Multimodality and the C18 Seduction Novel

The Seduction Novel and Mini-Assignments—

In a recent upper-level undergraduate literature course on seduction novels of the eighteenth century, students were asked to develop small writing assignments that were quite different than the traditional essays they had come to expect. As instructor, I turned to multimodal pedagogy because I was eager to find ways in which I could challenge my students and have them collaborate with one another. Initially, I was concerned that such an assignment would result in the teaching of technology rather than literature itself, but I quickly found this was not the case. In fact, one student who claimed to be the least tech-savvy used the website Fakebook to create an artificial social media website for the Royal Opera Theatre from Burney’s Cecilia. See the example here.

 

Multimodal Project—

For the multimodal project, students are offered an array of options, many of which utilize technologies with which they are already familiar. Although students had options in regards to the technologies they used, all students were asked to create a review. A portion of the assignment is as follows:

Specifics: A multimodal assignment is composed using one or more “modes” of communication, such as a combination of “moving and still images, sounds, music, color, words and animations” (Takayoshi & Selfe 1). Create a multimodal project where you review a place in London that a character goes or discusses in the novel—this could be the London playhouse in Fantomina or Evelina’s journey into unfashionable and dangerous London neighborhoods. Consider how that particular character would respond to the place. Support your claims with evidence from the text. Remember the map we reviewed in class. You may choose one of the following options:

  • blog post with pictures and text.
  • newsletter you might find in a travel agency, restaurant website, etc.
  • video that conveys your experience—this could be something like a Yelp review, which also include a short written review with pictures.
  • photo essay—the word count can be lower here (roughly 500 words), but with a minimum of 7 images.
  • Prezi could be used to develop a multimodal presentation—one that uses more than one “mode”—on a particular theme, topic, or question relevant to the course.
  • a different medium of your choice. If you choose to select your own medium, you must have instructor approval before you begin.

 

Outcomes—

Even students who lack tech-savvy and access will benefit from the assignment because they are asked to defend their choices, structure, mode, and so forth. I was pleased with the final products. The multimodal component of the assignment forces students to articulate features of the novel that we do not always have a chance to fully explore in classroom discussion: character motivation, location, landscape and plot, to name only a few. What works well with the student example is its attentiveness to the plot of the novel, theater history, character motivations, and the review genre itself. The student is mindful of each of these features while working on the Fakebook page, and she is both creative and justifiable in how or why certain characters in the novel, as well as real historical figures, interact with the page itself.

Each of the above options came with guidelines and parameters, such as a specific number of pages, tabs, photos, minutes, and so on. This is entirely up to instructor discretion. With the Fakebook example, I asked the student to include 3-5 photos, 10 entries, and a 500-word reflection on the choices the student made in developing the page.

Although I was initially apprehensive to ask students to use technology, as many students do not have access to such resources at home, students appeared deeply engaged and challenged by the assignment, and what technology the students did not have, our university did. I have yet to try this for major writing assignments, but I encourage fellow instructors to consider incorporating multimodal assignments in the literature classroom, even if only for presentations or small assignments.

 

Kelly J. Hunnings, University of New Mexico

 

 

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