HyperRhetoric: Multimedia, literacy, and the future of composition

Gary Heba
1997 Computers and Composition  
In an age when children are learning to point and click with a mouse at the same time that they are learning how to hold a pencil to write the alphabet, it is clear that literacy today involves more than the three R's Young children are also learning more and more from hypermedia and multimedia forms of instruction, and these influences on children's early education will have a profound effect on their abilities to read and write and on their very conception of what it means to read and write.
more » ... lthough multimedia communication is revolutionizing concepts of literacy and the composing process, it requires a new way of thinking about producing informotion, so that we con understand and teach the process of multimedia composition. Using a semiotic approach, this article presents a rhetorical model of multimedia communication and its elements and an analysis of the multimedia composition process and its rhetorical features. composition digital architecture HyperRhetoric multimedia HTML hypermedia rhetoric SGML In the midst of the multimedia computer revolution, educators and practitioners alike are currently faced with finding new ways for helping students and professionals learn how to communicate with the new medium. Unlike the word processor, which, as its name implies, provided an electronic means for producing words in print, multimedia computing provides a way of producing and integrating a variety of media in electronic form, either online, on computer disks, or on CD-ROM. Although word processors and desktop publishing programs made for significant advances in the format and design of documents in the print medium, those changes still occurred primarily in the world of hard copy according to the standards of linear, print-based text. With multimedia, however, there is no such stable point of discursive reference; thus, making the transition from writing linear documents to composing multimedia environments presents significant challenges. As a still relatively new electronic medium, multimedia is experiencing the growing pains that every new communication technology goes through in grappling with issues of genre, content, structure, and style in the process of evolving and defining itself. In addition to new technologies and new literacies for communication, multimedia provides new forms and genres for communication. However, in the present state of multimedia development, the means and the genres of multimedia communication are not fixed-we are almost making them up as we go along, and new ones are appearing before we become familiar with the current ones. 19 20 HEBA In addition to creating new discursive genres, creating multimedia documents requires a new repertoire of technical skills, including familiarity with authoring tools, scanners, and graphic, video, and audio capture and rendering tools. More importantly, producing multimedia also requires a significant reorientation to the composing process. Thus, while students need to learn how to use the new technologies, they also need to learn how to compose and integrate print, video, and audio information into a usable multimedia product-that is, they need to become multimedia literate, capable of producing and reproducing information in online environments. As such, it is an enormous challenge to help students who have learned linear writing how to learn nonlinear, multimedia composing. Although many dimensions of multimedia are already familiar to us, especially what we have learned from research in hypertext and hypermedia, the complexity of the technology, coupled with the need to redefine the composing process in relation to the technology, may still be difficult to adjust to for many teachers of writing. In order to provide a theoretical tool for educators to understand the rhetoric of multimedia communication and how to create information in this medium, what follows is an explanation of the foundations of HyperRhetoric. TECHNOLOGY, LITERACY, AND MULTIMEDIA As Edward Barrett (1992) noted in "Sociomedia: An Introduction," when we produce a new communication medium, we are also "hardwiring" our brains to produce and process information in this medium (p. 1). Historically, this process occurs with the appearance of any new communication technology: Consider the technologies of speech, gestures, facial expressions, writing, radio, telephone, film, television. audio recordings, video, and computer-based communication-each communication technology provides a systematized set of codes, or literacy, that establishes the rules, genres, contexts, and discursive acts that make it possible for people to communicate with one another. The cognitive hardwiring that multimedia requires operates on the level of a basic literacy; it, too, functions as a systematized set of codes through which all members of a culture can produce and share information in appropriate contexts. From this perspective, multimedia is simply one more in a long chain of technologies that allow us to create, exchange, and interpret language. But as each new communication technology appears, it transforms and appropriates not only those that preceded it but also the literacies required to read and interpret the earlier technologies in a process of "repurposing" information, that is. using certain features of older communication technologies in new ones. For example, in Being Digitrrl, Nicholas Negroponte (1995) indicated that when movies became popular, plays were repurposed into film, and movies were repurposed for television (p. 63). Multimedia communication, however, enables mass repurposing of all available technologies of communication-speech, gesture, writing, video, audio, and film within a single communication environment-and mass repurposing of all communicative literacies, as well. The technological and social effects of repurposing in multimedia have profound implications for composition instruction, in both present and future tenses. As Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) explained. new media have an et&t of bring d$kwnr from older media and by changin g those aspects ot society that &pen&d on earlier means of communicating...tht: potency of a new medium HyperRhetoric 21 emanates not only from its own uses and inherent characteristics, but also from the ways in which it offsets or bypasses the uses and characteristics of earlier media. (p. 69) Primarily, multimedia bypasses earlier media by blurring the boundaries among print, video, photography, audio recording, animation, and film by allowing us to combine and integrate varied and disparate media into one discursive space. By allowing us ways to sample, assemble, and reassemble fragments of various cultural media, multimedia literacy is a kind of meta-literacy, produced by a meta-technology, which provides a new electronic meta-context for discourse as well-an exclusively online communication environment. However, as teachers of writing, our orientation to communication is, traditionally, most often centered in a concept of the written word and its power to shape social experience. For example, the Aristotelian model of rhetoric, as it has been adapted to written communication (Figure 1 ), dominates the conceptual foreground in most writing instruction courses, and with good reason. For the purpose of teaching writing, this model has helped people be conscious of the rhetorical dynamic of writing and to orient and organize their written communications for specific audiences. However, writing is primarily a visual medium, whereas, as Larry Friedlander (1995) indicated, multimedia, "permits users to learn.. .through seeing, hearing, reading, doing, and simulating" (p. 164); writing and multimedia occupy markedly different discursive spaces-the space of pages and the space of screens, speakers, keyboards, mice, and headsets, respectively. Thus, the argument presented here is that traditional models and approaches to written communication are inadequate for explaining the rhetorical phenomenon of multimedia and for preparing students to become multimedia literate because these models do not adequately describe the rhetorical space of electronic documents. Although rhetorical models of written communication help us to teach students how to produce coherent pages of discourse, they are not well suited to helping us teach our students how to produce linked screens of virtual discourse. The recent emphasis on visual communication, mapping, navigation, chunking, and linking information in technical communication courses, for example, is a SUBJECT MATTER Figure 1 . Model of written communication.
doi:10.1016/s8755-4615(97)90036-0 fatcat:45pgqxozezfzhjykmmbjgheehu