Chapter 3: Looking for Transfer through Multiliteracies
In this chapter, I interpret student experiences through the lens of Stuart Selber’s multiliteracies, building a definition of transfer across media that includes and moves beyond Selber's parameters. I turn to Selber's framework here for several reasons. The language of literacy Selber offers was instrumental for me when I was first developing my own writing pedagogy for digital media and video. Talking with students about developing functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies related to video composition, for example, or asking them to set goals in these areas gave us specific terminology we could use, broke down steps in the composing process, and highlighted different kinds of learning. In 2012, as I began to look and listen for evidence of transfer across media in the data for this study, Selber's categories again appeared relevant. I added questions about these literacies to the interview protocols I used in 2016, and I coded for evidence of participants developing functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies, considering whether and how the development of these literacies interacted with moments of transfer.
Selber details a multiliteracies framework—often-cited in computers and writing scholarship—that includes three categories: functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies. These literacies are suggestive and complementary, working together to “help students assess the perspectives and practices that might be needed” in any digital writing situation (24). For Selber, functional literacy involves effective employment of computers as tools, with students as the users of the technology. Critical literacy’s goal is informed critique of computers as cultural artifacts, with students as the questioners of the technology. Rhetorical literacy seeks after reflective praxis using computers as hypertextual media, with students as producers of technology (25). These three literacies, Selber argues, should be used at different times and in different combinations, with the goal being for students to become “skilled at moving among them in strategic ways” so as to “participate fully and meaningfully in technological activities” (24).
As Nowacek states, and as I demonstrate through the student experiences in Chapter 2, transfer is widely varied, occurs across multiple avenues, and is motivated by diverse factors and situations. Selber's language of literacy is likewise varied and complex, including many parameters within each of the three categories. As we begin to see and hear in Chapter 2, transfer often occurs recursively and extends in multiple directions, much like the lines in a star, a wheel, or a web. Likewise, multiliteracies are necessary in different combinations, and they cross and overlap as learners use, critique, and produce technologies. If transfer across media is, as I have defined it, a process of considering, (re)using or choosing not to use, applying, and adapting compositional knowledge within surrounding practices and norms, then functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies are a key part of this complex knowledge base that might be reused, applied, and adapted anew. Put another way, Selber's framework illuminates and widens Nowacek's pathways toward transfer.
Looking at transfer across media through the lens of multiliteracies has been generative as I’ve worked through participant data and considered the pedagogical implications of what and how compositional knowledge was transferred across assignments and to sites outside the classroom. Students discussed transfer related to the functional and rhetorical literacies they developed through composing videos, and many of their experiences can be understood through examination of Selber's literacy parameters. Other study data, though, pushes on and extends Selber's framework, particularly related to critical literacy. The participants in the first-year writing study reveal a different kind of critical literacy developed through multimodal production, a literacy that involves composition, reflection, and envisioning possibilities for future transfer across media.
Developing and Transferring Functional Literacy
Selber starts his book with functional literacy, in which students use computers as tools and become effective users of technology. He begins here because “functional literacy is a necessary if not sufficient condition of all other forms of literacy” (330)—to develop and put into practice critical and rhetorical literacies related to technology, functional literacy must be at least somewhat present. Of course, Selber’s literacies might develop in tandem, or the critical and rhetorical might feed the functional, but overall I have come to a similar conclusion in observing and speaking with the students in this study: some level of functional literacy often precedes learning in other areas, especially transfer across media.
Working against a negative view of functional literacy as simply the “nuts and bolts” of technology use, Selber presents five parameters that might serve as an alternative to prescriptive lists of software skills and that can describe a student who is well-equipped for computer work. Functionally literate students, for Selber, 1) use computers to achieve educational goals, 2) understand social conventions related to computer use, 3) make use of specialized discourses associated with computers, 4) manage online worlds, and 5) know how to resolve technological impasses (44-67). The data from this study speaks to three of Selber’s parameters for functional literacy: educational goals, specialized discourses, and overcoming technological impasses. The students in the study discussed how they were learning to use hardware, software, and digital tools related to video composition and writing to achieve educational goals; whether and how they learned specialized vocabulary related to this technology; and what they did to address or resolve technological problems or impasses when they arose. These literacies created openings for transfer across media as well, and students gave several examples of the transfer of functional literacies. It is interesting to note, too, the two parameters that did not bubble up in the data for this study: understanding social conventions and managing online worlds. Developing functional literacies in these areas might require specific instruction or a different kind of digital composition that involves social and online interaction.
