Expanding Texts, Collapsing Conversations: Multimodal Tutoring

Throughout the semester, we have been discussing how instructors are increasingly assigning both the consumption and production of digital texts. What we have not discussed, however, is how this alteration in classroom pedagogy affects the writing centers that aid these classes. In recent years, writing center tutorials have seen an influx of digital and multimodal texts. Because of this influx, tutors and writing center scholars have had to expand what they consider “writing,” or, in other words, what types of texts they consider appropriate material for writing center work. In addition to rethinking what writing is, we also need to rethink the types of conversations that writing center tutorials engage in. While these conversations were once purely academic, they now include elements of visual design, popular culture, and humor—just to name a few.

For my digital essay, I will examine how this shift in conversations alters writing center pedagogy. More specifically, I want to think about how the inclusion of digital assignments that span academic/popular conversations—e.g. blogs, “gif stories,” and mock-facebook conversations—change the conversations of the writing center tutorial. To accomplish this task, I will use the theoretical lenses of Kenneth Bruffee and Kenneth Burke to engage with current discussions of multimodal tutorials, such as David Sheridan’s and James Inman’s collection of essays Multiliteracy Centers: Writing Center Work, New Media, and Multimodal Rhetoric and Arlene Archers “Dealing with Multimodal Assignments in Writing Centers.” In addition to these scholarly works, I also hope to include video interviews of several UD writing center tutors on their experiences working with multimodal texts.

As of now, I am leaning towards wordpress as my format for this essay. Because this is such a multifaceted issue, I imagine each post dealing with different aspects. I have chosen wordpress because of the more conversational nature of the blog format. Because pedagogy is always developing, I do not want this essay to be a final word on multimodal tutorials. Rather, I want it to participate in a conversation that other writing center scholars can comment on and contribute to. I’m imagining my blog to follow a format similar to that of a specialty recipe blog. I want it to contain posts that are all different from each other, yet linked together under the same theme. So like this vegan dessert blog, my posts will all contain the same types of ingredients, but put them together in various ways to show different recipes writing center strategies.

Right now, I have two pressing (groups of) questions: first, do you think that wordpress is the best format for this project? What about my recipe blog analogy? How literally do you think I should take this analogy? Is there some other format that you think I should consider? And, second, because you have all been writing center tutors, are there certain issues that you think are really important for me to address? What were the biggest challenges that you faced when working with non-traditional texts in the writing center? What other conversations do you think multimodal texts bring to writing center tutorials?


8 thoughts on “Expanding Texts, Collapsing Conversations: Multimodal Tutoring”

  1. Heather,

    I’m really glad you’re talking about this (and not just because I went to a conference and kicked the “there’s no such thing as literary texts–all texts are fundamentally intertextual” beehive), particularly given the shift in writing center missions that occurred even while I was there. While the psychical design and procedures of the WC (and of a lot of WCs in general) are based on a very traditional idea of what people are doing in English classes and elsewhere, it often falls on tutors to improvise in the face of multimodality (and the specific sorts of literacy issues that come in with that, even extending “modality” to include several different languages or field discourses).

    I feel like it’s a big project, though–and that’s why I love the recipe metaphor. It strikes me that you might framework your project as something that can be collaboratively “picked-up”–that you might focus on creating a web-space for discussing these evolving missions and sharing strategies that you might curate and maintain well beyond 685, not unlike those websites where people share recipes and constantly revisit them to adjust for changing conditions.

  2. Heather,

    I like Michael’s idea of creating some kind of collaborative web-space: I think that would really suit the ever-evolving nature of multimodality and the kinds of multimodal assignments we give our students. I’d also encourage you to include/discuss specific assignments that we could use as examples for modeling tutoring sessions, or even to stage a tutoring session for us in addition to your interviews.

    What I’m curious about, though, is what you mean by how multimodal texts change the conversation of writing center tutorials. Do you mean that as the kinds of feedback we can give, the ways we approach texts in general, both?

    To answer one of your questions though, I remember being most frustrated by not knowing how to explain certain assignments to students if I was presented with something beyond a traditional written text. I never got one, but I wonder what basic knowledge I’d need to know to have that kind of conversation, as in the specific technologies/apps/programs I would need to be “literate” in.

