Hi, friends! Brittany, Jenny, and Tom here. Welcome to our colloquium presentation.

In the spirit of sustainability & multimodality, we’ve chosen to make this blog as a “digital handout” of sorts. On this blog you’ll find summaries of our presentation & links to sources on multimodal composition, as well as a sample digital life place narrative, sample LPE lesson plans, and revised assignment sheets.

We hope that our presentation and these additional resources may help you integrate multimodal assignments into your own classrooms.


“We must recognize that English Departments no longer sustain culture behind impenetrable walls of print. Culture, the product of our human relations, now produces texts in multiple, often overlapping forms. If it has become acceptable to recognize the work of scholars in English Departments who use cultural studies approaches to texts in everything from film to clothing to museum exhibits, it should be part of an English Department’s mission to regard its students as capable of composing intellectual work in forms other than traditional print essays. And we should also recognize that other disciplines across campus are increasingly moving to multimodal texts in their courses and that our students need to know how to write to learn and write to inform and persuade in these forms as well as they do in print. We need to teach the forms of literacy that are producing the culture on our campuses and in our communities.” — Browyn Williams


What is multimodal composition?

Multimodal texts are works that use more than just words and letters to communicate a thought–they may include audio, video, photographs, drawings–basically, any visual element used to supplement the text in some purposeful way. When multimodal texts are viewed, analyzed, and created in the composition classroom, students and instructors are engaging in multimodal composition! Podcasts, blogs, collages, video or audio essays, comic strips, and storyboards all fall under the category of multimodal composition assignments.


Why should we integrate multimodal assignments into the Writ 101 curriculum?

In a broad sense, multimodal assignments can help our students develop visual and digital literacy, which is key in a world where new technologies are constantly emerging. As Williams points out in the passage quoted above, our students are already interacting in digital contexts that require multimodal writing. By assigning multimodal projects, we prepare our students to effectively communicate in these contexts.

In terms of our unique Writ 101 curriculum, multimodal assignments such as the digital Life Place Essay can help us achieve several of the Outcomes for College Writing I, particularly:

  • Genre: students will see how composing a multimodal text differs from composing a written one & gain familiarity with composing in new genres
  • Rhetoric: students will learn key terms & techniques of visual rhetoric, such as juxtaposition, arrangement, framing, point of view, metonymy, and symbolism
  • Purpose: students will explore how shifted mediums can affect their approach to engaging their audience–for instances, how might an image be used to appeal to a viewer’s emotion? To enhance a written scene or description?
  • Collaboration: students will practice new types of collaborative work as they view and respond to each others’ visual texts
  • Process: students will strive to establish an effective process even when composing in new modes through storyboarding & maintaining a Work Log
  • Technologies: students will use new technologies, including audio & video software, recording equipment, file-sharing websites, etc., and develop awareness of how these technologies change their composing processes
  • Conventions: students will work to understand conventions of multimedia genres

We feel the best place to introduce the makings of a digital narrative is during the Life Place Essay. As we all can agree, this is likely the time during the semester where students feel most confident in their writing. In offering students a digital means to further explore their writing voice, it seems appropriate to send them on a digital adventure following an assignment that already requires them to write on a subject they know very well – themselves. I imagine most of our students are already comfortable with digital expressions, as I’m sure they spend a considerable amount of time tagging, commenting, posting and discussing their weekend adventures on their laptops, holed up in their dorm rooms. Why not offer them an excuse to spend even more time on their computers, while offering them a new set of media skills, creating a product they can feel proud of and receive actual credit for?

 The digital narrative can parallel the Life Place Essay in several respects; however, the most obvious seems to be a physical representation of their writing which students can leave WRIT 101 with. It also may serve as a good discussion base to address the current place of composition in our digital world. No doubt we have had consistent student complaints during various units and assignments that beg the question of the “point of writing about my hometown” in college…However, the digital representation of a Life Place Essay speaks directly to market of digital narratives in the 21st century most often seen in broadcast journalism. Perhaps by showing students an example of NPR’s “This American Life” or any in-depth, on the ground coverage by MSNBC, our students will begin to see the value of a different sphere of composition and that indeed their voices matter, whether it’s in print, verbally recorded or through pictures.

 Of course, this will take extra time and energy on our end, but let’s not forget that as we challenge our students to stretch their limits of writing, where they can go and what they can do with it, we stretch ourselves in what we’re able to offer our students.

As composition instructors, we’ve all likely found that common assessment strategies should be adapted to best fit our teaching style, our curriculum focus, and our students’ needs. Here are some resources on multimodal assessment that might help you develop your evaluation strategies:

  • Assessing New Literacies: Perspectives from the Classroom, edited by Anne Burke and Roberta F. Hammett
  • Responding and Assessing” by Sonya C. Borton and Brian Huot, published in Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers (ed. Cynthia L. Selfe)
  • Sample digital narrative evaluation form, intended for grading the multimodal project; consider using a traditional comment-based form for the written portion of the assignment. [.doc version] [PDF]

Technology Survey:

Before beginning the unit on digital narratives, you may want to conduct a brief technology survey with your students. This will allow you to know their prior experiences with computers, whether they have access to computers at home, and if so, what kind, what operating system, and what software will work on them. Here is a link to a sample technology survey for Writ 101.



The university has all the equipment your students will need to compose their digital narratives. They can check out microphones or USB voice recorders from IT Central, Social Science 120. They have 15 voice recorders and 10 microphones. The equipment can be checked out for one night or over a weekend. Here’s a map with Social Sciences highlighted in yellow; note that it’s very close to the LA building!

