Multimodal Information and the Future of Writing

Multimodal Information and the Future of Writing

TL;DR version: This post is the second in a series of posts in which I reflect on events and discussions from #LRA13 in Dallas, TX. This post focuses on the changing nature of writing, multimediating, and online spaces.

I’ve been very much interested in “writing” and how it’s changed while using digital texts and tools. I tried to unpack these changes in my dissertation as I studied adolescents and their ability to (among other things) create hoax websites. In my dissertation I labeled this writing process using digital texts and tools as “online content construction (OCC).” This is specifically directed at much of the literature in the field that identifies this “process” as being creation. I view this as a form of construction, and thoughtful revision. To me, creation evokes the magical, and in some cases can be a “one-off” process. That is not the type of writing I want my students to engage in, as they communicate, socialize, and create online.

I also believe that it is still writing that we’re talking about. If you read the framing of OCC that I provide, I draw heavily on writing research and social constructivist notions. I view OCC as an iterative process involving the following five skills: planning, generating, organizing, composing, and revising. These skills in and of themselves are nothing new. What we do with them…and the digital texts and tools that we use provide the special sauce in OCC. Much of my thinking was solidified over a series of sessions while at LRA.

Role of audience and authorship

The key moment of this came in a session titled “Writing Online: Audience and Authorship.” I served as the discussant for the session and had the privilege of reading the work ahead of time, thinking deeply about the content, and speaking for the papers in the session. What struck me the most about the papers is that they focused on purpose and intended audience of an online text and raised questions about how we write and design these pieces. For example, a paper presented by Jamie Madison Vasquez focused on an analysis of school websites and the role, placement, and inclusion of parents in this text. I appreciated the focus by all three of the papers on the role of audience in authoring of online texts.

In my role as discussant, I tried to ask the basic question about whether or not the focus of the session really is on writing. I sent out via Twitter a series of “texts” asking the same basic question.

Is this an example of writing and/or authorship?



Is this an example of writing and/or authorship?

Is this an example of writing and/or authorship?

Is this an example of writing and/or authorship?

In our discussions it seems like we all agreed that these are forms of writing, and/or authorship. Since the focus of the session was also on the element of audience in this construction process, I showed the speakers in the room the Twitter stream to show that Nathan Phillips and I were both live tweeting the presentations to the global audience. To me this brings up bigger questions not only about what we consider “writing” to be as we move online, but further extends the questions about audience, purpose, and design that the speakers probed.


As we move into use of digital texts and tools as a vehicle for teaching, learning, socializing, and communicating is this a new form of writing? Is it appropriate to consider this “writing” or is it something new? I think I have already presented to you that it is writing…but what do you think?

Additionally, if it is writing, how do we teach this to students in K through 12 and higher education? I think that we need to add in some elements of consideration of audience, or “rhetorical uptake” (Freadman, 2002). This means that online authorship needs to consider now only the audience that will view their work, but also how they might receive it. Rhetorical uptake basically states that as you master a genre, you must consider your audience and modify your message to cause a specific outcome in your intended audience (Freadman, 1994, 2002).

Finally, is this “writing” and we need to identify best principles associated with teaching this to students, we need to consider how to integrate multimodal content (images, video, and audio) into the writing process and product. How is the message ultimately modified by the inclusion (or removal) of this content? How does design play a role in how your audience reads your content?

Please keep in mind that this examination of “writing” as it applies to digital texts and tools is still very narrow. I see the coolest things happening currently (and the real future of writing) is happening in Connected Learning, the Maker Movement, Digital IS by the NWP, DS106, and coding. Much of this work expands on the affordances provided by these technologies, but also empowers the author. These initiatives more closely align traditional writing with the “building” standard that is espoused by the Mozilla Web Literacy Standards. All of us this leads to bigger (and more exciting) horizons for work in content construction, writing, and writing instruction.


Image CC by raphis

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