“If rhetoric is to be used to contribute to the formation of the culture of the modern world, it should function productively in the resolution of new problems and architectonically in the formation of new inclusive communities” – McKeon, 2005, p. 198
Six salient composing decisions emerged from this study’s applied methodology. Observation of the interaction among these composing decisions indicated that the process reflected one of redesigning content into new educational contexts. This process consisted of six salient composing decisions whereby participants redesigned available meaning-material into new meaning-making resources:
• Planning: decisions based on identifying gaps, setting goals and organizing information
• Translating: decisions based on the technical considerations of material
• Reviewing: decisions based on revisiting content for purpose, quality, and audience
• Searching: decisions based on locating information and navigating through information
• Selecting: decisions based on paying special attention to or highlighting specific content and specific tools
• Repurposing: decisions based on transferring either writer created content or non-writer’s created content
The findings also showed that participants’ composing decisions reflected an effort to seek meaning-making resources and redesign them into new educational contexts. The available meaning-making resources could be a participant’s previously created content (e.g., a PowerPoint presentation created for a face-to-face lecture), a non-participant created content (e.g., a journal article), participant’s long-term memory, or even the text composed so far. The new meaning-making resource was the final composed version of a participant’s digital, multimodal text. These new resources represented a new context for teaching.
Much scholarship has accumulated on the need for understanding how to compose digital multimodal texts for educational purposes (Jewitt, Moss, & Cardini, 2007; Anson, 2008; Lemke, 2004; Journet, 2007). As Heba (1997) argues, educators will need to understand these texts not just as readers but as composers in order to prepare for the challenges of teaching in the future. What I aimed to do in this study is to discover the salient composing decisions that these educators will need to address as composers of digital multimodal texts. In the following section I articulate the significance of the six composing decisions for writers of digital multimodal texts in general and, specifically, for future educators who intend on adopting such teaching practices.
Though this study focused on composing processes of digital texts, this study found that writers of digital texts need to engage in planning activities similar to those made by writers of print texts. This study then suggests that composers of digital multimodal texts also need to plan their activities and content as part of their composition process. Specifically, educators composing digital multimodal texts need to establish goals regarding activities and content. Furthermore, planning decisions include organizing information, specifically the order of a series of multimodal ensembles and the order within a multimodal ensemble. This form of planning means that composers of digital multimodal texts need to consider not just the procedural activities and content choices but also the organizational structure of their texts with which to meet their goals. The multimodal aspect of these texts also requires writers to consider the organizational structure of each multimodal ensemble as part of their plan.
Unlike studies examining composing processes of print texts, I view planning as a multimodal activity, so that text writers are not just focused on alphabetic content and organization, but are simultaneously involved with the content and organization of multiple modes of communication. For example, I observed participants considering what images to include, what procedural activities were needed to create images, how to juxtapose words and images, and how to organize their texts as a series of multimodal ensembles. Secondly, while this study does distinguish between procedural activities and content generating activities, a distinction also made by Flower and Hayes (1980), I separate these two activities from organizational activities. As important as procedural and content choices were to participants, they were also as involved with planning how to organize their texts as a series of multimodal ensembles and how to organize the various content within multimodal ensembles in ways that met their goals. Future composers may similarly need to pay attention to how much effort is involved in organizing information when working with the simultaneous presentation of multiple modes of communication.
I also observed participants’ lack of distinction between their planning and composing environments. Planning and composing environments that are one and the same environment usually encourage an interleaving between plans and action (Hayes & Nash, 1996), so that composers of text are constantly deciding on their procedural activities and their content-of-choice as the environment changes. Unlike with print texts, where planning could be a notepad with a random list of phrases while the actual document may be a legal pad with full sentences, in the case of digital multimodal texts, writers compose their texts in the same environment in which they plan their texts. This shared planning and composing in digital environments suggests that organizing information is expected to be part of a writer’s planning activities. The shared environment places greater emphasis on organizational activities as part of planning because writers are constantly negotiating changes in their workspace as they add, modify, and remove content. For educators who intend to compose digital multimodal texts, organization as part of planning needs to be emphasized. Educators who adopt digital texts as part of their teaching materials need to recognize the importance of organizational activities while planning their texts since these activities reflect the changing nature of their composing environment.
As mentioned before, participants in this study composed their texts in the same environment in which they planned their texts; an observation that gives significance to organizing information as part of planning decisions. This observation also suggests that translating decisions, namely those pertaining to the technical aspect of content, were embedded activities. When plans and activities interleave, the act of translating is expectedly embedded within other composing decisions. Composers of digital multimodal texts, then, can expect that their translating activities may be activities embedded in other composing decisions. A writer in the act of adding words, for example, is in the midst of the act of translating but these words may then shape the very plan that they reified. A composer in the act of resizing an image, as another example, is also in the midst of the act of translating and this image may play a part in the composer’s later choice in content. In other words, by working in an environment where text was both planned and enacted, translating decisions are expectedly embedded within other composing decisions.
Writers of digital multimodal texts who translate content of varying modes of communication need to anticipate that they will adopt diverse technologies. When participants translated, they worked with technical aspects of words, sound, and images. For example, I observed participants edit sound files by either creating new recordings or deleting sections from audio files. I also observed participants work with the technical dimensions of images and words, which, for example, included modifying colors and adding words. The implication of such a broad range of media to translating activities is that other writers composing digital multimodal texts will need to acquaint themselves with multiple technologies. As with participants in this study who were able to translate material after adopting diverse technologies, other educators need to be aware that digital multimodal text composition is not limited to a single software or recording equipment. For example, participants in this study learned how to use audio recording equipment in order to create audio content, image-editing software to reshape images, and image capturing technologies to create images. This suggests that translating material for digital multimodal texts requires writers to become familiar with a variety of software and equipment in order to work with the technical aspects of multiple modes of communication.