{image from here}


If you’d like to have an IT Specialist come in to give a demonstration on using the recorders and microphones, contact Adam Carroll at adam.carroll@umontana.edu.

Here’s the general contact information for IT Central:

phone: 243-HELP (4357)

email: ITCentral@umontana.edu

hours: Monday – Friday: 8:00am- 5:00pm



  • Audacity, the audio editing software, is available for free here. Your students can record their narratives using the USB recorders or microphones, then upload these mp3 files to Audacity for editing. Audacity will work on both Windows & Mac computers. Here’s the help page for Audacity, and here are some extensive tutorials.
  • Windows Movie Maker (WMM), which your students can use to add photos to their mp3 narration, is available for free here. WMM will only work on Windows computers. Here’s the help forum for WMM.
  • iMovie is the alternative to Windows Movie Maker for those that don’t have Windows computers. It should be installed on your students’ Macs. Be sure to double check that your students have iMovie installed.

If you’d like someone to come in and demonstrate how to use Audacity, WMM, or iMovie, just contact one of us–we’d love to help you out.


Campus computer labs:

The Technology Training Center, located in the Education building, room 112, has 26 computers with the necessary multimedia software installed. It’s an excellent room for demonstrating how to use the software, and students who don’t have access to the software at home can also use it to complete their projects. They should simply check the room schedule, here, to ensure that the room is open.

Here is a list of software capabilities of the TTC; contact Jonathan Crummett (Jonathan.Crummett@mso.umt.edu), Program Coordinator, if you have any more questions about the lab.

Contact Matt House, Administrative Associate to the Dean of Education, to schedule time in the TTC: 406/243-4911 (office); Matt.House@umontana.edu.

The Windows & Mac computers at the library also have Windows Movie Maker & iMovie (but not Audacity) installed. Students who do not have access to computers at home can use these to finalize their projects; they’ll just need a USB to save their work on.

The digital Life Place Essay assignment gives you the perfect opportunity as an instructor to teach your students about copyright law & the logistics of requesting permission from content owners. Plus, for legal reasons, you’ll want to make sure that they’re all adhering to copyright law when creating their projects.

In their narratives, your students may want to use photos, images, sound clips, or music that is copyrighted. Any texts or images published in a fixed medium are copyrighted–this includes photos posted on public websites such as Google images or Flickr. So what does this mean in terms of copyright law? What materials are our students legally allowed to use?

For an excellent resource on copyright law, see UM LibGuide on Copyrights and the general guidelines below:


Fair Use:

Your students may be able to use copyrighted material without seeking the content owner’s permission if their project is protected under Fair Use. There are four factors to Fair Use:

  • Nature of the work used: Is the copyrighted work fiction or non-fiction? Usually, using non-fiction is protected under Fair Use moreso than fiction.
  • Substantiality: How much of the copyrighted work is being used? Typically, the more of the work that is used, the less protected the project is–for example, if your students want to use a whole series of photographs from one source or an entire song, they might encounter some difficulty.
  • Transformative effects: Does the copyrighted work form the basis for a new factual or creative work? The more transformative the project (i.e. the more you alter the content away from its original form or remove it from its original context), the more it’s protected under Fair Use.
  • Market effects: Does usage of the copyrighted work in the new project affect sales or potential sales of the original work?

You should encourage your students to consult Columbia University’s Fair Use Checklist to determine if their planned usage of the copyrighted material falls under Fair Use. If they do not feel that their project would be protected under Fair Use, you should encourage them to contact the copyrighted content-owner to ask their permission. Click here for a letter template that your students can use to request permission.

According to Samantha Hines, UM’s Distance Education Coordinator and leader of Mansfield Library’s “Copyright and Today’s Technologies” workshop, most educational projects are protected under Fair Use as long as the projects are not posted openly on the internet. Thus, if you want your students to post their digital narratives online, you will need to use a password-protected media-sharing site such as Vimeo. Not only is Vimeo free, but it also allows you to create a class channel. You can change the privacy settings so that only designated moderators can log in and view the site. After your students sign up for free Vimeo accounts, you can add them as channel moderators; this allows them to access the channel and upload their projects onto it. Since only moderators (your students) can view the channel, their projects will thus be password-protected and all copyright usage will fall under Fair Use; they should not need to contact content-owners for permission. To make doubly sure that the projects will not be accessed by outsiders, your students can also password protect the videos they upload. Vimeo is superior to YouTube in this regard–it’s a more private way to share student projects & ensure Fair Use protection.

In addition to being a great project-sharing site for the LPE, you can search for high-quality videos to use in other lessons or activities–there’s tons of great clips about sustainability (click here for an excellent series on sustainability). Vimeo makes it easy for you to search for other clips to add to your channel, so you can pick out what you’d like your students to view in class or as homework. It’s also (in my opinion) more aesthetically pleasing than YouTube. Judge for yourself–here’s a screenshot of my Vimeo class channel:


Creative Commons:

The Creative Commons license allows content creators to decide how others may use their materials in new projects. Each license has specifications and guidelines that you must adhere to when using the content–but, long story short, the copyright holders have usually granted students permission to use their materials in educational projects. The Creative Commons online database is a free and easy way for your students to search for Creative Commons licensed materials, including images on Google or Flickr, videos on blip.tv, and music on Jamendo.

Other questions?

If you have any further questions about copyright law, Fair Use, or Creative Commons, contact Tom at Thomas.Seiler@umconnect.umt.edu or UM librarian Samantha Hines at Samantha.Hines@umontana.edu. You may also consider attending one of the Mansfield Library workshops on copyright & technology; click here for a schedule & sign-up.