Department of English

21st Century Literacies: Multimodality and Writing Across the Curriculum

Professors Ouellette, Charles, Ball, and Muthyala

In spring 2017, Professors John Muthyala, USM Digital Humanities Initiative, and Jessica Ouellette, Director of Writing Programs, applied for and received a Title III High-Impact Practices grant, for a project titled 21st Century Literacies: Multimodality and Writing Across the Curriculum. As part of grant activities, they invited Cheryl Ball, Associate Professor of Digital Publishing Studies at West Virginia University, and Anita Charles, Director of Secondary Teacher Education at Bates College, to participate in several events that focused on incorporating multimodal learning in writing courses and courses across the university curriculum.

Professor Cheryl Ball is editor of the open-access, online journal Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, director of the Digital Publishing Institute, and Executive Director of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. Her scholarship includes Teaching Multimodal Composition: a Manifesto (forthcoming), The New Work of Composing: Computers and Composition, and Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects, among others.  As Co-Principal Investigator, Professor Ball is involved in building an open-access platform for multimedia academic publishing. Called Vega, this project is supported by a million dollar grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and executed in partnership with the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Professor Anita Charles is Director of Secondary Teacher Education at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. As a Fulbright Scholar in India from January to May 2016, she taught undergraduates and explored issues of literacy and inclusion in preK-12 schools and programs.  Subsequently, she is engaged in an ongoing research project studying inclusive education for children with disabilities in India.   Professor Charles has a Ph.D. from University of New Hampshire in the area of Adolescent Literacy.  Her dissertation, entitled “’It’s Just Part of What We Do’:  Adolescent Interactions with Multimodal Texts Across Social Spaces,”  won two national awards. Her interests in the field of education include Early and Adolescent Literacy (particularly in relation to new media) and Special Education.

Professor Muthyala noted that in the Digital Humanities and Writing Studies, the focus on generating text-based research papers through writing and revision is yielding to the recognition that the digital is enabling the integration of multiple modes—textual, visual, aural, gestural, spatial—in composing knowledge and information. It is the key reason why Professors Ball and Charles were invited to USM, because each specializes in a field whose intersection with another is generating important conversations about writing and reading in the 21st century.

On September 28, Professor Ball led a discussion on "Writing is Designing for our Future.” Digital communication is mainstream, with everyone--from babies to great-great-grandparents--consuming and producing digital media content for family, friends, businesses, organizations, and even schools.  Understanding why digital media is taught in writing classes in higher education is important for student-scholars as well as teachers, administrators, and the public. As the academic consortium the New London Group said, teaching students to be literate across multiple media helps the next generations to “design their social futures.” Professor Ball's talk discussed the current research and pedagogical approaches of digital media composition in writing-intensive classrooms in higher education and addressed questions about why we are bothering in the first place.

On September 29, Professors Ball and Charles presented on "Multiliteracies and New Media Writing" with a focus on multiliteracies in elementary and secondary education, college composition, English curricula; role of digital technologies in reading and writing; incorporating new media in course assignments; and, humanities majors, careers, and the changing marketplace.

Both sessions were well-attended, drawing students, staff, and faculty from across the university.