The Modal Divide: It will pass, but we still have lots of work to do.
Quick answer to the prompt: how will the modal divide by decided? The modal divide is largely generational and will become moot.
I don’t worry much about the modal divide—our program has room for teachers who want to explore with their students what it means to compose, but more traditional instructors can also stay within their comfort zone.
Our TAs are trained to teach in our genre-based, rhetorical program; we moved away from the essayist, text-only approach in 2003. They are trained to teach multimodal assignments like:
• Ppt music videos
• Visual commentaries (on the page and for the screen)
• Audio essays
• Weblogging as invention and reflection
• Print-based assignments with strong design elements.
Many TAs creatively and confidently develop their own assignments and approaches. We are constrained by some of our institutional limitations: access to video cameras and video editing software is the most obvious example.
Our more traditional instructors have shown an interest in design assignments, and they are interested in being pedagogically progressive via problem-based learning and service learning. They do a great job for us, and I’m convinced that requiring them to step outside their comfort zone would not make for better classes or better student writers.
So, the modal divide will become moot b/c todays TAs will become tomorrow’s faculty, but a text-based, word-focused approach will still be with us for quite a while, and as one slightly resistant colleague puts it: students need much more help with their words than their design. Staying committed to words-only, however, will simply not be possible; to do so would make compositionists anachronistic, and almost completely out of synch with our environment. One set of things computer do especially well is combine all modes of material, facilitate design, and deliver compositions in the broadest sense; why wouldn’t we want to be a part of such exciting work?
I would even like to be so bold as to say that the discipline has more or less made the multimodal turn; there is still lots of interesting work to be done—the how—but as this conference theme implies, we are pretty close to being done with questions like “should we make the turn?”
Marshall McLuhan and IA Richards pointed out 40 years ago that there are two other things that computers do really well; and it seems to me that we are further behind in taking advantage of these capabilities than we are in taking advantage of the design capabilities of computers. These two capabilities are perhaps not as obviously about “composing,” but the first one is a grand vision of networking, the second a call for the kind of database supported composition programs now in place at Texas Tech and University of Georgia.
McLuhan, the global village builder, says:
the real use of the computer is not to reduce staff or costs, or to speed up or smooth out anything that has been going on. Its true function is to program and orchestrate terrestrial and galactic environments and energies in a harmonious way. (Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, WPGV, 89)
Richards, the educational programmer says:
The computer can now collect, scan, analyze, and report on learners’ performance amply enough and minutely enough to show the designer of instruction more about what his arrangement is doing than he could have thought possible only a few moons ago. (IA Richards, Design for Escape 24)
Now that we are all multimodal, I hope that we might begin to explore other true functions of writing and teaching with computers.