Multimodal Composition Pedagogy: Approaching the Image Epistemologically

Use this format in whatever order you should choose. I developed the information in a linear fashion but Designed this publication in a way where readers can jump to different sections queued by images that reference sections positioned above or below but can make sense read independently of each other. Check out the links where your interest takes you and draw from it what you will. Enjoy! But for indexing the formatting is:

Article Background and Interpretation


Examples as a Potential Place to Go

Early cover to N. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death

Richard Marbeck states that Diana George’s conception of a Visual Pedagogy, “misses the opportunity to discuss design of visual artifacts as an activity distinct from the design of textual artifacts” (270). Our focus rather should be, “to think about the affective, embodied affordances of digital medias in which the wicked problems of designing reside” (270). Marbeck advocates, “invoking the vocabulary of design without fully embracing the wickedness of problems representable through that vocabulary” (276). Gunther Kress leans more wholly on the idea of the Image replacing the Word in composition studies. I look to utilize the epistemological approach put forth by Kress while leaning on the examples put forth by George to develop a pedagogical approach of my own that addresses mulitmodality in the composition classroom

According to Kress, “the process of learning: transformative engagement in the world, tranformation constantly of the self in that engagement, transformation of the resources for representation outwardly and inwardly” (300). Social history and location are important considerations embedded in the definitions of agency and author/authority issues when approaching the process of learning. With the changes in technology and broad global and historical social configurations, “the purpose of my talk is to provide essential ways of making sense of the changes in the landscape of communication, provide means of describing and analysing what is going on, and to provide means of navigating between the Scylla of nostalgia and pessimism and the Charybdis of unwarranted optimism” (284). The landscape of communication with technologies and the thorough understanding needed to apply elements as a methodology can be daunting but are necessary as a way of dealing with what Rhetoric means in the 21st century.

with Scylla

The challenge: develop a pedagogy that uses images and their creation in a way that does not simply mirror how students interact with texts and facilitates meaning-making and interpretation through Design (read as separate from Process Theories that dominated 90s Composition discussions)

Diana George’s mapping of Africa pre-European colonization tracks the continent through tribal distinctions > European pie-cutting > a modern incorporation of indigenous naming of countries that still suffer from geo-political separation of traditional tribal boundaries in a perfectly corrupt PoCo conceptualization: All. Through. Using. Images. … In the form of overlaying transparencies on an overhead projector.

The importance of the medium conveying information is not that it was visual in nature, but how the Design of the Visual allowed the students to experience the impact of African colonization outside of the page. The effect is immediate as the progression of what Africa looks like.

D. George notes, “thinking of composition as design shifts attention, if only momentarily, from the product to the act of production” (217). Those this momentariness may seem to be a ‘wicked problem’, it should not be avoided and instead embraced. Experiential learning leans heavily on epistemological concepts of forming meaning in the process of creating or interpreting. Even if fleeting, multimodal mediums are capable of making long term connections within the instance of happening or experience. It is for these reasons that we should be trying to develop a Visual Pedagogy if only to supplement work with text-only exercises and assignments.

I remember an Environment teacher in my High School pulling up a short video that showed population growth as a timeline seen here. He dimmed the lights with little introduction and asked us to respond to the video the following day using either a drawn picture or physical represenation. Responses varied from a tennis ball cut open and over filled with tack nails to a bowling ball painted Sherwin Williams style with the word ‘people’ dripping red over the continents and oceans. Though the prompt was simply a multimedia presentation similar to a thousand used in secondary classrooms, the assignment to design a representation of the information while using the fewest words yielded some interesting results that speak to a pedagogy that is multimodal.

Early Chinese Map of the World Purportedly From 1418

I caught myself while typing the caption to the above image and noticed the date attached to the image. BigThink and others puts forth that this map was copied by the Turks in 1513, meaning that the East had a profound knowledge of the geography of the Americas before Europeans ever had the opportunity to see either side of the continents. Antarctica too, is mapped out with surprising accuracy given the technology and our understanding of history at the time. Without anything else than the map and a date, an alternative to history can be deduced (even if California wound up being attached), that radically challenges the ideas of both ‘civilazation’ and ‘discovery’ in the context of the Western World. If this was a Viking, Russian, or African map of the continents the effects would be the same.