Participants’ review of their progress may be part of their effort to overcome the complexity of composing digital texts. Review as a salient composing decision suggests that educators who compose digital texts review their progress for possible revisions of the text’s content, the quality of the text as a teaching material, and audiences. Other educators who intend on composing digital multimodal texts should expect to also face similar concerns. In other words, they need to expect to evaluate their texts for completeness and relevance. Furthermore, they need to expect to review the quality of the text as a teaching material, namely whether the text reflects its educational aims. Lastly, they need to review the text’s capacity to appeal to students. Though some of these reviewing activities theoretically relate to many different kinds of writers, reviewing the text from an educational perspective applies mainly educators.
While the specific review considerations identified in this study provide some insight into how such composing decisions may help composers wade through the complexity of digital multimodal text composition, the capacity of review considerations to be embedded within other composing decisions may also further such efforts. Because I observed participants in this study review their progress in the midst of other composing activities and because the evaluative aspect of review, specifically, has been observed as an embedded activity central to the digital multimodal composing process of children (Bruce, 2009), I am suggesting that composers of digital multimodal texts reduce the amount of uncertainty in their progress by embedding moments of review within other composing decisions. A similar suggestion has been noted in prior scholarship on complex alphabetic composing processes (Hayes & Nash, 1996), though I am using it to explain its role in digital multimodal text composition. Specifically, in this study, I observed how participants reviewed the relevance of material while in the midst of searching for content that is to be selected and, in turn, repurposed into an alternate context. At such moments, participants eased the uncertainty of such interrelated activities and decisions by embedding a moment of review and evaluate the relevance of content prior to proceeding forward with other composition activities and decisions. That is why I suggest that review, and possibly other composing activities that may be embedded in other parts of the process, may purposely reduce the complexity of digital multimodal text composition.
This study also suggests that searching is an important composing skills for writers of digital multimodal text. In previous scholarship, searching has not been discussed as much as selection but, when discussed, its importance was described as the composer’s ability to locate information on the networked structure of the internet or as part of documents for the web (Sirc, 2004; Zammit and Downs, 2002; Luke, 2003; Farkas & Farkas, 2000). I observed participants searching for content in various types of media, not just on the internet, as in the case of WW searching for a book on his bookshelves and then leafing through the book in order to reference content.
While searching as a composing skill consisted of locating information based on the content’s capacity to fulfill a goal, searching also included the more chaotic and technical dimension of navigating through windows, menus, and files. For educators who want to compose digital multimodal texts, this is a significant expansion of the concept of search because it provides a descriptive value to the method of composing within digital environments. I observed participants asking themselves not just where content was located but how to navigate through the computer and the internet and any other meaning-making resource in order to locate that content.
Selection is a salient composing decision identified by this study and is one of the most discussed issues in scholarship on contemporary texts. Early on in this scholarship’s effort to formulate a framework out of which to understand contemporary text composition, Johnson-Eilola (1998) argued that selection and arrangement are composing decisions important for understanding the capacity of digital texts. While I categorized arrangement as part of the planning aspect of composing, selection defined its own salient composing activity. I observed how the participating educators were faced with decisions to select content from an array of available information, and, in turn, select only specific content. They also faced situations where they had to select tools from an array of immediately available tools.
From this perspective, I provide an empirical foundation for the significance of selection for composers of digital multimodal texts that complements Johnson-Eilola’s (1998) theoretical assumptions. This also distinctly correlates with Sirc (2004), Bezemer and Kress (2008) and Manovich (2001) who identified selection as an essential factor for arranging content and creating hierarchy in contemporary texts and for working in digital multimedia environments. As participants in this study composed their texts, they used their capacity to select specific parts of an image or words from a previously created text to rearrange content and to order visual content with varying degrees of importance. Also, within their multimedia-authoring environments, participants had to choose between an array of immediately accessible lists of tools in menus and in bars. These observations can now provide an empirical indication for the theoretically identified importance of selection in digital multimodal text composition.
When addressing repurposing as a salient composing decision, this study suggests educators who intend on adopting new teaching practice by composing digital multimodal texts need to expect to encounter a sort of a paradigm shift. Early in JJ’s composition process, for example, she said that she was “pretty much building from scratch almost everything” when describing what material she already had available prior to composing her texts. Yet, the very material of her texts consisted of the software she was already teaching students how to use. She did not need to create new material because the material was the very software whose use she demonstrated to students in her texts. As with JJ, the other two participants created image files by “photographing” their screens using screen-capture technology and then integrating those images into their texts. Lastly, the extent of repurposing practices was observed as WW revised previously created PowerPoint slides from lectures he gave in earlier classes, embedded video clips from a TV show, and integrated publicly distributed PowerPoint slides from an organization’s online resources into his digital multimodal texts. Other educators who intend to integrate digital multimodal texts into their teaching material need to expect that multimedia-authoring technologies encourage them to seek content and therefore they need to be conscious of such practices.
Aside from the capacity of these technologies to create content through copy-and-paste activity, contemporary communication technologies offer educators a wide array of teaching resources at their disposal. Educators’ capacity to select starting points from such a wide array of resources makes their role crucial in designing teaching material for students who otherwise may approach the same accessible material without understanding how to decipher and arrange its learning possibilities. Furthermore, because this study focused on the composition process of experienced university educators, these findings suggest that the capacity to draw on an already amassed reservoir of teaching material may also be helpful in composing digital multimodal texts.