Examining Communication Beyond Text, Adding Images to Your Classroom

The Multimodal Modes of Communication

When we we think of and English Composition course, we typically think of writing.  However, communication goes well beyond words.  Rhetorical concepts such as ethos, pathos, and logos can certainly appear through words, but also through clothing, background music, and pie charts.

In the composition classroom, understanding multimodality is important because many genres have different expectations for multimodality — understanding these differences is crucial both for evaluating types of sources and for communicating beyond textual means.

The book Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects establishes five modes of communication: linguistic, visual, aural, gestural and spatial.  These modes cover the vast majority of communications that occur in academic and professional settings — these are the accepted forms of interpersonal communication.  Although there are additional means of communicating and influencing others, such as through taste, smell, and touch (consider perfume, or perhaps the realtor who serves fresh chocolate chip cookies during an open house, or when your grandmother welcomes you with a hug), these modes are not encouraged in professional settings.

Video: What Is Multimodality and How Does It Apply to First-Year Composition?

This video applies design considerations to composition of multiple genres.  Principles of Design: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.

The Five Professional Modes

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 expression, and other physical movements to the body that direct attention or provide a message.

Spatial: the arrangement of modes in relation to each other, such as placement of colors or the order of a Spotify playlist.

Cover of Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Mulitmodal Projects by Kristin L. Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl E. Ball

Why Multimodality Matters

Learning Multimodality Is About Controlling Your Own Communication

Often, we use the five modes automatically, without any need to think about them.  In a conversation about purchasing a new sofa, you'll use words, intonation, and hand gestures to emphasize which sofa you think would look best (linguistic, aural, and gestural modes).  Your might pull our your phone to show a photo of the one you think matches your other furniture (visual).  You might then hold up your phone to the scene of your living room to show what this awesome sofa might look like positioned in the corner (spatial).  Or you could simply download the IKEA Place App to show exactly what that sofa would look like — and in their lovely video, IKEA provides a pleasant, reassuring melange of all five modes.  (though I think the yellow chair in the video is hideous, btw.)