Most students’ experience in english and writing courses is constrained to one form of assignment: the essay. Yet, as so eloquently put in the first chapter, “What are Multimodal Projects?” of Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects, the forms of argument and writing we encounter on a daily basis extend far past purely text. The chapter highlights the five main modes of communication – linguistic (written or spoken text), visual (images), aural (sounds), gestural (movement), and spatial (the physical arrangement), and opens the perspective of the reader into understanding how common combinations of these modes are, and the consequent effects certain combinations have on transferring meaning to an audience. We were tasked to search for examples of these multimodal texts as we went about our daily routines. In short, the task came naturally.
Currently all around campus clubs have posted flyers attempting to create interest and expand membership. These flyers obviously make use of the linguistic mode with the name of the club and short description often included, but it’s the visual and spatial modes which are most crucial in making a successful flyer. The spatial mode is arguably what makes students walking by actually stop and give the flyer a genuine read. If it is arranged in an appealing, clear way, students are more likely to want to look at it more closely. This goes the same for the visual mode. Bright colors and interesting, relevant images lead to success. The two flyers below diverge in this area. While the Michigan Affordability & Advocacy Coalition uses no color or images creating a bland look, the Ski & Snowboard team bursts with color corresponding with the energy of the club.
Another multimodal project I came across that also relies on the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes is the map of the United States on the wall of my apartment. The linguistic mode is crucial in defining the detail of any project, and that is evident in this map, as it includes hundreds of cities and regions which would be left blank without text. Without the linguistic mode, it would just be a geographic region hopefully the audience is familiar with. The visual mode helps separate the states from each other and the surrounding countries, making it clear the map is about the United States. It also makes the map easier to read. The spatial mode, the way the map is arranged, is the main determinant of what the audience should focus on. Students see hundreds of maps during the school year so they begin to identify certain arrangement characteristics with certain types of maps. It’s interesting that despite presenting completely different topics, flyers and maps both depend on the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes, perhaps, because those modes, when combined, are most effective at presenting information to an audience.
The last multimodal project I came across that was worthy of further dissection was a powerpoint presentation in my earth science class. This powerpoint included all five modes of communication. The linguistic mode was probably the most important in presenting students new, detailed information about a difficult subject matter. The visual mode, which included fun images, made the powerpoint more appealing to an audience who may think the subject matter is boring. Also in the visual mode were graphs and charts which put the information into a real world context. The aural mode was captured in a video that played to start the presentation, along with the tone of voice of the teacher reading each slide. The gestural mode was seen in the way the professor moved around the classroom, using hand gestures to build ideas. Finally, the spatial mode was seen in the arrangement of the presentation, again, highlighting the idea that the way the presentation looked affected the way the students received the information. A powerpoint may be the most common multimodal project students come across. I think the fact that the most common method of teaching includes all five modes of communication demonstrates the power and possibilities that come with communicating in a variety of ways.
(Link to Powerpoint)
The multimodal projects noted above were things I encountered throughout my daily routine but previously never had stopped to examine the many modes in which they present an idea. These examples were not the only I came across (magazines, youtube videos, newspapers, pictures, textbooks) but I think they adequately serve in pushing the narrative that we experience all five modes of communication everyday and through mediums we often overlook. Recognizing the combinations of these modes and what certain combinations accomplish is a formative step in learning to employ them to our own benefit as writers. It’s clear now that successful writers use more than just words to write.