  3. Heather,

    I’m not sure I’m crazy about the “recipe” metaphor. It feels a little bit to me like “quilting” or “conversation”—one of those metaphors that actually explains too much to be useful in any specific situation.

    But I do very much like your driving question: How do writing center tutors respond to multimodal texts? And, obviously, a multimodal platform, like WordPress, seems ideal for addressing such a question. More than that, a web platform invites collaboration with tutors both at UD and beyond, which is both scary and exciting.

    Do you follow any of the Writing Center listservs? I bet that a well-phrased question about “how do you respond to . . .” will elicit both some useful responses and potential collaborators.



  4. Hi, Heather,

    I love the questions your posing, and I also agree that the topic you’re dealing with will benefit greatly from opening things up to the broader WC community. You’re already moving toward a collaborative, survey approach by talking to UD writing center tutors, and I think throwing things wider open could be really exciting and fun.

    In my short time as a writing center tutor, I have worked with surprisingly few tutees who have brought multimodal/digital or otherwise non-traditional drafts. By soliciting ideas, info, and feedback from tutors and WC admin/staff, you’d get more stories and a wider range of answers to the questions you’re posing.

    Along these lines, are you proposing a paper for IWCA/NCPTW? Deadline is April 15… your project sounds ideal! 🙂


  5. Heather,

    I really like the idea behind this project! As you know, I started to explore multimodal texts in the writing center this winter before the bombardment of students over the session (and snow…).

    I have not, in the last four years of working in a writing center, actually ever encountered a multimodal text. I have heard about multimodal assignments, but the texts themselves aren’t reaching me in the center. I am, however, requiring my students to remediate their critical essay, and so if you want an interview subject about what my expectations are and what I would imagine students may look to peer feedback for, I’d be happy to chat!

    My question is really more out of curiosity – I know you will be incorporating videos – do you imagine integrating other media as well into your piece?

    1. Caitlin,

      I don’t know if you’ll see this, so I’ll send you an email as well, but I’d love to take you up on the interview offer. Having a teacher’s perspective on assigning the texts isn’t an angle I had thought of, but it would be great to have!

  6. Heather,

    This is a great, timely project for writing center scholarship. Like many others who commented, in my four years as a tutor at large public research universities, I can’t recall someone *ever* bringing me a multimodal text. Which is kind of insane! We know that these texts are being increasingly assigned, but it’s entirely possible that neither students nor teachers see the writing center as an appropriate resource for such work yet.

    Something I think is interesting about multimodal work in the writing center is the possible changes it might induce in the dynamics of expertise and authority between tutor and author. A prerequisite to being hired as a WC tutor is generally that the student has excelled in traditional alphabetic text-making. Even when we try to set this “expertise” aside to embrace the “peer” or “collaborative” aspect of the tutorial, it is always at play. But very few of us can claim any expertise in visual or audio design. Because of this, I’d bet that there is more negotiation, ambiguity, and conversation between tutor and author when it comes to workshopping a multimodal text in the writing center. Or at least there is the possibility for this new dynamic to result. It would be really interesting to see if, when confronted with a lack of expertise, tutors take this more open approach, or if they try to adapt their traditional text expertise to these emergent forms. And it raises the question of whether WCs should be trying to hire students who *can* claim some specialized knowledge in multimodal forms, visual rhetoric, design, etc.

    Looking forward to seeing the results of your work!


    1. Kiley,

      Your point about removing expertise gets exactly at what I want to address in my project. By “expanding conversations” I kind of mean that these non-traditional texts require tutors and tutees to talk about non-academic life, so there is a much greater potential for them to be peers (especially when they’re both in the same age group). I also think that non-expertise feedback can be more helpful for visual texts than it can be for more traditional academic works. I think responses to visual texts tend to be more instinctual—e.g. “that just doesn’t work”—so they open up more conversations about the effects of certain elements, rather than simply “your topic sentences make this not work.”

      I’m really looking forward to your feedback on what I come up with!

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