I’ve chosen to present much of the data in this chapter through video, using both mini-case study videos to zoom in on the learning of particular students and collage-style overview videos that give small glimpses into the experiences of many. As you will see and hear through the interview data and student narratives I feature in this section on functional literacies, participants often discussed learning to use hardware and software for video composition that was new or unfamiliar. Most commonly, students discussed the difficulties and successes they experienced while learning to use different types of video editing software, which included Windows Movie Maker, Apple’s iMovie, Animoto, and others, to create or present video content. In terms of hardware, students discussed using video cameras, cell phones, laptop and desktop computers, hard and flash drives, lighting, and tripods.
Achieving Educational Goals: Spotlight on Madison
In our interviews, Madison talked a great deal about learning to use video editing software to achieve her educational goals, which included making a video that would prove cheerleading's value as a sport, getting this message to specific audiences, and getting a passing grade on the assignment. The video below explores the development of her functional literacies related to educational goals.
Madison discusses the development of her functional literacies related to educational goals.
The song used in this video is by RobbH, Creative Commons license BY NC.
|[A slow techno beat plays in the background.]||White text appears on a black screen reading "A functionally literate student... "uses computers effectively to achieve educational goals" (Selber 44)."|
|Madison: I was excited because I had all these ideas and I knew exactly how I wanted my video to flow, but the problem was I didn't know how to do that.||Madison is shown sitting at a table in an office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|[From Madison's video]: Yes, I think cheerleading is a sport. They work really hard. There are some athletes that will stand by the opinion that cheerleading is not a sport, but I don't think those people really understand what it takes or even the athleticism, flexibility that they have. ["Cheerleader" by Omi plays in the background of Madison’s video. Cheerleaders yell, chant, and clap as they perform.]||A clip from Madison's video is shown. The words "From Madison's video" appear in the top left corner. First, a blue title screen reads "Is Cheerleading a Sport?" Next, a montage of many different people answering that question is shown. Then a montage of clips of cheerleaders practicing and performing their stunts completes the clip.|
|[A slower techno beat plays in the background.]||White text appears on a black screen reading "Functionally literate students "confront skill demands, collaborate online, and explore instructional opportunities" (Selber 46)."|
|Madison: I finally figured out how to get Movie Maker onto my computer and working. I was like, okay, this seems pretty simple. It's nothing like too, like high-tech I can't work with but still I didn't know how to work it. Because I just used my iPhone for filming, and then I just uploaded all that stuff into my photo album. And then I just used my computer for Movie Maker and dragging it all into Movie Maker.||Madison is shown again sitting at a table in an office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|[From Madison's video]: Cheerleading's definitely a sport because of all the dedication the girls put in. All the time, and sweat, and blood, and tears. It's a lot of that. ["Cheerleader" by Omi plays in the background of Madison’s video.]||Another clip from Madison's video is shown. Text in the top left corner of the screen reads "from Madison's video". Another montage of cheerleaders practicing their stunts is shown. Then, the clip cuts to an interview with a cheerleader as she anwers the question "Is cheerleading a sport?" A scene of cheerleaders gathering in a circle to talk is shown, followed by a clip of cheerleaders practicing a stunt.|
|Madison: Oh yeah. I used Audacity just for like one little thing. Just because I was like desperate, and I just needed help. Yeah. Audacity was just kind of a pain to work with because that was more like, more buttons and more figuring out stuff.||Madison is shown again sitting at a table in an office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "Madison met her video goals by figuring it out, coming to class, sticking with it, and listening to classmates."|
|Crystal: How did you find the software, and the, using your laptop and stuff? Would it do what you wanted it to do? No?|
Madison: I'm not a tech-y person so it's just really hard to do, so.
