Discussing Lauer’s “Contending with Terms”

Here’s where we’ll discuss Claire Lauer’s “Contending with Terms: ‘Multimodal’ and ‘Multimedia’ in Academic and Public Spheres.” I think it’s pretty straight-forward, but a couple of thoughts for now:

  • “Multimodal” is definitely a term that has caught on in the realm of pedagogy of the field as of late– at least that’s what it looks like to me with some of the titles of articles I’ve seen in the last couple of years. In any event, one of the key differences I think is it would appear to me that “multimodal” would include writing done not necessarily with computers (for example, collages and the like), while multimedia seems to imply digital technology much in the way described by Manovich.
  • I like the distinction Lauer makes between “mulitmodal design, multimedia production” in the sense that it aligns with the pedagogical sensibility of the field (“writing is a process”) and the realities of products in the marketplace. It’s also useful in thinking about the rhetorical importance of “design” preceding and being simultaneous with production.
  • This terminology– especially the slippery word “media”– actually has a lot more implications than you might think at first blush. The writing faculty are proposing a permanent version of this class which we’re going to call “Writing Digital Media.”  We talked about that title a long time.  “Multimodal” is a good term, but like Lauer suggests, it has the connotations of pedagogy and we were concerned that employers looking at student transcripts might not get that. There was some resistance to the word “multimedia” because we were worried that it was kind of dated in an odd way, sort of the way that a courses like “Writing for the World Wide Web” or “Computers and Writing” sound a little dated.  We definitely wanted “Writing” in there because it is a writing course, albeit one that potentially broadens the definition of writing. “Media” is an especially slippery term because there are whole departments that kind of feel like it’s theirs (We have the Department of Communication Media and Theater Arts) and there are other courses that use the term too– social media, Creative Writing is going to have a course called “New Media,” etc. Perhaps more than you wanted to know, but all I’m getting at is there really is a lot in a name in all kinds of surprising ways.

15 thoughts on “Discussing Lauer’s “Contending with Terms”

  1. Danielle

    Dr. Krause, I am glad you brought up the importance of the terminology because, to be honest, I finished reading this piece and kind of wondered to myself, “does the terminology really matter THAT much?” Now, having read your example, I understand just what an impact it can have.

    That being said, I also enjoyed Lauer’s distinction between “multimodal” referring more to the design and “multimedia” being more about the finished product. I have wondered in the past why I would sometimes see one phrase used over the other and assumed that it was just arbitrary, but now that I think about it, I have seen “multimodal” used a lot more since I began my program here at EMU. I think that is a reflection of how we view our work as an ongoing process, rather than placing the emphasis on a finished product.

    Reply
    1. Adam Czarnecki

      I can honestly say I haven’t seen the word “multimodal” before this article, but I fully admit it may only be because I’ve never really been looking for it. (Interestingly, my browser’s spell-check wants to change it to multimedia.) For me, “multimedia” really conjures up images of my elementary school’s “multimedia” lab, which more often than not was a few overhead projectors, Apple IIgs, and MS Encarta. I know that the word is more than this, but nevertheless I do think Digital Media is a better title for the course.

      And if I can add on to your terminology point, I also found it interesting that “writing” was not included in the list of keywords, only “composition”. I feel like this matters for some of the reasons we began talking about in the previous articles.

      Reply
      1. Danielle

        I didn’t notice that about the keywords until you mentioned it just now, Adam. That is interesting, but you’re right…I think it’s a reflection of how we view writing versus composition. That is, people tend to think of writing as words on a page, whereas composition can involve music and other forms of communication.

        Also, the more I think about the multimodal/multimedia distinction, the more it makes sense. Multimodal is an adjective; it’s used to describe a noun. On the other hand, multimedia itself is a noun, which lines up well with the idea of multimedia being about the finished product (the finished thing).

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    2. Jonathan Furlette

      I also found Lauer’s distinction useful, as it helps to define the process of creation versus (and working alongside) the completed project. Multimedia projects are often made by numerous differing pieces of media or “multimodes;” it is the collaboration of these modes that helps us to achieve a final “multimedia” project. As technology develops rapidly, it is exciting to see that a greater number of these “multimodes” are able to be incorporated together, the incorporation of them is becoming easier, and the quality/quantity of these projects is greatly improving. For me it is helpful that there is a separation of these two terms (ideas), as it reinforces the fact that (much like writing), multimodal media is an ongoing process, where a multimedia project is a completed work; helping me gain perspective into my own works, and the various ways that I can improve upon them by incorporating multimodes together.

      Reply
  2. Lisa Pignotti

    Last winter for ENGL 515: Literacy and Writing Instruction, I read a book about multimodal literacies. Basically, it described a series of case studies about how multimodal strategies can be used in the classroom to enhance their experiences with a subject. So it was not surprising the multimodal equates with pedagogy. But I do think it is important to emphasize that one of the major distinctions between the two is that multimodal does not always involve technology. It can consist of a combining activities that involve drawing, painting, music, etc.

    Like Danielle mentions, I think differentiating them as design and product is also helpful when trying to parse out what falls into each category.

