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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
Analysis, page 17 of 17


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Workflow as Tacit Knowledge: Perpetually in Beta?

In a 2011 blog post on the term "digital humanities," Shannon Mattern argues that working in a multimodal environment can facilitate critique of "what constitutes knowledge," who creates and disseminates it, and how it is legitimized. As a platform that encourages multimodal scholarship, Scalar allows scholars to shift emphasis from the fabled final product (which students and teachers so often associate with print) to process. In this book, Millar Usiskin speaks of the challenges of "making in unfamiliar spaces." Here, we want to interrogate how our workflows were impacted by working in an online, collaborative, and unfamiliar environment. In other words, we ask: how does an awareness of other people's workflows impact one’s understanding of the relationship between an argument’s "finished-ness" and the knowledge it communicates?

As we worked through the first few prompts—the workflow, metadata, and granulation assignments—we noticed that each week, after we posted our completed tasks in Scalar, we were disconcerted by a feeling of incompleteness, as if we had not truly submitted a final draft.

The perception of being "done" is eroded in Scalar, largely because submitting an assignment online does not involve the final stage of most traditional assignments in the humanities: the act of physically printing text on paper. Publishing our born-digital work in Scalar made us feel as if our weekly responses were perpetually in beta, hypothetically available for modification or even improvement weeks after their due dates (and hence, by definition, not "finished"). For example, the video Alyssa McLeod created with iMovie from screencasts of her workflow on her laptop is, in fact, stored on YouTube, not Scalar. She could have easily gone back and made changes, additions, or deletions to the video on YouTube without even going back to iMovie, especially given the introduction of YouTube’s online video editor in 2010.

Yet disrupting the tendency in the humanities to privilege product over process is one of online publishing’s strengths. In "Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities," Tara McPherson contrasts the linear organization of the print medium to the database, which "present[s] multiple lines of thought in relation to the materials at hand and to invite others to join us in this process in extended collaboration and conversation" (121). Not only does publishing on a "less finished" or beta platform have the potential of opening scholarly argumentation up to new and innovative branches of thought; it also facilitates collaboration, making the writing process of colleagues more transparent, and hence more pedagogical.

Due to mitigating circumstances, Alyssa McLeod had to miss her group's final roundtable presentation in English 507. When she returned to the project, she had to create the equivalent of a ten-minute "presentation" in Scalar that worked with the material covered by her peers—material she more or less recreated from their rough notes (recorded in Google Docs) and the PowerPoint slides and summaries they posted to Scalar. She had to think through the stages of their workflow and then duplicate it herself, practically embodying the steps they had taken in the initial planning stages of the presentation. Scalar and Google Docs' built-in versioning features made her peers' thought processes transparent and easy to follow. McLeod's after-the-fact collaboration became an exercise in thinking through and enacting someone else's line of inquiry.

Although McLeod's situation was unique, it captures a key dimension of using Scalar for teaching and learning multimodal communications: for collaborative projects such as ours, the platform not only extends expression into domains beyond text. It also links humanities practitioners in very material ways, particularly because of its ability to facilitate iterative communication, complex documentation, and strategic duplication. If such a thing exists, then Scalar is a platform for self-reflexivity.

For this very reason, our analysis path was composed in and through the "middle state" of our English 507 work, rather than outside and after it. Thank you for landing here.    

Authors: Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith
Word Count: 641
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