Revisiting the process movement (1971-84)
Janet Emig defined “composing in writing” (1971) as “the selection and ordering of elements” and discussed how that process applied to other modalities. (26)
Later (1981), Flowers and Hayes pointed out how writers “in planning [an alphabetic text composition might use] a variety of symbol systems, such as imagery or kinetic sensations,” then translate them into writing. (32) They knew words alone were not always the best form for communicating information and recognized the power of combining modalities. (36)
Bertoff (1982) suggested that “the process of visual thinking – is analogous to writing,” and that teachers “turn their attention to the study of the diverse ways that people make meaning of the world using multiple symbol systems.” (39)
Palmeri suggests specific ways teachers can help students do this, for example, by using generative questions that spark the student’s “associative imagist invention.” (45) At the same time, he acknowledges the place for traditional activities.
For example, Palmeri (47) suggests writng alphabetic texts to reflect on the experience of translating information to multimodal texts in order to “develop a more nuanced understanding of the unique affordances of visual, aural, and alphabetc forms of communication.” He lists “potentially transferable questions” students might ask to further the process of composing multimodal texts. (49)
Response: Yes, we should consciously engage with process-oriented questions and other issues that arise when constructing multimodal texts. Mixing human and artificial languages changes everything. If we are to combine alphabetic texts, images (still and moving), speech, and music to communicate clear, coherent messages, we need to understand each of these multimodal elements digitally. Speech is spoken human language, digitally recorded. Alphabetic text is composed human language, “printed” on digital “paper.” Images are forms and color and light, digitally captured. Moving images are multiple, sequential images, digitally captured. Music is structured sound, digitally recorded. In order to create a multimodal text of substance, we must know how to process and use all of these elements, which means we must understand digital publishing, digital recording, digital photography, and digital filmmaking. Each application used to create and edit a multimodal element implements a proprietary artificial language, accessible through the software user interface. Each language defines everything we can possibly do with that application. And there are dozens of applications to choose from. In my mind, the multimodal writer, when constructing a multimodal text, becomes a multimodal developer.