TLL Review: Mode

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers

Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen (2001; p. 21-22) explain modes as “semiotic resources which allow the simultaneous realisation [sic] of discourses and types of (inter)action.” According to Kress and Van Leeuwen, the work of design is the “combination and selection of semiotic modes.” The designer must be mindful of the affordances of various modes and engage modes that will facilitate the greatest available means of persuasion for her rhetorical situation. In addition, Kress and Van Leeuwen see narrative as a mode “because it allows discourses to be formulated in particular ways…because it constitutes a particular kind of interaction, and because it can be realised [sic] in a range of different media” (22). Considering Kress and Van Leeuwen’s broad definition of mode, which considers narrative as a mode to be employed in the work of design, and given the range of modes employed in Transnational Literate Lives (including but not limited to narrative, still and moving images, and sound) we offer this brief overview:

As noted, Transnational Literate Lives is published in a Web text format, which allows viewers to interact in visual and aural ways, as they read the traditional, alphabetic text. Each section is organized thoughtfully, with columns on the left-hand side that allow viewers to easily skip ahead or return to portions of the text as they see fit. Additionally, the layout is neat and orderly, providing viewers who may not be as familiar reading Web texts with an easily navigable text to maneuver. The multimodal components vary from one section to the next, each meeting a specific need in a particular chapter, and allowing the viewer to engage with the text in richer ways. These visual and aural elements are clearly labeled, easy to access, and allow for a more engaging experience overall. Focusing on the importance vision plays in rhetoric and social action, Kristi Fleckenstein has stated that the consumption of language distributed using a variety of modes, allows us to “engage with texts differently” fostering a “more intense engagement” with a composition (155). This is the case for the reader of Transnational Literate Lives. The video and aural elements allow viewers a multifaceted experience, in which they can see things like facial expression, body language, inflection and tone of voice. These elements, as the authors explain, help to provide new, more nuanced ways of making meaning. In addition, most of these visual and aural video narratives are accompanied by written transcriptions and captions. This important addition provides a greater range of user accessibility. Furthermore, the various modes utilized in TLL are completely accessible on a smartphone.



TLL Review: Introduction

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers

Transnational Literate Lives begins with a glimpse into the narratives assembled in the collection. Readers learn the authors’ goal for the project: “to understand the digital literacy practices of a generation of students with transnational connections” (“Intro: Goals” para. 1) through an amalgam of alphabetic text, photographs, and video clips (with transcripts). Brief but helpful abstracts for each of the ensuing chapters complement the general project overview. The overview closes with a series of eight observations—methodological takeaways—about the thirteen study coauthors. The overview performs a second and equally, if not more, important function for the project: a method for navigating the robust, multivocal project.



TLL Review: Chapters

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers

Digital Literacies, Technological Diffusion, and Globalization,” the first of five body chapters, introduces the thirteen coauthors whose life experiences are the focus of TLL. Representing eleven countries of origin, the coauthors share their experiences through narratives and photographs, creating what Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe describe as a cultural ecology of transnational life experience: “the historical, political, economic, technological milieu” of twenty-, thirty- and early forty-year-olds’ worlds (“Introduction: Overview of Chapters” para. 2). This first chapter provides broad background information about global developments in education, the “lifeworlds” of the coauthors, and trends in communicative technology. The chapter is divided into three easily navigable sections: “The Lifeworld of Students”; “Globalization and Technology Diffusion”; and “Global Ecologies and the Modern Internet.” In the first section, the authors point out the importance of looking beyond the context of the classroom to study the literate activities of students that often inform pedagogy. The statistical evidence in the second section helps illustrate the trends in communication and digital practices as they relate to the life experiences of the coauthors. The third section helps readers understand the historical, political, and economic factors that led to global revolutions in communicative technologies. This understanding nicely situates the ways in which readers view the conversations about the literate activities of the coauthors that are chronicled later in TLL.

Chapter two, “Digital Media and Transnational Connections,” documents the personal narratives and reflections of four participants enrolled at the University of South Wales: Gorjana Kisa and Mirza Nurkic, both from Sarajevo, and Australians Tessa Kennedy and Kate Polgaze. The coauthors share their personal histories with digital literacy, communicative technologies, and how globalization has affected their relationships with others through a rich blend of alphabetic text and participant-produced video clips; each coauthor offers rich insights into the ways such digital technologies have shaped their transnational perspectives.

