Multimodal…Multimedia…New Media…What Does It All Mean?!

While reading the Multimodal Composition — a Critical Sourcebook, I found myself engaging and questioning the texts assigned in terms of how I would want to develop a course (it would have to be a whole course I’ve decided, because just a section would be nowhere near enough time to fully develop an understanding to the point of where the students can use the tools and techniques and information outside of the classroom) of Composition and/or Argument & Exposition.

For the assignment given in the Composition Theory 6930 class, I thought why not develop a beta lesson plan as a pedagogical exercise for myself to see what direction I would take a course of either (or both) Composition and Argument & Exposition with Multimodal Composition front and center.

I have chosen to start in the beginning of the book and use the piece written by Claire Lauer titled Contending with Terms: “Multimodal” and “Multimedia” in the Academic and Public Spheres as it gives a very good breakdown of the terms that are frequently used, interchanged, and given vastly different contexts within the realm of Multimodal Composition. What follows is a lesson that if used in Composition and/or Argument & Exposition would be wholly online, within the sphere of this blog page. It would be ideal if the students had a working Medium page too (or somehow had access to a course specific page, but that would be further down the line of the course content creation process), so they could post/re-post or add/subtract, etc and interact with the content of this lesson plan. But this is only beta, so it is for practice use only at this moment.

Now. On to the lesson plan.

Multimodal Composition: Huh?!

Questions that need to be answered about Multimodal Composition:

The Whats

  1. What in the world is Multimodal Composition? Is it like Multimedia Composition? What about New Media?
  2. What is so important about Multimodal Composition anyways?

3. What makes writing Multimodal? Or Multimedia? Or New Media?

The Whys

  1. Why should I care about Multimodal Composition?
  2. Why are we doing this? How will it help me outside of this class?
  3. Why are all the terms and the content in books or articles so…soooo…over my head? Are there simpler terms?

Good questions, right? I know — I had them too. But, they will be answered. Have no fear.

Think of this post as your cheatsheet to terms, definitions, and answers to your questions that might (actually will) pop up throughout navigating this course. Come back to this post whenever you find yourself in a bog of confusion or if you’ve forgotten the definition of a term.

Before those questions are answered, perhaps a few definitions need to be put down into type on the screen.

Multimodal: According to the text on page 2, the term can be defined as “communication using multiple modes that work purposefully to create meaning.”

Sounds rather textbookie, doesn’t it? But it is a good place to start. It sounds a lot like the idea of using different ways or platforms of sharing information (like social media, this post, Google, digital art or online content— more on that later, etc…) to get your point across. Go ahead and click the term and see the definitions that pop up. Start thinking about how you would define the term Multimodal in your own way. Also, try going here for seeing a definition of Multimodal.

Multimedia: On page 26 of the text, Lauer defines this terms as “the integration of two or more communications media.”

Huh? Communications what? Think about how you either receive information or express information. What ways come to mind? Think about advertisements, videos, sound clips, television, art, written words…the list is nearly endless.

When you combine two or more of these flows of information, you begin to create a patchwork or network that helps you to communicate what it is that you want to say in ways well beyond just typed words on a white page. Click the term and after reading the definitions, start thinking about ways that you already use multimedia as a tool to communicate.

Composition: For the sake of this class, Composition will be defined as the creation of content in order to share your view, your opinion, your research, your interests.

This does not mean just writing essays or papers. Of course there will be some of those in this class, but they aren’t the focus. The focus will be on combining written (typed) words with media and content from a large variety of sources. Go ahead and click on the term here like you did with Multimodal and see what definitions there are and start thinking about how you want to define Composition for this course.

You will probably see Multimodal and Multimedia used interchangeably (that is, one is used instead of the other, but with the intended same meaning). It is no big deal — as long as you remember that mode is the expression of information while media are the tools used to express that information.

Okay. So we’ve gotten definitions started. Awesome. Time to tackle those questions from the beginning of this post.

The Whats

  1. What in the world is Multimodal Composition? Is it like Multimedia Composition? What about New Media?

The definitions above have helped to narrow down what some of these wibbley-wobbley and teachery (read:vague) terms and words mean. But what are they when put next to each other? Another good question! Both Multimodal and Multimedia work in very similar ways in the expression of information. The path they take to get there is a bit different, remember? Multimodal is more your expression through two or more modes you create while Multimedia is the use of two or more forms or media (already made) to express your information.