|The angle of the original interview switches to show Crystal on the right and Madison on the left. Crystal asks Madison a question. Crystal has a pen and paper for notetaking. Madison shakes her head after Crystal asks the question, and then answers verbally.|
|Madison: I think I downloaded Movie Maker like 10 times onto my computer, and like, 'cause it wouldn't open, so. And then Audacity worked fine cuz we did that in class. And then, the YouTube converter was really easy. My friend Crystal in class, she told the class about it. And my teacher showed it up on the projector.||The angle of the interview switches again to show Madison sitting at a table in an office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|Madison: And then sound levels were really hard to work with because I didn't use all instrumental stuff. Because I like the words in those songs. So she's like, just turn it really low down so then we can focus more on what the interviewees are saying. So I had to do that. But some people are so quiet, it was just like impossible to balance it. And then, I just had to fade out music because it was just an abrupt stop to my music.||The camera angle switches back so that Madison and Crystal are both shown as Madison continues to answer Crystal's question. Crystal takes notes as she listens to Madison.|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "A functionally literate student 'is alert to the limitations of technology and the circumstances in which human awareness is required' (Selber 47)."|
|Madison: I'm a very patient person, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to anything technology, with my phone, my laptop, like TV, if something's not working, I get really frustrated really fast. 'Cause it's like, oh, you're an iPhone, or you're a Smart TV! You're supposed to do this for me, like you know. But like, things glitch, so you can't really do much about that.||Madison is shown in the same office sitting at the same table, talking to Crystal who is off screen. She is wearing new clothes, and this interview takes place at a different point in her first-year writing experience.|
|[Background music continues until Madison begins speaking.] Madison: I'm a nervous person, I'm very bubbly, you know. I'm willing to learn anything. I get scared at first of like change but getting over obstacles I learn, and I'm like, oh, what a relief. Now I can do it again, it's fine, so.||A clip from Madison's video is shown. To the left of a cell phone video, white text states, "A functionally literate student... "uses computers effectively to achieve educational goals" (Selber 44)." The clip from Madison's video shows a typical cheer practice. In the bottom right corner, a clip of Madison from her interview with Crystal appears.|
|Madison: I'm just really proud of how my video turned out in the end. I was excited to show everyone and now I think I'm gonna show it at my sister's cheer banquet tonight. So they'll be like, really like, because I promised them I'd show it, so they're like really excited to see it too.||The first interview with Madison is shown again as she is sitting at a table in an office, talking to Crystal, who is off screen.|
When I asked Madison what might transfer for her, she mentioned the functional knowledge of video editing. She said, "[Knowing] how to use technology would be helpful in the future. If I have to ever put a different kind of video together, I would know how. That stuff’s very helpful for future assignments." Beyond the functional, she talked about rhetorical knowledge of the persuasive appeals (what she calls "the four elements of writing": logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos), saying, "I’ve learned how to apply the four elements of writing to not just paper and essays. I’ve just learned how to do it through music and social media and video. I’ve learned to apply it to everything I look at." For Madison, the development of functional literacies related to video editing served as a stepping-stone to the development and transfer of rhetorical literacies across media.
Making Use of Specialized Discourses
Students learned specialized discourses related to video composition in several ways: in class, via instruction; from peers; on their own, through reading, looking, and doing; and online, through tutorials and websites. The interview excerpts I provide here from Evan, Lauren, and Travon demonstrate how many students began to pick up and use specialized discourses as they developed functional literacies.
Evan, Lauren, and Travon discuss the development of their functional literacies related to specialized discourses.
The song used in this video is by RobbH, Creative Commons license BY NC.
|[A slow techno beat plays as background music.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "A functionally literate student... 'makes use of the specialized discourses associated with computers' (Selber 55)."|
|Evan: And I had to go on to iMovie and figure out all the tabs and all the terms. Because there's so many different things in those tabs of things to do. And they're words most people wouldn't be familiar with. They don't know what that's going to do if you do trimming-that's one of the simple terms. But just for an example, trimming, someone that just went on there, like, I don't know what that's going to do to my video. Or clip it and stuff like that. So complicated, so many layers.||Evan is shown in an office, sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off camera. In the top left corner, text reading "Video Vocabulary: Trimming, Clipping" appears.|
|Crystal: How did you do with Movie Maker? Did you just click around or, you said you watched the tutorials?|
Crystal: After that you just clicked around?
