Resources on Teaching and Multimodality

“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.” — Bronwyn Williams

Many of us in composition, literature, and creative writing classes are using new media and and ever-expanding array of digital tools to support our teaching and our students’ learning. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is meant to be a starting point for instructors interested in learning more about the logistics, ethics, pedagogical value, and theories of multimodal composition, digital rhetoric, and digital humanities pedagogy. (And if “multimodal” is a word you keep hearing people say but doesn’t seem to mean something specific, you’re not alone! The term is contested, but for a mainstream approach to its definition in composition studies, check out Claire Lauer’s [2012] piece on defining multimodality and new media, including the difference between “modes” and “media.”)

As always, if you have any questions, or if you have suggestions to add to the list, please let us know in the comments or by email (see contact info below).

UW Resources

English CIC


  • Ongoing free workshops on digital technologies for UW faculty, staff, and students
  • Free customized in-class workshops for UW instructors – also check out our blog post on English department lecturer Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill’s experience with a UW-IT custom workshop on presentation software
  • Online tutorials on web publishing, graphics and design, digital video, digital audio, and documents and spreadsheets
  • Digital Audio Workshops in the Odegaard Sound Studio
  • Contact UW-IT by phone (206-221-5000), email, or in person at the UW Tower, C-3000, for advice on technologies and teaching tools

Pedagogical materials

Online resources for vetting multimodal and new media teaching tools, technologies, and pedagogies

Overviews of the history and theory of multimodal composition, digital rhetoric, and digital humanities

Engaging critical issues in/with multimodality

by Ann Shivers-McNair

Instructor Q&A: Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill on UWIT Workshops

Have you been thinking about incorporating a digital component to a writing assignment or classroom activity? Have you been holding back because you don’t feel comfortable teaching students how to use the tool? Good news! UW Information Technologies specialists will do a custom workshop for your class on the technology of your choice, tailored to the assignment or activity you’ve designed. You can check out the extensive list of software they cover, as well as instructions for setting up a custom workshop, here. (Note that you’ll need to be in a computer classroom for the workshop, so if you’re not teaching in the CIC, be sure to email me to see if there’s a computer classroom available during your class time.)

Don’t want to schedule a workshop during class time? You can point your students to the ongoing open IT workshops–which are free to students and instructors–on the same range of software tools (see the schedule here).

To give you an idea of what this might look like in your classroom, I interviewed principal instructor and EWP assistant director for ENGL 121 Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill about her success with a UW IT class workshop. In addition to describing the assignment and workshop, she also provided us with

  • a pre-workshop survey she conducted to gauge her students’ comfort levels with the presentation software the workshop would cover (see below)
  • a post-workshop anonymous evaluation of the workshop she asked students to complete (also below).

We highly recommend borrowing these pre- and post-surveys from Elizabeth so you can get the most out of your UW IT workshop (and cultivate a reflective teaching practice!).

The assignment: Students in my English 298 [IWP] writing link with Communication 201 had been assigned to groups based on their interest in shared topics. Within those groups, each student did an individual presentation, and then the group co-authored a presentation introducing their individual work. We modeled this on an academic conference panel. Introductions were 3-4 minutes and presentations about 5 minutes each, so a 4 person group took about 25 minutes. The presentations were an assignment in themselves, and, after students got feedback from peers and me, also served as a draft for the next assignment, in which students wrote individual essays on their topics, and co-authored an introduction to that collection of papers.

The workshop: Initially, I asked UW IT to offer a workshop during my class time in the MGH 082 lab to teach students how to use Google Sites, Prezi and PowerPoint. The UW IT staff helped me design a pre-workshop survey for my students to complete so that the workshop could target what they really needed support on. [See the survey below!] It ended up that all the students felt comfortable with power point, so UW IT offered a workshop on Prezi and Google Sites, and also explained that students have a 30 minute consultation with UW-IT available to them each quarter for help on presentations. Of the four student groups in my class, 2 did PowerPoint, 1 did Google Sites, and 1 used Prezi.

The workshop went well. We only had the CIC for an hour (because of the way our CIC schedule worked that quarter) and it might’ve been useful to have the full hour and 20 minutes for students to practice each method and ask questions, but it was fine, and I think possible in a 50 minute class if the pre-workshop survey is done so instruction can be targeted.

The assignment worked well. Because Communication 201 focused on mass media, and as a discipline is very interested in presentations and multimodality, it made a lot of sense for me to do a presentation assignment. Some students were nervous about presenting, but they appreciated the opportunity. It worked quite well to use a presentation as a draft in a sequence moving toward a paper. Kimberlee and I have done something similar in our English 281 “Investigating Seattle Communities” class in the past. I do focused instruction on working in groups, and I interact with the groups, give them clear guidelines for each stage, and have each individual assess the work of the group in an evaluation that comes in only to me — students know ahead of time that their participation in group work will be graded. I set aside a portion of the course grade — 15% — for the co-authored/group portion of the work. I was particularly pleased about how well the groups worked together, including a group with a very nervous international student who ended the quarter with a comment saying “I love my team!!”

Elizabeth’s pre-workshop survey questions for her students:

In Google Sites, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Setting up a Google site, creating and organizing pages, posting documents, posting images and videos, writing text around those images and video:

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In PowerPoint, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a PowerPoint presentation, creating a new slide, inserting images into a slide, inserting text into a slide, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

In Prezi, how many of the 5 following things do you feel comfortable doing:
Creating a Prezi presentation, creating a route through a Prezi, inserting images, inserting text, positioning text and images on a slide

I feel comfortable doing 1 or zero of these things
I feel comfortable doing 2 or 3 of these things
I feel comfortable doing 4 or 5 of these things
I feel very comfortable doing all these things, and more

Elizabeth’s students’ (anonymous Catalyst WebQ) evaluations of the workshop:
Very effective: 10
Quite effective, but I have a suggestion: 4
Effective: 2
Somewhat effective, but needs significant development: 0
Not effective: 0

Student optional open-ended comments about the workshop:

  • I would not have known about Google slides without that workshop.
  • It was really helpful learning how to use other presentation sites other than powerpoint
  • interesting and helpful to learn about prezi and google sites
  • This was extremely helpful since I have never used prezi before.
  • Very effective, I felt that I learned enough to be able to navigate all sites.
  • Pass out a sheet signing up to see UW-IT people.
  • The presentation on google sites was very helpful as well as the simple template that was provided for us. Also thank you for the help with prezi
  • Would have hoped for a little more time with instruction but understand that there was a time constraint

Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your success!

By Ann Shivers-McNair