Because the continents were Designed with striking accuracy for the time, we can deduce a radical claim that challenges our preconceived notions about national holidays, textbooks, and European ethnocentrism in a single visual image.

Disputed map of North American PreContact

The cocept of developing a Visual Argument assignment is central to approaching a Visual Pedagogy. Analytic philosopher Anthony Blair is summarized by George is saying that, “an argument must make a claim (an assertion), motivated by reasons for the claim, communicated to an audience in an attempt to convince that audience (the recipient) to accept the claim on the basis of the reasons offered” (225). George build on this in saying, “visual argument (and one I use with my students) is to begin with visual parody, especially of the sort familiar to readers of Adbusters or the Guerilla Girls. Visual parody, like verbal parody, does make an overt claim, assertion, or proposition that draws particularly on comparison, juxtaposition, and intertextuality to offer the assertion to an audience for acceptance” (226). Using familiar, and hence approachable, angles such as using humor, satire, or parody to address issues is a good way of introducing students to alternative mediums.

It’s important to stress that we see Visual Arguments every day. Especially with the issues of advertisements, you can tell students something similar to: every dollar you spend is a vote for something you believe in! This statement makes it easy to see how ads for everthing from tobacco, cleaning products, and entertainment choices are making arguments. But more than simply noting that a claim is being made, the reasons behind the use of elements and how they are designed to achieve a desired effect should be at the focus of such an analysis. Introductory assignments could contain examples like the one above, where text is used to tweak an image to show underlying themes and assumptions. More advanced assignments would include rearranging and dealing with only the visual elements independent of the use of text.


An important aspect in utilizing George’s propositions is the difference in terms between transformation and trasduction as processes of representation. The first, “involves changes within a mode” and the second is where, “semiotic material is moved across modes, from one mode (or set of modes) to another moder (or set of modes)” (235). Bernstein’s “notion of recontextualization is useful in two distinct and connected senses, socially and semiotically”.

The focal point in my emphasis is that a Visual Pedagogy can, “show how meaning making is moved from social site to social site, from medium to medium, from context to context, in each case requiring social, semiotic remaking and often entailing epistemological change” (236).

Lutkewitte, Claire. Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Bedford/St.Martins, 2014

Yerba mate, found in every corner of the globe

One of the most important facets of a Visual Pedagogy is that it allows students to use something familiar within their native Discourse Community to address issues in the academic Discourse Community. The familiarity is not only inviting, but helps make meaning something is connective instead of disjuncted/disconnected/isolated from the concerns in their native community.

It is important to acknowledge the role of our Visual Culture in the classroom. Students are dialoguing with/through technology on their own accord, not only does incorporating these already existent modes in the composition classroom rescpect the prevalence but utilizes it to instill meaning making. If we are looking for the correct formatting and grammatical spelling alone we are missing the main point of meaning making in the context and critical analysis skills students should be developing in the liberal arts. Not only as a means of engagement, technologies use in the classroom can cover the affordances available by questioning the very intent and purpose of advertising by dealing with the components that make up the design behind the work.

Visual Pedagogy can include activities including maps:

historical reworkings of maps to exhibit understandings of political movement and contact events

conceptual mapping of the decisions made to move from secondary to post-secondary coursework

imagined alternatives to the existing barriers between geographic areas, redrawing the continents as a way of positioning an Ideal ideology

use a set number of limits:

depict home in 3, 5, and 10 photographs

develop a campaign literature epacket to describe the political issues for voting a particular way or not voting at all

in a single homepage, arrange all of the information that would going into a research paper using the space and affordances available

make a visual representation of euphemisms:

“downsizing” and what the effects look like from multiple points of view

“canary in the mineshift” by using an example

“big-boned”, “powder my nose”, “go all the way”, “first rodeo”….


It is important that the production be put into the forefront alongside the product. It is not only a polished end result that it is desired in a Visual Pedagogy but also an understanding behind how Multimodal presentations are constructed.

“all media work us over completely” — marshall mcLuchan