On multimodality and course design

I love text. Love it. Love to read it. Love it so much that my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in English literature. Love it so much that when I give presentations, I spend ages trying to select the most appropriate font to express my meaning. Love it so much that I write books (my husband calls writing academic books my hobby…I really need to get a hobby). I could go on, but I won’t. In short, I’m really into text…

Except when I’m not. I think about how I approach Web-based stuff. Although I truly love reading, I don’t want to read a bunch of stuff online. Perhaps the technology is just not “there” yet or perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like seeing too much text online just drags me down. I don’t want to have to look at a lot of bullet points. I don’t want to see lines and lines of links, sitting there waiting for me to click on them….

Rather, online I want mutlimodality; I want pictures and sounds and words. I want those pictures and words and sounds to have an easy and comfortable coexistence. I want them to relate and interrelate and make my online experience an easy, informative, and visually-appealing one.

I think that multimodality is something I want to translate into my online teaching as well. (It’s occuring to me at the moment that it would be nice to work on it in my blogging! I’ll have to do that sometime). So I’m thinking about the online course design process and my next online course and how I would very much like to avoid designing a primarily text-driven course. The question is how to go about that. Todd Conaway’s post, in which he describes asking teachers to draw their courses, resonated with me. Seems like drawing is actually a good way to go, and I have done drawing and storyboarding when designing an online course before with good success. So in theory, I am planning to start the design of my next course by storyboarding….

In practice, I’ve got couple of issues to contend with. As it turns out, the course I’ll be teaching next term is Reading Research in Higher Education. This is a course, as the title suggests, in which students learn to read social science research studies related to higher/postsecondary education. They also learn to write about these studies, as in a literature review. In sum, then, it is a course about texts which involves producing text.

The other issue is that, if I teach more than half of the course online, I am pretty well required to use Blackboard. I have not used this LMS before (I have used WebCT and eLearning), but on a quick glance, it appears to me to be fairly text-oriented. I’m sure that there are opportunities to upload videos and include images and such, and I’m guessing that there’s a way to work with it so that the course layout doesn’t appear to be so text-y, but on a first look, pretty much what I see is text.

So here is how I am set up for next term:

  • As a person who is  enamoured with text;
  • As a designer working in Blackboard, text driven as it appears to be;
  • As a teacher who is to help students learn how to read and write about a certain type of text.

Storyboarding this as a fairly mutlimodal class should be a really interesting exercize. I believe that I have some hard work, and creative thinking, ahead of me!


13 thoughts on “On multimodality and course design

  1. I am also a font junkie. Combine a love for text with the graphic design aspects of my job, and oh my goodness – I spend entirely too much time looking at dafont.com. I even have a font board on pinterest.
    I wanted to put in my two cents worth about the design of your research class. As I mentioned earlier today, I prefer actually showing up for a class in person, but I may not have been clear about the fact that I really enjoy having access to course materials and assignments online, so I guess I actually prefer a hybrid model. I think the task oriented portions a course are best assigned and completed online with the discussion and reflection portions of a course happening in class. There’s just no substitution for the face to face expression of ideas and the relationship building / networking that takes place in a classroom.
    And for the record, I agree with you about weekend courses.

    • Hey that’s interesting! I’ll have to check out your pinterest board sometime!
      Maybe would be good to think about course next term as a flipped classroom design. Hmmm. Wonder if anyone would like to collect data on it 😉

    • Ok! Actually I do think it’ll be a good project, and a way to combine teaching and research!

  2. Interesting post! I agree with you that when I am online I want to hear and watch the text or content rather than read it. I will say that the caviate to this is that I have switch to reading almost exclusively on my iPad. I made the switch when I first started Grad school because I knew I would be reading a lot, but now I almost prefer it. Almost is the key word. Like you said, there are some instances where I am reading something and it is really deep and I feel the technology just isn’t “there” yet. I want to be able to underline, highlight and put comments off to the side. These are all things you can do with an iPad but it is much more difficult.
    As I think about this more, I wonder if the technology isn’t “there” yet or if I am not.

    • Yes, I do know what you mean about the iPad. I have started reading a good bit on mine too, but interestingly much of what I read is actually more mutlimodal on it. The Chronicle of higher education is more visual on my iPad than it is on my computer. I still have a hard time, as you suggestion, reading indepth online.

  3. Claire,

    Enjoyed your post. As much as I am online, I still find that I prefer the printed page. I do make use of reading books on my iPad. But, it is no substitute for the real thing.


  4. I think most course management systems are fairly text-y, owing to their origins. There are certainly ways to include multimedia and to design so that they are more visually oriented. I think the key is to follow basic design principles to help your course and materials be as navigable, intuitive, readable, and friendly as possible. One concern/challenge as you incorporate more multimedia is to ensure that the course remains accessible (ie does not present any barriers to students who may navigate the course in different ways).

    • Hmmm. That’s a really good point about accessiblity. I’ve been thinking a little bit about it, but not enough yet (for example how to go about subtitling videos). I will give it more thought!

  5. Thank you for your Week 4 Blog entry. It is interesting to be “listening” about your love of text, for I am a true lover of the ‘text to speech’ feature on my Mac, iphone and kindle. I love to listen and view the reading material. This method was very beneficial for completion of my MFA studies. I agree with your feelings of internet text. I also feel the same about most web-based videos. Video should not be more than 6 minutes long. My query is, if my online attention span is so limited, what is the attention span of my potential students? And how to keep online attention span continuing through a weekly lesson agenda, never mind a semester?

    • I agree with you on video. I feel like I can pay attention for about 5 or 6 minutes (if it’s an interesting video). I think your questions are really good ones! I surely don’t have the answers to them. I am trying to think through those issues myself for my next course.

  6. Pingback: Just enough and not too much | Claire Major's Blog

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