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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Building as Writing: Challenging the Textual Bias

Scalar facilitates a kind of re-orientation that encourages alternative modes of scholarship. For instance, in its design it allows users to categorize writing into different genres—annotation, commentary, paths, etc.—thereby challenging the textual bias of literary scholarship by allowing authors to privilege other mediums (and even other forms of writing) within the inherited hierarchy. The workflow assignment was particularly interesting in this regard. In being asked to describe and then exhibit our workflow, the differences between writing and building were frequently collapsed, revealing that—as Ramsay and Rockwell suggest—writing, too, is a method. The process of documenting our workflows demonstrated how writing is only one among many facets of scholarly work, while exhibiting these workflows—for many of us via screencast—reminded us that building a digital object was as much a part of our scholarly work as writing. Using Scalar as a platform for composition thus facilitated reflexive thinking about how this becomes that.

An example of how Scalar worked to challenge this bias is Emily's response to the workflow assignment. When she first completed this assignment, she posted it on Scalar as a description of her workflow, organized through a long list of bullet points beneath the accompanying video. When she went back to edit the piece for this book (at this point having a much more sophisticated understanding of Scalar), she used the same description of her workflow. But this time she distributed the description across annotations of the video. By making the video the primary page for her response to the prompt, and then writing annotations to this page, the video became the primary object of inquiry, with writing facilitating an understanding of it. While it is true that given our increasing familiarity with new media, we are becoming more and more accustomed to reading visual representations that supplement writing, we (in the humanities at least) are still hardly accustomed to reading these visuals as their own objects of inquiry, making their own kinds of arguments.   

To return to the larger issue at hand—building as writing, and as we have also argued, writing as building—we think that a quick run through our various assignments (especially a chronological one) will best demonstrate how, as a platform, Scalar helped collapse dichotomies common to scholarly communication, revealing the ways in which building can (in some cases) not just stand in for writing but do something entirely different. Simultaneously, it can reveal the methods and procedures through which we can approach writing as building. 

Authors: Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith
Word Count: 410
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