Got that? Basically you’re delivering the exact same package, but with different delivery services.

What about New Media? If you click the term, you’ll see that New Media uses the great powers of the internet to convey it’s information and meaning. And it usually sticks strictly to the internet.

A lot of what New Media plays with is how to turn a form of expression just enough to make it new again — to create a point where you as the reader (or engager, or the interpreter, or the player…there’s a lot of different ways to define your role when interacting with New Media) becomes intrigued by what is going on.

A really nifty way to see New Media in action is to go here if you have twitter:

It takes tweets and makes them into various poetic forms.

Type in damn near any Twitter handle and play around.Nifty huh? (@Fish88Marie is Twitter handle ya’ll will want to use when the link doesn’t work)

Some other cool New Media things to play with: — follow the instructions on the homepage — like Disney’s Fantasia, but with letters — an interactive story where you as the reader can change to structure and flow

Anyways — back to answering questions.

2. What is so important about Multimodal Composition anyways?

It is important because, without thinking about it, we already do it. No, really we do. How often do you copy and paste a link onto your Facebook wall and type up a little blurb to go along with it? How often do you send memes or gifs to friends to express your current mood or situation without words? Even full emoji text conversations could fall under the Multimodal Composition and/or Multimedia Composition umbrella.

Everyday you are doing and utilizing Multimodal and Multimedia Composition — so doing it in class just makes sense, right? Right!

3. What makes writing Multimodal? Or Multimedia? Or New Media?

This is the one I WANT YOU to ponder. Use multimodal, multimedia, and New Media sources to response. I DO NOT WANT A WRITTEN ESSAY. AT. ALL. Find sources…compile them…organize them…use them and ONLY them to express what this all means to you as you understand it now. (You can include small written blurbs to explain certain choices or sources etc…)

The Whys

  1. Why should I care about Multimodal Composition?

Why shouldn’t you?! Like stated in the What section, Multimodal is something you already do. So why wouldn’t you want to be better at it? This course has the aim of helping you to transfer your skills of multimodal and multimedia expression and sharing in the social side of your life to the academic side.

We are going to use social media and other forms of electronic and non-electronic media to express, convey, and share the information that you want to an audience — so the more connections you can make to help your reader understand the better.

2. Why are all the terms and the content in books or articles so…soooo…over my head? Are there simpler terms?

A lot of times textbooks and the people who create or compile them include these big terms because they are the terms and definitions that are being used at the present moment to express the information that needs to be shared. While this can be confusing, aggravating, and at times damn near maddening, it is important that when you come across these terms or words or phrases to go and find the definition and then put it into your own words. That is one of the reasons why the authors of textbooks do that in the first place.

(How I usually feel when I come across those terms and must go to the Googler machine)

3. Why are we even doing this? How will it help me outside of this class?

You get to answer this one. Just like with question 3 in the What section, you are responsible for answering this two part question ONLY with Multimodal, Multimedia, and New Media.

I want to see why you think this is important, or how you think (as of this moment in the semester) this course will help you.


So, Multimodal Composition, Multimedia Composition, and New Media. Oooffff…it’s a lot to take in, huh?

But, this is only the beginning, so don’t freak out if all of this is still too much to take in at once.

Multimodal, remember, is your creation of avenues of expression to share the information that you want to.

Multimedia, on the other hand, is the use of already existing media to share the information that you want to.

New Media is the the shifting of already published media (or the use of a popular form) to make the person interacting with it stop and see something new.


(Dun dun dun)

For the next class meet-up, this is what you need to have completed:

  1. Ponder both questions #3 from the What and Why sections of this post. Make a response. Like I mentioned earlier, I DO NOT WANT a typed up essay. Use these forms (Multimodal, Multimedia, New Media) to answer the questions.
  2. AS WELL as create understandings that you can utilize for the terms in the definitions section (use this post, the textbook, the internet, other written or typed texts…or use objects to represent how you understand the terms mentioned in this post).

For both of these assignments, you are not required to make your work strictly on the internet. Want to sculpt or diorama your answers? Go ahead. Want to make a Youtube music video? Do it! Somehow making a 3D venn diagram out of candy? Crazy, but feel free. However you express it (or want to express it), just please PLEASE avoid just writing up a boring essay.

Bring your work to class (in the form that you’ve created them in), along with your computer so we can all see and share what everyone’s come up with as well as dive into the ocean of the internet to see what we as a whole can find about Mutlimodal Composition.

Questions? Good!