In exhibiting the narrations of four distinct individuals enrolled at the same university, and by highlighting each individual’s unique experiences, the authors illustrate the importance of communicative technologies, digital literacy, and cultural identifications for understanding how to continually foster new ways to teach and understand literacy and agency. The chapter highlights the coauthors’ lives in a highly networked, global world where emergent modes of literacy and discourse are shaped by movement and interaction between cultures.  Readers are provided “glimpses into individuals’ localized literacy practices within particular cultures and their circulation within global contexts, as well as into their uses of digital communication technologies for both local and global exchanges” (“Narrative as a Way of Knowing” para. 1) to illustrate how “narratives are a form of ‘social action’” (para. 4). TLL traces participants’ processes of negotiating identities, and demonstrates various ways in which these narratives enable “educators . . . immersed in a different domestic lifeworld . . . [to] glimpse the identities and futures these students want for themselves” (para. 6).

The third chapter, “Cultural Designs for Writing Digitally,” turns attention to the ways in which digital tools–namely video composing–can help educators understand more about cross-cultural literacy practices. To uncover and make sense of these practices, co-authors were tasked with creating a multimodal composition aimed at documenting their own writing practices. Upon crafting these pieces, participants reflected on the insights those practices reveal: this act fostered an understanding of their individual writing practices.

The three chapter coauthors, Shafinaz AhmedSophie Dewayani, and Yu-Kyung Kang, hail from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and South Korea, respectively. As readers explore the coauthors’ video compositions, they gain glimpses into the ways the writers engage with digital tools that connect their literate activities to the places in which they read and write. The video compositions include representations of each co-author’s writing processes, illuminating how objects and cultural contexts can influence these practices. Each co-author helps readers understand the ways in which composing practices are often nuanced and personal; furthermore, the compositions reveal that literacy acquisition and practice are also situated within cultural ecologies. Conversations beyond these descriptions center on how digital compositions can also inform us about the dispersed, networked character of reading and writing in a digital age. Moreover, the authors argue that digital compositions can be used not only for reflection and a representation of literate activity, but also for research. The authors also provide teachers and researchers ways multimodal compositions could be incorporated into their own work.

Despite the rich descriptions provided by the authors and their video representations about their processes, readers may still raise logistical questions about the practical applications of digital compositions. For instance, details on how these types of assignments might be specifically replicated for pedagogy and research integration are sparse. More information on the actual process of implementing the assignment, as well as the context in which it was executed would be beneficial. Nevertheless, access to video evidence and reflection pieces give insight into possibilities for implementing such assignments.

Chapter four, “Acts of Translation in the Academy and Across National Borders,” provides brief snapshots into three participants’ transnational literacy histories and experiences in higher education, three detailed autobiographical, multimodal accounts of how transnational learners integrate their native language, the English language, and technology to communicate. Masters students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the participant’s experiences demonstrate the challenges of the negotiation of language, identity, and culture as they cross national boundaries to pursue professional and personal goals in higher education. Vanessa Rouillon, who was born in Peru and studied in Chile before moving to the United States, reveals in her video composition the way it feels to use technology for both her academic and personal writing, the former of which she produces in English and the latter in Spanish. Similar to Vanessa, Mexican-born Ismael Gonzalez studies English as a International Language. Readers learn of Ismael’s steadfast reliance on Facebook as a multimodal outlet and as an advantageous tool for code-meshing. Similarly, he uses Facebook to negotiate his personal identity as a transnational citizen as well as a scholarly professional. Like Ismael and Vanessa, Hannah Kyung Lee is fluent in multiple languages. Hannah, a Korean-American who began a graduate program in writing studies and library and information science after teaching in Paris claims a “transnational identity” (para. 1). Moreover, the cultural ecologies Hannah was immersed in allowed her opportunities to use technology to negotiate her transnational identity and communicate across geographic boundaries.

The final body chapter, “Global Digital Divide: From Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China,” is split into three sections. The first two sections review literacy narratives from Nigerian-born Oladipupo “Dipo” Lashore and Chinese-born Pengfei Song, respectively; and focus on how each of the coauthors are able to excel in parts of the world where scholarly excellence is not typical because of a lack of digital education and access. The chapter concludes with, “What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” and discusses the exceptional nature of the two coauthors’ literacy narratives and the dangers in seeing these examples as typical.

