- Understand the use of multimodality
Multimodal texts mix modes in all sorts of combinations. While often one mode will predominate, more frequently, several modes combine to communicate a message or argument. We will look at several examples of multimodal texts below.
Example of multimodality: Scholarly text
Here is an example of a standard scholarly book in a print edition. This text relies primarily on the linguistic mode. In other words, it is made up primarily of letters and words. However, because most texts are multimodal in some sense, there are at least three modes at work in this example.
- The linguistic mode operates in the printed written text.
- The visual mode operates in the formatting of the text (such as the use of fully justified margins) and in the choice of typography (such as the different fonts used for the chapter title and the use of brackets around the chapter title).
- The spatial mode can be seen in the text’s arrangement (such as the placement of the epigraph from Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning at the top right and wrapping of the paragraph around it).
Example of Multimodality: Podcast+Website
Sometimes a text in a single modality can be augmented or expanded by other modalities. Take a look at the website for the first episode Someone Knows Something podcast. A podcast is entirely an aural text, but the website for the episode expands the podcast with images, text, and video related to the original narration. Thus, this episode’s web page is a multimodal refashioning of the original text.
Example of Multimodality: NPR’s Daily Picture Show
In this journalistic piece, which consists largely of print illustrated by a few key pictures, we get insight into Geoffrey Hiller’s longstanding intellectual and visual involvement with the people and places of Myanmar. Coburn Dukehart’s “A Long-Standing Love Affair with Myanmar,” an episode in National Public Radio’s feature, “Daily Picture Show,” is a journalistic report about Hiller with highly symbolic, if realistic, photos from his journeys in the country of Myanmar. Hiller has since published a book of photos on the subject, entitled Daybreak in Myanmar, which is available for sale. As a book of photos, Hiller’s work relies primarily on the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. But if you visit Hiller’s professional website, you can find many multimodal pieces, most of them in the Flash format. (Note: Flash productions are not visible on iPad or phones but are visible on a computer.)
Check out this intriguing multimodal text, “Poor Millennials,” that uses a host of different modes to communicate. How many modes does this text employ? How do you think the multimodality of this text increases its power to communicate its message and ideas?
Once upon a time, being literate meant the ability to communicate through reading and writing. Of course, literacy was not the only way to communicate. Oral storytelling, for example, is a tradition of communication that precedes and continues to this day and does not require traditional literacy for the storyteller or the listener.
Today, however, we know that communication encompasses the ability to produce, consume, and analyze ideas and information across a variety of modes. As a result, scholars like the New London Group have coined a new term, multiliteracy, which acknowledges that communication is not just traditional reading and writing and recognizes that students of communication need to be proficient across a range of modes. Too often traditional education focuses exclusively on reading and writing. A focus on multiliteracy includes but also moves beyond just reading and writing to consider the ways in which all of use need to be multiliterate to function effectively as communicators in today’s world.