Unexpected Avenues of Multimodality

“What Are Multimodal Projects” inspired me to discover new and surprising forms of multimodality in my everyday life. This week, I took the term “text” loosely when defining a multimodal project and challenged myself to find the most unexpected multimodal texts possible. In my search, I emphasized texts that combined all five modes of communication: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural.

A lecture in my Astronomy class served as the first multimodal text. Alone, the lecture slides provide visual, linguistic, and spatial information about assorted astronomers and their contributions to the study of the stars. Photos help to visually represent formulas and historical events, while words further clarify information. However, with some slides only communicating visually, and others having sparse or vague language, it is difficult to piece together a complete picture of the topic.

Above, slides from Mateusz Ruszkowski’s “Newtonian Gravity” lecture, 9/13/2018

However, experiencing the lecture in person fills this gap by adding the gestural and aural modes provided by the professor. He elaborates on the subject through speech and physically demonstrates the size and relative distance of astronomical objects through gesture. This struck me as an excellent example of multimodality, and a reminder never to skip this particular class.

The next multimodal text I discovered appeared in the form of a silly situation: conspiracy theory party prep. My house threw a party centered around the Avril Lavigne clone conspiracy theory and put up some decorations in the process.

Above, an Avril Lavigne-themed party decoration (photo by me)

I would argue that even party decorations can be considered multimodal. This display employs linguistic, visual, and spatial modes of communication to mimic a classic conspiracy trope (a cluttered bulletin board full of newspaper clippings, yarn, and photographs). Spatial information is especially important here: the chaotic appearance of the images adds a manic energy to the piece, and the yarn and tape lead the eye to make connections between photos. This multimodal project also included an aural aspect: the party’s playlist was punctuated by Avril Lavigne songs to really hammer the theme home.

I found it difficult to escape multimodal texts, even when I was trying my hardest not to think about schoolwork. In a failed attempt to procrastinate, I headed to Tumblr, where I discovered the following post:

Above, an image posted to Tumblr by @pics-that-make-you-go-hmm and a comment by @toddhowardfunkopop.

Aside from being filled with cursed energy, this image also struck me as being part of a multimodal text. Using linguistic, spatial, and visual modes, the post expresses the disturbing nature of the photo using language consistent with Gen Z comedy. The comment helps to expose the multimodality of the picture itself: the linguistic information of the timestamp seems to contradict the poor image quality and odd content of the visual. Just like this post, multimodality haunts my every waking thought.

In my investigation, the dominance of the visual mode stuck out as a link between the three examples. Linguistic and spatial information also contributed to their multimodality; however, images seemed to carry the most important information in all three instances. I discovered aural and gestural modes in some unexpected places (my professor dropping various objects on the ground to demonstrate gravity, assorted Avril Lavigne songs). Overall, this experiment showed me the versatility and effectiveness of multimodal projects in communicating diverse sets of information. I’m not sure I’ll ever get them, or “Sk8r Boi,” out of my head.


4 thoughts to “Unexpected Avenues of Multimodality”

  1. Hi Brooks! Your discussion about the multimodality of your Astronomy lecture really struck me. For me, I know I learn best from written out notes, not from simply listening to someone. However, when I am studying for a large lecture class similar to the one you’re in, I try to rewrite my notes while listening to lecture recordings from my professor. This led me to wonder how studying multimodality in relation to education and studying could help determine what the most effective ways of learning/studying are.

  2. I experienced many of the same things you did after reading the chapter about multimodal texts – I found myself noticing them everywhere! My favorite example you touched on is the Avril Lavigne conspiracy theory decoration because 1. It’s my favorite conspiracy theory ever, and 2. it shows how multimodal texts can be relevant in even the most unexpected aspects of our lives. Without realizing it at the time, you created a multimodal text that fulfilled it’s purpose of illustrating the Avril theory in a hilarious way, and this wouldn’t have been possible without utilizing many different modes at once.

  3. Hey Brooks!
    I noticed the same multi-modality in my lecture that you saw in yours. Powerpoints are a constant way in which professors utilize multiple modalities and thank goodness they do because out lectures would be so boring if they did not. Last semester I had a professor who handwrote notes on a projector for 90 minutes every class and it was really difficult to pay attention. Having graphics and displays entices students.
    I also found your Avril Lavigne sample so cool! I love that party decor can be multi-modal. You did a great job identifying these examples and I’m glad you posted photos and made your post multi-modal 🙂

  4. Love the Avril Lavigne example! I focused on observing the spatial mode more and noticed some subtle details that add a lot to the reader’s understanding of the text. Although our attention is usually more drawn to images than language, my attention was actually more immediately drawn to the linguistics in this image. This could be due to the all-capitalised text, the spatial placement of the ‘AVRIL IS DEAD’ in the photograph’s centre, etc. Indeed, I concur that this text seemingly displays a chaotic arrangement, but this distinct centrepiece of ‘AVRIL IS DEAD’ linguistics in the middle creates a starting point for me as a reader to then continue the journey across these chained images. Further, the text that says ‘MELISSA VANDELLA’ has an arrow (versus a straight line) pointing to an image, indicating a clear direction for the reader to follow. I find it phenomenal how something that seems unmethodically assorted can actually be dissected to exhibit a high-level of organisation just by observing the spatial mode of the text more deeply.

    Cool observations and images–thanks for sharing!

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