Though each of the literacy narratives offers stories that show the importance of providing similar opportunities to others, because the examples are two clear success stories, the narratives could create a false sense that similar successes are easily attainable, and that issues of opportunity and access are generally not problematic. The authors address the problematics of making any such claim, stating their aim “is not to underestimate the seriousness of the digital divide or to suggest that hard work and determination alone can help individuals and their families close this gap. They cannot” (“What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” para. 1). Readers who focus solely on the narrative sections and ignore the chapter’s important final synthesis could risk making premature generalizations from the two narratives.



TLL Review: Conclusion

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers
typing on a mac

TLL concludes with Hawisher, Selfe, and Berry, in collaboration with Synne Skjulstad, synthesizing chapter findings of this fascinating life-history interview project. The chapter begins by showcasing the digital literacy projects of co-author Synne Skjulstad of Oslo, Norway.  This attention to Skjulstad’s scholarship is important to the larger effort of the project because, as Hawisher, Selfe, and Berry admit: Skjulstad’s work “was an inspiration” for the methodology deployed for TLL (“Overview” para. 3). This section offers eight observations which connect the individual literacy narratives featured in the project. Three examples of observations: (1) Participants’ perceptions about technologies depended upon “the cultural ecologies” participants inhabited (Observation. 4); (2) Participants revealed that technological literacies were primarily individually acquired (Observation. 5); and (3) Digital media aided tremendously in the various stages of writing studies research (Observation. 8).

The fifth and final section of the conclusion offers “Closing Thoughts on Research Methodology,” which reflects on “Local and global ecologies,” “Transnational contexts,” “Literacy narratives,” and “Digital media” as four “assumptions and practices that continue to inform this ongoing research,” (para. 3). The metaphor of ecology acknowledges the many factors which contribute to one’s literacy practices while also yielding the awareness of oneself as a citizen of the world. This idea is complemented by the concept of transnationalism, which identifies the various cultural contexts and identities shaping one’s literacy practices. Literacy narratives as a genre help composers “formulate a sense of self”–a powerful implication for both composers and readers (para. 12). Lastly, the area of digital media intensifies literacy, learning, and meaning-making as digital media affords more than print-based documents–providing a richer experience for the composer and reader (as demonstrated by the contributions of this project).

All four areas present rich implications for teacher-scholars, though as the target demographic, we would like to hear about the authors and the influences of transnationalism on their learning. This concept has important implications for learners, teachers, and researchers to address what transnationalism means for the way we go about researching and teaching writing.  TLL illustrates the need for writing scholars to further our understanding of the “trans-” in digital literacy practices across various physical, material, political, and socio-cultural geographies. Examining  these and other like concepts allow teachers, students, and researchers provide moments of understand all that more fluid use of technological literacies might mean for writing research and pedagogy.


Fleckenstein, Kristie S. (2010). Vision, rhetoric, and social action in the composition classroom. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.

Kress, Gunther, & Theo Van Leeuwen. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary discourse. London: Hodden Arnold.



TLL Review: The Reviewers

Sections: Home / Mode / Intro / Chapters / Conclusion / Reviewers
authors banner

By clicking on the reviewer’s name you will be directed to a reviewer’s position statement that explains his/her method for reading and reviewing TLL.

Megan Adams is a second-year PhD student. Her research interests involve exploring literate practices in rural communities. (transcript)

Nick Baca is a second-year PhD student. His scholarly interests involve queer theory in composition and rhetoric and issues concerning gender and identity.

Kerry Fial is a senior studying Middle Childhood Education. An advocate for adolescent literacy, she presented at the National Convention for Teachers of English in 2012. Her teaching and researching interests center on appreciating student diversity and sparking student interest in learning about the English language.

Mariana Grohowski is a second-year PhD student. Her research examines the cultural ideologies and literate activities of servicewomen of the U.S. Armed Forces. (transcript)

Ken Hayes is a second-year PhD student. His current research interests focus on the understanding and use of social networking sites and the impact such sites have on academic writing and critical thinking skills.

Lee Nikoson is an associate professor and member of the Rhetoric and Writing faculty. Her curiosity about how we come to know, practice, and study writing drive her research and teaching. (transcript)

Craig Olsen is a second-year PhD student. Currently, he is researching multimodal and visual rhetoric, which includes digital, comic and gaming literacy.



