Right now, most of USU's English 1010 classes meet via Zoom on Monday and Friday, and have online lessons and discussion posts via Canvas on Wednesday. When we were young, idealistic graduate instructors just starting out a few months ago, the online lessons were already there for us, but soon the training wheels were taken off and we had to create our own content. Luckily several of us developed a little Communist system where we take turns creating the content and sharing it with the others to use and modify as they see fit. This is the online lesson I created for this coming Wednesday to introduce the final major assignment. Mine is written in rather a different tone than anyone else's, which may prompt some of my colleagues' students to either wonder when their instructor got a sense of humor or what their instructor was smoking at the time, but I had to be true to my artistic vision and they can take it or leave it.
It’s very unlikely that you’ve made it to adulthood without becoming familiar with the concept of a remix as it pertains to music. A remix puts a twist on an existing song by adding, removing and/or changing elements to give it a fresh sound. Sometimes it’s even better than the original (e.g. the VNV Nation remix of Apoptygma Berzerk’s “Kathy’s Song”, the Enigma remix of Sarah Brightman’s cover of Hooverphonic’s “Eden”, or PBS’ official remix of the theme song to “Tiny Planets” which is a cute little show that you might be too young to have watched as a kid, to name a few).
A multimodal remix is the same concept, but you do it with an essay instead of a song as you adapt the concept to a new rhetorical situation. Simple, right?
“Multimodal” refers to the multiple modes of communication:
Linguistic - The way you use words, which obviously has been the heaviest focus in this class so far.
Aural - The way you use sound. Not so much a factor in this class so far unless you read your essays out loud.
Visual - The way you use images, such as the artifacts in your discourse analysis essays.
Gestural - The way you use gestures. You probably could have figured that out yourself.
Spatial - The way you arrange things in relation to each other.
Every artifact, even a simple essay, is multimodal. The essay, though primarily linguistic, also depends on the visual and spatial arrangement of the words. (Kassner 42-43) Almost every time I start a new Word document, the first thing I do is “Justify” the text because it just looks better than having the words align on the left and go all wonky on the right.
Since the multimodal remix is a new project, I don’t have any samples to demonstrate it. I would make one myself except I’m too busy with my own, not nearly as interesting stuff for my own classes. But let’s walk through what it might look like in theory.
Let’s look at one of the Investigating the Conversation sample essays, “Interactions Between Air Pollution and COVID-19”. I would have preferred almost any topic besides COVID-19, but both of the sample essays deal with COVID-19 so we’ll just have to make the most of it. I don’t know who wrote the sample essay so I’m going to refer to the author as “Camille” so I don’t have to say “the student” over and over again. Any similarities between my fictitious Camille and the actual author of this essay, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
We have a few factors to consider in the remix: audience, medium, genre, topic, and purpose.
Audience - What original audience did Camille have in mind? Probably just her instructor. She was probably just looking to get a grade, which is fair. But suppose she thinks this information is important enough that now she wants to reach someone else with it - like, say, middle and high school students who will soon be inheriting the dumpster fire that their parents and grandparents have made of this planet. The rising generations need all the preparation they can get to tackle these problems.
You don’t have to start with the audience, but it may be easiest to do so and then let it guide the rest of your decision-making. In this case, Camille knows she’ll have to shift her approach to reach these kids more effectively. For starters, she’ll probably want to adopt a less formal tone and use all the latest slang and catchphrases. This will build ethos with her new audience by demonstrating how on fleek and hip to the jive she is.
Medium - What format will Camille use to present this information? Essentially everything we do right now is digital and/or online, but in the good old days, essays were written on paper. So let’s just pretend for a moment that this sample essay was written on paper. Camille considers taking a “hipster” approach and keeping the remix in a paper format, but she decides that’s too risky because some kids might find it pretentious and annoying. So she has to go digital because kids these days only access information on their Smartphones and iPads. Some of them probably don’t even know what a book looks like. Camille decides to stop thinking about it before she gets depressed.
Genre - This factor is easy to confuse with the medium. If I had been in charge of naming these factors, which I was not, I would have made them more distinct, but what’s done is done. Basically this one is just more specific than the medium. Within the world of digital content there are still hundreds, even thousands of options. Camille decides she wants to make one of those YouTube videos where the host mostly just talks with the camera pointed at her, but the video fast cuts after almost every sentence. Those are really popular with the kids for some reason. Maybe she’ll throw in some funny out-of-context clips from popular movies and TV shows to hold their attention even more. All the cool videos are doing that, right?
In this genre, Camille will still want to cite her sources, because a few of her viewers might already be smart enough to question where she’s getting her information before they take it seriously or pass it along. In that regard they’re probably smarter than their parents and grandparents. She may do this in the video itself, by having title cards at the end with sources listed, or just have each source pop up on screen while she’s talking about it. Or she could just put them in the description. She has some leeway here.
This genre will remix the primarily linguistic genre of her essay by throwing in a lot more of the visual, aural, and gestural modes of communication. As I visualize her hypothetical video in my mind’s eye, I see her talking with her hands a lot to add an energy to her words that simply isn’t possible in an essay. There could be a spatial mode as well - suppose she’s filming in her bedroom, so she makes sure it’s clean and the furniture is arranged for optimal feng shui.
Topic - Obviously, the topic is “Interactions Between Air Pollution and COVID-19”, but Camille doesn’t want to just sit there and read her entire essay, even with all the latest slang and catchphrases added in. That would be, like, so basic. She wants to approach it from an angle that’s relevant and interesting to her audience. In the essay she wrote, “I also discovered that this unprecedented drastic decrease in air pollution may lead to a change in policy and how emissions will be handled in the future now that we have seen what a difference it could make.” This seems like a good angle to focus and expand on, because children are the future. She could even start to brainstorm suggestions for them that she didn’t cover in the essay.
She might choose to tone down the dry science stuff - to still include it, of course, but in less detail and without lifting direct quotes from the sources. She wants the kids to understand it but she doesn’t want to bore their pants off, and because of the format she’s chosen, she isn’t constrained by trying to sound all professional. They can always check out her sources themselves if they want to go more in-depth.
Purpose - By now, the purpose in this particular scenario should be obvious enough. Camille wants to inform the rising generation and encourage them to change the world for the better. COVID-19 will eventually settle down and just be the new version of the common cold, at which point we can all relax and stop viewing each other as walking plague bombs, but we should take lessons away from it that will last for generations. How should we think about air pollution after this experience? Are there feasible permanent changes that can or should be made to our lifestyles for the good of the environment even when they aren’t being forced on us by a global health crisis? Should we go about disease prevention differently now that we know it can actually spread through air pollution? By the way, Cache Valley has really, really bad air pollution in the winter. Just a heads up.
Hopefully you get the idea of multimodal remixing. Now of course, if you’re more creative than me and Camille, you can do something less conventional. I’d give examples except I just said I’m not that creative. And even under current conditions, if you don’t want to restrict yourself to digital media, you can create a physical object of some kind and just make sure to photograph and/or film it sufficiently for me to understand. A cereal box - that’s an example I heard from someone else. You could write something educational and paste it over a cereal box to reach possibly an even younger age group. When I was a kid my mom used to buy these off-brand Cheerios and year after year, the back of the boxes were illustrated with facts about marine life. I don’t understand the relevance and I don’t understand why they never did anything else.
I hope you have some fun with this assignment!
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C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.