Chapter 1: Transfer across Media

1.2 What Is Transfer across Media?

While Nowacek and other transfer researchers examine the transfer of print-based writing knowledge, some within Computers and Writing argue for more attention to transfer across media when students compose different kinds of assignments using various kinds of software and hardware. Jason Palmeri, for example, in his remixed history of multimodal writing pedagogy, hypothesizes, “by organizing our courses around concerns of rhetoric and process that can potentially apply across modalities, we may be able to help students develop transferable composing skills” (49-50). For Palmeri, rhetoric and process are part of a knowledge base that might transfer as students compose with words, images, and sounds (here, modalities), and he suggests not only that alphabetic writing is profoundly multimodal (44), but also that writers can learn about writing through composing in many forms and reflecting (48).

Defining some terms may be useful here. Palmeri uses multimodal, a term drawn from the New London Group that is widely used in our field, to refer to texts that use combinations of words, images, and sound to communicate. In this eBook, I present a theory of transfer across media that applies as students write with modes and compose multimodal texts. Media, then, should also be defined:

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This video defines media using media theorist Lisa Gitelman's work.

The song used in this video is by airtone, Creative Commons license BY NC.

Descriptive Transcript

Crystal: What is media? According to media theorist Lisa Gitelman, the term often gets used so vaguely,White text appears on a black screen, reading "What is Media?" which bounces across the screen. On mention of Lisa Gitelman, the cover of her book appears on the right half of the screen.
Crystal: and is frequently identified as or with technologies, like these. But media is more than just a synonym for digital technologies and tools.A montage of images of a computer screen, a keyboard and mouse, a tablet, microphone, and camera is shown.
Crystal: Gitelman defines media as socially realized structures of communication, including in her definition technological forms and their associated protocols. Both materials, and the social context of production and consumption. Images of students working on laptops are shown.
Crystal: This definition keeps things muddy, though, including a vast clutter of normative rules and default conditions, gathered around what Gitelman calls a technological nucleus.Multiple images of students working with peers and instructors appear on the screen, and then begin to swirl together in two circles, one in the center of another larger one, suggesting the image of a cell nucleus.
Crystal: While perhaps a bit muddy, this definition reminds me to consider the technologies that students use, but also to look toward Gitelman's huge variety of social, economic, and material relationships that surround the use of technologies.An image of a video camera resting on a table is shown. After that, images of office supplies, papers, maps, and computer items (mouse, cellphone) on a desk are shown. Then, another montage of images of students working on their laptops with peers and instructors around them is shown.
Crystal: Media defined like this, as technological forms and protocols, is another way of looking and listening for parts of the complex ecology of a post-human rhetorical situation.Two images are shown side by side on a black background. The image on the right is of a Mac laptop screen and keyboard. The image on the left is of four students collaborating to work on editing a video. On the top of the screen on the black background is the word "Media" in white text, and the words "Technological Forms + Technological Protocols" appear at the bottom of the screen, timed with the voiceover.

To describe moments of learning that occurred for participants in the first-year writing study, I draw on both Nowacek and Gitelman to discuss transfer across media, which I define in the following way:

Transfer across media is a process of considering, (re)using or choosing not to use, applying, and adapting compositional knowledge through various digital and non-digital technologies and within the surrounding practices and norms of the compositional context.

Transfer across media, defined this way, includes nonlinear shifting of compositional knowledge among modes and platforms and an emphasis on the web of activities and expectations surrounding digital and non-digital compositional tools and practices.

Kara Poe Alexander, Michael-John DePalma, and Jeffrey Ringer also use the phrase transfer across media in their work, focusing on what they call "adaptive remediation": “a set of strategies composers can draw on in order to adapt or reshape composing knowledge across media” (34). These strategies include charting rhetorical moves and shifts in purpose within a text (Alexander et al. 34); inventorying the semiotic resources available (35); coordinating resources, literacies, and media (35); and literacy linking, in which networks of literacies inform one another (35). To conceptualize adaptive remediation, Alexander, DePalma, and Ringer draw on DePalma and Ringer’s earlier work on adaptive transfer, which emphasizes that transfer, especially for writers who speak more than one language, moves beyond reuse and includes processes of reshaping and reforming prior knowledge (DePalma and Ringer 135).

Adaptive remediation, then, preserves adaptive transfer’s emphasis on reshaping and reforming and is loosely aligned with Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s concept of remediation: “the way in which one medium is seen by our culture as reforming or improving upon another” (Bolter and Grusin 59) through a double logic of immediacy and hypermediacy (Bolter and Grusin 19). While Alexander et al. do not engage specifically with Bolter and Grusin’s double logic in their work with adaptive remediation, they borrow Bolter and Grusin’s term as they examine the print-to-multimodal composition experiences of one student, Sophie, as she revises a print essay into a digital story. For Alexander et al., the term adaptive remediation describes what occurs when students like Sophie are asked to compose work in one medium and then convert or shift that work for representation in another medium (often print to digital)—a common assignment in many writing courses. The term highlights the reshaping and reforming of content and understandings as students move from composing with print technologies to composing with visual, audio, or multimodal technologies such as a digital video editor.

There are differences between Alexander et al.’s case study approach to studying adaptive remediation and my approach to looking and listening for transfer across media. Unlike Sophie, the students in the first-year writing study were not composing in response to assignments that asked them to remediate prior work composed in print. Instead, they were composing stand-alone research video projects on a topic of choice (students in Angie’s, Kelly’s, and Katie’s courses), one-minute introductory videos to be paired with in-class presentations on a potential career (students in Lauren’s course), and videos as one part of a larger primary research project on an on-campus organization (students in Julie’s course). For me, collecting data about these instances of "stand-alone" multimodal composition has made it clearer that transfer is iterative, recursive, and circular. Even so, some practices of adaptive remediation such as inventorying, coordinating, and linking were surely part of my participants’ compositional experiences. While transfer across media is ultimately a more useful phrase for the learning observable within the first-year writing study, there is some overlap between this concept and Alexander et al.’s adaptive remediation.