Parallel Transitions: Manuscript-to-print, Print-to-Digital

I ran across this video on YouTube a couple of days ago, and I thought it makes some nice, summary comments related to the many public/pundit anxieties currently circulating about the ebooks and the inexorable death of print books. What’s cool about this particular piece is that it demonstrates how many of those anxieties eerily echoes common fifteenth and sixteenth century jeremiads about the dangers of the printing press. Here’s the short, context-setting piece that opens Charlie Rose’s roundtable discussion with Jonathan Safran Foer, Jane Friedman, Tim O’Reilly, and Ken Auletta:

I wonder if Charlie Rose showed this opening piece to his guest before the conversation? Given his reputation, I assume that he did. The video does such a great job of framing many of the roundtable comments which immediately ensue, especially those of Jonathan Safran Foer. In the clip to the right, Foer responds to some smart comments from Freidman about books/ebooks being merely formats for texts, the ubiquity of screens/devices, and there always being a market for physical books (note). I’m a big fan of Foer’s. He’s written popular and critically acclaimed books, but he’s also an outspoken, often polarizing cultural participant (as opposed, merely, to “commentator”). So I’m surprised that I find some of his comments a bit short-sighted and myopic. The idea that new reading experiences will be more public and faster aren’t, I think, off-base. However, I don’t think there’s any reason to think those experiences will supplant the intimate and deliberate experiences Foer sees as at stake. His attitude is similar when talking about “resist[ing] the temptations” (note the jeremiad rhetoric?) of new media elements. What he fails to acknowledge (and what Tim O’Reilly quickly reminds him) is that all of these changes are happening in a historical continuum. We’re going to figure out what sorts of technologies are going to make books better. But we’re going to do that by taking some risks. Which means failing consistently. Until we get it right. Which means making some bad books, or making some bad texts and mis-calling them books. And then stumbling onto some absolutely stunning text. And it will be a book. But not like books from fifty years ago. It might be something like the recent “The Silent History,” or the New York Times’s long form feature “Snowfall.”

I guess I just want to say (as many times as I need to say it) that I’m excited for what books are about to become. The physical forms they’ll take. The reconceptualization of their cultural purpose. And how they’ll continue to affect my life in ways that movies, television, or music have yet to match. And I also want to add that I’m not worried about print books. I love what Tim O’Reilly said about digital technologies forcing traditional print books to become beautiful again. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I think I’m pretty realistic about how difficult and slow this transition is going to be. How many false steps we’ll take. But I’m excited to be here in the middle of it. Watching. Looking for a way to participate.


(Note: My apologies to Jane Freidman here. She’s so smart, and she’s shown real courage in publishing some risky books, especially of Foer’s. I know I’m only showing one side of this conversation, but I’m still figuring this out. How to quote video material while still allowing for some context.)

Books that Read You Back: Measuring Engagement, Proprietary Services

CourseSmart recently announced that it would begin beta-testing a new textbook technology designed to track and measure student interactions with certain textbooks. This technology would, ostensibly, deliver an “Engagement Score Technology”:

a proprietary algorithm that evaluates standard usage data such as page views, time spent in a textbook, and notes and highlights taken by a student, and assimilates them into an overall assessment of students’ engagement with the material. Provosts, deans, course designers and others can then easily assess the utility of adopted digital titles to ensure course materials are being used effectively. Faculty will be able to identify “at risk” students based on engagement with assigned course materials and correlate this to overall student performance, which will help to aid retention and ultimately, improve learning outcomes. (via CourseSmart – Media.)

Surveillance technologies almost always make me a little nervous. I’ll admit that I don’t really mind security cameras in retail stores and offices, GPS systems, or even most browser cookies. But I have to say, I’m pretty uneasy about CourseSmart’s claim that it can offer some sort of meaningful “engagement score.” It’s not that I don’t like the idea. It’s just seems like another one of those situations that is marketed as something positive, but really turns out to be far more destructive than productive.

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Incorporating an Audio Assignment into your Classroom: The PSA

by Ryan Trauman

pile of microphonesSo let’s say you don’t have a ton of experience incorporating audio-visual elements into your writing classroom assignments. Let’s also say that maybe you are a little intimidated by the prospect not only because it is something new to you and your students, but also because you yourself are not sure what an audio-visual assignment might look like. How do you design an audio assignment where the adoption of new technologies and new practices doesn’t obfuscate the point of the assignment altogether? How do you design an assignment that still seems like a “writing assignment” in line with the traditional expectations that most students bring to a writing classroom, while simultaneously challenging those notions by incorporating alternative modes of composition and distribution?