Lauren: Mm-hmm, pretty much. It's almost self-explanatory, in a sense, because you have the animations and whatever, and that, I think that's where your transitions are. Don't quote me, but... [laughs]. Once you watch the tutorials, everything else makes sense. And it wasn't too bad. Once you do it for the first couple of photos, it's like, okay this gets easier. And text slides, they pretty much say "text," and then click on it. So that was pretty good. And then they had an "add videos and photos." So that was really helpful. It's like, it wasn't hiding, so.
|Lauren is shown sitting at a table with her back to a wall. She is talking to Crystal, who is off screen. The text in the top left corner remains from before, now reading "Video Vocabulary: Trimming, Clipping, Animations, Transitions, Text slides".|
|Crystal: What about with the Movie Maker? How did you learn how to do stuff on there? Did you just click around, or...?|
Travon: Yeah. It was, I'm not going to say that it was pretty much straight forward, but seeing as the same terms are used on PowerPoint, and I've used PowerPoint countless times, it was really just, hey, I know what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing. It's okay, I'll figure it out, I'll figure it out. All the words on there were similar to PowerPoint, so it's not like I didn't know what nothing meant. I knew the transition, I knew what that does. The animations, I knew how to work those. The time, like everything... It wouldn't be straightforward if you've never really worked with PowerPoint before, but if you've worked with PowerPoint then you know the meaning of the words that work in the ribbon of Movie Maker. So it was pretty simple.
|Travon is shown sitting at a table in front of a blue wall. He is talking to Crystal, who is off screen. The text in the top left corner remains from before, now reading "Video Vocabulary: Trimming, Clipping, Animations, Transitions, Text slides, Time" with stars next to animations and transitions.|
|[A slower techno beat plays as background music.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "A functionally literate student... 'makes use of the specialized discourses associated with computers' (Selber 55)."|
Regarding the transfer of specialized discourses, some students talked with me about how video concepts such as trimming, clipping, and transitioning might work in another medium such as a written paper. For example, Lauren talked extensively about how her understanding of transitions in video extended her understanding of transitions in written prose. And as Travon mentioned in the above video, students noticed that some language and labels were useful across different kinds of software, citing similarities between the titles of tabs in Windows Movie Maker and Microsoft PowerPoint.
Resolving Technological Impasses
Of all Selber's parameters for developing functional literacies, students spoke most about encountering and resolving technological impasses related to video composition. In this video, several students recount the strategies they used when they came to an impasse.
Several students discuss the development of their functional literacies related to how they resolved technological impasses.
The song used in this video is by RobbH, Creative Commons license BY NC.
|[Techno background music plays.]||White text appears on a black screen reading "A functionally literate student... 'resolves technological impasses confidently and strategically' (Selber 67)." This text is then replaced by "One common strategy when faced with a technological impasse: Figuring it out yourself."|
|Marlee: The layout of iMovie makes it really easy to find things, and I don't know, figure out how to do it. So I didn't struggle too much in clicking around.||Marlee is shown sitting at a table in front of a blue wall, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Marlee".|
|Samuel: It was kind of difficult at first to navigate through the settings, but I think once you play around with them, it's easier. You get a hang of it [Crystal: uh-huh]. At first, you know, just, what is this? But once you play around with it, you understand better.||Samuel is shown in an office sitting at a table, talking to Crystal who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Samuel".|
|Alan: Went around into the tools, the options. Ok, found it. Good. Just did it. And then with the PowerPoint, again, just had to figure out what file to convert it to.||Alan is shown in the same office as Samuel, sitting at the table and talking to Crystal, who is off screen. He gestures to emphasize his answers. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Alan".|
|Madison: Because I didn't know how to use Windows Maker very well. So it's like, I'm just going to play around with it. You know, whatever, it's fine. I don't have to have a tutorial, whatever.||Madison is shown in the same office as Alan and Samuel, sitting at a table, talking to Crystal who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Madison".|
|Fawaz: Animoto, because it was the first time for me to use it. So I spent like, 2, 2, 3 hours on it, and then I learned the process for Animoto so I could use it in the future.||Fawaz is shown sitting in an office with his back to a poster-covered wall, responding to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom right corner, text reads "Fawaz".|
