“That we live in a fragmented world is not news. That textuality has pluralized is, likewise, not news. What we make of these observations pedagogically is news — and still, as they say, under construction.” — Jody Shipka, Towards a Composition Made Whole
You can tell a lot about a person by looking at the contents of their sketchbook. Some folks carry neat hardcover journals around with them and fill them with precise drawings in graphite and ink, working front to back and making sure nothing bleeds through onto the next page. That’s never been me, I’m afraid — the cork-bound book I’m currently overloading is filled not only with detailed, carefully-referenced pieces, but with frantic scrawls in highlighter and sharpie, post-it note doodles taped onto the pages, class notes, weather diagrams, a stray fortune cookie slip or two, and an occasional stained ring from a misplaced coffee mug. The art is colored indiscriminately with everything from expensive Prismacolor pencils to Crayola crayon to cattle markers — the thick neon oil paint used to draw stock numbers on the sides of, yes, cows. It’s impossible for me to choose a favorite medium, so more often or not I go for as many as possible at the same time. It’s more than a little chaotic, but it keeps things interesting, I think.
I’ve always been intrigued by remixes, mashups, crossovers that refuse to slot neatly into one genre and instead bleed in several directions at once — my default setting, it seems, is actively multimodal. While the aesthetic certainly works for me, this kind of thing often makes folks uncomfortable, as evidenced in Shipka’s anecdote about a research essay transcribed onto ballet shoes and the peculiar reaction the slippers elicited. The shoes were an innovative project, but the students weren’t entirely sure how to approach them, or even if they were a valid response to an assignment. Interesting reaction — the same, amusingly enough, as the one I’ve gotten from a couple of folks when describing the setup of this Writing and Digital Media course.
Instead of traditional essays, Dr. Warnick’s told us, we’ll spend this semester creating multimedia narratives, learning to build stories in various web apps, and blogging for a grade. This is unfamiliar territory for many of us in this class, and I for one don’t know how I’ll approach many of these assignments quite yet. But I am excited to try these new forms of pluralized text — the chance to tinker with and deconstruct academic responses sounds pretty neat to me. In a world growing increasingly fragmented, the pursuit of multimodal storytelling might just be the best way to jump between those shards and start putting it back together again.