The use of multimodal tools in preservice English education

We are pleased to share the second of two guest posts from Raúl Alberto Mora (Ph.D., Language & Literacy, University of Illinois). Mora is an Associate Professor of English Education and Literacy Studies at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia. At UPB, he chairs the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP), a research initiative exploring new and 21st century literacies in urban, virtual, and community spaces in Medellín. His research agenda combines ideas from alternative literacies, discourse analysis, and transmedia.


As a teacher educator, one of my biggest concerns as I work with my preservice teachers is to help them find ways to infuse 21st-century literacies in their classrooms. My preoccupation stems from some of the efforts I see in professional development in Colombia, which devote their effort to the inclusion of gizmos rather than a careful exercise of text design through technological tools. Without this careful reflection of an epistemological rather than instrumental nature (as authors such as Cope & Kalantzis or Lankshear & Knobel have pointed out) there will always be the chance that teachers just replicate offline activities with online tools.

With this intention in mind, we have begun to include a deeper reflection about the meaning of multimodality in the context of becoming an English teacher. We have zeroed in on two specific multimodal tools: WebQuests and multimodal video essays. In both cases, we begin with a similar approach by getting students acquainted with the notion of multimodality. As multimodality becomes a more ubiquitous idea in teaching scenarios, I sometimes worry about how we sometimes equate it with making videos. It is very important to always remember that what videos do is facilitate the creation of multimodal texts, but that videos are not multimodal by default.

Another very important consideration that we include in our discussions with our preservice teachers is three elements that I believe to be cornerstones of any multimodal text:

  • Intention = Whom am I trying to reach?
  • Meaning = What am I trying to say?
  • Design = How do I plan to say it?

The effect of these three considerations is to focus more on the actual text I am trying to convey and then think about how to maximize the resources (website designer for WebQuests; video and audio editors and YouTube for video essays) to help them come up with the most powerful message possible.

One final consideration that we discuss with our preservice teachers is the learning curve that is involved in the use of multimodal tools. Sometimes teachers fall prey to the assumption that since students are more familiarized with technological devices, composing multimodal texts is second-nature to them. Reality shows that while the acquaintance is true, using multimodal tools transcends familiarity and needs to include the three elements I mentioned earlier. In my case, I have made the conscious decision to embed the learning curve in the multimodal assignments I give my preservice teachers. In other words, I expect them to struggle with all the technical issues (the multiple recordings, the woes of using audio and video editors, problems uploading to YouTube, setting up websites, etc.). I made this choice not out of sheer cruelty, but as a pedagogical moment: I want them to think very carefully what it means to invite students to create multimodal texts, the challenges they will face, and the kinds of scaffolding and support they must bring to their classrooms.

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