    Reply
    1. skrause Post author

      That point about Manovich’s definition being about computers and related technology and a lot of other definitions about both multimedia and multimodal not being inherently about technology are important to contemplate. Jody Shipka talks about projects like writing on shoes and such; Anne Wisocki (sp??) specifically talks about how multimedia can include paper collage and the like. Heck, while we’re at it, why couldn’t something like interpretive dance count?

      Reply
      1. Lisa Pignotti

        Interpretive dance? Yes, please 😉

        I guess technology doesn’t necessarily fall under either term. Because now that I think of it, descriptions of artwork will note the medium for collages and such as “multimedia.” Though the connotation usually involves technology. Perhaps this is why defining “new media” is important.

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        1. Jonathan Furlette

          This is a good point Lisa! I too have seen the various methods for artistic creation defined as “multimedia,” though the term does not seem to accurately define the art of creating these projects or the presentation of the materials . I agree that it is too broad a definition, to define a collage as a “multimedia” project is, I suppose, accurate; though it is a stretch.

          Reply
  3. Seth

    I kind of got the feeling that these two terms arose naturally out of their respective environments- Multimodal from academia, and multimedia from industry. While I appreciate Lauer’s detailed treatment of the distinction, and its potential implications, it seems like she’s forcing some of those implications and their importance. As Adam pointed out, I don’t really ever recall using the term multimodal before this course, but I also was not perplexed or confused to find it used in combination with or in relation to other terms such as composition or multimedia.

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    1. Tracey Sonntag

      I’ve seen the term “mutlimodal” a time or two or before, but the term has definitely not made its way into my everyday lexicon. Perhaps that should change. Anyway, I just realized that I neglected to join in on this particular sub-conversation, and I did want to say that the idea of sorting “multimodal” into the process of making, and “multimedia” into the area of the of the completed work. Neither term feels more “academic” to me.

      Also of great interest to me was the idea that the “design [of the product] necessarily adapts to the medium being used to produce and distribute it” (236). At this point in the article, Lauer really enforces the “process over product” concept, and I really like the idea that more and more teachers are moving toward this mindset.

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    2. Molly McCord

      I get what you’re saying, Seth. Like you said, it seems to make sense that different terms would grow out of different disciplines and areas, and I don’t really see why both “multimodal” and “multimedia” couldn’t be used in the classroom, and even in course names and descriptions. This way, potential employers could see that relevant topics (and creation of a product) were covered in a student’s studies, and at the same time the academic theorists could use appropriate terminology to describe a process. It seems like it might be logical to speak of both process and product in the field of digital writing.

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      1. Danielle

        I agree with you, Molly, and I think this was kind of what Lauer is getting at at the end of the article when he explains that “instructors must be careful to attend to the knowledge bases of the other communities with which rhetoric and composition faculty and students interact and must keep those communities’ values in mind as well.” (238) At the end of the day, many of these students may end up graduating and moving onto jobs where the process is not valued so much as the final product.

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        1. skrause Post author

          And just to build off of this a little bit: being able to recognize the fluidity of these terms are important in the marketplace for both undergrads and grad students studying professional writing/technical communication. There’s a lot of jobs out there that use different terminology in ads and in the profession that don’t necessarily include the phrases “technical communication” or “professional writer” or what-have-you, and I think what that means is we have to think more creatively and metaphorically than say folks in fields like nursing and accounting (at least I think we do).

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  4. Molly McCord

    I liked this reading, partly because it reminded me of something I’m doing with my MA Project: trying to distinguish between two seemingly similar terms that actually have quite distinct definitions if one digs a little deeper. For my own research, the terms are “feedback” and “response.” Like Lauer, I found that one of the terms possesses a somewhat broader meaning and usage than the other. Lauer notes that “multimedia” is a more recognizable term outside of the world of academia, which is a characteristic I also noticed with the term “response” in my literature review. So I suppose I could kind of relate to Lauer’s goal with this article, even though her particular area of study differs from my own.

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  5. Jennifer B.

    I actually really liked this article. Like many of the others have said, this was my first experience with the word multimodal and I had to re-read a bit to really get the difference from mulitmedia – which may just illustrate Lauer’s point about the words being used interchangably.

    I found the discussion about preparing students to enter the workforce to be very interesting. Working in communications I often see our readings from the perspective of how they apply to the work world. In an understaffed start-up company the emphasis is always on production and getting things done on time and out the door. There is very much a “this is good enough” attitude that to me just seems careless. It seems like much of the way we communicate to external targets is executed via fire drill.

    The thing in particular that struck me was from the bottom of page 236 where Lauer is talking about an instructor having students put together a marketing campaign for an event and the thought and consideration behind the targeted audience and what might appeal to them. This makes me think of email blasts we send – and we just had this discussion today – and it was very clear that the “goal” was to maintain the blast schedule rather than to develop messages presented in a manner that will attract responses (rather than get us put on spam lists, which also happens). I often have the thought at work, “Does it matter if we send 3 emails a month to 10,000 people if we only get 9% of those mails even opened?” What often happens – rather than individual design process geared towards a specific audience and result – is that the previous blast mail is just copied and a few words are changed. There is little to no consideration given to choices of modes and how that might be impacting effectiveness.

    It seems like in the world of industry, showing activity seems to outweigh having a strong design that might actually lead to results. I would be very interested in references to any journals that offer pieces on communication in the professional workplace!

    Reply

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