|Vivian: In iMovie, there's pictures and things, so it's pretty easy. Once you know how to do one little thing, I think you can try to figure out some other things.||Vivian is shown sitting at a table in front of a white board, responding to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Vivian".|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "Another strategy: Look it up online or find an online tutorial."|
|Travon: If I had a problem, and I just really didn't know what I was doing, I can easily go on Google and figure it out, and be like, all right.||Travon is shown sitting at a table in front of a blue wall, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Travon".|
|Fawaz: YouTube. Go to YouTube. And then write the problem, and then I will find like thousands and thousands of videos explaining everything.||Fawaz is shown again sitting in an office with his back to a poster-covered wall, responding to Crystal, who is off screen. In the bottom right corner, text reads "Fawaz".|
|Lauren: Mostly the internet. Pretty much all the Internet. Google's amazing [laughs]. And then YouTube definitely for tutorials and stuff like that, because I have to see... I have to have someone actually walk me through it.||Lauren sits at a table in front of a white board. She is talking to Crystal, who is off screen. She gestures to emphasize her answer.|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "Another strategy: Talk to others."|
|Crystal: So when you came across something you didn't know how to do, either with the video, or the Prezi, or any part of it, what did you do?||Daijah and Crystal are both shown sitting at a table in an office as Crystal asks Daijah a question. Crystal is on the right, Daijah is on the left. Crystal has a pen and paper for notetaking. In the bottom right corner, text reads "Daijah".|
|Daijah: She helped me out. Well, the first time, she was like, "just wait till we get to class." And we got to class, she showed me how to do it and helped me. Just technology-wise, I usually call my dad. He's really good with computers and stuff like that.||The angle of the interview switches to show only Daijah as she responds to Crystal, who is off screen.|
|Tiara: When I don't know how to do it, I usually try and think of the ways I can solve that issue by talking to maybe my professor or looking it up online.||Tiara is shown sitting at a desk in an empty classroom, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. "Tiara" is written in the bottom left corner.|
|Sabrina: I either emailed professor Jostock - that was one of my first things to do. And if I still couldn't figure it out, I went out and asked my classmates and my peers. Most of us Movie Maker kids were kind of just like in our own boat, and didn't really know what to do. But we, I mean, we talked to each other about it in class. And we were like, "Hey man. How'd you get the audio to go down?" We figured it out.||Sabrina is shown in an office sitting at a table, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. "Sabrina" is written in the bottom left corner of the screen.|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen reading "Another strategy: Use a model."|
|Samuel: Well, I started the Animoto, and I was kind of looking at the different examples of previous students. And there's someone who did a Business Management, and I liked that. I'm not doing it exactly the same, but pulling some ideas from it.||Samuel is shown sitting in an empty classroom, talking to Crystal who is off screen. In the bottom left corner, text reads "Samuel".|
|Gerry: You remember that one class when we watched all those videos about the gravestones and stuff?||Gerry is shown in an office, talking to Crystal who is off screen. "Gerry" is written in the bottom left corner.|
|Gerry: [Yep, yep.] I think that was, that gave us a lot of ideas. All right, so there was this video with green letters. So at that time we knew we shouldn't do green letters. A lot of people hated it.||The angle of the interview switches to show both Gerry and Crystal, and she listens intently as Gerry talks.|
|Gerry: And getting little ideas from other videos and other places.||The angle switches back and Gerry is shown again in an office, talking to Crystal who is off screen. "Gerry" is written in the bottom left corner.|
|Tiara: Usually, if I'm at the computer lab and I don't know what I'm doing, I'll just sit there and I'll look up some things online, some tutorials, or look up ways to do it. You know, previously done videos, and try to see where I could go from there. I look at how people's videos are, how they structure them and stuff, and what they put in them.||Tiara is shown again sitting at a desk in an empty classroom, talking to Crystal, who is off screen. "Tiara" is written in the bottom left corner.|
|[Background music continues.]||White text appears on a black screen, reading "A functionally literate student... 'resolves technological impasses confidently and strategically' (Selber 67)."|
Overall, I was impressed with both the confidence and the strategies with which most students in the study approached technological obstacles. In only a few cases did students report a problem that they were unable to solve. Regarding transfer, problem-solving is a habit of mind we know aids in processes of transfer (see Wardle "Creative Repurposing"), and the video work of students in the study provided ample opportunities for them to fine tune problem-solving skills.