My advice? Start simple. Consider what sorts of writing practices students are already familiar with. Consider what sorts of texts students might already encounter in their day-to-day lives or at least often enough so that they have a sense for the genre.

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Twitter. Just Get Started.

by Ryan Trauman

My good friend, Tony, has been bugging me for a while now to explain to him how to use Twitter as an English/New-Media/Writing-Studies/Digital-Humanities scholar. I’ve tried, several times now, to explain how twitter works, and how to use it effectively. For me, the idea of “using” Twitter doesn’t really right true. Instead, I tend to think of Twitter as a place where things happen. A place where I visit to overhear what’s going on with/between people I think of as friends and colleagues. They contribute ideas and links to articles. They pose questions. They suggest or query for collaborators. I often find some amazingly useful information, and I’m always running across new people I want to meet. And every once in a while, think that I, too, might have something to contribute. But still, for someone who’s unfamiliar with the Twitterverse, and who would like one person’s advice about how to get started, I have a few ideas that I wish someone would have told me when I was first getting started.

The first thing I would do is to make sure you sign up for an account. Once you’ve got that accomplished, start building a starter-list of people (or accounts) you want to follow. One of the best tools you’ve got is the search bar at the top of the twitter page. When you’re searching for people/accounts it’s a good idea to have a mix of types. Here’s a list of the types of accounts I would start with:

Colleagues in my discipline or related disciplines…





















Projects/software/hardware that I want to keep up with…







Accounts that are more fun…




Keep going!

Once you’ve got a good start on your feed (maybe 20-30 accounts to get you started), start checking in at some point each day to see what you can overhear. Maybe you’ll be able to respond to someone’s tweet. Maybe you’ll encounter an amazing idea.

Eventually, you’ll start gaining followers. Some of the people you follow will follow you back. Sometimes you’ll respond to a tweet, someone will retweet you, and people will find you that way. You might also add your twitter tag to your email signature, vitae, business cards (do people still use those?), etc. And from there, you’ll start shaping your own Twitterverse into something rewarding for you. Good luck!

Software Confessions: A Response to Kevin Brock

by Ryan Trauman

This post is a response to Kevin Brock’s response to my recent post, “New Media Scholarship: Regarding Tools.”

First, I want to thank Kevin for even bothering to read my post in the first place, and even more so for taking the time to participate in a respectful conversation about it. Maybe it doesn’t need to be said, and I’m happy to have the sense that civil participation in public conversation is getting better all the time, but I want to mention that I certainly don’t take it for granted. It also helps that Kevin is spot-on in his critique about the attitudes I expressed about the value of most free software. Kevin quotes a chunk of my post, including the snippet:

There are also free [software] options, but with the exception of Audacity as an audio editor, most of them aren’t worth what you save [in comparison to proprietary products].

As part of his response, Kevin notes:

I read “free options” as referring heavily to FLOSS (Free/libre Open Source Software), and I find myself upset that an entire galaxy of potential programs are relegated to the metaphorical bin because they’re not well-advertised, highly polished suites that work to lock users into a specific paradigm. I’m especially confused because Trauman notes, immediately after this dismissal, “Software is only worth what you can do with it. If you pay a bunch of money for a powerful program, but you don’t know how to use it, that’s a huge waste of resources.” If what matters is what can be done with it–and what one knows how to do stuff with it, why is it so important that the go-to programs are Adobe CS and similar proprietary products?

I have to admit he makes some excellent points, especially when he points out my contradictions regarding “Software is only worth…” I want to respond to his points in some organized fashion, so I’ll just take them one at a time. First, he’s right. I am referring to FLOSS projects. I do think “entire galaxy” and “metaphorical bin” are a little hyperbolic, but still, he’s right to call me out for making an unnecessarily scattershot assessment. But the fact that FLOSS projects are “not well-advertised, highly polished suites” doesn’t matter at all to me as an individual user. And to suggest that I prefer my software recommendations to “lock users into a specific paradigm” seems a little unfounded. Of course I don’t like the idea of locking users into anything. He is right, however, to identify that as Adobe’s obvious business strategy, and even more-so Apple’s. So, good points. Read the rest of this entry »

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