Motivated by the combination of knowing and doing in humanities curricula, “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” (IJLM 4.1, the MIT Press) gives audiences a concrete sense of teaching and learning multimodal communications at the graduate level. Together with seven example prompts and multiple student responses to each, the piece also includes student analysis, reflection, and commentary on the processes of learning, composing, and circulating digital scholarship. In so doing, it demonstrates specific ways of using the authoring and publishing platform, Scalar, for collaborative research and writing in and beyond the classroom.

The materials provided are drawn from a graduate seminar in the Department of English at the University of Victoria: “Digital Literary Studies: History and Principles” (Spring 2012). Intended audiences for the piece include writing studies instructors, literary critics, cultural studies scholars, digital studies practitioners, transmedia artists, and anyone who supports and facilitates university curricula and related infrastructures. Ultimately, the authors argue that the work of multimodal scholarly communications is anchored largely in tacit knowledge, and platforms such as Scalar allow students and instructors to attend to that knowledge, document it, share it, revise it, and analyze it in ways arguably novel to the history of humanities research. One effect of the Scalar platform is that, especially in collaborative contexts, the work of humanities practitioners is linked in very material ways, particularly because of Scalar’s ability to facilitate iterative communication, complex documentation, versioning, and the strategic duplication of content.

Read the IJLM abstract for the project. Or visit the project.

Scalar Visualization (Paths)

Project Structure and Content

“Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” is organized into five sections: “Welcome,” “Prompts,” “Analysis,” “Authors,” and “Commentary.” The article contains 188 pages, 282 media files, 11 paths/chapters, 23 comments, and over 35,000 words. To the MLab’s knowledge, it is the first peer-reviewed, open-access Scalar piece about hybrid pedagogy, and—even in the broad field of digital humanities—it is one of few publications exhibiting the processes, products, and particulars of graduate student learning.

Scalar Book (Welcome Page)

Written by the project’s editor, Jentery Sayers, the “Welcome” section offers readers a context for how the project came about, with details about English 507 as well as references to recent scholarship (e.g., by Tara McPherson) supporting the use of Scalar in the classroom. The section also outlines how the project is designed, and it underscores the role that graduate students played in the project’s creation, revision, and publication. Here, audiences should note that “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” began as a collaboratively authored book created for the purposes of a seminar and was then dramatically refined, internally reviewed, and submitted for peer review to the International Journal of Learning and Media. Offering access to its Scalar build, the MLab assisted English 507 students in the publication procedure, through which—for instance—597 pages of the original text were revised down to 188 pages in the published piece.

Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

The “Prompts” section provides readers with the assignments (or prompts) from English 507 together with example student responses. Seven total prompts are published in the article: “Workflow,” “Metadata,” “Granulation,” “Map,” “Review,” “Proposal,” and “Roundtable.” The section is a thorough resource for instructors interested in Scalar (in particular) and scholarly communication (in general), and the example student work helps audiences better understand the “middle state” of student learning—in this case, short exercises that guided all involved in English 507 toward their final projects.

Scalar Book (Workflow)

The “Analysis” section was written by three graduate students from English 507: Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith. As the name of the section suggests, McLeod, Millar Usiskin, and Smith critically examine the use of Scalar throughout the seminar. In so doing, they draw upon content from “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” for evidence and articulate Scalar with ongoing debates about the role of multimodal scholarly communications in the humanities. This section is best understood as a scholarly essay published alongside (or perhaps embedded in) the middle state of English 507. It steps back from the research and writing produced during the seminar, reflects on it, and puts it into conversation with larger issues in comparative media studies, digital humanities, writing studies, and literary and cultural studies. Some highlights of the section include “Digital Objects as Objects: The Illusion of Immateriality,” “Building as Writing: Writing as Building,” “Designerly Engagement: Shifting Modes of Scholarship,” and “Workflow as Tacit Knowledge: Perpetually in Beta?”

Scalar Book (Analysis Path)

Research Lead, Contributors, Support, and Partnerships

The research lead for “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” was Jentery Sayers. English 507, “Digital Literary Studies: History and Principles” (Spring 2012), was supported by the Department of English at the University of Victoria and taught by Jentery Sayers. During and beyond the seminar, the Scalar development team—including Craig Dietrich, Erik Loyer, and Tara McPherson—provided feedback on what ultimately became “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications.” For the purposes of publication with the IJLM and The MIT Press, Sayers acted as the lead editor and designer, with Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Emily Smith, and Michael Stevens contributing content. Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith authored the essay found in the “Analysis” section of the piece, and the MLab provided infrastructure and other forms of ongoing support for the project’s design, review, circulation, and publication.

Scalar Radial Visualization

Project Status

This project was completed in August 2013. “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications” was published by the International Journal of Learning and Media (a journal of The MIT Press) in July 2013, in Volume 4, Issue 1. Read the IJLM abstract for the project or go directly to the project.

IJLM Screengrab

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the Makerspace project, with the projects tag. Featured images for this post care of “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications,” the International Journal of Learning and Media, and The MIT Press. (This post was updated on 16 October 2016.)


More about Jentery Sayers

Associate Professor, English and CSPT | Principal Investigator, MLab in the Humanities