At the beginning of his essay “’English’ at the Crossroads: Rethinking Curricula of Communication in the Context of the Turn to the Visual,” Gunther Kress (1999, p. 66) argues that

one urgent task [for English instructors] is to try to understand what skills, aptitudes, knowledges, dispositions concerned with representation and communication young people will need in the world of the next two decades or three, in order to be able to live productive, fulfilling lives.

Identifying the “skills, aptitudes, knowledges, dispositions” is often the easy part; figuring out how to teach them is the hard part, and securing the necessary technology can be the truly impossible part. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then it follows that deprivation is the mother of innovation, and the lack of technology can be seen as a challenge to be surmounted rather than a permanent roadblock. The purpose of this essay is to explain how an instructor determined to have her students engage sonic literacy with limited classroom technology and technical support nonetheless managed, as my title suggests, to have 100 First Year Composition students record audio essays for one of their required essays over the course of four semesters with one lone iPod. In other words, this is not an article about the cool cutting-edge things you can do in a classroom when your students all have access to high-end computers, software, and labs where students can get assistance; in fact, this article is the opposite of that: this article is about a fairly simple, low-tech way to bring multimodality into a typical, under-funded classroom. What I discuss might be of particular interest to instructors at institutions that serve economically-challenges students; it might also appeal to faculty like those described in Debra Journet’s (2007) “Inventing Myself in Multimodality: Encouraging Senior Faculty to Use Digital Media”: faculty who lack technological expertise but are interested in engaging digital media in their teaching.

Next: Context