All of our Writing and Communication Program (WCP) courses embrace two critical concepts that are introduced earlier in this Handbook:
- Communication is rhetorical
- Communication is multimodal – that is, WOVEN (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, Nonverbal).
As you design your courses, consider ways to convey this critical information-–as well as the implications–to your students.
A distinctive characteristic of Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program is its focus on multimodal communication—what we call WOVEN communication. We use the term multimodality to describe communication that occurs in different forms, or modes, and through different means, or media. Understanding the differences is not always easy because the term mode and medium are something used in ways that overlap. Therein lies a challenge: the multi- in multimodality is comprised of different modes that students need to analyze and practice. However, a risk occurs when we treat the modes as discrete. When we have a writing assignment, an oral assignment, a visual assignment, and perhaps even a nonverbal assignment as a way to meet the letter rather than the spirit of multimodality, our students might miss the synergy that characterizes most effective communication. Since synergy is what happens when things work together productively, the term multimodal synergy describes the ways in which modes and media coexist and interact within any instance of communication.
Excellent course design includes lessons that focus on each mode individually but equally emphasizes activities and assignments that showcase the ways in which modalities are integrated. Put another way, we understand multimodality as the synergy of written-oral–visual–electronic-nonverbal communication, whether in print or digital form, whether face-to-face or at a distance. Even when we have an activity or assignment that focuses on writing or orality or visual displays, we need to help our students understand how all the modes are at play even when they are not spotlighted. To help students to reflect on this synergy, WOVENText, the core textbook for English 1101 and English 1102, has a custom chapter called “Multimodal Synergy,” which is required reading for all students
When we consider individual modes, we generally use an approach summarized in the following five subsections.
Multimodality does not eclipse the importance of written communication. Examples of traditional lessons include formulating thesis statements, developing paragraphs, and structuring sentences as well as stressing writing as a recursive process involving planning, drafting, revising, and editing. Well-developed written competence provides a foundation on which to build proficiency in other modes. Written artifacts might include traditional essays, research reports, feature articles, creative non-fiction, narratives, proposals, and brochures.
Oral communication encompasses all spoken language. Examples include not only platform speeches and presentations but also effective dialogue within small groups and the creation of effectively recorded presentations, ranging from mock NPR shows to PowerPoint voiceovers.
Much like oral communication, visuals are broadly conceived, including videos, still images, and all other extra-linguistic visual communication. While tasks such as poster design are clearly visual, other examples of information design include formatting written papers, crafting PowerPoint presentations, and designing websites.
Electronic communication is virtually always multimodal. While most Georgia Tech undergraduates are digital natives accustomed to text messaging and software interfaces, instructors can help them recognize both the implicit and explicit rhetorical aspects of these tools. Georgia Tech provides certain electronic tools that Brittain Fellows might find helpful. For example, T-Square provides a common space for turning in assignments, furthering class discussion, and sharing resources. In the past, Brittain Fellows have also made successful use of discussion lists, wikis, and blogs.
The importance of nonverbal elements—for example, hand gestures, posture, body language, inflection, vocal pacing, eye contact, and proxemics—is often overlooked by traditional English and communication courses. Instructors should make students aware that both their bodies and their voices are communicating in face-to-face-and distance situations, including presentations, peer review sessions, teleconferences, videos, and group meetings.
Sometimes called “First-Year Composition,” English 1101 and English 1102 introduce students to the principles and practices of communication they need in their academic and professional lives. Though many schools’ programs address rhetoric in some form, our approaches to rhetoric and multimodality set us apart: students in English 1101 and 1102 learn to construct rigorous arguments both about and through WOVEN modes and media.
The caliber of our students also sets us apart. Georgia Tech has high admission standards, which means that almost all students who end up in our introductory courses often (but not always) already know the “basics” about composition and rhetoric. Like all the other schools in the University System of Georgia, Georgia Tech must meet certain standards for English 1101 and English 1102 established by the Board of Regents. Our courses meet those standards, but we also set higher standards to ensure that our students are prepared for their very competitive futures in academe and beyond.
For English 1101 and English 1102, individual instructors determine their own pedagogical approaches as well as the majority of the content. Some common elements—including a common textbook and clearly articulated outcomes—help to establish the consistency and identity of our Writing and Communication Program.
Some Brittain Fellows are hired specifically to teach technical communication courses (LMC 3403, LMC 3432, LMC 3431), but all Brittain Fellows are welcome to join the fall Tech Comm Seminar and perhaps teach tech comm in their second or third year. The Tech Comm Seminar is required for all tech comm faculty their first year of teaching tech comm.
As part of its mission to foster communication across the curriculum and in the disciplines, our Writing and Communication Program offers special sections of its core courses. Special sections address the same objectives and outcomes as other sections but tailor themes and assignments to the concerns, controversies, and conventions of a specific discipline.