you enjoy?

  2. How did Dr. King's use of media change the Civil Rights Movement? Would we see him in the same light today if not for television?

  3. How do social and political movements today use media? We're surrounded by messaging, whether its ads or politics or friends trying to go viral on TikTok. How does this differ from the 1960s? Or is it more of the same, just different?

CNN: Katie McLaughlin: “5 Surprising Things that 1960’s TV Changed”

The Atlantic – Alexis C. Madrigal, “When the Revolution was Televised”


Unit 3 | Activity: Citations for YouTube, Interviews, and Tweets

In the prior unit, we looked at in-text citations and citing primary sources. For today's activity, we're going to revisit that for electronic sources, paying particular attention to sources like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. For starters, here's a video about how to cite tweets in MLA and APA. This will give a sense of the types of information to look for as you cite online social media sources:

Cite Tweets in MLA and APA Style - Learn Writer

In the following activity, you'll be asked to choose the correct citations for selected sources. As you do so, I recommend using Purdue OWL's Works Cited for Electronic Sources to see how specific websites should be cited.


Unit 3 | Discussion: The People Behind the Story

This is a Project Discussion. In Project Discussions, you each person needs at least One Initial Post of 100 words, and 3 Response Posts of 50 words each. You can use your Initial Post as a “rough draft” or “notes” for the project assignment due at the end of the unit. I recommend writing your initial post first, then writing responses to your classmates, and then coming back to finish your Project Assignment after you’ve received some feedback. Just note: if you post your initial post late, then your classmates might not have time to post responses.

Also, please feel free to post a recording or video for either your initial or response posts. Sometimes it's easier to explain through talking rather than writing.

Primary sources help us see the details of a topic, but they are often "messy" sources. They aren't necessarily organized into neat sections or well-researched information because they aren't typically research papers.

For this unit's sources, we want to find the messiest types of sources. I want you to look for three online sources that are multimodal. These can be interviews on YouTube, they can be images shared on Tumblr, they can be a television documentary — anything that involves more than simply words on a screen. (That said, don't mistakenly think that social media is simply words on a screen. A Facebook status update might "only" have words, but Facebook's algorithm will determine who sees those words.)

Additionally, you may use direct interviews that you yourself have made. For example, if you call or e-mail a family member with questions about your topic, you can use them as one of your sources — those direct interviews with your own questions can be some of the best sources available for a topic.

For this discussion, I'd like you to share three such sources, each works cited entry formatted in proper MLA. Again, write three

For your initial post, I'm looking for you to do the following:

  1. Follow the story from your topic. You already chose a story to focus on in the prior article — now find tweets, interviews, or blog posts that give more information about it. If you can't find any, go ahead and message a friend to get their thoughts. I'm looking for firsthand information that isn't simply a long article, and I want it to help us better see the people involved in your topic.

  2. Find three primary sources. For each source, write a correct MLA Works Cited entry. If it's an online source, include the hyperlink at the end — if it's an interview, this won't be necessary.

  3. Write a fifty-word annotation for each source. Describe why you chose this source, how it's relevant to your topic, and what information you expect it to provide for your project.

For your three responses, respond to at least three of your classmates with at least 50 words each. Please feel free to write more or longer responses if you like. Also, remember that you can share your own experiences with a topic. Although I don't generally allow students in the same course to count each other as sources, it definitely helps if you can show how your personal experiences fit with what a classmate is saying about their topic.


Unit 3 | Assignment: Article 2 with Secondary Sources (300 Words)

Again, 300 words with three sources in the Works Cited page. Be sure that you're quoting your sources while also describing them.

For this one, it's largely a repeat of the prior assignment, but with three new sources and a somewhat different focus. As they say, practice makes perfect . . . and more writing makes you a better writer. It’s impossible for anyone to write a perfect rhetorical analysis, and so it’s important to do this process multiple times to become better at it. Also, note that this style of rhetorical analysis is very likely new for you — with each article, you’ll get better at it.

With today's article, you're going to do a rhetorical analysis of your multimodal sources. Here, pay particular attention to which modes are being used. For example, if you text a friend saying "hey, i got questions bout this topic i'm writing for english 101," your friend might write back "lol. where da caps, dude? don't you know how to capitalize? :p"

Yes — you could quote that in your research. You could write something like the following:

  • "The way my friend spoke in his text indicates that we're friends who don't really care about the grammar as we talk to each other. This variation in the linguistic mode shows that we relate to each other, that we aren't too concerned with appearances."

  • "My friend uses emojis at the end of the text because I can't see their face. If we talked on the phone, there might be tone of voice, but it would be more funny if we talked over Skype. But we don't really Skype much because that takes too much time, and I'm usually texting with two or three friends at a time because I'm stuck at home during coronavirus. So we send quick texts with emojis to show whether we're happy, sad, or just plain bored."

Again, use Purdue OWL to make sure you're citing your sources correctly.