girl typing


As instructors for two courses within Florida State University’s Editing, Writing, and Media major, Writing and Editing in Print and Online and History of Illustrated Texts, we assigned similar projects involving the use of HTML coding that integrated Graphics Interchange Format files—more commonly known as “GIFs”—into students’ written texts. This article describes the theoretical basis for our pedagogical approach and assignment designs, narrates students’ composing practices and their responses to their experiences, and argues for the value of GIFs as an efficacious multimodal composition tool. Students used GIFs as ready-made semiotic resources which gave shape to readings of their own work and canonical texts. GIFs refer to specific texts—movies, television shows, and born-digital clips—however, these fragments, when repurposed within students’ compositions, operated as “glass cases” that guided, developed, and showcased interpretation.

While these assignments were designed for courses that emphasize multimodality and using technology critically and reflectively, we argue that the assignments described here can assist students in a variety of classrooms—from the traditional literature course to freshman composition— that center on interpreting texts and reflecting on classroom experiences. Although described and conceived here in the context of sustained, semester-length investigations of technology, we feel that these assignments could stand alone as methods for the interpretation of both canonical texts and personal classroom experiences.

Our assignment design revolved around three objectives:

  • To promote active engagement in the process of digital composition
  • To motivate students to read texts critically and broadly, encouraging cross-media and cross-cultural analysis
  • To develop awareness of the continually-changing materiality of contemporary writing tools through hands-on experience

In designing this article, we have included GIFs to illustrate our students’ choices, but we have also included GIFs as way to animate the argument of the essay itself. In multimodal composition, both in literature and composition classrooms, GIFs allow authors to tap into wider cultural discourses to comment on associated texts, to highlight emotional reactions, and to create intertextual dialogue. Thus, in Assignment Design, when discussing the kinds of agency composing with GIFs can provide students, we employ a popular GIF for scheming and the acquisition of power—a cat reading The Art of Military Strategy—to illustrate the power dynamic “ownership” of a text can impart.

While readers interested in the theories behind our pedagogy may want to focus on the Theory and Assignment Design sections, Context provides an overview of our specific academic environment and the curricular context for these assignments, while Resources describes the tools and resources needed to reproduce it, as well as issues and limitations inherent in this use of technology in the classroom. Finally, Student Work includes an analysis of the texts our students produced in response to the assignment, and Results and Outcomes explores our students’ analysis of their processes and the theoretical implications of the assignments as a whole.

Theory: We review the theory that undergirded our pedagogy.
Context: We provide the context in which these two courses were taught.
Assignment Design: We explain our intended outcomes or deliverables for our assignments.
Resources: We describe the tools and resources that were required for the GIF coding assignments.
Student Work: We share the results of our students’ work with GIFs.
Results and Outcomes: We consider the outcomes of coding texts with GIFs.